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Posted by on Nov 19, 2011

“The Poor You Always Have With You …” – So We Don’t Have to Do Anything About Poverty?

As the fallout from the Great Recession drags on, with high unemployment, a depressed housing market, high numbers of foreclosures, greater demand for food stamps and Medicaid, and the other woes we’ve seen in the United States over the past few years, the debate over what, if anything, we as a society can or should do to alleviate poverty has moved from theoretical discussions in ethics or political science classes to  the front lines of policy-making in our governmental institutions, as well as to our streets and family gatherings. In a recent Doonesbury cartoon (October 30, 2011), reporter Roland Hedley begins his report on poverty in America saying: “Jesus said, ‘The poor you will have always.” He goes on to speak of the American poor as “pampered”  because they are not as poor as people in Third World countries such as Bangladesh. He specifically mentions that many of our poor have dishwashers and cable TV. They are overweight, so he assumes they have plenty to eat, and he notes that medical care is available through the emergency room, so no one starves or bleeds to death here – both statements patently untrue.

If this were just a comic strip character speaking, I might not bother to address the issues raised. However, this character’s statements parallel those of other real-world individuals, including Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation who noted that, based on federal surveys, most poor Americans have air conditioning, microwaves, TVs, adequate housing, nutritious food and about half even have personal computers. His point is that based on new ways of measuring poverty, “The overwhelming majority of poor people, not all, live in conditions that the average American wouldn’t recognize as poverty.” (The San Jose Mercury News, Oct 4, 2011, pA6). Both statements left me wondering if the speaker were advocating some sort of means test by which landlords would have to remove air conditioning and dishwashers from apartments rented to low income persons?!!!

But then I get serious again. All too often, that quotation from Jesus is used as a means to defuse efforts to draw attention to the reality of poverty and its impact on people all over the world. Poverty does not have to be life threatening to do great harm both to individuals and to nations. There are very real economic reasons why we should not join a race to the bottom in terms of how many people are left to live in dire poverty. However, since the door to consideration of religious implications of poverty gets opened through this commonly misquoted, misapplied and misunderstood quotation from St. John’s Gospel (Jn 12:8), the religious implications have become fair game and I will address them here.

As I am not a theologian and do not speak or read the Koine Greek in which the gospels are written, I asked a theologian friend, Dr. Megan McKenna, to explain the quotation and how it has been understood by the Christian community from its earliest years. Her response was longer than I want to quote here, but I’ll summarize it.

Jesus’ actual statement was, “The poor you always have with you, but me you will not always have.” It was made in response to a complaint by Judas Iscariot that an expensive ointment used by Jesus’ friend Mary to anoint his feet should have been sold rather than wasted on his feet because the proceeds could have been given to the poor. John notes in an aside that Judas was not particularly concerned about the poor, but rather used to help himself to the common purse.

According to Megan, Jesus’ statement was taken by the early church to mean “that whatever you want to do for me, you can do for the poor – and I will take it as done to me… a version of Matt 25: Whatever you do to the least of your brothers and sisters I take it that you did to me, and whatever you ignored or refused to do to the least of my brothers and sisters I take it you ignored me and refused to do it for me.”

She notes: “In the early church there was a saying: ‘See how those Christians love one another [the part they like to quote, the second part of the sentence being] there are no poor among them.’” Christians lived in common and shared what they had because they recognized Christ’s body as being no longer in the tomb but rather having become the Christian community. “What makes one a decent human being and the basis of Christianity is justice – and people deserve justice in all the basic necessities of life – food, water, clothing, shelter, education, health care, dignity, a job, freedom from harm and violence, etc. The rights of justice are listed in the first part of Pacem in Terris – and poverty is an insult to the God of Life who proclaimed that he had come that all might have life, ever more abundantly (here and now).”

Megan’s final point is that “love your neighbor as yourself” is not just a Christian concept. It comes from Jewish theology. “In the Old Testament if you were wealthy and didn’t share, you were considered violent and not a practicing or good Jew. Their understanding is that you are only worth what you give away and share with the poor, no matter what you actually have.”

I find it intriguing that those who are seemingly so concerned about the United States being a Christian nation, who would happily re-criminalize abortion and possibly outlaw birth control, who will spend hours debating and passing legislation re-affirming that the motto of the United States, printed on our money, is “In God We Trust,” would so cavalierly, almost in their next breath, speak of cutting unemployment, food stamps, and health care benefits for the millions of children, their unemployed or underemployed parents, senior citizens, and disabled Americans in order to balance the budget, rather than considering ways to increase revenues.

