Pages Menu
RssFacebook
Categories Menu

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

“It is Time for the Lord to Act”

“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 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.

 

Read More

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

Read More

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.

Read More

Posted by on Dec 14, 2012

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

“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.”

 

Read More

Posted by on Aug 4, 2012

Quote of the Day – St. John Vianney

Quote of the Day – St. John Vianney

St. John Vianney

August 4 is the feast of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests. John Vianney was born to a peasant family in Lyons, France. He wanted to be a priest, but his education was limited and he was not a very good student, despite his great desire to learn enough to be ordained. Finally his bishop took a chance on him and agreed to ordain him. John was assigned to a remote town far away from any place of note. He was not a great homilist. His knowledge of theology was limited. But he was a good listener and a compassionate man whose advice and counsel was welcomed by those who came to him for confession. Before long, he was spending up to eighteen hours a day, sitting in a confessional, hearing the confessions of people who traveled from all over France to receive forgiveness through his ministry.

St. John Vianney also loved the Eucharist. Among his many insights was this one on God’s love for us.

“The soul hungers for God, and nothing but God can satiate it. Therefore He came to dwell on earth and assumed a Body in order that this Body might become the Food of our souls.”

 Image of St. John Vianney is in the public domain.

Read More

Posted by on Aug 28, 2011

“I’m on my own now, why should I go to Church?”

“I’m on my own now, why should I go to Church?”

Mass aboard the USS Enterprise

 

A new school year is beginning in the Northern Hemisphere and many students who have always gone to Church with their families now find themselves addressing the question, “Why should I go to Church?”  Some will have been asking it for many years. Others will ask it for the first time in the next few weeks, as other activities and concerns vie for their attention and time.

For those who began questioning their family’s practice early, the answers they received as children may have ranged from “Because” to “That’s what our family does” to “No, God doesn’t need us to go to Church, but we need to go to Church,” to “When you’re grown up, you can decide, but until then, we go to Church on Sunday.” None of these answers satisfies the questioner. If truth be told, they don’t really satisfy the one answering the question either.

So really, why should anyone go to Church? Sometimes Mass is boring. In some parishes liturgy feels rushed; in others it seems to take far too long. Sometimes it seems only to be a matter of completing a ritual in the expectation that then God will have to pay attention to those who perform it. Sermons are sometimes dull and not at all related to questions children and teens face in their daily lives. The same old songs are sung every week.  Young people don’t feel welcomed in the music group – only the “old” people who’ve been singing forever decide what to sing and how to sing it. Pastors sometimes seem more interested in getting everyone to contribute to the collection than to getting everyone involved in parish activities or ministry. The idea of contributing from “Time, Talent, and Treasure” seems to undervalue the Time and Talent of teens and young adults in favor of the Treasure they are perceived to have. In short, there are lots of perfectly justifiable reasons not to go to Mass on Sunday.

As a mother, daughter, aunt, catechist, godmother, grandmother, and friend, I watch family and friends struggle with this issue. I was blessed to grow up during Vatican II and to have had wonderful experiences of liturgy and community as a child, teen, and young adult. It was never an issue for me. I loved it all. Yet many of my siblings, their spouses, and their children have had different experiences and find membership in a worshipping community less essential as part of their daily lives. So I ask myself as well, “Why should anyone go to Church?”

The answers I find range from selfishly pragmatic to possibly theologically justifiable. They are certainly not the only reasons. They are simply reasons I can suggest from my own experience and studies.

1.  Church communities are made up of good people who will generally try to help when problems arise in people’s lives. It’s a good idea to get involved with good people and form mutually supportive relationships before you need them. Things may be going well now, but that won’t last forever. When everything starts crashing down around you, it’s good to have someone who’ll try to help you hold the umbrella to deflect the debris, pick up the pieces to start over again, or simply be with you to hold your hand in support and love when nothing else can be done.

