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Posted by on Apr 12, 2009

Resurrection Sunday – 2009: Jesus Did Not Die for Me

Resurrection Sunday – 2009: Jesus Did Not Die for Me

Resurrection of Christ - Mikhail Nesterov (late 1890s)

Resurrection of Christ - Mikhail Nesterov (late 1890s)

Jesús No Murio Por Mi

Jesus Did Not Die for Me

Holy Weekend
The time of customary rituals
Of words spoken a thousand times
A season of the silence of death
Fasting, resolutions, and processions
A time of self-contained euphoria
As it seems sin sees the ending
We already know
and will flood all with life
A shallow season of hypocrisy
“Happy Easter”

A season of churches in a thousand different ways
yet a thousand ways the same
Cannot say other than what they have always said
“Jesus died for our salvation”
But “You know what?”
Jesus didn’t die for me
Jesus died because of cowardice,
greed, arrogance, love of power
by those who did not understand his message
by those afraid of the new
by those who had made a god to their own stature
by those who did not accept his offer of life to the full
not for just a few but for all men and women.
That death did not save anybody
Not even those who believed that they are saved by Jesus.

What saved me and you
And continues to save
Is that Jesus who became a person
Who identified with the people
Who was a baby and cried,
Who was a boy and played
Who grew and worked
Who was called to a mission and took it on
Who paused before the pain of men and women
Who in solidarity of gestures, words, and actions
Who did not silence what had to be said
And who though fearful, moved ahead
out of love, sheer love.

It was not his death, so cruel and unjust.
It was his life!
If death can be salvation
Whan can resurrection mean?
What sense does it make to celebrate Easter?
Death does not save
Even if it scandalizes theology
Life saves.
That is why resurrection is the great cry,
The lead story, the great news of our time
For this the stone rolls aways, the tomb opens
And foot steps are heard in the garden

God raises up Jesus
To condemn death forever
To announce that Life has won out
and that faith in the this Jesus who lives
who conquers the mercenaries of terror
is the faith that saves and
is the faith that makes us free.
What Peter said with such clarity
“This same Jesus whom you crucified
God has made Messiah and Lord”.

Jesus did not die for me.
They killed Jesus!
Jesus died because they tortured him in a blind rage
Because they wanted to shut him up and make him disappear
And because the powerful have always killed Him.

Yes, Jesus was born for me.
He also lived for me,
He taught, healed, pardoned, loved and rose again for me
for you and and for everyone.

Jesus did not die for me
nor for you nor anyone else
Perhaps, some day
We will stop honoring his death
In order to begin celebrating His LIFE.

Gerardo Oberman

translated by Randolfo R. Pozos 2009

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Posted by on Feb 18, 2009

Day to Day Evangelization

Day to Day Evangelization

evangelization1

The term “evangelization” means to share or spread good news. For Christians, the Good News we spread is of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Evangelization has been the privilege and role of followers of Jesus, Followers of the Way, from the very beginning. In the Gospels we read that Jesus gave this directive to His followers after the Resurrection when He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …” (Mt 28:19) 

From the day of Pentecost forward, empowered by the Holy Spirit, Christians have shared their beliefs with family, friends, neighbors and total strangers. Sometimes sharing the Good News takes the form of words. More often, it comes through action. One of the first things we know about early Christian community and life was the recorded observation that they were “of one heart and mind, … they had everything in common.” (Acts 4:32) They were known for their love and caring for each other.

We evangelize and in turn we are evangelized by others. Each of us had had times when a kind word or a helping hand served as a reminder that we are loved. Someone taught each of us about God and God’s love for us in sending Jesus and their Holy Spirit.

I was reminded of this the other day at Mass. A mother was there with toddler firmly in arms. She has been bringing her son with her since he was tiny. Sometimes he sleeps, but increasingly he is awake, watching all with wide eyes. When it came time to pray the Our Father, his mother raised one hand and he raised his opposite hand. Together they joined in prayer with the rest of the community. Someday he’ll learn the words of the prayer, and perhaps some theology too. But the most important learning has already begun. He is part of a community of people who love God and care for each other. A community that bears witness through their everyday lives to the love they have received.

Pope John Paul II called the Church to a New Evangelization, reaching out again to our world, bringing the good news into every aspect of our lives and communities. We begin within our daily activities, sharing our hopes and dreams and visions, reaching out in love to those we meet, answering questions about our faith when asked, and trusting the Holy Spirit to guide our words and our ways. The men and women of faith who have gone before us have brought tremendous change for the better to the world. It’s our turn now. May we have the courage and grace to be evangelists in our day to day lives.

