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Posted by on Oct 3, 2021

In God’s Image and Equal

In God’s Image and Equal

The readings from the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time are frequently misunderstood or misinterpreted. They deal with the relationship between men and women, as well as the question of marriage and divorce. Little, unimportant topics, to be sure…

Let’s take a look at them in their context and see what they are really saying to us.

The first reading is from the second chapter of Genesis. It’s from the second creation story, which addresses different questions than does the first. In the first creation story, everything comes into being in response to God’s word of command, with humans being formed by God in God’s own image – male and female they were created from the start. They represent the culmination of creation, after which God rests.

The order and manner of creation differs in the second story. In the second story, God made the earth and the heavens, but there was no grass nor were there shrubs, because there had been no rain and there were no humans to till the soil. In this story, God takes the clay mud that is found beside a stream welling up out of the earth. From this mud, God forms a man. The Hebrew words include a bit of a pun. “Man” is adam and “mud” is adama. Into this individual, God breathes some of God’s own breath of life and the adam becomes a living person.

After creating the Adam, God planted a garden in a fertile plain (eden) and placed the Adam there. Plants, trees, and all sorts of wonderful things grew in the garden and the Adam was free to eat of them. The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil also grew in the heart of the garden, and of them it was forbidden to eat.

The Lord God realized that the Adam would be lonesome without a companion, so other creatures were created. This is where our reading today picks up (Gen 2:18-24). Many animals were created, and all were given names by the Adam. But none of them was a suitable companion to him. He remained unique and lonely.

So the Lord made him sleep deeply. While he slept, the Lord took a rib from his side and formed it into another person, this one female. It is absolutely significant that the woman was formed from the side of the adam. If she had been formed from his head, it would mean she was superior to him. If from his feet, she would be inferior to him. But from his side, she was his equal.

When Adam awoke, the Lord brought the new being to him. Adam rejoiced because at last, here was a being that would be his equal and partner. He gave her a name too, again a pun. She would be known as Ishsha (woman) because she had been taken from Ishah (her man or her husband). We know her as Eve. Together they would become one unit, one body, and form new families of humans.

Psalm 128 reminds us of the great gift of husbands and wives living together in peace and raising their families. This is a great blessing bestowed on those who walk in the ways of the Lord. The text includes the notion of fear of the Lord. That doesn’t mean fear in the sense of being afraid of the Lord or of being punished for angering the Lord. Fear in this sense is more a question of the awe that comes from something too wonderful to comprehend or take for granted.

During the time of Jesus, there was a controversy in the Jewish community over whether divorce was lawful. Mosaic law allowed a man to divorce his wife, but the grounds for divorce varied, depending on which group of scholars was looking at the question. A member of one of these groups, a Pharisee, asked Jesus his opinion on the topic (Mk 10:2-16). By this time in history, women had very few rights. A man could divorce his wife. A woman had no such option. If she were divorced by her husband, she was returned to her family in disgrace and most likely would never again be married. Her status in society was completely ruined. Who would take a “used woman” for a wife? Without a man, a woman had no social standing and no rights.

Jesus goes back to before Moses for his response. He reminds his listeners that God created humans as men and women and intended them to become one unit, one body. No other human being should come between them.

In saying this, Jesus sort of side-stepped the issue raised by the Pharisee in public. However, his disciples were not satisfied and questioned him later in private. With them, he was much more direct. Divorcing a spouse and marrying another means committing adultery against that spouse. Very importantly here, Jesus places women on an equal footing with the men on this question. He assumes that a woman might also divorce her husband. The caveat is that if she remarries, she too is committing adultery against her former husband!

This is a hard thing. It’s very important today to remember that a wedding ceremony does not necessarily mean a couple are actually married in the deeper sense of becoming a creative, blessing, unit. That’s why the Church is so careful about marriages and the process for entering into a sacramental union. In a true marriage, there is a recognition that God is present in the relationship and the couple minister the presence of God to each other. Shot-gun marriages are not sacramental. Marriage just because a woman is pregnant is often not free enough to qualify. Marriage because a bride-price or dowry has been exchanged already, if one or the other partner is unwilling to enter the union, would not qualify. A marriage in which there is violence or a partner under the influence of drugs or alcohol does not qualify. When these circumstances can be identified, it is ruled that there was no marriage in the first place and the individuals are both free to marry at a later time.

Our understanding of marriage has grown and deepened through the centuries, but many challenges still arise for any couple who commit to living together as a unit, with a bond created by God. Fortunately, we have a much better understanding of human psychology today and a willingness to look deeper at the underpinnings of relationships among men and women of good will.

The Gospel reading continues with a new topic as well – children. People brought their children to Jesus to be blessed. The grown-ups thought that was not OK. Children were to be seen and not heard. They had no real rights and should not be bothering the master. But Jesus thought differently. Jesus welcomed the children and reproached those who tried to keep them away. Children are the model for all who want to enter the Kingdom of God. All must approach God with the openness and joy of a child.

In fact, according to the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 2:9-11), all who are brought to glory through the leadership of Jesus are children of the Father. Jesus, “lower than the angels” for a brief time, became perfect through suffering, and brought humans with him back to the Father. Jesus calls all of us brothers and sisters.

Created in God’s image and equal, what is our response? How do we react to one another? Whose love do we respect and support? How do we reach out to those whose lives and ways of understanding are different than ours? Are we open to hear of the ways God’s love shines in the lives of non-binary people? Do we respect people of other cultures whose traditions differ from ours? How do we model loving relationships among our peers and with our children and grandchildren?

In October we are reminded to Respect Life. Life in its many stages and forms. Life before and after birth. From womb to tomb. May we accept the challenges of supporting women, children, immigrants, refugees, old people and young people, binary people and non-binary people, and all those in-between.

We are created in God’s image and we are all equal in God’s sight.

