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Posted by on Jul 23, 2020

The Wheat and the Weeds

The Wheat and the Weeds

By Dcn Patrick Conway

Each spring my wife and I like to get a couple of bags of California wildflower seeds and plant them in our yard. It’s exciting to see the sprouts coming up out of the ground, and there’s the anticipation of wondering what kind of flowers will be revealed.

We’ve learned, however, that the seeds we’ve put in the ground aren’t the only things that will grow in our flower beds. There are other seeds in the soil, as well as some that travel by air and take root. And the precious water that we put on the seeds that we want to grow also causes the unwanted ones to grow.

The problem is, when the flowers and the weeds are coming up out of the ground, we can’t tell the difference between the two. We’re not botanists! So we have to wait until everything is full-grown before we know the difference between the flowers and the weeds. And even then we may not be able to pull up the weeds, because their roots are intertwined with the flowers’ roots. And we’ve also learned that some flowers are late bloomers. We’ll think for sure that they’re weeds until suddenly, beautiful flowers appear. Good thing we didn’t pull them up!

Jesus uses these truths from nature in his parable of the wheat and weeds to teach us essential lessons about the spiritual life, or “the kingdom of heaven” as he calls it. And since this is one of the rare times when he explains the meaning of the parable to his disciples, like he did with the parable of the sower and the seed, we need to pay close attention to his explanation.

Jesus tells us that there are good people and evil people in the world. The good people are the ones who allow the good seed of God’s word to grow in them and to bear the flowers and fruit of loving and compassionate actions. The evil people are the ones who allow the bad seed of the devil, lies and suggestions to do evil, to grow in them and bear the thorns and poisonous fruits of destruction and death.

That is Jesus’s explanation of why and how there are good people and evil people in the world, a simple and straightforward statement. And since it comes directly from Jesus, we have to take it as truth, because he never lies to us.

Just one problem …

The problem is that historically as well as today, when Christians hear this, we often, if not usually, use it to justify our attacks on those whom we believe to be evil. It’s quite an ugly history, and sometimes it has taken the form of imprisonment, torture, and death, other times verbal condemnation and ostracization.

Anthropologists and others have studied this phenomenon, which some call the “scape-goating” mechanism in societies, in which the so-called righteous ones project their own inner evil on some group who are different and not as powerful, and they say, “These people are the problem! Let’s get rid of them! They’re all bad.”

We’ve seen that tragic story play out time and time again in various places around the world, including in our own country today, and always with destructive and deadly results.

And the irony of this is that the so-called righteous ones end up being the real evil ones, because they are not nurturing the seeds of God which cause us to bear the fruit of love for all people. Instead they nurture the divisive, destructive, and deadly seeds of the devil. Jesus comments on this in chapter 7 of Matthew’s gospel: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’” He’s talking to those who call him “Lord,” in other words, Christians. We always think that we’re the good people, but Jesus tells us that when we act like that, we are in fact the evil ones.

Our self-righteous Christian crusades against the so-called evil ones, whether they be military crusades or crusades of moral indignation, always end up making the world a worse place, not a better one.

And this always happen when we don’t listen to the commandment that is in the parable. We hear the explanation that there are good people and evil people in the world, but we miss the central commandment. And the commandment from Jesus is: “Don’t go around trying to attack and eliminate all those whom you believe to be the evil people in the world. You’ll end up destroying everyone, and you’ll end up being the evil people yourselves. I have a plan for getting rid of evil people, and my way is through love and conversion. For I desire not the death of the sinner, but that he live in my love and mercy forever.”

The commandment to us is simply to leave judgment and condemnation to God. We’re not competent in this area, in case you haven’t noticed. We’re not spiritual botanists who can tell a good plant from a weed. And you never know when a weed is going to turn out to be a beautiful flower.

And besides, the truth is that we ourselves have both wheat and weeds growing in the garden of our soul. If we are honest and humble, the Holy Spirit reveals to us both our goodness that God has planted in us, but also our sinfulness, planted by the enemy of our souls.

So what are we to do?

This is our work, the work of tending our own inner gardens, directed by the Holy Spirit, who gives us the courage and grace to change the things about ourselves that we can change, the humble peace that surpasses all understanding as we live with our faults and weaknesses, and the wisdom to know the difference between what we can change and what we just have to put up with – in ourselves.

This is essential if we are to be true followers of Jesus and children of God – that we learn to love sinners, because that’s what Jesus does, that’s what God does – and the main sinner that we have to learn to love is ourselves.

One saint put it this way: We should be very patient and humble in putting up with the faults of others. After all, they have to put up with us.

If we don’t learn to love the sinner who is us, then we will never learn to love the sinners who are around us, which means that we will never learn to love anyone, because everyone is a sinner. And we will continue to think that we’re better than everyone else and to persecute those whom we believe to be the evil ones. Then we end up being the evil ones ourselves.

