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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

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

Earthrise (NASA photo ID AS11-44-6552)The Catholic Church and the broader world community are looking forward to Pope Francis’ forthcoming encyclical on the environment. Generally, Christians tend to see the earth and all of creation as a motion picture studio back drop for God’s saving action in the Christ Event — the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus. However, there is more to our relationship with the Earth and with Christ than a motion-picture-type approach suggests. Patheos, a collection of blogs focused on faith, presents a panel discussion representing many viewpoints on the impending human-caused collapse of our planetary life-support system.

Overflowing love

What we tend to overlook is that all of creation is the ongoing reality of God’s overflowing love. Nature is a major facet of God’s self-disclosure. Creation is God’s great art project, which the Holy One holds in existence. The Book of Genesis makes it clear that we are part of this great Divine creativity. Humanity is taken from the earth and given life through the Divine breath. The Christ Event is God’s very immersion into creation. The Divine Word, God’s highest and most complete God Self disclosure, becomes truly human and remains truly divine in Jesus of Nazareth. God’s irruption into human history is part and parcel of the divine irruption to bring all creation to fulfillment in Christ according to St. Paul and the ancient tradition of the Church.

The Jesuit paleontologist and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, gave us a post-modern vision of all creation spiraling upward to its fulfillment: the Omega Point which is the Cosmic Christ. His book, the Divine Milieu (The Divine Environment / Context), and his mystical poem, La Messe Sur le Monde (The Mass on the World), convey the ongoing creativity in the universe and that facet of creation which is the human species. This does not mean that everything is God – pantheism – any more than art we might produce is identical with us. The things we make reflect our creativity, but they are not us. According to Chardin, our gift of consciousness not only allows us to be aware of God’s activity but to take part in it by God’s out-poured love for us.

Participating in God’s saving activity

The ongoing Christ Event sweeps us and all of the cosmos toward creation’s fulfillment in Christ, the Omega point. The Second Vatican Council, in its key documents the Church and the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes – Joy and Hope) and The Light of Nations (Lumen Gentium), affirms the centrality of God’s action in human society and creation and our need to participate in this saving activity. Social and political oppression generally go hand in hand with the destruction of the environment and the human life-support system, resulting in poverty, war, and ignorance and the degradation of humanity.

As the Council Fathers wrote:

Therefore, the council focuses its attention on the world of men, the whole human family along with the sum of those realities in the midst of which it lives; that world which is the theater of man’s history, and the heir of his energies, his tragedies and his triumphs; that world which the Christian sees as created and sustained by its Maker’s love, fallen indeed into the bondage of sin, yet emancipated now by Christ, Who was crucified and rose again to break the strangle hold of personified evil, so that the world might be fashioned anew according to God’s design and reach its fulfillment. – Gaudium et Spes #2 (emphasis added)

Image: Earthrise (NASA photo ID AS11-44-6552)
public domain

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Posted by on Apr 16, 2015

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

Easter and “Eastering”

Icon of the ResurrectionEaster is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and what that means for all human beings and the whole of creation. It is an event which gives us hope; a time to remember that good is stronger than evil and death is not the end of life. But the resurrection also has divergent interpretations. For some, Jesus never really died but instead was revived. Some say that he died but his body was stolen and buried somewhere else. For some, it is a question of the resuscitation of a corpse so that Jesus had a revived human body and had to die completely at a later time. For others, it is the return of Jesus in a transformed body. Still others believe that Jesus came back as a vision, seen either interiorly or externally but in a ghostly form.

Catholicism (and most of Christianity) teaches that Jesus returned as fully human and fully divine in a transformed body. He could walk through walls, yet he could eat (Lk. 24:36-23). He could vanish in a moment but had wounds that were of flesh and could be touched. The story of the encounter with Thomas the Apostle (Jn. 20:26-29) is one example. The people closest to him did not recognize him at first. Both Mary Magdalene in the garden (Jn. 20:11-18) and the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35) mistook him for someone else, a gardener or a fellow traveler respectively. Only through his words and actions did they come to recognize him.