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Posted by on Aug 8, 2021

Food for the Journey

Food for the Journey

The prophet Elijah had a problem – her name was Jezebel, wife of King Ahab. Jezebel was not an Israelite and she worshiped gods other than the Lord. More seriously, she got her husband to offer sacrifices to her god, Baal, and she ordered that all the prophets of the Lord be killed. When Elijah demonstrated clearly that Baal was not really a god and did away with Baal’s prophets, Jezebel ordered his death. He fled into the desert and lay down under a tree, praying for death to come to him there.

It is at this point that we pick up Elijah’s story in today’s reading from the first book of Kings (1 Kings 19:4-8). Elijah begs the Lord for death. He’s had enough of being a prophet and always being in trouble, having to flee for his life again and again. He wants it all to end. But that isn’t what the Lord has in mind. Elijah is awakened by an angel who tells him to get up and eat. Obediently, he does so, then lies down again to sleep. But the angel of the Lord returns and again tells him to get up and eat more, the journey will be long. Elijah obeys once again. He eats the food provided and drinks what he has been given to drink. Then he gets up and begins to walk.

He walks for forty days and nights to Mt. Horeb, the mountain on which the Lord gave Moses the Law. There he meets the Lord and receives instructions regarding which men are to be anointed as the next kings and prophets. That story is for another Sunday. For today, the important thing for us to remember is that the Lord God provided food that would sustain Elijah for a very long journey.

Another Kind of Bread from Heaven

Jesus continues to deal with the question of bread from heaven in St. John’s account of the aftermath of the feeding of the five thousand men (Jn 6:41-51). People in the city knew Jesus and his family. He had grown up in a nearby town. How could he possibly presume to claim to have been sent from heaven?

Jesus doesn’t back down. He goes farther in his claim to authority, saying that the Father will draw people to him. Furthermore, Jesus himself has come from the Father, has seen (the word implies either spiritually or physically) the Father, and will give fullness of life (everlasting life) to those who believe what he says. Finally, he declares, “I am the bread of life.” This living bread comes from heaven and is to be given physically, in the flesh, for the life of the world. Jesus gives himself to gift eternal life to humanity.

This radical notion drew the first Christians together and shaped their identity. As St. Paul reminded one community (Eph 4:30-5:2), they were God’s beloved children because Christ loved all of us and gave himself as a sacrificial offering to the Father. As Christians they/we belong to God through our baptism and that fact is to show in our lives. We must leave behind anger, bitterness, shouting, and all other forms of hatred and malice. We are to be known for our kindness, compassion, and readiness to forgive each other. We who share the body of the Lord cannot, must not, fail to live in love. An important reminder in our day too.

Our loving Father has given us food for the journey of our lives. We don’t know where our lives as Christians will lead us. We don’t know who we will meet along the way. We don’t know who might be angry with us when we speak the truth of God’s love for all. We don’t know who might be hungering for a word of love or forgiveness or compassion.  What we do know is that we can hold on to the promise Jesus gives us. The bread he gives, the living bread that came down from heaven, brings life in all its fullness to those who receive it. Just as Elijah received food that took him to Mt. Horeb, we too receive food that will take us to meet our God in our world today.

See you at Eucharist.

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Posted by on Jul 24, 2021

Grains and Bread in Abundance

Grains and Bread in Abundance

Barley loaves, the gift of the man from Baal-Shalishah to the prophet Elisha and the gift of a child to Jesus, share the spotlight in the readings for the Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. Both the first reading from the second book of Kings (2 Kings 4:42-44) and the gospel reading from St. John (Jn 6:1-15) feature a person who brings a gift of food to the prophet. The prophet receives the food and instructs that it be shared among the people who are present in the crowd. The crowd is large and the small amount of food offered would never be enough to feed everyone, but the prophet doesn’t back down, insisting that the loaves be shared among the people. There will be enough for all.

As it turns out, in each case there was indeed enough for all. There was even bread left over. In the case of Jesus, the amount left over was enough to fill twelve wicker baskets. Granted, you and I don’t know how large a wicker basket was in those days, but the five small loaves given by the child to Jesus would not themselves have filled twelve baskets when broken into pieces unless they were tiny baskets for a doll house, let alone after they had been shared among the crowd.

There are many layers of meaning in these narratives. The fact that the man shared twenty barley loaves with Elisha indicates that he had plenty of food. Sharing it might not ordinarily have been his first thought. The fact that he was identified by his place of origin indicates that what he did was noteworthy. Those with plenty often don’t think of sharing, especially if what they have would not be enough to feed everyone and still leave some for themselves. Yet God provided for all the people, as Elisha had declared would happen.

Barley, not wheat?

Barley loaves were the most common form of bread in Israel and most of the Middle East at that time. Barley has been cultivated in that region for over 10,000 years. It grows well in areas where water can be scarce. It ripens early in the spring, having been planted in the fall. It is higher in many nutrients than wheat and is easier to prepare for eating. (It’s also used in making beer – another common use for it even today – but that’s another story!) Unleavened barley loaves were a regular part of the diet of the people who listened to Elisha and to Jesus – the ordinary folk.

Wheat is also an ancient grain, though it was less commonly used in baking in Israel. It grew well in Egypt, where the annual flooding of the Nile provided a reliable source of water. It ripened later in the season and was less nutritious. It took more work to process it into a useable form. The Egyptians developed bread and ovens in which to bake it into leavened loaves. When the Israelites left Egypt, they were instructed to eat unleavened bread, baked in haste for the journey. Wheat bread was seen as the bread of captivity and of the wealthy and powerful. It didn’t become common anywhere else until the Romans conquered Egypt and took it home with them. Even then, it was still food for the wealthier classes.

The child brought five barley loaves and two fish to Jesus, willing to share his own lunch. With this gift of love, near the feast of Passover, Jesus was able to feed five thousand men, along with the women and children who accompanied them. For St. John, this was a sign of the true revelation of who Jesus is – God who has become one of us – Jesus who becomes the new Passover Lamb. This event was seen by the early Christian community as a foreshadowing of the Eucharist – bread is taken, blessed in thanksgiving, broken, and shared with all. There is always enough to share – God sees to that.

A Miracle? A Sign?

