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Posted by on Apr 16, 2022

He Is Risen as He Said!

He Is Risen as He Said!

Our celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus, begins with Easter Vigil, beginning on Holy Saturday evening.

The three days leading to Easter are known as the Triduum – literally “Three Days.” The first of those days, Holy Thursday, we celebrate the gift of the Eucharist and the ministry of service and sacrifice. On Good Friday we recognize the tremendous cost of reconciliation which comes when we humans turn away from God. God goes to unbelievable lengths to bring us back – even to becoming one of us and dying rather than deny the message and example he brought to us.

On Holy Saturday, we sit quietly in the face of loss, the emptiness of the absence of ones we have loved. It’s important to take the time this day to experience quiet, especially as we find ourselves hurrying to prepare for Easter celebrations.

Easter Vigil begins our celebration on Saturday evening. The new day has begun, according to traditional Judeo-Christian measuring of time. We gather in darkness and the new fire is kindled. The Easter candle is lighted and its light shared with all present. The deacon sings a hymn of praise for the light that shines undimmed in the darkness. We enter into the darkened church, bringing the Light of Christ with us.

As part of Easter Vigil, we remember the history of God’s relationship with humanity and all of creation. We read and tell the stories. We sing the ancient psalms. We hear the words of the prophets. Only then, when we have remembered our history and the great deeds of our God, do we sing the Gloria and light the room fully.

We hear a reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans and from the writers of the Gospels. Tonight we will hear from St. Luke. They tell of the great good news of the Resurrection, and of the confusion felt by Jesus’ followers as they beheld such an amazingly impossible reality.

New members of our community profess their faith with us as they receive the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. We celebrate our Mass together, then go forth in joy with a final blessing, to share this great gift with all we meet.

The celebration continues Easter morning. Again we gather as a community to celebrate. We hear from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul, and the writers of the gospels. There are different sets of readings for different times of the day. So much to tell. So much to celebrate. So much to share.

These few days are the most important days in Christianity. If Jesus had simply said, “Forget it. I’m out of here!” when faced with the mighty power of those who opposed him, we would not likely be celebrating his life, death, and resurrection today. These were the events that changed the history of the world, of our understanding of the relationship between God and humans. At Pentecost, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the witnesses of the Resurrection received the grace and courage to go out fearlessly and share what they had seen. But first they had to see. They had to experience the great mystery.

We today are called to do the same. Experience the mystery. Then go out into our own worlds and live the reality to which we have been witnesses. Christ is Risen. A new day has begun in creation. We are the ones who will make it real for our world today.

Happy Easter. Christ is Risen, He is Truly Risen! Alleluia.

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Posted by on Apr 15, 2022

Good Friday – Time to celebrate?

Good Friday – Time to celebrate?

Good Friday.

Sometimes it seems that the really hard things aren’t good at all. Why call this Good Friday?

The great mystery of life and love is that sometimes the hardest times are the most important. These are the times of growth, times of stretching. This is when we learn to depend totally on others to help us get through. When the others aren’t there for us, the Other who brought us forth into being from the great Dance of Love of the Trinity is there for us. This Other is not really “other” in the usual sense. This is the source of our deepest life and being. It’s in the deepest realms that we learn the truth of what matters. We learn compassion, patience, endurance. We understand the suffering of others in a new and deeper way. We realize that the easy answers of our childhood may not be the final answer. We grow in wisdom as we grow in age. With God’s help, we grow in grace too, that fundamental sharing of divine life.

Jesus didn’t know that he would rise. In this he was a human like any other one of us. But he was a man of great integrity, faithful to the God he called Abba (Dad), and willing to testify to what had been revealed to him about God’s love for us. He went to his death forgiving those who had condemned him, those who crucified him, those who mocked him, and the thief who was dying beside him. Mercifully, he did not have to suffer long. His Father claimed him quickly. His friends claimed his body and buried him, then returned home for the Sabbath rest.

We know the surprise that awaited them on Sunday morning. But for now, let’s take time to experience the great mystery of unknowing. The mystery of trust in a God we cannot see.  The mystery of life and death.

Happy Good Friday!

Readings for Good Friday

Image is of one side of the altar at St. Patrick Church in Spokane, WA – Artist: Harold Balazs

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Posted by on Mar 2, 2022

A Clean Heart Create for Me

A Clean Heart Create for Me

The holy season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. This is a time of preparation and growth. In just six and a half weeks, we’ll arrive at Easter. In the northern hemisphere, Spring is fast upon us. Here on California’s Central Coast, it is in full swing. Trees and flowers are blooming. Birds are getting ready to fly north. Butterflies bring flashes of color to the landscape. Citrus trees are heavy with ripening fruit. And while we don’t have the cold, cold weather seen in so much of the world during Winter, the longer and somewhat warmer days are awakening itchy fingers, ready to plant the warmer season flowers and vegetables. It is a time for growth and renewal.

The readings for this day speak of renewal, of God’s mercy, of recognition of our failings, and of ways to till the gardens of our hearts, making them fertile soil for receiving the gifts our Father has for each of us.

