A TOTAL ASS

Once upon a time John Vianney was called by the rector of the Major Seminary where he was studying for the priesthood, to inform him of the negative report he received from his professors. The rector, with fear and trembling, said: “John, your teachers don’t think you have what it takes to be ordained a priest and they cannot in good conscience present you for ordination.  One professor in particular went on record saying that you are a total ass!”

John, was not perplexed at all. After a moment of silence, he replied: “Father Rector,  do you remember the story in chapter 15 of the book of Judges where God uses Samson to kill a  thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, thus saving the people of Israel?”

“Of course I do” answered the rector.

“Now tell me,” continued John, “If God could work such a wonderful deed with the jawbone of an ass can you imagine what God can accomplish with a total ass?”

Source: Unknown. I tell it here as I remember it.

CONSIDER THIS

Ability is important but availability comes first. Make yourself available first and you will discover abilities, gifts and talents you never knew you had.

Be available and watch yourself stepping into a larger version of yourself.

 

LACK OF RESPECT

A stranger, exuding joy,  went into church one day, a church that was not his own.  He mingled about with the parishioners patting them on the back, talking loudly and laughing in a gesture of friendship.  The parishioners were shocked with his familiarity and horrified at his “lack of respect” for a place of worship.  He was asked to leave.

On the doorstep, he was approached by God who said, “Cheer up, fella, I’ve been trying to get into that church for years!”

Source: Dare to Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord! by Erma Bombeck
in Ocala Star-Banner, February 26, 1970.| 7A

CONSIDER THIS

  • I cannot imagine a Christian who does not know how to smile. May we joyfully witness to our faith. —Pope Francis, February 4th, 2014
  • Evangelization in our time will only take place as the result of contagious joy. —Pope Francis, Message for the 29th World Youth Day, 21st January 2014
  • There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.  —Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, #6
  • An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! —Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, #10

PARABLE OF THE SPOONS

Rabbi Haim of Romshishok was an itinerant preacher. He traveled from town to town delivering religious sermons that stressed the importance of respect for one’s fellow man. He often began his talks with the following story:

I once ascended to the firmaments. I first went to see Hell and the sight was horrifying. Row after row of tables were laden with platters of sumptuous food, yet the people seated around the tables were pale and emaciated, moaning in hunger. As I came closer, I understood their predicament.

Every person held a full spoon, but both arms were splinted with wooden slats so he could not bend either elbow to bring the food to his mouth. It broke my heart to hear the tortured groans of these poor people as they held their food so near but could not consume it.

Next I went to visit Heaven. I was surprised to see the same setting I had witnessed in Hell – row after row of long tables laden with food. But in contrast to Hell, the people here in Heaven were sitting contentedly talking with each other, obviously sated from their sumptuous meal.

As I came closer, I was amazed to discover that here, too, each person had his arms splinted on wooden slats that prevented him from bending his elbows. How, then, did they manage to eat?

As I watched, a man picked up his spoon and dug it into the dish before him. Then he stretched across the table and fed the person across from him! The recipient of this kindness thanked him and returned the favor by leaning across the table to feed his benefactor.

I suddenly understood. Heaven and Hell offer the same circumstances and conditions. The critical difference is in the way the people treat each other.

I ran back to Hell to share this solution with the poor souls trapped there. I whispered in the ear of one starving man, ‘You do not have to go hungry. Use your spoon to feed your neighbor, and he will surely return the favor and feed you.’

‘You expect me to feed the detestable man sitting across the table?’ said the man angrily. ‘I would rather starve than give him the pleasure of eating!’

Source: Moshe Kranc, The Hasidic Masters’ Guide to Management
Devora Publishing, 2004) pages 108-109

Note: There are variations of the tale across many religions and cultures, it’s message so universal.

CONSIDER THIS

The difference between heaven and hell is not the setting. It’s in the way people treat each other.

So much of how we deal with the world simply comes down to perspective. Heaven and hell, the same place and situation, the only difference the attitudes and approach of the people present.

We can create heaven and hell for one another, right here in this world, by the way we treat each other. We have the ability to cause suffering and pain, and we have the ability to bring comfort and hope.

MARY NEEDS MARTHA

A brother went to see Abba Silvanus on the mountain of Sinai. When he saw the brothers working hard, he said to the old man, “Do not labor for the food that perishes. Mary has chosen the good portion.”

The old man said to a disciple, “Zacharias, give the brother a book, and put him in a cell without anything else.”

So when the ninth hour came, this brother watched the door, expecting someone would be sent to call him to the meal. When no one called him, he got up, went to find the old man, and said to him, “Have the brothers not eaten today?”

The old man replied that they had.

Then he said, “Why did you not call me?”

