Pages Menu
RssFacebook
Categories Menu

Posted by on Aug 22, 2021

Decisions and Commitments

Decisions and Commitments

Readings for the Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time tell the story of commitments made long ago and the decisions that accompany the commitments.

We begin once again with the ancient Hebrew people. They have left Egypt, traveled through the Sinai Peninsula’s arid lands for 40 years, and now, under the leadership of Joshua, have entered into the Promised Land. Was the land empty and in need of a large community of people to enter and settle there? No. Were the peoples already living there happy to welcome newcomers? No. Did the peoples living there worship just one deity? No. Might there be some problems? Yes. Yes. Yes!

The Hebrew people were descendants of a few people who had left Ur (in modern day Iraq) many centuries earlier. They had lived in Canaanite lands before moving to Egypt during a great famine. They stayed in Egypt for a long time, growing from the families of the twelve original sons of Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) to be a very large group of people. To prevent their developing an alliance with potential invaders from the east, Egyptian rulers enslaved the Hebrews. Moses, an Israelite child raised by an Egyptian princess, under the inspiration and guidance of God, eventually led the people to freedom and began the 40-year sojourn in the Sinai. In the Sinai, the covenant agreement established with Abraham, from whom they all descended, was re-established. Now, as they at last enter again the land where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had lived, it’s time to reconfirm their agreement.

Joshua (Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b) reminds them of their history and of all God has done for them. Will they remain true to God in this land to which they have come. Will they remember to worship only God, not the gods of the people living there, nor the gods they or their ancestors might have worshipped in the past? Will they obey the Law given to them in the desert, the instructions about how to live in peace and justice with each other and with those non-Hebrews who live among them? Joshua declares that he and his family will do so. The rest of the people respond that they also will do so.

It was a big commitment, especially since they would be living among many other peoples. Through the centuries that followed, there were times when they were faithful and times when they were not. Sometimes they lived in peace with their neighbors. Sometimes they were conquered. They explained these experiences in terms of whether they had been faithful to their Lord God or had not. When they were faithful, things went well. When they were not, things did not. Did God really turn away from them? No, God doesn’t do that. But there are consequences of decisions made and sometimes those consequences are not what we would prefer.

A commitment was made by the Hebrew people that day at Shechem. The decision to abide by that commitment had to be made again and again.

Many of the people who were disciples/followers of Jesus also had to make a commitment/decision after they had seen him feed a large crowd in an arid countryside. They had come to him back in town, wanting to see more miracles. Jesus didn’t give them more miracles. They spoke of the manna in the desert given by Moses. He reminded them that God had provided the manna. He then spoke of bread from heaven that would give the fullness of life to the world. As the conversation continued, he shocked all by declaring that he himself was the bread of life. His body and blood would bring life to the world. And, most shocking of all, they would have to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have this fullness of life. That would be absolutely unthinkable for a good Jew or for members of most other human societies. In cultures that allowed consumption of human flesh, it was often done as a form of respect for the courage or strength of the one who had been killed (if an enemy), but that is not the case for the Hebrew people. Blood was never to be consumed because that was something associated with sacrifice of animals and children to the gods in the surrounding countries. It was forbidden absolutely in the Law. To this day, meat is koshered to remove any blood from it.

Jesus watched as most of his former followers walked away from him and returned to their prior way of life (Jn 6:60-69). He turned to his twelve closest friends and asked them bluntly, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter responded with a great statement and commitment, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” For better or for worse, this Jesus is different and special from all others. For John, this is another statement that Jesus is Divine Wisdom in the flesh.

A commitment was made by Peter and the others that day in Capernaum. This decision led to following Jesus through his life, death, and Resurrection – then out to the rest of the Roman Empire, announcing the good news of God’s love for all of us.

Lastly, we look at St. Paul and his instructions to the Ephesians (Eph 5:21-32) about the relationship between husbands and wives. This is one of the most misunderstood readings in the Bible. Paul does not think in terms of body and soul as making up the human being. For Jews of his time, the human being is something of a flesh/spirit union, not divisible – a whole human being. Paul writes about the relationship between husbands and wives in a style familiar to the Greco-Roman world. This type of instruction typically includes the expectations of children and parents, as well as of masters and slaves.

Paul begins with an amazing statement: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” To be subordinate does not mean to obey blindly or slavishly. Even the word obey doesn’t carry the same meaning we typically give it – that of doing exactly what one is told to do. The idea here is to “listen deeply” to what is being said. This requires a commitment to respect and care for the other person. To listen not just to the words, but also to the feelings and experiences of the other, to give the other person the benefit of the doubt.

