Pages Menu
RssFacebook
Categories Menu

Posted by on Jan 16, 2022

Scarcity or Abundance – The Transforming Presence of God

Scarcity or Abundance – The Transforming Presence of God

Exile, triumphant return, wine run out, empty water jars filled,  water changed into wine, brides and bridegrooms, a variety of gifts – many images are presented in the readings for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time.

The readings begin as the exile of the Jewish people in Babylon is drawing to a close. People are beginning to return to Jerusalem and Isaiah speaks the Lord’s words of joyful triumph: “I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, her vindication shines forth like the dawn…” (Is 62:1-5) Jerusalem, the remnant of those exiled to Babylon, will shine again before all the nations. The Lord will bless her with a new name – My Delight. She will be a beautiful crown held by her God. The Lord is as delighted with her as a bridegroom is with his bride. This is all fantastic news to a people who have felt abandoned by God in bitter defeat and exile from their homes and homeland. From the depths of loss to the triumph of the abundant love of God, their return home is filled with reasons for rejoicing. God is again present with the people of Israel and they are home.

We see another case of scarcity transformed to abundance in the story of Jesus at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, not too far from Nazareth (Jn 2:1-11). Jesus and his friends have been invited to a wedding feast. His mother is there too. It’s a wonderful party and all are having a great time. All, that is, except the hosts. The wine is running out. Someone miscalculated how much people would drink or how many people would be there, or something. It really didn’t matter. Running out of food or drink at a wedding feast is a terrible issue, a shameful thing, even today.

Jesus’ mother notices the problem. She’s probably been involved in planning many weddings and other parties with family and friends through the years. The families of the couple are friends or relatives. What can anyone do to help in such a situation?

In St. John’s telling of the incident, there is something important that she can do. She can tell her son and in so doing, she nudges him to begin his public life. Jesus essentially asks her, “What am I supposed to do about that?” Yet in John’s Gospel, Jesus is presented as one who is in control of what is happening in his life. He is God become human and very much actively in charge of events. He adds, “My hour has not yet come.” It’s not the point in his teaching and ministry to begin doing extraordinary things and showing forth the glory of God, at least he doesn’t think so. But Mary is not deterred. These people need help and they need it right now. “Do whatever he tells you,” she says to the servers.

And so, what to do? Jesus looks around and there are six water jugs in the room. These jugs were used for ritual washing ceremonies when people gathered. Jesus, using what was available, directs that the jars be refilled with water. When this has been accomplished, he instructs the servers to take some to the headwaiter. It was now wine. Not just any everyday, watered down wine, but really good wine. Better than what had been served earlier. The headwaiter even sort of scolds the bridegroom for not serving the best wine first. Folks who have been drinking for a while won’t fully appreciate how good this stuff is!

John ends this story with the comment that in this first of the signs of his coming (as the Messiah), Jesus revealed his glory to his disciples and they “began to believe in him.” He became more than someone John the Baptist thought was important. Maybe he really was someone different and important. Maybe the Promised One had come.

Scarcity had been replaced with an abundance of wine, an abundance of life. God’s presence is revealed.

St. Paul presents another image of abundance (1 Cor 12:4-11). He’s dealing with a community in Corinth that was very diverse and whose members didn’t think of themselves as all being equals. There were many divisions in their society and those divisions didn’t go away when they gathered as a community.

Paul reminds them firmly that there are many kinds of gifts, many kinds of service. All come from God. There is only one Lord. There is no need to argue over which gift or which service is more important. None is more important or more valuable than any other. All are important and all are distributed by God. The Spirit’s presence is seen in each person’s gifts as that person uses the gift for the benefit of all.

A list of different gifts is found here. Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues. All of these are important, but only if they are used on behalf of the community. No one gets a gift because it is earned or deserved. Gifts are only given as they are needed and they are given to the person who will best be able to use them in service. Yet, there is an abundance of gifts within the community when they are all shared.

The key to each of these stories of scarcity and later abundance is the presence of God. We each have known times that are hard. Times when it seems like nothing will ever get easier. Little or no hope is visible, even on the horizon. Yet when we let the Lord into our hearts in those times, hope begins to blossom like a small flame. As we move forward in trust, serving the Lord and our fellow people with the gifts we’ve been given, however small they may seem, that scarcity falls behind us. We begin to see the abundance of love that fills the world, even when it is masked by “ordinariness” in our days.

