Pages Menu
RssFacebook
Categories Menu

Posted by on Jan 13, 2019

Success or Significance?

Success or Significance?

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord marks the end of the Christmas season.  Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan signaled the formal beginning of His mission.

For today’s gospel scene we see the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus in visible form.  For the evangelist Luke, contrary to the three other evangelists, the baptism of Jesus is not important in itself, for he does not even describe it.  He is more concerned with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Jesus.  And after this initial scene, Luke will be at pains to mention the Holy Spirit as often as possible in connection with the ministry of Jesus.  Seventeen times in his gospel he will mention the Holy Spirit in connection with Jesus.  This is Luke’s way of telling us that Jesus was inspired (inspirited) in all his actions, empowered with his heavenly Father’s energy, enabled always to act as a beloved Son fulfilling a beloved Father’s wishes. And so, it is not a mere coincidence that, with the appearance of the Holy Spirit in this baptism scene, the son-ship of Jesus is emphasized, “You are my beloved Son.”  Essentially, Jesus is a Son in his innermost being.  And the Holy Spirit is the burning fire of love which unites him to his heavenly Father.  For him to receive the spirit is to experience his son-ship at a new depth.  It is the Holy Spirit that leads Jesus to accomplish his mission and made the Father say, “with you I am well pleased.”

I remember two years ago, I was on a vacation back home in the Philippines.  After celebrating Mass at my home parish, one of my friends from high school came up to me for a small chat.  He grew up in a poor family but worked his way to success with sheer talent and perseverance.  He is a self-made man.  He heads four businesses today that are making good money.  “There’s nothing more I can ask for, Father. God is good.  He has given me everything that I need and more,” he shared with me.  But after a short pause he added, “except that I never knew if my father was proud of what I have accomplished.”  His relationship with his father has been strained since after college.  After that conversation, it hit me.  The human heart is not made for success.  It is made for significance.

Success is a matter of doing.  Significance is a matter of being.  And since we are not human doings but human beings, it makes sense that our heart yearns for something more than just success.  It yearns for significance — the significance of meaningful relationships, mission, and yes, affirmation.  Success does not always lead to significance, but significance always leads to a deep sense of success.  Like the voice from the heavens that affirmed Jesus in His baptism, every human heart longs to hear the words, “in you I am well pleased.”

Isn’t it a wonder that, according to studies, almost eighty percent of substance abusers are successful people, and almost fifty-five percent of these successful people end up committing suicide?  Without meaning to pass judgment, could it be that significance was missing on top of their successes?

The Baptism of the Lord reminds us not only about Jesus’ mission, but our very own mission to make a difference, to be a significance in the lives of others by showing them what really matters in our Christian lives.  So that like Jesus, the Father would say to all of us, “In you I am well pleased.”

Fresco by Giotto di Bondone in the Scrovegni Chapel – 1303

Read More

Posted by on Dec 7, 2017

Liturgy: The Language of the Body

Liturgy: The Language of the Body

Nathan Mitchell, in  Meeting Mystery: Liturgy, Worship, Sacraments,  explains that the  body is the locus of the liturgy, the place where it happens, the means by which it is possible. There can be no ritual. There can be no physical non-verbal language without the body. There can be no metaphor. The soul and the body are oscillations of one dynamic in space-time. They are one in relation to the world and one in relation to each other. Each oscillation of the human entity makes us truly divine and truly human.

In Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s “Doubting Thomas,” the Risen Christ is corporeal and expressed in the early modern language of the color, composition, and sensibility of Naples around 1600.

Interestingly, the apostles are old men, Christ is in his 20’s. This is the language and metaphor of glorification. The bodies — glorified and non-glorified — move in the ritual of question, confusion, epiphany, and awe of Christ and for Christ.

In contrast, John Granville Gregory’s 20th Century English conception of “Still Doubting” employs a more post-modern body in its language.

The lighting is from above and is more photographic. The bodies themselves emanate no light but reflect it, shade it, shape it, ripple it. Although the gesture, the “ritual,” is the same as Caravaggio’s, the language is distinct. The young disciples bring more the boldness of youthful investigative analysis and curiosity. Caravaggio’s disciples bring the befuddlement of age and astonished wonder. Gregory’s Christ is more exuberant, almost playful. Caravaggio’s ritual metaphor is more amazed contemplation and rapture. Gregory’s is energetic discovery and youthful surprise. It almost looks like it could be an album cover from the late 20th century. The metaphor is one of scientific discovery conveyed by the casual irreverence of seekers.

