Pages Menu
RssFacebook
Categories Menu

Posted by on Mar 22, 2008

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

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

christ-of-maryknoll.jpg

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

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

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

Enter God’s protectors:

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

The Blogger Offers a Parable:

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

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

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

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

Read More

Posted by on Mar 20, 2008

Each Little Light …

Each Little Light …

western-electric-lantern.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read More

Posted by on Mar 20, 2008

Holy Thursday on the California Coast

Holy Thursday on the California Coast

cal-coast-spring.jpg

Holy Week on the California coast, from Pt. Mendocino above San Francisco to the Mexican border, is a place of spring time sun, deep blue skies, and blossoming flowers. At the Equinox, the ocean loses its grayness and picks up more yellows, subtle greens and muted turquoise. The salt air becomes more pungent, as the kelp forests put on new growth to accommodate the explosion of trillions upon trillions of sea plants and animals. The succulents and coastal chaparral burst out in purples, roses, and pinks, peppered with the bright yellow of sour grass blossoms. The Santa Cruz redwoods seem to stretch, fresh washed from the winter storms, looking forward to the morning and evening fog that gives them sustenance and flourishes their layered ecosystems that change every 20 feet upward, dancing in the dappled ray filled sunlight of the forest canopy.

It is a time of happiness and rejoicing. Sunglasses come out, flip flops slap the pavement, and shorts replace the winter denim, even though the day time temperatures are barely in the mid-60s. It is the coming of First Summer, before the Fog Season that begins on Memorial Day in late May and ends on Labor Day in early September. On the Central Coast, we host our first guests during Spring Break and settle in to enjoy the peaceful days before our June to August onslaught of shivering, fog-bitten visitors and their much welcome tourist dollars.

Aren’t we supposed to be down or at least subdued during Holy Week? How can we rejoice Saturday evening and Easter if we have somehow not rationed that joy? We should at least lament our unfaithful adherence to our Lenten resolutions – right? Christ’s terrible torture and death stayed the arm of a rightfully vengeful Father, so shouldn’t we show at least some token of fear for not being swept out into hellfire? If God’s Spring and Passover are any indication, maybe Cotton Mather had it wrong. Maybe we are a lot more than “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God.”

If we, and all creation, are the overflowing love of the Trinity, are we the products of a God who can somehow demand the death of the the Eternal Word Made Flesh, God’s very immediate recognition and instantaneous self-acceptance, who shares the eternal dance of the Three in the joy of the Holy Spirit? Yes, much of the language that shapes our souls is a reflection of the fallen world where the Word “pitched his tent” – the actual Greek expression we use in the Creed. Yes, Jesus died and saved us in his rising from the dead. Yes, Jesus is the Lamb of God. Yes, we are the reason, we are his motivation for sharing our lives and submitting to the capital punishment of being tortured to death by an occupying superpower. Perhaps, the gravest sin of pride is to even think that we were the cause. Yes, God as Love couldn’t bear to leave us to the fate of hatred, despair, and alienation.

Why should people celebrating their rescue be glum, depressed, lost in narcissistic guilt? Why is this night different from any other night? It is the Passover of the Lord. If we are not washed in joyful Spring, can we share the Passover meal? Can we have any part in Him?

Read More

Posted by on Feb 21, 2008

Saint of the Day – St. Peter Damian – February 21

Saint of the Day – St. Peter Damian – February 21

st-peter-damian.jpg

St. Peter Damian is the figure on the right, with Sts. Augustine, Anne and Elizabeth.

St. Peter Damian lived in the 11th century. He was orphaned at a young age and raised by two of his brothers. The first treated him as little more than a slave, but the second treated him kindly, took him into his own home and sent him to school. Peter took this second brother’s name, Damian, as part of his own name.