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Posted by on Jul 18, 2008

St. Camillus de Lellis – July 18 – “The Original Red Cross”

St. Camillus de Lellis – July 18 – “The Original Red Cross”

St. Camillus de Lellis is one of those saints that remain quietly in the background of our Catholic lives, despite having sown seeds that continue to bear fruit into our present day. He was born in Italy in the mid-1500s and lived to the age of 64. His mother died when he was thirteen and his father was in the military, so he did not receive as much attention and loving care as he should have as an adolescent. He grew up to be an agressive, hot-headed, compulsive gambler. He worked as a mercenary soldier, selling his services to whichever ruler’s army would pay him. Between stints as a soldier, he spent time working in a hospital for the incurably ill. But his gambling and agressive behavior cut short that employment and he returned to being a soldier, serving in the war against the Turks in 1569.

Following the war, when he was working in construction on a building at Manfredonia for the Capuchins, he was touched by a talk from the guardian of the community there and at the age of 25, his life changed. His legs had been injured when he was younger and they never really healed completely. He spent time in hospitals both receiving treatment and helping with the care of other patients. Following his conversion, he dedicated the rest of his life to caring for the ill and injured. He eventually became a priest and founded a religious order, the Fathers of a Good Death, in 1584. Wearing a red cross on their black cassocks, they cared for the sick, including victims of the plague, in hospitals, in the homes of their patients and on the battlefields. The order continued to grow through the years, and today they are known as Camillians (Clerks Regular Ministers to the Sick). Camillians work all over the world.

St. Camillus de Lellis was called the “Founder of a new school of charity” when he was canonized by Pope Benedict XIV in 1726. He taught that God is present in people confined to hospitals and sick beds, reminding his followers, “The poor and the sick are the heart of God.  In serving them, we serve Jesus the Christ.”

A Camillian priest visited our parish last year, raising money for their work in the missions. He spoke compellingly about the people he had served and their stories. It was quite inspiring. When he introduced himself and his order, he told us that Camillians were the “original Red Cross” because of the color of the cross on their habits. Their work through the centuries in hospitals, battlefields and sick rooms would seem to bear that out.

Once again it seems that “God writes straight with crooked lines.” A mercenary, who is a compulsive gambler and brawler, with injured legs, becomes the founder of a group of men who spend their lives working to heal the sick and care for the dying – the patron saint of gamblers and nurses. Truly a life story to be told more widely.

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Posted by on Jun 30, 2008

The Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul – June 29

The Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul – June 29

It’s the time of year when we remember and celebrate the witness of two men who played foundational roles in the community of believers that has grown to include well over 1 billion people – St. Peter and St. Paul.

Peter was a fisherman from Galilee. He was known as Simon. He was brash and decisive and protective of his friends. He didn’t hesitate to argue if he thought a request was unreasonable (but we’ve been fishing all night and haven’t caught anything!) or a plan was unwise (they want to kill you in Jerusalem!). Yet when Jesus came into his life, he was open enough to the Spirit that he left everything and followed when he was called. Jesus named him Peter, calling him the Rock on which the community would be built. (Jn 1:42)

Peter became the leader of Jesus’ followers, at least in part because he spoke his mind and looked out for the safety of them all. He was the one who answered Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” with the profession of faith, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:15-16)

Peter was not perfect. He expressed his doubts about Jesus’ plans to go to Jerusalem, trying to dissuade him from that plan, and was rebuked as “Satan” for his efforts. He walked on water towards the Lord, and sank into the waves when he stopped to think about what he was doing. He promised undying support for Jesus at the Last Supper, and denied him 3 times before the sun came up.

No, Peter was not perfect. But he was a perfect leader for the new community because he knew he was imperfect and still loved, chosen, and trusted to do his best. It was a big job for a big person. Figuring out who this Jesus was and is, how to live as a community who follow His ways, how it all fit into the faith in which he was born and raised, what to do about all those non-Jews who also received the Spirit and wanted to be part of the community. A big job.

Paul was from Tarsus, a Roman city. So he was a Roman citizen. He had been trained as a tent maker, but he had also been educated. He was a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee, and a student of the great teacher Gamaliel. He was not a follower of Jesus before the Crucifixion and Resurrection. In fact, he was one of those who saw the new Way of living as a huge threat to the larger Jewish community and to their faith. The Romans were not gentle with those who opposed them or to those who upset the day-to-day routine of life in the provinces. And certainly, the Jews had seen time after time through history what happened to the whole people if groups of them stopped worshipping according to the traditional ways of their people. War, exile, persecution by conquerors. It was not something to risk.

The first time we hear of Paul is at the trial and stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr. He was called Saul at the time and he consented to Stephen’s death. Saul was an enthusiatic participant in the persecution of Jesus’ followers that followed. He saw that the new teachings were doctrinally quite different from those of traditional Jewish Law and worship at the temple. He was determined to crush the new movement. (Acts 8:3)

When the persecution began in Jerusalem, followers of the Way (as Christians called themselves at that time) had scattered throughout the surrounding area. So Saul got letters from the authorities and traveled north to Damascus, to arrest them there too and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial. It was on the road to Damascus that he met the Lord. A bright light flashed around him. He fell down. A voice called to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He asked who was speaking and was told, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. …” Acts 9:1-30 tells the story of his conversion, his first preaching, the reactions of his fellow Christians and of his fellow Jews, and his return to Tarsus (where he would be safe from those who wanted to kill him). And then in Acts 9:31 we read, “The church throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria was at peace.”