The take away is “no body, no liturgy”. This should really be at the forefront of our consciousness as ministers. How does my entity oscillate in its physical and non-physical manifestations? When we convene as the Body of Christ, how do we convey in our body-language the mystery of the hypostatic union of being truly human and truly divine? Do we dance with the music? Do we sway? Do we move to the beat of what stirs our heart? More importantly, do we physically feel our ministry to the oscillating bodies of those which we convene and by whom we are convened? Are we sexy?

 

Read More

Posted by on Apr 4, 2016

Liturgy: The Language of the Body

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

The Annunciation - Henry Ossaw TannerGabriel’s visit to a very young woman in the small town of Nazareth was a momentous event, though mostly unnoticed at the time. Gabriel is the archangel tasked to serve as special messenger of God. On this visit, the message was actually a request: will you consent to become my mother? It wasn’t exactly phrased this way, according to the narrative we have from St. Luke, but in essence that was the question. Gabriel told Mary that she would bear a son who would be the Son of the Most High and would sit on the throne of his father David (as in King David), rule over the house of Jacob forever and have an unending kingdom. (Lk 1:26-38)

Now this would be challenging even to a married woman, but this young woman was not married. In her culture, having a child out of wedlock could result in death by stoning. At best, she would be shunned and excluded from polite society. Yet Mary had the courage to ask for more details about how such a thing could happen and to listen with deep faith to the response. Then she answered “yes,” Jesus was conceived, and God’s plan for salvation could go forward.

Christians have celebrated the Annunciation for centuries. Typically, the feast is scheduled for March 25, exactly nine months before the celebration of Christmas. However, in the West, when March 25 falls within Holy Week or the first week of Easter, the feast is moved to Monday following the Second Sunday of Easter (now known as Divine Mercy Sunday).

As adults we celebrate many events such as the Annunciation with prayer – Liturgy of the Hours, Mass, the Angelus, etc. However, for children, these ways of celebrating are not always experienced as much fun. So, with that in mind, I’d like to suggest an alternative way to celebrate: Make Angel cookies!

To make Angel cookies, take any recipe for a cookie that allows rolling out the dough and cutting out a cookie. (Even brownies could be used for making Angel Cookies if time is short.) Use an angel shaped cookie cutter to shape the cookies before baking. Be sure to decorate them with frosting/icing or with some  kind of “sprinkles” of colored sugar to make them festive. Then share them as part of a festive meal. Light a candle, have a special drink, use nicer dishes than normal, have a food that is a treat for your family — any or all of these things will make the day special for the children and family who share them.

As you share this day, keep your ears open for the voice of angels in your life. God’s messenger still comes, though perhaps not as momentously as in the visit to Mary. What is God saying to you and me today?

Peace.

Read More

Posted by on Mar 30, 2016

Liturgy: The Language of the Body

You will always have the poor

Charity and Justice - Public Domain Image

Public Domain Image

A Reflection by Jerry Finney

Gospel Jn 12:1-11

Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages
and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came,
not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus,
whom he had raised from the dead.
And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too,
because many of the Jews were turning away
and believing in Jesus because of him.

 

When I first read our Gospel reading for this morning, I thought it was about two things — Mary’s love and worship of Jesus who had raised her brother from the dead and Judas’ criticism of actions because of his greed and corruption. In preparing this reflection, I found that there is much more.

The scholar Fr. Raymond Brown points out that the anointing of Jesus’ head and feet is symbolic of his being prepared for burial following his crucifixion. It also is symbolic of what was believed by many at that time of what was necessary for resurrection. Rabbi’s would discuss the greatest act of mercy — almsgiving or burying the dead. Those who believed in proper burial thought it an essential condition for sharing in the resurrection. Spending large amounts of money for a proper burial, just like today in our society, happened and happens where people want the best for their loved one.