Did the miracles happen just as they are described? Were there really no more than twenty loaves in the first case and five in the second? That is not something that we can say with any absolute, 21st Century Western Historical-minded certainty. Stories such as these were never intended to be “historical” in our sense of the word. The important thing is that bread, simple, commonly eaten bread, was shared by all in the crowd. If others besides the man identified in the first story or the child in the second also shared what they had, would that not also be something of a miracle? If folks took food with them into the countryside when they went to hear a prophet, would that be surprising? You and I would usually take something with us when going out into the countryside to hear someone speak, right? Surely at least some of those who couldn’t expect a food truck to show up out there would have taken something.

Bottom line, God provides. How? God provides through the loving presence of a community who look out for each other. St. Paul reminds the people of Ephesus (Eph 4:1-6) that they are to live “in a manner worthy of the call” they have received – the call to be the children of God. Humble, gentle, patient, loving, sharing a unity of spirit through a bond of peace. They/we are to be one – one with each other and one with our God and Father.

So out we go into the field, each taking our few barley loaves and fish, our gifts and talents, to share with those we meet along the way. We share with those who are members of our community. We also share with those who are outside our community. No one is to be excluded from the love of God and God’s community, because God loves all of creation, including all of us.

See you at Mass,

Kathy

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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.

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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!

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Posted by on Dec 6, 2017

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

The Liturgy of Life – the Summit and Source of the Church’s Liturgy

“The liturgy of life is the summit and source of the church’s liturgy and not the other way around.”  – Peter Phan

Phan’s insight as cited In the introduction to the Liturgy of Life by Fr. Manalo builds on insights into Vatican II’s documents on the liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium and Gaudium et Spes, the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Although, Phan’s insight seems logical, it is startling because it presents a paradigm shift in our notion of divine worship. We are inclined to think of it as something that we do in the realm of the sacred. It is something divorced from the everyday or the profane.

This sacred and profane paradigm derives from pre-Christian religions around the world. In our Judaeo-Christian tradition we tend to focus on the ritual of sacrifice which finds its clearest expression in the Letter to the Hebrews. We hold this in common with most peoples around the globe. we are acknowledging the power of the trans-natural – gods or the One God – in providing for us by responding in some effort of reciprocity or compensation to restore equilibrium in a relationship which we may have damaged.

Of course, there is another, perhaps even more important strain in our Judaeo-Christian heritage that focuses on the true acknowledgment and celebration of our relationship with God by righting the wrongs of our personal and social relationships in terms of justice for the dis-empowered and the dispossessed. In the Hebrew scriptures and the Gospels, ceremonial sacrifices are an affront to God unless we are reconciled to our neighbor.

Perhaps our Tridentine ritual focus on the Mass as the re-enactment of the “unbloody” sacrifice of Calvary tended to reinforce our pre-Christian Mediterranean heritage of the sacred and the profane. However, beginning with the modern liturgical movement in the late 19th century and culminating in the Post Vatican II period of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, we have returned to a more Pauline experience and understanding of Christ as the Lord of the Cosmos. (Col 1:9-20) This refrain is echoed in the patristic writings of the East in god’s self-disclosure in the the book of scripture and the book of nature. Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment Laudato Si is also based on this insight.

Chardin’s celebration of this spiritual, mystical experience in his Mass on the World in the early 20th century was seen as confusing and equating God with creation, a heresy called pantheism. As a Jesuit priest and a paleontologist (a scholar of primate and human origins), Chardin, in the fusion of his personal devotion and liturgical life saw all of creation and humanity spiraling upward in the Risen Christ. This was actually an extension of the Aristotelian and Thomistic notion of God as pure being that holds everything that is in existence.

This renewed paradigm situates our personal and and assembled (ecclesial) response to God in Christ as Lord of the cosmos in a creation that is healed and restored as she groans in childbirth. (Rom 8:19)

We are no longer in the realm of the sacred and the profane we are in the Mysterium Tremendum of the Risen Christ as all and in all. (Col 3:11) God’s grace suffuses all and irrupts in all that is truly human everywhere in the Liturgy of Life.

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Posted by on Oct 3, 2016

Finding God in All the Wrong People – A Look at the Emerging Church

Finding God in All the Wrong People – A Look at the Emerging Church

Accidental Saints

 

Seeing the Underside and Seeing God: Nadia Bolz-Weber with Krista Tippett at the Wild Goose Festival from On Being on Vimeo.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran Minister who is described as “not your mother’s minister.” This is a marvelous interview with the woman who is the pastor or “pastorix” as she jokes of the House of  Sinners and Saints in Denver. Raised in the Church of Christ with no drinking, dancing, and no instruments in church Nadia has gone through many years of addiction and stand up comedy. In her Denver church,  she has incorporated the four part a capella singing of her childhood and focuses her preaches on the ongoing death and resurrection of Christians.

Before meeting her husband she had not found a Christianity with a care for the poor and a liturgy. Her getting clean and sober she describes as a “completely rude thing for God to do.” In Lutheranism she discovered a long articulation of belief that she “did not have to get rid of half her brain to accept.” She found an emphasis on God She doesn’t feel responsible for what her congregants believe but she feel responsible for what they hear and experience in the preaching and in the liturgy. they are anti excellence but pro participation. She calls her liturgy “high church and tent revival.”

For a fresh take on traditional Christianity in contemporary language enjoy this interview.

 

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Posted by on Apr 17, 2015

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

The Easter Proclamation and the Identity of the Deacon

exsultet1In his blog, Deacons Today: Servants in a Servant Church, Deacon William Ditewig, PhD reflects on the role of the Deacon in singing the Easter Proclamation, the Exsultet: “Exult, Let them exult, the hosts of heaven.”

Deacon Ditewig traces the history of the Easter Vigil liturgy and the important role of the deacon in the lighting of the Paschal candle, as well as his proclamation of the Light of Christ in “Christ, Cross, Candle, and Gospel: An Early Lenten Reflection on the Deacon and the Exsultet.”

