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Posted by on Dec 15, 2013

Rejoice and See God Present

Rejoice and See God Present

Joy

The prayers for the liturgy of the third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) begin with a command: Rejoice. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice.” (Phil 4:4) In the prayers and readings we are reminded again and again to be joyful people because our God has come to save the people. And not just the people; Isaiah tells us, “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.” (Is 1:1-2)

What is the reason for all of this rejoicing? Is it because Christmas is near? Is it that the end of the world is near and God’s justice will burn away all evil? Is it that God will reward good people with abundant gifts of money and material security, while punishing sinners by leaving them poor? Is it that Christian believers will succeed in getting Nativity scenes displayed in more public places? Is it that Christmas shopping is almost over and life can return to a more normal pace?

All of these notions have been expressed at various points through the years, but none of them is the real reason for our rejoicing on this day. The apostle continues his instruction to the Philippians, “Indeed, the Lord is near.” (Phil 4:5)

Isaiah declares:

“Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.” (Is 35:3-6)

We rejoice because the Lord cares about us — about each one of us: the rich, the poor, the handsome, the ugly, the smooth talkers and those who struggle to communicate, the wise and the foolish, the clever and those who understand more slowly. We find the Lord present especially among those most often overlooked by the wise and powerful. He came to us and continues to come to us from among ordinary people.

What does he do when he comes? John the Baptist, alone in his prison cell, wanted to know if his cousin truly was the One whose coming he had been sent to announce. Jesus answered the question posed on John’s behalf by his disciples, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” (Mt 11:4-5)

As promised so long before Jesus’ birth, God comes to protect the poor and weak. Jesus proclaims the good news to all of the people, beginning with those at the bottom and continuing to the very top rungs of social and political power. God cares about all of us. No one is too small or insignificant in God’s eyes.

As we recognize the wonder of God’s coming into human history and live out our own calling to share in the proclamation of good news and God’s care for the poor, we rejoice. “The Lord is near.”

 

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Posted by on Apr 1, 2013

Rejoice — He is Risen!

Rejoice — He is Risen!

Easter_Lily_by_Boston_Public_Library

Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus this week. We sing “Alleluia, praise the Lord,” with great gusto. We rejoice in God’s power over death and the promise of new life. We call out to all who will hear, “He is risen.”

In the midst of such celebration, I find myself thinking about the experience of the disciples during the  final hours before Jesus’ passion and the first days following his resurrection. As Catholics, we don’t skip over those experiences in the race to celebrate Easter. Begining with Palm Sunday, we spend an entire week remembering those crucial events of salvation history, as well as the promises and prophecies that were fulfilled during that week so long ago.  From the excitement of seeing Jesus greeted with hosannas and hailed as the one who had been so long expected as he entered Jerusalem in a procession, to the devastation of his death as a condemned criminal in a place of public execution, his followers then and now experience a roller-coaster of emotions. By the time we reach Holy Saturday morning, there is a certain emotional numbness that sets in. What more could there be that will happen?

On Holy Saturday morning, I usually feel a bit detached and quiet. There’s so much to be done before Easter Vigil and then Sunday morning’s celebration. Yet there is that numbness that follows Good Friday’s liturgy and the recognition of what happened to Jesus, as well as what continues to happen to so many who follow his lead in serving the poor and announcing God’s command that we love and care for each other and our world.

Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one knows the numbness that follows. Whether death was the final moment of a long or painful illness, or release from a period of mental/physical decline, or the peaceful final breath of a person who has lived long and well, those who remain experience a certain emotional pain and numbness to other concerns and activities. When death occurs unexpectedly, through violence or accident, the devastation is extraordinarily powerful. We question how God could let something like that happen. We may yell at God or turn away. We may also turn to each other in faith: giving and receiving support.

For the disciples on that Saturday morning, when they couldn’t even hold a proper funeral for Jesus, I suspect “numb” would not begin to describe the way they felt. Their hopes and expectations had been dashed. They feared for their own lives. They didn’t know how they would ever be able to face their families and friends, many of whom had probably warned them against leaving home and jobs to follow an itinerant preacher around the country. Unlike our experience, based as it is on knowledge of the Easter event, there was no hope of redemption in the suffering they were experiencing or that Jesus had endured.

Yet into the midst of this experience, on the first day of the week, the women took spices to the tomb and discovered that death cannot hold the author of life in its snares. The stone had been rolled away; the tomb was empty; angels asked why they sought the living among the dead; Jesus met them in the garden and sent them to tell the others that he was risen and would meet them in Galilee. The news was greeted with disbelief. The women must be mad with grief, maybe a bit hysterical. The men went to see and discovered for themselves that the women had not been mistaken about the tomb: it was definitely empty. Later that day, Jesus came into the locked room where his disciples were gathered: fear and sorrow had by this point been joined by confused concern about the story told by the women and others who claimed to have seen the Lord. He invited them to touch him. He ate with them. He instructed them about the new reality that had burst forth into their world and all of creation. Life does not end with physical death. God is not defeated. We are children of God who will share in new life forever.

