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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

Catholic Social Teaching and the Kingdom

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 Sep 19, 2012

Catholic Social Teaching and the Kingdom

The First Fruit of the Spirit is Love

Driftwood Flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Domain image by Christina Spiegeland

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Posted by on Jul 21, 2012

Catholic Social Teaching and the Kingdom

The Fruit of the Spirit: A way to live a transformed life

 

In his letter to the Galatians (5:22-23), Paul speaks of the “Fruit” of the Spirit. He uses this term in the singular, implying there is just one fruit, with nine aspects or expressions. In Galatians, Paul rejects a meticulous observance of multiple laws as a way to be righteous before God. In contrast, the “one fruit” is transformation in the Spirit, which blossoms into many virtues. The word “fruit” probably alludes to the image in the Bible of a person of virtue being like a tree which is rooted in living water and bears fruit (Ps. 1) or to trees that are cut down and burned because they do not bear fruit (Luke 13).

The idea of conversion and transformation is intriguing in our 21st century world. We have an increasingly secular society which presses us to talk about God in empirical ways. If we can’t prove that God exists in a mode measurable by our senses, then God is dismissed as a product of the imagination. Another common interpretation of belief in God is that the image of God is the fulfillment of a psychological need. In this world, the idea that God is attractive or that I would allow God to have control of my life is either inconceivable or not of importance. Transformation or change for most 21st  century people means that I change myself. It could also include help by others, such as a therapist or doctor. The only limitation to change in this world is a lack of will or skill, either on my part or on that of my helpers. There is the sense that given enough time, a solution to all problems can be found within the scope of human means.

From a Christian point of view, there are limitations and forms of harm that cannot be remedied by human effort. Transformation in this context presupposes an experiential relationship with God. It is the opposite of fixing myself. Transformation implies that I accept my limitations and let myself hear the voice of God, both inside myself and externally. The fruits are then part of the dance between God and me. I cannot make myself love heroically, but I can approach that kind of love if I am enlightened and empowered by the Spirit. I may naturally approach life in a positive way, but the basis of hope and courage in the face of great difficulty is God, whether I know it or not.

Interestingly enough, this topic came up in a conversation very recently with a sister in a religious community who told me that at the homeless program where she works in Portland, the people speak often about their experience of God. Many of them feel God’s presence and God’s love for them. They pray often to God and recognize God helping them. They do not feel alone. So, those who are the least fortunate and have very few comforts experience God’s power in their lives and can let God help them. It is so often the case that those we usually judge as the most blessed do not report a sense of closeness or awareness of God. In my seminars for professionals in the corporate world, it is rare to have someone tell me of the comfort of closeness to God in the day to day, even in private conversations we have about faith. Jesus asks us to become open like children and to come to him for help with our burdens. How hard that is.

The Fruit of the Spirit – Image by Terri Holaday – Public Domain

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Posted by on Jul 3, 2012

Catholic Social Teaching and the Kingdom

The Seventh Gift: Awe and Wonder (Fear of the Lord)

Baby Galaxies in the Night Sky

When I stare at the night sky, especially if I am out in the country, I get almost overwhelmed at the immensity of the universe.  I am in awe of the beauty of the stars and then amazed at a God who can create and manage such an enormous and complex reality and yet be with me personally.  One billion galaxies!  Possibly two billion.

Even if a person does not believe in God as the reality defined in traditional religious terms, the beauty of the night sky, the roar of water down a canyon, the amazing chatter of birds and animals can take the breath away — almost bring one to tears.

The gift of AWE AND WONDER helps us to know and to feel that God is the fulfillment of everything we desire.  That there exists  perfect love — perfect knowledge, goodness, power, action, discretion, justice, healing.  With this gift we perceive the mystery that God is.  We realize that there is an aspect of the Sacred, the transcendent, that we cannot know on this side of death, but that we get glimpses of such majesty and glory.  We see that God can know, interact with, and sustain billions of people.   It’s amazing.  You either believe it or you don’t.  If you believe in such a possibility then it is mind blowing.  My particularities matter.  I am fully known.  Nothing is impossible.

