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Posted by on May 22, 2015

Why Mary is Important

Why Mary is Important

Hail Mary - F Fong

When we think or speak of Mary, the Mother of God, it is always important to keep in mind that she is best understood in the context of her relationship with her son, Jesus. Said formally, Mariology is always constructed in the context of Christology. This is so because Christ is the redeemer and the sole source of salvation. Everything in creation came to be through him. Mary, because of her role, participates in the creative and redeeming action of God in a special way.

Mary’s exceptional conception as sinless affords her the choice to live fully for God. She was not programmed to be good, but rather, Mary did not carry the deep fear of interference and resistance against God that exists in all other human beings. The rest of the human race has the grace and possibility to work with and overcome fear and anger, but we must work to limit our desire for control and instead surrender to God’s grace. We often do not choose right away to stop being resentful or angry. We often project onto others the responsibility for our own self-inflicted injuries. Mary had a clear vision of her place in life. She was born totally honest and prepared to grow. She chose to say “yes” over and over to these qualities, even when they brought suffering.

According to the Scriptures, Mary grew in her understanding of her son, herself, and the work of God in the world for salvation. We read more than once in the Gospel of Luke that she “pondered” how their lives were unfolding and what God was doing. She did not have a road map to reassure her of where they were going, but she had given her consent at the Annunciation and she trusted over and over. Her pregnancy was unexpected and controversial. The choices that Jesus made had consequences. His declaration in the synagogue that he was the Messiah brought immediate violence and ejection from the community. We find him and Mary later in the Gospel living in a completely new town, Capernaum, not a hill village like Nazareth but a fishing village.

Icon of the Wedding at Cana - Lucia 398 - CCWhen Jesus began his itinerant preaching and healing ministry we know that Mary, her sister and a group of women accompanied him as well as the crowds. This was not a normal lifestyle for first century Jewish women. Mary had to give up her reputation, village, old friends and the comforts of a house. In all of these ways she was an excellent listener of God as he called her out of the usual, the expected. She had to be quite aware of the danger that Jesus was in. In the Gospels, in village after village, the rage and jealously grew in the scribes and Pharisees. They hated his penetrating honesty, his clear perception of their air of superiority. They despised Jesus’ humility and closeness to the cast-offs of society. Mary must have constantly had to put her worries in the hands of God. She modeled an exceptional surrender to God and acceptance of His will. No one could have gone through this without being in deep prayer and interior connection to God all the time. She stood by Jesus from Cana to Golgotha and we have no reason to believe that she knew that “everything was going to be all right.”

Throughout the centuries Mary has been understood as the second Eve who reversed the willfulness and disobedience of the first Eve. Even when this story is understood metaphorically, Mary still is understood as the first human to be perfectly and happily obedient. She is also appreciated as the mother of the Church because she remained as the center of the early church community and loved them as her own. But it is her maternity of Jesus which stands out as the most important role she has because of its eschatological (future reaching) character. What is meant by this is that she is not just a person who did something unique in the past. Mary was and is “full of grace.” In the spiritual relationship which she has with her son and the whole of creation, Christ’s grace pours through her as the first disciple to all of humanity. Mary mothers us (protects and strengthens us) if we let her. Catholicism understands all of humanity, living and dead, to be in spiritual solidarity, a mystical body. Because of this solidarity or communion, Mary can help us to have a readiness to commitment, trust even in unbearable loss, and unimaginable joy when we are united to her son.

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Posted by on Apr 16, 2015

Easter and “Eastering”

Easter and “Eastering”

Icon of the ResurrectionEaster is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and what that means for all human beings and the whole of creation. It is an event which gives us hope; a time to remember that good is stronger than evil and death is not the end of life. But the resurrection also has divergent interpretations. For some, Jesus never really died but instead was revived. Some say that he died but his body was stolen and buried somewhere else. For some, it is a question of the resuscitation of a corpse so that Jesus had a revived human body and had to die completely at a later time. For others, it is the return of Jesus in a transformed body. Still others believe that Jesus came back as a vision, seen either interiorly or externally but in a ghostly form.

Catholicism (and most of Christianity) teaches that Jesus returned as fully human and fully divine in a transformed body. He could walk through walls, yet he could eat (Lk. 24:36-23). He could vanish in a moment but had wounds that were of flesh and could be touched. The story of the encounter with Thomas the Apostle (Jn. 20:26-29) is one example. The people closest to him did not recognize him at first. Both Mary Magdalene in the garden (Jn. 20:11-18) and the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35) mistook him for someone else, a gardener or a fellow traveler respectively. Only through his words and actions did they come to recognize him.

Various traditions of Christianity also emphasize different aspects of Easter. A few focus primarily on the symbolic nature of this miracle, i.e. that all human beings can experience a new life in Christ at the time of death. Most Christians, however, believe that the entire Paschal drama (the Paschal Mystery) from Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday to Easter cannot be separated into parts. With Easter, in this understanding, creation was made fundamentally new in the here and now. It also means that the risen Christ manifested an existence that all will share in in the future Eschaton (the last days) — the reconciliation of all to God.