The prophet Joel (2:12-18) spoke at a time of swarms of locusts and a great drought that caused crop failure and famine in the land. This was seen as a time of loss of divine favor due to the sin of the people of Israel. But through Joel’s words, God calls the people back – to conversion through prayer and fasting. The reading concludes with the observation that the Lord took pity of his people, stirred to concern for his land.

Psalm 51 calls on God to be merciful, to wash away our offenses, cleanse us of our guilt, and put a new spirit within us. “A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.” The joy of salvation and a willing spirit come as gifts from God. And we pray, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.” Praise and thanksgiving grow in the soil of a newly renewed heart.

St. Paul, in a second letter to the people of Corinth (2 Cor 5:20-6:2), begs them to be reconciled with God, for the sake of Christ. Christ gave himself so that humans could become the “righteousness of God.” But what is God’s righteousness? God is merciful and gracious. God is slow to anger, rich in kindness, relenting in punishment. These are characteristics of God, revealed by Joel in our first reading. This is the call of the followers, the sisters and brothers of Jesus. To be images of the God who loves and forgives. Again, something that can only grow from within the heart of each person. It doesn’t really come naturally to us.

Finally, Jesus gives us very specific instructions (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18). Summed up briefly: Don’t perform righteous deeds where people can see them! Be discreet in your life of faith. Give of what you have, but do it quietly, secretly. Pray quietly, by yourself. Wash your face, wear your regular clothes. Don’t do anything to draw attention and praise to yourself for your good deeds.

Why not be open and even brazen about doing these good deeds? Shouldn’t we be good examples to others? Because God is hidden and can only really be approached through the heart. God is love. God reaches quietly out to the heart of each and every person. It is only in the garden of the heart, just as it was in the Garden of Eden, that we meet and walk freely with our God. And when we are consistently meeting and walking with our God, there will be a certain something that is attractive about us, something that draws others to walk with God themselves.

“A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.”

Pope Francis has some suggestions for us this year. More challenging than giving up chocolate or TV or desserts, perhaps. Perhaps not. Certainly worth considering. What fertilizer does my inner garden need? What weeds need to be removed? What flowers and fruits will grow from my heart this year.

Welcome to Lent – the season of growth and renewal as we prepare for the great mystery of redemption.

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Posted by on Oct 17, 2021

How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You?

How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You?

How many times do I have to tell you? Which of us has never heard this question addressed to us by an exasperated parent or teacher? Sometimes it’s an issue of not having paid attention. Sometimes it’s a question of not believing it applies to us. Sometimes it’s an issue of thinking that what is being said is too good to be true – or too bad to be believed.

Jesus had the same problem with his followers. In the Gospel reading for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mark tells us of a time when two of the disciples, James and John, approached Jesus with a confidential request: “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” (Mk 10:35-45) Jesus was flabbergasted (totally amazed) by their request. “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (To be baptized means to be plunged into something.)

Now Jesus has been telling his friends for a while already that he is going to Jerusalem and there he will be turned over to the authorities to be tortured and killed. No one can comprehend that this is really going to happen. I would guess they think he’s just a worrywart or exaggerating, but he was absolutely serious. This is why he asked James and John if they could do what he was going to have to do. They brashly assured him they would be able to do whatever he had to do, after all, what made him any more capable of dealing with whatever came than they were!

As it turns out, Jesus assures them, you will indeed drink from the same cup – face death for proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God – and in fact, they later did die as martyrs (witnesses).

When the others caught wind of this conversation, they were incensed. Who do these guys think they are? As the anger and conflict among them grew, Jesus intervened. He told them once again what would be demanded of them as his followers. He spoke of the social reality that existed in the world of non-Jews, the Gentiles (Romans, Greeks, and other surrounding nations). Large numbers of people were slaves. Estimates are that 1/3 of the people were slaves. Most of the rest were not particularly well-off. Only the rulers and upper classes lived well. They considered themselves to be better than the rest and didn’t hesitate to abuse and take advantage of everyone below them. Slaves were seen and treated as less than human, despite the fact that anyone could be enslaved for something as out of their control as the loss of a family’s income that plunged them into debt. If a debt could not be paid, the whole family and their belongings could be sold to pay the debt!

Jesus spoke words at this point that echoed ones we all have heard so often. Mark doesn’t have him saying, “How many times do it have to tell you?” But there’s the same sense of that in what Jesus says. The disciples are told point blank that if they want to be great, they must behave as if they were slaves to all they meet. The reason for this is that he has not come to be a master. He has come to serve as if he were a slave and to give his life as a ransom. This is not the first time he has told them this. It won’t be the last. Eventually, he will show them, but that comes later…

Isaiah spoke many generations earlier of the mystery of the Suffering Servant who would give his life as an offering for sin, see his descendants in a long life, and be the channel through which the Lord’s will can be accomplished. “Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.” (Is 53:10:11) This is from the fourth song of the suffering servant, the one most fully developed.