The numbness of loss turns to the numb wonder of gain. Could it really be true? Could God really love us that totally? Can all be forgiven? Does life continue unended? Is death really a passage into newer, more abundant life? Are we really the ones who will bring the good news of this reality to our world?

If all of this is true, and with the early Christians we believe it is, then thankful rejoicing is the most appropriate response. So we move from the rejoicing in a promise of earthly power (Palm Sunday processions), through the mandate to serve each other and feast on the Lord’s own Body and Blood (Holy Thursday), into the mystery of death (Good Friday), and out the other side to the assurance of new, more abundant, unlimited life in the Resurrection. For this we shout, Alleluia! Rejoice and be glad! The Lord is risen, He is ruly risen!

Happy Easter – all fifty days of it!

 

Easter Lily by Boston Public Library – George Cochran Lambdin 1830-1896 (artist); L. Prang & Co. (publisher)

 

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Posted by on Mar 24, 2013

Singing Leaves Time and Palm Sunday

Singing Leaves Time and Palm Sunday

 

Palm Sunday Fronds

Palm Sunday– “Singing Leaves”

Faith is passed from generation to generation through simple gestures, songs, foods, and activities. As children live the activities of daily life in the cycles of the year, they notice more than we realize. Life, especially for the little ones, is heavily focused on the present moment, but they too become aware of the changing seasons in our church life and come to look forward to the next celebration.

I was reminded of this yesterday when a sweet four-year-old boy asked me if it were time for the “singing leaves” yet. It took me a moment to realize that he was referring to Palm Sunday. In our parish, as Catholics do in parishes around the world, we all gather in a courtyard outside the church on Palm Sunday. Each person has a palm frond and members of our parish youth group wave large palm branches, leading the congregation out of the church building to hear the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on that Sunday morning so long ago. Then, singing “The King of Glory Comes,” we all process back into the church for the Passion Sunday liturgy. (Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday occur on the same day.) This little boy remembered waving the palms last year and the singing as we re-entered the church. He was quite excited when I responded that this was the Sunday for the singing leaves.

As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, godparents, or simply friends, we share our faith best through the examples of our lives. Do we pause to thank God and ask a blessing before we eat? Do we greet the morning with a prayer? Do we remember to give thanks for our day and ask God’s blessing on our families, friends, and activities before we go to sleep at night? Do we gather regularly as a community of faith to celebrate Eucharist? Is Reconciliation (sacramental or simply interpersonal) a part of our lives? Do we pause in times of joy and times of sorrow to call the Lord into our midst? Do we time our holy day activities to match the liturgical timetable, not jumping to celebrate major feasts before their time but rather savoring the periods of anticipation and preparation for the feasts as well? Do we do these things with the children in our lives?

Children learn by observing and imitating. Only in later childhood and early adolescence do children begin to hunger for the meatier reasons for why we believe and do certain things. For a young child, “because that’s what we do now” can explain quite acceptably the timing of an activity. An older child will want to know that we do it “because that’s what Jesus told his friends to do before he died.” As adults, we too have opportunities to learn and grow more deeply in our faith and understanding of it — through both intellectual and spiritual practices. However, to reach our children, we do well to rely on activities, stories, songs, and celebrations.

As we move into this Holy Week and then on into Easter-tide, let’s remember to celebrate each in its own time. Holy Week is a good time to make and enjoy traditional Lenten dishes including Hot Cross Buns. It’s not time yet for Easter eggs or chocolate bunnies!

Mass on Holy Thursday can be a special time to celebrate caring for each other and the gifts of the Eucharist and the priesthood. Have a special meal, enjoy time together on this day, then join with your community to celebrate Eucharist and enter into the mystery of Jesus’ Passion — His great love for us.

Good Friday brings many opportunities to share faith with children. Little ones don’t need to know in great detail of the tortures inflicted on Jesus. They just need to know that Jesus loves them totally. So as we fast and reflect on the events of the day, let’s remember to be patient and peaceful. If the Solemn celebration for Good Friday is going to be too late or too “heavy” for the little children, then do something peaceful and loving at home with them. As they get older, take them with you to enter more deeply into the mystery.

Holy Saturday is a quiet day of preparation and anticipation. Coloring eggs, baking special breads or desserts, getting the house in order for the Easter celebration — all will become part of the faith tradition for our children. Happy memories or sad ones will remain with them based on the love they see through our bustle of activities and the times we stop for reflection or story-telling.

Easter Vigil brings the story of salvation history and its culmination in the Resurrection alive. Children from 3rd or 4th grade and older can appreciate this celebration, particularly if the passages from Scripture are proclaimed in an engaging fashion.

If we remember to celebrate each of these mysteries of Jesus’ Passion, Death, and  Resurrection during this week each year, our children will learn to treasure them as well. They may not always celebrate them as they move through adolescence and into adulthood. There may be times in their lives when they move away from the community and travel their own road to God, but the foundations will be there, always calling them to the Lord.

May this week, from the Singing Leaves to the Alleluias of Easter Vigil be a time of rich blessing for you and for your families and communities.