Various traditions of Christianity also emphasize different aspects of Easter. A few focus primarily on the symbolic nature of this miracle, i.e. that all human beings can experience a new life in Christ at the time of death. Most Christians, however, believe that the entire Paschal drama (the Paschal Mystery) from Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday to Easter cannot be separated into parts. With Easter, in this understanding, creation was made fundamentally new in the here and now. It also means that the risen Christ manifested an existence that all will share in in the future Eschaton (the last days) — the reconciliation of all to God.

Because of the entire Paschal Mystery, the Holy Spirit and grace are understood as active in the day-to-day world, inviting and drawing people to God in very tangible ways. According to St. Paul all of us are recapitulating in our lives the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (Phil. 3:10-11). The famous Catholic paleontologist, geologist, philosopher, and theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. saw this movement of human history towards its fulfillment in Christ as taking place in everything in the entire universe. As he examined every level of creation from the most basic subatomic (as much as he could know in the 1950s) to the macrocosmic realities of the galaxies, he saw a movement toward greater unity (communion) and consciousness.

What Jesus did at the Last Supper was to place himself as a unique offering of love to the Father, an offering that is shared by us. His self-giving and adoration, and their rejection by those in power, became a historical event on the cross the next day. But, out of the sacrifice of his life came the triumph of God over death and sin for all humanity. No evil or tragedy is beyond the reach of God’s love and redemption. Easter is the absolute promise that the human condition and the way the world currently is is not a meaningless lonely journey to oblivion. Jesus “Easters” us every day when we let his love and guidance into ourselves and our lives as we struggle with our crosses of loss, hurt, or disordered living. We live Easter here and now imperfectly, but this Easter will be fully realized in the future in the Kingdom of God.

Icon of the Resurrection, by Surgun. Public Domain

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Posted by on Mar 24, 2015

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

Growing Into an Adult Morality

Virtues fighting Vices - 14th Century window

Virtues fighting Vices      14th Century window

Fr. Bryan Massingale, in his workshop at the 2015 Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, “Virtues for Adult Christians”, explains that Christian morality is about decisions we make that are motivated by faith in Christ. They are a response to God’s prior gift of love and expressed in our choices and decisions about what we do and the kind of person we are.

Morality, like much of human experience, is different for children than for adults. Childhood is a time of formation and growth. Adulthood is a time of internalization of what has been learned and growth in wisdom. For children, morality is something that comes from the outside, tends to be phrased more negatively (“you may not…”), is based on rules and obedience, and is reinforced by fear or rewards. For adults, morality comes from within the person. It is a positive statement of who I am. Based on ideals and goals, it is virtue-centered. Virtues in this sense are good habits — attitudes and ways of being/acting that are positive responses to divine love. Adult morality is inspirational: becoming the best person I can be, the one God calls me to be.

Both approaches to morality are appropriate and Catholic. Children need rules and boundaries in order to learn and grow safely and securely. But in late adolescence and early adulthood, they need to grow and make what they have learned a positive part of who they are. Humans need to grow up morally as well as physically, because most of what we experience in our adult lives does not fit easily into the system of rules we learned as children. As Fr. Massingale noted, life is sloppy, complex, messy, and fascinating. Rules are for  perfect worlds: neat and precise! We expect more than rules can deliver and we want to be safe, but that’s not what adult life is about. Pope Francis tells us in The Joy of the Gospel (#39) that morality is more than rules and self-denial. It’s a response to the God of love.

Traditional lists of virtues are divided into two groups: Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope, Love) and Cardinal Virtues (Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, Justice). The Cardinal virtues are sometimes known as “hinge” virtues because others flow from them.

In contrast to the virtues, we also have lists of vices. Interestingly, the vices come in two versions: an excess or a lack of that quality that makes a virtue the good quality that it is. For example the vice that is opposite to Hope may be seen as Despair (too little hope) or as Arrogance (too much misplaced confidence).

Fr. Massingale suggests that for today’s adult Christians, a list of some contemporary virtues should include: Courage, Compassion, Self-Love, Forgiveness, and Wisdom. If these are missing, our lives get all messed up.

