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Posted by on Jan 25, 2008

Feast of the Day: Conversion of St. Paul – January 25

Feast of the Day: Conversion of St. Paul – January 25

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January 25 is the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (Acts 22). Most of us are familiar with the story. Saul – his original name – was a Pharisee who was persecuting the very first Christians. (At that early stage believers called themselves Followers of the Way. The name Christian would come about later in Antioch)

St. Paul was on his way to Damascus with documents authorizing him to arrest and bring back Christians to Jerusalem for trial by the religious authorities. Scripture makes no reference to a horse, which is usually part of the depiction of the scene in which St. Paul is blinded by a bright light and falls to the ground. He hears a voice utter the now famous words “Saul, why are you persecuting me.” In the exchange, St. Paul asks who it is that is speaking to him – the response, “I am Jesus, the Nazarene..”

According to scripture, we know that Paul was from Tarsus and that he was also a Roman citizen. His letters to the early congregations (churches) are the oldest documents in the New Testament. They reveal a man who is thoroughly Jewish in his mode of thinking and speech. Yet he is Christianity’s link to the larger Hellenistic world.

For those who like to emphasize the important role of St. Peter in the development of the Church, it can come as a shock that he and St. Paul disagreed so strongly about the incorporation of non-Jews, or gentiles. Some of us contemporary Catholics – with a certain sense of ironic humor – see this conflict as the first among many between a Pope and a theologian.

What is most significant about St. Paul’s conversion is his acceptance by the leadership of the early Christian community. Although they had substantial reasons to distrust his sincerity, they forgave an enemy – even one who had been an accomplice in the stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr. They forgave a man who arrested and imprisoned their family members and friends. The book of the Acts of the Apostles shows that the leadership and the community had their misgivings, but they helped the repentant Saul to demonstrate his conversion, acting as mentors, teachers, and friends. Some helped more than others, and many not at all, yet it was enough.  And as they say… the rest is history.

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Posted by on Jan 24, 2008

Saint of the Day: St. Francis de Sales – January 24

Saint of the Day: St. Francis de Sales – January 24

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St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) is an interesting counterpoint to John Calvin (1509-1564) who preceded him. Both men are united by the City of Geneva. Calvin was its spiritual leader and made it a great center of the Reformation and St. Francis de Sales would become bishop of Geneva, although his headquarters were in Annecy, since Geneva no longer permitted Catholicism. Both men were well educated. Their fathers had intended for them to be lawyers and high government officials. Both studied theology and were perplexed by the issue of predestination – that certain people were saved and others were not because it had all been determined by God from eternity.

The notion of predestination overwhelmed St. Francis as a young student at Paris and almost crushed him, because he felt that he had been damned from all eternity for all eternity. He became physically ill and depressed and could barely get out of bed. Calvin dealt with it by assuming that he and members of his Reformed Church had been predestined for salvation.

St. Francis left his bed and in prayer at church, in front of a statue of the Blessed Mother, he affirmed his belief in God as a God of love. Our salvation rests on our faith and reliance on a God of love; on God who is love. This transformative experience would lead not only to a long life spent reforming and re-establishing Catholicism, but more importantly, suffusing that Catholicism with the gentleness of the Love of God.

This focus on divine love renewed a sense of spiritual priorities as seen in the Gospels. Exterior practices and observances, including penance and mortification, were second to a conversion of the mind, heart, and spirit. He led many back to Catholicism not so much by his learned teaching and writing but by the simplicity of his life as a bishop and his comfort in visiting the small towns and the countryside of his diocese at risk of his personal safety.

It might be easy for Catholics to focus on the triumph of St. Francis as a major figure in the Counter-Reformation, but this would miss the point of his life. St. Francis called people to an authentic Christianity based on the history and tradition of the Catholic Church. Yet his focus on the faith and its sacraments was a focus on the Divine Love. It was a protest against the emptiness of a faith based on predestination and severity and it was also a re-affirmation of a joyous faith of love as presented in the Gospels. His life and teaching presented a path of profound reformation and conversion for all Christians and those who seek God with a sincere heart.

