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Posted by on Dec 22, 2010

Still Waiting

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

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

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

*My Soul in Stillness Waits – Marty Haugen, 1982

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Posted by on Dec 21, 2010

Waiting in Stillness

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by on Dec 17, 2010

Advent – A Time to Be At Peace

We’re now approaching the fourth Sunday of Advent and the number days until Christmas grows shorter. We’ve heard readings of Hope/Expectation for the Coming of Christ in our days and at the end of days. We’ve heard readings of Peace, with images of children playing safely beside the adder’s lair and lambs being safe with lions. Readings of Joy were proclaimed last week, with the promise of the Lord coming to set things right and signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God already present in the life and work of Jesus. Next Sunday we’ll hear of the Lord’s promise and reassurance to St. Joseph that Mary’s pregnancy was divinely blessed and of Joseph’s acceptance of that gift.

As I’ve moved through these days and weeks, I’ve been reflecting on what peace means in daily life. It seems to me that peace is more than the absence of armed conflict between nations. Peace is a way of living. It springs from a place of openness and gratitude.

Peace means being gracious when another person fails to notice, even in passing, that you have gone out of your way to do something just for him or her. Peace means accepting an apology without needing to shame the one offering it. Peace means choosing to be kind rather than insisting on being right. Peace means looking beyond the gift one has received to see the love with which it was given.

Peace flows out of a place of gratitude for gifts received and shared. It giggles with a small child discovering the joys of a puddle. It smiles with the fond memories of a grandparent who is watching another’s child. It holds hands and spends quiet time with the person nearing the end of this life.

Advent is about hope, peace, joy and the coming of the light of the world. May each of us remember this truth as we hear the enticements of the mall and feel the pressure to “make Christmas memorable” by doing many things and buying lots of merchandise. Advent is a time for hope, peace, joy, and sharing with Christ the wonder of being a bringer of hope, peace and joy to others.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

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Posted by on Nov 27, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Hubble Telescope Ultra Deep Field

Happy New Year!

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Posted by on Nov 24, 2010

A Time for Gratitude as a Year Ends

As we approach the end of one liturgical year and the beginning of a new one, it’s good to stop and be grateful for the gifts we have received.  As it happens, in the United States we do just that on the 4th Thursday of November, our Thanksgiving Day.

Tomorrow, as we share meals, prayer, board games, football games, outdoor fun and indoor visiting, may we remember the wonders we have seen. The sunrises and sunsets. The sunny days and the rainy, stormy ones. The days of gentle breezes and the days of gale force winds. If we have been through great storms, may we be grateful for having come through them to safer days. If this has been a peaceful year, may we be grateful for the gift of peace and pray for strength to continue to trust the Lord when next we face challenges and hard times.

In this year, people have been born and people have moved on to the next stage of their lives with the Lord, the one we don’t yet share with them. We have seen children growing and parents aging. We hope to be growing ourselves in wisdom, age and grace – always growing in grace and graciousness, a sign of God’s presence in our lives overflowing into our dealings with other people.

We thank our readers for spending time with us here at It is truly a blessing to be a part of a worldwide community and to share hopes, dreams and visions with all of you.

This song by Mary Chapin Carpenter from “Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs of Christmas” is a reminder of the gift of community we share.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Posted by on Jun 6, 2010

Corpus Christi: Who’s Feeding on Whom?

Today is the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. We celebrate the great gift of the Eucharist – a feast of thanksgiving. We celebrate that the Lord has given His very being to us to be food for our journey through our lives here and now – from this day to the day of our birth into eternal life in the next here and now.

I’m struck today by the contrast between the Lord’s gift of allowing us to eat of His body and blood, soul and divinity and the way in which those spirits not in union with God, the evil ones, feed on our energies when we choose to welcome them into our lives even for a moment.

It became very clear to me again yesterday how quickly and subtly they will move in and start draining energy away from individuals and families. I received a notice in the mail regarding a challenge we’ve been facing as a result of the problems in the global financial markets hitting “Main Street.” I don’t know what the notice means, but it’s not a great situation and it could be the first step of more challenges coming. On the other hand, it might not mean anything negative at all.