Because of the entire Paschal Mystery, the Holy Spirit and grace are understood as active in the day-to-day world, inviting and drawing people to God in very tangible ways. According to St. Paul all of us are recapitulating in our lives the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (Phil. 3:10-11). The famous Catholic paleontologist, geologist, philosopher, and theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. saw this movement of human history towards its fulfillment in Christ as taking place in everything in the entire universe. As he examined every level of creation from the most basic subatomic (as much as he could know in the 1950s) to the macrocosmic realities of the galaxies, he saw a movement toward greater unity (communion) and consciousness.

What Jesus did at the Last Supper was to place himself as a unique offering of love to the Father, an offering that is shared by us. His self-giving and adoration, and their rejection by those in power, became a historical event on the cross the next day. But, out of the sacrifice of his life came the triumph of God over death and sin for all humanity. No evil or tragedy is beyond the reach of God’s love and redemption. Easter is the absolute promise that the human condition and the way the world currently is is not a meaningless lonely journey to oblivion. Jesus “Easters” us every day when we let his love and guidance into ourselves and our lives as we struggle with our crosses of loss, hurt, or disordered living. We live Easter here and now imperfectly, but this Easter will be fully realized in the future in the Kingdom of God.

Icon of the Resurrection, by Surgun. Public Domain

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Posted by on Mar 24, 2015

Coming Soon — An Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy

Coming Soon — An Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy

Pope Francis - Canonization_2014-_The_Canonization_of_Saint_John_XXIII_and_Saint_John_Paul_II_(14036966125) - Jeffrey Bruno - Creative CommonsOn March 13, the second anniversary of his papacy, Pope Francis announced a special year of prayer and other special activities to celebrate God’s unlimited mercy. The announcement was made as part of the Pope’s homily while he was presiding over a Lenten penance service. Divine mercy is one of the Pope’s major themes in his preaching and pastoral activity. The year will officially begin on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 2015) and end on the Feast of Christ the King (November 20, 2016). The Holy Year of Mercy also marks the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council. It will be marked by special ceremonies and liturgies. Since this Holy Year is outside the traditional 25 or 50 year interval for regular Holy Years it is called an Extraordinary Holy Year.

The Pope declared:

Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought about how the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. It is a journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. For this reason, I have decided to call an extraordinary Jubilee that is to have the mercy of God at its center. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord’s words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (cf. Lk 6:36)”

Jubilee years began in 1300 with Pope Boniface VIII and are traditionally held every 25 years. The concept of the Holy Year is modeled on the Old Testament Jubilee Year in which the fields rested, slaves were freed, and debts were forgiven. The Jubilee Year specified in Leviticas was to be held every 50 years.

Traditionally, the Jubilee door of St. Peter’s Basilica is opened at the beginning of Holy Years to symbolize the return of penitents to the faith. Additionally, special plans are being made for the celebration in 2016 of Divine Mercy Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter.

See a video of the announcement here.

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Posted by on Mar 24, 2015

The Alpha Course — Presenting and Encountering Christ

The Alpha Course — Presenting and Encountering Christ

Alpha Course logoA fundamental theme of Pope Francis’ papacy has been the Church’s call to missionary activity. This activity is not simply the call of a few who will travel to distant lands. It is the call of every Christian: the call to participate in evangelization. Yet in our communities,workplaces, and homes, we often feel uncomfortable in this role, whether because the Christian message and lifestyle are counter-cultural or because we don’t really know or understand what we believe, why we believe it, or why we do what we do.

The Alpha Course is a relatively new program that is focused on reaching out to those who have never really heard the Gospel or experienced life as Christians. One of the side-effects of the program, however, is to re-vitalize parish life as new people are touched by the love of the Risen Christ and enter the community of faith. Long-time members of Christian communities, including Roman Catholics, also experience a revitalization of their faith as they see it anew through the eyes of the newcomers.

Fr. Riccardo, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, Michigan and a regular contributor on Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), talks about the fact that we as Catholics tend to focus on sacramentalizing: introducing our parishioners to the sacraments and helping them grow in their sacramental life.  According to Fr. Riccardo, if we teach the people about the faith and the sacraments without introducing them to the person of Christ, it is like throwing seeds on concrete. Nothing will grow. Fr. Riccardo gives a comprehensive presentation of the Alpha Course, a program for evangelization, in a series of YouTube podcasts.

The Alpha Course has a simple method. People gather for a meal and a discussion, not just in a church setting but wherever people gather. The attendees are primarily people who are currently outside the Church. Over a ten week period the participants come to an experience of the Risen Christ as their loving friend and savior.

The Alpha Course began in a Church of England parish in London and is now widely used by many denominations. It is opening doors to ecumenical cooperation and discussion about the centrality of Christ in our faith. Over 1 million Catholics in Canada have been through the course. Fr. Rainero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, Cardinal Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, and other Catholic leaders have praised the Alpha Course.

Rev. Mr. Steve Mitchell, a deacon of the Archdiocese of Detroit, is the national director for Alpha USA. According to Deacon Mitchell’s statement on the AlphaUSA.org website “Alpha provides a safe, non-threatening environment where no question is too dumb and no perception is criticized. Barriers are broken down as we share a meal together and build relationships without regard to what someone believes.”

Alpha’s video includes examples from Catholic parishes around the world.

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Posted by on Mar 16, 2015

Metanoia — Transformation and Change

Metanoia — Transformation and Change

 

What does “Metanoia” Mean?