 

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Posted by on Dec 8, 2012

Does Immaculate Conception Mean Virgin Birth?

Does Immaculate Conception Mean Virgin Birth?

 

The Immaculate Conception – Murillo

Does Immaculate Conception mean Virgin Birth?

No. These two concepts, Immaculate Conception and Virgin Birth, are frequently confused. Many assume they are one and the same, leading to the notion that Mary’s conception was the result of the same type of divine intervention as that of her son. In fact, the Church has never believed that Mary was conceived without marital relations occurring between her parents. Normal physical relations between a husband and wife are not seen as sinful. They are, in fact, seen as a source of divine grace, a sharing in God’s life of love, a sacramental experience.

What is the Immaculate Conception?

If Immaculate Conception has nothing to do with the notion that our sexual expression is evil, however necessary for the continuation of the species, nor is it some kind of impediment to holiness, then what does the concept mean? To understand the notion, we must start with an ancient story, one of two creation myths found in the Bible: the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This second story of creation begins in the second chapter of the book of Genesis, halfway through the fourth verse. It tells of the creation of a human and then of a garden in Eden in which he would live. The garden was located in the land bordered by four rivers: the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates. In this garden, there was a tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, from which the man was forbidden to eat the fruit. Knowing the man would be lonesome alone in the garden, God created many animals and birds to accompany him. However, animals and birds were not suitable companions for a human on any long-term scale. So God created another human to be his partner; a human created from the man’s rib to signify equality with him. The man was named Adam (man), a play on words in Hebrew between “man” and “ground.” The new person was called woman because she was formed out of “her man.”

As the story continues, conflict enters. The woman, walking alone in the garden, encounters a serpent who cunningly entices her to taste the forbidden fruit. She gives some to her husband as well, and suddenly they recognize they are naked. They become afraid to see God and hide in the garden from their creator. A separation between God’s overflowing love in creation and the humans created to be part of that creation has occurred. According to the story, the man and woman must leave the garden and now make their way in the great world outside it. The woman was called Eve by her husband “because she became the mother of all the living.”

Enter Original Sin

From this story, told to explain the entry of sin into human experience, the notion of original sin eventually developed. According to this notion, not found in Judaism or Islam, all humans inherit a “fallen nature,” a nature that is not strong enough always to resist sinning (separating from God). We don’t inherit the guilt of Adam and Eve. God’s image is undiminished within us, always calling and helping us to choose life over death. Yet we all fail in the quest to live without sinning through our decisions to act or to fail to act in loving union with God.

How then could God’s Son be born of a human woman without inheriting that fallen nature? It was from this dilemma that the notion of the Immaculate Conception developed. Through the centuries, theologians wrestled with it, especially as the idea of original sin became more and more strongly developed. Originally Mary was seen as like all other humans, a normal woman who played an extraordinary role in salvation history through her total openness to God. By the Middle Ages, however, as we began to focus more on human sinfulness and less on the presence of God within each person, an idea developed that Mary was saved from original sin at the time of her conception to prepare a perfect “new Eve” from whom the long-promised savior would be born. This savior would be the first-born of God’s new creation, of God’s new people.

A Formal Dogma

It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that the Immaculate Conception became a formal dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. This feast is celebrated nine months before we celebrate the Nativity of Mary (September 8). The readings for the liturgy celebrating the Immaculate Conception include the story of the encounter between God, the serpent, and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:9-15), Paul’s letter to the Ephesians describing God’s choice to adopt all of us through Jesus (Eph 1:3-6, 11-12), and the story of the visit of the Angel Gabriel  to Mary in which Mary gives her consent to become Jesus’ mother (Lk 1:26-38). Perhaps the confusion between the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth stems from this traditional selection of readings. They are connected only to the extent that God’s grace is needed by all humans to help them make loving choices and help bring the new creation to birth right here, right now!

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Posted by on Aug 26, 2012

A Refreshing Perspective on Respect, Love, and Obedience in Marriage

Today I’m giving this platform to the Rev. Mr. Patrick Conway, Deacon serving at Resurrection Catholic Community in Aptos. Patrick is Pastoral Associate in our parish, married for well over 20 years, father of 5, and a fine musician. He brings a welcome perspective to the study of scriptures such as the reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (5:21-32) in which Paul addresses the relationship between husbands and wives. With Patrick’s permission, I share it with you.

Elbow Sunday 8-26-2012 Deacon Patrick Conway

Today is officially called the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. But unofficially it’s called “Elbow Sunday”. That’s because in Catholic churches all over the world today, during the Second Reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when he says that wives must obey their husbands, husbands elbow their wives, and when he says that husbands must love their wives as Christ loves the Church, wives elbow their husbands right back!

Actually, this is a tradition that’s sort of gone by the wayside, because for decades now the Church has made that first paragraph about wives obeying their husbands optional, and most parishes don’t read it anymore, because most lectors, especially women, don’t want to read it, and most Catholics, especially women, don’t want to hear it, and most preachers don’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole! But I, just back from vacation and feeling strong, relish the challenge! Either that, or fools rush in where angels fear to tread!