His presentation was recorded and is well worth taking the time to enjoy. (The video gets started slowly. Move the cursor on the bar to 21.15 for the beginning!)

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Posted by on Mar 16, 2015

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

Metanoia — Transformation and Change

 

What does “Metanoia” Mean?

 “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2)

Many of us have a desire for closeness to God and the realization of all that we can be. Those goals inevitably call us to change. But, change is hard. And often we feel that we cannot make it happen. In fact, we cannot and do not make it happen. As Christians we realize that God makes it happen. We can let  desire in. We can say “yes” to change even if it feels like an unknown path. We can push back fear and see the new possibilities as freedom from the past or as an adventure.  But even these are with God’s support. Left on our own, we humans fall into fear, laziness, and even anger that there is work involved in finding true happiness.

Why is growth toward happiness so much work? Is there a point to work? Why doesn’t God just give us feelings of happiness or all the material goods that would meet normal needs?

Created for Transcendence

In his love, God has created us to transcend our natural selves. He has built into his creation a sense of beauty and  love that goes far beyond the need to survive. As humans evolved from an un-self-reflective consciousness  to an ability to be self-reflective, they developed the ability to choose consciously and to know if an act is harmful to self or others.  This is a good and basic moral accomplishment, but the bigger task for humans has been to distinguish accomplishments from our fundamental orientation. Many of us work very hard at doing important and helpful things. We build our legacy goal by goal.

In the middle of all of this striving we inevitably hit such things as disappointment, tragedy, loneliness, thoughtlessness, health problems, and set-backs. We ask ourselves if all the effort is worth it. Do I matter? Does my life matter?

I can react with anger or ego and wrap myself up in accomplishments, money, or an attractive body. I often yell at God about why I have to work so hard to get things done. I always get back the same reply, “Because I love you.”  God loves me enough to invite me to work with my fear and my feelings of inadequacy and to let him help me through all the moments of planning and work. No one is going to hand me good relationships. But, my prayerful reflection on my relationships can improve them. I can let God calm me down. I can hear an inner voice suggesting a better way to talk or listen.

All of this hope and growth can happen if my fundamental orientation is to God. The desire to depend on God happens because I surrender to God and to God’s ways. The Bible speaks of the turn in fundamental orientation as “metanoia.”

Repentence or more?

The term “metanoia” appears 58 times in the New Testament.  It is usually translated as “repentance.” But, the translation as “repentance” is controversial. It can be traced back to a choice that had to be made when the text was translated for early Latin Christianity. There was no equivalent in Latin to the earlier Classical Greek meaning. Classical Greek understood it as a change of mind. Even if one narrows the word to repentance, it never in Greek usage had a sense of sorrow or regret. “Meta” means beyond or after and “noia” means mind.  Why is this search for precision important?

It is important because “metanoia,” even if translated  as repentance, is in the broader context of Jesus’ intention to announce the coming of the kingdom of God. There is a process in the Gospels by which people come to the Kingdom and salvation. It is a process of evangelism, encounter with God, enlightenment, conversion, repentance, decision, and a new self-identity which includes a change of belief and social structure.  Sorrow for sins is important and good, but the encounter with God and commitment to him is the only enduring basis for belief, change and perseverance. We see examples of this in the story of St. Peter’s responses to Jesus after the Resurrection (Jn 21:15-21) or the call of the disciples (Jn. 1:35-39).

Christ and Zacchaeus - Niels_Larsen_Stevns-_ZakæusA lasting “metanoia” or change happens because of an experience of God.

No one can define the nature of that experience. It is different for each person. It can be a sense of closeness such as that experienced by Mary, Martha and Lazarus (Lk. 10:38-42, Jn. 11:1-44) or an answer to prayer or the knowledge that one has been saved from a threat or entanglement as in the experience of Zacchaeus the tax collector (Lk. 19:1-10).  Some people have visions, others experience healings. For some a particular passage in Scripture sets their hearts on fire or they experience a feeling of consolation after receiving communion.