Peace. A lovely thought. But peace is a state that seems never to last very long – perhaps because growth so often brings unexpected changes, stresses, and strains in its wake. Perhaps because some growth can’t happen except in times of difficulty, when new ideas and new solutions must be discovered. Perhaps because God is too unlimited, too expansive, too inclusive, TOO BIG to be kept in any of our human boxes.

And so the Fisherman baptized a Gentile, Cornelius, and his family. And the community adjusted its thinking about who could be called to the new Way. (Acts 10:1-49, 11:1-18)

Those who had been scattered from Jerusalem shared their faith in new communities in Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. They spoke not just to Jews, but also to Greeks and many believed. The community in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to meet them. Barnabas was so impressed that he went down to Tarsus, collected Saul, and went back to Antioch for a year, teaching the growing community there – where followers of Jesus were first called Christians.

Saul and Barnabas were sent forth from the community at Antioch, to proclaim the word of God in Cyprus. It was the first of Saul’s many missionary trips. (From this point on, he is called Paul in the Acts of the Apostles.)

And things would never again be the same. The Fisherman and the Pharisee didn’t always see eye to eye. They argued. They tussled. They sent letters and messengers back and forth to each other. They had meetings. And through it all, they (and the community) worked things out. And the Christian community became more and more a separate community and faith from the Jewish one into which they had been born.

It was not a time of perpetual peace and smiles. But at the end of their lives, both Peter and Paul, in Rome, died as witnesses to their faith in the Lord – Peter upside down on a cross and Paul, the Roman citizen, by the sword. And the tensions and struggles within the growing community, as well as the growth in understanding of the Good News, and of who Jesus was/is, and of how we are to relate to the Father, and of many, many other things, continued.

In future posts, I’ll talk about some of those “other things” that came along, and use some of the tools of anthropology to look at them. For now, it’s enough to say that Peter and Paul can be seen as representing two essential roles within our community of faith. Their passion and courage in hearing the Lord’s call and stepping out faithfully to spread the Good News is a gift to us all.

 

 

 

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Posted by on Jun 19, 2008

Saint of the Day – St. Romuald, Abbot – June 19

Saint of the Day – St. Romuald, Abbot – June 19

St. Romuald the Abbot was born around 950 into a powerful, wealthy family. He entered a Benedictine monastery at the age of 20. He had lived the life of a powerful, wealthy young man until the day he had to serve as his father’s “second” in a duel with a relative over a piece of land. His father killed the opponent, but Romuald was so horrified by the experience that he turned away from the life he had been living.

Once in the monastery, he found that he was attracted by the life of a hermit, more than to the communal life of the monastery as he was experiencing it at Sant’ Apollinare in Classe. He spent most of his life moving back and forth between monastic life and the life of the hermit, traveling from monastery to monastery and leading reforms. He eventually founded a new community who combined those two forms of religious life, the Camaldolese order.

St. Romuald developed a “Brief Rule” of how to live in openness to God.

Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish.

The path you must follow is in the Psalms: never leave it. If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, then take every opportunity to sing the Psalms in your heart and to understand them in your mind.

And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up: hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.

Realize above all that you are in God’s presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor.

Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother gives him.

St. Romuald’s rule may seem like it has no relationship whatsoever to the lives of most of us – those called to life as men and women, married and single, in the contemporary world – earning our living, raising our families, trying to do our little bit to make the world a better place for everyone. Yet there are elements of his rule that are applicable to all of our lives. We’re called both to a relationship with God and to engagement with the world.

A challenge many of us face is finding a place where we won’t be observed or disturbed by anyone. I remember the amusement of a group of my parents’ friends who discovered a Bible in the bathroom of mutual friends. It was the only place in that home where a parent could have a few minutes of privacy to read the word of God. I remember the religious magazines and books kept for reading in the same room in the homes of my grandparents and other relatives. These people knew that time for the Lord is precious and is to be snatched wherever possible.

Today, we have so many means of communication and response is expected so quickly, that even walking by the beach without having a telephone along can be seen as selfish and/or anti-social. We forget that paradise begins here when we open to the Lord. Our alone place may have to be the bathroom. It may be standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes. It may be driving home from work. The essential thing is to find a few quiet moments somewhere each day.

St. Romuald recommends praying with the Psalms. That’s really good advice and easier than it might seem. Many of the songs we use in liturgy are taken directly from the Psalms. Let the songs from Church run through your head during the day. There are songs/Psalms for all occasions. Then as now, they help turn our focus to the Lord.

“Realize above all that you are in God’s presence…” There’s not much to add to that. The trick is to remember and be open to see and experience that reality. Then all we need will be provided, just as the chick who receives food from its mother. We still have to work. But the work we do takes on a bigger, broader meaning when it is tied to God’s presence in the world and to our call to make that presence visible through our lives.