Today let’s ask ourselves where the Lord is present, transforming the difficulties and challenges of our ordinary human lives into the beauty of new life, of diadems in the hands of God, of new love between bride and bridegroom, of joyful celebrations of love and new beginnings, and of the growth in wisdom, age, and grace to which we are all called in life.

The Lord has come. Where will we meet him today?

Read More

Posted by on Jan 9, 2022

The Baptism of the Lord – Beginning with Prayer

The Baptism of the Lord – Beginning with Prayer

Baptism of ChristThe Sunday after the Epiphany is celebrated as The Baptism of the Lord. On this day we transition from the first two special seasons of the Church year (Advent and Christmas) to the counted weeks of the year, Ordinary (meaning Counted) Time. Our focus shifts from readings preparing us for the coming of the Lord and those telling of the fulfillment of the prophecies of his coming with his birth, to those that detail just what he did when he came. What he taught and how people responded will be the focus of our readings in Ordinary Time.

Through the years, I have often heard it said that Jesus “submitted” to John’s baptism as a model for all of us. Jesus was without sin, so there was really no need for him to enter into the Jordan River and receive the baptism of repentance that John preached. As we look back on these events, it’s tempting to see them with 20/20 hindsight. We believe that Jesus is sinless, an unblemished human, who gave himself as the perfect model of fidelity to God’s will. Christian writers through the centuries have reflected on the image of Jesus as the perfect and final lamb offered in sacrifice to God, for the “expiation of sin,” an offering in blood to make up for Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden.

Yet I find myself thinking there might be something else here to notice. Jesus grew up in a family in a small village. His father was a tradesman. His mother was a homemaker. These were both full-time jobs. Both worked to support their life as a family and Jesus would have been part of that working community, doing his share of the chores along with his parents. As a child he learned of his faith and celebrated Bar Mitzvah, becoming a man in his community. He learned a trade and began working as a carpenter, a tradesman like his father. His life was so completely unremarkable that when he came home to Nazareth later to teach the members of his community of faith, they were not able to see past the normality of his life as they had known it and recognize the gift he was bringing to them.

Then when he was about 30, his cousin John came out of the desert and began preaching up and down the Jordan River. John spoke of the coming of the Messiah, the one so long ago promised. He taught about caring for each other and living justly. People went out to see him. John spoke of repentance, a long-time theme among prophets. Return to living as the people of the covenant! Make straight the way of the Lord! Many wondered if he might not be the Promised One himself.

Now, wander in your imagination with me for a moment.  Let’s assume that Jesus was an ordinary man. He didn’t know the full implications of anything he did in the course of his life. He didn’t know he was God become human. He didn’t know that he had never sinned, never deliberately hurt anyone or broken the Law. But I wonder if there might not have been times when he was uncertain whether his actions had been the right ones or not. Might he have thought that there were things he would have done differently if he had been given a chance? A sort of “do-over” that we humans often could use? If this was indeed true, then it makes sense that Jesus, a good and just man who was trying to be the best person he could, always faithful to his God and the covenant, would go to the Jordan to hear John preach and enter the water to be baptized, to be renewed in his life of faith.

We know that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and we celebrate that today. When he came out of the river, dripping wet, he stopped to pray, to reflect on what he had experienced there in the water, and maybe to recommit himself to God and his life of faith. St. Luke tells us that as Jesus was praying, “heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.” The coming of God’s Holy Spirit was palpable. It was like a dove gently landing on his shoulder might have felt. It was physically noticeable. It could be felt. Then Jesus heard a voice from heaven, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” The coming of God could be heard too. (Lk 3:15-16, 21-22)

This experience changed the course of Jesus’ life. It was a kind of conversion experience, though he was not a person who had lived a life of great sin or disobedience to God’s commands. He left the Jordan River a different person than when he had come. His consciousness had changed. He still didn’t know that he was the second person of the Trinity. He didn’t know that he was God become human. He didn’t know that his life would change much of the human history that followed. But he knew something had happened. He was praying and he experienced God’s presence and touch in his life in a very special way. His response was to pray some more. He went to the desert to reflect and pray. When he returned, he began to preach, teach, and heal. We’ll hear much more about that as the year goes on. The point today is that his life was forever changed when he entered into a time of reflection and symbolic washing. He emerged as the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, foretold by John and the prophets who had come before.