From the earliest times of the Church, according to Deacon Ditewig, the bishop was likened to God the Father, the presbyters (elders, priests) were viewed as the apostles, and the deacon was the Alter Christus (Another Christ). In fulfilling this calling, the deacon proclaimed the Gospel — the Kingdom of Heaven — and provided for the sick and needy in mind, body, and spirit.

The blessing and lighting of the Easter Candle and the proclamation of God’s saving power symbolize the deacon as Christ carrying the cross which is now transformed into the glorious light of salvation, dispelling the gloom and bringing new life and vision into the world.

Listen to the Exsultet sung here:

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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.

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Posted by on Nov 15, 2014

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

Discurso del Papa Francisco

800px-Petersdom_von_Engelsburg_gesehen - public domain

La conclusión del Sínodo Extraordinario termina la primera etapa del proceso de los obispos a reflexionar sobre cuestiones y necesidades pastorales de familias y los del sacramento de matrimonio. En su discurso al concluir el Sínodo, el Papa Francisco les agradeció a los participantes y al Espíritu Santo por el  éxito del sínodo. Tambíen el Papa recomienda a todos que sigan madurando las reflexiones y las ideas propuestas en sus conferencias episcopales como  segunda etapa del proceso. Luego, regresarán los obispos de nuevo para la tercera etapa del proceso, El Sínodo Ordinario sobre la Familia que empezará in Octubre de 2015.

Para el texto entero del discurso, haga clic abajo.

Discurso del Papa Francisco al concluir Sínodo Extraordinario de los Obispos sobre la Familia

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Posted by on Aug 29, 2014

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

Church: Organizing as a Community

Models of Church

A conversation overheard recently in the locker room of our local gym led me to consider the concept of community more deeply: what living as community implies, how our relationship with God shapes our lives, and how all of these are reflected in the way we structure our community.

Two women were visiting as they changed back into street clothes to leave the gym. One was Jewish and the other was from a small, evangelical Christian community. They seemed to be continuing a conversation they had begun on the exercise machines earlier that afternoon. We’ll call the Jewish woman Miriam and the Christian one Carol. Carol was describing her small church community. She noted that there had been some stress recently as the community dealt with a difference of opinion over what to believe and how to respond to a controversial issue. She expressed her opinion that it shouldn’t really be a serious problem for her church community because the important thing was that each person believe in Jesus and accept Him as Savior. The relationship is between the individual and Jesus.

Miriam did not agree with Carol that a personal relationship with God is all that is needed. She explained that she is Jewish and for Jews the fundamental relationship is between the community as a group and their God. Simply having a personal relationship with God does not suffice. Worship and relationship with God occur in a community and together have concrete implications and results for the community. They are not separate realities.

As an anthropologist, I found the conversation fascinating. I’d have loved to hear more, but they continued on their way and I was left to ponder community and our relationship with God.

A Faith Based in Community

Not too long ago, Carol’s beliefs might not have been all that unusual to hear expressed within Catholic circles as well. While Catholics have not traditionally believed that simply accepting Jesus as personal Lord and Savior will guarantee admission to Heaven, we have at times forgotten how deeply our responsibilities to the community of all human beings is tied to our salvation. We often forget that our faith began in Jewish faith and tradition. We come before God as a community of people, responsible to and for each other.

More recently, with a return to a greater focus on God as Trinity, the idea of each individual standing alone does not explain who we are quite as well. God is one, yet God is Trinity. Self-knowledge, the Word that expresses and embodies that self-knowledge, and the total loving acceptance of the reality as known and expressed, all swirl around in the reality of one God,  a God dancing  in beautiful harmony.

We live in the midst of the Divine Community as members of Christ’s Body. We meet Christ in and through each other. We share together in the Body and Blood of Christ. And we are responsible to care for each other, including the least loveable among us, because Jesus is there … “Whatsoever you do …”

Living in Community

How, then, do we live in community? What organizational models would be best for us as a community? How can our communal life best support our own journey of faith and growth in holiness? How does community bring us closer to God?

Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, in Models of the Church,  suggests that our community, the Church, can be better understood in term of six different models. The one that comes to the fore at any given moment will differ, based on the needs of the community in that moment. Each has strengths and each has weaknesses. Together they offer a picture of a vibrant community. Cardinal Dulles’ models reflect the images of church presented in the Documents of the Second Vatican Council, particularly Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World and Lumen Gentium (Light of Nations) The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. The First Vatican Council (1869-1870) emphasized the self-contained nature of the Church as an institution sufficient unto itself – a “perfect society”. Vatican II (1962-1965) focused on the Church in its relationship to the modern world including non-Catholics, and non-Christians.

Church as Institution: In this model, the focus is on the administrative role of Church leaders. The Pope, bishops, priests, and deacons (collectively known as clerics) are responsible to teach what the community has come to believe and understand about God. They help the community to become more holy (sanctified), more in tune with divine life, through the administration of the sacraments. Finally, clerics are responsible to set the standards for faith and morals, to govern or rule the church community. In their role as rulers, clerics have many of the same kinds of responsibilities as the civil authorities who govern our towns and countries.

Church as Community (The Body of Christ): In this model, the Church is a community of believers who worship together and through their faith and worship become both a sign of the union of God with humans and an instrument through which the union occurs.

Church as Sacrament: A sacrament is the visible form of an invisible grace, a grace that brings about the reality towards which the form or symbols/actions point. As Catholics, we recognize and celebrate seven formal Sacraments as part of our lives as Church. However, the Church also teaches that the source and authority for our seven sacraments actually comes from Jesus as the Sacrament of God and the Church as the Sacrament of Christ. The community (the church) is to be a sign of God’s grace in the world as Jesus was. With the help of the grace of God, we are made holy in Christ.

Church as Herald: This model is focused on the Word of God.  We are called to hear God’s word and keep it, putting our faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior and then sharing that faith with our world. This is much more like the model Carol (in our example above) would find familiar. The Word comes to us both to transform our lives and to be passed on to others as Good News.

Church as Servant: In this model, the church’s role is to serve those in need of help directly and work to change social and political institutions that promote injustice. The church is in the world and serves the human community, but its service is one with a spiritual foundation rather than a strictly secular one. We as community serve in imitation of the Lord who washed His disciples’ feet and called those at the lowest rungs of society His sisters and brothers.

