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Posted by on Dec 22, 2010

Still Waiting

Continuing to wait in joyful expectation for the coming of the Lord in all the many ways we meet Him, we pray:

O Spring of Joy, rain down upon our spirits,
our thirsty hearts are yearning for your Word,
come, make us whole, be comfort to our hearts.

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


*My Soul in Stillness Waits – Marty Haugen, 1982

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Posted by on Dec 21, 2010

Waiting in Stillness

The final days of Advent are often filled with activity and anxiety. Where will I find the perfect gift for Uncle Joe? Will Aunt Susie be bringing her “famous” casserole (that no one really likes)? How will I be able to smile and seem merry when I’m still grieving the loss of my husband/child/friend?

There are so many cares and worries in each of our lives that it can be hard to set them aside and be at peace as we approach the feast of Christmas. Yet what we are celebrating is the coming of the Prince of Peace into our world – into our personal lives.

The hymn by Marty Haugen, My Soul in Stillness Waits, based on the O Antiphons and Psalm 95 is a special reminder of what really matters in these final few days before Christmas. Today I share the first verse and refrain as a point for meditation and peace.

O Lord of Light, our only hope of glory,
your radiance shines in all who look to you,
come light the hearts of all in dark and shadow.

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

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Posted by on Nov 27, 2010

In the Beginning – A Gift for the New Year from Deep Space Astronomy

Once again we are at a beginning time. The First Sunday of Advent begins the liturgical year. It is New Year’s Day in our Catholic community.

The readings in Advent begin by speaking of things to come – specifically the coming of the Lord of Hosts, the coming of the Son of Man. We are reminded to be ready, to move away from acts of evil and put on the armour of light, to walk in the light of the Lord. It’s a time of anticipation as well as a time to take stock of our lives and change the things that keep us from being ready for the Lord’s coming into our lives.

This year our Gospel readings will be primarily from the Gospel of St. Matthew, Cycle A. The readings we’ll hear will be those from a community that saw Jesus as the Mercy of God and the church as the kingdom of God coming into being here and now, in this life we share on Earth. For those who’d like to know more about the Gospel of St. Matthew, I recommend Megan McKenna’s, Matthew: The Book of Mercy. She has also written a set of commentaries on the Sunday and daily readings from all three Cycles of liturgical readings used in Roman Catholic liturgies —  Tasting the Word of God, Vol. 1 (Sunday) and Vol 2 (Daily).

As we begin this new year, with all the uncertainty, challenges, joys and blessings it will bring, I’d like to share a gift from the Lord with you. These pictures were taken with the Hubble telescope of places in the universe where normally nothing can be seen. May they be a reminder that although we may not be able to see what God has in mind for us, or all the beauty that surrounds us, or all the wonders that flow through God’s creation (including each of us), there are marvelous surprises waiting for us to be ready and able to perceive them.

Hubble Telescope Ultra Deep Field

Happy New Year!

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Posted by on Nov 5, 2010

Celebrating the Saints

Celebrating the Saints

Fra Angelico - Christ Glorified in the Court of Heaven

This week we have celebrated the Feast of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls. We’ve also celebrated the feasts of specific saints each day of the week, as we do throughout the year.

We tend to think of saints as people who were solemn, high-minded, never doubting, always choosing the right path, (insert your own superlative praise here) types of people. In fact, they were and are ordinary people just like you and me. We are all called to be saints. In the community of Christians in the early days, people spoke of each other as saints.

What is a saint? A saint is a person who lives a good and holy life. Saints sometimes do the right thing. Sometimes they do the wrong thing. Sometimes they are confident that God is with them and loves them. Other times they feel totally abandoned by God.

Father Ron Shirley spoke about saints this past Sunday. He made the point that none of us is called to be a saint in exactly the same way someone else was called. Each of us has his or her own job to do here during our lives on Earth. In doing the  particular job that God created us to do, with the help of our families, friends and community, we become holy – we become saints.

We pray for each other during our lives. We pray for each other after we have passed through the door of death into the next stage of our lives. The Feast of All Souls is a time for officially remembering and praying for those who have gone ahead of us.

We are a community of saints – people called to holiness and saved through the loving gift of God’s Son. People living today. People who have lived through all of human history. We are children of the Most High. Let us rejoice!