But I was tired and a bit stressed and I found myself fretting about it. Then other things started popping up with their “… and did you remember that he …” and “… can you believe the nerve of …” Nothing huge involved. Nothing to which I would not have agreed. Just that quiet, insidious little voice encouraging me to feel upset, tired, a little resentful, or whatever.

As I got more out of sorts, others in the family also got edgy, including the resident baby.

Finally, my children sent me for a walk with the baby and fixed dinner themselves. On the walk, a relatively quiet activity with a very young child in a stroller, I realized what was happening. I closed the feeding trough to the spirits who had crept in and I asked my Guardian Angel and the Holy Spirit to protect me and us from their influence.

One thing I’ve learned – that kind of prayer is never ignored. I was better immediately and we had a lovely dinner and pleasant evening.

So, how does this relate to Corpus Christi? We can choose to allow the evil spirits to invade. We can feed them. The expression, “What’s eating you?” is absolutely an accurate description of an unseen reality. Or we can keep closing that restaurant when they come around and instead feed on the love of God, the body and blood of our Lord.

The neat thing is this. To the extent we feed on the Lord, we can then help feed those around us in positive ways. Everything becomes manageable again. Problems can be solved. Joy returns.

I still don’t know what that notice means, but whatever it means, all will be well as long as I/we remember Who should feed whom.

Happy Feast of Corpus Christi.

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Posted by on May 26, 2010

Pentecost Insights on Laundry Day

Pentecost Insights on Laundry Day

Dove of Peace by Pablo Picasso

We celebrated the feast of Pentecost this past Sunday. It’s the Birthday of the Church and one of my favorite celebrations. Without the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, we would most likely never have heard the Good News of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. His followers were just plain too scared to tell what they had witnessed.

At Pentecost, the Lord’s promise that He would ask the Father to send an Advocate to us, one who would continue to teach us what we need to know, was fulfilled. We entered the age of the Holy Spirit, an age that continues to our day.

I was musing on the wonders of the coming of the Spirit and the importance of the event yesterday while doing laundry and caring for my 14 month old grandson. (Yes, he’s a beautiful child and a rare delight!) I’d had a conversation on Sunday with a non-Catholic friend who had really never heard of Pentecost in her religious experience. We had talked about the coming of the Holy Spirit, the timing of the feast in relation to Easter and the effect of the Spirit’s coming on the early Christian community. I’m always surprised to find again that people are not aware of the story of the Church and the many twists and turns of its history. There is so often a sense that all was clear and settled from the start. The Acts of the Apostles makes it clear that the first followers of The Way were feeling their way and responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit just as we must today.

My grandson loves to fold clothes. Up until a week ago, he simply stood by the davenport (sofa, couch) and pulled the clothes off as fast as he could. Once they were all on the floor, he’d hand them to me as fast as he could. Then I’d pick all of them up and we’d repeat the process, with a few more actually getting folded at each repetition! Last week he discovered that he no longer needs to hold a big person’s hand to walk or even run. So now he grabs an article of clothing from the stack and takes off racing across the room with it, dropping it at some point along his way.

He was laughing happily and carrying a handkerchief when suddenly he stopped. Several of us, including the child, have had colds, including runny noses. He’s been fascinated by the blowing of noses that has been occurring around the household. He put the handkerchief to his nose and made a loud blowing sound through his lips. He was so proud of himself. He was certain he’d figured out how to make that amazing noise that all of us had been making. In fact, he was so delighted, that he raced back to the davenport, grabbed a shirt and repeated the feat. Then a sock… Then a pair of pants…  Each time he simply beamed with delight and laughed uproariously.

It struck me, as I watched and laughed with him, that we are blessed that the gifts of the Holy Spirit continue to be poured out among us, with the Spirit continuing to teach us in our day too. As we learn so much more in the worlds of science, math, psychology, anthropology and all the other realms of human knowledge, it is truly a blessing that the Holy Spirit is with us, enlightening our hearts so we can see the Lord’s hand in all of creation in ever more wondrous ways. Imagine how sad it would be if we were forever condemned to the level of understanding of a small child who believes that blowing his nose requires use of his mouth! It’s a fine step on the way to understanding of the real way to perform the task, but only a step. With the grace of the Holy Spirit, we too move forward in our journey, growing up a little more each day and each generation, to see the wonders the Lord has wrought for us.