Church as School of Discipleship: The final model was developed after the first edition of  Dulles’ work was published. It recognizes that to be followers of Jesus requires the community and its members to continue to learn what it means to be a Christian and members of a Christian community. In this school of discipleship, we are informed, we are formed, and we are transformed; all as part of the process of learning and growing in faith.

For a summary of the characteristics of each model see Fr. Yeo’s presentation on SlideShare.

The Organization Supports the Life and Faith of the Community

Which of these models is correct? None of them! Each offers important insights and helps describe the experience of Christian life in community. Even within one individual parish community, some will experience that life more in terms of one of the models than in terms of the others. Is that bad? I don’t think so. God created a world of wonderfully different people, each with special gifts needed by our world. Those gifts and our experience of them may lead us to favor one or another of the models of Church. But if we are honest, we would be a much poorer and more limited community if we did not embrace the richness that multiple models offer. After all, God is infinitely creative and loving. No human model could ever hope to define conclusively the limits of what God’s communal life  actually is. Yet we live within that divine community, continually loved into existence. So we move through our lives in this great community, with first one model and then another taking the lead. With the grace of God, we’ll all muddle through and reach our final goal: union with God.

For a more detailed summary of Cardinal Dulles’ models and other useful materials visit Young Adult CLC .

 

 

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Posted by on Jun 23, 2014

Preaching and the Liturgy: Notes from Pope Francis

Preaching and the Liturgy: Notes from Pope Francis

 

The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis’ most recent Apostolic Exhortation, contains many wonderful and important topics for Christian living. One of the great advantages of the Pope’s exhortation is that it is easy to read and understand by the average reader. It is written in a clear, friendly, and non-technical manner. The only word that might need some explanation is “exhortation”. In Latin this is a type of speech given at a pep rally. It is a pep talk.

In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis takes thoughts and ideas that can be complex and presents them in a clear way without watering them down. This review is the first in a series. We begin with the homily because it’s role is one of the least understood aspects of Catholic Christian life and liturgy.

The Homily

In sections 135 to 139 of The Joy of the Gospel, the Pope focuses on the homily. Technically, the homily is given by those to whom the Church has given the ministry of preaching — bishops, priests, and deacons. However, many lay people today give reflections on the scripture at prayer, scripture, and communion services in hospitals, jails, and labor camps. Some parishes have lay presiders for authorized communion services if priests are not available for Mass. Consequently, proclaiming the Gospel and preaching can happen, with the approval of the local bishop, in different situations outside the Mass by a wide variety of men and women who have been trained and approved. Sometimes, reflecting on the scriptures also happens in faith sharing groups and individual families.

So what does the Pope encourage us to do about homilies at Mass?

 137. It is worth remembering that “the liturgical proclamation of the word of God, especially in the eucharistic assembly, is not so much a time for meditation and catechesis as a dialogue between God and his people, a dialogue in which the great deeds of salvation are proclaimed and the demands of the covenant are continually restated”.[112] The homily has special importance due to its eucharistic context: it surpasses all forms of catechesis as the supreme moment in the dialogue between God and his people which leads up to sacramental communion.

 Pope Francis underscores the sacred sacramental nature of the homily as a “dialog between God and his people.” The homily is not entertainment, but it needs to give life and meaning to the celebration. In the context of the Mass the homily has to be short, according to Pope Francis, since it’s length can upset the “balance and rhythm” of the Eucharist. Preaching in the context of the liturgy becomes part of the offering to the Father and mediates the grace Christ pours out in the Mass. “This context demands that preaching should guide the assembly, and the preacher, to a life-changing communion with Christ in the Eucharist. This means that the words of the preacher must be measured, so that the Lord, more than his minister, will be the center of attention.”

“A life-changing communion with Christ in the Eucharist” seems like an impossible challenge. While the Pope makes it clear that this “life-changing communion” happens through the grace of God, how do we prepare ourselves to be open to such an experience as preachers and members of the assembly? Pope Francis recommends that preachers take a loving and maternal tone. Mothers are keenly aware of their children’s challenges, their strengths and weaknesses. The Pope assumes the ideal mother-child relationship of trust, happiness, and deep mutual love. Pope Francis characterizes the Lord’s teaching as a dialog. He defines dialog as “much more than the communication of a truth”. Dialog arises from the enjoyment of speaking and enriches people by the sharing of love for each other through conversation. In dialog persons share themselves. Talking with his people is something that the Lord enjoys. The Pope reminds preachers that their words and interaction should be focused on leading them to this same enjoyment of God’s people.

These few points do not even begin to scratch the surface of the Pope’s complete pep talk on preaching. What is remarkable are the themes of joy, enjoyment, and dialog. Very often the popular connotation of “preaching” is a negative, judgmental, and humiliating experience. Many times in the context of the Mass people are looking for a well articulated lesson about morality or Christian doctrine. The Pope and the Church, from the time of the Apostles, are calling us to something deeper, more radical, and very challenging. We are being called to enter the Divine conversation of the life of the Trinity, to hear the Divine Word and to be transformed both as speaker and recipient in the Holy Spirit’s dialog. Pope Francis urges us to take God at His Word.

 

The Joy of the Gospel – Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis,
United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, Washington, DC,
December 2013, also available at the Vatican web site.
Photo by CNS/Paul Haring

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Posted by on Dec 20, 2012

Las Posadas: Food, Fiesta and Community

Singing echoes through the softly lit streets of the towns, cities, and neighborhoods of Mexico as residents prepare for Christmas, through the para-liturgical tradition of Las Posadas. Processions of townspeople, led by a couple dressed as Mary and Joseph, wind their way through the streets, going from home to home asking for “posada” (shelter). Finally, the procession is welcomed into a home, and the people pray together as the “fiesta” commences.