In 1974 When Annie Dillard published Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, it made two inaccessible worlds available to an entirely new audience.  The first world was the natural world known in a scientific way.  All of a sudden cells and their biochemistry, ecosystems, the interdependence of species, and the rhythms of nature were explained in lay terms and could be understood and celebrated.  Secondly, this joy and excitement was not just intellectual but also solidly spiritual.  There was no separation of the secular from the sacred.  The world was whole and we felt whole in it.  How nice!  My body and the whole physical realm was God’s love and creativity writ big in the awesome processes of life in mitochondria,  chloroplasts, T cells, blood, genes, the periodic table, and atomic particles.

Dillard took all the lovely words, images and sounds of a poet like Gerard Manley Hopkinsand showed us the genius of God, down to the most minute details.  Hopkins’ dramatic words: grandeur, greatness, ooze, dearest freshness, dappled, brinded, original, spare, and strange now showed the grandeur of God as Dillard explained the incredible scientific reality of ooze and freshness, dappled and brinded.  She also opened up very wide the whole subject of suffering and death and gave the reader a new perspective on the meaning and purposes of both.  As a spiritually anemic graduate student, I soaked up the theology of Dillard’s book and saw for the first time the consistency of God in the natural and supernatural realms.  How could God have a cycle of growth, disintegration and integration in the natural realm and not have one in the spiritual realm?  What was all that talk of planting, pruning, cultivating and harvesting in the Bible all about if God was not also doing it in society and in my soul? And was God a genius in nature and then mindless and distant in the spiritual world?  No, we can and do find God in the wonder of the universe and in the many parallel things we know in our lives.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning speaks of awe when she says, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees takes off his shoes.”  Having Awe and Wonder is not automatic.  It is a gift.  We can be so over-indulged or over-stimulated that we miss beauty or grandeur.  Last Sunday morning I saw a small fox trot by a glass door of a building where I was in a meeting.  It was very close.  The sun was shining through its translucent tail all colorful and fluffy.  What a pointy nose and whiskers!  Wonderful round dark  eyes.  Such a lovely animal.  So light on its feet.  I couldn’t dismiss it.  It made my day.  God is near.

 

Red Fox

The fox looked back at us as he or she trotted on.  I wanted to go with it as it ran into the woods.  In Psalm 139 it says that we are wonderfully made.  Yes, we are.  Sometimes squirrely and difficult;  other times sleek and dolphin-like.  But we are all wonderfully made, “The work of his hands.”   And, awe, wonder and gratitude are our best response.  Hopefully we can at times “Take off our shoes” at the thought of all this splendor.  Maybe we can shake off the darkness of this world a little as we drink in “all this juice and all this joy”!

 

Image of the fox from wpclipart.com – public domain.
Image of Baby Galaxies from NASA – public domain.

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Posted by on May 25, 2012

A Second Gift of the Holy Spirit: Understanding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by on May 23, 2012

The Feast of Pentecost, The Holy Spirit and The Seven Gifts: Why it Matters

Today more than ever we dig deep within to center ourselves around calm and inner peace.  We don’t do this to tranquilize ourselves. We do this to be in the best possible position to live fully.  For believers, this includes seeking a real growing relationship with God.  There is a dance going on between our decisions and actions and God’s involvement in our lives, a dance which we call grace.  We have freedom and gifts.  God has insight, power and ingenuity.  If we consent to His involvement in our lives, He can move us into positive places we cannot even imagine.

The person of the Trinity whom we identify as a creative and loving agent of action and change is the Holy Spirit.  This person is believed to be the action of God in the world — both visible and invisible.  One of the names for the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete.  This is an ancient Greek word meaning “one who consoles, uplifts, comforts.”  In the New Testament it also is translated as “helper” and “advocate.”  The Holy Spirit or Paraclete is the divine reality whom we celebrate on Pentecost.  “Pentecost” comes from the word “pente” meaning fifty which refers to 50 days after Easter. At the Last Supper Jesus said he was going to send us the Paraclete.  He let us know that this third person of the Trinity, who expresses the love between the Father and the Son, would be the spirit of Christ operative in the created world — that we would not be alone.