May peace and joy be yours.

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Posted by on Jun 5, 2008

Saint of the Day – St. Boniface, June 5

Saint of the Day – St. Boniface, June 5

 

I must confess that I never knew much about St. Boniface until I began to do a little research about him today. My maternal Grandmother’s home parish was St. Boniface in Uniontown, Washington. So his name was familiar to me, but not any details of his life.

Uniontown was, and still is, a very small town in the middle of fertile farmlands. People spoke mostly German there when Grammy was a girl in the years leading up to World War I. Sermons at Mass were always in German, a language she did not speak well because her parents did not speak the same versions of German. They spoke English at home. (She could never understand why we complained about bad homilies when we were kids. After all, at least they were in English so we could understand them!) Uniontown was settled largely by Catholic German immigrants. They chose the patron of their former homeland as patron of their local community.

St. Boniface is known as the Apostle of Germany and is its patron saint. He was born in England around 672 and named Winfrid. He studied at Benedictine monasteries near Exeter and Nursling in the diocese of Winchester. He was noted for being a fine student and scholar, compiling a Latin Grammar during his time there.

In 716 he set off to Frisia to convert the residents of that area. However, there was a war raging in Frisia at the time and people were otherwise occupied. So he returned home without success. In 718 he traveled to Rome and in 719 Pope Gregory II gave him the name Boniface and commissioned him to return to Germany to evangelize and reorganize the church there. He also learned from people who had been working already among the German tribes how best to reach them. He spent most of the rest of his life working in Germany.

The felling of Thor’s Oak at Frizlar in northern Hesse is one of the stories told of his work. In the presence of leaders of the local people, he called on Thor to strike him dead if he destroyed an oak tree sacred to Thor. Then he began to chop down the tree.  A great wind blew the tree down. Thor did not strike down Boniface, so the people became Christians. Boniface used some of the wood from the tree to build a chapel at the site.

Boniface chopped down other oak trees dedicated to Thor as well, in challenges to the ancient pre-Christian religion. It is said that at Geismar, there was a fir tree growing out of the roots of the oak tree that fell. Boniface told the people, “This humble tree’s wood is used to build your homes: let Christ be at the centre of your households. Its leaves remain evergreen in the darkest days: let Christ be your constant light. Its boughs reach out to embrace and its top points to heaven: let Christ be your Comfort and Guide”. The German tradition of using evergreen trees in the celebration of Christmas may have come from this event. (Think of him next time you see a Christmas tree!)

The years in which Boniface lived and worked were far from peaceful. Battles raged between the Franks, the non-Christian Saxons, and the northern Germanic tribes. Struggles for power over the church by civil authorities and for independence from civil authority by church leaders were common. The conversion of the Germanic tribes was part of the process that eventually led to their incorporation into Charlemagne’s empire. In 754, while again working to convert the Frisians, Boniface was killed by a group of brigands.

It seems fitting that Boniface was chosen as patron of the church at Uniontown. Many Catholic Germans who came to the United States during the 19th century did so as religious refugees. It wasn’t something they spoke about much. My grandparents weren’t sure why their parents or grandparents had come here, except they knew the men came so they would not have to serve in the Kaiser’s army. But from an old German Dominican nun, my mother learned that many came because their only choice at home was to convert to the Protestant religion of their new ruler, the Kaiser, or to worship secretly in defiance of the curfews. The young men came because they would have to leave the Catholic church when they were drafted into the Kaiser’s army. They chose to leave instead, bringing their faith with them to little towns like Uniontown all over the United States. Once here, they chose St. Boniface to continue to be their patron.

 

 

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Posted by on May 28, 2008

What Keeps Me From Seeing?

What Keeps Me From Seeing?

 

I like to take a walk in late morning each day. It helps clear my mind and stretch my muscles before I plunge into the work and activities of afternoon and evening. Living beside Monterey Bay, I never know what I’ll see on my outing.

Today, when I arrived at the water’s edge (actually at the cliff beside the water!), I got a wonderful surprise. I could see all of Monterey Bay – from the Lighthouse at Point Santa Cruz, around past Santa Cruz, Capitola, Aptos, Moss Landing, to the flatter lands where the Salinas River enters the Bay. Then the Big Sur mountains rise up behind Monterey and go out all the way to the ocean.  The water was calm – very few waves for the surfers. The kelp beds were spreading out to enjoy the sunshine. The sea lions on the rock were chatting among themselves. Sea gulls soared over the water. I could see it all.

In “the olden days,” when I was a girl, I would never have thought that seeing all the way around a bay was anything special. I grew up in Eastern Washington state. We had clouds or sunshine. Sometimes we had fog. But you could always see across the river! And normally, you could see the surrounding mountains too.