St. Francis de Sales’ spirituality became a centerpiece for the religious order of The Visitation that he would found with St. Jane Frances de Chantal and for centuries of Catholics who would follow. St. Francis de Sales also inspired the founding of the Oblates of St. Frances de Sales and the Salesians of St. John Bosco.

His great works include: Introduction to the Devout Life, Treatise on the Love of God, and The Catholic Controversy.

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Posted by on Jan 12, 2008

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

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The third Sunday after Christmas is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. On this day we recall that Jesus went out to the Jordan River, where his cousin John was baptizing, and himself entered into the water to be baptized. All four of the gospels tell of this event, in which the Spirit of the Lord came to rest upon Jesus, like a dove. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that a voice spoke from the heavens, saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” John tells us that John the Baptist told his disciples, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

Jesus’ baptism was a life changing event for him. He went out into the desert to pray and to ponder and absorb the immensity of what had been revealed to Him as He stood in the water with John. This experience of coming to know that He is God’s Beloved Son was the foundation for His entire ministry. When He returned from the desert, He began going among the people and spreading the Good News that God cares about what happens to people here and now, that God loves even the most insignificant person, that loving actions speak louder that pious prayers, that joy and peace are signs of the presence of God.

Each of us, in our own baptisms, have been given the gift of sharing in the life and work of Jesus. This feast is a reminder to us of that great gift and of the fact that our response is to be like that of Jesus – to go out now and share the same Good News through our actions in our daily lives, with peace and joy and love.

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Posted by on Jan 12, 2008

Quote of the Day – Megan McKenna

Quote of the Day – Megan McKenna

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The majority of the world is struggling to survive under awful conditions, while the Church in the US seems preoccupied with in-house issues of liturgy, teaching, words, and a few issues in the US politics/power. The bulk of Catholics worldwide are struggling with poverty, the earth/resources/
globalization, immigration and how to love one’s enemies, not superficial issues. … The Church must become an alternative witness of hope and other ways to live than the dominant ones that are destroying people, cultures and the earth itself. The Church must become small communities living justice, caring for the poor.”

Megan McKenna, as quoted in “Prophetic Voices in the Church,” Observer, January 2008

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Posted by on Dec 29, 2007

Saint of the Day 12/29 – St. Thomas Becket – When Politics and Religion Don’t Mix

Saint of the Day 12/29 – St. Thomas Becket – When Politics and Religion Don’t Mix

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December 29 is the feast of St. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Thomas Becket was born to an upper middle class family around 1118 in London. As a boy, he learned the ways of the upper class from family friends, including hunting, jousting, horsemanship, and how to behave as a gentleman. He was educated in civil and canon (Church) law in England, France, and Italy. Upon his return to England, he began working for Theobald, then Archbishop of Canterbury. Theobald was so impressed with his abilities that he gave Thomas a variety of positions, including Archdeacon of Canterbury. It should be noted, that one did not need to be a priest to serve in these positions. Theobald recommended Thomas for the position of Lord Chancellor when the position became open and Henry II agreed.

As Lord Chancellor, Thomas was one of the most powerful men in England. At the time, Henry II was actively trying to bring the Church in England under greater royal control. Thomas Becket helped in this by his collection of taxes on all landholders, including the Church. Church leaders in England rightly saw him as their adversary in the struggle.

Thomas was a friend of Henry II, to the degree that anyone could be a friend to a king in those days. They spent free time together and Thomas shared in the pleasures of the Court, including those common to courtiers. Henry sent his son to live with Thomas for a while and the young prince became very fond of Thomas.

All was well until 1162. When Theobald died, the position of Archbishop of Canterbury was given to Thomas Becket. Henry II assumed that his loyal servant, companion in pleasure, and Lord Chancellor, would continue to be “his man” as head of the church in England.

Thomas Becket, on the other hand, became more religious. He resigned as Lord Chancellor and began to consolidate the power of the position of Archbishop of Canterbury. A series of conflicts arose between Archbishop and King over governance of the Church and clergy, control of lands, and the relationship with Rome. There were trials, exiles, reconciliations, excommunications, and much upheaval in the following years. Finally, four of Henry’s men killed Thomas in the Cathedral at Canterbury, believing they were doing so on the King’s orders. Edward Grim, an eyewitness to the event, reported that Thomas’ last words were, “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.”