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Posted by on Sep 3, 2010

New Wine / Old Wineskins – A Thought for the Day

New Wine / Old Wineskins – A Thought for the Day

John Michael Talbot

Once a day I like to go on Facebook and check out the activities and status of members of my large extended family. I also have a few “friends” who have long-standing work in ministry, music or other fields related to my own work. This morning I found this thoughtful quote from John Michael Talbot. Talbot is a Christian musician and recording artist who also leads a community, The Brothers and Sisters of Charity.

“Luke 5: 33-39 Jesus tells us not to put new wine into old wineskins. Yet, the old wine tastes better. There is no New Covenant, so there is no new church. But there are new movements all through history. The monks and Franciscans were such movements. Are we open to the new spiritual movements in the church today, or do we get stuck in the forms of the movements of the past? Revere the past, but live in the now.”

John Michael Talbot, September 3, 2010 – post on Facebook

May we all have the grace to live in the now with a spirit of gratitude and reverence for those who have come before us and a spirit of hope for those who will come after us.

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Posted by on Aug 24, 2010

Eve – God’s Gift to All

Eve – God’s Gift to All

Michelangelo's "Creation of Eve" from the Sistine Chapel

One of my long term interests has been the field of the physical sciences – all branches including biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, etc. As an anthropologist, I’m always watching for new information about humans as a species (the physical science side) and as beings with meaning systems that help them make sense of the world around them (the social science side).

A few years ago, (OK so it was a lot of years ago – 1988), I read about the discovery in central Africa of the remains of a woman who seems to be ancestral to all current living human beings. The folks who found her remains and were studying them dubbed her “Eve,” or “Mitochondrial Eve.”

“Eve” came to my attention again this week because of this headline on www.msn.com, “Age confirmed for ‘Eve,’ mother of all humans.” The article explains that mitochondrial DNA from a woman living approximately 200,000 years ago is shared in an unbroken line by all living humans today. This report of the study confirming the age estimates of the original researches explains how the age estimate was reached and notes that “Eve” was not the first or only woman living at the time. It’s just that for whatever reason, only her mitochondrial DNA has survived in unbroken succession to contemporary humans. All other lines ended at some point when women of the line had only sons. Mitochodrial DNA is found only in human ova (eggs), so passes only along the female line. (Mitochondria are organelles present in human cells, serving as the powerhouses that produce the energy needed for life.)

For folks who come from a religious tradition in which the first woman was also called “Eve,” (“mother of all the living” Gn 3:20), the choice of name for this ancient woman resonates on many levels.

As school is starting again in the US, the question of how the origins of the human species occurred will almost inevitably be raised again in school districts and perhaps even courts. Bishop James Ussher (1581-1656) calculated that according to the Bible, creation occurred the night preceding October 23, 4004 BC according to the Julian calendar. Some very deeply earnest people believe that his timeline is correct. They are very concerned that their children are being harmed by educational programs that teach otherwise.

The purpose of this post is not to open that whole can of worms.

Our Catholic tradition does not insist that the early accounts of the creation, the great flood, or even the lives of the Patriarchs and other Biblical figures were literally, historically true. We have no problem with the idea that creation could have occurred over a period of billions of years, or that it could still be on-going. So it really doesn’t matter whether all descended from one woman and one man around 6,000 years ago or 200,000 years ago or 1 million years ago.

This is where it gets to be fun to be an anthropologist. The issue is how we explain the world around us. How did we all get here? Why do we do things differently from the way others do them? Are they human too? Why do we do things that hurt others? Why is it so hard to do what we know is right? Is it really right?

Teasing out the strands of meaning that bind together the members of a culture takes a long time. Meaning is embedded within the fabric of social relations. It seems so obvious to a member of a culture that theirs is the only way to understand life and social interaction that folks who don’t share that system of meaning may be seen as less than human. It’s a problem shared  by groups of people (or “peoples”) around the world, and is at the root of a lot of the larger problems we have today as citizens of a global community.

The thing that makes the dating of the life of “Eve” so exciting for me is that it makes so clear the reality that despite the myriad ways we humans have found for explaining the world around us, within us, and between us, we all share a common biological heritage. We are all sisters and brothers. Our explanations of reality are often different. Even within one country, culture or family, we may explain things differently. But underneath all the diversity, we are one family.