Let’s not do that. Let us follow the path of true Christianity and ask the Holy Spirit to show us ourselves as God sees us, “a mixture strange of good and ill” as the hymn says, to be merciful and patient with the sinner that we are, and to be merciful and patient with everyone else.

The great Saint Teresa of Avila, whom the Church calls a doctor of the soul, says this: “If we can endure with patience the suffering of being displeasing to ourselves, we will indeed be a pleasing place of refuge to our Lord.”

As we receive him in Holy and Loving Communion, may he and all sinners find in our humble hearts a pleasing place of refuge.

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Posted by on Jan 20, 2015

Why Do Children Suffer? Pope Francis Speaks to Filipino Youth

Why Do Children Suffer? Pope Francis Speaks to Filipino Youth

 

The video and the text are largely in Spanish, though a simultaneous translation into English is included. This is a summary of a small part of the Pope’s extemporaneous speech.

During a presentation to young people in the Philippines, the Holy Father set aside his prepared text to answer a question that had been raised by a 12 year old girl who had been rescued from the street. Tearfully weeping, Glyzelle Palomar, recounted the miseries of her life in a few words and asked, “Many children are abandoned by their own parents, many are victims of many terrible things such as drugs and prostitution. Why does God permit these things even though the children are not at fault.Why do so few people come forward to help?” In this video we can view the scene and the Pope’s compassionate embrace of the child.

What response is possible to the perennial problem of evil? Pope Francis did not try to evade the question with platitudes. He took the question head-on, educating about 30,000 of the faithful and challenging them. First, he noted the shortage of women among those making presentations and he emphasized the importance of the point of view of women. The Pope said that women pose questions which men could never stop trying to understand, that is, never grasp.

We can understand something, added the Holy Father, “when the heart reaches the place in which it can ask the questions and cry. Only through tears do we arrive at a true compassion which can transform the world.” Pope Francis described a common, worldly type of compassion as one in which we just take a coin out of our pocket. He added that if Christ had shown this type of compassion, he would simply have spent a little time with a few people and gone back to the Father. Jesus could comprehend our lives, the Pope said, when He was able to cry and did cry.

He notes, “In today’s world, there is a lack of crying. Although the marginalized, the poor, and the outcasts cry, those of us who do not lack anything essential do not cry. Only those eyes that have been cleansed by tears are able to so see things as they are.”

The Pope challenged the faithful. “Let us not forget (this young woman’s) testimony. She asked the great question ‘why do children suffer?’ crying. And the great answer all of us can give is to learn how to cry.”

 

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Posted by on Jan 20, 2015

¿Por qué Sufren los Niños? Papa Francisco a Los Jóvenes en Filipinas

¿Por qué Sufren los Niños? Papa Francisco a Los Jóvenes en Filipinas

 

El Santo Papa dejó su texto preparado para contestar la pregunta que le había puesto una niña rescatada de la calle.  Con lágrimas, gemiendo, Glyzelle Palomar contó en pocas palabras las miserias que había padecido y preguntó, “Hay muchos niños abandonados por sus propios padres, muchas víctimas de muchas cosas terribles como las drogas o la prostitución. ¿Por qué Dios permite estas cosas, aunque no es culpa de los niños? ¿Y por qué tan poca gente nos viene a ayudar?” En este video podemos ver el escenario y la compasión del abrazo del Santo Padre.

¿Qué respuesta es possible al perenne problema de la maldad? El Papa Francisco no trataba de evadir la cuestión con palabras blandas y dulces. Enfrentó la cuestión enseñándoles a unos 30 mil de los fieles y desafíandoles. Primero notó la escasez de mujeres en las presentaciones y la importancia del punto de vista feminino. Dijo el Pontífice que la mujer se puede hacer preguntas que los hombres “no terminamos de entender.”

Podemos entender algo añadió El Santo Papa “cuando el corazón alcanza a hacerse la pregunta y a llorar.” Solamente por lágrimas llegamos a la verdadera compasión que se puede transformar al mundo. El Papa Francisco describió una compasión mundana por lo cual solamente sacamos una moneda del bolsillo. Añadió que si hubiera Cristo demonstraba esa compasión, hubiera pasado unos momentos con algunas personas, y se hubiera vuelto al Padre. Jesucristo entendió nuestros dramas, dijo El Papa, cuando fue capaz de llorar y lloró.

Declaró, “Al mundo de hoy le falta llorar, lloran los marginados, lloran los que son dejados de lado, lloran los despreciados, pero aquellos que llevamos una vida más o menos sin necesidades no sabemos llorar. Solo ciertas realidades de la vida se ven con los ojos limpiados por las lágrimas.”