Three years later, in 1173, Thomas Becket was canonized by Pope Alexander. But the story didn’t end there. Over the centuries that followed, the story of Thomas Becket was interpreted and reinterpreted. He was seen as enemy and as hero by those who followed. The site of his tomb was a popular tourist/pilgrim destination. His remains were moved to a shrine at Trinity Chapel in 1220 and continued to attract visitors. Henry VIII destroyed the shrine of Becket’s tomb and his bones, ordering that his name no longer be mentioned in England. In more recent times, plays, movies, biographies, and operas have all been written about the tumultuous history of Thomas Becket and Henry II.

Today, as we look at the modern world, we might think that such things could never happen now. Yet their tale should be a cautionary one for all of us.

What happens when the powers of the world clash with the mission of faith? What should be the role of religious leaders in the political sphere? What role should faith play in public life, especially for those chosen to govern a nation of people from many faiths? Does it work to have religious leaders govern a modern nation? Who should be governed by religious law – everyone or just clerics? When clerics break civil law, should they be subject to civil courts?

These questions and more are seething in world politics and international relations. We see countries in which religious law is the law of the land. We see countries in which members of faith-based insurgency movements are killing those they see as breakers of religious laws or as enemies of their faith. Candidates for political office are murdered, suicide bombers kill elected officials and members of the general public alike, and voters are advised to look to their faith in deciding which candidate merits their support.

Somehow, all this does not seem consistent with the will of a power whom we believe to be Love (1 John 4:16).

Maybe the better approach would be to look at the fruits of religious belief. Are the hungry fed? Are children, even the girls, educated? How do we care for the sick? Can everyone get the care they need? Do people have shelter from the elements – homes in which they can feel safe and raise their children in peace? Can ideas be exchanged freely, without fear of murder following? How do we treat the elderly? Do we treasure new life? Can we laugh with each other rather than at each other? Do we treat our enemies with respect and justice? Is justice tinged with mercy?

The great insight of the founders of the American political system was that in order for religion to be most free, and in practice most influential, it must be unhinged from politics. And as we select the politicians who will lead us in the next 2-4 years, we need to remember that stated religious beliefs are not necessarily the best measures of what the fruits of their leadership will be.

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Posted by on Dec 23, 2007

Holiday Grace Means Reducing Stress

Holiday Grace Means Reducing Stress

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Christmas and New Years are times for that bane of all good people – temptation in the guise of Good. St. Ignatius Loyola is well known for this insight into the primary way good people fall from grace. One of the fool proof temptations is to get people so wound up in getting everything right, that they get it all wrong.

Here are some ideas:

Budget your time, money, and calories. Becoming exhausted, financially stressed, and sending your blood sugar into outer space are all great ways to make you feel down, miserable, and ready for a fight.

Prioritize you activities. Turn off the Christmas machine! It’s a time for celebration. Select activities you and your family really want to do. Get help. Delegate tasks. Indulge in just relaxing, breathing, praying.

Don’t try and solve family issues over the holidays. It can happen, but usually it only happens in greeting cards and holiday movies. Be peaceful and prayerful. Take care of yourself and avoid toxic people and situations. You have a much better chance of being successful in handling difficult relationships during less stressful times and occasions.

Decorations and “house beautiful” have nothing to do with a manger in Bethlehem. You and your loved ones will remember and cherish the warmth and the love that come from imperfect decor, meals, and people. The greatest gift you can give yourself and your loved ones is relaxation. Banish the junk food devil. Holiness is in simple slow food – nothing elaborate – just healthy and good.

Your daily examination of conscience should include rest, wholesome food, plenty of water, and exercise. Remember it’s supposed to be a holiday, not two weeks on a forced march. Make sacred time for yourself – alone with God or at least a good book.

Remember, the truest sign of grace and holiness is laughter. It is a time to have fun. Laughter brings us closer to our family and friends, boosts the immune system, and relieves stress.

Watch out for impulse anything — eating, spending, drinking, or decision making.