On Pentecost we focus on God as Paraclete in the world of space and time, of the particulars of life.  The Paraclete comforts and uplifts us by working in us and in our lives to give us greater holiness and power for good in the world.  We speak of the work the Paraclete does in us as the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  We are going to take a look at all seven in a series of posts.  In the Bible there are a number of lists of  spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit. They can be found in Isaiah 11, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and 1 Peter. These are all indeed gifts of the Paraclete, but many of the “gifts” in these texts are roles and leadership skills that are gifted by God.  The Seven Gifts on which we will focus are basic qualities that all human persons need no matter what they do in life.  We are given these seven gifts at baptism but the Sacrament of Confirmation gives us to grace to live these fully out in the world of decision and action.

Knowledge is the first gift we will consider.  In the everyday world we use knowledge constantly.  It matters that I know how to get my car fixed or that it is important to check the oil periodically.  A dentist needs to know how to work on my teeth.  Knowledge as a gift of the Paraclete who wants to help us grow fully first includes the knowledge of God.  As we mature we will know God more and will also develop in our images, concepts, and feelings about God.  We will come to know ourselves better and better as well.  To the extent that we are open we will come to more and more realistic and energizing knowledge of God and ourselves.  If we fear God we may learn more positive things about God — maybe from talking to others.  If we are depressed we may find out why.  Much of this knowledge is from God.  We think we are learning on our own.  But, in fact, it is the Paraclete who is offering us knowledge all the time.  We have resistances in us and God is working all the time to help us see the truth, often a positive truth.  God presents ideas to us from different angles constantly and we can consent to be open to these prompts.  My eye may fall on a magazine in the doctor’s office and suddenly I can feel myself slightly more inclined to actually do exercise every day.  The ideas in the article, the knowledge, may have made it easier to see how I can move into a new life skill.

Knowledge of others is also a great gift.  I may not know why a neighbor or relative is so hard for me to get along with and then find out that he is in pain all the time.  I may then find out that the medication he is on has terrible side effects from a commercial on television.  Or, I may find out that an adult school near me has a watercolor class that is very reasonable in price.  I may need that for my emotional life.  The Paraclete is gifting us with knowledge internally and from external sources all the time.  We only need to consent to not try to control what the this Consoler sends our way. God sees us totally and knows what we need.  We can practice a daily Examen or a time of reflection on how things are going and ask to see what we need to see.  In that way we can receive the gift of knowledge and become more fully who we were born to be.

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Posted by on Aug 28, 2011

Catholic Social Teaching and the Kingdom

“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!

 

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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.

 

 

 

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Posted by on Jun 8, 2011

Catholic Social Teaching and the Kingdom

Waiting in Anticipation for the Holy Spirit

Fresco from St. Charles Church, Vienna

Easter Season is drawing to a close this week. The season itself lasts fifty days. It begins with Jesus’ Resurrection and concludes with the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The last nine days, from the Feast of the Ascension until Pentecost, are a special time of prayer to invite the Holy Spirit to come into our lives ever more deeply as well.

Jesus promised his followers that when he returned to his Father, he would send a Paraclete to them. Some translations use the term Advocate for Paraclete. The choice of word, as is generally the case in translating, gives a slightly different sense to the promise and its implications.

Advocate is a term used to describe lawyers who plead the case of persons accused of wrongdoing. Advocates are also people who argue on behalf of people who are at a disadvantage in a social setting or a negotiation. Advocates are people everyone needs at one or another point in life. Having an Advocate sent from Heaven on our behalf is not a bad thing. It can be quite encouraging. Yet the term carries with it a sense of our unworthiness and sinfulness. We need someone to represent us in dealing with the Father.

A couple of weeks ago, our pastor suggested that the word Paraclete might actually be better translated as Cheerleader. In this sense, the Holy Spirit is the one who encourages us, seeing the good we do, how hard we try, how we keep falling and yet encouraging us to get up and try again. Fr. Ron explained that God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is our cheerleader, our biggest fan. God got excited enough about humans to become a human (Jesus). And Jesus returns to the Father, fully God and fully human, promising to share that spark of Love, the Holy Spirit, with all of us too.

What a wonderful promise! Not only do we have an advocate who’ll plead for us when we mess up; we also have a cheerleader who’ll be there to cheer us on as we keep trying and keep believing that we really are lovable.

In these final days before Pentecost, lets hold on to this promise, waiting for the gift of an even deeper relationship with our God. A relationship that doesn’t depend on how well we manage to live our lives, but rather on how crazy God is about each of us and how much God wants us to respond in love to that gift of love.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

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