The first and second readings also speak of the role of the Spirit in the life of the Messiah. Isaiah quotes the Lord as saying he has put his spirit upon the chosen one, the one in whom he is pleased. This chosen one will bring justice to the nations, but peacefully, without shouting or crushing anything that is less than perfect and healthy (bruised reeds or smoldering wicks, for example). (Is 42:1-4,6-7) There is an alternate first reading as well, also from Isaiah. In this one, the Lord speaks words of comfort to those in exile, promising they will return to their own land, with the Lord himself leading them. A voice cries out in the desert, “prepare the way of the Lord.” (Is 40:1-5, 9-11)

St. Paul, in his letter to Titus, remarks that when “God our savior appeared…he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Ti 2:11-14; 3:4-7) This bath of rebirth is our baptism with water. It’s not the same as John’s baptism of repentance, but something even better. It brings an entirely new life, a sharing in God’s divine life through the Holy Spirit.

In another optional reading from the Acts of the Apostles (10:34-38), Luke tells us about Peter’s experience with the household of Cornelius, a Roman centurion who was instructed in a dream to send to Peter and have him come to his home. Peter was hesitant, but when he arrived, he discovered that the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon Cornelius and his family. This confirmed for Peter that the Gospel was for all people, not just for Jews. And the rebirth of baptism was opened to all of us.

In each of these readings, we see the importance of prayer and the gift of the Holy Spirit pouring out on the one who prays, opening up new vistas for life. If even Jesus, the Son of God, needed to pray and open himself to God’s gifts, how much more important is it for us to do the same? We won’t all have dramatic experiences of God’s coming into our lives more deeply. For some it will be a much more gradual, silent, gentle deepening of awareness of the Presence. For others it will be more dramatic. (Those dramatic moments and encounters still happen in our day, sometimes during experiences of prayer or meditation.) The important thing is to remember to pray.

So, let’s take this as our plan for Ordinary time this year. Make time for prayer. There are lots of times and ways to pray. Need to wash your hands for 20 seconds for COVID prevention? A “Hail Mary” and a “Glory Be” will take about 20 seconds. The Angelus is traditionally prayed at in the morning, at noon and at 6 pm. Keep a copy of it inside a cupboard door in the kitchen and pray it as you fix dinner. Eventually you’ll remember it and can pray it in the morning and at noon too! The rosary can be prayed any time, even without a set of beads. Our five fingers on each hand make a great decade counter. Having trouble going to sleep at night, pray the rosary and don’t worry if you fall asleep as you pray (a.k.a. “praying with Jesus in the boat”). Mass is celebrated every day except Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Visit a church once in a while for Mass on a weekday if you are able to fit it into your schedule. Liturgy of the Hours was developed a long time ago for people who couldn’t gather with the Christian community on a daily basis to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It’s available on-line now or in books such as Christian Prayer. Download Liturgy of the Hours to your phone and it’s ready whenever and wherever you are.

As we celebrate The Baptism of the Lord and the beginning of Ordinary Time, let’s dedicate the same attention to prayer as we do during the special seasons of the year. God is here now, just waiting eagerly to hear from us.

Read More

Posted by on Oct 10, 2021

Word and Wisdom – The Depths of the Heart

Word and Wisdom – The Depths of the Heart

Suppose God came to you and instructed you to ask for one gift. What gift would you request? You could have anything at all. Lands, power, wealth, recognition, admiration, skill, fame… What would you request?

Solomon, one of the ancient kings of Israel, was confronted with just this dilemma. His response was to request the gift of wisdom and it was granted to him. He has come down in history and tradition as Solomon the Wise.

The author of the book of Wisdom was writing about 100 years before Jesus was born. As is common in Scripture, the author’s words are ascribed to a well-known and respected figure from the past. In the reading today, the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the figure in question is Solomon. Solomon is praising Wisdom and begins with the story of how Wisdom came to him (Wis 7:7-11).

Solomon declares, “I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded and the spirit of wisdom came to me.” Solomon could have had greater riches, more lands to govern, heaps and heaps of gold and jewels, but he begged for wisdom. And his request was granted. He was not disappointed, nor did he regret his choice. He tells us, “… the splendor of her never yields to sleep.” Wisdom opens the door to appreciation of countless riches that might otherwise be completely overlooked.