 “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2)

Many of us have a desire for closeness to God and the realization of all that we can be. Those goals inevitably call us to change. But, change is hard. And often we feel that we cannot make it happen. In fact, we cannot and do not make it happen. As Christians we realize that God makes it happen. We can let  desire in. We can say “yes” to change even if it feels like an unknown path. We can push back fear and see the new possibilities as freedom from the past or as an adventure.  But even these are with God’s support. Left on our own, we humans fall into fear, laziness, and even anger that there is work involved in finding true happiness.

Why is growth toward happiness so much work? Is there a point to work? Why doesn’t God just give us feelings of happiness or all the material goods that would meet normal needs?

Created for Transcendence

In his love, God has created us to transcend our natural selves. He has built into his creation a sense of beauty and  love that goes far beyond the need to survive. As humans evolved from an un-self-reflective consciousness  to an ability to be self-reflective, they developed the ability to choose consciously and to know if an act is harmful to self or others.  This is a good and basic moral accomplishment, but the bigger task for humans has been to distinguish accomplishments from our fundamental orientation. Many of us work very hard at doing important and helpful things. We build our legacy goal by goal.

In the middle of all of this striving we inevitably hit such things as disappointment, tragedy, loneliness, thoughtlessness, health problems, and set-backs. We ask ourselves if all the effort is worth it. Do I matter? Does my life matter?

I can react with anger or ego and wrap myself up in accomplishments, money, or an attractive body. I often yell at God about why I have to work so hard to get things done. I always get back the same reply, “Because I love you.”  God loves me enough to invite me to work with my fear and my feelings of inadequacy and to let him help me through all the moments of planning and work. No one is going to hand me good relationships. But, my prayerful reflection on my relationships can improve them. I can let God calm me down. I can hear an inner voice suggesting a better way to talk or listen.

All of this hope and growth can happen if my fundamental orientation is to God. The desire to depend on God happens because I surrender to God and to God’s ways. The Bible speaks of the turn in fundamental orientation as “metanoia.”

Repentence or more?

The term “metanoia” appears 58 times in the New Testament.  It is usually translated as “repentance.” But, the translation as “repentance” is controversial. It can be traced back to a choice that had to be made when the text was translated for early Latin Christianity. There was no equivalent in Latin to the earlier Classical Greek meaning. Classical Greek understood it as a change of mind. Even if one narrows the word to repentance, it never in Greek usage had a sense of sorrow or regret. “Meta” means beyond or after and “noia” means mind.  Why is this search for precision important?

It is important because “metanoia,” even if translated  as repentance, is in the broader context of Jesus’ intention to announce the coming of the kingdom of God. There is a process in the Gospels by which people come to the Kingdom and salvation. It is a process of evangelism, encounter with God, enlightenment, conversion, repentance, decision, and a new self-identity which includes a change of belief and social structure.  Sorrow for sins is important and good, but the encounter with God and commitment to him is the only enduring basis for belief, change and perseverance. We see examples of this in the story of St. Peter’s responses to Jesus after the Resurrection (Jn 21:15-21) or the call of the disciples (Jn. 1:35-39).

Christ and Zacchaeus - Niels_Larsen_Stevns-_ZakæusA lasting “metanoia” or change happens because of an experience of God.

No one can define the nature of that experience. It is different for each person. It can be a sense of closeness such as that experienced by Mary, Martha and Lazarus (Lk. 10:38-42, Jn. 11:1-44) or an answer to prayer or the knowledge that one has been saved from a threat or entanglement as in the experience of Zacchaeus the tax collector (Lk. 19:1-10).  Some people have visions, others experience healings. For some a particular passage in Scripture sets their hearts on fire or they experience a feeling of consolation after receiving communion.

Metanoia: A gift for the entire community

Some Christian groups make a distinction between the metanoia and pursuant faith commitment of someone raised in the faith and the startling experience St. Paul had on the road to Damascus. There is no difference. People raised in a faith tradition can grow from learned traditions and rules to an experience of God. It can be quite eye-opening. Many are not counting on knowing Christ. The practice of prayer can provide strength and guidance, but experience of God is the possible and expected point of prayer. This is not just for the canonized saints. God can re-frame our accustomed ways. This is metanoia. It is a turning or conversion which takes our consent, but it is a gift.

Give God some time to meet you in prayer. Read the Gospels and put yourself in the stories. Consider giving your life to God and let him lead you to your experience of him, to your metanoia.

 

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Posted by on Feb 26, 2015

Pope Francis’ Lenten Message – 2015

Pope Francis’ Lenten Message – 2015

Cropped -Pope Francis - Canonization_2014-_The_Canonization_of_Saint_John_XXIII_and_Saint_John_Paul_II_(14036966125) - Jeffrey Bruno - Creative CommonsPope Francis, in his 2015 Lenten message, reminds us that Lent is a time of renewal, a “time of grace.” He reminds us that God loved us first and is never indifferent to what happens to us. However, we too easily become indifferent to what is happening in the world when we are not directly affected.