If you feel out of sorts, it is time to watch out for the four horseman of the holiday apocalypse: Hunger, Anger, Loneliness, Fatigue. Be peacefully aware of your moods and feelings. You determine how you will respond to people, situations, moods, and feelings. Live in God’s grace and so will the others around you.

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Posted by on Nov 29, 2007

Don’t Feed the Bears or the Deceiving Spirits

Don’t Feed the Bears or the Deceiving Spirits

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When I was growing up, Yogi Bear was a popular cartoon. Yogi lived in “Jellystone Park” and, with his sidekick, Boo-Boo, took it as his mission to defeat the park ranger and get picnic baskets from the tourists. It was all very silly and funny to watch.

In the actual world, “Don’t Feed the Bears” was and is a serious statement. Bears are wild animals and play an important role in the environment. However, bears that get used to eating human food or bears that come close to humans can be dangerous. Cute little cubs have fiercely protective mothers who do not hestitate to defend them.

As an adult, I have come to observe that there are other beings who should not be fed. This is the story of one person’s encounter with one of those beings.

It had been a difficult day. The children were out of sorts. She was short of sleep. Her husband was worried about problems at work. Nothing seemed to be going right. To top it all off, like the proverbial cherry on the banana split, he had criticized her housekeeping or some such thing. (Later she couldn’t even remember what it had been.) She got the children to bed, the dog to the kennel and went to bed herself.

Usually, when she’d had a day like that, a good night’s sleep took care of the problem and the next day went better. But that night she couldn’t sleep. She was too angry. She kept going over and over in her mind what had happened and how unfair and unjust it all had been. The time dragged on and she couldn’t calm down. She tried praying the rosary, because often that helped her go to sleep when she was upset or worried, but that didn’t help either.

Finally, it occured to her to ask God to take away the anger and resentment so she could get some sleep. No sooner said than done! Her eyes were closed and she was lying on her side. She had the sensation of the blankets being flung back off of her – and at that instant, there was a cold, bright, bluish flash of light which stung her leg and then was gone. She no longer felt angry or resentful, but rather peaceful and ready to sleep. Thanking God, she drifted off to a restful night of sleep.

A couple of weeks later, she was talking with a friend about what had happened. The friend has the gift of healing, so she knew he wouldn’t think she was making it up. She described what had happened and he said that he could see, looking with his mind’s eye at the scene, what she had not seen. Behind her as she lay on the bed, a golden light appeared. (Golden light is often associated with the divine or the holy – as in halos around the heads in pictures of saints.) The golden light moved over her and exposed the deceiving spirit, forcing it to flee. The spirit had stung her as it left, in anger at being exposed. Then the golden light had covered her and let her rest.

I have often reflected on this woman’s experience. I had never really thought of anger, resentment, jealousy and the other negative emotions as spirits or as having any real “being” outside of the individual person. It would seem that I was mistaken.

I am now very careful about what emotional states I nurture. When I am angry, I try to remember not to feed that “spirit” by dwelling on how I have been wronged. Feeding these deceiving spirits only strengthens them and allows them to reach out and hurt others through me. They tell me I am the one who was hurt, but in my heart of hearts I know that “it takes two to tango” and despite what they might have me believe, I am rarely a totally innocent victim.

In these days of the ending of one liturgical year and beginning of the next, when the readings speak of the last days and of judgements to come, maybe we would all do well to make a sign and post it in our hearts, “Don’t Feed the Deceiving Spirits!”

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Posted by on Sep 21, 2007

St. Matthew the Apostle

St. Matthew the Apostle

St. Matthew by Caravaggio

According to tradition and some internal evidence, St. Matthew was the author of the Gospel that bears his name. He was also the tax collector referred to in the Gospels who turned to follow Christ. Tax collectors of the time were the most reviled of all sinners.

According to Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish writer (30 BC – 45 AD), as cited by Maureen B. Cavanaugh in her article, “Private Tax Collectors: A Roman, Christian, and Jewish Perspective”

“They [Romans] deliberately choose as tax collectors men who are absolutely ruthless and savage, and give them the means of satisfying their greed. These people who are mischief-makers by nature, gain added immunity because of their “superior orders,” obsequious in everything where their masters are concerned, leave undone no cruelty of any kind and recognize no equity or gentleness . . . as they collect the taxes they spread confusion and chaos everywhere. They exact money not only from people’s property but also from their bodies by means of personal injuries, assault and completely unheard of forms of torture.”