Jesus knew of these prophecies. He took them seriously, though many probably thought of them as more symbolic than realistic. Yet they fit into an ancient theme in Jewish history and thought. While the Israelites were traveling in the desert after they left Egypt, they were instructed to set up a tent for the Lord. Only certain people were allowed to enter the tent and only at certain times. If those conditions were not met, it could be fatal for the intruders and their families. Aaron, brother of Moses and priest ordained and authorized to offer sacrifices to the Lord, discovered this the hard way when two of his sons entered the tent and died. He was then required to offer a sacrifice of atonement for their actions or die himself. This is all described in the Book of Leviticus, chapter 16.

Aaron’s sacrifice included the use of two male goats. One was sacrificed and offered to the Lord inside the tent. The other was symbolically loaded down with the guilt for the sins of his sons, himself, and all the people. Then that goat was driven out into the desert to die there, taking the sins of the people with it. This goat came to be known as the scapegoat, perhaps because it was sometimes known as the “escaping goat.” Each year after that, on a date set by the Lord for each year, the high priest was to offer sacrifice on behalf of the people. After the temple in Jerusalem was built, the very innermost court was called the Holy of Holies. The high priest was the only person allowed to enter the Holy of Holies and offer the sacrifice of atonement there. The rest of the people were also to make sacrifices in their personal lives on that day. This tradition has continued to the present day, without the inclusion of temple sacrifices, on the Day of Atonement each fall.

The Suffering Servant in Isaiah would be the one on whom the guilt of all would rest. His sacrifice would bring a restoration of the good relationship with the Lord for all the people.

This theme arises again in the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 4:14-16). The author speaks of our great high priest, Jesus, the Son of God, who has passed through the heavens. This high priest does not need to offer a sacrifice for his sins and those of the people each year. Nor is he one who cannot understand human frailty and our tendency to sin, to miss the goal of acting lovingly. This high priest has shared everything there is to experience about being human, including suffering, loss, and death, but he has never sinned. Because our high priest is Jesus, we can approach the throne of God with absolute confidence, knowing we will be received with grace, mercy, and the help we need going forward.

So the question arises: Have I heard this time? Do I get it? Do I understand that I am not the one who will be in the driver’s seat? I am not to assume others will do my will. I am to be the one who seeks to meet the needs of my sisters and brothers, without demanding that they change or try to do things my way. Am I willing to serve as Jesus served? Am I willing to try to love as Jesus loved? Am I willing to learn to forgive as Jesus did?

The Kingdom of Love awaits. The ones who serve are the ones who will sit at the places of honor (figuratively, of course). Our Lord reaches out in service. As his followers, we are called to join him in doing the same.

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Posted by on Jun 13, 2018

Asking for Pardon / Getting Rid of Shame – Examen: Fourth Point

Asking for Pardon / Getting Rid of Shame – Examen: Fourth Point

According to Brené Brown

Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is, “I am bad.” Guilt is, “I did something bad.” How many of you, if you did something that was hurtful to me, would be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake?” How many of you would be willing to say that? Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.

One of the key challenges in even looking at our behavior and our relationships is not guilt, but shame. Our thoughts and feelings can run off the rails and we think, “I did something bad. That means that I am bad.” Guilt becomes confused with shame. That’s why shame is such a big part of addiction, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and bullying. According to Brene Brown, shame for women is, “Do it all. Do it perfectly and never let them see you sweat.” For men, shame is, “Do not be perceived of as weak.”

Shaming is something we see often with pets. When a dog misbehaves we are tempted to say, “Bad dog!” We don’t say,” You chewed my slipper. You did something wrong, but you are a good dog.”  However, that can be very confusing and threatening for the dog. According to animal behavior specialists, it is much clearer if we say, “No chew!” when the dog is chewing a slipper. “Good dog” should be an ongoing message that is conveyed by the way we handle the dog.

Invalidating or shaming others is a fundamentally evil act, since it contravenes God’s view of us and all creation as fundamentally good. For someone to take on the view that they are bad is to identify with evil, to identify with non-being. Some people can reject the notion that they are bad but respond by defining the people who are shaming them as fundamentally bad. Through this fundamental rejection of a person, we make them something completely apart from us. They are the other. This unfortunate behavior in ourselves and other primates makes it possible for us to destroy members of our own species and even our own families. David Eagleman explains in an episode of The Brain how genocide occurs when we turn off our empathy.

Asking for God’s pardon is an acknowledgement that we have not lived up to what we actually are. Yes, we have done something wrong, and we feel bad about what we have done, but we know that we are loved and good because God sees all that he has made and says that it is good.

The important thing in this step is not to get overwhelmed. Pick one area that you would like to work on in consultation with your spiritual director and reflect on it over time – or not.

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Posted by on Sep 1, 2016

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

NASA South America 2007

South America – NASA Image – Public Domain

 

CNN published an unusual story of hope, forgiveness, and mercy “Escobar’s Son Lives with Two Truths”.

“I could easily have turned into Pablo 2.0, but I found out about the violence and the pain,”

What happens when you are the son of one of the world’s most notorious criminals? You say good bye to your father on the phone and get a call a few minutes later from the police from your father’s phone. What do you say when they tell you that they have just killed the man who loved you unconditionally with great tenderness?