Paul instructs women to respect their husbands as they would respect Christ. Then he puts forward the idea that women are like the church, which he describes as subordinate to Christ. He tells the men that they are to love their wives as Christ loves the church, not to lord it over them. This wasn’t the norm in a time of arranged marriages in which a bride price had to be paid and women could be returned in disgrace to their families if their husbands grew angry with them or tired of them. Husbands are to love their wives as much as Christ loves all of us – to the extreme of giving his own life for us. Husbands and wives – wives and husbands, become one body as the church is the Body of Christ. Our marriages are to be as sacred as the relationship between Christ and humankind. It is a great mystery, as Paul notes. Two become one, not just in the beginning of their marriage, but as they grow together through the years.

A commitment is made, followed by many decisions to love.

What commitments have we made? What decisions follow those commitments? It takes a lifetime to discover the answers.

See you at Mass.

Read More

Posted by on Jul 18, 2021

Shepherds – More than those who care for sheep

Shepherds – More than those who care for sheep

Popular imagination is based on the historical lived experience of a people. Religious imagery reflects that experience. So today, the Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, shepherds (and by extension sheep) are showing up in many of the readings. The Hebrew people were descendants of Abram and Sara, a shepherd and his wife from Mesopotamia. They were pastoralists who traveled over a wide area of countryside, seeking the best pastures for their sheep and living from the work of their hands (and feet – with all that walking). God called Abram to a special relationship and promised to be his God through all generations.

When it came time for the Hebrew people to have kings, the second king was David, a shepherd boy chosen by God to be the successor of Saul. In the Hebrew Scriptures, shepherd is a term often applied to the kings of the land. Sometimes the kings were faithful to the Covenant and sometimes they were not. Either way, the prophets spoke of them as shepherds.

Jeremiah (23:1-6) could see that his people and their kingdom were going to fall when faced by the might of Babylon. But the reason for the coming disaster had nothing to do with military might or the skill of generals. Israel had prevailed against all odds in the past. The failure this time would be the result of the failure of the rulers to be true to the Covenant.

Jeremiah speaks of these rulers as shepherds who have misled and scattered the flock of the Lord. They are not caring for the people as they have been called to do. He cries out that the Lord will be faithful, despite the misdeeds of the rulers. He will gather those who are faithful from among the nations to which they have been exiled and appoint new, faithful shepherds to guide and protect his flock.

This prophesy concludes with the messianic promise of a new king from David’s line who will shepherd the people wisely and be known as “The Lord of Justice.”

The Twenty-third Psalm is rightly loved for its promise of the loving care of the Lord who acts as a shepherd for his flock. Not only does the shepherd guide and protect the flock, the shepherd honors those for whom he cares, even in the face of those who would hurt them. Goodness and kindness characterize the care of the shepherd. The sheep, all of us in his care, will dwell in the Lord’s house for years to come.

With the coming of Jesus and the welcoming of Gentiles into the flock of the Lord as well, the divisions between peoples of the world are broken down. (Eph 2:13-18) No longer is anyone to be excluded from the flock of the Lord of Justice. The divisions among the peoples of the world were destroyed by the cross. Through Jesus, we all have access to the Father in one Spirit. The shepherd now has called the sheep from around the world and united us into one flock.

The Gospel this week (Mk 6:30-34) continues last week’s story. Remember that Jesus sent out his followers to heal the sick and call people to repentance, to turn their lives back to God. This week they have returned. Mark calls them apostles now, those who have been sent. Jesus takes time to talk with them about their experience and invites them to take some time to rest, in a deserted place, away from regular life and the crowds of people who kept coming to hear and see him. However, they can’t get away on foot, so they get on the boat and head out onto the Sea of Galilee. Even that doesn’t work. The people see where they are going and walk there themselves, around the shore of the lake. When Jesus and his friends arrive, the crowds are already there.

Did Jesus get angry, get back on the boat and sail away? No. St. Mark tells us, “His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.”  He sat down and began to teach them. The shepherd had arrived. The Lord of Justice has come to his people.

Today we are challenged to be good shepherds to those sent to our care. It may be children, spouses, fellow workers, the old or the young, or people we meet on the street. How do we share the love of the Lord of Justice, the shepherd who truly cares for and loves his flock? And then, how do we rest in the green pastures to which that same Lord leads us, so we can be refreshed? Both outreach and times to rest and be renewed are essential.  Summer is a good time for both.

Read More

Posted by on Jun 15, 2021

A Mustard Seed Story

A Mustard Seed Story

Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed in the gospel of Mark always brings a smile to my face.

When I was a girl, my mother always made dill pickles. She used the same recipe her mother, grandmother, sisters, and brothers used. But each family’s pickles tasted a bit different.