Happy Birthday, Church.

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Posted by on Apr 9, 2010

Great Love or Great Suffering – Two Paths to Non-duality

Great Love or Great Suffering – Two Paths to Non-duality

Richard Rohr, OFM

Recently I’ve been listening to Fr. Richard Rohr’s three CD set, Exploring and Experiencing The Naked Now, a recording of two webcasts in which he talks about his work on non-dual thinking and the insights of the contemplative/mystic tradition of Christianity. Rohr’s work provides a fine background for the last couple of weeks of Lent and moving into Easter.

A central insight of Rohr’s work is that non-dualistic thinking is central to experiencing the mystery of Christ and the Trinity. God is One, yet we know God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The contrast boggles the mind when we try to explain, define or otherwise pin down the mystery. Our minds, trained to make logical distinctions and put all we experience into categories of “this/not that,” find it hard to deal with the “yes/and”  of combining such seemingly irreconcilable statements. Nevertheless, Jesus calls us into the mystery and teaches through example, images and stories that seem to contradict each other. In one place, for example, he says that his followers are to turn the other cheek when someone strikes them. In another, he counsels that it’s time to take swords along to the place where he and is friends planned to spend the night. At yet another, he turns over the tables of the money-changers in the temple and drives them out. Then when the chips are down, he heals the ear of the servant of the High Priest in the Garden of Gethsemane and goes to his death without offering resistance. So which is it? Non-violent always or Violent sometimes? Do we simply choose one meaning – the one that suits what we want to do – or are we supposed to try to make some logical sense of the contrasting statements/actions or must we somehow live in the mystery, without needing to explain it logically. And if we do that, won’t we be seen as somehow immature and childish?

Rohr suggests that a return to the contemplative mindset is essential in the long-run. It is the ultimate goal of the spiritual life. Union with God, a return to the non-duality of the Garden of Eden, is the final goal of our lives and quest. We start non-dualistically as infants and small children. We move away from non-dualism around the age of reason and begin to be able to separate from God, make wrong choices, and, dare I say it, to sin. We learn what is right and what is wrong. We learn to make distinctions. Then we think we’ve got it all set for the rest of our lives. But we’re right smack dab in the middle of a dualistic world and mindset. So everything gets phrased in terms of win/lose or “limited good” (a concept from anthropology) — what is good for you will take something from me. We forget, or perhaps haven’t consciously experienced, that God’s love comes to us like water flowing through a pipeline or electricity flowing down a wire. As long as there’s no blockage, it just keeps coming. The critical thing is to keep the pipe open, the transmission line unbroken. But that gets scary. The “what ifs” start raising their ugly heads. And we fight against anyone or anything that seems to threaten the way things are now, even if it’s not ideal. And so we block the flow, partially or totally.

Rohr argues that the only way we can move beyond dualism in our thinking and again enter non-dualistic reality is through the path of great love or the path of great suffering.  In both situations, the normal ways of coping or experiencing reality fall away.  We don’t have the energy to block the flow. We’re too deeply in the joy or sorrow. “Everything’s coming up roses …” as the song says. Or, alternatively, we cry out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Where are you when I need you God? In either condition, we are open to experience the wonder of God’s love and compassion without trying to (or even being capable of) splitting it into dualistic compartments or categories. The experiences are too overwhelming, too all encompasing, too intense to allow for separation and dualism. And then we can grow in wisdom. And we experience redemption – a return to union with our God – set free from the normal ties that hold us bound in worry of losing our “secure” duality.

Meanwhile, “back at the farm,” the troubles and tragedies of world events continue through Holy Week.  A small group of people are arrested for plotting to kill a police officer and then kill more officers at his funeral, all in the name of Christ. What madness is this? Bombs explode in crowded places around the world, in the name of God. What madness is that? How can religious people believe that the creator of all of us and of all of the wonders of the universe could want us to be killing each other? And how could we dare to think we do it in his name, by his authorization? How can Christians be terrorists, as Leonard Pitts notes in a recent column? Is our God really so helpless or so impotent that he could condone such action, such dualistic us/them action?