How do you reconcile the man who is a great father with the man who set up the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia, killed hundreds including police, lawyers, and judges while smuggling 15 tons of cocaine into the United States everyday?

The usual television script would call for the son to follow in the footsteps of the father in a remake of “The Godfather”. Yet a young man decided not become Pablo Escobar 2.0 and gave up that name to become Sebastian Marroquin (say Marro-keen).

Marroquin chose a path of peace and reconciliation. In the recently released English translation of Pecados de Mi Padre (The Sins of my Father) as Pablo Escobar, My Father. Marroquin presents the loving father and the monstrous criminal. He talks about his own efforts to make amends with the children of the key Colombian leaders killed by his father. His reason, “because absolute silence kills us all.” The meetings have been very difficult for everyone involved but also healing. Some have told Marroquin that he is one of the victims himself and that no apology was needed since he hadn’t committed or ordered the murders.

This is an extraordinary account of repentance offered and mercy given. How many of us would even speak to the son of the man who murdered our father? How many of us could look past our own pain and rage to absolve the murderer’s son and bring him into the ranks of the victims? Generally, human history is replete with examples of revenge after wave of revenge lasting for generations.

Marroquin’s main reason for promoting his book is that he feels that the coming release of season two of “Narcos” by Netflix glamorizes his father and gangsters.

“I am not worried that the image of my father is bad. What worries me is the image of him that says, ‘It’s cool to be a narco trafficker.'”

A new parable for our time?

 

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Posted by on Jun 18, 2015

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

Treat Them with Tenderness – Pope Francis

father_piggy_backPope Francis celebrated Mass for the Third Worldwide Retreat for Priests on June 12, 2015, the Feast of the Sacred Heart. In his homily for the priests he spoke of God’s tenderness — a tenderness like that of a father or a mother teaching a child to walk. A tenderness that binds his people in freedom, attracting them “with bonds of love, with ties of love.” He explained that God then tells us and his people, “For you I am like one who lifts a child to my cheek and kisses her as I bend down to feed her. Considering this tenderness of God how would it be possible for him to abandon us to the enemy?” When we find ourselves in difficulty or insecurity, the Lord tells us, “If I do all of this for you, how can you even think that I would leave you on your own, that I would abandon you?”

Referring to the Coptic martyrs of Libya, Pope Francis noted that they died with the name of Jesus on their lips, entrusting themselves to the love of God. God promises,“How can I treat you as an enemy? My heart rises within me and arouses all my tenderness.” It is not a day of wrath that awaits you but a day of pardon for sins and the tenderness of a Father, the Holy One in our midst. This love and tenderness is the gift of the Father to all of his children, for each one of us.

A lot of the time we are afraid of the tenderness of God and we refuse to let ourselves experience it. In these moments “we are hard, severe, punishers” of our neighbors (and even of ourselves). Although he was speaking to priests, the message is something that we should all hear, as it applies to us as well. He also explained that that we should not be like the shepherd who cared for only one sheep and left the other ninety nine sheep to wander about, lost.

The Pope explained, “the heart of Christ is the tenderness of God. This is the way that pastors (and the people of God) should shepherd each other – with the tenderness of God and they should leave the whip in the sacristy (or in the cabinet) and be tender shepherds even with those who are the most troublesome.”

Finishing his homily, Pope Francis said “We do not believe in an ethereal God. We believe in a God who became flesh, who has a heart, and this heart today tells us, ‘Come to me if you are tired, worn out, and I will refresh you, but treat my little ones with tenderness, with the same tenderness with which I care for you.’ This is what the heart of Christ is telling us today and this is what I am praying for you today at this Mass and for myself.”

(Pope Francis’ homily was written for a priests’ retreat, but the ideas he expressed are important for all of us, the People of God. Accordingly, I have included mention of the rest of us in parentheses.)

 

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Posted by on Jun 18, 2015

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

Trátenlos con ternura – Papa Francisco

dad_with_daughterPapa Francisco celebró la Misa para el Tercer Retiro Mundial de Sacerdotes el 12 de Junio de 2015, la Fiesta del Sagrado Corazón. En su homilía a los sacerdotes les habló de la ternura de Dios: una ternura como la de un padre o una madre que enseña a su criatura a caminar. Una ternura que ata en la libertad a su pueblo, atrayéndolo «con lazos de amor, con ataduras de amor». Explicó que luego Dios nos dice a nosotros y a su pueblo, «Yo era para ti como los que alzan a una criatura a las mejillas y lo besaba, y me inclinaba y le daba de comer». Pensando en esa ternura de Dios, ¿cómo podría ser que nos abandonara al enemigo? Cuando nos encontramos en momentos de dificultad o de inseguridad, el Señor nos dice: «pero si hice todo esto por vos, ¿cómo pensás que te voy a dejar solo, que te voy a abandonar?»

Dando el ejemplo de los mártires coptos de Libia, Papa Francisco notó que se murieron con el nombre de Jesús en los labios, confiándose en el amor de Dios. «¿Cómo te voy a tratar como un enemigo? Mi corazón se subleva dentro de mí y se enciende toda mi ternura». No es un día de ira que les espera sino un día de perdón de pecados y de la ternura de un Padre, el Santo en medio de nosotros. Ese amor y ternura son el don del Padre para todos sus hijos, para cada uno de nosotros.