So, what about it? It says here in the Word of God that wives must submit to their husbands in everything. 12 years ago the second-largest group of Christians (after Catholics) in the United States, the Southern Baptists, included it in their Statement of Faith, and many evangelicals and other Christians also believe and teach that wives must submit to their husbands. So what does the largest Christian Church in the world, the Roman Catholic Church, say about this?

Nothing. If you look at all the current Church teachings on marriage – in the Catechism, Canon Law, teachings of John Paul II, Engaged Encounter, Marriage Encounter – you won’t find a word about it. So now hear this, wives (and husbands): the Catholic Church does not teach that wives must submit to their husbands. Wives, you get to give the final elbow!

Just has it has in the lectionary, the Church has basically dropped or at least de-emphasized that notion of inequality that is wrongfully implied in Paul’s letter. The Church takes the rest of the passage to come up with a wonderful understanding of marriage as an equal partnership in which both husband and wife submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Both husband and wife give one another the love of Christ, loving each other as Christ loves the Church.

It’s like a dance – one partner leads, the other follows. But it’s not always the man who leads. In some things the woman can lead better, and so she should, and her husband should follow. Other times, the wife should follow her husband’s lead. Mutual submission to one another, and always, to Christ. There is no place for domination in this relationship. Domination is a serious and destructive sin, whether it is done by a husband or a wife.

Paul says that the marriage relationship is like the relationship between Christ and the Church, and so it is. But, unlike our relationship with Christ, who is always the Christ to us, husbands and wives take turns being Christ to one another. Now, as a husband, I take very seriously my call to love my wife as Christ loves the Church, and that’s my prayer every day. But every day I see all the ways that I fail to do that, unlike Christ who never fails me. And I see that, regardless of my best efforts to be Christ to my wife, it is more often she who is Christ to me. The greatest incarnation of Christ in my life is, and has been, my wife, whose constant love, faithfulness, mercy, care and devotion never cease to amaze and humble me. She has given herself to me completely, just as Christ has given himself to me. She gives herself to me through Christ, and Christ gives himself to me through her.

But marriage is not just for the good of the married, or even for the children that may come from a marriage. Marriage is for everyone, that is, for the good of everyone. That is Paul’s greatest gift in his teaching about marriage, that marriage is a sacrament, a sign and symbol for the whole world of the relationship between Christ and the Church, between Christ and humanity. Marriage reveals that this relationship between Christ and humanity is not one of divine domination, but of tender, intimate love, like the tender, intimate love between a husband and wife. It is deeply personal.

Marriage is to remind each one of us of what is possible between us and Christ, a tender, intimate, profoundly personal relationship that is truly everlasting. And each one of us is called to this dance of love with Christ, with Christ who has first loved us and who has come down from heaven into our world to give us his love, to give us himself, and who seeks only our love in return.

That’s all he’s been trying to tell us in these Gospel readings these past few weeks, that he’s giving us himself, his whole self – flesh and blood, body and soul, humanity and divinity, and he’s just dying with passion for us to receive him.

May our response to him be like St. Peter’s: “Lord, to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and love. We know that you’re the one for us.”

Reprinted with permission.

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Posted by on Aug 15, 2012

Feast of the Assumption – God’s Gift through a Special Woman

Feast of the Assumption – God’s Gift through a Special Woman

Assumption of the Virgin

The Feast of the Assumption is celebrated on August 15. This feast has ancient roots and is celebrated throughout the Christian community. Some speak of the Assumption of Mary, others of the Dormition (going to sleep), the Commemoration, or the Passing of Mary.

In the Roman Church, today’s readings begin with the vision from the Book of Revelation (11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab) of the woman clothed in the sun with the moon beneath her feet and a crown of stars on her head who appears in the sky. She is in labor and threatened by a great dragon. The woman gives birth to a boy who is caught up to Heaven to rule the nations, while the woman finds refuge in a safe place in the desert.

The second reading is from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. Paul (15:20-27) speaks of Jesus as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” and notes that the last enemy of God to be conquered by Christ is death itself.

Finally, Luke’s (1:39-56) account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth treats us to Mary’s hymn to the great love of God, the Magnificat. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord… He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty…”

Through Mary, God came “to the help of his servant Israel,” remembering his promise of mercy, “the promise he made to … Abraham and his children forever.” Today we honor her for her faithful response to God’s call and pray that we too (descendants in faith of Abraham) may be faithful in our response. Please join me in praying:

Like the woman in the reading from the Book of Revelation, women around the world today and their children face many dangers. May we, like the angels who protected her and her child from the dragon, act to protect women and children from the dragons that threaten them today, including violence, hunger, lack of education, and poor access to health care.

Through the “yes” of a young woman, Jesus came into our world, becoming the one through whom death would be overcome. May we too answer “yes” when God asks us to participate in the works of the Kingdom.

Like Mary, may we receive the courage to believe that God is really in charge when it seems that the desires of the powerful will once again outweigh the needs of the poor and vulnerable — and act accordingly.