Metanoia: A gift for the entire community

Some Christian groups make a distinction between the metanoia and pursuant faith commitment of someone raised in the faith and the startling experience St. Paul had on the road to Damascus. There is no difference. People raised in a faith tradition can grow from learned traditions and rules to an experience of God. It can be quite eye-opening. Many are not counting on knowing Christ. The practice of prayer can provide strength and guidance, but experience of God is the possible and expected point of prayer. This is not just for the canonized saints. God can re-frame our accustomed ways. This is metanoia. It is a turning or conversion which takes our consent, but it is a gift.

Give God some time to meet you in prayer. Read the Gospels and put yourself in the stories. Consider giving your life to God and let him lead you to your experience of him, to your metanoia.

 

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Posted by on Jan 21, 2015

Martin Luther King, Jr. — A Gift of One’s Self

Martin Luther King, Jr. — A Gift of One’s Self

 

January 19, 2105 is the Martin Luther King holiday in the United States. The first reading of the day in the lectionary is Hebrews 5: 1-10. Christ’s adherence to the will of the Father has led Him on a path of suffering, death and glorification. Dr, King took this path of God’s will to which we are all called.

“In the days when he was in the Flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” – Hebrews 5: 5-10

The Feast of Martin Luther King, Jr is not a feast of the Roman calendar, but it is a national holiday to celebrate a civil rights leader and a Baptist minister who advocated non-violence. Today is a tribute to all who work for human and civil rights for African-Americans and all people. Many of us are of an age to remember the Reverend King. The three television networks brought us live coverage in black and white of the marches, the sit-ins, and the fire hoses and police dogs that were part of the black struggle against white oppression. There was the famous “I have a dream speech” at the Lincoln Memorial. The haunting last speech before Dr. King was gunned down, “I Have Been to the Mountain Top” in which he saw the promised land of freedom, “I may not get there with you but I have seen it.”

Like all of us, Dr. King was an imperfect human being. Like all of us he was a sinner, but his redemption, like ours, is based in obedience to Christ, the source of eternal salvation for all. We know that precisely because Jesus is the Son of God, His will is perfectly aligned with that of the Father. Since Jesus was truly divine and truly human, his obedience came at a human cost. “In the days when he was in the Flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, AND HE WAS HEARD because of His Reverence.

In his work of announcing the kingdom, healing the sick, feeding the multitudes, Jesus did not shy away from doing the will of his Father. But he knew where his call was leading. It became more and more obvious that if he stayed true to the person he was — the Divine Word become human — that His hands that had been raised in blessing and healing would be nailed to the cross. With loud cries and tears he asks the Father to take this cup away, but he is true to his calling and the will of the Father. “Let not my will be done but yours.” It is through this obedience that Jesus goes to his excruciating death on the cross and to the glory of the resurrection. He WAS HEARD because of His Reverence.

For Dr. King, Mahatma Gandhi, all Christian saints and martyrs, and ourselves, this call to obedience is not only a question of observing certain commandments but a deeper call to be the person God created us to be, to be at one with God, to hear at one with God, to accept God’s truth about our mission in life to advance the kingdom of heaven.

There were many black leaders in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Dr. King didn’t need to have such a high profile in the movement. Yet it was something that Dr. King was drawn into despite all of the obvious risks to himself and his family. He was born and raised in Atlanta in a strictly segregated society. Dr. King knew what happened to black people who broke the rules. He certainly could have taken an easier type of ministry, but he heard the Word of God, the Will of the Father for his life and his death.

Most of us think that we are not called to such types of work. We are certain that God’s will for us involves something less “glamorous,” nothing so heroic as what Jesus and the saints like Mother Teresa and Dr. King did. But I wonder. All of us have that little voice within us to do something special, something only we can do, but we know that it will cost us. Dr. King used his gift of oratory, of speaking and preaching, to give voice to the prayers and aspirations of the millions enslaved and oppressed using the language, song, and rhythm that the Spirit had given them in their bondage and oppression.