2.  Members of church communities may become lifelong friends who share a culture of belief and values. This doesn’t always happen and sometimes those same friends may break apart for a time over nuances of belief, changing values, or practical questions such as where their children will attend school. Nevertheless, with time, love, patience, and forgiveness, members of a community will find that reconciliation occurs and the bonds deepen in subtle ways. The friendship may not be the same as it was originally, but when the chips are down, the bond remains.

3.  God is Trinity – Three in One yet Undivided Unity. Without each of the members of the Trinity, God would be lacking. Together, God is complete. Jesus counted on His Father for support during His life on Earth. He must have listened to the Spirit in His healing ministry – how else to know which of the many people he met would be open to receive healing? The Father was glorified through Jesus’ teaching and life. The Holy Spirit is our advocate, cheerleader, and helper – the way God is with us in this time following the Resurrection.

If God is, in a sense, a community, who are we to turn our backs on community?

4.  Jesus developed and relied on a community of friends during his lifetime. Some were closer confidants than others, but each played an important role in his life. They worshipped together. They ate together. They traveled together. They laughed and cried together. They did all the kinds of things that Christians have done with each other through the ages. They even fought with each other sometimes and were rebuked by Jesus when they got out of line or totally missed the point of what He was trying to teach them. Some betrayed Him. Some denied him. Some ran away when He was arrested. But He never turned any of them away or refused to forgive and be reconciled with them.

It was out of this experience of community that the Church grew – many different people, from many different lands, languages, and traditions, coming together to encourage and support each other as followers of The Way.

5.  The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. Jesus is not physically present here today in the same way He was before His death and resurrection. St. Paul explained the early understanding of the Christian community, that each person has a specific role to play within the Church, just as each part of a physical body has its own function. If any member of the body is missing, the entire body is weakened. That includes everyone who has been baptized into the community – of all ages, sexes, genders, races, interests, gifts, and talents. If anyone is missing, we are all diminished.

6.   We meet Jesus through each other. This draws from the concept of the Mystical Body. It’s not something about which we generally speak. Many times we don’t recognize this reality. However, when a group of tradesmen comes together to add rooms to the home of a member of their parish who has many children and not enough space for them, Jesus has come. When a death occurs in a family, and the ladies of the parish host a reception following the funeral, Jesus has come to that family. When a friend gives an afternoon to help build a cabinet for a family’s new bathroom, Jesus has come. When a much desired pregnancy ends unexpectedly and a child’s teacher stops to visit the grieving mother after school, Jesus has come. When a family gathers to celebrate a wedding or an anniversary and friends come from miles around to join them, Jesus has come, blessing them all.

7.  Christianity is not an easy path to follow. Christians are called to take unpopular positions. To feed the hungry. To clothe the naked. To care for the poor and strangers in the community. To visit those in prison. To care for the sick. To “speak truth to power.”  Following Jesus will inevitably lead to experiences of the cross. It’s not easy to take a stand contrary to that of people who are powerful. It’s not easy to express an opinion that is contrary to that of one’s family and friends. At home, at work, at school, in public life, times will arise when an individual will have to stand firm, refuse to go along with what everyone else is doing or saying, and experience the pain of being unpopular, ridiculed, censured, isolated, or passed over for a promotion. Some have even had to pay the ultimate price in their witness. We call them martyrs, a word that means witnesses.

8.  In gathering for liturgy (Mass or other celebrations), we share in giving thanks for God’s great gifts and we eat the food that Jesus has given to transform us and give us the strength to continue His work in our world. We meet and get to know each other through our companionship at church. Out of this gathering, all the other benefits already mentioned can and will grow, including the neat side-effect of having a community to support us when we need help too!

 

Read More

Posted by on Jun 25, 2011

Realities and Wonders Beyond Our Comprehension – The Feasts of The Holy Trinity and Corpus Christi

The mystery of the Holy Trinity is at the core of our faith as Christians. God is one undivided unity. Yet God is also Father (Mother/Parent), the incarnate Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit – all united as one in being and each separate in identity.