Wisdom is personified as a feminine figure in Jewish tradition and is an attribute of God. Wisdom dwells in the heart of women and men. For Jews of this time, the heart was the center of a person, the very core of one’s being. This is where decisions are made and the place from which actions follow. Wisdom is not based in the head. Reason on its own doesn’t lead to wisdom. Wisdom is born from the heart.

The Psalmist asks, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” (Ps 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17) This isn’t a request to have everything go well as a sign of the Lord’s favor. The very next statement is, “Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!” Clearly, things have not always gone well. Yet hope remains and the psalmist asks the Lord to give what might seem a strange gift, “Make us glad, for the days when you afflicted us, for the years when we saw evil.” How can this be? How does this make sense?

One thing I have noticed in my life is that when all is going well, I don’t learn as much about loving, forgiving, and depending on God as when things have been harder. It’s easy to tell others how to live and what they should do when one has never walked in the same shoes, let alone shoes a couple of sizes smaller and tighter. But once having gone through tough times, it’s much easier to react with compassion to the suffering of others.

God’s work shines through our lives, especially if we keep our eyes open to see it. As the Lord is present and our eyes are open to see, we can notice and rejoice in the gifts received. In times of trouble, we can grow in wisdom if we are open to see.

For the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 4:12-13), the same divine wisdom is described as the word of God, which is living and has an effect, reflecting the inmost thoughts of the heart. Again, the heart is the seat of our humanity. The word is alive and active and it comes from God. Nothing can hide from the word of God. The reading is short, but very powerful.

So how are we called to live? What is necessary to “inherit eternal life?” The young man in today’s Gospel runs up to Jesus and respectfully asks just this question (Mk 10:17-30). Jesus reminds him of the Law that has come down through the ages from Moses. We refer to this particular part of the law as the Ten Commandments. The young man is a bit puzzled. “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus can see his goodness and loves this about him. So he offers him one last challenge, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor… then come, follow me.” This the young man could not do. He had many possessions and they held him bound. Jesus watched sadly as the young man walked away.

How tightly do things hold us bound? Jesus speaks of entering the Kingdom of God as being as hard for the rich as it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. This was a reference to a very small gate into the city of Jerusalem. Camels were too tall to enter through the gate without getting on their knees and essentially crawling through. The followers of Jesus rightly noted that such conditions for entry to the Kingdom were pretty much impossible to meet. Jesus agreed that in human terms it would be impossible. This is the reason that God’s help is necessary and wisdom springs from the heart. To the extent that we can hold on to things lightly, letting them go and sharing them whenever the need arises, we can become more like generous children and able to see the Kingdom as it is present around us.

Through the eyes of the heart and wisdom, we approach the Kingdom. How do we, you and I, open our eyes, our hearts, and our hands to allow Wisdom, the Word of God, to fill our being and overflow into our world today?

Read More

Posted by on Sep 26, 2021

What If the Lord Bestows His Spirit on All?

What If the Lord Bestows His Spirit on All?

On this Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, we hear of prophecy, healing, and inclusion. We also hear words of warning, some quite harsh.

Moses, in the Book of Numbers, has his hands full trying to lead the people and deal with their complaints and concerns (Nm 11:25-29). The burden of leadership has rested heavily on his shoulders, and he is tired of carrying it by himself. He complains to the Lord, who promises to spread the burden around a bit, and to provide more meat for the people (addressing their chief complaint). Moses is to select a group of elders who will help him govern the people. They are to gather at the meeting tent. All but two of those chosen are present at the tent when the Lord takes some of the spirit shared with Moses and bestows it on the chosen elders. These men begin to speak the Lord’s word when the spirit comes upon them – to prophesy. It is a strong confirmation of their new role in the community.

While this is happening at the meeting tent, the two men who were late getting there also experience the coming of the spirit upon them. They also begin to prophesy, right there in the camp. A young man runs to Moses with the news. Joshua urges Moses to stop the men from prophesying, since they have not received this gift at the tent with the others. Moses declines to do so, asking Joshua if he is jealous for the sake of himself (Moses).

Moses declares a different vision than that of limitation of access to divine inspiration and exclusion of those not present when the Lord acts in a religious or other formal setting. He declares, “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!”

In the context of the Hebrew Scriptures, the spirit of the Lord is the Lord’s very life breath! When the Lord shares his spirit with people, he is sharing of his own life. Moses wishes this sharing in the divine life and gifts could be experienced by all the people. Those who receive it speak out in praise the words of the Lord.