No one knew why that should be until one of my aunts, who was a home economics teacher, decided to experiment with the ingredients. She made pickles one day using the same batch of cucumbers and dill from the garden, and the same brine. Then she put identical amounts of all but one ingredient into the jars. Each jar had one ingredient in a larger amount than the other jars did. Several months later, when the cucumbers had matured into dill pickles, she tasted them. The key to the spiciness of her pickles in comparison with those of all the rest of the family turned out to be the amount of mustard seed she put in the jars. She used a heaping measure of the seed. Others used a level one.

The mustard seed we all use(d) for pickles is a relatively large seed. It’s far from being “the smallest of all the seeds on the earth” as is the seed described by Jesus in St. Mark’s gospel. However, these mustard seeds were the only ones I had ever seen.

When I began teaching fifth and sixth grade religious education classes, I included this parable among the ones I shared with the children. I brought some of the seeds with me to class and asked them to glue them into their books on the page on which they had written a bit of the parable and drawn a picture of a tree with birds in it. I always cautioned them not to eat any of the seeds. Invariably, one of the boys would taste one anyway. He would then need to race from the room to get a drink of water! They asked why I had given them something so spicy and I would remind them that I had told them not to taste them.

Still, I wondered about the description of these seeds as being the smallest on earth. I knew that lettuce seeds and snapdragon flower seeds were much smaller.

Then I met Paul. Paul was from India and came to live with us for a while. He introduced me to South Asian foods, including curries, chapattis, and other delights. One of the ingredients he used was mustard seed. This was a tiny brown seed, not much bigger than the period at the end of a sentence. It was not the big yellowish one we used for pickles. It gave a lovely richly spicy flavor to the food, though it was subtle when used appropriately in the recipes.

When I met this variety of mustard, I began to understand the parable of the mustard seed. A tiny little seed could indeed make a big difference in the flavor of a food. It could grow into a much larger plant as well. Birds and other animals could thrive in its shelter.

Was the mustard seed of which Jesus spoke really the same as these mustard seeds used in cooking? Maybe not. There is a plant known as a mustard tree that grows in the Middle East. It has yellow flowers and tiny seeds. It’s more of a shrub than a tree, but it can grow to be up to 20 feet tall

Whether or not the seeds we identify as mustard seeds for cooking are the same ones Jesus mentioned is really not the important thing. What matters is that very small things can grow into much larger ones and have an effect far greater than their size.

The kingdom of God is truly like the mustard seed. It appears in very small and unobtrusive ways. No one would think twice about it or about the prospect that it could be important in any way. Yet as the poor receive food, clothing, shelter, opportunities, respect, health care, and other necessities of life, as justice (the right order of things) is restored, the kingdom begins to blossom and grow. God works with tiny things to bring about great wonders. A shoot from a tree can grow into a massive new tree high upon a mountain. A tiny seed can grow to be a beautiful flower or a tall tree sheltering birds and other creatures. And the harvest of justice marks the arrival of the Kingdom of God.

Read More

Posted by on Jun 29, 2020

A Way Through Covid 19: Blessed is the One Who Comes

A Way Through Covid 19: Blessed is the One Who Comes

When I first heard Sir Karl Jenkins’ composition Benedictus, the title alone, for me, evoked something very deep from my experience of the Mass and showed me a way through the Covid-19 pandemic.This Mass was a memorial for those who died in the Kosovo conflict (1998-1999). It is deeply moving. It contains a deep resonance of the passion for life in the face of death and the triumph of hope.It is not an easy path but it is the path of the cross and the resurrection.It is the path of discipleship.

When I researched it I found an interview with Sir Karl Jenkins the composer. He didn’t experience any real type of other worldly motivation except to work systematically, generate ideas, and then go with his intuition.He also speaks of how he put it together and how it speaks to people particularly to those who are dying or grieving the loss of a loved one.

The Benedictus – blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, is the response after the preface or opening of the Eucharistic prayer.

The preface announces and anticipates the death and resurrection of the Lord in our act of remembrance and Thanksgiving (Eucharist in Greek). We remember, we celebrate, we believe. It is the sacrifice of the innocent transformed by the coming of the Lord. War, hunger, plague are the slaughter of the innocent and innocence itself. Who stands for the fallen? How does the senseless make sense?

The question is not resolved except to say that the one who comes in the name of the Lord – like Christ dies in hope despite the throes of torment and despair.

During my brief introduction to hospital ministry, Fr. Eli Salmon, one of my preceptors and I were discussing the ICU and pastoral accompaniment. As Catholics we often think of hospital chaplaincy as the administration of the sacraments. Which is true since they are rites of peace and healing, but they are part of something deeper.

Being with the sick, the dying, or those returning to the rigors of everyday life is a ministry of hope born of faith that ushers us into that communion which is love. Fr. Eli defined his mission in the ICU as being a support for the patient’s hope in the face of death. It is the prevention of despair.

The primary mission of discipleship is to be that presence of hope – to be the one who comes not with answers, not with solutions, nor the daggers of glib religious slogans.