Many of us see fewer years ahead of us than the ones that have fled so swiftly. The babies we held are now grown adults with their own babies. What are we called to do to announce the Kingdom of Heaven and to make it a reality? What can we do to end poverty, hunger, oppression, and violence? How do we draw closer to God and each other in prayer? How do we move toward reconciliation and forgiveness?

We can only do it if we take the time to be quiet and to listen — to pay attention to that little voice that comes to us or the massive cry that comes to us in outrage at the atrocities of the world visited upon the young, the poor, the defenseless. There is a price to be paid, and eternal life to be gained.

 

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Posted by on Dec 18, 2014

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

Incarnation: Why Is It Important to Us?

Christ the Savior -Pantocrator
What does the Incarnation mean and why is it important to us?

“Incarnation” literally means “to put into flesh.” In the case of Christ, the term points to the differences among a sacred being who could have been a guest in the created and physical world, one who was united to the physical world, and one who became physical while yet also remaining sacred.   Christ is the latter. He is fully human and fully divine.

Why did God speak his love for us so completely that his talk to the Earth became the enfleshment of the Second Person of the Trinity?

The main reason is that God’s self-communication to us in the natural world (within our minds and consciences) and in divine revelation to the Jewish people (in writings known as the Bible) had not brought humans to justice, compassion and holiness. The historical context of Jesus in first century Palestinian life was the perfect time, place and culture in which the precursors to exceptional human insight and conversion were in place. The fact of sin had by then been explored. The need for salvation was painfully obvious.

Jesus was not a second rate emanation from God. He also was not just a new face or action of a non-Trinitarian God. He is “begotten not made.” He is “one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.” He is the Earthly reality of the pre-existent second person of the eternal Trinity. So, because of these facts, Jesus is a reality that confronted both the Greek and the Jewish worlds of his day: the worlds of multiple and separate deities and the world of one, single sacred reality.

As one of the three persons of the Trinity Jesus shared the divine essence and inter-communication, but in the mystery of the Incarnation his full humanity caused his awareness of this to lie in the background of his consciousness. He learned, planned, acted, and suffered just as we do. He was a fully human person who thought, prayed and regretted as we do. He assumed all the joys and indignities of this life. He was like us “in all things but sin.” He took it all on and therefore redeemed it all. He let evil have the final word in the Earthly sense and then surrendered to the Father who made it good.

What Jesus did was not just good in his regard but rather, because he was fully human and divine, he transformed humanness. He brought humanity into a completely new state and relationship with the Trinity. With God’s grace we are both redeemed and able to know it.

We are called to be like God (Genesis 1). We are called to rejoice in the Incarnation and give profound thanks because we can know and love God and grow in closeness to him.

 

For more on this topic, read:
“Incarnation” from the Encyclopedia of Theology: The Concise Sacramundi Mundi.

A Christological Catechism: New Testament Answers, by Joseph A. Fitzmyer, SJ
Elizabeth A. Johnson’s  Consider Jesus is also excellent.

Image: Christ the Savior (Pantocrator), 6th century image from St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt Sinai

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Posted by on Aug 29, 2014

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

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 May 11, 2012

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

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

 

Julian of Norwich - Stained Glass Window from Church

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by on Apr 8, 2012

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

“Christ is Risen” “He is Truly Risen”

This ancient greeting and response burst forth from a joyful people, marking a new day, a new creation, a New Covenant — our Easter morning. Following the heartbreak and despair of Good Friday and the empty sadness of the Holy Saturday that followed, Life rises up again, unbroken and undefeated, never again to die.

With Christian people through the ages and around the world, we sing joyfully in praise this ancient hymn.

Christians, to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful praises!
A Lamb the sheep redeems;
Christ, who only is sinless,
Reconciles sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous:
The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.
Speak, Mary, declaring
What you saw, wayfaring.
“The tomb of Christ, who is living,
The glory of Jesus’ resurrection;
Bright angels attesting,
The shroud and napkin resting.
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen;
To Galilee he goes before you.”
Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!
Amen. Alleluia.

Victimae paschali laudes from the Liturgy for Easter Sunday
“Easter Lily” by George Cochran Lambdin, in the public domain, created before 1923.