Speaking of the “globalization of indifference,” the Holy Father calls us to an interior renewal that keeps us from becoming indifferent or withdrawn into ourselves. He asks us to reflect on three biblical texts:

1. “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1Cor 12:26) — The Church

2. “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9) — Parishes and  Communities

3. “Make your hearts firm!” (James 5:8) — Individual Christians

 Read the entire message …

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Posted by on Feb 21, 2015

Light

Light

800px-Sunrise on Mt Sinai in Egypt - June2006 - by Mabdalla - public domainLight is fascinating. At Christmas time we are enthralled with the lights all around us, candles and Yule fires. We feel safe in light. Light is beautiful to us. At Epiphany and the Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas) we hear that a light for the nations has come into the world and that people from afar have come to witness its arrival. Light is a physical, energetic reality so fundamental that it takes on symbolic meanings as well.

An energetic force

Light is so basic and essential that we take it for granted. It travels at 186,000 miles per second. So amazingly fast. It is an electromagnetic radiation, a specific energy, that has a spectrum of forms from short waves (ultraviolet) to long waves (infrared). In the middle are the manifestations of light we can see, such as colors. Its most notable characteristic for humans is that light stimulates the organs that help us see: the retina, the optic nerve, etc. We are richly blessed to see ourselves, people, and objects. Light is so important to humans that we can become very ill if we lack it for a long time.

A symbolic image

But, light is much more. It is also spoken of as mental illumination or insight. The word itself can mean to understand. It can also be used to describe being guided, as John of the Cross describes his own journey in spiritual darkness during which he is guided by nothing “save only the light burning in my heart.” (Dark Night of the Soul).

Light has been experienced as God presence, enlightenment and strength (Psalm 27:1). God is described in the Scriptures as our light, a light that shines in our darkness (John 1:5), a light who calls us out of darkness
(1 Peter 2:9). Jesus himself tells us in turn to be the light of the world and not to hide our light (Matt 5:14).

God is our light. Our lives can be in darkness, darkness from letting ourselves be in agitation from bad habits or denial. We can give in to negative thoughts or fear. On the other hand, if we practice openness to seeing and hearing God speaking in our hearts, we can see and hear a desire in us to be illuminated and strengthened. We can feel the fog lifting and an ability to live in light. It is our choice to say yes to this. We don’t have to earn it or produce it, we just have to consent to it.

Image by Mabdalla, Sunrise at Mt Sinai in Egypt, public domain

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Posted by on Jan 21, 2015

Gift: The Foundation of All Reality

Gift: The Foundation of All Reality

Gift of FlowersFor a Christian, “gift” is a term for the very foundation of all reality. God in him/herself is gift. The Trinity is by definition fundamentally constituted as a Reality of love which is self-donating. Each Person of the Trinity delights in giving of Himself to the Other and receiving Love from the Other. There is the oddest paradox in this for the human observer. The most majestic Reality with endless glory is also the most humble. And, the greatest delight is to be able to please the Other with the gift of the Self. This sense of gift as the center of Sacred Reality turns the human sense of power on its head. Real power is surrender.

The Scriptures are full of texts describing God’s gifts to humanity. Psalm 118: 25 reads, “The Lord is God and has given us light.” In Isaiah 61: 3 we see, “to give them oil of gladness in place of mourning.” In the New Testament we find reference to spiritual gifts given either for the inner growth of individuals or the Church or for their outer growth, i.e. out in the world (Romans 12, I Cor. 12, Ephesians 4, I Peter 4). All agree that these gifts cannot be earned but are freely given by God and that there is great diversity of gifts.

In the area of Christian spirituality there are many texts that speak of God’s gifts to humanity that are not reserved only for certain people but are the true destiny of all lovers of God. In the Living Flame of Love, John of the Cross describes the highest kind of human development as the gift from God in which a person is so transformed into God’s likeness that the person loves God with a love that is far beyond natural human love (Stanza III, para. 79-81). This experience of loving God with God’s love causes amazing joy to the person because the qualities of love within God’s love, which the person has and gives, are more beautiful and splendid than anything which a human could imagine, create, or give. At this point in the spiritual life, the person has a completely developed sense of his or her smallness relative to God and yet knowledge of the respect and admiration that God has for him or her. The person, though, knows that its love is finite but can forge forward in faith trusting that the finite love can and is transformed by God into an intimate and reciprocal relationship.

The entirety of Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle is about the desire for and reception of gifts from God. Teresa writes of “favors” (mercedes) and “gifts” (regalos). Throughout the book, as she describes the transformation of the soul, Teresa is urging her readers to seek union with God and presents the blessings that will come at every stage even though growth will often be difficult. She makes it clear that God puts desires in us to sustain us. And, that if we are experiencing desire, that is a sign that God intends to give us what we long for. The word “gift” is especially important in the context of Christian spirituality because it emphasizes the priority of God. For Christians, God calls us, desires good things for us, especially intimacy with God, and gives us the strength to stay on the journey to the fulfillment of this gift. We do not make holiness happen.

A belief about human life that has existed from the beginning of the Biblical texts but is growing today is that everything in our lives is a gift. This can be hard to take because it includes what we experience as loss and pain. It also includes people and circumstances that we normally see as unacceptable — annoying people, dirty people, failure, embarrassment, hurt. For those who can embrace the whole of life as a gift, the fact of being alive is good unconditionally. This vision requires us to admit that we do not see the whole picture. We judge things that hurt or seem wrong as objectively bad. Setbacks, challenges and tragedies seem pointless or unacceptable. They certainly do not seem to be gifts. At times we get a glimpse that things have happened for a reason or that a greater good came because something painful preceded it and opened the way to a different choice or path. God’s love for us is often difficult to understand and accept, let alone celebrate. But, Isaiah 55 states, “My ways are not your ways, says the Lord.” It’s a gift to be able to surrender to this.