Early Church writers spoke of the Trinity in terms of perichoresis, a mutual indwelling and interpenetration of being shared by the members of the Trinity. The word itself comes from Greek roots meaning around and to contain. In some ways it’s akin to a dance in which the dancers and the dance are one. None can be separated from each other because their essence is one, yet each has an individual role and part in the whole.

We experience God as Trinity in our lives. God as parent brings all things into being through love overflowing and keeps us safely in existence – never forgetting us. God our brother Jesus who has shared the joys and sorrows, hopes and fears of human life is truly one of us – 100% human. God the Holy Spirit of love gives us courage to live in love and words to speak of what we have experienced of divine life and love. God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the greatest fan each of us will ever have – always hopeful and encouraging us as we forge ahead through life’s challenges.

Following Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi – the Body and Blood of Christ. One mystery following on another. How can simple bread and wine be the body and blood of the Lord? Yet that is what Jesus told us he was giving us – his own flesh and blood to eat, as divine food to strengthen us on our journey as we travel back to union with the Trinity. One of our prayers tells us that we become what we eat. As we share in the divine meal, we share in the life of the Trinity and are drawn ever closer into it.

What a gift!

The wonder of all this struck me as I reflected on an experience I had with my young grandson last week. We were at Disneyland on the last day of a trip with my Girl Scout troop. The girls graduated from high school this year and this was our last major outing.

The park was closing early in preparation for a “Grad Night” for local high school seniors, so despite having a young child along, we were there for the fireworks and final show. It was a show with light, water and music telling of a dream Mikey Mouse was having, complete with ominous music and threatening villains. Could Mickey triumph over the evil that threatened by using the power of imagination? Of course he could and did. The show ended with great joy and happy, triumphant music.

What fascinated me was watching our little boy. He quickly lost interest in watching the story and we moved off into a nearby area where there was a short wrought iron fence (about 36 inches tall). As the music, lights and story blared around us, he quite happily climbed up on the bottom cross-piece of the fence and made his way sideways, holding on to the top rail, from one end of the fence to the other. Then he jumped down, clapped his hands, climbed back up onto the fence and went back to his original starting place. He did this through the entire performance – at least four or five trips back and forth along the fence. He’d have continued doing it all night had we allowed it!

I had been concerned that the ominous, scary music, the tone of voice of the villains, the colors of the threatening sections of the show would frighten him. Had he been a few years older, they would have. However, at his young age, he had no negative associations with any of those cues. What we considered scary music was the same to him as the triumphal music or a sweet ballad. The lights that flickered and changed from peaceful pastels to discordant, multi-colored, dark or flaring reddish-orange bursts of color meant nothing to him.  It was all just background to what he was exploring. He was having a wonderful time on the fence.

In thinking about his reaction, I find myself wondering how much we are like this young child – totally enthralled with our own activities in our own little worlds and totally missing the wonder of the dance going on all around us. We live and move and have our being within the loving presence and reality of God, yet we don’t notice most of the time.

I pray that as the coming weeks unfold, I will be ever more aware of the divine presence – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – enveloping me and all of us in the great dance of being. In the words of Jesse Manibusan’s song, “Open my eyes, Lord. Help me to see your face … Help me to hear your voice … Help me to love like you… Help me to love.”

I send the same wish to all who read these words. May the blessings of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit descend on you and remain with you forever. Amen.

 

 

 

Read More

Posted by on Jun 6, 2010

Corpus Christi: Who’s Feeding on Whom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Feast of Corpus Christi.

Read More

Posted by on Jun 14, 2009

The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam

Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam

Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam. offered some interesting thoughts about the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (AKA Corpus Christi) today in his homily and his blog. He has graciously agreed to allow me to share them in a post for this feast.