Jesus also dealt with misunderstanding of the breadth of God’s distribution of gifts (Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48). Someone else was successfully driving out demons in Jesus’ name. Perhaps wishing to protect Jesus’ reputation as a healer in the face of competition, John tried to stop the other from acting and then informed Jesus of the competition. Jesus surprised John by telling him not to try to stop the other person’s actions. He noted that it is impossible to perform mighty deeds in Jesus’ name and in the next breath speak ill of him. “For whoever is not against us is for us.”  And any who help those belonging to Christ, even with a small drink of water, will be rewarded.

So much for jealously restricting the gifts of healing and prophesy…

Now for the other side of the picture. A series of dire warnings concludes this section of the Gospel. The warnings are phrased dramatically and speak of drastic efforts to keep from causing others who believe in Jesus to sin. They were not meant to be taken literally, though in the course of history, some people have done just that. Jesus is not advocating physically injuring or maiming oneself or others, but rather emphasizing how important it is to be aware of what leads us to sin – what leads us to miss the target of loving behavior towards others and ourselves. He warns that it’s better to do without something deemed very important than to go to Gehenna, where the fire is unquenchable.

This reference to Gehenna is one that today is not at all understood in the context known by Jesus’ audience. We tend to think of Hell as the destination in the reference, but that’s not what Jesus was saying. Outside the walls of Jerusalem, there was a garbage dump. This dump was not like a modern landfill. It was a place where garbage was burned in open fires. The fires were kept burning day and night. The final line is a reference to the last few verses of the Book of Isaiah. Those verses too spoke of the garbage-burning fires outside the gates of the city. The prophet has just spoken of the coming victory of the Lord and the bringing together of good people from all over the earth to live in the city of the Lord. The bodies of the enemies, slain in a great battle, would be burned in the fires of the garbage dump.

These readings, and the reading from the letter of James (Jas 5:1-6), almost follow a parallel pattern. First Moses chides Joshua for trying to limit the Lord’s sharing of the spirit. Moses speaks of a broader sharing of the spirit among all the people. Then James cautions against making assumptions about the future or storing up riches for old age by taking advantage of the poor or treating workers unfairly. He reminds his listeners that the Lord hears the cries of those who are being harmed and will ultimately rule in their favor.  Finally, Jesus refuses to limit the power of healing to the small group of disciples who travel with him. He warns of the serious nature of sin and the importance of guarding against falling into temptation.

These readings are not just samples of the thinking of historical figures. They are intended to speak to us today. What do they say to us?

The first thing that comes to mind is the insight of the Council Fathers at the Second Vatican Council, when they declared that the Spirit has been at work in all cultures and times throughout the history of humankind. This was a major breakthrough. No longer do we say that only through faith in Jesus is salvation and everlasting life with God possible. We know that people of good will who have never received the gift of faith also share in life with God, both now and when they enter into eternity. The document, Nostra Aetate, (Declaration on The Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions), was promulgated on October 28, 1965. It is a short document, but its implications are profound for our world today and the religious strife which still plagues humanity.

The second point is perhaps more challenging. We absolutely must take seriously our own responsibility for our failures to live in self-giving love. And then we must do something about them.

What keeps me from a loving response? Is it the television show over which I get angry if I have to miss the final five minutes of the program? Is it the cell phone that keeps me distracted from family dinner conversation? Is it the sports event on television whose result upsets me so that I lash out angrily against my family? Is it taking on too many activities so that I can live up to an unrealistic picture of what a good parent does but then find I don’t have patience with a spouse or child who just needs a bit of attention and time from me? Is it social media? Do I really need to spend an hour or more each day catching up with my followers? What should I really be quietly doing for a friend today?

So many things can come between me and God. (The grammarian in me says it should be “God and me,” but the issue really is that God isn’t the one responsible here, so I will leave it with myself first here.) My challenge, and I think the challenge we all face, is to see what obstacles trip me up. Those are the ones I must address. They are the ones that need to be limited or dumped. Better they be dumped than that I end up in the dump – living apart from joyous presence of God.

Read More

Posted by on Sep 19, 2021

Wisdom, Justice, and The Just One

Wisdom, Justice, and The Just One

As people who live in a nation that is only a little over 200 years old, we Americans easily forget how long some traditions and histories of peoples actually are. A case in point is the history of the Jewish people. Their story goes back over 4,000 years. Lots of things happen in 4,000 years, including growth and change in understandings of how things are and how they were meant to be from the beginning.