Peter Damian grew up to become a teacher and, later, became a Benedictine monk. He was always very devout and passionate about prayer, fasting, sacrifices and caring for the poor. He regularly welcomed poor people to eat with him. He spent so much time in prayer and reading Scripture that he developed insomnia. He had to learn to use his time more wisely, so that he could have the time he wanted for prayer and still get enough sleep to maintain his health.

He eventually became abbot of his monastery and founded 5 others. His reputation as a reformer of monastery life, peacemaker and troubleshooter led a series of popes to send him as their representative to settle problems in various monasteries and dioceses, as well as to be a representative of the Church with local government officials. If he saw a churchman or government official who was not living in a way that witnessed to the Gospel, he would intervene with that person and publicly call him back to a more appropriate lifestyle. He wrote passionately against practices which he saw as sinful and did not hesitate to argue with persons in authority.

Peter Damian never sought titles or office within the Church, but he was forced to accept the position of Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia. In this role he led the diocese and worked for reform among priests, bishops and laity. Though he had not wanted to be a bishop, he served faithfully until finally Pope Alexander II allowed him to retire. Even in retirement, he traveled extensively as the Pope’s representative. He died of a fever on his way home from a final journey to Ravenna as papal legate.

Though never officially canonized, Peter Damian is a Doctor of the Church, a title granted to him in part because of his efforts to reform the Church from within and to encourage the practice of prayer and study of Scripture. He was a prolific writer, a man of great influence in his world, and yet also a humble monk in spirit, retreating to the monastery whenever possible to live his preferred life of simplicity and prayer.

In the words of Pope Benedict XVI

“With his pen and his words he addressed all:  he asked his brother hermits for the courage of a radical self-giving to the Lord which would as closely as possible resemble martyrdom; he demanded of the Pope, Bishops and ecclesiastics a high level of evangelical detachment from honours and privileges in carrying out their ecclesial functions; he reminded priests of the highest ideal of their mission that they were to exercise by cultivating purity of morals and true personal poverty.

In an age marked by forms of particularism and uncertainties because it was bereft of a unifying principle, Peter Damien, aware of his own limitations – he liked to define himself as peccator monachus – passed on to his contemporaries the knowledge that only through a constant harmonious tension between the two fundamental poles of life – solitude and communion – can an effective Christian witness develop.”

This tension and these ideals are still the ones with which we wrestle today as we each try to fulfill the vocations to which we are called, in a world filled with controversy, using the gifts we have received for the larger community, and being renewed through prayer and Scripture.

Read More

Posted by on Feb 5, 2008

Feast of the Day – Ash Wednesday

Feast of the Day – Ash Wednesday

ash-wednesday.jpg

“…As we live through this Ash Wednesday, may the crosses of ashes that mark our foreheads be a reminder to us and to those we meet that we belong to your Son. May our worship and prayer and penitence this day be sustained throughout these 40 days of Lent. Bring us refreshed and renewed to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection at Easter.” – A Prayer for Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season of preparation and renewal for the Easter Triduum. The season of Lent has an ancient and interesting history. From the earliest centuries there were various periods of preparation for Easter. The tradition of prayer, fasting, and alms giving has evolved over time. Lent used to begin on Sunday like the other liturgical seasons. However, Pope St. Gregory the Great moved it to Wednesday to acurately mark 40 days – not counting Sundays – prior to Easter.

Ashes have a long history and deep significance in the Bible. Sack cloth and ashes are ancient symbol of mourning and repentance. Fasting and almsgiving are also prominent in the Old and New Testaments. Fasting focuses our attention on our need for God and alms giving reminds us that our service to the poor and the marginalized is service to God.

With the renewed focus on the baptism of adult catechumens at the Easter Vigil, Lent has become, once again, a time in which the community recalls, relives, and renews its life in the Paschal Mystery – the Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ.

Read More

Posted by on Feb 5, 2008

Saint of the Day: St. Agatha – February 5

Saint of the Day: St. Agatha – February 5

st-agatha.jpg

St. Agatha was a virgin martyr around the year 251 in Catania, Sicily. That is all we really know about her. She was honored widely in many parts of Europe and, centuries later, legends were written about her martyrdom. However, The Catholic Encyclopedia gives little credit to this story, since it appears that it was written much later to depict heroism and miracles without any real historical information.