El Papa desafió a los fieles “No olvidemos este testimonio. La gran pregunta ‘por qué sufren los niños’ la hizo llorando. Y la gran respuesta que podemos hacer todos nosotros es aprender a llorar.”

 

 

 

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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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Posted by on Dec 17, 2012

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

Rejoicing When our Hearts are Breaking

Gaudete!

During the third week of Advent, we are called to rejoice because the Lord’s coming is imminent. The very name of the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete, comes from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon for the day’s Mass, “Rejoice.” The prayer continues, quoting St. Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice” (Phil 4:4). That little word, “always,” is not to be ignored.

Sometimes terrible things happen in our world. This past week we’ve seen the killing of many innocent children and adults at a school in the United States. In other parts of the world civil wars are raging, religious persecution is taking the lives of people as they gather for worship, girls and women are beaten or shot for daring to seek an education, and more mundanely, people die as a result of accidents, miscarriages, illness, or old age — holiday season or not! We find ourselves asking how a loving God can do that to us. How can God take the lives of innocent people? Where is God when we are hurting?

“Rejoice … Always”

Yet St. Paul is there to remind us with that little word, “always,” that there’s much more going on than we might actually see or recognize. Perhaps we’re not even noticing that it isn’t God who’s doing these terrible things to us. In our pain, with our hearts breaking, we don’t always see God present in the ones who step forward to help, in the ones who risk and sometimes give their own lives to protect the lives of others, in the ones who must help individuals and families pick up the pieces of their lives and continue onward despite the great hole left in their hearts. Yet that is exactly where God is. God is there with each grieving person, present in the friends and family who gather to be with those who have suffered a loss. God is there in the doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers who care for the sick or injured. God is there in those who send flowers because they can’t come in person. God is there. God is here. God is present in the silence of hearts that cannot speak because the pain is too great. God is present — crying with them and holding them close.

So we struggle to trust in God and find ways to give thanks through our tears for God’s presence. We try to rejoice that God notices each life born, each life lived, and each life that reaches its point of transition to new birth into eternity. We sing through our tears at funerals. We gather in family and religious communities to remember those who have passed on and to support and encourage each other in faith. We rejoice for the gift of life, however short, that each person has brought to our world. And we remember another one who died too young, taken in His prime, subjected to terrible torture, and publicly executed on trumped up charges. One whose birth we soon will celebrate. One who was raised up and will never die again — the Firstborn of the dead. And because we remember, we can begin to rejoice even when our hearts are breaking.

May peace and joy return to each of our hearts as we remember God’s great love. May we recognize God present in each other and work to help bring about the changes necessary to reduce the numbers of new people who will have to experience tragic deaths of loved ones and somehow find their way to seeing and rejoicing in God present, Emmanuel, among the ashes of their dreams and hopes.

Photo (Three Candles) by Alice Birkin – public domain

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Posted by on Sep 11, 2012

Opening and Being Opened

On this anniversary of the tragedy known as 9/11, it’s all too tempting to circle the wagons, draw in our hearts and hands, refuse to risk reaching out to the stranger among us, set up barriers of Us vs Them, and otherwise behave in closed, angry, hostile ways. But that is not the way of Christ.

This past Sunday, September 9, Fr.Ron Shirley’s homily was on the reading from Mark’s Gospel 7:31-37: the healing of the deaf mute. His insights on opening and being opened by Christ are worth pondering.

Be Opened 9-9-2012

The Gospel of Mark is the oldest Gospel we have. There are many special things about it. One of the most special things is that it contains several original words of Jesus. Words in Jesus own language – Aramaic – that he must have spoken himself.

We have one of these words today, a very powerful word: Ephatha, which means “Be Opened.” Say it with me: EPHATHA!
Being opened is the opposite of being shut, of being clenched.

Do me a favor, will you. Clench your hands. Clench your hands as hard as you can and make fists. Keep it like that for just a few minutes, until I tell you.

A clenched fist gives a person a sense of power. We clench our fists when we get really mad, really frustrated, really full of hate.

A clenched fist is an ugly thing.

But not nearly as ugly as a clenched face. We clench our faces when we criticize too harshly, when we judge harshly, when we look down on someone or put out an arrogant attitude.

A clenched face is an ugly thing … but not nearly as ugly as a clenched heart. Our hearts get clenched when we are full of hatred and vengeance. Other things that can clench the heart are greed, envy, jealousy, or rage when we don’t get our own way.

(Keep your fist clenched a little bit longer)

Sometimes whole families can be clenched, whole parishes, whole communities.

And to the clenched community, the clenched family, the clenched heart, the clenched face, the clenched hand, the clenched ears, the clenched tongue, Jesus comes and says EPHATHA! BE OPENED!