We as a nation have to decide which way we’ll go. We’ve got to come to an agreement on our social compact and how to fund the infrastructure and human capital development that will be necessary to keep this country and its ideals of freedom and justice for all in a position to lead by example as other peoples in the world reach for the prosperity and freedoms we enjoy. We’re all in this together. We’ve got to make hard choices and sacrifices. But the folks with the fewest resources, even if they have more than those in Third World countries, cannot bear the brunt of the sacrifice or we will all ultimately pay the price. And while that  may have nothing to do with religious beliefs or imperatives, for people of faith, Followers of the Way, Christians, those imperatives speak loudly and clearly and are ignored at our peril!

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Posted by on Nov 6, 2011

Wise or Foolish – Time Moves On and Our Response is Required

The readings for this Sunday, the 32nd in Ordinary Time, Cycle A, speak of Wisdom, the end of time and return of the Lord, and the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. Wisdom is seen as ever wandering in search of those who will love her and seek her guidance. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians reassures the Christians of Thessalonica that even those who have died will be reunited with Jesus when He returns in glory. There was a sense of urgency among early Christians because they believed that the final coming of Jesus would occur very soon: even within their lifetimes. (Most of us don’t have that sense of urgency any more. It’s been too many years and we forget that for each of us that final coming could occur at any instant.) The wise and foolish virgins were all waiting together for a marriage contract to be completed between two families, so the ceremony and celebration could begin. Those in one group were ready, with plenty of oil to keep their lamps burning into the night and those in the other were not. The story is seen as a warning to be ready for the coming of the Lord at any time.

Father Ron Shirley’s homily offers a perspective on these themes for our times. With his permission, I share it with you.

Ya Buts

This gospel reminds me of two special stories.

The first story:
There is a town that has four separate neighborhoods. The first neighborhood is called, “Yabuts.” The people who live there think they know what needs to be done. As a matter of fact, they talk about it quite convincingly – up to a point. When told they have an opportunity for something, the conversation goes something like this: “Ya, but…” The “Yabuts” have the answer. It just happens to be the wrong answer.

The next neighborhood is known as the “Gunnados.” Now they are some of the best-intentioned folks you could ever meet. They really understand what needs to be done, and they would have done it, if they had only followed through. They study everything that is required very carefully, and just as an opportunity drifts past them, they realize what they were “gunnado.” If only they had done what they were “gunnado.”

Another neighborhood is known as the “Wishawoodas.” These people have an excellent perspective on life – hindsight. They say, “I ‘wishawooda’ this, or ‘wishawooda’ that…” They know everything that should be done, only it’s after the fact.

The last neighborhood is known as the “Gladidids.” They are a truly special group of people. The “Wishawoodas” drive by the “Gladidids” homes and admire them. The “Gunnados” want to join them, but just cannot quite get around to it. The “Yabuts” could have been “Gladidids,” but destiny just did not smile on them. The “Gladidids” are pleased that they are disciplined enough to do what they know they should do instead of always doing what they wanted to do.

These are the four neighborhoods. In which neighborhood do you live? In which one would you rather live? 1) Yabuts 2) Gunnados 3) Wishawoodas 4) Gladidids.

The second story:
There is an ancient story about three demons who were arguing over the best way to destroy the Christian mission in the world. The first demon says, “Let’s tell all the Christians there is no heaven. Take away the reward incentive and the mission will collapse.” The second demon says, “Let’s tell all the Christians there is no hell. Take away the fear of punishment and the mission will collapse.” The third demon says, “There is one better way. Let’s tell all the Christians that there is no hurry” and all three immediately say, “That’s it! All we have to do is tell them there’s no hurry and the whole Christian enterprise will collapse.”

Some things can’t be put off to the last minute- the foolish bridesmaids needed to be reminded of this. We are reminded – happy is the person who takes to heart this message and does something about it today.

 

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Posted by on Oct 15, 2011

“… Love calls for love in return.” Teresa of Avila

“… Love calls for love in return.” Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila - by Francois Gerard

The great Carmelite reformer, mystic, and saint, Teresa of Avila, was known for sometimes blunt statements about the spiritual life and life in community. She insisted that the spiritual life was not about being gloomy or depressed. (“God, deliver me from sullen saints.”) Life in community required all to share in the daily work of the community so all might share in the joys of relaxation and the natural world. She knew that the fundamental reality for Christians is the love of Christ, a love that reaches beyond church buildings and monasteries into all of creation.

One of her statements, a sentence from a larger work, struck me today.

“Whenever we think of Christ we should recall the love that led him to bestow on us so many graces and favors, and also the great love God showed in giving us in Christ a pledge of his love; for love calls for love in return.”

What does this mean in my life or in your life? Take some time to reflect on this with me. Be practical. Some might find it means minding a tongue that can speak spitefully or spreading gossip. Some might find it mean patiently reading a story to a small child for the fifth time in one day. For some it might mean getting up and out to door to work. Others might be called to smile at a panhandler and offer a friendly greeting rather than walking past with eyes averted.