As we move forward, we must remember this reality. We are sisters and brothers. Muslims and Christians and Jews, and Hindus and Buddhists and Taoists and those of tribal faiths and those of no faith at all — all are brothers and sisters. May the Lord bless us with a deep awareness of this gift and the faithfulness to live in peace and justice and love on this world we share.

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Posted by on Dec 1, 2009

Excavating Jesus: The Real Christ?

Excavating Jesus: The Real Christ?

excavatingjesus

John Dominic Crossan, the co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, is well known for his iconoclastic views on the historical Jesus. Excavating Jesus, written with archaeologist Jonathan Reed, is stimulating and challenging. Crossan’s argument that Jesus was a Galilean peasant who engendered a Kingdom movement after the murder of John the Baptist is compelling to me as an anthropologist, but it doesn’t seem to be the whole story.

The blending of archaeology and exegesis is intriguing. The use of ancient historical sources, such as Josephus and Pliny, and literature not included in the Bible, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic Gospels, weaves a colorful and variegated tapestry. Is this the actual Jesus of history?

I’m not entirely convinced. To me it seems implausible that such a movement could arise from so unremarkable a prophet. The number of Jews killed by Rome for posing as popular leaders is very large. Why would one be singled out for such an inflation into the Word made flesh? If the Gospel stories are to be taken as parables or mythic metaphors about a deeper meaning, who created this literature and for what reason? If Christianity were created in this way, it would be a social and cultural process without parallel. Zoroaster (the Persian priest who founded Zoroastrianism), Sidartha Gauthama, (the founder of Bhuddism), and the Prophet Mohammed (the founder of Islam), are remarkable historical figures – but none of them according to their followers claimed to be God.

If somehow the peasant founder or spokesman for a resistance or “terrorist” movement is magnified by his followers, why would devout Jews be so blasphemous as to make him into the messiah and a god? Somewhere there is a missing link between this peasant of history and the Christ of history.

It is very curious how Crossan holds the Gospel accounts up to the measure of Josephus’s history. Crossan then compares the claims of other contemporary religions as part of a general magical mentality. Somehow, Josephus could write from an historical perspective of relating true events but the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus are to be seen as parable and allegory? That isn’t to say that various oral and written sources weren’t involved in the development of the Gospel accounts. In fact Crossan goes to some effort to stress that the early Christian community took them to be true and those involved in their composition believed in their veracity.

All in all, there is still a core of speculation in this fascinating book. It is an attempt to put many puzzle pieces together. It seems, though, that the Jesus he finds would not be capable of inspiring a Jesus movement that would grow into Christianity. In many respects, Crossan’s Jesus of history could inspire a movement, but it does not seem plausible that it would endure, let alone become a world religion.

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Posted by on Oct 21, 2009

Quote of the Day – Adele Gonzalez

Quote of the Day – Adele Gonzalez

The Spirituality of Community

Words to ponder and celebrate from Adele Gonzalez in The Spirituality of Community.

In the beginning God created a community, simply because God is relational and desired to share a life of intimacy with all creation. God gave us the ability to love, relate, and create freely, in God’s image and likeness. We could say that God is community and that everything was created in Christ and for Christ. . . But Christ has no body now but ours; no feet, no hands, but ours. We have been called, gifted, and sent to be Christ to our struggling world, to walk with each other in this tremendous process of transformation.“

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Posted by on Oct 15, 2009

“Let Nothing Disturb You” – St. Teresa of Avila

“Let Nothing Disturb You” – St. Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila's Vision of the Dove - Peter Paul Rubens

Teresa of Avila's Vision of the Dove - Peter Paul Rubens

On this feast of St. Teresa of Avila, when all is so uncertain in our world and so many worries seem to plague us all, I offer her reminder of what really matters. This quote is sometimes called her “Bookmark” because after her death in 1582 it was found written on a piece of paper in her prayer book.

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away,
God does not change.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone is enough.

In the original Spanish:

Nada te turbe,
Nada te espante;
Todo se pasa.
Dios no se muda.
La paciencia todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene nada le falta:
sólo Dios basta.