The legend is almost stylized. She was a beautiful young woman from a noble family who refused the advances of a Roman official. She was tortured and put through many trials but was steadfast in her faith. While it is unfortunate that we know so very little about St. Agatha, it is telling that such a male dominated society as Rome would focus on the importance of young women and their great courage.

Women played a significant role in the development of early Christianity. St. Paul refers to the deaconness Phoebe and to other prominent women leaders. There is good historical evidence that well-to-do Greek and Roman women were among the first believers. Widows, who generally had very little power and wealth, would find a secure place in Christian communities, which saw to their needs.

Perhaps the best legacy of St. Agatha and these brave women, a legacy that we can truly celebrate, is a commitment to and a concern for the women and girls in our midst. Despite the advances made in industrialized societies, the lot and fate of women and girls is one of continued oppression and exploitation throughout the world. While I could recount some of the cultural celebrations observed on St. Agatha’s feast day or mention that she is invoked to protect people from eruptions of Mt. Etna, there is a greater import in the brief historical note that gives us her name and documents her martyrdom. The power and strength of God are manifest in the feminine.

Read More

Posted by on Feb 2, 2008

Feast of the Day: The Presentation of Christ in the Temple – February 2

Feast of the Day: The Presentation of Christ in the Temple – February 2

presentation-icon.jpg

St. Joseph & Prophetess Anna; St. Mary, the Christ Child, & the Prophet Simeon

The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple is February 2 and is known in the West as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Around 450 in Jerusalem, people began holding lighted candles during the Liturgy on this day and it became known as Candlemas. The feast has always had more prominence in the East. However, it has been celebrated in the West since the 11th Century. It marks the formal end of the Christmas season.

The presentation commemorates the ritual purification of Jewish mothers on the 40th day after birth and the redemption offering for first born sons. (Luke 2:22-40) At the temple, the Holy Family meet Simeon who had prayed for the coming of the Messiah and had been assured by God that he would not see death until he had seen the Savior of Israel.

28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.

34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
35
so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,
37
and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.
38
Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.

40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

There is really not much more to say, except to note the gratitude of Simeon and Anna and the bewilderment of Joseph and Mary. For those of us who have had the joy, bewilderment, and sleep deprivation characteristic of new parents, the experience rings true. So do the words of prophets in our lives – those strange outsiders who many times see our children more clearly than we can.

As glorious as the Canticle of Simeon is, there is a prayer that I learned when I was a new father:

“Lord, please help me to see my children the way other people do.” It is always unsettling – always a revelation.

Read More

Posted by on Jan 28, 2008

Saint of the Day: St. Thomas Aquinas – January 28

Saint of the Day: St. Thomas Aquinas – January 28

st-thomas-aquinas.jpg

St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor (c. 1225 – 1274), has been and continues to be one of the most influential forces shaping Catholic theology and philosophy. He was born at Roccasecca castle, the home of his father, Count Landulf, in the Kingdom of Naples. His mother was Theodora, Countess of Theate, and was related to the Hohenstafuen dyanasty of Holy Roman emperors. St. Thomas’s uncle, Sinbald, was the abbot of the first Benedictine monastery, Monte Cassino, and the family planned for him to succeed his uncle as abbot.

At the age of 5, St. Thomas was sent to Monte Cassino to begin his studies. At 16 he was sent to the University of Naples, where he came under the influence of the Order of Preachers – the Dominicans -who were innovators in a new style of religious life very different from that of traditional orders such as the Benedictines. St. Thomas upset his family by announcing his intention of joining the Dominicans. This action not only destroyed the family’s ambition to retain the power and prestige of Monte Cassino, but it was almost akin to running off with a band of hippies. Unable to convince him to renounce this foolishness, his family kidnapped him and held him for a year in the family castle of San Giovanni. Finally, Pope Innocent IV intervened and St. Thomas joined the Dominicans at 17.