The Lord is with us through our presence and witness to the pandemic and its victims. As challenging and frightening as these times are, as difficult as the news is to watch, and as absurd as the evil whimsy of Covid-19 is as it grazes some and destroys others, we are the Lord God’s presence. Even as our churches are closed and the altar bare, the Eucharist of our hearts continues. We remember. We give thanks. We await the resurrection and bring forth its dawn.

Blessed is the one who comes as the Lord God.
Image from Vatican Library
Read More

Posted by on Apr 5, 2020

Palm Sunday – Jesus Comes to Jerusalem

Palm Sunday – Jesus Comes to Jerusalem

Palm Sunday has arrived once more. In 2020, as we deal with the challenges of a worldwide pandemic, it seems a good time to look carefully at the story of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem as he began the last week of his public ministry.

Here’s a word search puzzle to try, share it with children and friends, and reflect on what it all meant then and now. If you can’t find all the words, check here for the solution, but spend some time searching for them and reflecting first!

Read More

Posted by on May 14, 2018

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

Mystagogy is the fourth and last stage in RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). The term comes from the Greek for “secret.”  The reason this term is appropriate for Christianity is that the tradition understands much of its focus as being on the supernatural. By definition the supernatural is often not known nor experienced through ordinary reasoning or empirical interaction. During the time of Mystagogy, RCIA neophytes are called to deepen their experience of the Sacraments (or Mysteries) received at Easter and to understand them. The sacraments are a primary encounter of Christians with God and thus events with an ineffable dimension.

This time after the Easter Sacraments therefore includes opportunities for experience, reflection and learning.  The most important goal is that neophytes grow in closeness to God. The second goal is that they know the joy of sharing their faith in the community of the Church. Neophytes are then encouraged to reach out eventually to those not part of the church community.

For new Catholics, the Eucharist, a mystery itself, is the model and the means of why and how one can live the life of a new creation. In the Eucharist, Jesus gives himself to believers in a humble and personal way and models the self-giving and purest kind of love that happened at the Crucifixion. The Eucharist transforms and empowers recipients to live a life that is full of the kind of love we see in Jesus. As they are fed, they can go out and feed others.

This new life is not something one can read about and just do. It is not a skill. It is a relationship. As a living relationship with God, it takes time. This relationship grows through the reception of the sacraments, prayer, and doing service. The period of Mystagogy is the beginning of what St. Paul calls “putting on Christ.”  (Romans 13:14)

After the intense months of RCIA, it can be a shock for new Catholics suddenly not to be a part of a group attending the liturgy and practicing prayer, learning, and reflection. Many people involved in RCIA teams, as well as new Catholics, feel that Mystagogy, which usually lasts a month to six weeks, is not nearly long enough. Some parishes have RCIA programs that run one and one half years to two years. Other parishes encourage RCIA graduates to join Bible studies, prayer groups, adult religious education, parish retreats, and ministries within the parish community.

In the end, Mystagogy and the ensuing Christian life are a matter of trust. God lives in our depths and graces us in unseen ways. We often do not know exactly where we are going in life, but we know that Jesus is with us. During Mystagogy, the New Christian is led by the Holy Spirit deeper into God and the life of faith, both a matter of intellectual knowledge and unfathomable mystery. It is the beginning of a great adventure.

Read More

Posted by on May 9, 2018

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

“It is Time for the Lord to Act”

“It is time for the Lord to act.” These words proclaimed by the deacon to the priest in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches just before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy (known as the Mass in the Roman Catholic church) tell us something important about God’s participation in human life. The word for time used in this statement is “kairos,” meaning the perfect or decisive moment in which conditions are right for something very important to take place — a time when God acts. The beginning of a Eucharistic celebration (Mass or Divine Liturgy) is one such time.

In a very real way, the celebration of the Rite of Initiation of Christian Adults (RCIA), culminating at Easter Vigil with Baptism, Confirmation, and first reception of Communion, is a series of kairos events in the life of believers.

In Roman Catholic tradition, we have baptized infants and children for centuries. Most members of the church have no memory of their baptism. First Communion, around the age of reason, is more commonly remembered. Confirmation, when received in adolescence, is remembered more clearly. Nevertheless, the three Sacraments of Initiation are designed to be received at the same time. In fact, since Vatican II, the Church has asked dioceses around the world to re-unite them, including with the initiation of children. This is the practice in the Eastern churches.

But children are not the only source of new Christians. Adults have always come to the Christian community and asked to be admitted to membership. The process of instructing and welcoming new members has taken many forms over the 2,000 year history of our community. Since Vatican II, returning to the tradition of the early Church, the RCIA has been the way we have welcomed new believers.

