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Posted by on May 14, 2018

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

Mystagogy is the fourth and last stage in RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). The term comes from the Greek for “secret.”  The reason this term is appropriate for Christianity is that the tradition understands much of its focus as being on the supernatural. By definition the supernatural is often not known nor experienced through ordinary reasoning or empirical interaction. During the time of Mystagogy, RCIA neophytes are called to deepen their experience of the Sacraments (or Mysteries) received at Easter and to understand them. The sacraments are a primary encounter of Christians with God and thus events with an ineffable dimension.

This time after the Easter Sacraments therefore includes opportunities for experience, reflection and learning.  The most important goal is that neophytes grow in closeness to God. The second goal is that they know the joy of sharing their faith in the community of the Church. Neophytes are then encouraged to reach out eventually to those not part of the church community.

For new Catholics, the Eucharist, a mystery itself, is the model and the means of why and how one can live the life of a new creation. In the Eucharist, Jesus gives himself to believers in a humble and personal way and models the self-giving and purest kind of love that happened at the Crucifixion. The Eucharist transforms and empowers recipients to live a life that is full of the kind of love we see in Jesus. As they are fed, they can go out and feed others.

This new life is not something one can read about and just do. It is not a skill. It is a relationship. As a living relationship with God, it takes time. This relationship grows through the reception of the sacraments, prayer, and doing service. The period of Mystagogy is the beginning of what St. Paul calls “putting on Christ.”  (Romans 13:14)

After the intense months of RCIA, it can be a shock for new Catholics suddenly not to be a part of a group attending the liturgy and practicing prayer, learning, and reflection. Many people involved in RCIA teams, as well as new Catholics, feel that Mystagogy, which usually lasts a month to six weeks, is not nearly long enough. Some parishes have RCIA programs that run one and one half years to two years. Other parishes encourage RCIA graduates to join Bible studies, prayer groups, adult religious education, parish retreats, and ministries within the parish community.

In the end, Mystagogy and the ensuing Christian life are a matter of trust. God lives in our depths and graces us in unseen ways. We often do not know exactly where we are going in life, but we know that Jesus is with us. During Mystagogy, the New Christian is led by the Holy Spirit deeper into God and the life of faith, both a matter of intellectual knowledge and unfathomable mystery. It is the beginning of a great adventure.

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Posted by on Oct 20, 2017

God’s Relentless Pursuit of Humanity

God’s Relentless Pursuit of Humanity

Jesus began to address them, once more using parables. “The reign of God may be likened to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the wedding, but they refused to come. … Then he said to his servants: ‘The banquet is ready, but those who were invited were unfit to come. That is why you must to out into the byroads and invite to the wedding anyone you come upon.’ The servants then went out into the byroads and rounded up everyone they met, bad as well as good. This filled the wedding hall with banqueters …” (Mt 22:1-14)

Today’s parable is a potent reminder of God’s relentless pursuit of humanity. A King prepared a banquet for the wedding of his son. Take note: It was the King who invited. When he invites, you are mandated to go. People were invited but they refused. Almost begging, the King sent another invitation and each had their own petty excuses.

Religion, they say, is man’s search for God. But the biblical God is different. He searches for man. He longs for him. He initiates. One of the very first words God said to man in the Scriptures are: “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). Those are not words looking for location and direction, but the words of a lover luring his unfaithful beloved back into the right relationship.

When the English poet Francis Thompson described God as the “Hound of Heaven” (a hound is a dog breed with a strong sense of smell, relentless in pursuing subjects), many were scandalized. But he was right. God is a Divine “hound” whose search for His beloved humanity is relentless and constant.

If the image of God as a hound in pursuit is scandalous, what more is God’s courtesy in His pursuit? He is God. He doesn’t need to ask. Instead, He invites, asks, and proposes. God risks the embarrassment of rejection. If you were in God’s place, I’m sure you would not take that risk.

I once saw a Korean guy who went to the flight attendants, asked for the microphone, and publicly proposed marriage to his girlfriend on the plane. The guy said, “I have something to ask you and you’re free to choose from the four possible answers. You can either say “Yes,” “Of Course,” “Why Not,” and “Absolutely.” So much for freedom, huh? The choices left no room for the possibility of rejection. God took the risk of rejection because that is the way of genuine love. If we were created in a way that we could not say “No” to God, then our “Yes” to Him would be of no value. God longs for our free and genuine “Yes.” For that, He is willing to suffer the embarrassment of an ignorant “No” from a worthless yet arrogant humanity.