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Posted by on Dec 23, 2011

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

Requiem for Christopher Hitchens the Anti-Theist

Christopher Hitchens went to his reward on December 15, 2011. The question of the eternal fate of such a vitriolic foe of faith and religion has received two responses. Douglas Wilson – Hitchens’ theist debating partner – in Christianity Today said that since we cannot assume that Hitchens called on God, we must assume that he is lost forever.

Eric Reitan, philosopher and author of Is God a Delusion? A Reply to Religion’s Cultured Despisers focuses on Hitchens’ search for truth. Reitan sees Hitchens’ motto “religion poisons everything” as an exaggerated reaction to the truth that there “is much that is poisonous in the religions of the world.” As such, Hitchens’ wasn’t necessarily anti-God as much as he was repulsed by the evil practice of religion. Reitan sees salvation for Hitchens because of his dedication to truth. Reitan cites Simone Weil’s famous statement:

I still think so today, that one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before failing into his arms. – Waiting for God, Simone Weil 1951 page 69

Reitan’s view is much more Christian in the sense of Jesus own concern with truth and sincerity over the sham invocation of doctrine or religious law.

The words of the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer come to mind: “…  remember now all for whom we make this sacrifice: … those who take part in this offering, those gathered here before you, your entire people, and all who seek you with a sincere heart.”

Another passage from Simone Weil comes to mind regarding death:

I always believed that the instant of death is the center and object of life. I used to think that, for those who live as they should, it is the instant when, for an infinitesimal fraction of time, pure truth, naked, certain, and eternal enters the soul. I may say that I never desired any other good for myself. I thought that the life leading to this good is not only defined by a code of morals common to all, but that for each one it consists of a succession of acts and events strictly personal to him, and so essential that he who leaves them on one side never reaches the goal.

Perhaps, those of us who feel comforted in faith and the promise of Heaven should not rely so much on dogma but on a life of truth – a life of authenticity.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him. – Matthew 21:31-32

Image: Orion Nebula Galaxy – Courtesy of NASA In the Public Domain

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Posted by on Sep 14, 2011

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross – An Ancient Feast Still Relevant

Feast of the Cross - Russion Icon, 1680

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross dates from the fourth century, when according to tradition St. Helena discovered the True Cross on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was dedicated in 335 AD and the cross was kept inside the church. The dedication of the church was celebrated on September 13 and the cross was carried outside the church for veneration by the faithful on September 14. As part of the celebration, the cross was lifted up so all could see it. This was the reason the feast came to be called the “Exaltation” or “Raising Aloft” of the Holy Cross or the Precious Cross (depending on whether one spoke Latin or Greek). Another,  more recent, translation of the term Exaltatio is “triumph.”

Beyond the physical practice of raising the cross up so that people could see it and venerate it, the triumph of Jesus over death on the cross has been a source of hope for people through the ages. In fact, Jesus told his disciples, “If I am lifted up high I will draw everything to myself.” (Jn 12:32)

In The Dialogue, 26, St. Catherine of Siena describes God’s explanation to her of Jesus’ role as bridge between the divine and the human.

“… Do you know when it [this bridge] was raised up? When my Son was lifted up on the wood of the most holy cross he did not cut off his divinity from the lowly earth of your humanity. So though he was raised so high he was not raised off the earth. In fact, his divinity is kneaded into the clay of your humanity like one bread. …

When my goodness saw that you could be drawn in no other way, I sent him to be lifted onto the wood of the cross. I made of that cross an anvil where this child of humankind could be hammered into an instrument to release humankind from death and restore it to the life of grace. In this way he drew everything to himself: for he proved his unspeakable love, and the human heart is always drawn by love. He could not have shown you greater love than by giving his life for you. …

I said that, having been raised up, he would draw everything to himself. This is true in two ways: First, the human heart is drawn by love, as I said, and with all its powers: memory, understanding, and will. If these three powers are harmoniously united in my name, everything else you do, in fact or in intention, will be drawn to union with me in peace through the movement of my love, because all will be lifted up in the pursuit of crucified love. … For everything you do will be drawn to him when he draws your heart and its powers.”