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Posted by on Oct 7, 2009

Our Lady of the Rosary – Feast of the Day – October 7

Our Lady of the Rosary – Feast of the Day – October 7

Large_Rosaries_02

 Rosaries made by my Brother-in-law, Larry Perkins

October 7 is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. This feast was established in 1573 to celebrate the naval victory at Lepanto over invading Turkish forces. Pope Pius V attributed the success of the smaller Europen forces in defeating larger numbers of invaders to the prayers of people throughout Europe who were praying the rosary and asking God for help. The feast became part of the calendar for the universal Church in 1716.

The rosary is a string of beads used to help keep track of a series of prayers which are repeated in a specific order. On each bead in the rosary a prayer is said. These include the Our Father, Hail Mary, Apostle’s Creed and Doxology (the Glory Be). The Hail Holy Queen is traditionally the last prayer of the rosary before the final Sign of the Cross. 

When I was a girl, a retreat house was opened in our diocese. As part of the campaign needed for its successful completion, we were asked to pray the rosary. In place of the Hail Holy Queen, we all prayed the Memorare. So for me, that became the concluding prayer of the rosary.

The rosary includes 20 mysteries related to the life of Christ and of Mary. The Joyful Mysteries are: the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Birth of Jesus, the Presentation and the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple. The Luminous Mysteries include: The Baptism of Jesus, Jesus Reveals Himself in the Miracle at Cana, Jesus Preaches the Good News of Conversion, Repentance and Forgiveness, The Transfiguration of Jesus, and The Institution of the Eucharist. The Sorrowful Mysteries include: the Agony in the Garden, the Scourging at the Pillar, the Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, and the Crucifixion. The Glorious Mysteries are: the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Coming of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, the Assumption of Mary and the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth.

The rosary has been an aid to Christian prayer since the time of St. Dominic in the 1200s. (Buddhists and Moslems also use strings of beads to help them in their prayers.) In praying with the rosary, we can have a focus for our thoughts while being open to God’s presence. The repetition of prayers gives us a base to hold while our thoughts are turned to God. The rosary is a good prayer to use in the evening or in the morning or even in the middle of the night if a person wakes up then. It is not necessary to complete the entire rosary at one time. Falling asleep during the rosary is OK. God is always happy to have us fall asleep relaxed comfortably in the arms of prayer, just like a parent rocking a small child to sleep.

On this day, a feast originally established to commemorate a naval victory, may our prayers be for peace, understanding, and cooperation among people of good will, regardless of religious  and other differences that divide us.

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Posted by on Sep 8, 2009

The Birthday of Mary – September 8

The Birthday of Mary – September 8

Russian Icon of the Birth of Mary

Russian Icon of the Birth of Mary

The birthday of the mother of Jesus, Mary, daughter of Joachim and Ann, is celebrated on September 8. It is an ancient feast, dating from the fifth century dedication of a church in Jerusalem. The church is known today as the basilica of St. Ann, mother of Mary. The feast is celebrated both in the Eastern and Western churches. 

In honor of her birthday, I offer what is perhaps her second most famous prayer, a prayer banned even in our times by despots and dictators who feared its power to inspire hope, courage and trust in God’s goodness and love of the poor and oppressed. May this be our prayer too.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

                my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

                behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,

                and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age

                to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm,

                dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones

                but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;

                the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant,

                remembering his mercy,

according to his promise to our fathers,

                to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

(Lk 1:46-55)

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Posted by on Aug 18, 2009

Aurelius Augustinus – You Done Us Wrong?

Aurelius Augustinus – You Done Us Wrong?

Redwoods

While camping recently with my wife and daughter in the redwoods near Santa Cruz, I spent some time with an enlightening and very readable book.

Christopher Hall in Learning Theology With the Church Fathers does a good job of summarizing St. Augustine’s notion of the fallen nature of humanity. St. Augustine is convinced that something went terribly wrong when Adam ate the forbidden fruit so that we are not capable of really loving and knowing the good until we are redeemed in Baptism. Of course this led not only to the notion of infant baptism but also to the notion that unbaptized infants would suffer the wrath of God in eternal punishment. It is logically consistent but it seems to be extreme and never became as much of a prominent idea in the Orthodox East as it did in the Catholic and Protestant West.