God continues to invite us today, through the Holy Eucharist. This is God’s banquet, his wedding reception. That is why all the elements of a party are present in the Eucharist…

For all the beauty of the Eucharist, how many people truly understand the Eucharist so as to be excited to partake of it every week? How many of us who attend are always motivated with real rejoicing in being here?

October 15, 2017

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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 Mar 23, 2017

The Catechumen’s Song

The Catechumen’s Song

The Catechumen’s Song

A still gentle voice
rills upon the waves
Laughs in the gulls and
sparkles in the sand

A longing deep and still
beyond believing
Within hope
a throb of love


Late have I loved thee
beauty ever ancient ever new
Let me die in your arms
and rise up anew

Where are those to take
me to you?
How a path upon the stars
your love does trace

Where is this beauty
in the path?
What turn forsakes
all else?

Sweeping low the
the salt breeze calls
My name, my name
across the dunes

Balanced against all else
the stones of life
For a season in a day
guard the path of ocean sway

Across the waves
our hulls delight
Spinnaker buckle and roil
a tack and yaw

Roll and deep
a crash and rise
At harbor’s sunset
across the bar

Day’s lagoon at tide resets
sways the dock
A fire in the mountain
challenges purple

The path a million lighted wings
sweet sage upon the mountain breath
Dawn’s sparkle bubbles
the font of agate

Upon the forest fence
descends the Dove
Beneath the flood
a rush of three

Strong arms my breath
does save anew a light
From the tomb a laugh
as butterfly does dash

Hold the colors of that flame
anointing soothes
A priest a prophet does proclaim
the Spirit of Love comes upon me

A table a gentle fare
so dearly won
The bread the wine
in faith eyes so much more

Risen, one Body
one host divine
Comes at table
in our hearts to recline

Where tells the mystery sweet
upon my ears to dance
Where finds my mind
my heart

Away from lover’s trance
to delight
In my Love’s laughter
steal away, steal away

No more I dwell alone
my loneliness meets its end
Among the lilies
I lay down my head

At one in peace
one Heart
In the one Lord
one Heart

A chance upon the breeze
swings on gossamer wings
A sweet entrance with
nectar a rainbow’s trance

Who calls in sunset’s
green flood
Whose footsteps
bid your path

Come hear the music
and the dance
Come play, steal away
and dance

Leave all else
lose yourself
Upon the even tide
on the shore He sets His Fire

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Posted by on Oct 3, 2016

Finding God in All the Wrong People – A Look at the Emerging Church

Finding God in All the Wrong People – A Look at the Emerging Church

Accidental Saints

 

Seeing the Underside and Seeing God: Nadia Bolz-Weber with Krista Tippett at the Wild Goose Festival from On Being on Vimeo.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran Minister who is described as “not your mother’s minister.” This is a marvelous interview with the woman who is the pastor or “pastorix” as she jokes of the House of  Sinners and Saints in Denver. Raised in the Church of Christ with no drinking, dancing, and no instruments in church Nadia has gone through many years of addiction and stand up comedy. In her Denver church,  she has incorporated the four part a capella singing of her childhood and focuses her preaches on the ongoing death and resurrection of Christians.

Before meeting her husband she had not found a Christianity with a care for the poor and a liturgy. Her getting clean and sober she describes as a “completely rude thing for God to do.” In Lutheranism she discovered a long articulation of belief that she “did not have to get rid of half her brain to accept.” She found an emphasis on God She doesn’t feel responsible for what her congregants believe but she feel responsible for what they hear and experience in the preaching and in the liturgy. they are anti excellence but pro participation. She calls her liturgy “high church and tent revival.”

For a fresh take on traditional Christianity in contemporary language enjoy this interview.

 

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Posted by on Sep 1, 2016

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

NASA South America 2007

South America – NASA Image – Public Domain

 

CNN published an unusual story of hope, forgiveness, and mercy “Escobar’s Son Lives with Two Truths”.