Jesus went to the cross rather than try to force God’s hand to free his nation from the Romans by inciting a rebellion, as some would have liked. He went to the cross rather than deny the truth that God is more interested in the way we treat each other than in the sacrifices we bring to the altar. He went to the cross rather than run away and deny that he had experienced a very special relationship with his Father, one that the Father wants to share with the rest of us too. And redemption came out of that great passionate love and suffering. Easter came to all the world and our separation from God came to a resounding end.

May each of us move forward in this Easter season in joy and trust, building on the faith of our younger years and beginning to enter into the world of contemplation, of not dividing the “real” from the “ideal,” of really believing the Good News, that love is all that really matters, and love will make all the suffering lead to the peace and deep, deep joy of the children of God.

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Posted by on Mar 29, 2010

God to the Rescue

God to the Rescue

The Resurrection of Lazarus - Byzantine icon - 14th-15th century

As we move more deeply into Holy Week, I find myself still reflecting on the reading from the Gospel of John that is used in the liturgies for the Scrutinies as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults — the story of the raising of Lazarus. In our parish, we celebrate the Scrutinies as a community, with all invited to examine our own lives for areas of thirst, blindness, and death within us. Generally during the week following the third scrutiny, area parishes schedule Reconcilation services in preparation for Holy Week and Easter. The three weeks of RCIA celebrations are a good preparation for Reconciliation.

But back to the story of Lazarus. Our celebrant and  homilist on the third Sunday this year was a visitor who had been pastor of our parish many years earlier. I always look forward to hearing new insights from him and I often remember homilies from those earlier years as well. This year he explained that the name Lazarus could be roughly translated as “God to the Rescue.” It comes from the Hebrew name, Eleazar, which is translated “God has helped.” In both the story of the raising of Lazarus and the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, God comes to the rescue of an individual in great need. The raising of Lazarus is one of the great signs in John’s telling of the Good News to lead us to faith in Jesus.

Another point that always strikes me in the story of the raising of Lazarus is the order Jesus gives the bystanders when Lazarus comes out of the tomb. He tells them, “Unbind him and set him free.” Lazarus can’t do it himself. And we can’t do it for ourselves.

We are each tied up by so many expectations, fears, patterns of behavior, traditions, and so forth that it can be next to impossible to try something new or to discover deeper levels of meaning or being in our lives. Going away to another community or to college can be a way that an individual becomes freed to experiment and learn who he or she is or wants to become. But not everyone has that opportunity. And for the majority of our lives, we live in communities where we are known, with people/family/friends who know us and expect certain behaviors and responses from us. Because of this each of us needs our family and friends to unbind us and set us free, just as Lazarus needed his community to set him free to live again.

In the Gospel of John, Lazarus is a “type” of the Christian disciple. He is the “everyman” character who represents all of us. We are all the ones whom God has rescued. We are all the ones freed and instructed to set the other free.

During this Holy Week, as we prepare for the Easter mysteries, plumbing the depths of sadness and rising to the peaks of joy in our liturgies, may we all be ready, like Lazarus, for God to come to our rescue, for our family and friends to set us free, and in turn to be the ones ready and willing to give that same gift to those with whom we share our lives.

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Posted by on Mar 4, 2010

Divided by the Bonds of a Common Religion

Divided by the Bonds of a Common Religion

When I was growing up, one of the questions always asked when two people began dating  was, “Is she/he Catholic?” It was quite rightly assumed that differences in religion within a marriage could be a major source of stress and potentially lead to break-up of the marriage. In those days, we were just barely past the time that “mixed marriages” took place at the rectory or in the vestibule, and the non-Catholic partner had to promise to raise the children Catholic before a marriage could be blessed. Presumably, sharing the bonds of a common religion would serve to strengthen the marriage.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I married a Catholic man of Mexican ancestry and discovered that we were divided by the bonds of a common religion. Many aspects of his cultural experience of Catholicism were different from the Irish-German Catholic experience of my childhood. (And no, the German Catholic side were not converts.  They had been Catholic for centuries.)