In the past few weeks, we have heard readings from the writings of prophets and holy ones during the invasion of the Assyrians and, many years later, during the exile in Babylonia. The basic theme has been the same: God will protect those who are faithful to the covenant, the Law. When that faithfulness fails, God no longer protects the nation and disaster follows. A remnant of faithful people remain and God protects them and restores them to their land and freedom.

This week, the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we jump much closer to the beginning of our Christian experience. The book of Wisdom was written in Alexandria, Egypt in Greek by an unknown Jewish author who was well-versed in the traditions and literature of his people. It dates to about fifty to one hundred years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. In the approximately 250 years before it was written, the Greeks conquered Israel and attempted to impose their own traditions and religion. It had been a time of great suffering and some heroic witness by faithful Jews. Independence was gained at last and Rome had not yet conquered Israel. At least part of the writings in this work are attributed to King Solomon, a ruler remembered for his great wisdom. Despite being written in Greek, it follows the patterns of Hebrew verse. It also includes a notion of life after death. This is a new idea for the time and not accepted by all the people.

A Call to Justice

The book begins with a call to Justice. Justice is not a question of punishment for misdeeds. In this context, Justice is a moral quality that is universal and refers to the way in which moral conduct relates to Wisdom. When behavior is good and honest, when people care for each other and those who are most vulnerable, then justice is present. Wisdom is also called discipline. All are called to live justly.

But a group of people reject the calls of justice. They basically express the idea stated by folks in another time and culture, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” Why spend our lives looking out for others? We should live happily while we have the chance – get everything we can right now!

The only fly in the ointment is the example of the Just One(s) who try to live by the Law. These folks are also called son of God (child of God), meaning one who is so faithful to God as to be “like God.” They persist in openly living lives of faith and reminding others of the necessity to do so. They were a real pain to “the wicked” who preferred to live for themselves.

It is at this point that today’s reading picks up. (Wis 2:12, 170-20) The wicked ones decide to put the Just One to the test. Accuse him falsely. Torture him. Make fun of him. Condemn him to death. Kill him in the most shameful, personally embarrassing way possible. Find out in this way whether the Just One is truly gentle and patient. Find out also whether God will step in to take care of him!

The early church looked to this reading from Wisdom following Jesus’ death, seeing it as a prophecy of who he would be and what would happen to him. They saw the resurrection as fulfillment of the promise that God would take care of the Just One.

Jesus was also familiar with this prophecy and its history. He tried to warn his disciples that things were not going to go well for him. The Romans always condemned anyone who was called “messiah” among the people. Anyone who threatened the status quo would be seen as an enemy of Rome. St. Mark (Mk 9:30-37) describes Jesus’ efforts on the journey through Galilee to prepare his disciples for what was coming, but they were afraid to ask too many questions. Only after the resurrection did they begin to understand what he had said.

The inclusion of Jesus’ statement that the “Son of Man” would rise on the third day would not have been understood. “Son of Man” was another title of the coming messiah. The third day figuratively referred to the day when God would come to the rescue and make everything OK again. It was not only a question of a time period between 48 and 72 hours after an event had occurred. It was a much greater promise.

Then there was also the question of what they were discussing as they walked along with him. This was quite embarrassing, because they were doing a very human thing – trying to figure out which one of them was the best among them. Jesus put that to rest quickly. He stated flat out that only the one who was a servant to all, with the same lowly status as a child, could or would be the greatest. So much for worldly power and prestige. The one who receives a child in Jesus’ name receives the One who sent him.

Living in Wisdom and Justice

Early followers of Jesus did not find it easy to live as humbly and lovingly as he did. St. James addressed this problem in his letter (Jas 3:16-4:3). He noted that jealously and ambition are fundamental issues that cause disorder among people. Instead of living with these qualities, he describes wisdom and righteousness from above, which lead to peace. Purity, peaceability, gentleness, mercy, bearing good fruit – these are qualities that lead to peace in the community and within individuals.

St. James similarly describes the basis for wars and other conflicts as due to reliance on one’s passions rather than on wisdom. Those who ask God’s help based on their passions and personal self-interest will not receive a positive answer to their prayer, because they are asking for the wrong thing. The key to answered prayer is to ask for the right thing for the right reason.