“I could easily have turned into Pablo 2.0, but I found out about the violence and the pain,”

What happens when you are the son of one of the world’s most notorious criminals? You say good bye to your father on the phone and get a call a few minutes later from the police from your father’s phone. What do you say when they tell you that they have just killed the man who loved you unconditionally with great tenderness?

How do you reconcile the man who is a great father with the man who set up the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia, killed hundreds including police, lawyers, and judges while smuggling 15 tons of cocaine into the United States everyday?

The usual television script would call for the son to follow in the footsteps of the father in a remake of “The Godfather”. Yet a young man decided not become Pablo Escobar 2.0 and gave up that name to become Sebastian Marroquin (say Marro-keen).

Marroquin chose a path of peace and reconciliation. In the recently released English translation of Pecados de Mi Padre (The Sins of my Father) as Pablo Escobar, My Father. Marroquin presents the loving father and the monstrous criminal. He talks about his own efforts to make amends with the children of the key Colombian leaders killed by his father. His reason, “because absolute silence kills us all.” The meetings have been very difficult for everyone involved but also healing. Some have told Marroquin that he is one of the victims himself and that no apology was needed since he hadn’t committed or ordered the murders.

This is an extraordinary account of repentance offered and mercy given. How many of us would even speak to the son of the man who murdered our father? How many of us could look past our own pain and rage to absolve the murderer’s son and bring him into the ranks of the victims? Generally, human history is replete with examples of revenge after wave of revenge lasting for generations.

Marroquin’s main reason for promoting his book is that he feels that the coming release of season two of “Narcos” by Netflix glamorizes his father and gangsters.

“I am not worried that the image of my father is bad. What worries me is the image of him that says, ‘It’s cool to be a narco trafficker.'”

A new parable for our time?

 

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Posted by on Aug 30, 2016

Holy Year Pilgrimage – Ave Maria – Carly Paoli

Holy Year Pilgrimage – Ave Maria – Carly Paoli

The Holy Year of Mercy can seem a little abstract. Here is a wonderful video with a beautiful adaptation of the Ave Maria. What struck me was the emphasis on recovering lost dreams and hopes not so much for ourselves but those on the street, those seeking justice, the suffering. This is contrasted with the faith of the pilgrims and the churches and sites of Rome.

This is a moving presentation of the core belief of Christianity that we cannot say that we love God whom we do not see when we ignore our neighbors whom we can see. It is consolation and a challenge that persists in the proclamation of the Gospel from generation to generation. Today it comes in a beautiful  voice, a beautiful song, and the faith of beautiful people.

 

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Posted by on Feb 10, 2016

Prayer as Lent Begins

Prayer as Lent Begins

 

Humanitarian Aid
Today God our Father brings us to the beginning of Lent.

We pray that in this time of salvation he will fill us with the Holy Spirit, purify our hearts, and strengthen us in love. Let us humbly ask him:

Lord, give us your Holy Spirit.

May we be filled and satisfied,
— by the word which you give us.

Teach us to be loving not only in great and exceptional moments,
— but above all in the ordinary events of daily life.

May we abstain from what we do not really need,
— and help our brothers and sisters in distress.

May we bear the wounds of your Son in our bodies,
— for through his body he gave us life.

Intercessions, from Morning Prayer for Ash Wednesday,
Liturgy of the Hours

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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 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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Posted by on Jun 18, 2015

Trátenlos con ternura – Papa Francisco

Trátenlos con ternura – Papa Francisco

dad_with_daughterPapa Francisco celebró la Misa para el Tercer Retiro Mundial de Sacerdotes el 12 de Junio de 2015, la Fiesta del Sagrado Corazón. En su homilía a los sacerdotes les habló de la ternura de Dios: una ternura como la de un padre o una madre que enseña a su criatura a caminar. Una ternura que ata en la libertad a su pueblo, atrayéndolo «con lazos de amor, con ataduras de amor». Explicó que luego Dios nos dice a nosotros y a su pueblo, «Yo era para ti como los que alzan a una criatura a las mejillas y lo besaba, y me inclinaba y le daba de comer». Pensando en esa ternura de Dios, ¿cómo podría ser que nos abandonara al enemigo? Cuando nos encontramos en momentos de dificultad o de inseguridad, el Señor nos dice: «pero si hice todo esto por vos, ¿cómo pensás que te voy a dejar solo, que te voy a abandonar?»