Muchas veces le tenemos miedo a la ternura de Dios y no nos dejamos experimentarla. En tales momentos «somos duros, severos, castigadores» con nuestros prójimos (y hasta con nosotros mismos). Hablando a los sacerdotes, pero con palabras que los demás debemos escuchar también, explicó que no debemos ser como un pastor que cuidaba a solamente una oveja y dejaba andar perdidos a las noventa y nueve otras ovejas. Dice, «El corazón de Cristo es la ternura de Dios». Así que los pastores (y el pueblo de Dios) han de ser pastores (y pueblo) «con ternura de Dios, que dejen el látigo colgado en la sacristía (o el gabinete) y sean pastores (y pueblo) con ternura, incluso con los que le traen más problemas.»

Concluyendo su homilía, Papa Francisco dice, «Nosotros no creemos en un Dios etéreo, creemos en un Dios que se hizo carne, que tiene un corazón, y ese corazón hoy nos habla así: “vengan a mí si están cansados, agobiados, y los voy a aliviar, pero a los míos, a mis pequeños trátenlos con ternura, con la misma ternura con que los trato yo”. Eso nos dice el corazón de Cristo hoy y es lo que en esta misa pido para ustedes y también para mí».

(La  homilía del Papa Francisco fue escrita para una misa celebrada con un grupo de sacerdotes, pero las ideas son importantes para todos nosotros, el pueblo de Dios. Así que he incluido mención de los demás de nosotros entre paréntesis.)

 

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Posted by on Jun 17, 2015

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

The Sacred Heart Devotion – Love Conquers All

SacredHeart Fanelli 1994

In Catholic culture, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has become so widespread that the image has become an icon of Catholicism. Sometimes, the various forms of the image can strike us as a little bizarre, with Jesus pointing to a physical heart on His chest. Others which are more contemporary move us with the more abstract heart on fire with love. Why is this image so central to the modern or post 1500s Catholic imagination? We don’t really find it in ancient icons.

 

Understandings of The Fall

In the 1500s and 1600s, Calvin and other protestant reformers focused on the fall of humanity from grace or the breakup of people from their loving relationship with God when Adam and Eve sinned. The only way that this divorce could be fixed was by God reaching out in love according to St Augustine (in the 300s) because humanity was too broken and too easily fell into sin. This sinful impulse is called concupiscence. The brokenness of humanity is called depravity which comes from the Latin word for crooked. The Catholic Church has always taught that the passion, death and resurrection of Christ has restored humanity and that we are not basically at our core wicked, corrupt, or crooked. Calvin and others taught that human nature is basically corrupt and is covered over by God’s love. Only a few will be saved and God has made up His mind ahead of time who they will be. Those few are predestined by God since there is really nothing anyone can do to enter into this loving relationship with God.

These ideas found their way into a Catholic movement led by Bishop Cornelius Jansen (1585 – 1635) of Ypres in the Belgian Province of West Flanders. In part, this was a reaction to the pre-reformation Catholic notion that you could win your way back into God’s favor by doing good works. Some people had the mistaken idea that God could be “bought.” This was a distortion of the fact that we are supposed to live our faith and show our reunion with God by doing good things for other people. Basically, love is more than words. Love is shown in how we live.

The Jansenist Change of Tone and Attitude

The Jansenist movement took St. Augustine’s view of a fallen human nature and moved toward Calvin’s position that we are so fundamentally damaged and crooked that there is nothing we can do. According to Calvin, we are incapable of reaching out to God’s love but God’s love or grace is so powerful that it can sweep us up and we have no choice in the matter. That’s the only way that we can be saved. While not throwing aside Catholic teaching the way that Calvin and other reformers had done, the Jansenist movement changed the tone and the attitude of how we are supposed to relate to God. We are so damaged and unworthy that we should receive communion only rarely. We should engage in a lot of prayer and penance because God still sees our sinfulness and brokenness and is always “ticked off” or at least supremely disappointed. There was no way that you could be human — loving, caring, and inconsistent — and make God happy, because we are all hopeless “screw ups.” Jesus may have suffered and died for us, but all we do is repay him with sin. The Jansenist attitude causes the loving Jesus to be off in the distance and our relationship with him to become formal and focused on certain types of religious practices that make no allowance for human frailty, weakness, or growth.

The Jansenist attitude became a prominent part of the Catholic Church in the United States since it was brought by Irish and French immigrants and the priests and nuns who accompanied them. One could not receive communion without going to confession first. Many types of minor human mistakes, even the gestures the priest used at Mass could be gravely serious mortal sins that cut us off from the love of God completely. Eating meat on Friday was a mortal sin; owning slaves was not. Not observing certain days of fasting and not eating meat (abstinence) were mortal sins; beating one’s wife or children was not. The tragic legacy of Jansenism and the Calvinism that is a big part of Anglo American culture is that we are seen as beyond real healing and redemption. We are so messed up that God’s healing love, forgiveness, and happiness are not within reach. This has become a major reason for people to give up on God and religion altogether. Such a distorted “god” is inhuman, abusive, and unloving.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

In the 1600s, at the same time that Catholic and Protestant movements were focusing on the brokenness and crookedness of humanity and how far we are from God, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and St. Claude de la Colombière promoted a renewed focus on the love and forgiveness of Christ. This devotion came to be known as devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Since Christ is truly human and truly divine, this vision brings us an understanding of Jesus as loving us in a completely human way but with unlimited Divine love. This is the Divine love that continuously overflows in creation, redemption, and resurrection in our lives.