Las Posadas is a Mexican Catholic Advent tradition that marks the beginning of the Christmas season. Taking place from the 16th-24th of December every year, Las Posadas is a nine day community celebration in preparation for the birthday of Christ; a novena that is a mix of religious devotion and relaxation. Ultimately, Las Posadas is about accepting Christ, the Bread of Life, into one’s home and heart. It functions as an extension of the Eucharist, catalyzed by the fiesta culture. Food, both physical and spiritual, is an important element of the fiesta, because it is nearly impossible to have a Christian festival without food.

Las Posadas is a fiesta; a religious fiesta in the sense that it provides sacred time and space to show a sacred event.  The fiestas of Las Posadas reenact Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, a journey that is considered sacred because it directly led to the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. Also, the fiestas gather the community in a ritual that parallels the structure of a Mass, emphasizing two more sacred elements of Las Posadas: the community and the Eucharist.

Evangelization in a New World

Las Posadas began in 1578 in Mexico in the village of San Agustín Acolman. Augustinian missionaries received permission from Pope Sixtus V to celebrate special Masses in order to make Christianity more attractive and  to evangelize the Aztecs. Because of the syncretism that occurred when the missionaries introduced Catholicism to indigenous Americans, Las Posadas resembles the Aztec celebration of the birth of the sun and war god, Huitzilopochitli. The missionaries wanted a way to teach the gospel and extend the Eucharist to a large, illiterate population and needed a way that the Aztecs would accept, so they took advantage of the timing of the birth of Huitzilopochitli to introduce the birthday of their own important, sacred figure, Jesus Christ. In las misas del Aguinaldo (special Masses for the Advent season), they included nativity scenes and lights, sang villancicos (Christmas carols), and broke a piñata. The celebration of Las Posadas grew from these original Masses. Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, as told in Luke 2:1-7, is featured in Las Posadas, a celebration that includes elements similar to those of the celebration for Huitzilopochitli. (All night and during the day after Huitzilopochitli’s birthday, people customarily had parties in many houses throughout the town, at which guests delighted in foods and statues of their gods made from blue corn dough.)

Days of Prayer and Celebration

Las Posadas begins on the evening of December 16th and ends on Christmas Eve. These nine days dedicated to prayer are called a “Novena.” Originally, a novena referred to the nine days of prayer before the Feast of Pentecost, but in Las Posadas it also represents the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy. Each night, a young woman and a young man – usually teenagers – dress as Mary and Joseph and go to three different, predetermined houses, asking for posada (shelter). They are accompanied by a candle-lit procession that includes musicians, children dressed as angels and shepherds, and anyone else who would like to join. At the first two houses, the procession of peregrinos (pilgrims) is turned away by groups of people inside the houses, who play the part of the innkeepers who denied Mary and Joseph shelter. The interactions between the peregrinos and the “innkeepers” happen in the form of call-and-response songs. Through several verses, the peregrinos ask for shelter and are denied entry by the innkeepers. The last verse is sung only when the procession is welcomed into the last house.

At the last house, the peregrinos are welcomed and the whole community gathers for prayers and a party. Once all the peregrinos have entered, everyone prays the Act of Contrition, asking for forgiveness for their sins. Often, they will also pray the rosary, and/or hold a short prayer service. This part of the fiesta mirrors the Liturgy of the Word (the first part of a Mass). Soon the prayerful ritual gives way to food, games, and dancing. Nevertheless, ritual that promotes spiritual communion is still present in the fiestas, and parallels the Liturgy of the Eucharist (the second part of a Mass) — sharing a meal and celebrating the forgiveness of sin in the Eucharist. The fiestas grow in excitement with each passing night, but at each are ritual elements, including food and drink, candles, Nativity scenes, and piñatas filled with fruits, nuts, and candies.

Piñatas, Sin and Forgiveness

Traditional piñatas are shaped like stars and have seven points, each point representing a cardinal sin. People swing at the piñata with their eyes covered by blindfolds to signify their true faith in God and His mercy. Thus, when they break the piñata and are showered with sweet candies, the people act out the experience of conquering sin and receiving forgiveness and blessing from God. This is also a dramatization of how everyone’s sins are forgiven during the Eucharist, when Catholics remember how Christ died so that the sins of the world would be forgiven and confess their own sin through the Confiteor. Although perhaps not broken every night, the piñata nevertheless demonstrates the way food is used to teach religion, extend the message of the Eucharist into the home, and catalyze the fiesta spirit.

Sharing Food and Creating Communitas

The fiesta spirit continues through each of the nine days, never seeming to lag. On Christmas Eve, the final stop for the peregrinos is the church, where they celebrate La Misa de Gallo, a Midnight Mass, in which they share in the Body and Blood of Christ – a shorter but still powerful religious fiesta in which a sacred meal is re-enacted. After the Mass, the longest fiesta of Las Posadas commences. Along with a piñata and the small dessert items served at the fiestas on each of the previous nights, people prepare and share their favorite foods at the reception after Mass. Typical foods include tamales, pozole (pork soup), sopa de albóndigas (meat-ball soup), pollo con mole (chicken in mole sauce), bacalao (codfish stew), natillas (a type of thick custard), and buñelos (deep-fried pancakes sprinkled with sugar). Champurado (spiced hot chocolate), atole (a corn based drink), and ponche (punch) are also served. Although these are some of the more traditional foods consumed during the Advent and Christmas seasons, there are no foods that are specifically reserved for Las Posadas. Therefore, it does not matter what food is served, since the sharing of food itself symbolizes and strengthens the community.

Las Posadas makes the Gospel come alive in a cultural experience of spiritual communion in which the people welcome Christ into their homes and lives. This spiritual communion results from the transformation of Jesus’ body, “…the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51), in the Eucharist into spiritual food. The ritual of Las Posadas reflects the mystery of the Eucharist because the people of the community act as living bread through their acts of hospitality and generosity in caring for others. Additionally, the fact that Las Posadas is a religious fiesta, and thus directly tied to Catholic Hispanic fiesta culture, draws the community together and builds the spirit of communitas. Communitas is a deep spirit of community – a spiritual communion where all the members are united in the same consciousness, usually through a ritual. Las Posadas is a way in which Mexican Catholics realize communitas through the Eucharist and fiesta. Thus, the fiesta catalyzes, yet also results from, the ritual of Las Posadas and is thoroughly intertwined with food, both spiritual and physical; physical food is the visceral symbol that gathers the community and provides the base for rituals, in which it is transformed into spiritual food. Therefore, it nourishes the body and the spirit.