I hope those of you who have clenched your hands are getting really tired. You should be. Now I’ll ask you to slowly, slowly unclench your hands: EPHATHA! BE OPENED!

Isn’t that better?

One day you will be completely unclenched. On the day when we rise to glory, it will be wonderful. We will be holding on to God completely and fully … because we won’t be holding anything else.

In the meantime, we Christians try to let go, little by little, of pains and wounds and regrets and resentment and anger. And Jesus is here helping us.

I close with this:

Jesus came to me. He saw that my mind was clenched. I can’t stand them. Those groups. Those people. That person. EPHATHA, he said BE OPENED! But I replied, Lord they hurt me. They threaten me. They violate me.

“I know, he said. Like the people who were cruel to me on Good Friday. My mind wanted to clench shut. The thought of them was like a crown of thorns tightening around my temples. But I opened myself up and God raised me, making me the Savior.”

Jesus came. He saw my hands were clenched. I’m not going to help another person. I’m not going to help the church anymore. I’m not going to reach out to my neighbor again. No one appreciates it.

“I know, Jesus said. Like the people who didn’t appreciate me. Sometimes when I opened my hands it felt like they were hammering nails through it. But I opened myself, and God raised me, making me the Savior of the world.”

Jesus came. He saw that my heart was clenched. So full of anger, so bitter, so jealous. Ephatha, he said. Be opened! I’m so tired of loving people. Often they don’t love me back. And when I opened my heart it feels sometimes like a great spear pierces me to my very soul.

“I know, said Jesus. Believe me, I understand. But when the spear pierced my heart, I opened myself to it, to the world, to the father … and God has raised me up.”

Ephatha! Be Opened! God will raise you up also!

Close your eyes; clench your fists – what else in your life is clenched?

EPHATHA! I am going to help you, says Jesus!

Fr. Ron Shirley, September 9, 2012

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Posted by on May 25, 2012

A Second Gift of the Holy Spirit: Understanding

Events happen, both good and bad, feelings arise, people say amazing or unusual things; but, we may not understand these or perceive why they happened.  We might also be filled with a great peace and have no idea why it arose.  The gift of Understanding is given so that we may perceive the meaning of things.  Understanding builds on but goes beyond a basic intellectual process in which we analyze the causes and meanings of all the facets of life.

God wants us to understand him/herself first.  This is a lifelong process.  As it says in Isaiah 55: “My ways are not your ways.”  As we call upon God and study God in the Bible, the liturgy, and the words of others, we increase in our understanding of how God works in the world and in us.  We might want God to change us or heal us. We might want this right now.  But God may want to leave some aspects of us unchanged or may lead us through a long process.  God’s ways may seem like a long road trip on which we make many stops, sojourn in all kinds of places, get diverted, break down, climb hills, meet the strangest people, etc.  In this process of coming to understand God, we will become more like God.

Understanding moves us closer to the reality we ponder if that reality encompasses goodness, truth, beauty and/or love.   As we understand more and more, we will be capable of understanding even more.  Understanding allows us to be increasingly open and able to incorporate even more awareness because it gives us a mature knowledge of how things work.  After we realize that God works in steps and gradually accustoms us to hard work, we begin to appreciate the progress we have made and not argue so much with the difficult things that come our way.  Frustrations and disappointments start looking like opportunities.  The computer acting up or having someone snap at me can be an opportunity to be an Observer Self and to experiment with putting the computer in God’s hands or taking a deep breath before replying — a response I may never have tried before now.  We may want a hurt or fear to go away and not realize that the way it is going to go away is to have a similar bad experience happen or to relive the original bad experience and be given the grace to go through it with God or with another loving  person.  The more we surrender our lives to God, the more we will understand how God is involved and why things are happening in the way they are.

Understanding includes perceiving who we are and why we do the things we do.  It is the gift to be able to penetrate deeper and deeper into the unconscious and to gain insight into all those good or impaired aspects of ourselves from which we hide. In this gift we travel back into our family and personal histories and see how everyone and all the various ups and downs make sense.  We understand how our era, birth order, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic class,  personality characteristics, physicality, geography, and religion have contributed to who we are.  Along the way, God gifts us with insight, even into horrendous things that may have happened. It is not that what happened was perfectly fine; but, with understanding we see how God took the terrible and brought something unexpected and beneficial out of it for us.  There can be an understandable and difficult struggle with understanding.  Things that have caused pain are normally repressed.  We do not want to think about them.  These memories may even be unavailable to our conscious minds. Spiritual growth, though, involves integrating the painful into our consciousness so that it can be used in new and positive ways.  Repressed feelings and memories also take energy away from us because it takes quite a bit of psychic energy to monitor and filter repressed material.  Little by little, God draws us to understand ourselves.  We begin to see what is motivating us or blocking us. We also begin to see what our deepest desires are.