St. Thomas and the Dominicans of his time introduced an entirely new way of approaching the faith. For 12 centuries, the Church teachers of the faith appealed to the authority of the scriptures and previous teachers such as St. Augustine or other Fathers of the Church. The scholastic movement, embodied by St. Thomas and his teacher St. Albert the Great, began with an open inquiry based on logic and reason. The traditional Faith was accepted as true, but thoughtful and logical reason were presented as to why it might not be true. Ultimately, various statements of belief were upheld, not only on the authority of the Church or tradition, but by reason and logic as well.

The format of the scholastic argument is the back bone of St. Thomas’s two major works, The Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles. It is hard for us as post-modern people to imagine what a daring and threatening approach this was for the time. In fact the 1200s were a time of immense change in Europe. Trade and communications with the East had been reopened and with them came a flood of new and ancient knowledge. Trade and commerce increased the power and prestige of market towns at the expense of the countryside. Monastic schools gave way to early universities. The great Cathedrals began to dominate the landscape. The traditional clergy were overshadowed by the two great orders of mendicant friars (the begging brothers) – the Dominicans and the Franciscans.

St. Thomas, and his contemporary members of the scholastic movement, absorbed and transformed Islamic and Greek philosophy, science, technology, and mathematics. In particular, the Thomistic school of scholasticism is known for reviving the philosophy of Aristotle and its logic.

Over the centuries, scholastic philosophy would evolve and change in a variety of ways and St. Thomas – contrary to his own method – became the authority. Instead of being a fresh and bold inquiry, scholasticism degenerated into a catalog of arguments and answers to be memorized and repeated. In the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, scholasticism and Thomism were disregarded by secular philosophies reliant only on reason. Thomism was also marginalized in training programs for priests.

In the late 1800s, there was a movement to restore Thomism as a defense against the secular philosophies of the Enlightenment and to renew some intellectual vigor in Catholic circles. It was an attempt to come to grips with the modern world and met heavy resistance. In the early 1900s, Thomism began to assume some prominence and neo-Thomism emerged with a renewed interest in the relationship between faith and reason. It is a long and complicated story, but it reflects the enduring importance of the work of St. Thomas and the changing moods of society and philosophy.

The core question persists. What can we know of God through reason? The second question follows. How reasonable is our faith?

If we want to honor a man who was a mystic, a saint, and an intellectual, it seems that we have to take on the openness of his inquiry and the wonder he beheld in faith.

Read More

Posted by on Jan 26, 2008

Saints of the Day – Sts. Timothy and Titus – January 26

Saints of the Day – Sts. Timothy and Titus – January 26

friendship.jpg

Everybody needs friends – a real support network. St. Paul was no exception and he was very fortunate to have Timothy and Titus, not only as helpers and proteges in his missionary work, but as very close friends.

Their story, as told in the Acts of the Apostles and the Pastoral Epistles, shows their work on behalf of the Gospel. Yet there is so much more between the lines. Timothy went to be with St. Paul when he was under house arrest in Rome. St. Paul was anguished about Timothy’s own arrest. St. Paul made sure that Titus was not circumcised in Jerusalem – that he did not have to conform to that church’s notion that Baptism was not enough to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

St. Paul could be lonely, discouraged, and moody like anyone else dealing with fatigue, mistrust, and the problems of the Christian communities which he founded. Even though his vocation was startling, miraculous and public, St. Paul wavered. He bargained with God. He was thoroughly human.

Timothy caught a lot of grief for being young and having to somehow soothe the roiling in various communities of the Faith. Titus had the unenviable task of delivering letters from St. Paul which were not exactly “good news” for the recipients. Unlike the postal service, he couldn’t excuse himself and take off. He had to stay and work things out.