Dando el ejemplo de los mártires coptos de Libia, Papa Francisco notó que se murieron con el nombre de Jesús en los labios, confiándose en el amor de Dios. «¿Cómo te voy a tratar como un enemigo? Mi corazón se subleva dentro de mí y se enciende toda mi ternura». No es un día de ira que les espera sino un día de perdón de pecados y de la ternura de un Padre, el Santo en medio de nosotros. Ese amor y ternura son el don del Padre para todos sus hijos, para cada uno de nosotros.

Muchas veces le tenemos miedo a la ternura de Dios y no nos dejamos experimentarla. En tales momentos «somos duros, severos, castigadores» con nuestros prójimos (y hasta con nosotros mismos). Hablando a los sacerdotes, pero con palabras que los demás debemos escuchar también, explicó que no debemos ser como un pastor que cuidaba a solamente una oveja y dejaba andar perdidos a las noventa y nueve otras ovejas. Dice, «El corazón de Cristo es la ternura de Dios». Así que los pastores (y el pueblo de Dios) han de ser pastores (y pueblo) «con ternura de Dios, que dejen el látigo colgado en la sacristía (o el gabinete) y sean pastores (y pueblo) con ternura, incluso con los que le traen más problemas.»

Concluyendo su homilía, Papa Francisco dice, «Nosotros no creemos en un Dios etéreo, creemos en un Dios que se hizo carne, que tiene un corazón, y ese corazón hoy nos habla así: “vengan a mí si están cansados, agobiados, y los voy a aliviar, pero a los míos, a mis pequeños trátenlos con ternura, con la misma ternura con que los trato yo”. Eso nos dice el corazón de Cristo hoy y es lo que en esta misa pido para ustedes y también para mí».

(La  homilía del Papa Francisco fue escrita para una misa celebrada con un grupo de sacerdotes, pero las ideas son importantes para todos nosotros, el pueblo de Dios. Así que he incluido mención de los demás de nosotros entre paréntesis.)

 

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Posted by on Jun 13, 2015

The Sacred Heart of Jesus: Source of Limitless Love

The Sacred Heart of Jesus: Source of Limitless Love

Sacred Heart by David Clayton Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus originated as a meditation on the love that Jesus has for humanity.  In the 1500s, Jesuits and Franciscans promoted devotion to the wounded heart of Jesus. However, they did not stress the physical bleeding heart of Jesus crowned with thorns that has come down to us. This common  image does not necessarily help people feel closer to Jesus today. Presenting Jesus with a heart with flames of love and a face full of love and light emphasizes his limitless divine love in a very human way.

A Physical Organ or A Symbol of Love?

Sacred Heart - Pompeo BatoniThe devotion to the Sacred Heart has not always  included a focus on the suffering of Jesus and his actual physical heart. During the first ten centuries of Christianity, devotion to the humanity of Christ did not include honoring the wounded Heart of Jesus. From the 1200s to the 1500s devotion to the Sacred Wounds increased. However, it was private, individual, and of a mystical nature. The thorn crowned heart shows the change from honoring Jesus’ love for humanity to humans making reparation for sin. In the 1670s, the apparitions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to  Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque,  moved the devotion into the public life of the Church and it became centered on sorrow for sin. Popular piety continued this emphasis and eventually promoted worship of the physical heart of Jesus to such a point that Pope Pius XII had to correct this. The pope explained that the Sacred Heart belongs to the “Divine Person of the Eternal Word” and is a symbolic image of his love and our redemption. (See Haurietis aquas). Eastern Catholicism promotes some devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. However,  the devotion is controversial because of the mixing of the theologies of divine love and human reparation for sin within it. Eastern Catholics do not share the Western preoccupation with the physical heart of Jesus.

Devotion to Love

SacredHeart Fanelli 1994Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a devotion to His love. It is a response to the extravagance of Jesus.  His suffering and human sin are important for our consideration in other ways. However, this focus is not suitable for a devotion which focuses on love. This is particularly true today when addressing young people in first world cultures in which few symbols are shared. A heart in flames is a direct and simple symbol.

It is interesting that one of the main resources of devotion to the Sacred Heart, the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1899), is anything but human, warm, or loving. The Litany is formal, monarchical and transcendent. There is little sense of the human heart of Jesus reaching out to humanity to give consolation, peace or special graces. The prayer is true to its historical context, a time in the Church of formality and a sense of distance from the divine.