Not an easy path … but one that can bring great and very positive change to a world.

How do I live in harmony and wisdom? What qualities do I need to favor in myself, so I can be gentle, merciful, kind, and wise? Where does self-care come into the equation? When must I say “NO” to demands that interfere with my ability to be loving, kind, and considerate?

In these times of great division and challenge, our answers to these questions will without a doubt ripple out into our world. Pray with me for wisdom.

Read More

Posted by on May 30, 2021

Trinity Sunday – A celebration of a fundamental mystery of our faith

Trinity Sunday – A celebration of a fundamental mystery of our faith

The mystery of the Holy Trinity is celebrated today, the first Sunday after Pentecost. It is a mystery that Christians have been contemplating and trying to comprehend since the earliest days of the faith. We believe in a God who is One, yet we also claim that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. How can that be? Most religions simply say that there are many gods. Maybe there’s one high god in their system, but there are may others too. We Christians don’t agree. God is One. Yet there is a wondrous complexity to that One.

In the first reading today, we hear Moses reminding the Israelites of the history of their relationship with God. These are the children of the people who first left Egypt forty years earlier. Moses reminds them of the wonder of the fact that the same God who created the heavens and the earth has chosen them to be his special people, his special friends. More than that, he rescued them from slavery and now has led them through the desert to a land that will be their own. God cares about them and has given them a set of rules and guidelines that will allow them to live together in peace in their new homeland. God has chosen to enter into a relationship of love with humans. God will provide for his people as a parent provides for children.

The second reading, from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans, reminds us of the role of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit, the holy breath of God, the Spirit of Love leads the children of God. But this relationship between humans and the divine Spirit is not one of slavery or coercion. There is no need to fear God who is Spirit. God calls us children. We are to think of God as a Father, a Dad, a Papa. With Jesus, the Son of God, the Word of God, we become heirs of the glory of God as we live the life to which we are called. All the wonders of a loving relationship are ours.

In the Gospel reading, we hear the end of St. Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus. Jesus calls his remaining eleven disciples to a mountaintop. There he commissions them to be apostles, the ones who will go out and tell the world what they have seen and heard: that the man Jesus, Son of God, has been “given all power in heaven and on earth.” He sends them forth to baptize people from all the world, bringing them into a relationship of love with the same God and Father who chose the Israelites so long ago. They are to baptize in the name – the power and authority – of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. He also promises that he will remain with them always, to the end of the age.

We live today in this love of God. Baptized into this relationship. Most of the time we are as conscious of it as a fish is of the water in which it lives. But the love of God surrounds us and permeates our being. Father Creator, Beloved Son, and Holy Spirit. One God, in a dancing trinity of love and relationship which catches us up into the dance.

Read More

Posted by on Jun 13, 2014

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

 

Feathers all ready for flying

Feathers all ready for flying

The primary image of Pentecost is that of tongues of fire that accompanied the sound of a rushing wind and settled over the heads of the disciples, both men and women, gathered in the upper room of the home in Jerusalem where Jesus had celebrated the Last Supper with his friends and then appeared to them on several occasions after the Resurrection. In this unforgettable moment, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and empowered them to witness to what they had seen and heard of the love of God and the coming of God’s Kingdom to the world. The Church was born on that day nearly 2,000 years ago and the Holy Spirit continues to breathe life and love into God’s world through ordinary men, women, and children.

Many ways of celebrating Pentecost exist around the world, beginning with the gathering of the community to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. For children, other activities can make this a special day as well.

Common symbols of the Holy Spirit include a dove, the wind, and a flame. A craft I learned many years ago makes an enjoyable activity for children to celebrate during Easter Season and Pentecost.

Crepe Paper & Stick Birds

Supplies:

2 thin sticks or branches – about 1 1/2 to 2 feet long
String or yarn – 1 foot length
Cellophane tape
Crepe paper – white, yellow, red, orange
Orange ribbon (optional)

Making your bird

Take two sticks of unequal length and tie them together in the form of a cross. Use string or yarn to tie them securely and help hold them in the cross shape.

2012-04-17 17.02.28

Next take a bit of the crepe paper and wrap it around the yarn to help stabilize the bird’s body.

Take the orange ribbon or a bit of orange crepe paper and wrap it around the tip of the shortest end of the sticks. Go around the stick enough times to make a beak and a head for your bird. If you use ribbon, you can use crepe paper to cover the body-end of the beak and build up a head.