Although there are traditions around the world in many different religions that fulfill the same functions, Las Posadas is one of the best examples of the way Mexican Catholics have taken the Eucharist and made it part of their cultural experience through the fiesta. Today, the fiesta spirit is spreading beyond Mexicans and Latinos. In some cases non-Latinos are attracted to the religious and spiritual aspects of Las Posadas. For others, Latinos and non-Latinos, a more secularized version of Las Posadas, in which the prayerful aspects are downplayed or ignored and the focus is on family and community, is more comfortable and attractive. Nevertheless, although those who celebrate a secular version of Las Posadas think that they are leaving Catholicism behind, they cannot escape the fact that even in any secular form, Las Posadas is still a religious fiesta celebrating and strengthening the spiritual connection between community members. Despite dropping all of the prayers, they are living the communitas of the Eucharist in their celebration, since even the secularized ritual parallels the structure of a Mass. Thus, without realizing it, many people are attracted to the religious and spiritual aspect of Las Posadas. What they experience is a community dimension of the Eucharist as seen in the transformation of profane (non-sacred) food into sacred nourishment for the spirit and community. Through that shared experience of celebrating a religious fiesta, people of all cultures strengthen their bond with their communities, uniting community, religion, and food.

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Posted by on Dec 14, 2012

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

“The New Translation of the Roman Missal” One Year Later

Roman Missal

A New Translation for a Worldwide Faith Community

On the first Sunday of Advent in November 2011, English speaking Roman Catholics began using the new translation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition. New principles for translation were originally approved in 2001 and many years of work went into the development and distribution of the new Roman Missal. While updates to the Missal and to the book of instructions on how to use the Missal (The General Instruction on the Roman Missal) have occurred on several occasions since the original decision of the bishops at the Second Vatican Council to encourage use of the vernacular (the language of the people) rather than Latin in Roman Catholic worship, this update engendered more controversy than its predecessor.

The reason for the controversy was simple: the guidelines for translation had been changed to emphasize literal translation rather than the more interpretive, idiomatic, inclusive language that the earlier version had favored. As a result, in addition to the need to deal with a change of language patterns, people were being required to change from familiar formulations to newer, sometimes stilted or more ornate, and/or less inclusive ones. For example, in the new version of the Nicene Creed, the phrase “consubstantial with the Father” replaces “one in being with the Father.” When asked how to explain the word “consubstantial” to people in the pews, the response was to explain that it means, “one in being.” Such changes and explanations left many people scratching their heads in puzzled amazement that anyone would think the newer phrase was an improvement.

Nevertheless, the decision was made that a new revision was needed — if for no other reason than to update feasts of saints to include newly canonized ones. So a new revision of the Roman Missal was prepared and promulgated and the People of God began to adapt one year ago.

Perspective of a Translator and Anthropologist

In the interest of transparency, I will note here that as an anthropologist and professional translator, I was not thrilled with the new translation. I do not speak Latin, but I speak Spanish and read enough Latin to recognize familiar prayers and liturgical usages. The new translation, in my professional judgment, is too literal. As a result, its phrasing is sometimes awkward and confusing. The ornate feel of some of the prayers is foreign to our cultural experience, making them almost seem like parodies of an older time and sensibility. As a translator, the works for which I have been most seriously criticized have been those in which I was more literal in my approach. Even technical bio-medical translations, instructions for patients, and informed medical consent forms require a certain degree of  freedom from the literal and conversion into idiomatic, more culturally-based constructions. Pastoral letters, poetry, fiction, and essays require use of poetic and culturally specific phrasing and word selection. In fact, word choice will even vary based on the national dialect of the target audience. An American in Southern California, for example, may well be puzzled at hearing that guests entered the room and were seated on the chesterfield. An individual from Alberta, Canada will immediately know that the item of furniture in question is what the Californian would know as a sofa and someone from Eastern Washington might call a davenport.

The idea that one literal translation will meet the needs of all English speakers in the world, or even of all English speakers in a country the size of the United States, fails to recognize the impossibility of expressing the inexpressible in any one set of words. Of course, no words can really capture the reality of God and our personal relationships with the divine, but literal phrasing can make it more problematic. Since words are both based in cultural understandings of reality and formative of them, words do not always convey the same idea when used in different languages or cultural contexts. The words used may also be indicative of a different emphasis or understanding of the same event from one language to another.

I appreciate the effort to make clearer reference to biblical sources for the prayers of the Mass (e.g. the “Lord, I am not worthy” before Communion is taken from the words of the Centurion whose servant was healed by Jesus [Mt 8:5-13]). However, in this and other instances, the “new” version is a return to the earliest translation we had immediately following the Council. That one was replaced for pastoral reasons: it was too literal, tended to be confusing to the faithful, and was non-inclusive in its gender references at a time when the position and status of women in societies around the world was changing towards greater inclusivity and equality! We have come full circle and the original  version’s limitations have not gone away.

Enough of Theory, What Actually Happened?

Despite the reservations felt by many as the transition date approached, the first day using the new translation arrived in parishes around the world and we all stumbled through the new wordings. We learned new music to go with the new words. We found ourselves reciting the old words when our attention strayed or when we were deeply into the ritual and its mystery. Sometimes the celebrant forgot the new wording. Sometimes we did.

We’ve now had a full year to experience the new translation. How has it gone? I have visited parishes in California, Oregon and Washington state and seen some common patterns.