Things we found that differed ranged from the relative importance of certain feast days (those of Our Lady were never to be missed) to questions as “serious” as Friday abstinence (could one eat gravy served on potatoes at a restaurant on a Lenten Friday?).

Fortunately, we were both graduate students in Anthropology and had a vocabulary with which to discuss and appreciate the cultural differences over which we were tripping. Feasts of Our Lady are extremely important in Hispanic culture and, as Our Lady of Guadalupe, she is trusted to handle any and all problems that arise. Friday abstinence from meat has been somewhat optional within Spanish speaking culture since the time of the Crusades. The male head of household had the prerogative to excuse the family from following the rule of abstinence. So the question of gravy on potatoes was moot! Simply a minor cultural difference in the experience of faith and definitely not something requiring confession. (Further research done in the course of writing this post indicates that meat based gravy was never actually prohibited, but general understanding of the rules within my culture of origin excluded it.)

This all came to mind again in the past couple of weeks. One of our daughter’s classmates is also Catholic, from a somewhat more traditional family than ours. On Ash Wednesday, the friend ruefully confessed that she had already forgotten and had a piece of candy that day. She had intended to give up candy for Lent. As it turned out, she had also forgotten (or perhaps never realized) that Ash Wednesday is a day of abstinence. She had packed a wonderful turkey sandwich for lunch that day. When apprised of the fact, she looked at the sandwich, declared, “Well, it would be a shame to waste it,” and ate her entire lunch.

When I was their age, the poor sandwich would have been returned to its wrapper and taken home for another day, or perhaps even thrown away. Some might have chastised the young woman for breaking a Church rule and eating the sandwich. She probably would have felt the need to confess her sin. Blessedly, she does not seem to have such worries today.

So a few questions arise.  How do rules fit into our experience of faith? Why even have rules of fast and abstinence if they aren’t going to be taken extremely seriously? How can religious rules be applied to one group of people and not another? That’s not fair! Aren’t there more important things to worry about than what people eat and when? Should religions have rules at all?

In looking at religion and behaviors associated with religion, Clifford Geertz‘ insight, in “Religion as a Cultural System,” that religion serves both as a model of society and a model for society provides a useful platform for analysis. Religions all around the world have codes of behavior — expectations of how people will act and for what reasons they will act as they do. These codes are normally posited to be the will of the deity. Generally, they uphold the social structure of the society and provide the rationale for the way social interactions occur. The song, “Tradition,” from the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, is an excellent example of the structuring of such social expectations and the recourse to God as their source.

This works pretty well when the religion in question is a small, localized one with a limited number of adherents. With groups that are larger and spread out over a larger geographic area, modifications begin to be seen. As Christianity spread out through the Roman Empire, accomodations were made to make it more understandable to peoples with different geographical, economic and cultural realities. If evergreen boughs are a symbol of everlasting life in a culture, for example, it’s a short jump to include them as symbols in Christian settings as well. But if evergreens mean nothing in a culture, they will often mean nothing in liturgical settings either. For this reason we are careful what we include in liturgy that must of its nature be open to be experienced cross-culturally.

The underlying reason for a practice is also important in analysis of how that practice plays out in the lived experience of a people. If the underlying reason is that there must be atonement for one’s failings, a penitential reason, then denying oneself something good but not necessary for life is often valued. If growth in self discipline is an underlying reason, again, denying oneself something makes sense. If one’s salvation from a nearly eternal cycle of birth and rebirth requires attaining perfection or enlightenment in this life, such practices again make sense. If the reason is that we choose to enter into a time and process of transformation of who we are so that we can be more open to meet our God when He comes, then it again makes sense.

Most religions and “spiritual” movements or quests require their adherents to make sacrifices during certain seasons or as part of their daily life. There is a recognition that we are not perfect and we do not live in a perfect world. It takes work to make things better and to become better persons. We only grow through difficult experiences, not when all is easy. So times of prayer and fasting and  giving alms are commonly found.

The trick in all of this is to keep things in perspective. What is a more serious offense, eating meat on Friday, for example, or betraying a friend? Is it more offensive to God and the community to miss Mass on Sunday because guests arrived unexpectedly or to turn away the guests because one has to get to church? Should we look to larger issues of how we use resources locally and globally in planning the forms our fasting and almsgiving will take? How do our religious beliefs lead us to act in our communities and countries? How do we weigh the relative importance of the wide variety of issues that must be addressed by our representatives when we decide who will represent us in government? Can people of good will take different positions and still be part of our community?