As we evaluate the many possible paths into the future that we as a nation may choose, may we listen carefully to the voice of God within our hearts, rejecting fear-based choices and instead choosing to work for the good of all.

Painting by Peter Paul Rubens, currently in the Cathedral of Our Lady (Antwerp) – Public Domain

 

 

 

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Posted by on May 27, 2012

The Gift of Wisdom: Ancient but Pertinent?

When I think of Wisdom my mind always throws up pictures of Michelangelo-like figures with ponderous looks on their faces.  The scene is very serious and feels absolutely irrelevant to my life.  A second later I am seeing two figures on a canvas mat  struggling to get control of a situation.   Both images are important and both apply to me.  Living in a wise way is very important and serious and this life skill plays out in my life as a pitched battle between my ego or inner child and God.  We are down on the mat wrestling away all day long.  At times the struggle for me to be wise is funny.  I am the child with a Look or Big Hunk candy bar, covered in chocolate who badly needs a bath.  I am wading through my life with a terrific personal coach whom I would like to ignore.  I would like to lay down in my life and be waited upon.  I would like to wave a magic wand and have all my troubles just go away.  Why not?

Wisdom is a gift from God which empowers us to do what is best.  Wisdom is the opposite of impulsiveness, self-indulgence and short-sightedness. In the secular world, wisdom is doing what is best because of fear or because of personal gain.  In the spiritual world, wisdom is sought because it draws us to growth, generosity, inclusivity, justice, love, and heroism.  Wisdom is what God expresses in the world.  When we exercise wisdom, we rise above what we want to consider what is best.  The two might be the same.  In any case, the activity of considering what is best frees us from the possible deception that can come by just following my feelings.  Wisdom asks if a thought or course of action is taking us to a bad place in life where we have been before or if a decision is taking us to a positive place.

One of the greatest deceptions in life is called the Pleasure Principle.  According to this principle, if something feels good it is good and if something feels bad it is bad.  This line of thinking is fallacious.  Obviously heroin may feel good, but it is horribly destructive.  Telling a lie may feel good right now and yet end up causing harm to me and a lot of pain.  Eating french fries may feel good now but the health results later may feel quite bad.  There are many things in life that feel bad, such as asking forgiveness or  letting someone inconvenience us, that when performed cause us to feel good almost immediately.  People who are wise can distinguish between short and long term results.  They are committed to the truth and to wanting to be joyful, not just comfortable.

Wisdom takes knowledge and uses it in the best possible ways.  It thinks broadly rather than just individualistically.  Wisdom perceives the interconnectedness and interdependence of everything in the world, so that when we have the gift of wisdom, we live with the Earth and all it inhabitants in mind.  We understand that what we do affects everything on the Earth.  My thoughtful and healthy living affects everyone.  Wisdom therefore does have discipline as a skill.  Another word for this is restraint.  It can be fun not to waste.  It can be really exciting not to be driven by addictions and obsessions.  I can and often am driven by food and things to which I am attracted that I want to own.  I love cinnamon rolls and designer fabric.  I cannot eat the first nor afford the second.  It is so lovely to feel free of pining for these.  Wisdom is sinking in and I do not feel the pull or deprivation of these anymore.  Wisdom has gifted me with excitement over better health and a good hold on my budget.  This process is bound up with good Discernment.  I am aware of the difference of quality in feelings between immediate gratification versus inner peace.

Another feature of wisdom worth considering is attachment to outcomes.  A relative recently said that he wanted to help someone but did not want to be attached to the outcome. By this he meant that he did not need to be in control of what was best for someone.  He also did not see any value in feeling bad if the other person decided not to take him up on his offer.  Implied in this was the fact that we cannot change or fix other people.  Only they and God can do that.  Wisdom sees the sense in all this.  When we are wise, we realize that may see someone else’s situation as it really is or we may not.  We know that only God sees the whole picture.  I may want someone to save money or be less depressed, but I inevitably do not have all the facts.   In any course of conversation or action I take, I should first put the situation in God’s hands and wait to see if the various options I have are out of my fears, anxieties, or anger or something that is best for everyone concerned.

I know several people who are very activated emotionally by the suffering of others.  They want to help people with problems or obstacles immediately.  That’s very understandable and usually good.  But, sometimes it is good to not help people.  We should be compassionate but may decide not to step in and do things for people.  If this decision is motivated by wisdom it may not be easy but it may be best.  We do wise things because they are correct, not because we feel guilty or because we want people to be dependent on us or approve of us.

Wisdom is cited throughout the Bible.  There are free online concordances which can lead to all the references to wisdom.  Reading these texts and ruminating on them can lead to important ideas and graces.

A very good book on wisdom from a non-Judeo-Christian perspective is The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz.

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Posted by on Apr 8, 2012

“Christ is Risen”  “He is Truly Risen”

“Christ is Risen” “He is Truly Risen”

This ancient greeting and response burst forth from a joyful people, marking a new day, a new creation, a New Covenant — our Easter morning. Following the heartbreak and despair of Good Friday and the empty sadness of the Holy Saturday that followed, Life rises up again, unbroken and undefeated, never again to die.