  1. The first insight is one I originally heard many years ago from Professor George Foster of the Anthropology Department at the University of California, Berkeley. “People are pragmatic.” If we have to learn new words, we might as well start learning them as new songs; and so we did. If there’s an option regarding which prayer to use, we choose the more familiar or the less awkward one. The Apostles’ Creed is now much more commonly used, for example, in the parishes I’ve visited than the Nicene Creed with its “consubstantial with the Father” and “incarnate of the Virgin Mary.”
  2. No one worries if a celebrant or participant in the liturgy gets something wrong. We just smile and go ahead with the celebration.
  3. Perhaps the most reassuring thing I’ve seen is that so very few people have left the community in a huff over the new translation. I remember when we first began to use English. There were a lot of people who left because in their view it was no longer a Church that was faithful and unchanging. What we have learned is that revelation is on-going. Christ is still present in His Body. The Holy Spirit still breathes life into each of us and our communities. And God’s glory shines out into the world as we gather for worship and then go forth in service in our daily vocations. We are, all of us, faithful and faithfully Catholics. Awkward translation or not, we aren’t going away. We’re going forward!

What have you noticed in your parishes? How has the new translation been introduced and put into practice? Are you seeing a deepening of understanding of the liturgy? Have you experienced new efforts to offer classes or workshops to help the people of your community participate more fully in the liturgy? Has there been a resurgence or deepening of faith in your community in the past year?

Please share your experiences here or visit us on Facebook. We’re looking forward to hearing from you as we move into this second year with “the new translation.”

 

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Posted by on Sep 19, 2012

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

The First Fruit of the Spirit is Love

Driftwood Flowers

Writing about LOVE is daunting. What can one say about it that has not already been said? How many songs and poems, plays and stories have been written about it?

But the hesitation about this is based on a false premise. The false premise is that our lives and thoughts are set and not constantly changing. Change scares us but change also frees us and gives us hope.  So, LOVE is always new in us. Everyday we grow and greet life with new thoughts and feelings. These may be negative, but even if they are, we are exploring new ways to reach for love, to know love, to experience love, to be angry at love.

Recently I was wrestling with the tremendous variety in love. From the Greeks forward we know the ancient spectrum of types of love: from pleasure to sacrificial spiritual love — pure altruism.  I have always considered the “ideal love” — the purely altruistic love — the standard against which I judge my feelings and actions. I put myself down for having “Mixed Motives.” I see that I often pursue people for double motives. I may want to help that person or validate that person, but he or she also makes me feel good or important or useful. Does that nullify my help to them? From the point of view of suffering, especially suffering from things such as depression or trauma, the love of things we enjoy, including relationships and sexuality, is rare and to be sought. Many people enjoy very little. If they could get pleasure out of a painting or a meal, it would be a good thing, possibly a very holy thing. So, love should not be interpreted as something free of my concerns or enjoyment. It is possible both to please God and others and also please myself.

Teilhard de Chardin, in The Divine Milieu, speaks of being both attached and detached at the same time. We should love what we do or enjoy but we at the same time must surrender control over the processes or outcomes. Love involves the risk of caring, of getting involved. But if an affinity or pursuit is taking us away from God, we have to detach ourselves from it. So, love includes the maturity of wisdom, of surrendering to what is best, not just to what I want.

Love is said to be generous. Paul in I Corinthians 13 presents a description of extraordinary generosity and lack of ego, patience and kindness. How can love be so generous and still please me? There is a double answer to this. First, we believe that everything is grace. The very ability to love without counting the cost to us, is a sign of God’s work in us. So, being able to do loving actions is a sign that God is close. Secondly, it is a very good thing to see ourselves as loving. We don’t need to feel like failures at life. It is not a prideful thing to know ourselves as happy, as someone who is doing well, or as someone who enjoys giving in appropriate ways.

Love requires discernment. When love is expressed as giving, it can be beneficial but it can also be harmful. Actions that seem to help people may actually be robbing people of their independence or need to do things on their own. Loving actions may be good in themselves, such as cooking a meal for the homeless, but not actually be loving because I may really need to use that time to do something else, such as study for an exam.  As we all know, sometimes the most loving thing is not to do something or not to say something. I cringe at the thought of letting my children make mistakes; but, not trying to control them or lecture them, now that they are grown, is a very loving thing.

Love is often a decision, not a feeling. Putting my mother in a skilled nursing facility was a very painful thing for me. It was the very best thing to do given her level of medical difficulty and my need to work full time. It was a loving thing to do especially since I had visited and researched all the possible facilities and knew my mother’s likes and dislikes. Every step of the way I had to be supportive and creative with my mother’s reactions to her new home, which turned out to be multiple. As she aged and grew more ill, I tried to find the best fit for her in residences. I met a number of people in the same situation who also were making hard decisions that nevertheless were out of love. For the last nine months of her life I drove 40 miles from work to where my mother lived just about every day. She was in pain and often unhappy. I could not fix her or her situation with my love for her. I decided to be there, listen to her and solve whatever problems I could. I wanted to take her off her cross. Oddly enough, that would not have been loving.

Real love always involves some suffering. By its very nature it involves attachment to who or what is loved and when that person or thing leaves, dies or deteriorates we suffer. That is not wrong, but it does hurt.

Love also involves longing. Built into our spirit is the desire to be united to what we love. We feel separation all the time. In developing our own identities we do so in relation to others who are separate from us. It is necessary and good to be our unique selves, but it is also taxing. We sometimes feel that we want to fall back into union with our mothers, or mother images of infancy so that we can get out from under all the responsibilities and worries of life. We also long to be truly known as we really are. We want unconditional love.  These feelings are in all of us and good in themselves. In this life our task is to become our true selves. We travel through a series of experiences which challenge and teach us. One of the things that draws us forward is the desire to be known and loved. God is in the midst of all these experiences — knowing and loving us. The more we see how God loves us into growth, the more we can love this way in our lives. This love can be both sensitive and harsh. If we mediate on the Gospels we can see these two expressions of love in the way that Jesus lived and how he related to people. We can see how he relates to us, to me.

This sense of God’s personal love for me is sustaining. Its gentle and challenging aspects make sense to me. In The Living Flame of  Love, John of the Cross, speaks of God wounding us to get our attention in order to purify and heal us. Love is not always pretty but it is the most important thing in life.

Public Domain image by Christina Spiegeland

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