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Posted by on Jan 10, 2019

Dancing in the Street – A New Year Filled with Grace Begins

Dancing in the Street – A New Year Filled with Grace Begins

A new year begins. A year that will be filled with grace freely offered, seeking only hearts open to receive it.

People dance in the streets, celebrating this outpouring of divine life into our daily reality. Enemies embrace. The fearful step out with undaunted courage. Young men and women move confidently into their unknown future and old ones see visions of great hope.

What if this were the reality of our transition into this new year? How could it come to be? Dare we ever hope for such a gift? It seems too good to be true, especially as we confront the turmoil and dangers of today’s world.

Yet this is the promise to which we are called. Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah (Is 61:1), “I come to bring glad news, ….”   He echoes Tobit’s instructions to his son Tobiah (Tob 4:16): “Share your bread, clothe the naked ….” He goes one step further even and tells us that this is the basis on which our faithfulness is to be evaluated. To the degree we do this to the least among us, we do it to him (Mt 25:40).

This is the reality, unseen though it may be, to which we are called. The great mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord has come to pass in our human history. They continue to be a living reality in our Eucharist and in our daily lives. Peter’s words to the crowds on that first Pentecost are a call to each of us. Open your eyes. God is doing something fantastic here. Yes, the empires remain. Yes, powerful people continue to bully and oppress the poor. Yes, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer and greater in number.

But do not lose hope! Grace has burst into our world. It flows into each of us and out into that world. So dance with joy. See the sun, the moon, the flowers, the smiles of children and old ones. Smile with the beggars and give thanks to the Lord for sharing his abundant life with us!

Then roll up your sleeves and move out into this wonderful world. Be the eyes and ears, the voice, hands, and feet of the risen Lord, the Word made flesh, God with us. And let’s get busy caring for our sisters and brothers who need a hand, our Earth, our communities, refugees at our borders, and our families. Let’s do it in joy, peace, cooperation, and hope.

Peace be with you, now and always.

Photo: “Plum Flower” by Dario Sabio – Public Domain Images

 

 

 

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Posted by on May 9, 2018

“It is Time for the Lord to Act”

“It is Time for the Lord to Act”

“It is time for the Lord to act.” These words proclaimed by the deacon to the priest in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches just before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy (known as the Mass in the Roman Catholic church) tell us something important about God’s participation in human life. The word for time used in this statement is “kairos,” meaning the perfect or decisive moment in which conditions are right for something very important to take place — a time when God acts. The beginning of a Eucharistic celebration (Mass or Divine Liturgy) is one such time.

In a very real way, the celebration of the Rite of Initiation of Christian Adults (RCIA), culminating at Easter Vigil with Baptism, Confirmation, and first reception of Communion, is a series of kairos events in the life of believers.

In Roman Catholic tradition, we have baptized infants and children for centuries. Most members of the church have no memory of their baptism. First Communion, around the age of reason, is more commonly remembered. Confirmation, when received in adolescence, is remembered more clearly. Nevertheless, the three Sacraments of Initiation are designed to be received at the same time. In fact, since Vatican II, the Church has asked dioceses around the world to re-unite them, including with the initiation of children. This is the practice in the Eastern churches.

But children are not the only source of new Christians. Adults have always come to the Christian community and asked to be admitted to membership. The process of instructing and welcoming new members has taken many forms over the 2,000 year history of our community. Since Vatican II, returning to the tradition of the early Church, the RCIA has been the way we have welcomed new believers.

This year at Easter Vigil, as we again lit the new fire and blessed the waters of baptism, we welcomed our new sisters and brothers by plunging them into the newly blessed baptismal waters or pouring the water over their heads. We have anointed them with chrism, the oil blessed by the bishop during Holy Week.  Chrism is used to anoint the hands of priests, the heads of bishops, the altar and walls of a church, and the newly baptized. In Confirmation, it is also used to anoint and strengthen the new Christian, bringing the wisdom and strength from the Holy Spirit to witness to the presence and activity of God in all creation. Finally, we complete their initiation by sharing the very Body and Blood of our Lord with them as food for the day-to-day journey of faith.