Understanding also refers to perceiving the truth about others.  It implies an empathy for others.  Understanding involves getting at the meaning of what is happening in our relationships.  We may think that a particular relationship is about fun or adventure, but it may really be about being competitive with that person in order to feel good about myself.  I may think that someone dominates conversations all the time just to be mean or to get attention, but in fact, that person may be terrified of being seen as him or herself and is trying to distract the group from the supposed truth.  We may be gifted with understanding what is really going on with people.  We may see past the appearances.

Finally, understanding extends to the course of history.  Societal events can be frightening or depressing.  The gift of understanding can allow us to see what God is doing with humanity.  The Paraclete can enter our minds and feelings and make us realize the growth process that lays before us on this Earth.  We can calm down because we see meaning in the challenges that happen everyday.  We can see the freedom that people exercise and the choices they make as part of the struggle to grow up.  God cannot force humans to be good.  We have to learn it on our own.  The gift of understanding gives us a perception of what is happening on this bigger scale.  It allows us to surrender to a God who is smarter than we.  To trust more, to hope more.

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Posted by on May 11, 2012

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

Blessed Julian of Norwich Feast Day — “All is Well”

 

Julian of Norwich - Stained Glass Window from Church

 

May 13 is the unofficial Feast Day of Julian of Norwich, the English mystic and saint of the Middle Ages.  We cannot be sure of her birth and dates but she lived approximately from 1342-1416.  Her lifespan and location were situated in times of great distress in England.  Three waves of the Black Death had swept over England and Norwich was particularly hard hit as it was a commercial center, especially of the wool-textile trade with the Netherlands, which brought with it the bacteria from the Continent.  Julian was an anchoress at the church of St. Julian.  We have a historical record of people visiting her for advice and prayers.  We do not know why she was not canonized by the Catholic Church.  One reason is likely that she left behind relatively few writings.  Another is likely because her writings contained teachings that would have been considered controversial by some scholars.  Teachings about Christ as mother and that God sees our sins as a way for us to learn about ourselves would have offended or worried many clerics of her day.

In 1373 we read that Julian had 16 visions in which she was saw and heard revelations related to God, creation, evil, sin,  salvation, and the human person. She recorded these revelations at the time and then some 20 years later produced a longer version, called the Long Text, in which she integrated the many thoughts communicated to her by Christ about the meaning of the 16 visions and locutions.

Julian is optimistic in a time of when people questioned the goodness of life and how God regarded them.  She recorded that Christ said to her that “All will be well and all is well.” She explains how all can and will be well. Julian also recounts wonderfully warm images of us and Christ who holds us tenderly and celebrates us as his “crown.”

Another reason to celebrate this great saint is that she is believed to be the first woman to write a book in the English language.  She is also a pioneer, with Chaucer, in creating literature in Middle English.  After many years of Norman control of England, the French and their language were driven out.  The English language had degenerated into a language of the lower classes with a very poor vocabulary.  Julian is responsible for creating many new and very useful words to articulate her scholarly theological presentations and to give colorful descriptions of what she saw in the visions.

Julian’s texts, which she referred to as the “shewings” (Showings in contemporary libraries), are very inspiring and provide satisfying answers to many questions which Christians have.

Image of Stained Glass Window borrowed from Satucket Lectionary entry for the Feast of Julian of Norwich

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Posted by on Apr 26, 2011

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

Violence and Atonement: A Necessary Link?

Fireweed by Joseph N. Hall

The relationship between violence and atonement is closely woven in scripture and theology but it seems inimical to me. As a life long Catholic, anthropologist, and amateur theologian, I grew up with the notion of the Mass as the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary. Things changed after Vatican II to a focus on the Paschal mystery. Despite all of the language we have about the Father requiring satisfaction, it does seem contrary to Jesus’ own teaching about the fact that human fathers, “evil as you are,” would not give your son a stone when he asks for bread. (Matt 7:11)

Clearly, there is patriarchal and tribal language in the concept of satisfaction. This is still prevalent, as seen in a recent gang rape case in Pakistan. A young woman was brutally gang raped by men of another sub-tribe because her 13 year old brother had apparently flirted with a young girl of the other group. To settle the conflict and avoid greater reprisals, the elders of the young woman’s group offered her as a settlement. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/apr/22/world/la-fg-pakistan-rape-20110422

This is not only revolting to our current sensibilities, but it challenges the notion of sacrifice in the tribal sense. My own existentialist take on redemption has to do with authenticity. God took upon Himself our human condition and brought mercy, healing, and peace. For this he was publicly tortured to death.