The French saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” applies to Christian communities from the very beginning to the present. As much as St. Paul and his friends relied on prayer, their friendship was a sacrament that many of us have experienced. Most of the time it is all too easy to forget that we are more than church members. To survive and reach past our own limitations and those of others, true devoted friends are the sacrament of God’s presence.

Read More

Posted by on Jan 25, 2008

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

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

st-paul-conversion.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Read More

Posted by on Jan 21, 2008

Saint of the Day: St. Agnes of Rome – January 21

Saint of the Day: St. Agnes of Rome – January 21

st-agnes-gauld.jpg

St. Agnes (291-304) was a twelve year old Roman girl who was killed on January 21, 304 because she refused to marry the son of the Prefect Sempronius. Agnes was killed because she was a Christian virgin and wished to remain so. She is an early heroine of the church at Rome and is mentioned in the Eucharistic Prayer – the Great Thanksgiving – of the Mass.

There is very little we know about her except that she was a real historical person. Her faith and her strength at such a young age were seen as remarkable by Christian and non-Christian alike. In and of itself, it was considered a miracle. Agnes’s defiance of authority was not only rare, it was also foolhardy, particularly for a woman, let alone a girl, in her time and culture. In a culture which was licentious and in which the slaves and less powerful had no control of their own futures, let alone of their own bodies, Christianity would set a new standard which we take for granted today in a post-Christian world.

St. Agnes was martyred in the last great wave of persecution under the Emperor Diocletian. Within 20 years of her death, Christianity would become legalized in the Empire and the love of Christ for which she died would spread beyond her time and place throughout history. Human rights: dignity, autonomy, opportunity – the right to be whole, free, in love, caught up in the divine – were announced by the faith of a young girl of faith a long time ago.

Read More

Posted by on Jan 12, 2008

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

baptism-of-jesus.jpg 

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

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

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

Read More

Posted by on Jan 11, 2008

“Pretty Good News”

“Pretty Good News”

solar-flare.jpg

Many years ago, in the olden days when I was young (as one of my children once put it), we had a new young assistant pastor in our parish. He blew into town and began immediately making changes in the parish – cleaning out closets, tossing stuff for which he didn’t see an immediate need, organizing new people to participate in ministries, etc. It was not an easy time for those of us who had been ministering in the parish for many years and had just happened to be out of town for a couple of weeks when he arrived and found no one filling our places in the community. Some toes got crunched. Some feelings got hurt. Some people moved into new ministry in other communities. And some people got newly involved in service within the community who might never have stepped up to serve if he hadn’t asked them! As they say, with every cloud, there’s a silver lining.

I thought of this today as I reflected on this week’s readings from the First Letter of St. John that have appeared in the daily Mass liturgies. Their themes have been those of light shining in darkness, of love overcoming all else, and of living in the light, letting God’s light and love shine forth into our world through our love of those around us.

One day in that long ago time, I received a note in the mail from Fr. New Young Priest. I had done something for which he was sending a “Thank you” note. (I’ve no idea today what it was.) Those were the days when it was a new, exciting idea to cut a picture from a magazine and make your own notes and cards. He had cut a picture of a young woman from a magazine and glued it to a half sheet of blue paper. He wrote a quote from John’s Gospel beside it. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5) It was a very simple note, but striking in its simplicity and power. On the back of the note, he wrote, “Pretty good news, huh!” and a simple thanks, with his signature.

The note really touched me. It was so lovely that I covered it with clear contact paper and taped it to the wall in my room. When I left home after college, I took it with me. Once in a while, I still find it in my attic, in a box of well loved treasures from my childhood and youth, and it always brings a smile.

He was right. And St. John was right. That the light cannot be overcome by even the greatest darkness is indeed “pretty good news.”

Read More

Posted by on Jan 8, 2008

5 Loaves, 2 Fish, and a Lesson for the Community

5 Loaves, 2 Fish, and a Lesson for the Community

loaves-fish.jpg

Today’s Gospel reading is from St. Mark, the story known as “the feeding of the five thousand” (Mk 6:34-44).