Living on the coast, we never know from day to day whether the fog will be in or not. Even on a sunny day, the fog often sits in the middle of the Bay, blocking the view of the other towns and the mountains. But today it is clear. The smoke from the Summit fire is gone from the sky. The clouds we have are high and moving inland. The fog is sitting way off the coast, barely visible from land. And the view is stunning.

It occurs to me that the spiritual life is something like our views of Monterey Bay. Like the Bay, God is always present here – within us, among us, around us. I exist only because God has imagined me, given me breath, breathes through me, loves me continually into being. Yet all too often I don’t notice. I don’t see the beauty all around me. I miss the “love notes” scattered all around me – the flowers, the birds, the native bees in the weeds, the smiles of young mothers and their babies, the laughter of teens and the comfortable togetherness of retired couples out for a walk. I don’t see them for what they are, or worse, I don’t see them at all. I move through my life’s conversation doing all the talking, forgetting to look and listen for the presence of the Divine.

Today I pray that I’ll remember to open my eyes, ears, heart, mind to notice God’s presence. I’ll remember to ask myself, “What keeps me from seeing today?” I’ll remember to be grateful. I invite you to do the same. And maybe while we’re at it, we could also stop gratefully for a moment and ask, “What keeps us as a people from seeing today?”

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Posted by on Apr 25, 2008

A Theologian’s Reflections on Mark’s Gospel

A Theologian’s Reflections on Mark’s Gospel

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Theologian and storyteller Megan McKenna’s book, On Your Mark: Reading Mark in the Shadow of the Cross, is a powerful example of the contribution of theology and biblical research to our understanding of the Good News. When the gospels were written, nearly 2000 years ago, they were written for a specific audience, with certain shared beliefs and experiences. Each was written for a different audience, but each audience had much in common. They were written as teaching materials, to help new believers come to know about Jesus, become His faithful followers, and live according to His Way.

We live in a dramatically different world. Many things the ancients took for granted or understood to be significant, we don’t even notice in passing when reading Scripture.

In the past century, thanks to the work of theologians, biblical scholars, anthropologists, archeologists, linguists and many other professional researchers, we have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about the world in which Christianity began and of the beliefs and life of the early Christian community. The Holy Spirit has worked through these people to bring the Word to us as excitingly fresh teaching. 

Megan McKenna’s presentation of Mark’s Gospel lays out the requirements of Christian discipleship through exploration of the meaning of the texts. She shows what their meaning might have been for the disciples and the early community – how they served as a roadmap for discipleship. Because she is also master storyteller, Megan presents other stories  as well that serve to reinforce the Gospel. And always, for Megan, the bottom line is, what this means for us today.

Take a look at her work. You won’t regret it!

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Posted by on Mar 30, 2008

First Sunday of Easter – “Thomas Take Your Hand…”

First Sunday of Easter – “Thomas Take Your Hand…”

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St. Thomas the Apostle is better known for his doubt than his faith. The story takes place after Jesus has appeared to the Apostles and shown them the wounds in His hands, feet, and side. The resurrected, glorified Christ still has his wounds. Why wasn’t He restored to His original whole state? Was it the way for His disciples to recognize Him, or is His passion and death such a part of Him that His very wounds have become part of His identity? It all sounds a little too good to St. Thomas when the others tell him of the Lord’s visit. The message to Thomas, and the rest of us, when he encounters Christ, is “blessed are those who have not seen and believe.” (John 20:29)

Faith.. Blessed are those with faith.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,
kept in heaven for you
who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith,
to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time.
In this you rejoice, although now for a little while
you may have to suffer through various trials,
so that the genuineness of your faith,
more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire,
may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Although you have not seen him you love him;
even though you do not see him now yet believe in him,
you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1Peter1:3-9)

Christ died for all, but salvation comes to us through faith? Why? Stay tuned…

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Posted by on Mar 22, 2008

Good Friday: Identifying with Christ or Christ Identifying With Us?

Good Friday: Identifying with Christ or Christ Identifying With Us?

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For those who love Christ, remembering His passion and death is always an occasion for sorrow. However, such human acts as compassion are never simple. The pain of the impending loss of a loved one – anticipatory grief – can be worse than the actual loss. In fact, when death finally comes, we often feel guilty about experiencing relief. My friend Jim lost his father when Jim was in eighth grade, after a protracted two year battle with cancer. When we talked about it a couple of years later, Jim confessed that he still felt more relief than grief.

Of course, we couldn’t experience compassion without a close identification with the other. This becomes very complex in the person of the Christ. He did not fight his enemies. He did not curse. He did not condemn. He forgave. He blessed. This human-divine reaction to an injustice that is almost as inconceivable as it is enraging provides no adequate psychological outlet for the post-Freudian soul. How can we proclaim and fight for justice if God Himself did not? Tragically, the consolation in the Gospels and the wider testimony of the New Testament – that no evil, no matter how overwhelming, how senseless, can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus – escapes us. (Romans 8:38-39) Instead of experiencing this Passover of the Lord – the Blood of the Lamb on the door posts and lintel of our home that spares us from the Angel of Death – we run out into that night of despair by focusing on the ways we have been complicit with that evil.