My own post-modern sense is that the Father is not so much offended by our sin as appalled by it, as an act of vandalism or destruction of works of great beauty conceived in boundless love. The freedom that is required for the reciprocation of love can also be used to reject it. I personally cannot conceive of an infinite God who is somehow diminished or “offended.” To continue to anthropomorphize the Father as a post-modern, post-Freudian human father leads us to a Father, Son, and Spirit caught up in the continuing ongoing creation of bonum diffusivum sibi – good diffusive of itself. The Incarnation and Christ event are the result of an unlimited and unconditional love.

Clearly, this post-modern language flies in the face of Old Testament pastoral society and the cult of Temple sacrifice in the New Testament. Early Christians had to find a way to explain the Christ event in their own cultural and historical context. However, there is no denying that a post-modern Father is less monstrous to the secular humanist ethics and sensibilities that derive from the Christian tradition of the West.

As terrible as the death of Jesus was, it was completely overshadowed by the fact that no evil can come between us and the Love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:39)

The great peril of a tribal metaphor is not its irrelevance nor its systemic violence, but rather the chasm it creates between God and us that continues to be the original and fundamental blasphemy alienating us from God and ourselves. The preface to the Eucharistic prayer at the Mass of the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday begins in astonishment “Father, you love us still and sent us the Christ.” Yes, what amazement there is, that in spite of our rejection, God never stopped loving us.

The demand for violence attributed to the Father elevates evil to the level of the divine. The unrelenting intrusion of the divine in the human train wreck, of necessity, requires God to confront violence; which he does with non-violence – even to death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)

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Posted by on Aug 18, 2009

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

Aurelius Augustinus – You Done Us Wrong?

Redwoods

While camping recently with my wife and daughter in the redwoods near Santa Cruz, I spent some time with an enlightening and very readable book.

Christopher Hall in Learning Theology With the Church Fathers does a good job of summarizing St. Augustine’s notion of the fallen nature of humanity. St. Augustine is convinced that something went terribly wrong when Adam ate the forbidden fruit so that we are not capable of really loving and knowing the good until we are redeemed in Baptism. Of course this led not only to the notion of infant baptism but also to the notion that unbaptized infants would suffer the wrath of God in eternal punishment. It is logically consistent but it seems to be extreme and never became as much of a prominent idea in the Orthodox East as it did in the Catholic and Protestant West.

This doesn’t square with the Black civil rights assertion of human dignity: “God don’t make no trash!” In fact, it seems at odds with the fundamental goodness of creation which St. Augustine upheld in the face the Gnostic conception that creation was a mistake by a lesser god and matter is evil.

Today we might explain these things as laziness, psychological conflicts, compulsions, addictions, or unhealthy repression.

In St. Augustine’s defense, we should remember that he is also considered one of the founders of psychology. His concepts of memory, will, and understanding as the core of individual identity still hold up in the face of contemporary neuroscience. It seems that the key problem he wrestled with from his own experience and that of people he observed was our ability to know what is good and not to be drawn to it in a way that compels our will. In other words, we know the right thing to do and we do the opposite.

For Augustine, the arena of sexual behavior was particularly problematic. Unfortunately, for example, he didn’t have our understanding of human sexual anatomy and physiology and he felt that what we would call involuntary responses were a sign of lack of control and the conquest of the will. His promiscuous sexual behavior prior to his conversion appears to us post-moderns as bordering on addiction. Today, in contrast, we might view orgasm as something healthy and transformative. In fact, we have made it something holy at the core of the sacrament of matrimony. However, the momentary obliteration of memory, understanding, and will made it highly suspect for an upper class Roman like St. Augustine living during the decline and fall of the empire.

Relaxing in the redwoods enjoying creation seems an awful lot like a certain lost garden. Does God really need to be appeased or does he just continue to reach out to us in love – the beautiful love of creation? Are we only saved in Christ if we are baptized? Is salvation questionable outside the community of the baptized faithful? The traditional and orthodox answers are yes. Is everything else outside the assembly’s official teaching false? The official answer is yes.

What about the Spirit hovering over the abyss? About the eruption of God in space-time? Is our teaching about faith or about certainty? The church fathers sought revelation in the written books and the book of nature. Does not all creation shout the glory of God? Did not Jesus put all things right? Would a God of love do it for just a few?

Would a father or mother provide for only some of their children and leave the rest in eternal darkness? “Evil as you are would any of you give your son a scorpion when he asked for bread…” Would a father or mother require death by hideous torture of a beloved son?

In terms of making some sense of the death of Jesus in a culture in which thousands of animals were sacrificed each day as part of official worship, the notion of Christ as the final and only suitable victim is comprehensible. His final and complete sacrifice also explain the loss of the Temple and the genocide of a people lost in hopeless insurrection. How else could the death of God’s son make any sense? Yet once we begin this paternal projection and anthropomorphism of the One God, our words and images fall on hard ground.