It seems to me that all of these questions and more are reflected in the simple decisions we make about things like abstaining from meat on Friday or wasting the food that has been prepared for us. Some things are simply matters of traditional practice and can vary from place to place or family to family. Others are fundamental issues that go to the heart of our relationship with God and creation. Nevertheless, we must be gentle with each other in addressing them. God does not go around bashing people over the head and we must not either. If our religious beliefs and practices do act as models of the societies in which we live and models for what those societies should be like, and in my experience they do, then let’s be careful to use them to shape a society in which God’s “little ones” are protected and supported, people are free to ask questions, think for themselves, and grow in wisdom, age and grace,  and the resources we have been given can be used wisely to benefit all of God’s creatures, human as well as non-human.

Just as my husband and I found we were divided by the bonds of a common religion, humans are divided by the bonds of our common human habit of designing social systems to meet the environment in which we find ourselves and the perception of reality that goes with and shapes those systems that we design. Only by accepting each other in love, giving up the attempt to change the other into our own image and culture, and laughing a lot as we go along can we be transformed so we are ready to meet the Lord who comes to us telling stories and trusting in His Father’s bounty and love to sustain Him.

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Posted by on Feb 16, 2010

And Once Again, The Seasons Turn

And Once Again, The Seasons Turn

Mardi Gras beads

It’s Tuesday afternoon, the day before Ash Wednesday, a day called Mardi Gras  or Carnival in many places. The sun is shining yet again here in Santa Cruz, as it did all weekend, with warm breezes, bird song, blooming fruit trees, sour grass, wild radish, camelias and daffodils to celebrate the wonder and promise of Spring. A far cry from the winter so many people are still experiencing here in the Northern Hemisphere. It should be noted, that this beautiful weather will not last for long. Already storms are lining up out on the ocean for the end of the week. But today it is beautiful.

I’m sitting here thinking about the interesting confluence of themes that have met this week. Sunday was Valentine’s Day, a day of hearts and flowers, a day of many marriages, the birthday of a friend from graduate school whom I remember fondly, a day of gifts and remembrances for those we love. For some it’s a day of disappointment or sadness, when a loved one is not thrilled, or when no one is there to say “I love you,” or when a relationship has ended and the hurt has not begun to heal.  

Sunday was also the day many people in the world celebrate the beginning of a new year, a day we call Chinese New Year, though it isn’t only the Chinese who celebrate this day. Parades, parties, special foods, gifts, and good wishes abound.  It’s a day of hope for the future.

This particular Sunday, the readings of Cycle C from Jeremiah, Paul and Luke challenged us to keep our focus on the Lord and not put our fundamental trust in the things of this world. Calling the poor, the hungry, the weeping and the excluded ones among us blessed, Jesus warns that those who find life easy and who never challenge the status quo for fear of arousing the enmity of those in power are not close to the kingdom of God. It’s a message that is far from our American cultural concept, drawn from the earliest colonial days, that those who are economically secure and respected by their fellows are those blessed by God, while those who are poor, sick, injured, or otherwise disadvantaged are somehow not pleasing to God and are being punished.

Father Ron Shirley, our pastor, in his homily told the story of a wedding toast. The best man offered a toast wishing only the best for the bride and groom, with never a moment of pain or sadness. Then a stranger stepped up and offered a toast. He was dressed simply and seemed out of place. He assured the couple that he loved them deeply then offered a series of strange wishes for them – that poverty, sorrow, pain, and controversy would be part of their lives.

Today we celebrate Mardi Gras – with rich foods, parties, celebrations of abundance and the promise of good things to come.  And tomorrow we enter into a time of reflection, of conversion, and of returning our attention and our intentions to God and the works of God. Are they opposites or mutually exclusive? I don’t think so. Jesus and his followers certainly didn’t go around in sack cloth and ashes, continually fasting. They were criticized for their love of good times and celebrations. But there is a time and a place for abstaining from some of the good things of live in order to be open to the deeper fundamentals of God’s life and love for us. Jesus and his followers quietly entered into those times as well.