When we hear that we are saved from a life defined by suffering and pain without meaning and no exit, we can think that we were saved from something we deserved. “Evil as you are … who among you would give his son a scorpion when he asked for bread?” (Loosely taken from Luke 11: 11-13) is a stark reminder to the disciples that Jesus could not conceive of His Father wanting anything less than we ourselves would want for our own children. Just as our children are all too much in our own image and likeness, we are in God’s. The teaching and life of Jesus in this regard is at odds with the vengeful patriarch of the Old Testament who punishes and chastises. (Lest we be tempted to think that Jews hold or held onto to this concept, we should remember that Jesus was not the only Jew who presented a view that had grown beyond it. The are interesting similarities between Jesus and his contemporary, Hillel the Elder.)

Enter God’s protectors:

“Ah hah! Now he has said it on his very own blog! Your own words condemn you. God doesn’t care about sin, you say. There are no consequences, no punishment, no reckoning. You present a God who is merciful, but not just. If Christ did not die for our sins how was the Father appeased? How is he the sacrificial victim?”

The Blogger Offers a Parable:

Once upon a time, there was a wonderful teacher who healed by word and touch and saved people from all kinds of physical, psychological, and social maladies. He made the mistake of speaking truth to power and telling religious and civil leaders that outward observance only made them into whitened sepulchers. They waited for the right time and got a close friend to betray him, and they took him off to Guantanamo, and then transferred him to a third world country, where he was tortured to death by specialists trained at the School of the Americas. Like so many thousands of his time, he was supposed to have become one of the disappeared. Fortunately for us, He didn’t stay dead and he didn’t stay hidden. Strangely though, he left again, said he would return, and in the meantime the were supposed to wait for a Holy Wind to make everything clear.

Yet His disciples wanted an explanation. If He was truly God’s Son, how could this have happened to Him? If he really was the Messiah, how could he have failed? He was just as maddening as those parables he used to tell them. Where are the answers? It was like one of those Eastern religions. “The question is the answer.” And that other junk the Beatles found in India, under the influence of something other than the great American mystic, Jack Daniels.

God finally sent them someone they could understand – sort of. “Like, well, yuh see, dude- God don’t need sacafices, ” The voice of the aging surfer was hoarse with too many years of funny cigarettes, his faced etched with too much salt and sun, his eyes opaque while he waited for the waves to rise. “It’s like, all ’bout love. All God wants is love. The torture and sufferin’ part, that’s what we do to us and each other. Man, like the Teacher Dude, the Guru Guy, like he couldn’t hang out forever. ‘Cause like, you guys were all brain dead on a kind a gnarly bad trip. Like he let it happen. The tube was closin’. Like there was just the wipeout; like really bad at Mavericks. He did it to show y’all that if yah stay in the water and go for it, sooner or later it’s gonna happen if ya stay true to the search for the Big One.  Dude, got some extra change? My old lady’s on me for the rent, like ya know.”

The words of reproach, as the seeker turned away, were familiar. “That sucks man. What a waste. I came to hear some guy explain some @$#%?! blogger’s crappy parable. I could’a been watchin’ the game on my big screen.” So he zipped up his jacket and marched straight home, out of the saving mystery, ignoring the glory of the sky, the dazzle of the water, and the carpet of color and bird song all about him.

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Posted by on Mar 20, 2008

Each Little Light …

Each Little Light …

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Dr. Megan McKenna uses many stories in her teaching, claiming that all stories are true and some actually happened. She tells this story, one that actually happened, about a community she visited in India. It was a very small village, with an even smaller Catholic community. The community generally gathered in the evening. As dusk fell, her hosts invited her to go outside and look around. In the gathering darkness, she saw the hills around the village come to life with little twinkling lights. The lights began to move across the hills and gradually to converge on the small building which served as their church.

In the middle of the church, there was a large iron contraption, with many arms jutting out from the center. As the people arrived, they hung their family’s lantern on one of the arms. When it became clear that no more people were coming, the contraption, now a chandelier, was hoisted up over the gathered people. It shone over the altar, giving light to the entire community as they celebrated Mass together. Then, when the time came to leave, the chandelier was again lowered and each family took its own lantern. But rather than go home, they went out from their celebration to visit the homes of the members of the community who had not been able to join them that night. They knew exactly who was missing because those lanterns had not been on the chandelier giving light to the community!

A lesson Megan drew from this experience and shared with my parish community is that we aren’t really a community until we know who is missing when we gather to worship.

I thought of this story when, along with many thousands of others, I attended Sunday afternoon liturgy in the Anaheim Arena as part of the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress 2008. The arena was beautifully decorated. The music was outstanding. Cardinal Mahoney was presiding, along with many bishops and priests of the archdiocese. The deacons were there with their wives, entering and leaving in the processions together. It was altogether a wonderful time and place to be.