With Christian people through the ages and around the world, we sing joyfully in praise this ancient hymn.

Christians, to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful praises!
A Lamb the sheep redeems;
Christ, who only is sinless,
Reconciles sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous:
The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.
Speak, Mary, declaring
What you saw, wayfaring.
“The tomb of Christ, who is living,
The glory of Jesus’ resurrection;
Bright angels attesting,
The shroud and napkin resting.
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen;
To Galilee he goes before you.”
Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!
Amen. Alleluia.

Victimae paschali laudes from the Liturgy for Easter Sunday
“Easter Lily” by George Cochran Lambdin, in the public domain, created before 1923.

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Posted by on Sep 14, 2011

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross – An Ancient Feast Still Relevant

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross – An Ancient Feast Still Relevant

Feast of the Cross - Russion Icon, 1680

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross dates from the fourth century, when according to tradition St. Helena discovered the True Cross on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was dedicated in 335 AD and the cross was kept inside the church. The dedication of the church was celebrated on September 13 and the cross was carried outside the church for veneration by the faithful on September 14. As part of the celebration, the cross was lifted up so all could see it. This was the reason the feast came to be called the “Exaltation” or “Raising Aloft” of the Holy Cross or the Precious Cross (depending on whether one spoke Latin or Greek). Another,  more recent, translation of the term Exaltatio is “triumph.”

Beyond the physical practice of raising the cross up so that people could see it and venerate it, the triumph of Jesus over death on the cross has been a source of hope for people through the ages. In fact, Jesus told his disciples, “If I am lifted up high I will draw everything to myself.” (Jn 12:32)

In The Dialogue, 26, St. Catherine of Siena describes God’s explanation to her of Jesus’ role as bridge between the divine and the human.

“… Do you know when it [this bridge] was raised up? When my Son was lifted up on the wood of the most holy cross he did not cut off his divinity from the lowly earth of your humanity. So though he was raised so high he was not raised off the earth. In fact, his divinity is kneaded into the clay of your humanity like one bread. …

When my goodness saw that you could be drawn in no other way, I sent him to be lifted onto the wood of the cross. I made of that cross an anvil where this child of humankind could be hammered into an instrument to release humankind from death and restore it to the life of grace. In this way he drew everything to himself: for he proved his unspeakable love, and the human heart is always drawn by love. He could not have shown you greater love than by giving his life for you. …

I said that, having been raised up, he would draw everything to himself. This is true in two ways: First, the human heart is drawn by love, as I said, and with all its powers: memory, understanding, and will. If these three powers are harmoniously united in my name, everything else you do, in fact or in intention, will be drawn to union with me in peace through the movement of my love, because all will be lifted up in the pursuit of crucified love. … For everything you do will be drawn to him when he draws your heart and its powers.”

“His divinity is kneaded into the clay of your humanity” and then all raised up, drawn into the life of the Trinity. What a great gift we have received. We no longer gather in Jerusalem expecting to see Jesus’ cross carried out for our veneration. We celebrate the raising aloft of our lives in union with His gift of life on the cross, drawn by love to that union.

(Image is in the public domain in the United States because its copyright has expired.)

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Posted by on Aug 28, 2011

“I’m on my own now, why should I go to Church?”

“I’m on my own now, why should I go to Church?”

Mass aboard the USS Enterprise

 

A new school year is beginning in the Northern Hemisphere and many students who have always gone to Church with their families now find themselves addressing the question, “Why should I go to Church?”  Some will have been asking it for many years. Others will ask it for the first time in the next few weeks, as other activities and concerns vie for their attention and time.

For those who began questioning their family’s practice early, the answers they received as children may have ranged from “Because” to “That’s what our family does” to “No, God doesn’t need us to go to Church, but we need to go to Church,” to “When you’re grown up, you can decide, but until then, we go to Church on Sunday.” None of these answers satisfies the questioner. If truth be told, they don’t really satisfy the one answering the question either.

So really, why should anyone go to Church? Sometimes Mass is boring. In some parishes liturgy feels rushed; in others it seems to take far too long. Sometimes it seems only to be a matter of completing a ritual in the expectation that then God will have to pay attention to those who perform it. Sermons are sometimes dull and not at all related to questions children and teens face in their daily lives. The same old songs are sung every week.  Young people don’t feel welcomed in the music group – only the “old” people who’ve been singing forever decide what to sing and how to sing it. Pastors sometimes seem more interested in getting everyone to contribute to the collection than to getting everyone involved in parish activities or ministry. The idea of contributing from “Time, Talent, and Treasure” seems to undervalue the Time and Talent of teens and young adults in favor of the Treasure they are perceived to have. In short, there are lots of perfectly justifiable reasons not to go to Mass on Sunday.

As a mother, daughter, aunt, catechist, godmother, grandmother, and friend, I watch family and friends struggle with this issue. I was blessed to grow up during Vatican II and to have had wonderful experiences of liturgy and community as a child, teen, and young adult. It was never an issue for me. I loved it all. Yet many of my siblings, their spouses, and their children have had different experiences and find membership in a worshipping community less essential as part of their daily lives. So I ask myself as well, “Why should anyone go to Church?”