This doesn’t square with the Black civil rights assertion of human dignity: “God don’t make no trash!” In fact, it seems at odds with the fundamental goodness of creation which St. Augustine upheld in the face the Gnostic conception that creation was a mistake by a lesser god and matter is evil.

Today we might explain these things as laziness, psychological conflicts, compulsions, addictions, or unhealthy repression.

In St. Augustine’s defense, we should remember that he is also considered one of the founders of psychology. His concepts of memory, will, and understanding as the core of individual identity still hold up in the face of contemporary neuroscience. It seems that the key problem he wrestled with from his own experience and that of people he observed was our ability to know what is good and not to be drawn to it in a way that compels our will. In other words, we know the right thing to do and we do the opposite.

For Augustine, the arena of sexual behavior was particularly problematic. Unfortunately, for example, he didn’t have our understanding of human sexual anatomy and physiology and he felt that what we would call involuntary responses were a sign of lack of control and the conquest of the will. His promiscuous sexual behavior prior to his conversion appears to us post-moderns as bordering on addiction. Today, in contrast, we might view orgasm as something healthy and transformative. In fact, we have made it something holy at the core of the sacrament of matrimony. However, the momentary obliteration of memory, understanding, and will made it highly suspect for an upper class Roman like St. Augustine living during the decline and fall of the empire.

Relaxing in the redwoods enjoying creation seems an awful lot like a certain lost garden. Does God really need to be appeased or does he just continue to reach out to us in love – the beautiful love of creation? Are we only saved in Christ if we are baptized? Is salvation questionable outside the community of the baptized faithful? The traditional and orthodox answers are yes. Is everything else outside the assembly’s official teaching false? The official answer is yes.

What about the Spirit hovering over the abyss? About the eruption of God in space-time? Is our teaching about faith or about certainty? The church fathers sought revelation in the written books and the book of nature. Does not all creation shout the glory of God? Did not Jesus put all things right? Would a God of love do it for just a few?

Would a father or mother provide for only some of their children and leave the rest in eternal darkness? “Evil as you are would any of you give your son a scorpion when he asked for bread…” Would a father or mother require death by hideous torture of a beloved son?

In terms of making some sense of the death of Jesus in a culture in which thousands of animals were sacrificed each day as part of official worship, the notion of Christ as the final and only suitable victim is comprehensible. His final and complete sacrifice also explain the loss of the Temple and the genocide of a people lost in hopeless insurrection. How else could the death of God’s son make any sense? Yet once we begin this paternal projection and anthropomorphism of the One God, our words and images fall on hard ground.

Per usual, I have begun at the end, since Learning Theology With the Church Fathers actually begins with wonderful treatments of what we used to call De Deo Uno (the one God) and De Deo Trino (the triune God). Hall takes the wise course of not trying to explain the indescribable but begins by the efforts of the early Hellenistic church trying somehow to grasp the reality behind the hymns of praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the one God and to Jesus as the Eternal Word.

How can this be? Yes, that is the question, whether one is caught up in the majesty of the redwoods or the radiant light from light, begotten not made causing them to break forth into the Song beyond all hearing that is Music, Word, and Divine Rhythm.

St. Augustine’s famous Chapter 10 of The Confessions says it much better than I could.

Late have I loved you,
O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you!

You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you.
In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.

You were with me, but I was not with you.
Created things kept me from you;
yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.

You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for you.

I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

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Posted by on Jun 14, 2009

The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam

Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam

Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam. offered some interesting thoughts about the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (AKA Corpus Christi) today in his homily and his blog. He has graciously agreed to allow me to share them in a post for this feast.

The Inner Meaning

During this time of year when there are so many of our rites of passage taking place––weddings, graduations, ordinations (even birthdays)––it’s interesting to take a look at the purpose of ritual. Anthropologically speaking, a ritual is a way of expressing and passing on our understanding of reality or of an experience to someone else. So, for instance, a graduation is not about a piece of paper and a cap and gown: it’s weightier, it’s heavy; that’s why tears flow from the eyes of parents as they see their child graduate or get married. The ritual is trying to carry all those memories and meanings, and summarize them in a single gesture: an exchange of rings, the laying on of hands, a birthday card, an embrace, throwing a shovelful of dirt on a coffin: all these rituals mean more than they mean, they carry an almost indescribable load of treasures.