Then move to the larger world – regional, national and international concerns. What does love mean in these contexts? How responsible am I for what happens in my city, county, state or nation? Does it matter whether I get involved in political debates or not? Do I have any responsibility to those less well-off than I or to the children of other families? Do we as a nation (community) have responsibilities to protect and support those to whom we are not related by blood? What does love demand of us? What does it mean to love? Can I act in love and still support the national and international status quo?

I don’t have answers to these questions for everyone. I don’t even have answers to all of them for myself. I know I fail all too often to “love in return” in practical ways. Yet I believe these questions must be raised and it seems to me that Teresa of Avila’s reflection on God’s love offers a challenge for us today.

“… love calls for love in return.”

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Posted by on Sep 29, 2011

St. Lioba – An Extraordinary Woman in the History of German Christianity

St. Lioba – An Extraordinary Woman in the History of German Christianity

 

St. Lioba of Tauberbishofsheim - by Kandschwar

Saint Lioba (aka Leoba) was born in Wessex, England in approximately 710. Her given name was Thrutgeba and her surname was Lioba, a name meaning Beloved. According to her biographer, Rudolf of Fulda, her birth to aged and formerly barren parents was foretold to her mother in a dream. Her mother promised that her child would be dedicated to the service of God and so Lioba entered the abbey at Wimborne as a child. In a delightful biography, Rudolf provides details about the abbess Tetta who was responsible for the monastery and the women who lived within its walls, as well as of the sources for his narrative of Lioba’s life. He then goes on to tell of Lioba: her life and accomplishments.

Lioba took full advantage of the opportunity to study and learn within the monastery. Girls were not generally given the opportunity to study in the 8th Century. Nevertheless, within the monastery, Lioba learned to read and study Scripture, as well as learning through observation and practice how to get along with others and manage a large enterprise/household such as an abbey.

A relative of St. Boniface, Apostle to the Germans, as a young woman, Lioba wrote to him, expressing interest in his missionary work in Germany: “To the most reverend Boniface, bearer of the highest dignity and well-beloved in Christ, Lioba, to whom he is related by blood, the least of Christ’s handmaids, sends greetings for eternal salvation.”

Lioba and Boniface corresponded with each other for twenty years before he invited her to come to Germany and establish monasteries for women there. She became abbess of the monastery at Bischofsheim, leading a large number of women in the spiritual life as well as the practical details of earning a living as a community. She never stopped studying and deepening her knowledge of Scripture and the faith. According to Rudolf, “She read with attention all the books of the Old and New Testaments and learned by heart all the commandments of God. To these she added by way of completion the writings of the church Fathers, the decrees of the Councils and the whole of ecclesiastical law.” In addition to her education, she was known for her wisdom and kindness, moderation and compassion, hospitality and humility; she welcomed and gave advice to visitors including bishops who came to seek her counsel. In turn, she was the only woman allowed to enter the monasteries for men to participate in consultations with church leaders on issues related to the rule of monasteries.

Under the advice and guidance of Lioba, nuns from her abbey became leaders of other monasteries as well, continuing the work of evangelization begun by Boniface. Lioba was a friend of Charlemagne’s wife, Hildegard, and a welcome visitor in the court of Pippin III. She was known for her learning and for the depth of her faith. Miracles were attributed to her during her lifetime and following her death. In fact, her remains were moved at least twice to protect them when miracles were reported at the grave sites. Eventually, they were buried in a church in Fulda.

Lioba lived approximately 72 years. She died September 28, 782, so her feast is celebrated to this day on September 28. While not one of the more broadly known saints in today’s church, she is certainly a woman worthy of note and imitation. She was not afraid to read, study, and learn of “holy” topics, nor to share her insights with powerful men (not all of whom would have appreciated her position of leadership and equality in terms of education and influence). Yet she did not neglect the practical necessities of life in community or of the administration of large enterprises. She was well-loved by the women whom she led and respected by both ordinary folks and the powerful leaders of her time. Not a bad role model for us today.

Image by Kandschwar – GNU Free Documentation License

 

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Posted by on Sep 9, 2011

The Feast of the Nativity of the Mary – September 8

The Feast of the Nativity of the Mary – September 8

 

The Birth of the Virgin by Giotto, ca 1305

Since the fifth century AD, beginning in Jerusalem, the feast of the Nativity of Mary has been celebrated in Christian Churches. It is celebrated exactly nine months after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This feast and others like it are a reminder that those remembered as holy ones in our community got their start the same way all humans do. They were born of a woman, into a family and a larger community of fallible, imperfect humans, who nevertheless managed to help them grow to adulthood and eventually to sainthood.  This should be a source of great hope to all of us.

Mary was no exception. Her parents, Joachim and Anna, had long awaited the birth of a child. Her coming to them was a great gift from God. According to tradition, she lived with them only three years before they took her to the temple to be dedicated to service there. They visited her regularly at the temple as she was growing up until they passed away when she was about 10 years old.