This year at Easter Vigil, as we again lit the new fire and blessed the waters of baptism, we welcomed our new sisters and brothers by plunging them into the newly blessed baptismal waters or pouring the water over their heads. We have anointed them with chrism, the oil blessed by the bishop during Holy Week.  Chrism is used to anoint the hands of priests, the heads of bishops, the altar and walls of a church, and the newly baptized. In Confirmation, it is also used to anoint and strengthen the new Christian, bringing the wisdom and strength from the Holy Spirit to witness to the presence and activity of God in all creation. Finally, we complete their initiation by sharing the very Body and Blood of our Lord with them as food for the day-to-day journey of faith.

Such a lot happens in a very short time! It’s far too much to fully comprehend in the moment. It will take a lifetime to ponder and experience the growth and flowering of the seed brought to birth at Easter Vigil – the new life of faith and community of travelers on the way in God’s kingdom.

The newly baptized ideally are continuing their journey in a time of sharing and learning known as mystagogy – a time of awakening in the Spirit and entering ever more deeply into the mystery. Common reactions/experiences of those who have newly received these sacraments include a hunger for scripture, a desire to learn more, a longing for community and sharing, an urge to step away to pray and ponder what they have experienced, excitement, wonder, and joy. Eventually, they may also experience a quieting of the initial excitement, a sense of God not being so close anymore, disillusionment upon discovering the “warts” or “clay feet” of other members of the community. All of this is normal. It’s all part of the journey of faith.

Jesus’ disciples and friends did not fully understand what happened in that Kairos moment of Easter and resurrection. Two thousand years later, we still cannot explain it. God acted in a decisive way, defeating the power of death and separation between God-self and humanity by becoming one of us and experiencing human life fully. Now it is our turn to enter, as members of the Christian community, into the life of the Trinity. It is a journey of a lifetime, lived step by step by the baptized.

Welcome, Sisters and Brothers to this amazing journey. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. We look forward to learning from you of the wonders our God is doing in your life and we promise to share with you the wonders we have seen. The Kairos moment has come into our lives. Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen!

Read More

Posted by on Mar 23, 2017

The Catechumen’s Song

The Catechumen’s Song

The Catechumen’s Song

A still gentle voice
rills upon the waves
Laughs in the gulls and
sparkles in the sand

A longing deep and still
beyond believing
Within hope
a throb of love


Late have I loved thee
beauty ever ancient ever new
Let me die in your arms
and rise up anew

Where are those to take
me to you?
How a path upon the stars
your love does trace

Where is this beauty
in the path?
What turn forsakes
all else?

Sweeping low the
the salt breeze calls
My name, my name
across the dunes

Balanced against all else
the stones of life
For a season in a day
guard the path of ocean sway

Across the waves
our hulls delight
Spinnaker buckle and roil
a tack and yaw

Roll and deep
a crash and rise
At harbor’s sunset
across the bar

Day’s lagoon at tide resets
sways the dock
A fire in the mountain
challenges purple

The path a million lighted wings
sweet sage upon the mountain breath
Dawn’s sparkle bubbles
the font of agate

Upon the forest fence
descends the Dove
Beneath the flood
a rush of three

Strong arms my breath
does save anew a light
From the tomb a laugh
as butterfly does dash

Hold the colors of that flame
anointing soothes
A priest a prophet does proclaim
the Spirit of Love comes upon me

A table a gentle fare
so dearly won
The bread the wine
in faith eyes so much more

Risen, one Body
one host divine
Comes at table
in our hearts to recline

Where tells the mystery sweet
upon my ears to dance
Where finds my mind
my heart

Away from lover’s trance
to delight
In my Love’s laughter
steal away, steal away

No more I dwell alone
my loneliness meets its end
Among the lilies
I lay down my head

At one in peace
one Heart
In the one Lord
one Heart

A chance upon the breeze
swings on gossamer wings
A sweet entrance with
nectar a rainbow’s trance

Who calls in sunset’s
green flood
Whose footsteps
bid your path

Come hear the music
and the dance
Come play, steal away
and dance

Leave all else
lose yourself
Upon the even tide
on the shore He sets His Fire

Read More

Posted by on Aug 17, 2016

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Peace Flows Like a River

Water in the Desert

What I’ve discovered … is that when we show up for people in need — when we seek their well-being, flourishing, and justice, whether they ever convert to our religion or not — we might just see the transformation we long for in ourselves and in hard-to-access places around the world. – Jeremy Courtney

Baptist missionary Jeremy Courtney, his wife, and two children found themselves in the middle of the Iraq War.  In today’s attempt by some Moslems and Christians to demonize the other in a continuation of centuries of bloody warfare, Courtney has founded the Preemptive Love Coalition.