In the Roman rite we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ this week, and it’s safe to ask what Jesus was trying to convey to his disciples when he performed this rather odd ritual––not just breaking the bread and passing out the cup, but claiming that it was his very self. What exactly was he asking them to remember when they did it over and over again? I thought of five things, which certainly don’t exhaust the list of possible meanings.

1. First of all, this gesture looks backward and forward at Jesus’own life. Backward in that Jesus’ whole life had been spent being broken and passed out; his whole life had been dedicated to feeding those around him: taking care of their bodily needs through healing and feeding; and also feeding and healing them in a real way with the Wisdom of God, this incredible good news of God’s undying boundless care for every single hair on the head of very single human being from the greatest to––especially––the least. This ritual also looked ahead to the next day when Jesus allowed his body to be broken like bread and his blood poured out like wine––to say that it’s alright: you can survive even this, your real self cannot be annihilated, but like a seed that falls into the earth and dies it will yield a rich harvest of resurrection life.

2. This ritual symbolized––again what Jesus’ whole life symbolized––that Divine Love gives itself to humanity––that’s what God is like! The Divine is present, really present: divine love is offering itself to the world in this ritual meal.

3. This ritual also conveyed (and conveys) that this Divine Mystery is present everywhere, in creation, “in the earth and its produce.” Unfortunately the kind of hosts we use and our ornate chalices can actually hide the fact that this is actually wheat and grapes, real food: “which earth had given,” as we say, “fruit of the earth.” I think that this conveys that all matter is meant to be brought into right relationship with God, and that all matter can reveal and be a vehicle for the Grace of God. St Irenaeus wrote,

    “This is why he took a part of creation, gave thanks and said: This is my body. In the same way he declared that the cup, an element of the same creation as ourselves, was his blood: he taught them that this was the new sacrifice of the new covenant.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies)

But we add a line to the prayer over the gifts: it’s not just what ”the earth has given,” or “the fruit of the earth”; it’s also the work of human hands. There is a beautiful prayer of Teihard de Chardin:

    I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar––
    And on it I will offer you all the labors and sufferings of the world…
    I will place on the paten the harvest to be won by labor. . .
    Into my chalice I will pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the Earth’s fruits.

So, the fruit of the earth and the work of our hands all become vehicles for God’s grace, all is meant to be brought into right relationship with God.

4. This ritual is also meant to convey to us that God wants us to participate in the work of creation, and in divinity itself. That’s why we pray that incredible prayer, “by the mystery of the water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who came to share in our humanity.”

5. And how do we participate? Well, that’s the last thing I want to mention that this ritual is trying to convey (though we could go on and on): it conveys that this divine mystery is especially present whenever and wherever human beings meet and share together, that God is present in every gesture of unselfish love, in every occasion of someone laying down their life for another. That’s why we read the story of the washing of the feet before we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.

The Hebrews didn’t need another ritual, another sacrifice; we don’t need another ritual; and God certainly didn’t and doesn’t either. The prophets leading up to Jesus kept telling the people how God was sick of their sacrifices and rituals! Jesus himself quotes the prophet Hosea twice saying: “Go and learn the meaning of these words, ‘It is love that I desire, not sacrifice. Knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.’”

The church, and this ritual, has no other purpose but to communicate and convey and reveal that––the love and knowledge of God that is hidden in the heart of creation and poured into the center of every human being as our very source and our ground. This is what we will be judged on as a church, as individuals, as communities and as a whole: not the forms of our rituals and doctrines, but by the reality of the love and knowledge of God that we manifest.

Bede Griffiths wrote that: “All myth and ritual, all doctrine and sacrament, is but a means to awaken our souls to this hidden mystery, to allow the divine presence to make itself known.”