Such a lot happens in a very short time! It’s far too much to fully comprehend in the moment. It will take a lifetime to ponder and experience the growth and flowering of the seed brought to birth at Easter Vigil – the new life of faith and community of travelers on the way in God’s kingdom.

The newly baptized ideally are continuing their journey in a time of sharing and learning known as mystagogy – a time of awakening in the Spirit and entering ever more deeply into the mystery. Common reactions/experiences of those who have newly received these sacraments include a hunger for scripture, a desire to learn more, a longing for community and sharing, an urge to step away to pray and ponder what they have experienced, excitement, wonder, and joy. Eventually, they may also experience a quieting of the initial excitement, a sense of God not being so close anymore, disillusionment upon discovering the “warts” or “clay feet” of other members of the community. All of this is normal. It’s all part of the journey of faith.

Jesus’ disciples and friends did not fully understand what happened in that Kairos moment of Easter and resurrection. Two thousand years later, we still cannot explain it. God acted in a decisive way, defeating the power of death and separation between God-self and humanity by becoming one of us and experiencing human life fully. Now it is our turn to enter, as members of the Christian community, into the life of the Trinity. It is a journey of a lifetime, lived step by step by the baptized.

Welcome, Sisters and Brothers to this amazing journey. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. We look forward to learning from you of the wonders our God is doing in your life and we promise to share with you the wonders we have seen. The Kairos moment has come into our lives. Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen!

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Posted by on May 1, 2017

A Surprise Gift from the Lord

A Surprise Gift from the Lord

It happened again the other day. I had gone to the grocery store after dinner to get flour, yeast, and a couple of other things so I could start baking early the next morning. It was time to make the Hot Cross Buns for Holy Week and Easter. I make a very large batch of them in a house that is typically on the cool side, so it can be an all-day process to get the yeast growing fast enough to form and bake the rolls before bedtime.

At any rate, as I was coming out of the store, I crossed the parking lot with my cart of groceries and  man approached with a smile. He had just been rebuffed by another woman, but he seemed unfazed by her rebuff. I figured he was going to ask for a handout. It would have been totally consistent with his clothing and general style of approach. It commonly happens in that particular parking lot. I braced myself for his request and prepared to demur.

Rather than ask for money, however, he asked if he could ask me a question. Keeping my distance and continuing towards my car, I told him he could ask, but I didn’t know if I would answer. He again smiled and simply asked if he could give me something. He was carrying five or six long plant leaves similar to palm fronds, but from a different species of plants. When I accepted his offer, he happily began folding and twisting, and turning one of the leaves.

By this point I was nearly to the car. As he busily worked, I opened the trunk and put the bags of groceries inside. (I’d gotten more than I had anticipated — I often remember more things we need once I get to the store.) As I closed the trunk he smiled and said, “Now for the magic.” Holding his creation in one hand, he firmly pressed down on the top of it and twisted it more closely together with the other. Then he took a second leaf and wrapped it quickly beneath the first, tying it by using his teeth to hold it tightly as he worked. When he finished, he stood up straight, bowed slightly, and offered me a  flower. I smiled my delight and thanked him, exclaiming, “It’s beautiful.” He happily returned my smile and headed off across the parking lot, head held high, with hands that I now realized were wrapped in protective swaths of white bandage material, looking for someone else willing to accept a gift of beauty in the night from a stranger.

And I knew that I had once again met the Lord in the most unexpected of places and times.

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Posted by on May 6, 2016

An Eye for an Eye … A Whole World Blind?

An Eye for an Eye … A Whole World Blind?

Milkau_Oberer_Teil_der_Stele_mit_dem_Text_von_Hammurapis_Gesetzescode_369-2“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was an important advance in human relations at the time of Babylonian ruler Hammurabi around 1754 BCE. In earlier ages, particularly in small tribal societies with large extended families, the norm was that family honor demanded extreme reaction/retaliation for wrongs committed against any member of the family. Of course, some members were more highly valued, so retaliation for wrongs against them was more extreme, but even for those with lower status, some sort of response was necessary. Otherwise the next offense might be more extreme. No family could affort to appear weak. This approach is still all too common among tribal peoples today. Honor killings have not disappeared from the face of the earth.