It happened to be the Sunday when the Gospel is the story of the healing of the man born blind. This is one of the three Sundays when we celebrate “The Scrutinies” as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). The focus of the second Scrutiny is the ways in which we are blind. The prayer of those preparing for Baptism, Confirmation and/or Eucharist at Easter, as well as of the larger community, is for deliverance from those forms of blindness.

After the homily, when the time came for the Scrutiny, those preparing for the “Easter sacraments” (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist), were invited to kneel around the altar in the center of the Arena. Their sponsors stood before them as they knelt there. And we were all invited to pray with them, then raise our hands in prayer over them, asking the Lord’s blessing on them as they left with their catechists to continue reflecting on the Scriptures and preparing for Easter. Then they all rose and left the Arena.

I was sitting in the third tier of seats, so I had a great view of the floor and all the proceedings. It was an impressive sight, because approximately 5 rows of people on both sides of the aisle on the main floor left the room together. There was a huge hole in the middle of the community gathered there for worship. Although I didn’t know any of those people personally, I knew who was missing from that community! Those who will bring their own light of insights and God’s unique presence to our/their communities when they are welcomed into full participation in the Church at the Easter Vigil.

I remembered Megan’s story and also her statement that the gospels were written by the Christian community for those who were becoming new members of the community. They are for the instruction of new Christians, and the gift of the RCIA, and of those preparing to join the community, is the opportunity to see these stories anew and to experience their power to change lives – the lives of new followers of The Way and of those who maybe have begun to take it for granted.

As we celebrate the many liturgies of the next few days, I invite you to look around and see who is missing. Who needs us to reach out in love and ease a burden, or offer a word of hope and consolation? Who is homebound? Who is discouraged? Who has been hurt by our institution or our community? Who have we ourselves hurt? As we reach out in love to those missing, we will experience the Resurrection of Jesus in a deeper way and we will become a sign of love to the world, just as those little lights coming down the hillside were a sign of a loving community in one small Indian village.

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Posted by on Mar 17, 2008

Saint of the Day: St. Patrick – March 17

Saint of the Day: St. Patrick – March 17

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St. Patrick (Patricius in Latin and Naomh Padraig in Irish) lived from 378 to 493 according to accepted estimates. There is actually very little that we know about him which is not legend. Scholars tend to accept his Declaration (Confessio) as genuine and some will accept a letter addressed to Corotic as the work of the Saint.

What we do know is that he probably came from Great Britain or Brittany and that his family had connections with the Romans who still ruled the area until they left Great Britain in 406. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest. He was captured at age 16 by slavers, along with many of the people on his father’s estate. St. Patrick lived as slave shepherd, exposed to the elements and deprived of adequate food and clothing for six years until he was able to escape. He experienced a very definite call to return to Ireland as a missionary and was ordained a priest.

St. Patrick was not the first missionary to go to Ireland. Palladius, a deacon from Gaul (present day France for the most part), may have been sent by Pope Celestine I, who died in 431. Apparently, Palladius was still active until around 461. Saints Auxilius, Secundus, and Irsenius also appear to have been early missionaries.

In fact, much of what has become attributed to St. Patrick appears to be the blending or conflation of traditions related to Palladius, according to T. F. O’Rahilly’s “The Two Patricks” in a 1942 landmark published lecture. O’Rahilly was a controversial Celtic scholar who brought modern methods of linguistic and historical criticism to bear on Irish history and literature such as St. Fiacc’s hymn of St. Patrick.

The Rev. Alban Butler, in his 1864 Lives of the Saints, presents the more common traditional view of the life of St. Patrick, while avoiding much of the devotional accounts which had no historical basis. Indeed, this absence of historical information has allowed various generations to re-invent St. Patrick in different ways. Irish Catholics see him as the founder and bulwark of the church in union with Rome. Irish Protestants see him as the founder of the Irish Church, with its own particular traditions and identity. St. Patrick is beloved by New Age devotees as the priest who conserves the Druidic relationship to the elements of the earth and the heavens with the sun centered cross. Raucous celebrations of the Saint’s feast day in the United States by Irish immigrants and their descendants began as a defiant affirmation by oppressed and reviled refugees and have developed into a celebration of Irish success and acceptance in a land that had received them with hostility.

What is common in these visions of St. Patrick is his concern for the oppressed, the enslaved, and the forgotten. Obviously, this was the greater part of his motivation to return to Ireland, the land of his captivity. He opposed not only the enslavement of his converts, but the institution of slavery itself, 1300 years before Christianity would take the same stance in the mid 1800’s. Ireland is unique in the early history of Christian expansion because violence was not used to introduce the new religion. St. Patrick and his fellow missionaries helped abolish human sacrifice, limit tribal warfare, and laid the foundations of a culture and civilization that would be one of the marvels of the West, until its conquest and destruction by the English under Cromwell, from 1649-52.