Every day is a gift. Every day is another opportunity to learn more and more, to give glory to God, and to be happier. When Jesus speaks about giving peace to us in the Gospel of John he is not saying that we will not suffer. He is saying that the gift he wants to give us is to know him and experience his love for us in the middle of our lives. He is calling us to take up our cross, a strange gift perhaps but certainly the way to glory.

Public domain image from Pixabay

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Posted by on Jan 21, 2015

Martin Luther King, Jr. — A Gift of One’s Self

Martin Luther King, Jr. — A Gift of One’s Self

 

January 19, 2105 is the Martin Luther King holiday in the United States. The first reading of the day in the lectionary is Hebrews 5: 1-10. Christ’s adherence to the will of the Father has led Him on a path of suffering, death and glorification. Dr, King took this path of God’s will to which we are all called.

“In the days when he was in the Flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” – Hebrews 5: 5-10

The Feast of Martin Luther King, Jr is not a feast of the Roman calendar, but it is a national holiday to celebrate a civil rights leader and a Baptist minister who advocated non-violence. Today is a tribute to all who work for human and civil rights for African-Americans and all people. Many of us are of an age to remember the Reverend King. The three television networks brought us live coverage in black and white of the marches, the sit-ins, and the fire hoses and police dogs that were part of the black struggle against white oppression. There was the famous “I have a dream speech” at the Lincoln Memorial. The haunting last speech before Dr. King was gunned down, “I Have Been to the Mountain Top” in which he saw the promised land of freedom, “I may not get there with you but I have seen it.”

Like all of us, Dr. King was an imperfect human being. Like all of us he was a sinner, but his redemption, like ours, is based in obedience to Christ, the source of eternal salvation for all. We know that precisely because Jesus is the Son of God, His will is perfectly aligned with that of the Father. Since Jesus was truly divine and truly human, his obedience came at a human cost. “In the days when he was in the Flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, AND HE WAS HEARD because of His Reverence.

In his work of announcing the kingdom, healing the sick, feeding the multitudes, Jesus did not shy away from doing the will of his Father. But he knew where his call was leading. It became more and more obvious that if he stayed true to the person he was — the Divine Word become human — that His hands that had been raised in blessing and healing would be nailed to the cross. With loud cries and tears he asks the Father to take this cup away, but he is true to his calling and the will of the Father. “Let not my will be done but yours.” It is through this obedience that Jesus goes to his excruciating death on the cross and to the glory of the resurrection. He WAS HEARD because of His Reverence.

For Dr. King, Mahatma Gandhi, all Christian saints and martyrs, and ourselves, this call to obedience is not only a question of observing certain commandments but a deeper call to be the person God created us to be, to be at one with God, to hear at one with God, to accept God’s truth about our mission in life to advance the kingdom of heaven.

There were many black leaders in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Dr. King didn’t need to have such a high profile in the movement. Yet it was something that Dr. King was drawn into despite all of the obvious risks to himself and his family. He was born and raised in Atlanta in a strictly segregated society. Dr. King knew what happened to black people who broke the rules. He certainly could have taken an easier type of ministry, but he heard the Word of God, the Will of the Father for his life and his death.

Most of us think that we are not called to such types of work. We are certain that God’s will for us involves something less “glamorous,” nothing so heroic as what Jesus and the saints like Mother Teresa and Dr. King did. But I wonder. All of us have that little voice within us to do something special, something only we can do, but we know that it will cost us. Dr. King used his gift of oratory, of speaking and preaching, to give voice to the prayers and aspirations of the millions enslaved and oppressed using the language, song, and rhythm that the Spirit had given them in their bondage and oppression.

Many of us see fewer years ahead of us than the ones that have fled so swiftly. The babies we held are now grown adults with their own babies. What are we called to do to announce the Kingdom of Heaven and to make it a reality? What can we do to end poverty, hunger, oppression, and violence? How do we draw closer to God and each other in prayer? How do we move toward reconciliation and forgiveness?

We can only do it if we take the time to be quiet and to listen — to pay attention to that little voice that comes to us or the massive cry that comes to us in outrage at the atrocities of the world visited upon the young, the poor, the defenseless. There is a price to be paid, and eternal life to be gained.

 

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Posted by on Jan 5, 2015

Experiencing and Celebrating God-With-Us Through Gifting

Experiencing and Celebrating God-With-Us Through Gifting

 

Presents-under-the-Christmas-treeby Petr KratochvilGifting, the giving and receiving of gifts during the Christmas season, serves to remind us of God’s great gift in coming to live with us personally. In Jesus, the Word of God, became a human, like us in all things but sin. God chose to enter into the vulnerable, imperfect, uncertain, but wonderful reality of life as a fully human being, starting as a baby with normal human parents, family, and friends in a small village. Through the gift of incarnation and redemption, God healed the division between the divine and the human, giving humans the chance to be re-united with their source.