Most of us will never have children following prophecies or angelic announcements of their coming. Most will not take our children to be raised in the temple or our local church. Most of us will live to see our children as grown adults with families of their own. But we will share in the task of parents such as Joachim and Anna, or Zacharia and Elizabeth, or Joseph and Mary: we will do our best to raise the children who have been entrusted to us, to help other parents to raise their own children, and to love and care for children of those we don’t know in other communities around the world. The love, acceptance, patience, gentleness, and consistency we show them in our day to day contact and care will be the qualities that help shape and mold their view of the world and of God.

On this Feast of the Nativity of Mary, may we be open to see the wonder of God’s love shining through the world’s children today and celebrate the continuation of the great chain of birth and love that unites us all in the Lord, leading us to holiness through the adventure of life as it is here and now.

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Posted by on Sep 5, 2011

Laboring in Love – Blessed Mother Teresa of  Calcutta

Laboring in Love – Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Blessed Mother Teresa, photo by Túrelio

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (feast day September 5)  worked for decades in India, first as a teacher in schools run by the Sisters of Loreto and later caring for the homeless and dying on the streets of Calcutta. Though controversies exist regarding her work and her legacy, men and women around the world now share in her mission of care for the poor as Missionaries of Charity, not just the dying but also assisting those living in poverty.

Today, as we celebrate Labor Day in the United States, it is worthwhile to remember Mother Teresa’s perspective on the work we do.

“To show great love for God and our neighbor we need not do great things. It is how much love we put in the doing that makes our offering something beautiful for God.”

May we remember her words as we go about our daily lives; that we may touch those around us with love and God’s presence.

 

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Posted by on Sep 2, 2011

Joseph of Arimethea, Nicodemus and the Corporal Acts of Mercy

Joseph of Arimethea, Nicodemus and the Corporal Acts of Mercy

The Deposition - by Raphael, 1507

The joint feast of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus is celebrated on August 31. Both men are named in the Gospels as quiet followers of Jesus who took a public stand on His behalf at the time of His death, requesting the body of Jesus and preparing Him for burial.

Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man, possibly a member of the Sanhedrin, and a secret follower of Jesus. He went to Pilate when Jesus was crucified and requested the body for burial. Roman law allowed members of an executed person’s family to claim the body and bury it in a family tomb. Decisions on claiming a non-family member’s body were on a case-by-case basis, but were not generally granted. Joseph, receiving Pilate’s permission, took Jesus’ body to be buried in a tomb that had been carved out of stone to serve as his own tomb.

Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin who had come to Jesus secretly late one night to talk. (Jn 3:1-21) He was a supporter of Jesus. Once Jesus had died, Nicodemus brought the traditional spices, around 100 pounds of myrrh and aloe, as well as the burial cloths in which to wrap Him. Together with Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus prepared Jesus’ body for burial and laid him in that soon-to-be-famous tomb in the garden. They sealed the tomb with a great stone and returned home quickly, because the Sabbath was beginning.

These two men are the patron saints of undertakers and those who care for and prepare the dead for burial. They are also models for all of us of the practice of the Corporal Acts of Mercy.

The Corporal Acts of Mercy are:

  1. To feed the hungry
  2. To give drink to the thirsty
  3. To shelter the homeless
  4. To clothe the naked
  5. To visit and ransom the captive (prisoners)
  6. To visit the sick
  7. To bury the dead

These very practical activities have been seen since the earliest days of the Christian community as the tasks of Jesus’ followers. Jesus Himself told his followers that to the extent they perform these services for any of God’s children, they perform them for Him. (Mt 25:31-46) Burying the dead was not part of the original list Jesus gave in his discourse on the Last Judgement. This final Work of Mercy comes from the Book of Tobit, in which a just man, Tobit, defies the Assyrian conquerors to provide proper burial for fallen Israelites, despite being punished for doing so.

This call to service of people’s physical (corporeal) needs is fundamental to our calling as baptized Christians. The world has been transformed by Christians who have taken this charge seriously. Now it’s our turn to live out that calling.

 

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Posted by on Jul 30, 2011

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Contemplation to Attain Love – Ninth Day – July 31

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Contemplation to Attain Love – Ninth Day – July 31

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot — “Little Gidding” (the last of his Four Quartets)

The Contemplation to Attain Love is the final Exercise of the Spiritual Exercises. In the Third Week of the Exercises, we focus on the passion and death of Christ. In the Fourth Week we focus on living in the Risen Christ. It is important to remember that St. Ignatius is referring to our love for God. He is also referring to something which is not sentimental or poetic but something lived in everyday life.