So: as we participate in this ritual, as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and/or when we gaze at the reserved Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle or in a monstrance, let’s remember how weighty it is, how much it carries and conveys. And let’s especially pray that it would awaken us to the mystery of the knowledge of God, and the love of God that is poured into our hearts, so that we might make it manifest in our world, so that we might be the body and blood of Christ––that we might be broken and poured out for the sake of the world as Jesus was.

cyprian
14 june 09

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Posted by on May 21, 2009

The Feast of the Ascension

The Feast of the Ascension

Ascension

Ascension

The Feast of the Ascension traditionally occurs 40 days after Easter. Since it falls on a Thursday, it’s often called Ascension Thursday.

Recently, with the transition of our work lives from an older, more flexible agrarian routine to modern industrialization’s insistance on time clocks, 24/7 availability of services, and the challenges of two income households, child care, school schedules and after school activities, taking time as a community of faith to stop and celebrate this feast has become a luxury available only to the fortunate few. Recognizing this reality in the lives of the faithful, bishops in many dioceses have allowed celebration of the feast to be moved to the Sunday before Pentecost. To the extent that this allows more people to be consciously aware of and celebrate the feast, I see this as a good step. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the feast actually falls today.

The feast of the Ascension marks the day on which Jesus was taken up to heaven (Lk 24:50-53). After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared on many occasions to his followers. He continued to teach them and explain all that had happened through His passion and why it had to happen as it did. At the end of both the Gospels of Mark and of Luke, as well as the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that Jesus instructed His followers to go out as witnesses of all they had seen and heard, calling all peoples to turn from sin and accept baptism and the forgiving love of God. Then Jesus told His followers just before He was taken from their sight, to go back to Jerusalem and pray, waiting to receive the “promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4), the Holy Spirit who would give them power from on high to become His witnesses.

These events happened nine days before the Jewish feast of Pentecost. The apostles, Mary and other followers of Jesus did indeed return to Jerusalem. They gathered in the upper room where they had been staying after the Resurrection and devoted themselves to prayer. (They also took care of some administrative details – including selecting another person to take the place of Judas Iscariot. But that’s another part of the story not critical to today’s feast!)

On the feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on them and the Church was born as Peter and the others fearlessly stepped out and witnessed to the world regarding all they had seen and experienced. The time of the Holy Spirit had begun.

A particularly important thing to remember regarding the Ascension, is that it is the beginning of a period of prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – a period of prayer mandated by Jesus Himself.

Since those early times in the church, we have developed a tradition of novenas, nine days of prayer with a particular focus or request. Typically the novena is addressed to a specific saint, requesting the saint’s intercession with God – much like asking a big brother or sister for help with a problem.

In the case of this first novena, the focus was much more direct. The novena from the Ascension to Pentecost is addressed directly to the Holy Spirit. With the early followers of Jesus, we too can pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our lives and world.

Imagine what could happen if we truly believe that we are to go out and be His witnesses — speaking His words of challenge and comfort, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, caring for the sick, acting as if a better world could really exist and all could really love and care for each other! This can only happen if we are filled with the Holy Spirit, clothed in power from on high. It is a daunting calling, but one that is implicit in our baptism and confirmation. We sing the ancient hymn, “Come Holy Ghost, Creator blest, and in our hearts take up thy rest…” It’s a beautiful prayer and truly dangerous if we take it to heart, meaing and believing what we are asking.

A younger hymn, from Zimbabwe, is also particularly appropriate for our novena to the Holy Spirit in these coming nine days. “If you believe and I believe and we together pray, the Holy Spirit must come down and set God’s people free. And set God’s people free, and set God’s people free; The Holy Spirit must come down and set God’s people free.” Free to be His witnesses — His hands, feet, voice and heart in our world.

Let’s again join together in these coming days to ask the Holy Spirit for a new outpouring of power into our lives and times. Pray with me with hope and confidence, trusting that with God’s help everything is possible, because “If you believe and I believe and we together pray, the Holy Spirit must (will) come down and set God’s people free.”

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Posted by on Apr 29, 2009

Emmaus: Pre and Post Christian

Emmaus: Pre and Post Christian

The supper at Emmaus' (1958) by Ceri Richards (1903-1970)

The supper at Emmaus' (1958) by Ceri Richards (1903-1970)

My favorite story is the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35). Michael Traynor of the Lesscoolthanyou Channel captures the experience of the disciple before the Breaking of the Bread in a way that evokes a very current state of affairs.

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