Tax collectors were independent contractors who frequently got out of control, since there were few safeguards to protect the local populace in ancient society. Interestingly, Ms. Cavanaugh’s article is a cautionary history lesson in the context of plans by the United States government to outsource tax collection to independent contractors.

Jesus’ association with tax collectors was even more scandalous than his association with prostitutes and members of terrorist organizations such as Simon the Zealot. Tax collectors were so despicable that their ritual “dirtiness” defiled everything in a house that they entered. In contrast, a thief only defiled those things that he touched in the house.

After his conversion, Matthew was not free from controversy. His Gospel established a hostile attitude toward Jews that persisted for almost 2,000 years. Since the Gospel According to Matthew refers to the temple and city of Jerusalem in their state before their obliteration in 70 A.D., some scholars conclude that the Gospel was written prior to that year. St. Matthew’s stance toward Jews can be understood in the context of a struggle between Jews regarding adherence to their traditional faith or conversion to Christianity. St. Paul lists himself as a persecutor of early Christians. In fact, his conversion occured while he was on a mission to track down believers.

Douglas R. A. Hare’s monograph “The Theme of Jewish Persecution in the Gospel According to St. Matthew,” asks whether St. Matthew exaggerated the persecution and what effect it had on his theology. Using Christian and Rabbinic sources, Hare concludes that the persecution was directed at Christian missionaries, as opposed to Christians in general.

We see this continuing contest after the destruction of 70 AD in the efforts of St. John Chrysostom to stem Jewish influence in the Christian community in Antioch in the fourth century. It was not until 1965 that the Second Vatican Council, in its decree on relations with non-Christians, “Nostra Aetate” (“In Our Time”), that the Church told her members to adopt a posture of respect and dialog with Jews.

The Gospel of St. Matthew, in its beauty, is a central document in Christianity. The emphasis on Christ as the Messiah and the passing away of Judaism are central themes. Pharisees, those staunch guardians of Judaism from the rampant Hellenistic paganism of the time, won’t make it into the Kingdom before repentant tax collectors and prostitutes.

If we substitute  the words “Faithful Christians” for “Pharisees” we get some idea of how incendiary the message still is today.

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Posted by on Sep 20, 2007

Saints of the Day – Korean Martyrs

Saints of the Day – Korean Martyrs

Kim Dae Geon (1822 - 1846) Priest & Martyr

If you ever wonder about the power of books, the church in Korea owes its start to them. It is probably unique in this regard. Korea was closed to outside trade and influences at the time. Unfortunately, this is still the case in Communist North Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Christian books were obtained by Korean scholars from the Korean embassy in China. The first convert Ni-seoung-houn was baptized in 1784 in Beijing, where he had gone to study Catholicism. He returned to Korea and converted many others. Most of these first Christians were later killed in 1791. However in 1794, when a Chinese priest, Fr. James Tsiou, arrived, he found 4,000 Catholics. Subsequent waves of persecution and martyrdom followed in 1836, 1846, and 1867. The martyrdom of French missionaries, in part, led to to a war called the French Campaign Against Korea.

Their stories are compelling. It is especially interesting to see how a sacramental and liturgical church can grow without any ordained clergy. It is even more interesting how they adapted with relative ease to a foreign clergy and developed their own.

Pope John Paul II canonized (designated as saints) the martyrs of 1836, 1846, and 1867 in Seoul on May 6, 1984. The Pope began his homily with Luke 24:26 from the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus after the death of Christ. “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” He went on to relate the rest of this story of encouragement and also incorporated a history of the church in Korea. and the testimony of the martyrs.

The faith demonstrated by these Christians, and their statements prior to their deaths, are very reminiscent of the early Church. They should also be a reminder that in many parts of the world today, Christians are still being persecuted. In China, Sudan, and even Latin America, the faith remains something to die for.