We began our exploration and pilgrimage with St. Ignatius with “Take Lord Receive” as an impulse of grace that moves into the life of the Holy Trinity. We now complete the cycle and move into the next. Yet we know the place for the first time.

1st Point.

This is to recall to mind the blessings of creation and redemption, and the special favours I have received.

I will ponder with great affection how much God our Lord has done for me, and how much He has given me of what He possesses, and finally, how much, as far as He can, the same Lord desires to give Himself to me according to his divine decrees.
Then I will reflect upon myself, and consider, according to all reason and justice, what I ought to offer the Divine Majesty, that is, all I possess and myself with it. Thus as one would do who is moved by great feeling, I will make this offering of myself: Take, Lord, and Receive…

2nd Point.

This is to reflect how God dwells in creatures: in the elements giving them existence, in the plants giving them life, in the animals conferring upon them sensation, in human beings, giving understanding. So He dwells in me and gives me being, life, sensation, intelligence; and makes a temple of me, since I am created in the likeness and image of the Divine Majesty.
Then I will reflect upon myself again…

3rd Point.

This is to consider how God works and labours for me in all creatures upon the face of the earth, that is, He conducts Himself as one who labours. Thus in the heavens, the elements, the plants, the fruits, the cattle, etc., He gives being, conserves them, confers life and sensation, etc.
Then I will reflect on myself…

4th Point.

This is to consider all blessings and gifts as descending from above. Thus, my limited power comes from the supreme and infinite power above, and so too, justice, goodness, mercy, etc., descend from above as the rays of light descend from the sun, and as the waters flow from their fountains, etc.
Then I will reflect on myself…

Conclude with a colloquy (The colloquy is made by speaking exactly as one friend speaks to another, or as a servant speaks to a master…) and an Our Father.

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness, and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord in action. Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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Posted by on Jul 28, 2011

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Discernment – Seventh Day – July 29th

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Discernment – Seventh Day – July 29th

Roland Joffe’s 1986 Movie “The Mission” traces and telescopes the Jesuit missionary efforts in Paraguay. In 1995, the Vatican Film List singled out “The Mission” as one of 15 films of special religious significance. In this scene Fr. Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) plays his oboe to make contact with the Guarani after several of his brothers had been killed in similar attempts. The song is the now famous “Gabriel’s Oboe” by Morricone. Right click on this link to open it in another tab for a symphonic and choral arrangement as a background for your own meditation on this day of the novena.

The Invitation of Christ

St. Ignatius is very clear in his distinction between the Call of Christ and that of Satan. Like Gabriel’s Oboe, the call of Christ is peaceful, inviting, encouraging. The snares of Satan are fear, anxiety, and compulsion. These are the primary ways in which we can begin to discern the source of motions and movements within our soul. The banner of Satan has been called the path of least resistance while the banner of Christ is that of consciousness.

The banner of Christ requires openness, humility, and real courage, as we see in the scene from the movie. In fact, the Jesuit missionary experience in Paraguay would follow the path of the cross as the Portuguese killed the missionaries and enslaved the Guarani. This in turn was only the prelude to the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1767 because of its opposition to the absolute power given to kings and emperors during the Enlightenment. The Society was restored in 1814.

A Growing Sensitivity

Wholeheartedness in the service of God demands a constant effort of discernment, a growing sensitivity to the will of God. Without this, generosity can lead only to ‘the expense of spirit in a waste of shame’…

At all events, Ignatius characterizes Lucifer as a tyrant who drives and compels his subjects (he uses a vocabulary of compulsion and trickery), whereas when describing Christ his vocabulary is one of friendship, persuasion, gentleness…

What I have to see is that my personal option must be made in the light of this universal vision. My choice must integrate me into the great movement of salvation already accomplished in Christ and now being worked out on earth. My choice will be a reproduction in me of the option of Christ who chose the cross, despising its shame. We may note that this idea finds its first development with Origen but is already contained in germ in the phrase of Ignatius of Antioch – ‘Let me be an imitator of the passion of my God’. – William Yeomans (emphasis not in the original)

Mother Teresa

Exercise:

Placing myself in God’s presence, I ask these questions of myself and the Holy Spirit. What is my path of consciousness? What is my path of least resistance?

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness, and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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Posted by on Jul 26, 2011

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Reconciliation – Fifth Day – July 27 –

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Reconciliation – Fifth Day – July 27 –

Testimony:

Thank God for His mercy and grace. If not for His grace and mercy, I would have been so lost in drugs and alcohol and misery. He sent His son to die for each of us. What I have now is peace that passes all understanding, and His Spirit that lives in me to give me actual joy in life. finally joy and peace that I thought was in pain killers and booze. That wasn’t joy, that was being numb. Not now! Not anymore! Thank God for His grace. – blog comment on “Your Grace Is Enough for Me” by stormyweather

Reflection:

This testimony is a beautiful example of true reconciliation. It involves a transformative healing and could have come right out of the pages of the Gospel – The Good News.