So there is a hidden discussion of the greatest mercy. Jesus tells Judas that in this case it is better to save the fragrant oil for his burial. Jesus was not negating the value and necessity of almsgiving. Jesus’ other statement to Judas of, “The poor you always have with you,” on its surface, might seem cynical or uncaring. But, that would not fit with the rest of Jesus’ manifest concern for the poor, the oppressed and those at the margins of society. Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy and is reflecting a reality. Even if everyone started out even in life, sooner or later some will end up with more and others with less, much less. Chance, disaster, ill health, environmental changes, laziness, cheating, bad decisions — all will produce disparities.

Galilee, in Jesus’ day, was an occupied country, and the Hebrews were a religious minority. The mostly illiterate population, that flocked to Jesus’ teaching and healing, were barely surviving on subsistence farming and they were subject to the whims of the landholders and the powerful elite ruling from a distance. The poor and oppressed were the ones to whom Jesus ministered. He told those who had more than they needed to share their excess so as to bring about God’s kingdom.

Deuteronomy, reflecting God’s mercy and wisdom, recognized that disparities were inevitable and, to deal with it, proposed a system of periodic redistribution of resources and forgiveness of debt. It was a system of how people who had been rescued from slavery and given so much were to deal with one another.

It is certainly no less true today that all our resources are gifts. God gave his people the ability both to smooth out those inequities and prevent some of them altogether. That’s what’s behind Jesus’ reminder that we will always have the poor with us. That is why we must share and redistribute resources.

In his encyclical, “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis urges us to, “replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which entails learning to give, and not simply to give up.” It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what “I want” to what “God’s world needs.” It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion. As Christians we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation…”

Pope Francis said that St. Francis’ actions and words “shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.”

The message — from Deuteronomy, from Jesus, from Pope Francis — is that those who have resources must use them wisely and must help those who have not, not out of generosity but out of responsibility. Jesus and Pope Francis did not say how to do, just to do it. Getting that sharing right is not easy. We each must work at it as best we can and where possible implant God’s values in our economic systems.

 

 

Read More

Posted by on Mar 26, 2016

Liturgy: The Language of the Body

A Few Minutes to Pray

Winter Sun on the Central Coast 2.1.16Holy Saturday can become one of the busiest days of the year, especially for those preparing for church services or hosting Easter dinner. Finding a moment to stop and pray is not easy. There are rehearsals for those playing a part at Easter Vigil or other Easter services. There are last minute Easter basket details to handle. The floors need sweeping. The furniture is dusty. The windows have splotches that testify to recent rains. Shirts to iron, shoes to shine, etc., etc., etc.

Yet Holy Saturday is really a time that is supposed to be holy: a time to stop, reflect on what we have just experienced with Christ and his early family and friends, and wonder how it all applies to our lives here and now. A time to step out of time and space and enter into (or remain within) the realm of the Sacred, the Holy, the Other.

We Christians are not always conscious of the reality that God and God’s presence/activity exist outside the confines of time and space. We mistakenly think that what we celebrate took place two thousand years ago and we simply remember in historical, or maybe collective, terms the events and the people to whom these things happened. In reality, for God everything is NOW. There is no past, present, or future. When we enter into the mysteries of the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Pascal Mystery, those mysteries are not history. They are happening in our lives as well. Our Jewish sisters and brothers will say, “Our ancesters walked through the Red Sea and our feet are wet.” They understand that the events they remember in story and ritual are truly real today as well. This reality is equally true for us.

Today we remember that day when all seemed lost for Jesus’ mother Mary, for his friends Peter, James, John and the other disciples, for Mary of Magdala and the other women who traveled with Jesus. Jesus had been publicly tortured to death as a traitor to the Empire, a political enemy of the state. His death was that reserved for the worst of criminals, those seen as fomenting revolution. It was meant as a warning to any who would attempt to change the status quo, the way things are/were. His family and friends recognized the warning and were crushed with sadness and fear, on top of the emptiness we all feel when someone we love has died. It was the Sabbath. They couldn’t even go to the tomb to care for his body properly. They simply had to wait and pray, try to make some sense of the past three years of their lives with him, and console each other as best they could.

We know the rest of the story — the events of the next morning changed history. God intervened, raising Jesus up on the third day, the day on which God came to the rescue of the faithful one. As a result, it’s easy for us to forget what this day, the day in-between, is about, easy to get busy rushing around to prepare to celebrate. They didn’t have a clue what was coming.