The Inner Meaning

During this time of year when there are so many of our rites of passage taking place––weddings, graduations, ordinations (even birthdays)––it’s interesting to take a look at the purpose of ritual. Anthropologically speaking, a ritual is a way of expressing and passing on our understanding of reality or of an experience to someone else. So, for instance, a graduation is not about a piece of paper and a cap and gown: it’s weightier, it’s heavy; that’s why tears flow from the eyes of parents as they see their child graduate or get married. The ritual is trying to carry all those memories and meanings, and summarize them in a single gesture: an exchange of rings, the laying on of hands, a birthday card, an embrace, throwing a shovelful of dirt on a coffin: all these rituals mean more than they mean, they carry an almost indescribable load of treasures.

In the Roman rite we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ this week, and it’s safe to ask what Jesus was trying to convey to his disciples when he performed this rather odd ritual––not just breaking the bread and passing out the cup, but claiming that it was his very self. What exactly was he asking them to remember when they did it over and over again? I thought of five things, which certainly don’t exhaust the list of possible meanings.

1. First of all, this gesture looks backward and forward at Jesus’own life. Backward in that Jesus’ whole life had been spent being broken and passed out; his whole life had been dedicated to feeding those around him: taking care of their bodily needs through healing and feeding; and also feeding and healing them in a real way with the Wisdom of God, this incredible good news of God’s undying boundless care for every single hair on the head of very single human being from the greatest to––especially––the least. This ritual also looked ahead to the next day when Jesus allowed his body to be broken like bread and his blood poured out like wine––to say that it’s alright: you can survive even this, your real self cannot be annihilated, but like a seed that falls into the earth and dies it will yield a rich harvest of resurrection life.

2. This ritual symbolized––again what Jesus’ whole life symbolized––that Divine Love gives itself to humanity––that’s what God is like! The Divine is present, really present: divine love is offering itself to the world in this ritual meal.

3. This ritual also conveyed (and conveys) that this Divine Mystery is present everywhere, in creation, “in the earth and its produce.” Unfortunately the kind of hosts we use and our ornate chalices can actually hide the fact that this is actually wheat and grapes, real food: “which earth had given,” as we say, “fruit of the earth.” I think that this conveys that all matter is meant to be brought into right relationship with God, and that all matter can reveal and be a vehicle for the Grace of God. St Irenaeus wrote,

    “This is why he took a part of creation, gave thanks and said: This is my body. In the same way he declared that the cup, an element of the same creation as ourselves, was his blood: he taught them that this was the new sacrifice of the new covenant.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies)

But we add a line to the prayer over the gifts: it’s not just what ”the earth has given,” or “the fruit of the earth”; it’s also the work of human hands. There is a beautiful prayer of Teihard de Chardin:

    I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar––
    And on it I will offer you all the labors and sufferings of the world…
    I will place on the paten the harvest to be won by labor. . .
    Into my chalice I will pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the Earth’s fruits.

So, the fruit of the earth and the work of our hands all become vehicles for God’s grace, all is meant to be brought into right relationship with God.

4. This ritual is also meant to convey to us that God wants us to participate in the work of creation, and in divinity itself. That’s why we pray that incredible prayer, “by the mystery of the water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who came to share in our humanity.”

5. And how do we participate? Well, that’s the last thing I want to mention that this ritual is trying to convey (though we could go on and on): it conveys that this divine mystery is especially present whenever and wherever human beings meet and share together, that God is present in every gesture of unselfish love, in every occasion of someone laying down their life for another. That’s why we read the story of the washing of the feet before we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.

The Hebrews didn’t need another ritual, another sacrifice; we don’t need another ritual; and God certainly didn’t and doesn’t either. The prophets leading up to Jesus kept telling the people how God was sick of their sacrifices and rituals! Jesus himself quotes the prophet Hosea twice saying: “Go and learn the meaning of these words, ‘It is love that I desire, not sacrifice. Knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.’”

The church, and this ritual, has no other purpose but to communicate and convey and reveal that––the love and knowledge of God that is hidden in the heart of creation and poured into the center of every human being as our very source and our ground. This is what we will be judged on as a church, as individuals, as communities and as a whole: not the forms of our rituals and doctrines, but by the reality of the love and knowledge of God that we manifest.