Confession, or the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is high on St. Ignatius’ list of priorities for the First Week of the Exercises. The challenge for most cradle Catholics is focusing on a long Church approved check list of sins, as opposed to focusing on the person of Christ. The things that bother us the most are obvious if we are honest with ourselves. Often we can become neurotically obsessed with our own behavior in terms of small things, without facing major issues like alcoholic parents; sexual, physical, or psychological abuse; refusing to forgive. People in lifestyles or marriages that don’t meet Church standards can feel that somehow God is not interested in them; somehow He died only for the good people.

Most of the detailed lists cover symptoms of some type of break-down in our relationship with God as codified in the Ten Commandments or the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. However, this can lead to a denial of our own feelings and cause damage in other areas of our lives. If my anger is always close to the surface, it is not really helpful to keep confessing it and beating myself up over it without looking more deeply at what its cause is. My marriage can be problematic and my sex life unsatisfying. However, if I just keep focusing on the symptoms instead of these deeper issues, I am wasting time and energy and building up to something that will be very bad for everyone concerned.

Sin, guilt, and remorse can be very complicated. Returning veterans from the Middle East have not sinned when they killed people if you believe in the just war theory of morality. That doesn’t mean that they don’t carry a great burden. When they lash out in destructive ways as part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, marriages are lost, children are harmed, suicide can follow. Going down a checklist doesn’t even begin to offer the healing we all need in these and most situations. Let us look at ourselves, our loved ones, and all others with honesty and compassion as we embrace the forgiving Christ. We are worth everything to God. Perhaps the greatest sin when we don’t see ourselves as worth saving. God does not make junk.

people-walking-on-street

Examination of Conscience

Place yourself in God’s presence and know that you are with a trusted friend. Put out of your mind all thoughts of an avenging father figure or some tyrannical authority figure. You are with the God who came to dwell among us and shared all things we endure except sin. Jesus was open and frank with people who came and spoke with him. He expects no less from you. If you are upset or confused, listen for the healing voice of your Friend. Open your heart and listen.

Start with a thank you for being redeemed and saved and for protection. Ask the tough questions. Why did my child die? What do I do with my alcoholic husband? My heart is broken. Can you mend it? I tampered with evidence to get innocent people convicted. I fought for tax laws that would protect me and take food, healthcare, housing, and education from the poor. I did my best to be careful, but I killed women and children in that village. I think the Church is wrong when it says we should get rid of the death penalty.

Be open to finding out the facts. Have I brought these issues to a counselor? How do I start to change things and to make amends. What is the deeper issue here?

Talk with Jesus. Accept His forgiveness. When he says “Go in peace and sin no more,” what will I do to make that a reality? If you are glum or downcast, something is wrong. You have been pardoned. Stretch, breathe, cry for happiness. Break out in song. Jump for joy. This day salvation has come to your house.

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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Posted by on Jul 25, 2011

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Soul of Christ – Day 4 – July 26

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Soul of Christ – Day 4 – July 26


Opening Prayer

Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me.

Suffer me not to be separated from thee.
From the malignant enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me.
And bid me come unto Thee,
That with all Thy saints,
I may praise thee
Forever and ever.
Amen.

A favorite prayer of St. Ignatius, the Anima Christi has its origins in the 13th century, but the author remains unknown. It may seem a little jarring to juxtapose the exuberant “Worthy Is the Lamb” with the ancient and more subdued Anima Christi. However, they focus on our recognition of the source of our salvation and the compelling power of God’s grace. Across 800 years, the cultural idiom may have changed but not the Holy Spirit.

Foregiveness

Reflection

St. Ignatius focuses the First Week of the Exercises on sin and conversion. The activities concentrate on becoming aware of our sinfulness, our unworthiness, and God’s willing pardon. Sometimes this awareness can be overwhelming in inappropriate ways. The purpose of these actions is to change our hearts. In this regard, St. Ignatius is something of a behaviorist. His approach is to notice particular tendencies or actual sins and to keep a scorecard of our victories and defeats. Clearly, it is not enough to know our failings; it is more important to do something about them.

For those who are newly turned from sinful and self-destructive lifestyles, the First Week is a time of awareness, repentance, and a behavioral change in our awareness of our thoughts and actions. In many ways this mirrors St. Ignatius’ own experience during his conversion and pilgrim years. As a man of his times, he lived in a time of strict and rigid codes of honor, duty, and obligation. Feudal lords could exact terrible consequences from any of their vassals or peasants who breached obligations, whether the breach was real or perceived.

For many people today, Christian conversion is experienced in the intensity of the charismatic experience. The focus is on forgiveness, the terrible price Christ paid for each one of us, and the joy of our salvation. The reformation of our lives is worked out in this broader context.