Christians have celebrated this great gift from the very beginning through their celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist. Sharing of gifts of time, talent, and money has also been a hallmark of the Christian life, not just within the community but also reaching outside to the most vulnerable members of society. The world has never been the same since God entered personally into our human experience, because now God lives as Holy Spirit within each of us and reaches out to make a difference in the lives of those around us.

Diverse gifting traditions

Traditions for giving and receiving gifts vary around the world. In some areas St. Nicholas brings gifts on his feast day, December 6. In others Santa Claus or the Christ Child bring gifts at Christmas. In still others, the gifts arrive at the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany in early January, when the coming of Jesus was shown forth to the Gentile world as well as to the original children of Israel.

The gifts arrive in different ways as well. Some are placed in shoes, others in stockings. Some are placed under a tree, others arrive carried by family or friends. Some are wrapped, others shine in all their glory to delight children who wake early to find them. Some even come via the postal service and other freight delivery trucks! However they arrive and however they are packaged, they carry love in their wake.

As we have moved through Advent and into the Christmas Season this year, I have also been noticing the ways that traditional holiday foods arrive in or as packages. Many candies and baked goods arrive in lovely containers. The tamales we enjoy at Christmas and New Year’s Day have meat or vegetables seasoned with chili hidden inside the corn dough. Chinese dumplings eaten to celebrate the New Year have a mixture of meat and/or vegetables hidden inside the noodle dough that we see. King cakes have a figurine or other surprise hidden inside. Steamed puddings have nuts and raisins inside. Each of these traditional forms of gifts and food (and others from around the world) is a way that we as humans express the wonder of God’s gift of himself to us through the birth of Jesus.

May the joy of Christmas and the wonder of Epiphany be yours now and into the year we have begun.

 Image by Petr Kratochvil – public domain

 

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Posted by on Jul 20, 2014

Theology As the Everyday Awareness of God in Our Lives

Theology As the Everyday Awareness of God in Our Lives

Anthony F. Krisak writes in “Theological Reflection: Unfolding the Mystery” that theology “is not an abstract musing ..but it is a challenging and thoughtful reflection on the way God’s hand is involved in the day to day experiences of men and women…Rather, theology is about God-with-Us (Emmanuel).”

The window of theology

Krisak makes it clear that reflecting on this divine encounter leads the observer to face “concrete, historical, and passionate movements and experiences.” Our experience becomes the “window of theology”. This window is useless if we understand mystery to be “unknowable ideas and complicated theories”. According to Krisak, if we understand  mystery as a continual unfolding event in and around us, theology can be that window to observe and interpret our own experience.

Theology as a window goes against the claims that God is unknowable and that we should just accept secondhand understandings of God provided to us by an intellectual elite. Theology as a window of observing and interpreting experience is a fundamental assumption in the primary project of Jesus, the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Gospels, Jesus tells us to observe the signs of the times and everyday experience — a person who sells everything for a fine pearl, the  rapid growth of the mustard tree from a tiny seed, the one who goes out to harvest a crop. It is faith that allows the sun to shine through the window of theology. “Through theological reflection, our intertwined lives with God become conscious and faithfully deliberate; in other words, we begin to take in more profoundly the sights and sounds and smell of our life with God and each other.”

Without theological reflection, the pressures of everyday living can cause us to lose sight of what we are all about. Krisak particularly warns ministers of this hazard, since his article appears in the Handbook of Spirituality for Ministers. However, it is easy to see how everyday lay people can also fail to pay attention to the action of God in their lives. Unfortunately, many are not even aware that they are called to reflect upon and deepen their experience of God by reflecting on and noticing God’s actions.

This is especially ironic since we live in a culture that focuses very heavily on relationships. We have large psychological, educational, and popular movements to help us find the right partners, to save our marriages, to raise our children properly, to organize our businesses, corporations, and churches. How do we improve our love life with God? How do we even relate to God? When we think about it, we know we do or at least we think we do. We are called to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, to proclaim it, and to bring it about in God’s grace. It is unfolding within us and around us.

What does theological reflection require?

Krisak wisely points out that the backdrop or context for our theological reflection is our shared faith in both the Hebrew and Christian traditions. To engage in fruitful theological reflection according to Krisak, we need to:

(1) understand the tools necessary for “cleaning up the window of theology”,

(2) consider the process of reflection in relationship to human experience, and

(3) take a look at the “major themes of our theological tradition” such as the incarnation and redemption,  among others.

In subsequent posts, I will review these three areas of focus that Krisak recommends for doing theological reflection and understanding the ways in which we are part of something much bigger than ourselves.

Image: “Simultaneous Windows” by Robert Delaunay,
1912, Public Domain

 

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Posted by on Jun 13, 2014

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

 

Feathers all ready for flying

Feathers all ready for flying

The primary image of Pentecost is that of tongues of fire that accompanied the sound of a rushing wind and settled over the heads of the disciples, both men and women, gathered in the upper room of the home in Jerusalem where Jesus had celebrated the Last Supper with his friends and then appeared to them on several occasions after the Resurrection. In this unforgettable moment, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and empowered them to witness to what they had seen and heard of the love of God and the coming of God’s Kingdom to the world. The Church was born on that day nearly 2,000 years ago and the Holy Spirit continues to breathe life and love into God’s world through ordinary men, women, and children.

Many ways of celebrating Pentecost exist around the world, beginning with the gathering of the community to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. For children, other activities can make this a special day as well.