But we have entered into the mystery. We have celebratedPalm Sunday with cries of Hosanna and waving of palm branches. We rejoiced on Holy Thursday, celebrating the institution of the Eucharist. We have heard the passion narrative, prayed for all the peoples of the world, and venerated the cross on Good Friday. We are still in the midst of the mystery. It is not over yet. This is a time of quiet hope and awe in the face of loss and the unknown. It’s a time to experience our solidarity with those who suffer today because they are disciples of this Jesus, the crucified one. Time for quiet and prayer.

It’s a beautiful day here on California’s Central Coast. I’m going to leave the floors unswept, the furniture undusted, the weeds growing happily in all the flower beds, and go for a walk with my Lord alongside the ocean.

Holy Saturday blessings to all.

 

Read More

Posted by on Dec 31, 2015

Liturgy: The Language of the Body

A Prayer at Christmas time

 

 

Almighty God and Father of light,

a child is born for us and a son is given to us.

Your eternal Word leaped down from heaven

in the silent watches of the night,

and now your Church is filled with wonder

at the nearness of her God.

Open our hearts to receive his life

and increase ouf vision with the rising of dawn,

that our lives may be filled with his glory and his peace,

who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

From Liturgy of the Hours, Morning Prayer
Christmas

Read More

Posted by on Jun 13, 2015

Liturgy: The Language of the Body

The Sacred Heart of Jesus: Source of Limitless Love

Sacred Heart by David Clayton Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus originated as a meditation on the love that Jesus has for humanity.  In the 1500s, Jesuits and Franciscans promoted devotion to the wounded heart of Jesus. However, they did not stress the physical bleeding heart of Jesus crowned with thorns that has come down to us. This common  image does not necessarily help people feel closer to Jesus today. Presenting Jesus with a heart with flames of love and a face full of love and light emphasizes his limitless divine love in a very human way.

A Physical Organ or A Symbol of Love?

Sacred Heart - Pompeo BatoniThe devotion to the Sacred Heart has not always  included a focus on the suffering of Jesus and his actual physical heart. During the first ten centuries of Christianity, devotion to the humanity of Christ did not include honoring the wounded Heart of Jesus. From the 1200s to the 1500s devotion to the Sacred Wounds increased. However, it was private, individual, and of a mystical nature. The thorn crowned heart shows the change from honoring Jesus’ love for humanity to humans making reparation for sin. In the 1670s, the apparitions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to  Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque,  moved the devotion into the public life of the Church and it became centered on sorrow for sin. Popular piety continued this emphasis and eventually promoted worship of the physical heart of Jesus to such a point that Pope Pius XII had to correct this. The pope explained that the Sacred Heart belongs to the “Divine Person of the Eternal Word” and is a symbolic image of his love and our redemption. (See Haurietis aquas). Eastern Catholicism promotes some devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. However,  the devotion is controversial because of the mixing of the theologies of divine love and human reparation for sin within it. Eastern Catholics do not share the Western preoccupation with the physical heart of Jesus.

Devotion to Love

SacredHeart Fanelli 1994Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a devotion to His love. It is a response to the extravagance of Jesus.  His suffering and human sin are important for our consideration in other ways. However, this focus is not suitable for a devotion which focuses on love. This is particularly true today when addressing young people in first world cultures in which few symbols are shared. A heart in flames is a direct and simple symbol.

It is interesting that one of the main resources of devotion to the Sacred Heart, the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1899), is anything but human, warm, or loving. The Litany is formal, monarchical and transcendent. There is little sense of the human heart of Jesus reaching out to humanity to give consolation, peace or special graces. The prayer is true to its historical context, a time in the Church of formality and a sense of distance from the divine.

Despite the turn towards human individual experience and emotion in the 20th and 21st centuries, many Catholics do not feel personally close to God or have a warm experience of God’s love for them. Many still relate to God as a judge and an enforcer of rules.  Contemplating Jesus in the Gospels gives us a richer mystical image of the truly divine and truly human Jesus Christ full of warm friendliness, compassion, and humility with a heart full of love.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, by David Clayton – used with permission
Sacred Heart, by Pompeo Batoni –  public domain
Sacred Heart of Jesus, by Joseph Fanelli – used with permission

Read More

Posted by on May 22, 2015

Liturgy: The Language of the Body

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.

Read More

Posted by on Apr 16, 2015

Liturgy: The Language of the Body

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

Read More