Per usual, I have begun at the end, since Learning Theology With the Church Fathers actually begins with wonderful treatments of what we used to call De Deo Uno (the one God) and De Deo Trino (the triune God). Hall takes the wise course of not trying to explain the indescribable but begins by the efforts of the early Hellenistic church trying somehow to grasp the reality behind the hymns of praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the one God and to Jesus as the Eternal Word.

How can this be? Yes, that is the question, whether one is caught up in the majesty of the redwoods or the radiant light from light, begotten not made causing them to break forth into the Song beyond all hearing that is Music, Word, and Divine Rhythm.

St. Augustine’s famous Chapter 10 of The Confessions says it much better than I could.

Late have I loved you,
O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you!

You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you.
In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.

You were with me, but I was not with you.
Created things kept me from you;
yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.

You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for you.

I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

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Posted by on Mar 14, 2009

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

A Weekend With the Holy Trinity

shackcoversm

There are all kinds of stories of growing up Catholic but very few that focus on that core of the culture that is the Sign of the Cross. “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” This Trinitarian invocation begins and ends almost every event, every ritual, every meal – whether it is a blessing pronounced by the Pope or the gesture we learn from our parents before we can talk.

For all of Catholicism’s lengthy tradition, its mantras and catchphrases, Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday that fails to attempt in words what is incomprehensible. The priest who has a sermon for each Sunday looks into his bag or online list of stock themes, works hard on the presentation, and raises the white flag of surrender as he steps into the pulpit. The standard disclaimer is “We really cannot understand the Trinity. It is a matter of faith.” After confusing those who are awake in the congregation with St. Patrick’s shamrock “three in one” or various other analogies, he repeats the opening disclaimer and makes a hasty retreat to the Nicene Creed, where we sleepwalk our way through beautiful Trinitarian poetry that we ignore out of repetition. “…Light from light, True God from True God, Begotten not made, One in Being with the Father…”

For those of us who graduated from Catholic schools and had a good review of the Trinitarian controversies of the first three centuries and the further travails of this teaching in Church history, the sense of incomprehensibility grows.

William Paul Young’s allegory, The Shack, presents a weekend encounter with the Holy Trinity by a deeply wounded and grieving father. It is a mystical healing encounter that shows us that our concept of God has more to do with us than with the Divine. As a work of fiction it is easier for us to comprehend than the abstractions of theology. The contemporary setting and the issue of why the innocent are slaughtered make this central Mystery more accessible to us than the writings of the mystics who lived in different times and cultures.

I encourage you to read the book. Once you do, that automatic gesture – the Sign of the Cross will be the gift that it is – an entry point to the very life of God.

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Posted by on Dec 4, 2008

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

De Vita: Toward a Christian Philosophy of Life

Madonna by Ralph & Shelly Neibuhr

Latin Baby by Ralph & Shelly Neibuhr

 

In an interview on National Public Radio yesterday, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee offered a very intelligent and fluent presentation of the pro-life position. While being interviewed about his new book, Do the Right Thing, he stated clearly and succinctly that life has to be seen as sacred and valued and that humans cannot be wantonly discarded when they are inconvenient or an economic liability. The big danger, as Mr. Huckabee pointed out, is that if we teach our children that certain marginal people are disposable, we ourselves may become disposable once we are old and infirm.

One of the listeners emailed a questioned about the consistency of an anti-abortion position and one in favor of capital punishment. Mr. Huckabee allowed that there might come a point when the case could be made to eliminate the death penalty. Even as he praised those who participated in candle light vigils outside the Governor’s mansion protesting the execution of criminals, Mr. Huckabee said that the taking of such lives occurred not at the whim of an individual mother but after an exhaustive judicial process. He made the point that some crimes are so severe and the danger to society is so great that killing people is the one definite way to make sure that such people will never commit this crime again. He added that the death penalty is a deterrent that benefits society.

His presentation was very sincere, yet there was something that made me uneasy about it. Is re-criminalizing abortion truly a pro-life position? Abortion still occurred when it was illegal. Making it illegal once again will not stop the practice. Philosophically, a true pro-life position requires supports and incentives for the care and nurturing of all – at every stage of life. An acceptance of abortion can represent a coarsening of the public’s view of unborn children and human life.  An acceptance or a toleration of abortion is seen by many as leading to a debasement of the human fetus and of motherhood itself.

Nevertheless, if we criminalize abortion, we won’t stop it. We can “enjoy” taking the moral high ground, but I think that this is an illusion. What happens when women do not have safe and legal access to abortion? The mother and child relationship becomes socialized without the benefit of the social and economic supports necessary to lead a life of worth and dignity.

If we accept the view that birth control is also immoral, we are holding to an idealized view that sex only occurs in marriage and that in natural family planning, reason and ovulation always win out over human passion.