Common symbols of the Holy Spirit include a dove, the wind, and a flame. A craft I learned many years ago makes an enjoyable activity for children to celebrate during Easter Season and Pentecost.

Crepe Paper & Stick Birds

Supplies:

2 thin sticks or branches – about 1 1/2 to 2 feet long
String or yarn – 1 foot length
Cellophane tape
Crepe paper – white, yellow, red, orange
Orange ribbon (optional)

Making your bird

Take two sticks of unequal length and tie them together in the form of a cross. Use string or yarn to tie them securely and help hold them in the cross shape.

2012-04-17 17.02.28

Next take a bit of the crepe paper and wrap it around the yarn to help stabilize the bird’s body.

Take the orange ribbon or a bit of orange crepe paper and wrap it around the tip of the shortest end of the sticks. Go around the stick enough times to make a beak and a head for your bird. If you use ribbon, you can use crepe paper to cover the body-end of the beak and build up a head.

2012-04-17 17.07.17

Once the head has been formed and the center stabilized, take a long strip of crepe paper, tape it to the stick or to itself, and begin wrapping it around the sticks.

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Cover both sticks completely with crepe paper. Leave only a little of the beak showing.

Close-up of head

Close-up of bird’s head

Take strips of whatever color of crepe paper you are using and tape them to the bird’s wings and tail. Some will want to tape them all along the wings. Others will put them only at the tips. Either way works just fine.

Feathers all ready for flying

Feathers all ready for flying

When the feathers have all been attached, the bird will be ready to fly.

Away we go!

Away we go!

 

This bird can be constructed to celebrate Easter, the Resurrection (as a phoenix), or Pentecost (as a reminder of the Holy Spirit who comes igniting the fires of love and settles like a bird on those called to God’s family).

Come Holy Spirit. Fill our hearts with the fire of your love. Blow where you will in our lives. Strengthen us to respond with the freedom of a bird flying in your love.

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Posted by on Dec 18, 2013

My Soul in Stillness Waits – Truly My Hope is in You

December 18 – O Adonai

“O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.”

Be careful what you pray for.
The Lord Adonai is not tame.
The Fire that burns but does not consume,
That utterly calm voice that strikes our guts,
The One who sends us to the captive and oppressed,
No More Nice God;
Take off your shoes, you are in the shadow of the Holy.
 

Will Stoller-Lee on History Channel’s Upcoming Series, The Bible | Moses and the Burning Bush from Fuller Seminary in Colorado on Vimeo.

 
The following Burning Bush segment from the movie the Prince of Egypt is a beautiful and challenging theme. How will we recognize the coming of God if we have not been at the Burning Bush? We are the people we have been waiting for. We are Moses.

If you get an error message when playing this video, please refresh your browser.
 

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Posted by on Dec 17, 2013

The Week before Christmas – A Time for Stillness

Please join us in the joyful anticipation of Christmas during this time of stillness and waiting that is Advent. We remind ourselves that the celebration of Christmas begins on the Eve of the Nativity, the 24th. There are two weeks to celebrate this great feast of God with us. Leave the hustle and bustle and share the gift of peace with your loved ones.

The O Antiphons which are sung before the Magnificat at Vespers set the tone for each day of this special week.

December 17 – O Sapientia

“O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

 


 

What wisdom is this folly?

That God should come to share our death?

What Word of God, the Fullest Godself Expression on High

That governs all, would come for us in such lowliness?

O Wisdom? O Foolishness of Divine Love,

You seek us out, O Wisdom from on high.

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Posted by on Nov 17, 2013

“Life, the Universe and Everything”: The Ultimate Question and Jesus the Christ

“Life, the Universe and Everything”: The Ultimate Question and Jesus the Christ

Christ the King - From Annunciation Melkite Catholic Cathedral

Christ the King

What is the most fundamental question in my life? For what personal “ultimate concern” does the statement “Jesus is the Christ” provide the answer? Is this concern peculiar to me or can it be generalized to others? Do we ask this question about Christ differently today than people have asked it in the past because of any elements of our present situation?

These questions, asked as part of a class in Christology, bring to mind a novel by Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In one part of the story, Adams tells of an ancient people who decide to create a computer that will give them the answer to the question of “life, the universe and everything.” The computer, known as Deep Thought, takes millions of years to ponder the question, finally coming up with the answer: forty-two.  When challenged by descendants of the people who had commissioned the work to explain why the answer was simply a number, Deep Thought explains that the problem is that perhaps they don’t really know what the question is.

“Jesus is the Christ”

In order to identify an ultimate concern for which this statement would be the best answer, the first question that must be addressed is what is meant by “the Christ.” As in Deep Thought’s response, to a very real degree, the meaning of “the Christ” depends on what concern is being addressed.  Literally and historically, the term “Christ” refers to the one who is anointed with oil: a ruler, an athlete, or a messiah/savior.  The anointing sets the individual aside for a special role.  Yet today, in industrialized societies, this meaning is generally not understood. “Christ” is all too often used as if it were the surname of Jesus rather than the title that explains who he is for us. The simple notion that the Christ will come and restore an earthly monarchy or re-establish a people in a powerful and independent homeland is not particularly relevant to most of us today. The notion that the Christ will come at the end of time to punish sinners and reward the good offers only slight consolation to those who are suffering from today’s injustice. While this vision may seem to fit with the story of the Last Judgment – Jesus was very clear in teaching that the criterion for admittance to the presence of the Father was having cared for the least of his brothers and sisters – the implication remains that something more than simply waiting for the end of time and space is at stake here. Even the notion of “savior from our sins” does not move many contemporary hearts – hearts that demand to know how a god who is supposed to be a loving parent could demand the bloody sacrifice of an innocent victim to make up for the sins of others.