However, as larger groups of people/families began to live in towns and cities, feuds between families, with ever escalating degrees of violence, wrecked havoc on social order and stability. Something had to be done. The Code of Hammurabi, like the codes of other ancient rulers, served as a guide for dealing with conflict and setting levels of responsibility or punishment for offenses.

Legal Codes Limit Revenge

Under the terms of the Code of Hamurabi, wrongs could not be avenged with actions more extreme than the original offense, though what was considered extreme varied by social class, with offenses against the poor or slaves meriting smaller degrees of punishment. Nevertheless, limiting the scope of acceptable response/retaliation was absolutely necessary for human social progress.

Mount Sinai by El GrecoThe Mosaic Law, which undergirds much of Western Civilization, incorporated many of the features of the Code of Hammurabi. In contrast with the codes of monarchies, such as that of Hammurabi, Hebrew law was seen to come from God and included care of widows, orphans, and outsiders (“strangers”) in its scope. The concept of mercy and inclusion of forgiveness of debt were also part of the Mosaic Law.

All of this comes to mind as headlines scream that government forces have bombed a civilian hospital in rebel-held territory one week and the next week another civilian hospital in government-held territory is bombed by rebel forces. Terrorists kill theater-goers. Bombs explode near airports and in subways. Politicians speak of excluding all members of a world religion or all people from certain countries from entry to their more privileged country. Refugees are turned away from country after country. And women and girls who have been victimized by warring men are shunned by their families or killed for bringing dishonor on their families.

Where will it all end? When will it all end? How can it all end?

Jesus was not joking when He told those who came out to hear Him teach that they were to love their enemies, pray for those who persecuted them, and treat others the way they themselves wanted to be treated. (Mt  5:1-7:29 and Lk 6:27-38) They were to be compassionate as the Father is compassionate. These words were meant for us too. They challenge us today. Are they just for individuals or are they for communities and nations?

Forgive and Forget?

We sometimes hear the phrase, forgive and forget. It is so commonly heard that it’s become a platitude, a phrase that is somehow expected but without anticipation that it can actually happen. I suggest that it would be better to say “forgive but don’t forget.” Don’t forget the pain, the shame, the humiliation, the embarassment. But do forgive it and resolve not to pass it on. Take necessary steps to protect the vulnerable from harm. Be reasonably careful yourself, but forgive. Don’t carry the weight of hatred or of seeking vengence through the days following an injury or injustice. That only hurts the one who carries it. Passing on the pain doesn’t take away pain either. Passing it on just gives pain new energy, draining the energy of the one who harbors and holds on to it.

I don’t know how to solve the world’s problems. I don’t know whether we’ll ever see a time when wars will stop. I know that religious conflicts are among the hardest to end, in part because of their confusion with a desire for power and control that masquerades as a search for orthodoxy or conformity in religious belief and practice.

Nevertheless, I do believe that each of us is called to do what we can to stop the bloodshed, both literally and figuratively. We must forgive. We must find ways to hold ourselves and others accountable for our actions. We must learn how to teach our children to love rather than fear or hate those who differ from us and our ways. We must welcome people from other lands. We must resolve to share the goods of the earth, even if that means we must live more simply ourselves. We must go beyond “an eye for an eye,” because as Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” None of us is perfect. No country is entirely innocent on the world stage. But it’s time for all of us to grow up and stop passing on the pain. Time to forgive and remember and resolve, “Never again.”

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Posted by on Apr 4, 2016

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

The Annunciation - Henry Ossaw TannerGabriel’s visit to a very young woman in the small town of Nazareth was a momentous event, though mostly unnoticed at the time. Gabriel is the archangel tasked to serve as special messenger of God. On this visit, the message was actually a request: will you consent to become my mother? It wasn’t exactly phrased this way, according to the narrative we have from St. Luke, but in essence that was the question. Gabriel told Mary that she would bear a son who would be the Son of the Most High and would sit on the throne of his father David (as in King David), rule over the house of Jacob forever and have an unending kingdom. (Lk 1:26-38)

Now this would be challenging even to a married woman, but this young woman was not married. In her culture, having a child out of wedlock could result in death by stoning. At best, she would be shunned and excluded from polite society. Yet Mary had the courage to ask for more details about how such a thing could happen and to listen with deep faith to the response. Then she answered “yes,” Jesus was conceived, and God’s plan for salvation could go forward.