The devotion to the Sacred Heart has had its own excesses. There was a tendency to actually worship the heart of Jesus itself as opposed to rejoicing and reveling in God’s love. This is called an error of logical typing, an error which would lead to eating the menu instead of the food. Another problem was to humanize the love of Christ to the point of believing that our rejection of God’s love could somehow “hurt” him in the way that we suffer rejection when others do not respond to the love we offer them. God cannot be other than God, which is love. (1 John 4:16) God cannot help Godself. The divine love is what God is. If we love imperfectly it is because we are human and we love with all of those human limitations. This is the only way we can respond to that divine love that is always creating, redeeming, and bringing new life out of death. But it is not the way God loves.

This understandably human mistaken notion that God can be “hurt” led to a number of practices such as special prayers, fasting, and mortification of the “deadening” impulses related to hunger, thirst, and sex, as well as the deadly sins of pride, anger, lust, envy, gluttony, avarice (greed), and sloth or laziness. While these are important parts of spiritual training or getting “in shape” (called asceticism), they were often done to somehow make up for all of the bad stuff everyone else was doing to “hurt” God. These are called acts of reparation. In this mode we focused on the transcendence of God — the loftiness of the Almighty as separated from everyday creation and living.

The Second Vatican Council (1961 – 1965) focused more on the immanence of God — the presence of God in our daily lives. The Church’s concept of itself was no longer that of a “perfect society” that was complete and sufficient within itself like a strong kingdom or empire. The Church became the People of God on pilgrimage, living in and following the living Christ of the Resurrection. This changed the expression of our devotion to the loving presence of God. Images of the Divine Word Incarnate in Jesus became more human. Jesus became more Jewish looking, more middle-eastern, and more like a young virile man. Many earlier images of a pale, wan, almost effete white man no longer matched the Catholic imagination of the post-modern period that emerged after World War II.

Not all Catholics welcomed this development. Such a generous, understanding, and lovable Jesus who is the image of the Living God seemed to downplay the seriousness and widespread nature of sin. Getting in shape spiritually (asceticism) now focused on changing structures of sin and oppression — human rights, civil rights, freedom, and equality. This was quite a shock to the Catholic imagination which had focused so heavily on the interior and heavenly direction of our relationship with God. By retreating from the world to our “perfect” society we had security due to the certainty we enjoyed. Insecurity returned when we realized that faith is the opposite of certainty. Suddenly, the life of Christ was a not a noble walk of the white Aryan with fair hair through Palestine. The life of Christ as the model for our lives became a struggle to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven that ends in apparent failure, torture, and death. Yes, the resurrection transforms us all. The death and resurrection of Christ which we live out in our lives is God’s definitive “no” to evil and to death.

Michael Rubbelke in his post “Devotion to the Sacred Heart Today: The Heart of the Poor, Creation, and Mercy” offers an emerging vision of the Sacred Heart Devotion. The images of the Sacred Heart in his post offer a stark contrast. The first is a traditional image of the white serene Jesus. The second is a contemporary icon by Robert Lentz. This image of Jesus is a brown man with tightly curled African hair. He is portrayed in a more South Asian Hindu style, jutting forth from the icon with arms extended and stylized flames bursting from his hands. Perhaps this is the post-modern icon of the Sacred Heart. It gives expression to Pope Francis’ vision of a church of the poor for the poor, a call to be responsible stewards of creation, and a profound call to announce and to become the Divine Mercy.

This is a more challenging and less comforting Sacred Heart. It also brings more of the challenges of a direct, open, and honest love relationship with the Living God.

Image: Sacred Heart of Jesus, Joseph Fanelli,
used with permission

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Posted by on Jun 13, 2015

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

The Sacred Heart of Jesus: Source of Limitless Love

Sacred Heart by David Clayton Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus originated as a meditation on the love that Jesus has for humanity.  In the 1500s, Jesuits and Franciscans promoted devotion to the wounded heart of Jesus. However, they did not stress the physical bleeding heart of Jesus crowned with thorns that has come down to us. This common  image does not necessarily help people feel closer to Jesus today. Presenting Jesus with a heart with flames of love and a face full of love and light emphasizes his limitless divine love in a very human way.

A Physical Organ or A Symbol of Love?