“Where have you been, Lord?”

The question of ultimate concern in my life that is answered by the question, “Jesus is the Christ,” is this one: “Where have you been, Lord?” Coming from a Catholic family, nurtured in faith in the traditions of that family, and having experienced the presence of God in my life from a very early age, I still found myself asking God that question with great sadness and not a little anger one night following the loss of a long-desired pregnancy.

The response came immediately. My mind was flooded with images of the care-givers who had been so kind to me as they told me of the baby’s death; the woman at the local family planning clinic who made the appointment for me to have a D&C; the nurses and doctors at Kaiser who ended up performing the D&C when I began bleeding a few days before my clinic appointment; the nurse who reassured me that losing this child did not mean we would never have another because she too had miscarried but later had a successful pregnancy; my mother who sent flowers (she rarely ever does that); the babysitter who stayed with us and helped take down the Christmas tree that first awful day when I knew I was carrying a dead child; the friends who remained after our son’s birthday party so we wouldn’t be alone with our pain; another  child’s teacher (a young widow) who dropped by one afternoon to share a cup of tea and be with me; the husband who held my hand through it all and matter-of-factly cleaned up the blood that splashed on the floor when I stood up to dress to go home from the hospital; the friends who had cared for our children after school; and so many others who had cried with me and supported me in that first week. I understood then where the Lord had been. He had been with me in all of those people – his Body here and now. It was not any easier to have lost that child, but I knew I was not alone. And perhaps more importantly, I knew that God cries with us in such moments and wants nothing more than to hold us close, as a parent holds and comforts an injured child.

How does this relate to Jesus as the Christ?

Through the incarnation, God became truly one of us. As a result of the incarnation, Jesus is the most human of all human beings who have ever lived or will ever live. Jesus’ life is the most authentically human life ever lived. Because God entered totally into human existence and experience through the life of Jesus, our human experiences have become part of God’s being in a very real way. God did not demand that we suffer or that Jesus suffer in order to bring us back to the unity of love overflowing from which all of creation sprang in the first instant of creation. Suffering can bring us to the point of noticing that we do not really control much in our lives and that we need to be part of a greater reality, but in and of itself, suffering is not what God wants for us. Sometimes suffering comes as a result of our own choices, but often it comes because of forces outside our control. Sometimes suffering even comes because we choose to remain authentic to who we are and what we are called to bring to the world. In the case of Jesus and many other good men and women through the ages, that choice resulted in death – a death that was/is the entry into eternity and a different degree of life. Jesus, in his life, death, and resurrection, is the Christ, the one “anointed” or called and set aside by God to open our eyes to this wondrous reality of a God who is Love and who cannot be anything other than Love. In this, he is our savior from the more common notion of a deity that is angry, vengeful, rejoicing in the misfortune of its subjects, and eager to punish them severely. His coming, and the sharing of his experience, is truly good news for the world. He is the one through whom Love enters directly into our lives, including the times of pain and suffering. He is the one who reaches out through each of us to ease the pain and suffering of others. He is the one who turns tears into dancing as healing comes to battered hearts at his touch.

Does our present situation change how we ask this ultimate question?

To the extent that we are more aware of the suffering of people around us and around the world, we may find ourselves asking this ultimate question more frequently than did people of past ages or people in non-industrialized communities. Why do children get killed at school by a person who should never have had access to guns? Why do people get blown up by suicide bombers? Why do humans so quickly resort to wars, both with physical weapons and with words and actions in our homes and workplaces? Why do bad things happen to good people? Shouldn’t becoming a Christian mean that everything should be fine and dandy from here on out? How can good Christian people lose their homes and savings and livelihoods as a result of bad decisions by investment bankers or real estate speculators?

Our access to news and information on a 24/7 basis is a blessing and a curse. We hear far too much of the suffering humans inflict on each other, whether directly or indirectly. We also hear too much about the suffering that results from natural disasters. The simple formula that promises happiness once they have died to those who suffer (“Life is hard and then you die”) rings hollow. We become numb to the suffering of those in other lands or those whose experience of life and faith even in our own nation is different than ours. We still cry out in sadness, anger, fear: Where have you been, Lord? How can a loving God let such things happen?

Into this reality, Jesus continues to come as the Christ, the anointed one. Jesus is the one who understands the pain of human life from the inside. Through the incarnation, through Jesus’ life, God too understands the pain of human life, as well as the joys and wonders of it. In Jesus, God reaches out and touches each of us and all of creation in a new, deeply intimate way. The everlasting, ever-living, all-powerful One can touch and raise up the created ones to share in the divine life of Love, to become fully human. The light of Love shines in the darkness, a darkness that cannot overcome it. So for this age and the ages to come, “Jesus is the Christ” still answers the ultimate question(s) of human existence.

 Image from Annunciation Melkite Catholic Cathedral

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