Christians have celebrated the Annunciation for centuries. Typically, the feast is scheduled for March 25, exactly nine months before the celebration of Christmas. However, in the West, when March 25 falls within Holy Week or the first week of Easter, the feast is moved to Monday following the Second Sunday of Easter (now known as Divine Mercy Sunday).

As adults we celebrate many events such as the Annunciation with prayer – Liturgy of the Hours, Mass, the Angelus, etc. However, for children, these ways of celebrating are not always experienced as much fun. So, with that in mind, I’d like to suggest an alternative way to celebrate: Make Angel cookies!

To make Angel cookies, take any recipe for a cookie that allows rolling out the dough and cutting out a cookie. (Even brownies could be used for making Angel Cookies if time is short.) Use an angel shaped cookie cutter to shape the cookies before baking. Be sure to decorate them with frosting/icing or with some  kind of “sprinkles” of colored sugar to make them festive. Then share them as part of a festive meal. Light a candle, have a special drink, use nicer dishes than normal, have a food that is a treat for your family — any or all of these things will make the day special for the children and family who share them.

As you share this day, keep your ears open for the voice of angels in your life. God’s messenger still comes, though perhaps not as momentously as in the visit to Mary. What is God saying to you and me today?

Peace.

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Posted by on Mar 26, 2016

A Few Minutes to Pray

A Few Minutes to Pray

Winter Sun on the Central Coast 2.1.16Holy Saturday can become one of the busiest days of the year, especially for those preparing for church services or hosting Easter dinner. Finding a moment to stop and pray is not easy. There are rehearsals for those playing a part at Easter Vigil or other Easter services. There are last minute Easter basket details to handle. The floors need sweeping. The furniture is dusty. The windows have splotches that testify to recent rains. Shirts to iron, shoes to shine, etc., etc., etc.

Yet Holy Saturday is really a time that is supposed to be holy: a time to stop, reflect on what we have just experienced with Christ and his early family and friends, and wonder how it all applies to our lives here and now. A time to step out of time and space and enter into (or remain within) the realm of the Sacred, the Holy, the Other.

We Christians are not always conscious of the reality that God and God’s presence/activity exist outside the confines of time and space. We mistakenly think that what we celebrate took place two thousand years ago and we simply remember in historical, or maybe collective, terms the events and the people to whom these things happened. In reality, for God everything is NOW. There is no past, present, or future. When we enter into the mysteries of the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Pascal Mystery, those mysteries are not history. They are happening in our lives as well. Our Jewish sisters and brothers will say, “Our ancesters walked through the Red Sea and our feet are wet.” They understand that the events they remember in story and ritual are truly real today as well. This reality is equally true for us.

Today we remember that day when all seemed lost for Jesus’ mother Mary, for his friends Peter, James, John and the other disciples, for Mary of Magdala and the other women who traveled with Jesus. Jesus had been publicly tortured to death as a traitor to the Empire, a political enemy of the state. His death was that reserved for the worst of criminals, those seen as fomenting revolution. It was meant as a warning to any who would attempt to change the status quo, the way things are/were. His family and friends recognized the warning and were crushed with sadness and fear, on top of the emptiness we all feel when someone we love has died. It was the Sabbath. They couldn’t even go to the tomb to care for his body properly. They simply had to wait and pray, try to make some sense of the past three years of their lives with him, and console each other as best they could.

We know the rest of the story — the events of the next morning changed history. God intervened, raising Jesus up on the third day, the day on which God came to the rescue of the faithful one. As a result, it’s easy for us to forget what this day, the day in-between, is about, easy to get busy rushing around to prepare to celebrate. They didn’t have a clue what was coming.