In this familiar story, Jesus and the twelve apostles have traveled across the Sea of Galilee to a deserted area, to get away from the crowds of people and get a bit of rest. The people had seen where they were going and followed on foot, around the lake. Mark says that Jesus was “moved with pity” when He saw them and began to teach them. It was getting late and the disciples suggested that Jesus should send the people back to the towns so they could find food and places to spend the night.

Jesus surprised them by telling them to feed the people themselves. They protested that it would cost “two hundred days’ wages” to feed so many. This didn’t faze Jesus. Instead, He asked, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” They returned with the news that they had five loaves and two fish. Jesus instructed them to have the people sit down in groups. Then He took the food they had, blessed it, broke it into pieces and told the disciples to pass it out among the people.

When everyone had eaten their fill, they gathered up what was left and found they had 12 baskets full of leftovers.

In this last week of the Christmas season, following our celebration of the shining forth of the light to the Gentiles too, what are we to make of this story? Why is it told here?

It seems to me that it’s here with good reason.

First, however, it’s important to understand a bit about the customs of the people at the time. We’re used to going places and taking a food with us, which we can eat in front of others without experiencing any social requirement to share it with people who are not part of our group. That was not the case in Palestine at the time. If you had food, you could only eat it if you had enough to share with those in the group with whom you found yourself. Hence the disciples’ dilemma – where and how could they get so much food?

It seems to me that we should assume that families took some food along with them when going out into a deserted area with their children. Most of us would grab something for the children (and for ourselves too, in most cases) when racing out the door to see a celebrity, if for no other reason than to keep the children quietly occupied during the event. I don’t think it would have been that much different in those days.

However, no one would have had enough to feed all of those around them, so the food would have stayed packed up, hidden within the robes and traveling bags of the people.

When Jesus told the disciples to share what they had with the large crowd (5,000 men plus women and children), He didn’t tell them He was going to multiply the food miraculously. He just gave thanks for the food they had, asked a blessing on the meal, and began sharing it. With that example, everyone else who had food with them was freed to take it out too, and share it with those around them. It became a great picnic! No one was restricted to only what they owned or had brought. On the other hand, no would have felt compelled to hide or guard what they had. All could share it. And the result was that there were 12 baskets more of food than was needed!

During this week, as we reflect on the great gift of salvation having been extended to all peoples, this lesson is appropriate. We each have something. It may not be much. But it is something that we can share with the community, with our community on a local level and with our larger global community. There are problems that need to be solved. There are wrongs to be righted. There are joys and sorrows to be shared. None of us can do everything. None of us can change all of the structures of our society or our church. None of us can even meet all of the needs of our individual families. However, all of us can step out in faith and do a little bit. Show a little compassion. Give a hand to someone who is down. Listen to someone who needs a friendly ear. Pray with someone who is alone.

As we do this in faith, we join the larger community of Christian witnesses who have truly changed the world, one problem and one little step at a time. Jesus asks us to look at what gifts we have, give thanks for them, and then start sharing them with those we meet. As we respond to His leadership, “miracles” will happen in our world.

Read More

Posted by on Jan 6, 2008

Quote of the Day – Madeleine L’Engle on Jesus and the Star

Quote of the Day – Madeleine L’Engle on Jesus and the Star

newborn.jpg 

Like every newborn, he has come from very far.
His eyes are closed against the brilliance of the star.
So glorious is he, he goes to this immoderate length
To show his love for us, discarding power and strength.
Girded for war, humility his mighty dress.
He moves into the battle wholly weaponless.
                                                     – Madeleine L’Engle

This lovely poem was quoted in our local diocesan newspaper, Observer, in the January 2008 edition. It seemed perfect for the feast of the Epiphany. For the entire article, see http://www.dioceseofmonterey.org/observer/2008/jan/newborn.htm

Read More