Bede Griffiths wrote that: “All myth and ritual, all doctrine and sacrament, is but a means to awaken our souls to this hidden mystery, to allow the divine presence to make itself known.”

So: as we participate in this ritual, as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and/or when we gaze at the reserved Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle or in a monstrance, let’s remember how weighty it is, how much it carries and conveys. And let’s especially pray that it would awaken us to the mystery of the knowledge of God, and the love of God that is poured into our hearts, so that we might make it manifest in our world, so that we might be the body and blood of Christ––that we might be broken and poured out for the sake of the world as Jesus was.

cyprian
14 june 09

Read More

Posted by on May 24, 2008

Corpus Christi: The Body of Christ

Corpus Christi: The Body of Christ

Stephen’s bright blue eyes smiled as we said, “Lamb of God, Give us Peace.” According to the rubrics we were now to show each other a sign of peace. Yet with Stephen’s attention deficit disorder, which had already taken him in and out the brief service at least twice, it seemed that a little catechesis might help him be a little more aware of what we were about to do. Stephen is not a little boy. He is a handsome man in his early 30s, with a number of tattoos poking out of the v-neck and short sleeves of his starched jail issued smock.

The readings had been those of Pentecost. The second reading was from First Corinthians 12. “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the power of the Holy Spirit.” This had struck all four of the men, but had made a special impression on Stephen. “Does that mean that when I pray the Holy Spirit moves my heart?” Stephen had asked. When I answered “Yes” his eyes got wide and he said that since his attention came and went and his thoughts were often jumbled, he thought his prayers were more bothersome and must be irritating. The notion that he is a temple of the Holy Spirit was as novel to him as it was consoling.

Stephen was back now and I shared a few words on the Lamb of God, recounting the Last Supper and the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord. We do this in His memory as He requested of us. We are invited to the Lord’s table. Stephen and his companions were not new to the faith, but this brief memorial of our Great Memorial brought a renewed awareness to the others and a slack jaw from Stephen. He did not doubt, but could not help but marvel at the wonder of it.

As we shared the wonder of the Blessed Sacrament, our communion was truly a sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ. Bread blessed and broken at the Eucharist, celebrated in the parish, given to all, shared with all, and sent to those in need and to those in prison. The Body of Christ – Corpus Christi – saving us all from our prison of loneliness, our hunger for love, and admitting us to the feast of heaven here and now.

Read More

Posted by on Apr 6, 2008

The Encounter at Emmaus

The Encounter at Emmaus

emmaus.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Read More

Posted by on Mar 31, 2008

Easter Communion or Condemnation?

Easter Communion or Condemnation?

holy-communion.jpg

To receive communion during the Easter season has been a long established precept of the Catholic Church. It is a practice that we should examine more closely. To receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist requires one to be in the state of grace – free of serious or mortal sin. We are advised – wisely – to put our souls in order. We are to turn away from sin and return to the community through the grace of absolution. There must be peace and love in our hearts and a definite change in our lives.

Fr. Burke, a Discalced Carmelite from Australia, expands on the notion of communion in terms of our living out the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in our shared lives as Catholics and Christians. In his article, “St. Teresa and Two Spiritualities in the Church Today,” at http://www.carmelite.com/, Fr. Burke explains St. Teresa of Avila’s views on legalism as opposed to true and complete union with God and each other. It is well worth reading.

Fr. Burke has put into words what I have been feeling ever since I read selections from the popular blog, Cafeteria Closed, by Gerald Naus, who writes as Gerald Augustinus. Naus came to the United States from Austria in 1997. A former Jehovah Witness, he became a Catholic in 2005. His views are decidedly Restorationist. Unfortunately, they are generally stated in tones of arrogance, condescension, or condemnation. His posts on culture, politics, and religion are inflammatory and provocative, akin to those of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, except that Catholicism is now the justification for neo-fascism. Naus’s recent post, On the Status of Palestinian Education, uses photos and a few inflammatory lines to libel all young Palestinian men. One might argue that many of Naus’s views are Catholic in the officially regressive sense, but there seems to be little of Christian charity or communion about them. From this narrow point of view anyone who does not agree with him is wrong and should be attacked. As a major blogger, Naus has a large following in which to sow his seeds of dissension.