The answers I find range from selfishly pragmatic to possibly theologically justifiable. They are certainly not the only reasons. They are simply reasons I can suggest from my own experience and studies.

1.  Church communities are made up of good people who will generally try to help when problems arise in people’s lives. It’s a good idea to get involved with good people and form mutually supportive relationships before you need them. Things may be going well now, but that won’t last forever. When everything starts crashing down around you, it’s good to have someone who’ll try to help you hold the umbrella to deflect the debris, pick up the pieces to start over again, or simply be with you to hold your hand in support and love when nothing else can be done.

2.  Members of church communities may become lifelong friends who share a culture of belief and values. This doesn’t always happen and sometimes those same friends may break apart for a time over nuances of belief, changing values, or practical questions such as where their children will attend school. Nevertheless, with time, love, patience, and forgiveness, members of a community will find that reconciliation occurs and the bonds deepen in subtle ways. The friendship may not be the same as it was originally, but when the chips are down, the bond remains.

3.  God is Trinity – Three in One yet Undivided Unity. Without each of the members of the Trinity, God would be lacking. Together, God is complete. Jesus counted on His Father for support during His life on Earth. He must have listened to the Spirit in His healing ministry – how else to know which of the many people he met would be open to receive healing? The Father was glorified through Jesus’ teaching and life. The Holy Spirit is our advocate, cheerleader, and helper – the way God is with us in this time following the Resurrection.

If God is, in a sense, a community, who are we to turn our backs on community?

4.  Jesus developed and relied on a community of friends during his lifetime. Some were closer confidants than others, but each played an important role in his life. They worshipped together. They ate together. They traveled together. They laughed and cried together. They did all the kinds of things that Christians have done with each other through the ages. They even fought with each other sometimes and were rebuked by Jesus when they got out of line or totally missed the point of what He was trying to teach them. Some betrayed Him. Some denied him. Some ran away when He was arrested. But He never turned any of them away or refused to forgive and be reconciled with them.

It was out of this experience of community that the Church grew – many different people, from many different lands, languages, and traditions, coming together to encourage and support each other as followers of The Way.

5.  The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. Jesus is not physically present here today in the same way He was before His death and resurrection. St. Paul explained the early understanding of the Christian community, that each person has a specific role to play within the Church, just as each part of a physical body has its own function. If any member of the body is missing, the entire body is weakened. That includes everyone who has been baptized into the community – of all ages, sexes, genders, races, interests, gifts, and talents. If anyone is missing, we are all diminished.

6.   We meet Jesus through each other. This draws from the concept of the Mystical Body. It’s not something about which we generally speak. Many times we don’t recognize this reality. However, when a group of tradesmen comes together to add rooms to the home of a member of their parish who has many children and not enough space for them, Jesus has come. When a death occurs in a family, and the ladies of the parish host a reception following the funeral, Jesus has come to that family. When a friend gives an afternoon to help build a cabinet for a family’s new bathroom, Jesus has come. When a much desired pregnancy ends unexpectedly and a child’s teacher stops to visit the grieving mother after school, Jesus has come. When a family gathers to celebrate a wedding or an anniversary and friends come from miles around to join them, Jesus has come, blessing them all.

7.  Christianity is not an easy path to follow. Christians are called to take unpopular positions. To feed the hungry. To clothe the naked. To care for the poor and strangers in the community. To visit those in prison. To care for the sick. To “speak truth to power.”  Following Jesus will inevitably lead to experiences of the cross. It’s not easy to take a stand contrary to that of people who are powerful. It’s not easy to express an opinion that is contrary to that of one’s family and friends. At home, at work, at school, in public life, times will arise when an individual will have to stand firm, refuse to go along with what everyone else is doing or saying, and experience the pain of being unpopular, ridiculed, censured, isolated, or passed over for a promotion. Some have even had to pay the ultimate price in their witness. We call them martyrs, a word that means witnesses.

8.  In gathering for liturgy (Mass or other celebrations), we share in giving thanks for God’s great gifts and we eat the food that Jesus has given to transform us and give us the strength to continue His work in our world. We meet and get to know each other through our companionship at church. Out of this gathering, all the other benefits already mentioned can and will grow, including the neat side-effect of having a community to support us when we need help too!

 

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Posted by on Aug 15, 2011

The Assumption of Our Lady, the Human, and Creation


This reflection is based in part on a presentation by Fr. Thomas Berry (1914 – 2009) – Philosopher, Cosmologist.


The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,
whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities;
all things have been created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead,
so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
and through him to reconcile to himself all things,
whether things on earth or things in heaven,
by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. – Colossians 1:15-20

 

There is a dimension to all feasts of Our Lady that highlights God’s involvement with the physical –  the material dimension. Mary’s assumption into heaven is a very tangible sign of the new creation in Christ. In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul is addressing those who do not believe that Jesus was truly human. In this type of Platonist thinking, the feminine is seen as being prototypically associated with the earth and the physical is far inferior to the spiritual, celestial, male principle. The celebration of Mary, Mother of God, in the apostolic churches, acclaims the feminine as the means by which God makes all things new. Mary is the model, the example of what we are supposed to become.