The old man said to him, “Because you are a spiritual man and do not need that kind of food. We, being carnal, want to eat, and that is why we work. But you have chosen the good portion and read the whole day long, and you do not want to eat carnal food.”

When he heard these words, the brother made a prostration, saying, “Forgive me, Abba.”

The old man said to him, “Mary needs Martha. It is really thanks to Martha that Mary is praised.”

Source: Michal Bar-Asher Siegal
Early Christian Monastic Literature and the Babylonian Talmud
(Cambridge University Press, 2013) page 96

CONSIDER THIS

Read Luke 10:38-42

Often Martha has been cast as a type of the active Christian, the Christian at work in the world, and Mary as a type of the passive Christian, withdrawn from the world in the quest for prayer and contemplation.

Is it better to be a Mary or a Martha? In other words, Is it better to pray or to play? Serve or Sacrifice? What do you think?

Going beyond the Mary-Martha dichotomy, consider the relative merits, if any, of active service vis-à-vis quiet devotion.

Shifting from an “either-or” to a “both-and” point of view, do you think it’s possible to be a Mary in a Martha world? How do you imagine yourself being a contemplative in action?

 

WHERE IS YOUR FOCUS?

 

Gerry was walking down a sidewalk in Washington D.C., with a Native American friend who worked in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It was lunchtime in Washington. People were husslin’ and busslin’ along the sidewalks, and car honks and hurried engine noises filled the streets.  In the middle of all this traffic, Gerry’s friend stopped and said, “hey, a. cricket!”

“What?” said Gerry.

“Yeah, a cricket,” said his friend. “Look here,” and he pulled aside some of the bushes that separated the sidewalk from the government buildings. There in the shade was a cricket chirping away.

“Wow,” said Gerry, “How did you hear that with all this noise and traffic?”

“Oh,” said the Native man. “It was the way I was raised … what I was taught to listen for. Here, I’ll show you something.”

The Native man reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins … nickels, quarters, dimes … and dropped then on the sidewalk. Everyone who was rushing by stopped to …  listen.

Source: Susan Strauss
Passionate Fact: Storytelling in Natural History and Cultural Interpretation (Fulcrum Publishing, 1996) page 9

CONSIDER THIS

We with our busy lives, rushing down highways and byways, preoccupied with our own inner thoughts and expectations, what do we hear?

Where is your focus? What are you paying attention to? What are you listening to?

FILL IN THE BLANK

A successful businessman was invited to address a group of young executives on the subject of opportunities. He began his talk by tacking to the wall a big sheet of white paper and placing a black dot in the middle of the sheet. “What do you see?” he asked, pointing to the paper on the wall. “A black spot,” called out everyone in the audience. “Yes, I see a black dot too,” replied the speaker, “but none of you saw the much greater expanse of white. This is the point of my talk on opportunities.”

Source: Ralph Woods, Wellsprings of Wisdom
C. R. Gibson Co; 1st edition (January 1, 1969)

CONSIDER THIS

While it is so easy to focus on the “black dots” – the immediate tasks that face us each day – how often do you grasp the opportunities that no one else notices in the white space?

You might be tempted to say that you don’t have the time to notice the white space. Do you ever find yourself daydreaming? When you do, you’re visiting the big white canvas of possibility. The question is: Do you recognize your ability to bring those daydreams to fruition?

Try making a list of the urgent longings of your heart, your dreams, your desires.  Write them down. When you finish, place an asterisk next to the five you would most like to accomplish or experience.

Finally, make those five items the “black dots” upon which you will focus your attention until completed. Once identified, it becomes much easier to concentrate your attention on them. Opportunity knocks!

SINGLE HEARTEDNESS

A young but earnest Zen student approached his teacher, and asked the Zen Master:

“If I work very hard and diligent how long will it take for me to find Zen.”

The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years.”

The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast – How long then ?”

Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.”

“But, if I really, really work at it. How long then ?” asked the student.

“Thirty years,” replied the Master.

“But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?”

Replied the Master, “When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.”

Source: As quoted in Saskia Shakin
More Than Words Can Say: The Making of Inspired Speakers
Ovation Publishers (November 2008)

_______________________________

Here’s a shorter version of the same story

Student: How long will it take me to learn enlightenment?
Master: Five years.

Student: What if I try real hard?
Master: Ten years.

Source:  Melannie Svoboda
In Steadfast Love: Letters on the Spiritual Life
(Twenty-Third Publications, 2007) page 66

CONSIDER THIS

It is not about working harder, but rather about stepping back and gentle focus.  Stop trying  so hard and instead allow things to happen unto you.

When an archer is shooting for nothing, he has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle, he is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold, he goes blind or sees two targets –
He is out of his mind!
His skill has not changed. But the prize divides him.
He cares. He thinks more of winning than of shooting—
And the need to win drains him of power.

(Chuang Tzu : 19:4, p. 158)