Regardless of whether we are in the 16th or the 21st centuries, our journey begins with the experience of our salvation and the changing of hearts shown in our actual behavior.

Placing Ourselves in God’s Presence

Inhale slowly and deeply. Exhale slowly and mindfully.
Relax. Be at peace. Be aware that you are in God’s loving presence wherever you are.

Reviewing Our Lives With Gratitude

When did I first become aware of my sinfulness and God’s forgiving love? Who were the people in my life who showed me their changed hearts by their example? When did I first give or receive forgiveness from someone important in my life? When did I first stop looking at a check list of sins and realize that my actions could hurt and offend God?

Reflecting on Our Feelings and Spiritual Movements

What thoughts and feelings come to my mind and heart when I let God and others down? What do I feel when I see and reflect on the suffering and death of Christ? How do I feel when my love is not returned? Why is God’s love so encompassing?

Focusing on What Comes to Us

Let your feelings and images well up within you. What strikes you the most about the course of your life? What feeling or images come to you more clearly and peacefully?

Talking With Jesus Our Friend

Converse with Jesus as He is right now, right here – your friend. Share what comes from your heart – in a look, a few words, a smile. Talk frankly about the things that you are doing wrong in your life. Talk about grudges, bitterness, your regret, your shame. Ask for his healing and make a plan to start changing things, little by little, day by day.

Jesus, your love and your grace are enough for me. Let nothing come between us.

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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Posted by on Jul 24, 2011

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Prayer for Generosity –  Day 3 – July 25

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Prayer for Generosity – Day 3 – July 25

Opening Prayer:

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not count the cost;
to fight and not heed the wounds;
to toil and not seek for rest;
to labor and not ask for reward, except to know
that I am doing your will.

– Prayer for Generosity – St. Ignatius Loyola
supernovae
Reflection

If there seems to be a strange resonance between Don Quixote’s “Impossible Dream” and St. Ignatius’ Prayer for Generosity, it is because they share the same inspiration.

Miguel de Cervantes published Don Quixote in two volumes in 1605 and 1615. This classic of western literature was intended as a parody of all the tales of the questing knight. Cervantes hoped his novel would put an end to the genre. St. Ignatius Loyola, who lived from 1491 to 1556, is imbued with this medieval notion of service to one’s lord and the quest for glory in acts of chivalry. Yet, St. Ignatius is also set on the threshold of the modern age. His feudal lord becomes the God of Heaven and he sets out on his quest, laying aside his armor and fine clothes for the homespun garment of the pilgrim.

The 1972 musical, “Man of La Mancha,” takes up the themes of Don Quixote as an assertion of meaning and purpose in the face of the absurdity and pessimism of the mid-20th century. Although it is not a “religious” song, “The Impossible Dream” is a great example of what St. Ignatius asks us to look for as contemplatives in action. God’s word is breaking forth. The book and the musical make it very clear that Don Quixote’s type of delusional world is clearly mad in the cold light of everyday reality. Yet surrendering to the gloom is more insane. Mother Teresa left a challenging but reasonable ministry as a teacher to do the completely impossible task of rescuing the dying in the gutters of Calcutta

The great challenge St. Ignatius gives us is the willingness to dream big – to be unreasonable – to be lifted out of ourselves in the ecstasy of tilting at windmills with God. St. Ignatius is immensely practical in his rules on spiritual guidance and discernment of spirits. However, he assumes that we come with a late medieval passion and desire to do great deeds.

The great problem with the post-modern world is that our vision has shrunk. Let’s get an education to get a job; to pay a mortgage; to buy an RV; to retire with money; to die. “The Impossible Dream” always moves those who hear it because we recognize the truth in its pure foolishness.

Placing Ourselves in God’s Presence

Inhale slowly and deeply. Exhale slowly and mindfully.
Relax. Be at peace. Be aware that you are in God’s loving presence wherever you are.

Reviewing Our Lives With Gratitude

What passions for making the world better have we received? How good are we at telling jokes; at laughing when we want to cry? When we have been crushed, defeated: who or what got us on our feet to try again? Who were the great people in our lives who taught us to dream; who taught us not to live in fear?

Reflecting on Our Feelings and Spiritual Movements

What impossible dreams and visions come to me? How do I feel about going on a quest? How do I feel about failure, disillusionment, betrayal? What visions and emotions come to me when I look at my life? In good times and bad times what has God been doing in my life?

Focusing on What Comes to Us

Let your feelings and images well up within you. What strikes you the most about the course of your life? What feeling or images come to you more clearly and peacefully?

Talking With Jesus Our Friend

Converse with Jesus as He is right now, right here – your friend. Share what comes from your heart – in a look, a few words, a smile. Ask for help on this journey; to see Him in all things; to be more in love everyday.

Jesus, our love and your grace are enough for me.