Despite the turn towards human individual experience and emotion in the 20th and 21st centuries, many Catholics do not feel personally close to God or have a warm experience of God’s love for them. Many still relate to God as a judge and an enforcer of rules.  Contemplating Jesus in the Gospels gives us a richer mystical image of the truly divine and truly human Jesus Christ full of warm friendliness, compassion, and humility with a heart full of love.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, by David Clayton – used with permission
Sacred Heart, by Pompeo Batoni –  public domain
Sacred Heart of Jesus, by Joseph Fanelli – used with permission

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Posted by on Mar 24, 2015

The Alpha Course — Presenting and Encountering Christ

The Alpha Course — Presenting and Encountering Christ

Alpha Course logoA fundamental theme of Pope Francis’ papacy has been the Church’s call to missionary activity. This activity is not simply the call of a few who will travel to distant lands. It is the call of every Christian: the call to participate in evangelization. Yet in our communities,workplaces, and homes, we often feel uncomfortable in this role, whether because the Christian message and lifestyle are counter-cultural or because we don’t really know or understand what we believe, why we believe it, or why we do what we do.

The Alpha Course is a relatively new program that is focused on reaching out to those who have never really heard the Gospel or experienced life as Christians. One of the side-effects of the program, however, is to re-vitalize parish life as new people are touched by the love of the Risen Christ and enter the community of faith. Long-time members of Christian communities, including Roman Catholics, also experience a revitalization of their faith as they see it anew through the eyes of the newcomers.

Fr. Riccardo, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, Michigan and a regular contributor on Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), talks about the fact that we as Catholics tend to focus on sacramentalizing: introducing our parishioners to the sacraments and helping them grow in their sacramental life.  According to Fr. Riccardo, if we teach the people about the faith and the sacraments without introducing them to the person of Christ, it is like throwing seeds on concrete. Nothing will grow. Fr. Riccardo gives a comprehensive presentation of the Alpha Course, a program for evangelization, in a series of YouTube podcasts.

The Alpha Course has a simple method. People gather for a meal and a discussion, not just in a church setting but wherever people gather. The attendees are primarily people who are currently outside the Church. Over a ten week period the participants come to an experience of the Risen Christ as their loving friend and savior.

The Alpha Course began in a Church of England parish in London and is now widely used by many denominations. It is opening doors to ecumenical cooperation and discussion about the centrality of Christ in our faith. Over 1 million Catholics in Canada have been through the course. Fr. Rainero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, Cardinal Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, and other Catholic leaders have praised the Alpha Course.

Rev. Mr. Steve Mitchell, a deacon of the Archdiocese of Detroit, is the national director for Alpha USA. According to Deacon Mitchell’s statement on the AlphaUSA.org website “Alpha provides a safe, non-threatening environment where no question is too dumb and no perception is criticized. Barriers are broken down as we share a meal together and build relationships without regard to what someone believes.”

Alpha’s video includes examples from Catholic parishes around the world.

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Posted by on Mar 16, 2015

Metanoia — Transformation and Change

Metanoia — Transformation and Change

 

What does “Metanoia” Mean?

 “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2)

Many of us have a desire for closeness to God and the realization of all that we can be. Those goals inevitably call us to change. But, change is hard. And often we feel that we cannot make it happen. In fact, we cannot and do not make it happen. As Christians we realize that God makes it happen. We can let  desire in. We can say “yes” to change even if it feels like an unknown path. We can push back fear and see the new possibilities as freedom from the past or as an adventure.  But even these are with God’s support. Left on our own, we humans fall into fear, laziness, and even anger that there is work involved in finding true happiness.

Why is growth toward happiness so much work? Is there a point to work? Why doesn’t God just give us feelings of happiness or all the material goods that would meet normal needs?

Created for Transcendence

In his love, God has created us to transcend our natural selves. He has built into his creation a sense of beauty and  love that goes far beyond the need to survive. As humans evolved from an un-self-reflective consciousness  to an ability to be self-reflective, they developed the ability to choose consciously and to know if an act is harmful to self or others.  This is a good and basic moral accomplishment, but the bigger task for humans has been to distinguish accomplishments from our fundamental orientation. Many of us work very hard at doing important and helpful things. We build our legacy goal by goal.

