There is a true story I am going to tell you that will help you understand the Gospel today. Two weeks ago I saw a news clip on TV about a barking dog. This dog was in a very difficult situation. It had followed a woodchuck into his burrow that was in the roots of an oak tree. All you could see was this dog sticking its whole head out of the oak tree about five feet above the ground. One of the tree's limbs had broken off and there was an eight inch hole in the tree. The dog's head was sticking out of the hole.
What an extraordinary was that the dog was barking incessantly, constantly, and was frantic looking out of the hole.
The good news is that two men came along and heard the dog's barking and looked for it. They soon found the dachshund with its head sticking out of the hole and barking as if his life depended on it – and it really did – the men called for backup and the dog was rescued from the tree.
This Gospel from Matthew is quite difficult to understand. Jesus says to his disciples that “whoever loves father or mother over me and whoever loves son or daughter over me is not worthy of me.” We all love our family and pray for them often. Jesus is really saying that we have to do what God wants us to do, to be aware of God all of the time and to be mindful of the obligations God asks us to do.
What does it mean to be mindful of God all of the time? This can be a very daunting task. Sometimes if not all of the time, I pray most regularly when troubles present themselves or when I am a afraid.
Seeing the TV video of the dog reminded me that I need to be much more aware of God all of the time. Seeing that little dog put so much effort into surviving his world situation, he used all of his energy to reach out for God knows how long to be aware of someone in his world to save him.
This reminded me of a practice of mindful meditation I learned from my Spiritual Director. I read the book The Way of the Pilgrim. It was of a journey of a man going from wise person to wise person asking how can he connect or be mindful of God.
A monk told him about a prayer he could say over and over and over. There are even one hundred beads on a rope that could help one remember the prayer.
And the prayer is:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me.
I started to say this prayer over and over using these one hundred beads on a rope. So, in my spare time, in the car, walking, supervising recess duty, I said this prayer.
It suddenly became too long of a prayer to say. Words of prayers became too difficult. I shortened the prayer to Jesus, Mercy. I no longer needed the one hundred beads on a rope. I simply said Jesus, Mercy. Then I began to realize that all I needed to do was breathe in and out and I no longer needed the words Jesus, Mercy.
Now I just become aware of my breathing and I am certain that I am in prayer with my God. Just breathing in and out I know I am mindful of reaching out to God all of the time and I am at peace.
Perhaps this is too much talking of myself today. The single mindedness of the dog's bark reminded me profoundly how each of us needs to reach out to God and be aware of of God, and be grateful to God for forgiveness and know that I am loved.