Courtney and his movement represent a broadening of the Protestant Evangelical notion of mission to one that is more in keeping with the Vatican II Catholic notion of the Christian missionary. Courtney’s approach is to pursue peace one heart at a time. “Love first and ask questions later.” became the theme of Courtney’s approach as he started helping Iraqi children to obtain life-saving and life-changing heart surgery within Iraq by increasing the capacity and capabilities of the country to care for its own children.

Courtney opens his web page, JeremyCourtney.com, with a compelling quotation from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity about how our failure to accept and embrace people we see as opponents corrupts us and our relationship with God because it leads us to a universe of pure hatred.

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Although C.S. Lewis wrote in the context of World War II and the Nazi regime, his words are especially relevant in our moral challenge of relating to Islam and to Islamic extremists.

Courtney focuses on the need for authenticity, since many Protestant missionaries pose as aid workers or teachers in countries that are hostile to Christianity. In an OpEd for CNN’s Declassifed – Untold Stories of American Spies – “Three Arguments Against Christian Covert ‘Spycraft'” Courtney decries this practice as dishonest, harmful to religious freedom, and because it “puts a target on the backs of local Christians”.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1-5

Read More

Posted by on Apr 4, 2016

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace.

Read More

Posted by on Jan 29, 2016

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

Entering into the Mystery

people-walking-on-streetAs the Church’s New Year began in Advent, in communities around the world, men and women took a huge step into  a special journey: a journey that will take them deeply into the mystery of God’s relationship with humans. These people stepped forward with their sponsors and were introduced to the people of the communities they will join. Welcomed with blessings and prayer, they entered a time of study and reflection through which they will become increasingly aware of God’s call to journey on The Way.

The Way?

Christian life in earliest times was known as The Way: the way to the Kingdom of God, begun here and now with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and unfolding through time to its ultimate fulfillment when Jesus returns and all are reunited in the mystery of God’s life. This way of living differs from the ways of others who have not chosen to follow it. It requires loving and forgiving enemies, caring for the most vulnerable in the world, acting with justice and mercy, being stewards/caretakers of the environment, and trusting that God will bring good out of all that happens, even if what happens is not what God would have wanted to see.

That doesn’t sound easy. It might even be dangerous!

Following the Way has never been a safe or easy option. Jesus, who called Himself the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6), was tortured to death, hanging naked on a cross, reviled and mocked by passers-by and abandoned by most of his friends and followers. Many of those who have followed Him have witnessed with their lives to His resurrection over the past 2000 years. The martyrs (witnesses) we remember from those early centuries are still being joined by Christians around the world today who choose death rather than renounce their Lord.

Whether called to witness with our blood or not, each of us will face times when we must speak out, saying unpopular things to people we know and whose respect we treasure. Our choice of lifestyle, leisure activities, business/work behavior, sexual ethics, and treatment of the poor and ill will all be shaped by our faith. Not all of those choices will be understood or endorsed by our peers.

Then why do it?

Despite the counter-cultural nature of a life of faith, the call to enter into the mystery is profound. The joy, peace, mercy, love, and comfort of a hug from God surpass anything of human origin. Some doors open while others shut. Funds materialize just in time to keep a project going, or they don’t come at all and something else must be done to move forward in service. Prejudices get overturned as we meet and get to know folks from other social or ethnic groups in communities of worship and service. We are continually challenged and helped to grow in wisdom and grace as we grow in age.

A life of faith is not for the faint of heart. It’s a great adventure into realms not often noticed through everyday eyes. As poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “All of Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush aflame with God; but only those who see take off their shoes.”  The glory of God shines forth in all of creaton. Those called to enter into this mystery are truly blessed. We journey forward together — those just beginning and those who’ve travelled long. Difficulties, doubts, second thoughts, and times of desolation will arise, but the promise and faithfulness of God, the overwhelming power of love and mercy, will accompany us and welcome us to an even richer life when we reach our journey’s end.

Away we go together — on The Way!

Read More

Posted by on Nov 15, 2015

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

Families and Faith: Helping Your Children to be Faith-Filled

woman-and-child-RenoirFamilies today are struggling with the challenge to fit in a day all the things they need to do. School, childcare, meals, commute, work, marriage, parenting, pets, athletics, extended family, finances, church, house, local and broader civic issues, friends, medical needs, and recreation all require thought and planning. Everyone wants their children to be happy and, for parents with faith, this includes wanting their children to be close to God, part of a community of believers, and to have a faith-filled life.

Parenting Styles

Usually families adopt some form of three parenting styles: Authoritarian, Permissive or Dialogue. The style used may vary based on situation and/or age of the child.