And so we follow them into these weeks of reflection and self-control, as we break our addictions to the excesses of the world around us and try to be more open to the quiet wonders of God’s love in people and in nature. The season is turning. New hope is in the air. Easter is coming soon.

May these days of Lenten preparation be full of the awareness of the Lord’s presence in your life and of the abundance of His love and support in all of life’s challenges.

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Posted by on Jan 6, 2010

The Magi, the Epiphany, and the Stars of the New Age

The Magi, the Epiphany, and the Stars of the New Age

There is often a lot of hand wringing and concern about the revival of pre-Christian earth based religions or neo-paganism. Whether it is the five pointed star -the pentagram- demons and vampires, or dancing and drumming at the equinoxes and solstices, all the signs seem to herald something worse than the age of atheism – the return of polytheism. We have now gone full circle from the one God back to many gods and goddesses.

New Age spiritualism allows people to celebrate the reality that is deeper than the merely physical without any of the doctrine or historical messiness of Christianity or any “organized” religion. It allows people to access the transnatural directly or in small groups led by a shaman. There is no need for big buildings, big groups, or any separation from the sacredness of nature.

The Magi or Wisemen were actually following the stars that announced the birth of a new King of Israel. The arrival of the Magi is called the Shining Forth – the Epiphany – the appearance of God to all of the world beyond Bethlehem of Judea.

What was wondrous to good people willing to see the obvious signs was hidden from the evil King Herod.

Although the resurgence of paganism is characteristic of something called the New Age perhaps it represents a search for the Divine in Creation, for the feminine, a faith that the Gaia may rally to overcome the forces threatening to destroy the biosphere and save us from ourselves.

The Magi today are poets, scientists, and dreamers led by Grace to see and understand the portents of the night sky as they search for Day. Caught up in our temples, traditions, and tedium have we missed the Star calling us forth?

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Posted by on Dec 2, 2009

“Ready or Not, Here I Come!”

“Ready or Not, Here I Come!”


Advent Wreath

Advent Wreath

This past Sunday was the First Sunday of Advent – our New Year’s Day in the Church. I was visiting the parish in which I was raised, St. Patrick’s Parish in Spokane, WA. The homilist, Fr. Kenneth St. Hilaire, spoke of his experience on Thanksgiving Day with his family. His nieces organized a game of Hide and Go Seek. It’s a game we played many times in my family as children, and so had he.

In this game, one person is chosen to be “It” and everyone else runs and hides. The person who is “It” counts to 30, shouts, “Ready or not, here I come” and then tries to find the other ones who are hiding. When a person is found, he or she becomes the next “It” and the game continues. Sometimes the game goes on until all are found. Other times those found become “prisoners” of the one doing the seeking. In some versions, if a person who has not yet been found gets back to the base of the one who is “It”, all get to hide again and that original person continues to be “It”.

Fr. Kenny suggested that the spiritual life can be like this childhood game. Sometimes we even try to hide from the Lord – to pretend that maybe we won’t be found. But whatever we do, at some point in our lives, the Lord is going to say to us, “Ready or not, here I come.” Advent is a time to remember that and begin again to prepare our hearts and minds to meet the Lord – because He is coming, and when the time comes, we can’t say, “Just a minute, I’m not ready yet!”

So, whether the coming is our individual meeting with the Lord at the moment of our death, or the one at the end of time, Advent is a time to remember that the Kingdom is coming, the Lord is returning and the world as we know it will pass away.

Advent is a good time to make time for prayer, whether 2 minutes stolen from a busy day at work or 15 minutes of “walking prayer” or a Rosary offered at home or in church. Time spent remembering our Lord and King, speaking from our hearts to Him, then listening to His response will bring us closer to the Kingdom.

Another good thing to do in Advent is to look closely at our lives and see what is excess. What can be cut out to make room for something better? What can be shared with someone who is in need? It needn’t be something huge. But it’s pretty likely that most of us have something we can share or something that we don’t really need to be doing. Making space in our lives for the Lord’s coming brings a richness that material things cannot ever fill.