You will know them by their fruits. (Mt 7:20)

Read More

Posted by on Mar 20, 2008

Each Little Light …

Each Little Light …

western-electric-lantern.jpg

Dr. Megan McKenna uses many stories in her teaching, claiming that all stories are true and some actually happened. She tells this story, one that actually happened, about a community she visited in India. It was a very small village, with an even smaller Catholic community. The community generally gathered in the evening. As dusk fell, her hosts invited her to go outside and look around. In the gathering darkness, she saw the hills around the village come to life with little twinkling lights. The lights began to move across the hills and gradually to converge on the small building which served as their church.

In the middle of the church, there was a large iron contraption, with many arms jutting out from the center. As the people arrived, they hung their family’s lantern on one of the arms. When it became clear that no more people were coming, the contraption, now a chandelier, was hoisted up over the gathered people. It shone over the altar, giving light to the entire community as they celebrated Mass together. Then, when the time came to leave, the chandelier was again lowered and each family took its own lantern. But rather than go home, they went out from their celebration to visit the homes of the members of the community who had not been able to join them that night. They knew exactly who was missing because those lanterns had not been on the chandelier giving light to the community!

A lesson Megan drew from this experience and shared with my parish community is that we aren’t really a community until we know who is missing when we gather to worship.

I thought of this story when, along with many thousands of others, I attended Sunday afternoon liturgy in the Anaheim Arena as part of the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress 2008. The arena was beautifully decorated. The music was outstanding. Cardinal Mahoney was presiding, along with many bishops and priests of the archdiocese. The deacons were there with their wives, entering and leaving in the processions together. It was altogether a wonderful time and place to be.

It happened to be the Sunday when the Gospel is the story of the healing of the man born blind. This is one of the three Sundays when we celebrate “The Scrutinies” as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). The focus of the second Scrutiny is the ways in which we are blind. The prayer of those preparing for Baptism, Confirmation and/or Eucharist at Easter, as well as of the larger community, is for deliverance from those forms of blindness.

After the homily, when the time came for the Scrutiny, those preparing for the “Easter sacraments” (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist), were invited to kneel around the altar in the center of the Arena. Their sponsors stood before them as they knelt there. And we were all invited to pray with them, then raise our hands in prayer over them, asking the Lord’s blessing on them as they left with their catechists to continue reflecting on the Scriptures and preparing for Easter. Then they all rose and left the Arena.

I was sitting in the third tier of seats, so I had a great view of the floor and all the proceedings. It was an impressive sight, because approximately 5 rows of people on both sides of the aisle on the main floor left the room together. There was a huge hole in the middle of the community gathered there for worship. Although I didn’t know any of those people personally, I knew who was missing from that community! Those who will bring their own light of insights and God’s unique presence to our/their communities when they are welcomed into full participation in the Church at the Easter Vigil.

I remembered Megan’s story and also her statement that the gospels were written by the Christian community for those who were becoming new members of the community. They are for the instruction of new Christians, and the gift of the RCIA, and of those preparing to join the community, is the opportunity to see these stories anew and to experience their power to change lives – the lives of new followers of The Way and of those who maybe have begun to take it for granted.

As we celebrate the many liturgies of the next few days, I invite you to look around and see who is missing. Who needs us to reach out in love and ease a burden, or offer a word of hope and consolation? Who is homebound? Who is discouraged? Who has been hurt by our institution or our community? Who have we ourselves hurt? As we reach out in love to those missing, we will experience the Resurrection of Jesus in a deeper way and we will become a sign of love to the world, just as those little lights coming down the hillside were a sign of a loving community in one small Indian village.

Read More