Some rules, such as “No running into the street,” start out as authoritarian with a very young child but with older children there can be a dialogue about the reasons. Brushing a two-year-old’s teeth is a decision from the top down (authoritarian). Later on there can be conversations about it. Permissive parenting, in which the children run the house and are allowed to break the rules or to not do the chores is usually never helpful. At times, when a child has exams, she can skip her chores or go to bed late, but that can be decided in a negotiation about the special situation. Going to church for parents with faith will be at the top of the hierarchy of choices about the family schedule. Hopefully the parents know that they need to be there — to hear the Scriptures, the preaching, or to receive the Eucharist. There may be exceptions, but being consistent will make the liturgy a natural and essential part of the rhythm of life. Church can also be a place for other involvements for children, such as religious education, roles in the liturgy, youth group, outreach, or choir. Making the liturgy more meaningful for children by providing a book to read or color can also help them engage in the Mass and enjoy it more.

But all of this will not necessarily help children to have a relationship with God or stay in the Church. A big help in this direction is if the parents have a living relationship with God, can naturally talk about it, and enjoy spending time with their children. The best approach is both organic to the parents’ entire orientation and planned strategies. Parents who know and experience God and the saints in their lives think, feel and do everything out of a spiritual orientation and discernment. In their adult relationships, home/family, work, and the world, everything hopefully is referred to God and what God is loving for them to love (even learning to trust him in little things like losing your keys). Feelings and actions that come from fear can be recognized and given to God (Discernment). If a parent grows in discernment and asks for wisdom and courage, God will give it and everything goes much better. Planning, conversations, and family problems — all are more productive. Everyone in the family can grow in peace, understanding, generosity and trust in God.

Stress and worry are a part of family life. Painful things will happen. Feeling loved by God will not prevent or remove all suffering. It will reduce anxiety and even anger. For the faith-filled family, unavoidable forms of suffering can be understood as a sharing in Jesus’ redemptive work in the world. (Mk. 10:44 ff.) We also know that he never leaves us. He asks us to lean on him and ask him for the grace to bear the heavier loads. Daily prayer — both talking to God and listening to God — can help parents to keep perspective and not take personally the problems that will come. (For work and faith ideas, see: Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney, Loyola Press: Chicago, 2005. Excellent, well written.)

Protecting Children, then Letting Them Go

One of the biggest issues that comes up in child-raising is that of control. Parents are responsible for working through the process of protecting their children and then letting go of them. Parents pour love, energy, resources, and sacrifices into family life but do not “own” their children, who in fact are gifts from God. At some point, offspring will start making their own decisions and these may not reflect the values of the parents. They may have abilities and desires that are foreign to the parents. There will be a period of time when children are learning who they are and trying out many experiences available to them. If the child has been exposed to a healthy and holy way of dealing with decisions (e.g. trust in God and discernment) in the family from infancy, they have a very good chance of seeking what God wants for them.

Adults and children can develop an interior life with God in which they recognize when they are doing actions from fear, insecurity, laziness, and/or to impress others. Children encounter many negative things in their lives both in themselves and others. Bullying, cheating, and lying are all around them. There is no harm is letting them know about the influence of the Evil Spirit too when they are older. In middle school they will encounter many forms of social climbing and meanness right next to kindness and generosity. Parents can spend time by both listening to the child and talking about the fact that God will be with them as they make the choice to be friendly to an outcast or to own up to a bad choice.

Understanding the developmental stage of your child is important for both their moral understanding and experience of faith. The work of the religious psychologist Dr. James Fowler is very helpful. His work is summarized in an article entitled “How God Invites Us to Grow: the Six Stages of Faith Development” by Richard J. Sweeney, Franciscan Media, Catholic Update, No. CU1087.

Discernment as Part of Family Life

God dwells within us and will help us sort out destructive feelings from those of courage, strength, hope, and self-worth. If parents are doing this themselves day after day and sharing this at times with their family, the children will share their successes in being strong and discerning too. Listening to our kids, wanting to know their interests and worries, will help them to feel understood. The goal is not control. The goal is that we surrender to God our desires, worries, and problems and let him tell us how best to work with them. The prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola called The Examen is very helpful in going over each day what is working and not working in my thoughts and behaviors and what I can ask God to help me with. There are many modern versions of this prayer available. Children can be taught to do this little review without dwelling on the mistakes but simply asking Jesus to be there when I am feeling pressure.

It is not by accident that our present Pope Francis speaks constantly of dialogue and seeking understanding. According to Francis, we should never be frightened of being open to understanding those who disagreed with us. (Pope Francis, homily October 4 in the Mass opening the Synod on the family, St. Peter’s Basilica) To the pope that does not mean that we cannot condemn certain philosophies and behaviors, but it does mean that we must understand and love others no matter what. Once we surrender our lives and our children’s lives to God, we can expect and ask God to help us. (E.g. blind Bartimaeus, Mk. 10:46-52) In his encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis points out that in creating a new human ecology ​​in which we all nurture the Earth, marriage ​and family are a natural base for this kind of universal solidarity. The self-giving of marriage can be taught to children, who can learn to care for the Earth and share its resources with others. Parents and children can forge a strong bond while living these values together. Parents can communicate the ways in which God reveals his love in the beauty, mystery and rhythms of Creation.