Nevertheless, the spirit of Celtic Christianity has been preserved in the worldwide Irish diaspora and laid the foundation for vibrant Catholic communities in North America, Australia, and the rest of the English speaking world. Just as Ireland kept alive the flame of learning in the Dark Ages and returned that light back to Europe, the oppression of English rule and economic hegemony over the last three centuries has led ongoing waves of Celtic culture to spread around the world. Ireland’s current success as a center of hardware and software development in the Information Age heralds a new day, in which the non-Celtic are coming to the Emerald Isle to find peace and prosperity.

Every culture and civilization has its foundational myth. In St. Patrick ( and Palladius), Ireland has a founder whose faith and enduring achievements are not only the subject of legend but the historical basis of the Irish trajectory in world culture.

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Posted by on Mar 10, 2008

In Search of God: Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

In Search of God: Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

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What do you tell yourself or others when there is doubt about the existence of God? I would like to recommend an interview with Dr. Rowan William, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Church of England. The interviewer, John Humphrys, is from Channel 4 of the BBC.

The interview starts off in a genteel enough manner but builds into some rather intense exchanges. It is not a debate. In fact Humphrys begins by asking for a sales pitch – to be converted. Wisely, the Archbishop leads Humphrys to question his own questions in a manner similar to Socratic dialog.

It is a very good example of pastoral teaching, even if the inquirer does not seem to be entirely sincere. Take a look at the text or listen to the podcast.

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Posted by on Mar 8, 2008

Saint of the Day: St. John of God – March 8

Saint of the Day: St. John of God – March 8

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St. John of God (1495 -1555) was born Joao Cidade in Montemor-o-Novo (Evora) in Portugal on March 8, 1495. He spent much of his life working in Spain for the Mayoral family in Oropeza as a shepherd. Later he became a soldier of fortune, enlisting twice in the army. After his second enlistment, which had taken him to Austria to fight the Turks, he traveled through Spain and North Africa. Juan Ciudad, as he was known in Spanish, settled in Granada and became a seller of books on chivalry and religion.

In 1537, St. John of God heard a sermon by St. John of Avila and underwent an intense conversion experience. His reaction was extreme. He destroyed his book shop and acted deranged for several days. He was finally committed to the Royal Hospital of Granada, since he seemed to have gone mad. A few months later, he left, calm of spirit, and put himself under the direction St. John of Avila. After a brief pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in southern Spain, he returned to Granada and took up his work in service of the poor.

He became known as Juan de Dios, John of God, because of his great love and service to the destitute and the ill. St. John of God was given a habit by the local bishop, who also confirmed the name everyone had given him. He was very good not only at soliciting money and support for his hospital but he also created a relationship between the donors and the recipients. Volunteers provided services and the recipients were encouraged to pray for their benefactors. He was at ease with all levels of society and was especially known for listening to people’s problems and offering encouragement if nothing else. St. John of God reached out to the most despised members of society, the prostitutes, and helped many to find other ways to support themselves and lead lives of dignity.

On his birthday, March 8, 1555, a day that would become his feast day, St. John of God went to his reward. The co-workers he had attracted, formed a religious order, the Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God, to carry on his work all over the world. The core of St. John of God’s spirituality is hospitality – that virtue of acceptance and care that sees Christ in the guest at the door and among those most in need.

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Posted by on Feb 7, 2008

Christ in the Desert and the County Jail

Christ in the Desert and the County Jail

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On Shrove Tuesday, while much of the world was at Mardi Gras, I was praying and sharing scripture with a small group of inmates at the county jail. Our scripture was the Temptation of Christ (Luke 4:1-19). One thing that emerged in our prayer and reflection was Christ’s acceptance of the Father’s way of rejecting power and advantage in the announcement of the Kingdom.

Why take the hard way? God could have redeemed us in many different ways. Why such a horrible death? Why did the Spirit drive Jesus into the wilderness after his baptism by John? Why was the Son of God fasting and praying for 40 days?

One of our group restated a common view that the offenses of humanity had become so severe that God demanded the most severe appeasement. I suggested that maybe the answer was in the persistence of evil in our lives. For so many of the men I was praying with, their lives had been damaged by forces beyond their control – poverty, addiction, and mental illness. (Hardened criminals generally don’t come to a prayer meeting in our jail. The faith of those who do come is something, I am sure that Jesus did not find in Israel and does not find in most respectable Christians.)

Christ, who was like us in all things but sin, chose to identify with the powerless and to put his faith in the Father through non-violence. Utter foolishness – according to St. Paul. In our suffering and defeat how could we be one with a God who was not defeated – a God who was not an utter failure? Did the Father exact this humiliation out of a some perverse pleasure unworthy of a human father?

That community of Divine love – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – Creator, Redeemer, Breath of Life come to the heart as love. Love can never be forced. True love can never come through power, glamour, or glitz. As we reflected and prayed it became more obvious to us that God can only come to us in compassion and that is how we come to him. Yet compassion is not compatible with power, wealth, and success – like a camel passing through the eye of the needle.

God with us. God like us. Powerless in love.

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