But we have entered into the mystery. We have celebratedPalm Sunday with cries of Hosanna and waving of palm branches. We rejoiced on Holy Thursday, celebrating the institution of the Eucharist. We have heard the passion narrative, prayed for all the peoples of the world, and venerated the cross on Good Friday. We are still in the midst of the mystery. It is not over yet. This is a time of quiet hope and awe in the face of loss and the unknown. It’s a time to experience our solidarity with those who suffer today because they are disciples of this Jesus, the crucified one. Time for quiet and prayer.

It’s a beautiful day here on California’s Central Coast. I’m going to leave the floors unswept, the furniture undusted, the weeds growing happily in all the flower beds, and go for a walk with my Lord alongside the ocean.

Holy Saturday blessings to all.

 

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Posted by on Feb 2, 2016

Dirty Macaroni for the Feast of St. Blaise

Dirty Macaroni for the Feast of St. Blaise

Dirty Macaroni

  Dirty Macaroni

In the city of Dubrovnik, since the days of the Republic, on the Feast of St. Blaise, folks from the countryside traditionally came into the city to celebrate the life of their patron saint with Mass and processions. Families living in town were expected to provide a meal for their visiting relatives. As this could get quite expensive, families opted for a simpler dish, with less expensive ingredients that would be both tasty and filling. “Dirty Macaroni” was the result.

How did it get this name?

The sauce was prepared the day before the feast, with the macaroni left to cook fresh on the feast day itself (February 3). Those who arrived early to eat got a nice serving of both meat sauce and macaroni. Those arriving later got more macaroni and less sauce. Eventually, when the kettle of sauce was pretty much empty, the macaroni got a light coat of sauce and came to look like it was not quite clean anymore. Hence the name, Dirty Macaroni.

Recipe please!

 

Dirty Macaroni

Ingredients:
(serves about 5 people)

1 lb elbow macaroni
1 lb ground or chopped beef (or other meat)
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, including liquid
½ C red wine
2 cloves garlic (or less, to taste)
2-3 cloves
1 bay leaf
Pinch cinnamon
Chopped parsely
Shredded cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste

Saute onion in olive oil or lard until lightly yellowed, then add the meat. After the fluid has evaporated, add the tomatoes, including the tomato juice and let it cook a bit more. Add the red wine and a bit of water and simmer, stirring from time to time. Add parsley, garlic, cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon, salt and pepper and simmer for around 2 hours. Add warm water as needed. Cook until the meat is very soft.

When ready to serve the meal, cook the macaroni, drain, cover with the sauce and let sit for about 10 minutes to allow the sauce to soak into the macaroni.

Serve with a bit of grated cheese and enjoy!

 

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Posted by on Jan 29, 2016

Entering into the Mystery

Entering into the Mystery

people-walking-on-streetAs the Church’s New Year began in Advent, in communities around the world, men and women took a huge step into  a special journey: a journey that will take them deeply into the mystery of God’s relationship with humans. These people stepped forward with their sponsors and were introduced to the people of the communities they will join. Welcomed with blessings and prayer, they entered a time of study and reflection through which they will become increasingly aware of God’s call to journey on The Way.

The Way?

Christian life in earliest times was known as The Way: the way to the Kingdom of God, begun here and now with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and unfolding through time to its ultimate fulfillment when Jesus returns and all are reunited in the mystery of God’s life. This way of living differs from the ways of others who have not chosen to follow it. It requires loving and forgiving enemies, caring for the most vulnerable in the world, acting with justice and mercy, being stewards/caretakers of the environment, and trusting that God will bring good out of all that happens, even if what happens is not what God would have wanted to see.

That doesn’t sound easy. It might even be dangerous!

Following the Way has never been a safe or easy option. Jesus, who called Himself the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6), was tortured to death, hanging naked on a cross, reviled and mocked by passers-by and abandoned by most of his friends and followers. Many of those who have followed Him have witnessed with their lives to His resurrection over the past 2000 years. The martyrs (witnesses) we remember from those early centuries are still being joined by Christians around the world today who choose death rather than renounce their Lord.