“His divinity is kneaded into the clay of your humanity” and then all raised up, drawn into the life of the Trinity. What a great gift we have received. We no longer gather in Jerusalem expecting to see Jesus’ cross carried out for our veneration. We celebrate the raising aloft of our lives in union with His gift of life on the cross, drawn by love to that union.

(Image is in the public domain in the United States because its copyright has expired.)

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Posted by on Jul 28, 2011

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Discernment – Seventh Day – July 29th

Roland Joffe’s 1986 Movie “The Mission” traces and telescopes the Jesuit missionary efforts in Paraguay. In 1995, the Vatican Film List singled out “The Mission” as one of 15 films of special religious significance. In this scene Fr. Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) plays his oboe to make contact with the Guarani after several of his brothers had been killed in similar attempts. The song is the now famous “Gabriel’s Oboe” by Morricone. Right click on this link to open it in another tab for a symphonic and choral arrangement as a background for your own meditation on this day of the novena.

The Invitation of Christ

St. Ignatius is very clear in his distinction between the Call of Christ and that of Satan. Like Gabriel’s Oboe, the call of Christ is peaceful, inviting, encouraging. The snares of Satan are fear, anxiety, and compulsion. These are the primary ways in which we can begin to discern the source of motions and movements within our soul. The banner of Satan has been called the path of least resistance while the banner of Christ is that of consciousness.

The banner of Christ requires openness, humility, and real courage, as we see in the scene from the movie. In fact, the Jesuit missionary experience in Paraguay would follow the path of the cross as the Portuguese killed the missionaries and enslaved the Guarani. This in turn was only the prelude to the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1767 because of its opposition to the absolute power given to kings and emperors during the Enlightenment. The Society was restored in 1814.

A Growing Sensitivity

Wholeheartedness in the service of God demands a constant effort of discernment, a growing sensitivity to the will of God. Without this, generosity can lead only to ‘the expense of spirit in a waste of shame’…

At all events, Ignatius characterizes Lucifer as a tyrant who drives and compels his subjects (he uses a vocabulary of compulsion and trickery), whereas when describing Christ his vocabulary is one of friendship, persuasion, gentleness…

What I have to see is that my personal option must be made in the light of this universal vision. My choice must integrate me into the great movement of salvation already accomplished in Christ and now being worked out on earth. My choice will be a reproduction in me of the option of Christ who chose the cross, despising its shame. We may note that this idea finds its first development with Origen but is already contained in germ in the phrase of Ignatius of Antioch – ‘Let me be an imitator of the passion of my God’. – William Yeomans (emphasis not in the original)

Mother Teresa

Exercise:

Placing myself in God’s presence, I ask these questions of myself and the Holy Spirit. What is my path of consciousness? What is my path of least resistance?

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness, and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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Posted by on Jul 28, 2011

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – The Banner of Christ – Sixth Day – July 28th

“May Christ our Lord give us his grace so that we may be always sensitive to his will and fulfill it entirely.”

This quotation is the closing salutation St. Ignatius used commonly in his letters and represents the state of openness that is the goal of the Exercises.

The Forces of Good and Evil

The Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises prepares us to make the “Election” or the choice to serve Christ the way he has served us in complete humility by the way of the cross. St. Ignatius takes us through the life of Christ from the Incarnation to the Baptism at the River Jordan.

Before we can get to this election we have to deal with the parts of ourselves that still hold on to sinful ways, attitudes, and tendencies. For St. Ignatius, there are two competing kingdoms symbolized by their own flags or standards. By accepting the banner of Christ and His Kingdom, we reject sin and evil within ourselves and move from a position of self-interest to one of complete surrender to the Divine Will.