Finally, Fr. Kenny suggested that we look to Jesus’ mother, Mary, as a model and a helper in this great journey of Advent. She waited for his birth for 9 months. She prepared for the coming of her child. She raised him, loved him, cared for him and then stood by him as he entered into his adult ministry. At the cross, she stood and waited as he died. According to tradition, she was part of the community that welcomed him after the Resurrection and received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As our “big sister” in faith, she can help us to get ready for the Lord’s coming.

So, this Advent season, I invite you to join me in this “game” of preparing for the Lord’s coming. When we hear, “Ready or not, here I come”, may we all be ready to be found by our great Lord and King.

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Posted by on Nov 23, 2009

Christ the King

Christ the King

Christ the King - Annunciation Melkite Catholic Church

Christ the King - Annunciation Melkite Catholic Church

We’re rapidly coming to the end of the liturgical year. Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King. The week before we heard readings speaking of the end of time. This coming Sunday we’ll celebrate the beginning of a new season, Advent. It’s the Church’s New Year’s Day.

As this year draws to a close, there’s much talk of a new movie about the destruction of the Earth, this time in 2012, based on an ancient indigenous calendar’s timing of the end of a cycle of life. Almost certainly, the movie is and will remain fiction. Yet, we know that at some point, life on Earth as we know it will come to an end – both for each individual and for humans as a species. Eventually, the Earth will become uninhabitable for any life forms due to changes in our Sun – but that’s a long time in the future and we living here now really don’t need to worry much about it!

So, how do we mark this time of transition from one year to the next? How do we celebrate and hope for the coming of Christ the King? How do we live a life of faith that the Kingdom is already begun in the here and now? When our plans fall short and all seems lost, how do we trust that “All will be well”?

These questions are ones that many of us are facing today. The past months have brought many challenges economically, socially, physically, and in every other way one might imagine. In my own family there have been births and deaths, marriages and divorces, graduations from high school and colleges, first days of first grade, birthdays that mark a new decade of life, a home lost to a fire and two families joining into one household for a time of regrouping and new beginnings, jobs lost and new careers found. Some of these events were planned. Some were not. But somehow, all are part of the Kingdom and we are invited to see the face of Christ the King in the faces of those around us who love and encourage and help us through the tough times, as well as rejoice with us in the hard ones.

Fr. Ron Shirley, in his homily November 15, spoke of a conversation he had with a wise priest when he was a boy. He had been concerned about all the readings and predictions of the end of the world and the travails that were to come on the world. The priest reassured him, “Make sure to keep yourself in the love of God today – the rest will take care of itself.” Fr. Ron reminded us that staying in the love of God involves keeping our thoughts, words and actions loving – right now, in our lives today.

Deacon Patrick Conway, on the Feast of Christ the King, shared the stories of people from our own parish and their reflections on the way they have seen Christ in their lives.

As we leave this year behind us and move into our new liturgical season and year, my prayer is that we’ll all remember to stay in God’s love, in our thoughts, words and deeds, and to trust that the rest will take care of itself. Life is not predictable. Life “happens.” But when we can remember that God is able to bring good out of all circumstances, we can hold out in hope that all will be well, in God’s good time and we can celebrate the Kingship of our Lord in our lives today and in the future.

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Posted by on Nov 1, 2009

Saints and Stained Glass Windows – The Feast of All Saints

Saints and Stained Glass Windows – The Feast of All Saints

St. Agnes of Assisi - St. Joseph's Monastery of Poor Clares in Aptos, CA

St. Agnes of Assisi - St. Joseph's Monastery of Poor Clares in Aptos, CA

In his homily today at Mass, Fr. Ken Lavarone, OFM, included the story of a third grade girl’s response to the question, “What is a saint?” The little girl answered that saints are the people in the stained glass windows on the walls of the church. The light shines through all of them, spreading bright colors over all of us.  

Fr. Ken used this example to remind us that the light of God shines through the lives of the saints, all of them/all of us, both those living  in the here and now and those living with God in eternal life. That light brings color and joy, hope and beauty into our lives, through the good times and the hard times.

May the light and love of God shine into your life today and always and may you be, in turn, a window through which God’s light and love shine for others.

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