Sacred Heart - Pompeo BatoniThe devotion to the Sacred Heart has not always  included a focus on the suffering of Jesus and his actual physical heart. During the first ten centuries of Christianity, devotion to the humanity of Christ did not include honoring the wounded Heart of Jesus. From the 1200s to the 1500s devotion to the Sacred Wounds increased. However, it was private, individual, and of a mystical nature. The thorn crowned heart shows the change from honoring Jesus’ love for humanity to humans making reparation for sin. In the 1670s, the apparitions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to  Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque,  moved the devotion into the public life of the Church and it became centered on sorrow for sin. Popular piety continued this emphasis and eventually promoted worship of the physical heart of Jesus to such a point that Pope Pius XII had to correct this. The pope explained that the Sacred Heart belongs to the “Divine Person of the Eternal Word” and is a symbolic image of his love and our redemption. (See Haurietis aquas). Eastern Catholicism promotes some devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. However,  the devotion is controversial because of the mixing of the theologies of divine love and human reparation for sin within it. Eastern Catholics do not share the Western preoccupation with the physical heart of Jesus.

Devotion to Love

SacredHeart Fanelli 1994Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a devotion to His love. It is a response to the extravagance of Jesus.  His suffering and human sin are important for our consideration in other ways. However, this focus is not suitable for a devotion which focuses on love. This is particularly true today when addressing young people in first world cultures in which few symbols are shared. A heart in flames is a direct and simple symbol.

It is interesting that one of the main resources of devotion to the Sacred Heart, the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1899), is anything but human, warm, or loving. The Litany is formal, monarchical and transcendent. There is little sense of the human heart of Jesus reaching out to humanity to give consolation, peace or special graces. The prayer is true to its historical context, a time in the Church of formality and a sense of distance from the divine.

Despite the turn towards human individual experience and emotion in the 20th and 21st centuries, many Catholics do not feel personally close to God or have a warm experience of God’s love for them. Many still relate to God as a judge and an enforcer of rules.  Contemplating Jesus in the Gospels gives us a richer mystical image of the truly divine and truly human Jesus Christ full of warm friendliness, compassion, and humility with a heart full of love.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, by David Clayton – used with permission
Sacred Heart, by Pompeo Batoni –  public domain
Sacred Heart of Jesus, by Joseph Fanelli – used with permission

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Posted by on Apr 8, 2012

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

“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 Sep 14, 2011

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

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 25, 2011

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Soul of Christ – Day 4 – July 26


Opening Prayer

Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me.

Suffer me not to be separated from thee.
From the malignant enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me.
And bid me come unto Thee,
That with all Thy saints,
I may praise thee
Forever and ever.
Amen.

A favorite prayer of St. Ignatius, the Anima Christi has its origins in the 13th century, but the author remains unknown. It may seem a little jarring to juxtapose the exuberant “Worthy Is the Lamb” with the ancient and more subdued Anima Christi. However, they focus on our recognition of the source of our salvation and the compelling power of God’s grace. Across 800 years, the cultural idiom may have changed but not the Holy Spirit.

Foregiveness

Reflection

St. Ignatius focuses the First Week of the Exercises on sin and conversion. The activities concentrate on becoming aware of our sinfulness, our unworthiness, and God’s willing pardon. Sometimes this awareness can be overwhelming in inappropriate ways. The purpose of these actions is to change our hearts. In this regard, St. Ignatius is something of a behaviorist. His approach is to notice particular tendencies or actual sins and to keep a scorecard of our victories and defeats. Clearly, it is not enough to know our failings; it is more important to do something about them.

For those who are newly turned from sinful and self-destructive lifestyles, the First Week is a time of awareness, repentance, and a behavioral change in our awareness of our thoughts and actions. In many ways this mirrors St. Ignatius’ own experience during his conversion and pilgrim years. As a man of his times, he lived in a time of strict and rigid codes of honor, duty, and obligation. Feudal lords could exact terrible consequences from any of their vassals or peasants who breached obligations, whether the breach was real or perceived.

For many people today, Christian conversion is experienced in the intensity of the charismatic experience. The focus is on forgiveness, the terrible price Christ paid for each one of us, and the joy of our salvation. The reformation of our lives is worked out in this broader context.

Regardless of whether we are in the 16th or the 21st centuries, our journey begins with the experience of our salvation and the changing of hearts shown in our actual behavior.

Placing Ourselves in God’s Presence

Inhale slowly and deeply. Exhale slowly and mindfully.
Relax. Be at peace. Be aware that you are in God’s loving presence wherever you are.

Reviewing Our Lives With Gratitude

When did I first become aware of my sinfulness and God’s forgiving love? Who were the people in my life who showed me their changed hearts by their example? When did I first give or receive forgiveness from someone important in my life? When did I first stop looking at a check list of sins and realize that my actions could hurt and offend God?

Reflecting on Our Feelings and Spiritual Movements

What thoughts and feelings come to my mind and heart when I let God and others down? What do I feel when I see and reflect on the suffering and death of Christ? How do I feel when my love is not returned? Why is God’s love so encompassing?

Focusing on What Comes to Us

Let your feelings and images well up within you. What strikes you the most about the course of your life? What feeling or images come to you more clearly and peacefully?

Talking With Jesus Our Friend

Converse with Jesus as He is right now, right here – your friend. Share what comes from your heart – in a look, a few words, a smile. Talk frankly about the things that you are doing wrong in your life. Talk about grudges, bitterness, your regret, your shame. Ask for his healing and make a plan to start changing things, little by little, day by day.