In the middle of all of this striving we inevitably hit such things as disappointment, tragedy, loneliness, thoughtlessness, health problems, and set-backs. We ask ourselves if all the effort is worth it. Do I matter? Does my life matter?

I can react with anger or ego and wrap myself up in accomplishments, money, or an attractive body. I often yell at God about why I have to work so hard to get things done. I always get back the same reply, “Because I love you.”  God loves me enough to invite me to work with my fear and my feelings of inadequacy and to let him help me through all the moments of planning and work. No one is going to hand me good relationships. But, my prayerful reflection on my relationships can improve them. I can let God calm me down. I can hear an inner voice suggesting a better way to talk or listen.

All of this hope and growth can happen if my fundamental orientation is to God. The desire to depend on God happens because I surrender to God and to God’s ways. The Bible speaks of the turn in fundamental orientation as “metanoia.”

Repentence or more?

The term “metanoia” appears 58 times in the New Testament.  It is usually translated as “repentance.” But, the translation as “repentance” is controversial. It can be traced back to a choice that had to be made when the text was translated for early Latin Christianity. There was no equivalent in Latin to the earlier Classical Greek meaning. Classical Greek understood it as a change of mind. Even if one narrows the word to repentance, it never in Greek usage had a sense of sorrow or regret. “Meta” means beyond or after and “noia” means mind.  Why is this search for precision important?

It is important because “metanoia,” even if translated  as repentance, is in the broader context of Jesus’ intention to announce the coming of the kingdom of God. There is a process in the Gospels by which people come to the Kingdom and salvation. It is a process of evangelism, encounter with God, enlightenment, conversion, repentance, decision, and a new self-identity which includes a change of belief and social structure.  Sorrow for sins is important and good, but the encounter with God and commitment to him is the only enduring basis for belief, change and perseverance. We see examples of this in the story of St. Peter’s responses to Jesus after the Resurrection (Jn 21:15-21) or the call of the disciples (Jn. 1:35-39).

Christ and Zacchaeus - Niels_Larsen_Stevns-_ZakæusA lasting “metanoia” or change happens because of an experience of God.

No one can define the nature of that experience. It is different for each person. It can be a sense of closeness such as that experienced by Mary, Martha and Lazarus (Lk. 10:38-42, Jn. 11:1-44) or an answer to prayer or the knowledge that one has been saved from a threat or entanglement as in the experience of Zacchaeus the tax collector (Lk. 19:1-10).  Some people have visions, others experience healings. For some a particular passage in Scripture sets their hearts on fire or they experience a feeling of consolation after receiving communion.

Metanoia: A gift for the entire community

Some Christian groups make a distinction between the metanoia and pursuant faith commitment of someone raised in the faith and the startling experience St. Paul had on the road to Damascus. There is no difference. People raised in a faith tradition can grow from learned traditions and rules to an experience of God. It can be quite eye-opening. Many are not counting on knowing Christ. The practice of prayer can provide strength and guidance, but experience of God is the possible and expected point of prayer. This is not just for the canonized saints. God can re-frame our accustomed ways. This is metanoia. It is a turning or conversion which takes our consent, but it is a gift.

Give God some time to meet you in prayer. Read the Gospels and put yourself in the stories. Consider giving your life to God and let him lead you to your experience of him, to your metanoia.

 

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Posted by on Feb 26, 2015

Pope Francis’ Lenten Message – 2015

Pope Francis’ Lenten Message – 2015

Cropped -Pope Francis - Canonization_2014-_The_Canonization_of_Saint_John_XXIII_and_Saint_John_Paul_II_(14036966125) - Jeffrey Bruno - Creative CommonsPope Francis, in his 2015 Lenten message, reminds us that Lent is a time of renewal, a “time of grace.” He reminds us that God loved us first and is never indifferent to what happens to us. However, we too easily become indifferent to what is happening in the world when we are not directly affected.

Speaking of the “globalization of indifference,” the Holy Father calls us to an interior renewal that keeps us from becoming indifferent or withdrawn into ourselves. He asks us to reflect on three biblical texts:

1. “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1Cor 12:26) — The Church

2. “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9) — Parishes and  Communities

3. “Make your hearts firm!” (James 5:8) — Individual Christians

 Read the entire message …

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