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Posted by on Sep 20, 2007

Jews and The Passion of Sister Rose

Jews and The Passion of Sister Rose

Sister Rose Thering (1920-2006) did her doctoral research on the image of Jews in Catholic textbooks. She received her degree in 1961 from St. Louis University, but her writing would be the catalyst for a significant change. Jews would no longer be labeled the “Christ killers.” The Second Vatican Council would adopt Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), a ground breaking document on non-Christians, including Jews.

Sr. Rose Thering’s research came to the attention of Cardinal Augustin Bea at the beginning of Council in 1962. Cardinal Bea was a major force in ecumenical relations. According to Fr. Eugene Fisher, the issue of anti-semitism came up early in the deliberations of the Council and was one of the last to be resolved. Anti-semitic tracts were submitted to the bishops (the Council fathers) and debunked. Diplomatic pressure came from Arab governments. Finally the issue was addressed in 15 sentences comprising section 4 of Nostra Aetate (In Our Time).

These two sentences strike down any biblical notion of the culpability of the Jewish people:

Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (see Jn 19:6), neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his passion. It is true that the church is the new people of God, yet the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy scripture. Consequently, all must take care, lest in catechizing or in preaching the word of God, they teach anything which is not in accord with the truth of the Gospel message or the spirit of Christ.

It is telling that this passage refers to the Gospel of St. John 19:6, since this Gospel casts Jews in a very negative light ,as do many other parts of the New Testament. This acrimony toward the Jews is part of a larger conflict between the two groups in the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. In fact, the tension with the Christian movement regarding observance of Mosaic law and Jewish practice was also intense. Over time, the Hellenistic segment prevailed by sheer force of numbers and their ability to assimilate into the broader Graeco-Roman culture.

The persistence of anti-semitism can be seen in Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ. The blockbuster movie followed the basic story line but contained a lot of materials that were the private revelations of a 19th century German nun. Somehow, Jesus, his family, and followers are no longer Jews but Aryans in the hands of alien hostile Jews. This reinforces something worse than a stereotype. It becomes an archetype of the Christian unconscious that structures dreams, perceptions, and ultimately – genocide.

The Jewish feast, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, comes every year as Summer gives way to Fall. As Yom Kippur approaches, Sr. Rose Thering provides an excellent example of going beyond guilt. She opens the door to a new and better day for everyone.

“She was a one-woman wrecking crew,” said Rabbi James Rudin, senior inter-religious adviser for the American Jewish Committee, and a friend of Thering’s for 36 years. “What she helped wreck was 2,000 years of the teaching of contempt which was built into so much of Christian teaching.”

For an in-depth report, see the section in the Anti-Defamation League site on the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate (In Our Time) in October 2005.

Sister Rose’s Passion, a short documentary of Sr. Rose’s life and work, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2005. It is well worth seeing.


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Posted by on Sep 7, 2007

To Trust the Incarnation: An Interview with Sara Miles

Editor’s Note: Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion took the time to answer three questions which I felt might be useful to our readers. Very often the organized structures of “religion” are put at odds with those of our personal religious experience or “spirituality.” Many church goers are secure in their routine and not really open to the uncontrollable God. Many spiritual people rejoice in a the delights of a life lived far from the annoying humanity of our neighbors and the concerns of those struggling to get by on the margins. Sara Miles’ spiritual memoir challenges us to go beyond religion and spirituality and to live the Divine Mystery.

Randy Pozos: How would you advise parents and godparents to prepare their children for First Communion?

Sarah Miles: I’m probably not the best person to answer this, as I took my own first communion as an unbaptized adult, at the age of 46. My church, St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church (www.saintgregorys.org) offers communion to everyone, without exception, believing that Jesus welcomes everyone to his Table — and that his chosen sign was eating with outcasts, sinners, the unclean and the unprepared.

I believe that churches can prepare people to be members of churches; they can catechize children and adults to understand church doctrine and practices. But nobody can be “prepared” for the experience of God, because God is here, right now, making all things new: whether you are ready or not.

Randy Pozos: It seems that in your experience there is a direct, almost tangible, relationship between communion and your food pantry ministry of feeding and being fed by others. How would you encourage others to find and celebrate that transcendent experience of Eucharist in other ministries and occupations?