The Banner of Christ

“The issue at stake at this stage of the Exercises is not the fact of salvation or of Christ’s victory over Lucifer. That has never been in doubt and the whole theology of the First Week presupposes it. The question is how this victory is to be made a reality for mankind here and now, through my choice. There is no doubt in Ignatius’ mind that the banner of Christ is the Vexilla Regis, the banner of the cross, and the Election is going to be a setting out on the way of the cross.” William Yeomans, “The Two Standards”

SacredHeart Fanelli 1994

Exercise:

What comes to my mind and heart when I say this prayer? What part do I play in God’s plan of salvation here and now: day in and day out?

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not count the cost;
to fight and not heed the wounds;
to toil and not seek for rest;
to labor and not ask for reward, except to know
that I am doing your will.

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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Posted by on Jul 26, 2011

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Reconciliation – Fifth Day – July 27 –

Testimony:

Thank God for His mercy and grace. If not for His grace and mercy, I would have been so lost in drugs and alcohol and misery. He sent His son to die for each of us. What I have now is peace that passes all understanding, and His Spirit that lives in me to give me actual joy in life. finally joy and peace that I thought was in pain killers and booze. That wasn’t joy, that was being numb. Not now! Not anymore! Thank God for His grace. – blog comment on “Your Grace Is Enough for Me” by stormyweather

Reflection:

This testimony is a beautiful example of true reconciliation. It involves a transformative healing and could have come right out of the pages of the Gospel – The Good News.

Confession, or the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is high on St. Ignatius’ list of priorities for the First Week of the Exercises. The challenge for most cradle Catholics is focusing on a long Church approved check list of sins, as opposed to focusing on the person of Christ. The things that bother us the most are obvious if we are honest with ourselves. Often we can become neurotically obsessed with our own behavior in terms of small things, without facing major issues like alcoholic parents; sexual, physical, or psychological abuse; refusing to forgive. People in lifestyles or marriages that don’t meet Church standards can feel that somehow God is not interested in them; somehow He died only for the good people.

Most of the detailed lists cover symptoms of some type of break-down in our relationship with God as codified in the Ten Commandments or the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. However, this can lead to a denial of our own feelings and cause damage in other areas of our lives. If my anger is always close to the surface, it is not really helpful to keep confessing it and beating myself up over it without looking more deeply at what its cause is. My marriage can be problematic and my sex life unsatisfying. However, if I just keep focusing on the symptoms instead of these deeper issues, I am wasting time and energy and building up to something that will be very bad for everyone concerned.

Sin, guilt, and remorse can be very complicated. Returning veterans from the Middle East have not sinned when they killed people if you believe in the just war theory of morality. That doesn’t mean that they don’t carry a great burden. When they lash out in destructive ways as part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, marriages are lost, children are harmed, suicide can follow. Going down a checklist doesn’t even begin to offer the healing we all need in these and most situations. Let us look at ourselves, our loved ones, and all others with honesty and compassion as we embrace the forgiving Christ. We are worth everything to God. Perhaps the greatest sin when we don’t see ourselves as worth saving. God does not make junk.

people-walking-on-street

Examination of Conscience

Place yourself in God’s presence and know that you are with a trusted friend. Put out of your mind all thoughts of an avenging father figure or some tyrannical authority figure. You are with the God who came to dwell among us and shared all things we endure except sin. Jesus was open and frank with people who came and spoke with him. He expects no less from you. If you are upset or confused, listen for the healing voice of your Friend. Open your heart and listen.

Start with a thank you for being redeemed and saved and for protection. Ask the tough questions. Why did my child die? What do I do with my alcoholic husband? My heart is broken. Can you mend it? I tampered with evidence to get innocent people convicted. I fought for tax laws that would protect me and take food, healthcare, housing, and education from the poor. I did my best to be careful, but I killed women and children in that village. I think the Church is wrong when it says we should get rid of the death penalty.

Be open to finding out the facts. Have I brought these issues to a counselor? How do I start to change things and to make amends. What is the deeper issue here?

Talk with Jesus. Accept His forgiveness. When he says “Go in peace and sin no more,” what will I do to make that a reality? If you are glum or downcast, something is wrong. You have been pardoned. Stretch, breathe, cry for happiness. Break out in song. Jump for joy. This day salvation has come to your house.

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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