God’s redemption of all creation is the setting for our own restoration of our fallen nature. Caring for creation is today a key obligation for us because of our recently acquired ability to reshape ecological systems on a global basis.

For more on Thomas Berry please go to http://earth-community.org.


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Posted by on Apr 28, 2011

Easter Week Daze

I tried to blog during Holy Week. I would like to say that I was too caught up in ecstasy to touch the keyboard, but I was really silenced. It wasn’t really writer’s block. It was more a sense of something I am learning in my old age – to keep my mouth shut. As an extrovert this is an occurrence of note, since I don’t often know what I am thinking until I am expressing it.

Per usual, after the stress of the event, I can begin talking or writing about my experiences of Lent and Holy Week now that we are in Easter Tide.

Easter Triduum, from Holy Thursday to Easter Vigil, is a montage of one highly charged event ebbing and flowing over many others. The breaking of the bread at the Last Supper; Judas sent off on his errand; Jesus looking for support and finding us asleep. The darkness at noon covers all creation. Nicodemus asks for the body of Jesus. Mary of Magdala weeping as she asked the Gardener, “Where have you laid him?” followed by the overpoweringly personal entreaty of a close Friend, “Mary.” The disillusioned disciples heading back home and being consoled by a stranger Whom they invited in for the evening. The guest only reveals Himself in the moment of the breaking of the bread. After all of the betrayals, the abandonment, with the marks of the crucifixion on His body, His first words to the men who “threw Him under the bus” was “Peace.” In all of previous salvation history, God’s messengers manifest with the same greeting of peace, but now God does it directly, for the first time.

I understand that the traditional teaching is that the sacrifice of Jesus satisfied the Father’s need for atonement, but somehow, it is hard for me to imagine that God, in Jesus, would not take offense at the rejection of his goodness. Yet, Jesus doesn’t take offense even as the disciples and all of us cower in hiding.

The only thing that I can compare this daze to is to singing the last note of Hadyn’s Creation Mass as a member of the Loyola Men’s Chorus. The director had told us that we would know if we had succeeded if there was a deafening silence before the audience responded. The last note hung in the air. The director brought his thumb and forefinger together; the note evaporated high in the nave. The silence was profound and seemed to last forever. The temperature dropped and then there was thunderous applause.

I am still in the coolness of the silence after that last note. It is not a bad place to be. I hope you are too. Peace.

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Posted by on Feb 25, 2011

“Be Perfect, Just as Your Heavenly Father is Perfect.”

“Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48)

Every three years, this line from Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount comes around to us. And every three years, it is a reminder of the high standards to which followers of Jesus are called.

The line is from the section in which we are told that Jesus expects us to love our enemies, do good to those who persecute us, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile and give to anyone who asks of us. These will be the behaviors that distinguish us from nonbelievers.

Some have suggested that these are simply ideals, not instructions to be taken seriously. Others have suggested that there were hidden meanings in these instructions – ways to resist evil without actually doing so physically.

Fr. Ken Laverone, OFM suggested in his homily this past Sunday that these are not only to be taken seriously, but that it is within the realm of possibility for each of us to move towards this holiness, this perfection. He pointed to a young child who had been happily dancing in the pew beside her father during the sung Gloria, noting that most likely she learned to dance and be free in loving response from her parents. They had not discouraged or stifled her openness to joy and beauty or insisted that she sit or stand stiffly rather than expressing the happiness she felt in the moment.

This is the way we are to be as well. Our Father is loving, forgiving, patient, accepting of our limitations, always wanting the best for us and for all humans. As we grow in these characteristics, we too become reflections of the perfection of our Father. We’ll not make it to perfection in our lifetimes, but with God’s help, we’ll become sons and daughters of whom God will be proud.

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Posted by on Dec 24, 2010

A Pilgrimage on the Pathway of Peace

In Advent we journey with our sisters and brothers around the world, all children of the same God, to the Kingdom of Peace and Justice. Christ, as Key of Knowledge is our guide along the pathway of peace.

O Key of Knowledge, guide us in our pilgrimage,
we ever seek, yet unfulfilled remain,
open to us the pathway of your peace.

For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits,
truly my hope is in you.

My Soul in Stillness Waits by Marty Haugen, 1982

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Posted by on Dec 23, 2010

Advent – The Coming or Arrival of Something Extremely Important

Advent is a liturgical season for Christians. It’s also a term that means arrival or the coming of something extremely important. One of the O antiphons refers to Christ as the Root of Life who draws all to Himself, giving birth again to hope through His dying and rising. May we welcome His advent in our lives.

O Root of Life, implant your seed within us,
and in your advent, draw us all to you,
our hope reborn in dying and in rising.

For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits,
truly my hope is in you.

My Soul in Stillness Waits, by Marty Haugen, 1982

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