Sara Miles: Eucharist is a Great Thanksgiving: whenever we pour ourselves out, giving not only to our friends and loved ones but to our enemies and to strangers, we participate in Jesus’ feast, and share a “foretaste of the Kingdom” where all will be united in a heavenly banquet.

The connection between Eucharist and daily life is not mysterious: in fact, the liturgy is a reminder that it is precisely the most ordinary things of our lives (eating, drinking, kissing) that are suffused with God’s presence.

Randy Pozos: As a journalist and author, it seemed that you brought a poetic vision of a reality beyond the common sense experience of bread and wine. How can we engender this sensibility in ourselves and others and be ready for this experience of surprise and wonder?

Sara Miles: There’s a wonderful quote from Rowan Williams, now Archbishop of Canterbury, who says, in an essay on the martyr Etty Hillesum, “A religious life is a material life. Forget for a moment the arguments we might have about the definition of the ‘spiritual’; living religiously is a way of conducting a bodily life.”

To trust the Incarnation is to open yourself to God in the “common sense” experiences of human life. This means inevitably opening yourself to more pain, more suffering– and more joy.

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Posted by on Sep 5, 2007

Sara Miles – Food for the Journey

Sara Miles – Food for the Journey

Sara Miles

Sara Miles’ book, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, is breathtaking in many ways for the traditional Christian who believes in the Holy Eucharist. Ms. Miles’ story of conversion does not follow the usual pattern of experiencing a call, undergoing instruction, receiving Baptism and being admitted to the Lord’s table. In Ms. Miles’ case, this ancient path is telescoped and reversed.

Ms. Miles experiences a longing and endures a search that begins with a political turned spiritual sojourn in Central America and her love of restaurants and feeding people. Along the way, she meets with her first catechist, a man who would later become one of the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador, Father Martin-Baro. She finds not only an open door at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, but a communion table that is open to all comers. Her First Communion is a radically transforming experience. It is far from regular bread or even something special, it is, for Sara, the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus the Christ.

St. Augustine’s writings total five million words. (That is about 40 books, each with about 300 pages.) Almost none of his writings allude to that most secret of mysteries reserved only to the baptized – the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Those undergoing instruction, the catechumens were dismissed from the assembly after the Liturgy of the Word. In the restored Rite of Christian Initiation in the Catholic Church, this pattern is still followed, but the Mass is far from secret and is often broadcast around the world on television.

Nevertheless, making one’s First Communion is not the usual entry point into the Christian life. For those of us from the Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopal, Lutheran and other churches with a Eucharistic center, the Table of the Lord is closely guarded. The ultimate sanction is be excluded from the community and the heavenly banquet.

Everything about Sara Miles – her atheist family, her support of leftist causes, her lack of a formal degree, her being a lesbian and mother, make her an updated version of the Parable of the Woman Who Loved Much. She is also a woman whom many Christians would like to reject. Then again, we killed the prophets didn’t we?

Miles’ Eucharistic theology is all about feeding the multitudes – literally and spiritually. The food pantry program, into which she dragooned her reluctant fellow parishoners at St. Gregory’s, led to a broader network of food pantries throughout San Francisco. Her faith and her vision made it more than social work. She brought food and companionship to those trapped in the run down housing projects.

Like the rest of us on the path, the way was seldom clear and never easy. Sara Miles is woman of more questions than answers because faith is not about certainty and certainly not about judgment. Her candor is not only refreshing but it is also healing.

Take This Bread is not only well written. It is moving. For all of us who grew up with First Communion as rite of passage and for all who cherish the Eucharist, this book and its author are a bucket of cold water on a hot summer day. In its pristine truth, the Eucharist is all about community and compassion. The transcendent and the sacred is definitely present in Sara Miles’ experience, but it is a love that overflows into feeding each other and finding God not only in the consecrated host but in the host of all the poor and needy in ourselves and in the world.

This is not a book for the faint of heart but those who want to take heart. Do yourself a favor. As St. Augustine was commanded in a vision ,”Tolle, Lege” – Pick this up and read it! Go to www.saramiles.net.

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