Although well intentioned – that great pavement on the road to perdition – the movement to re-criminalize abortion does not represent a well integrated philosophy of the dignity and worth of life. Criminalization could very well return us to a public policy that moves us away from a humanistic and Christian philosophy of life.

Morally, one can advocate an idealized Christian lifestyle focused on virginity, abstinence, and separate beds for married couples, but pastoral applications of moral theology have always been more about actual living – and dealing with the messiness of life.

Perhaps, what we are really wrestling with is the notion of what it is to be inhuman. Interrupting an otherwise healthy pregnancy without a very compelling reason still appears to have a lot of support as being an inhuman activity. Then again, the notion of placing a woman at risk of death because she does not share our beliefs or because she perceives she has no other choices also appears to have widespread support as something that is inhuman.

Can you have a secular policy that permits abortion and even physician assisted suicide? It is hardly a Christian position. Then again, perhaps the Christian witness is better seen in public policy that makes these choices less necessary and less desirable. If we insist that public policy has to be Christian in a post-Christian civilization, we may be doing something that is not really very Christian – we may be claiming (against the teaching of St. Paul) – that the law can save us.

(Image taken from Shelly Niebuhr’s home page: http://shellyn.com/pageForLarger.html)

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Posted by on Apr 6, 2008

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

The Encounter at Emmaus

emmaus.jpg

I have been struck by the stories this Resurrection Season because for the first time, they strike me not as eye witness accounts of the Risen Christ, but as the challenge of faith for the disciples and us. The disciples on the way to Emmaus are leaving Jerusalem – returning home, perhaps, – grief stricken, but more importantly, disillusioned. The teacher has failed. The forces of evil have destroyed a very good and wonderful young man.

One way to see this story is to take it as another proof of the Risen Christ as encountered by his disciples. The story does convey this message. However, the story also tells us that we find the Risen Christ when He opens our minds to see the scriptures and when our hearts are opened at the Breaking of the Bread. Look for Him in the scriptures and invite Him in to dinner and your hospitality will be more than repaid.

There is just a glimpse – a flash of recognition and he disappears from our midst. The presence of the Risen Christ is a momentary and ongoing discovery. It is the result of searching, wandering, questing in grief and disillusionment and being open to the challenge of the Stranger.

All of us have moments, years, decades, in which everything we knew and had hoped for is swept away. The disciples had no clue of what was to become of their beloved teacher, but his torture and death threw them into utter grief and confusion. Yet their confusion only increased when they heard that other disciples had found the empty tomb and seen the angels. They were re-grouping, leaving town, trying to get some distance. A Stranger notices their grief and inquires. They listen and reflect on the scriptures and Break Bread.

This is the Christian life – the quest and the encounter in the village of Emmaus – continuing through all generations.

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Posted by on Mar 22, 2008

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

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

christ-of-maryknoll.jpg

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

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

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

Enter God’s protectors:

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

The Blogger Offers a Parable:

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

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

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

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

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Posted by on Feb 7, 2008

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

Christ in the Desert and the County Jail

christ-of-maryknoll.jpg

On Shrove Tuesday, while much of the world was at Mardi Gras, I was praying and sharing scripture with a small group of inmates at the county jail. Our scripture was the Temptation of Christ (Luke 4:1-19). One thing that emerged in our prayer and reflection was Christ’s acceptance of the Father’s way of rejecting power and advantage in the announcement of the Kingdom.

Why take the hard way? God could have redeemed us in many different ways. Why such a horrible death? Why did the Spirit drive Jesus into the wilderness after his baptism by John? Why was the Son of God fasting and praying for 40 days?

One of our group restated a common view that the offenses of humanity had become so severe that God demanded the most severe appeasement. I suggested that maybe the answer was in the persistence of evil in our lives. For so many of the men I was praying with, their lives had been damaged by forces beyond their control – poverty, addiction, and mental illness. (Hardened criminals generally don’t come to a prayer meeting in our jail. The faith of those who do come is something, I am sure that Jesus did not find in Israel and does not find in most respectable Christians.)

Christ, who was like us in all things but sin, chose to identify with the powerless and to put his faith in the Father through non-violence. Utter foolishness – according to St. Paul. In our suffering and defeat how could we be one with a God who was not defeated – a God who was not an utter failure? Did the Father exact this humiliation out of a some perverse pleasure unworthy of a human father?

That community of Divine love – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – Creator, Redeemer, Breath of Life come to the heart as love. Love can never be forced. True love can never come through power, glamour, or glitz. As we reflected and prayed it became more obvious to us that God can only come to us in compassion and that is how we come to him. Yet compassion is not compatible with power, wealth, and success – like a camel passing through the eye of the needle.

God with us. God like us. Powerless in love.

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