Jesus, your love and your grace are enough for me. Let nothing come between us.

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 Apr 28, 2011

Easter Week Daze

I tried to blog during Holy Week. I would like to say that I was too caught up in ecstasy to touch the keyboard, but I was really silenced. It wasn’t really writer’s block. It was more a sense of something I am learning in my old age – to keep my mouth shut. As an extrovert this is an occurrence of note, since I don’t often know what I am thinking until I am expressing it.

Per usual, after the stress of the event, I can begin talking or writing about my experiences of Lent and Holy Week now that we are in Easter Tide.

Easter Triduum, from Holy Thursday to Easter Vigil, is a montage of one highly charged event ebbing and flowing over many others. The breaking of the bread at the Last Supper; Judas sent off on his errand; Jesus looking for support and finding us asleep. The darkness at noon covers all creation. Nicodemus asks for the body of Jesus. Mary of Magdala weeping as she asked the Gardener, “Where have you laid him?” followed by the overpoweringly personal entreaty of a close Friend, “Mary.” The disillusioned disciples heading back home and being consoled by a stranger Whom they invited in for the evening. The guest only reveals Himself in the moment of the breaking of the bread. After all of the betrayals, the abandonment, with the marks of the crucifixion on His body, His first words to the men who “threw Him under the bus” was “Peace.” In all of previous salvation history, God’s messengers manifest with the same greeting of peace, but now God does it directly, for the first time.

I understand that the traditional teaching is that the sacrifice of Jesus satisfied the Father’s need for atonement, but somehow, it is hard for me to imagine that God, in Jesus, would not take offense at the rejection of his goodness. Yet, Jesus doesn’t take offense even as the disciples and all of us cower in hiding.

The only thing that I can compare this daze to is to singing the last note of Hadyn’s Creation Mass as a member of the Loyola Men’s Chorus. The director had told us that we would know if we had succeeded if there was a deafening silence before the audience responded. The last note hung in the air. The director brought his thumb and forefinger together; the note evaporated high in the nave. The silence was profound and seemed to last forever. The temperature dropped and then there was thunderous applause.

I am still in the coolness of the silence after that last note. It is not a bad place to be. I hope you are too. Peace.

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Posted by on Apr 26, 2011

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

Violence and Atonement: A Necessary Link?

Fireweed by Joseph N. Hall

The relationship between violence and atonement is closely woven in scripture and theology but it seems inimical to me. As a life long Catholic, anthropologist, and amateur theologian, I grew up with the notion of the Mass as the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary. Things changed after Vatican II to a focus on the Paschal mystery. Despite all of the language we have about the Father requiring satisfaction, it does seem contrary to Jesus’ own teaching about the fact that human fathers, “evil as you are,” would not give your son a stone when he asks for bread. (Matt 7:11)

Clearly, there is patriarchal and tribal language in the concept of satisfaction. This is still prevalent, as seen in a recent gang rape case in Pakistan. A young woman was brutally gang raped by men of another sub-tribe because her 13 year old brother had apparently flirted with a young girl of the other group. To settle the conflict and avoid greater reprisals, the elders of the young woman’s group offered her as a settlement. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/apr/22/world/la-fg-pakistan-rape-20110422

This is not only revolting to our current sensibilities, but it challenges the notion of sacrifice in the tribal sense. My own existentialist take on redemption has to do with authenticity. God took upon Himself our human condition and brought mercy, healing, and peace. For this he was publicly tortured to death.

My own post-modern sense is that the Father is not so much offended by our sin as appalled by it, as an act of vandalism or destruction of works of great beauty conceived in boundless love. The freedom that is required for the reciprocation of love can also be used to reject it. I personally cannot conceive of an infinite God who is somehow diminished or “offended.” To continue to anthropomorphize the Father as a post-modern, post-Freudian human father leads us to a Father, Son, and Spirit caught up in the continuing ongoing creation of bonum diffusivum sibi – good diffusive of itself. The Incarnation and Christ event are the result of an unlimited and unconditional love.

Clearly, this post-modern language flies in the face of Old Testament pastoral society and the cult of Temple sacrifice in the New Testament. Early Christians had to find a way to explain the Christ event in their own cultural and historical context. However, there is no denying that a post-modern Father is less monstrous to the secular humanist ethics and sensibilities that derive from the Christian tradition of the West.

As terrible as the death of Jesus was, it was completely overshadowed by the fact that no evil can come between us and the Love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:39)

The great peril of a tribal metaphor is not its irrelevance nor its systemic violence, but rather the chasm it creates between God and us that continues to be the original and fundamental blasphemy alienating us from God and ourselves. The preface to the Eucharistic prayer at the Mass of the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday begins in astonishment “Father, you love us still and sent us the Christ.” Yes, what amazement there is, that in spite of our rejection, God never stopped loving us.

The demand for violence attributed to the Father elevates evil to the level of the divine. The unrelenting intrusion of the divine in the human train wreck, of necessity, requires God to confront violence; which he does with non-violence – even to death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)

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