Practical Suggestions

Some practical suggestions for family life are to selectively sprinkle in your talk how you react to problems or make decisions out of your relationship with God, find times for family prayer, and ask your kids individually how things are going. One time for prayer is before dinner. Take a little time to ask people at the table if there is someone or something they would like everyone to prayer for. This can also be a bedtime ritual. It is great if parents purchase appropriate lives of the saints and read parts to younger children each night, etc. Acknowledging to a child that you know they have a concern: an exam, tryouts for a sport, a difficult subject at school, a dance coming up and saying, “I’ll pray for you,” is a good thing if it is not constant. Children are very perceptive. If you are sincere and are seeking God, they will be too. But, if God is abstract for you, children will sense this. You might consider seeing if there is a spiritual director in your parish to talk to or a retreat center in the area where you can go on a retreat, spend a few hours, or see a spiritual director. There are also wonderful websites to visit regularly, even for just 10 minutes, that have articles, mini-retreats and music. A wonderful article on prayer,  “Never Lose Heart” by Robert P. Maloney, CM, for example, is found on the America Magazine website.

Discussion (or Reflection) Questions

1. Have I experienced God or the saints ?  In what ways?

2. Do I pray? What kinds of prayer am I familiar with? Speaking and listening?

3. Can I share my faith or thoughts about spiritual things in a natural way or is this difficult?

Image: “Woman and Child” – Renoir – public domain

Read More

Posted by on Mar 24, 2015

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

The Alpha Course — Presenting and Encountering Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read More

Posted by on Feb 24, 2015

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

Catholics and Cultures: A new online resource

Plaza-centro Catholics & Cultures is a new program developed by the  Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J. Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture of the College of the Holy Cross. Its goal is to encourage comparative study of Catholic life as it is being lived around the world today. In addition to comparative studies of Catholic culture, this site aims to provide resources for teaching about the richness and uniqueness of Catholic life in our world. How do ordinary Catholics live their faith through their daily lives? How is a Catholic life different in Ireland, or Indonesia, or Brazil, or China, or India? What local customs, foods, and activities are enjoyed by Catholics in cultures around the world?

We often think that Catholicism as we experience it in our own community is the way it is everywhere and from all times. Any Catholic who has married another Catholic from a different cultural community, however, will have noticed that sometimes it seems as if the two of them are divided rather than united by the bonds of a common religion. Part of the adventure of such marriages is learning to enjoy the differences and enter into the experience of the divine from another direction or perspective.

As part of Catholics & Culture, a new journal will be produced, the Journal of Global Catholicism. The primary focus of the journal will be “lived Catholicism,” whether examined as comparative studies or specific case studies.

The site already offers wonderful resources. I’m looking forward to checking it out often and hope you will too. We’re a great big community with much to celebrate and share together!

Image by Wesisnay of a Catholic festival sand painting in Tenerife
– GNU Free Documentation License

 

 

Read More

Posted by on Feb 24, 2015

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World

800px-Petersdom_von_Engelsburg_gesehen - public domainThe Synod of Bishops and Pope Francis have asked members of the Catholic community, from both the Western and Eastern churches, to read the draft document prepared at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family last October in Rome and to respond with comments and insights drawn from their own experience of the Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World.

Generally, members of the hierarchy do not consult ordinary members of the community regarding establishment of policies for dealing with pastoral issues such as how to help people prepare for marriage, how to support married couples in their life commitment, how to care for families that are wounded or broken apart, how to help members who are not heterosexual in their orientation, how and when to welcome children into the lives of a family, and how to pass on our faith within our families.

Nevertheless, all of us have some experience in this regard, since all have lived as members of a family. The bishops are asking us to share our experiences and the wisdom we have gained through the  practical challenges of living in families as people of faith.

The document prepared in October 2014 has been published. Each diocese has been asked to distribute the draft document and a questionnaire regarding the information included in the document. The dioceses are to collect responses, and prepare a summary of the thoughts of those who live with its geographic region.

The time frame is short. Responses are needed by the end of the first week of March so there will be enough time to summarize them and return them to Rome before the bishops assemble again in October 2015.

Please read the document carefully and respond to the questionnaire honestly and prayerfully, based on your own experience. Pope Francis and the bishops really want to know what the thinking of the People of God (the Church) is on these matters, because the Holy Spirit speaks through the everyday experiences of ordinary people.

Links to the document in several European languages are included in the sidebar to the right. For readers in other countries, check with your local diocese for the document in other languages.

Surveys for the Diocese of Monterey, California are available at the diocesan website.

Read More