Whether called to witness with our blood or not, each of us will face times when we must speak out, saying unpopular things to people we know and whose respect we treasure. Our choice of lifestyle, leisure activities, business/work behavior, sexual ethics, and treatment of the poor and ill will all be shaped by our faith. Not all of those choices will be understood or endorsed by our peers.

Then why do it?

Despite the counter-cultural nature of a life of faith, the call to enter into the mystery is profound. The joy, peace, mercy, love, and comfort of a hug from God surpass anything of human origin. Some doors open while others shut. Funds materialize just in time to keep a project going, or they don’t come at all and something else must be done to move forward in service. Prejudices get overturned as we meet and get to know folks from other social or ethnic groups in communities of worship and service. We are continually challenged and helped to grow in wisdom and grace as we grow in age.

A life of faith is not for the faint of heart. It’s a great adventure into realms not often noticed through everyday eyes. As poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “All of Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush aflame with God; but only those who see take off their shoes.”  The glory of God shines forth in all of creaton. Those called to enter into this mystery are truly blessed. We journey forward together — those just beginning and those who’ve travelled long. Difficulties, doubts, second thoughts, and times of desolation will arise, but the promise and faithfulness of God, the overwhelming power of love and mercy, will accompany us and welcome us to an even richer life when we reach our journey’s end.

Away we go together — on The Way!

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Posted by on Nov 18, 2015

A Prayer for Our Times

A Prayer for Our Times

 

Gift of Flowers

God of Love, whose compassion never fails,
we bring you the griefs and perils of people and nations,
the pains of the sick and injured,
the sighing of prisoners and captives,
the sorrows of the bereaved,
the necessities of the homeless,
the helplessness of the weak,
the despair of the weary,
the failing powers of the aged.
Comfort and relieve them, O merciful Lord.
Amen.

St. Anselm of Canterbury

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Posted by on Jun 18, 2015

Treat Them with Tenderness – Pope Francis

Treat Them with Tenderness – Pope Francis

father_piggy_backPope Francis celebrated Mass for the Third Worldwide Retreat for Priests on June 12, 2015, the Feast of the Sacred Heart. In his homily for the priests he spoke of God’s tenderness — a tenderness like that of a father or a mother teaching a child to walk. A tenderness that binds his people in freedom, attracting them “with bonds of love, with ties of love.” He explained that God then tells us and his people, “For you I am like one who lifts a child to my cheek and kisses her as I bend down to feed her. Considering this tenderness of God how would it be possible for him to abandon us to the enemy?” When we find ourselves in difficulty or insecurity, the Lord tells us, “If I do all of this for you, how can you even think that I would leave you on your own, that I would abandon you?”

Referring to the Coptic martyrs of Libya, Pope Francis noted that they died with the name of Jesus on their lips, entrusting themselves to the love of God. God promises,“How can I treat you as an enemy? My heart rises within me and arouses all my tenderness.” It is not a day of wrath that awaits you but a day of pardon for sins and the tenderness of a Father, the Holy One in our midst. This love and tenderness is the gift of the Father to all of his children, for each one of us.

A lot of the time we are afraid of the tenderness of God and we refuse to let ourselves experience it. In these moments “we are hard, severe, punishers” of our neighbors (and even of ourselves). Although he was speaking to priests, the message is something that we should all hear, as it applies to us as well. He also explained that that we should not be like the shepherd who cared for only one sheep and left the other ninety nine sheep to wander about, lost.

The Pope explained, “the heart of Christ is the tenderness of God. This is the way that pastors (and the people of God) should shepherd each other – with the tenderness of God and they should leave the whip in the sacristy (or in the cabinet) and be tender shepherds even with those who are the most troublesome.”

Finishing his homily, Pope Francis said “We do not believe in an ethereal God. We believe in a God who became flesh, who has a heart, and this heart today tells us, ‘Come to me if you are tired, worn out, and I will refresh you, but treat my little ones with tenderness, with the same tenderness with which I care for you.’ This is what the heart of Christ is telling us today and this is what I am praying for you today at this Mass and for myself.”

(Pope Francis’ homily was written for a priests’ retreat, but the ideas he expressed are important for all of us, the People of God. Accordingly, I have included mention of the rest of us in parentheses.)

 

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