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad” poor in goodness and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and forever. Amen.

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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 12, 2010

Lived Religion – Relating to Our Lady of Guadalupe

Lived Religion – Relating to Our Lady of Guadalupe

Lived religion is a sociological term for the way people behave on a day to day basis. Santa Clara University sociologist Maria del Socorro Castaneda Liles has written Our Lady of Everyday Life an ethnography of Mexican American women and their relation to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Joe Rodriguez, a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News has summarized this research in the title of his article with the words Mother, Friend, Lawyer. Pesonally, I would not have used the term “lawyer” because it has a more legal, technical connotation than the word advocate. The Spanish term “abogado” is used for both.

These interviews documented something familiar to most of us who share a Mexican heritage. There is more of a casual, friendly, and intimate conversation between devotees and the Virgin, as opposed to a more ritual relationship embodied in formalized prayers or devotional manuals. The interviews also show that women and their sense of themselves is changing.

Younger women felt that Our Lady could relate to their economic struggles as single mothers and to their decisions to control the number of children they have. In Guadalupe, they find the Mother of God as strong, resourceful, and capable.

This theme of empowerment might seem new and contemporary but it is at the heart, literally the heart, of the Guadalupe experience for the conquered indigenous people of Mexico and the “Gran Mestizaje,” the resulting nation of people created by the blending of European, African, and indigenous American groups.

The appearance of Mary, pregnant and dark complected as the advocate and protectress of the lowly, the powerless, is also an act of heavenly recognition of human dignity and worth.

From a purely secular standpoint this is a startling phenomenon. The general pattern in times of such social upheaval and distress is the development of revitalization movements which attempt to go back to earlier better times, to plead with the gods who have abandoned a civilization, or in some cases to engage in “ghost dances” to render themselves invisible.

In many respects, the name Guadalupe is an attempt by the Spanish to claim the apparition as that of one of the black Madonnas from their homeland who was also a patron of Christopher Columbus. Yet, people who know her real name call her “Tepeyac” from the hill on which she appeared.

While it might be tempting to equate her with Tonantzin, the Aztec goddess of the dawn, the woman who appeared to Juan Diego and her subsequent cult had none of the darkness and blood that characterized the Aztec and Meso-American pantheon.

The slide show from the online version of the same article conveys the intimacy of a people and their “Patrona”.

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Posted by on Oct 29, 2010

Hearing the Cry of the Poor

“The Lord hears the cry of the poor, Blessed be the Lord.” (Psalm 34)

We hear and sing these words from Psalm 34 at various times throughout the year, but I wonder how often we really heed them.  We are too easily tempted to focus on eternal rewards and happiness after death for those who suffer poverty here in this life – the rich man and Lazarus, for example. Such a focus may give some comfort to the suffering. It allows the one who may not be able to change the social realities to rest easier, assuming all will balance out in the end. But I don’t think that’s what it’s all about!

The psalm doesn’t say, “The Lord will hear…” It says, “The Lord hears…” That means here and now. Somehow I can’t believe that the Lord is very happy with folks who allow children to go to bed hungry or to die of illnesses that could be prevented with basic health care.

Structural factors in societies create barriers that effectively deny people the opportunity to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Those without boots don’t have bootstraps on which to pull.

One simple exercise  (called “The Scramble”) that makes the reality of structural inequalities tangible goes this way. Take 100 pennies and scatter them on the floor. Three groups of people then have the chance to pick up as many pennies as they can. The catch is that only a few of them can use their bare hands. A larger group wear mittens on their hands. The third group, the largest group by far, must pick up their pennies with a spoon.

You can imagine which group will collect the most pennies and which the least.

Something of this nature is going on in countries all over the world. Emmanuel Saez, winner of one of this year’s MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grants,” has studied the relationship between tax policy and income in the United States. He notes that the top 1% of Americans earn 24% of all income. The earned income of the top one-tenth of 1% of Americans (approximately 310,000 people) equals that of the bottom 120 million people.   Yet those high earners only pay as much in taxes on their income as ordinary workers pay.

Folks caught on the middle and lower economic rungs are unhappy about today’s economic realities. Those paying the larger proportion of taxes wonder if they’re getting their money’s worth. Tea Party slogans ring true to many of these folks.

Economists tell us that economic gains, including reduction of the unemployment rate and recovery of the housing market, following the Great Recession will remain slow through 2011. There’s not going to be a quick fix for the situation in which we find ourselves.

As we Americans go to the polls to vote in this mid-term election, I hope and pray that we’ll remember that as hard as economic times are for people at all levels of income, they’re more desperate for those on the lower rungs of income and the unemployed. No matter what we do, it will take time to move back to prosperity. We must not forget or refuse to care for the poor, the children, the less fortunate among us.

“The Lord hears the cry of the poor…”

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