2012-04-17 17.07.17

Once the head has been formed and the center stabilized, take a long strip of crepe paper, tape it to the stick or to itself, and begin wrapping it around the sticks.

2012-04-17 17.14.49

Cover both sticks completely with crepe paper. Leave only a little of the beak showing.

Close-up of head

Close-up of bird’s head

Take strips of whatever color of crepe paper you are using and tape them to the bird’s wings and tail. Some will want to tape them all along the wings. Others will put them only at the tips. Either way works just fine.

Feathers all ready for flying

Feathers all ready for flying

When the feathers have all been attached, the bird will be ready to fly.

Away we go!

Away we go!

 

This bird can be constructed to celebrate Easter, the Resurrection (as a phoenix), or Pentecost (as a reminder of the Holy Spirit who comes igniting the fires of love and settles like a bird on those called to God’s family).

Come Holy Spirit. Fill our hearts with the fire of your love. Blow where you will in our lives. Strengthen us to respond with the freedom of a bird flying in your love.

Read More

Posted by on Dec 17, 2013

The Week before Christmas – A Time for Stillness

Please join us in the joyful anticipation of Christmas during this time of stillness and waiting that is Advent. We remind ourselves that the celebration of Christmas begins on the Eve of the Nativity, the 24th. There are two weeks to celebrate this great feast of God with us. Leave the hustle and bustle and share the gift of peace with your loved ones.

The O Antiphons which are sung before the Magnificat at Vespers set the tone for each day of this special week.

December 17 – O Sapientia

“O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

 


 

What wisdom is this folly?

That God should come to share our death?

What Word of God, the Fullest Godself Expression on High

That governs all, would come for us in such lowliness?

O Wisdom? O Foolishness of Divine Love,

You seek us out, O Wisdom from on high.

Read More

Posted by on Oct 24, 2013

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

Seeking God, Decision-Making and the Ignatian Examen

three-candles-by Alice Birkin

Finding Peace and Freedom

We cannot find peace if we are arguing with God in whatever form we perceive the sacred. The Divine Reality loves us without reservation. We cannot find happiness and peace in any other place. Even non-believers will only find peace in the Reality that has created the universe and encloses all of it within Itself. God has given everything in the universe love and freedom. God’s love is total. It encompasses everything that promotes our growth and transformation. We have been created for union with this sacred reality, so we learn and experience during all our lives ways to be like God: to be knowing, understanding, wise, discerning, reverent, courageous and in awe of the transcendent. Everything in the universe has degrees of freedom. The nature of everything determines the degrees of freedom. I cannot flap wings and fly. I cannot breathe under water just as I am. I will always be a middle child. But, there are many ways in which I can determine my course in life, work with limitations or with strengths.

As I live my life I have many possibilities before me. I also have a certain amount of freedom. If I believe in the reality of God, I see myself in a relationship with God, a God who is close or distant. All religious and spiritual traditions have concepts of the relationship of human powers and divine powers. These relationships involve change, improvement, decision, freedom, human failure, consequences and divine intervention. The theological terms often used for these phenomena are: conscience or consciousness, grace, nature, discernment, acts, harm or sin and moral good, and judgment or karma.  If I am thinking about getting more money I have a number of reasons as to why I want more money, what I possibly want to do to get money, and what the pros and cons are with various options. I can look at the decision from many angles. I can line up my ideas and come up with what I think will work the best. I can talk to others or read various sources. I can also present this to God in prayer and say: “Please tell me what You see as best for me.”

This is not easy to do because most people feel that God does not think of my little side to things; God is only interested in the Bigger Picture and saints or martyrs. In fact, God is very interested in individuals. God as most Westerners conceive of God is a personal Reality who sees us fully and knows exactly what would make us happy. We are still not too sure about that because it sounds too mature for us. Attending to our health and saving money may sound difficult, so long term happiness planning may seem very hard. I am the first to say that buying something new sounds like fun. But, wanting to surrender to God as our source of wisdom and a guide is the only way to have peace.  We are also very rational in the West and often think God is so intangible or un-provable as to be neither reliable nor a reality with which we can have a two-way communication.

Time for Centering

Taking time each day to practice centering in God for the direction of our day and our lives is necessary. There are many ways to do this: journaling, walking a labyrinth, and having a spiritual counseling session are ways to think and pray through where I am in my life, where I feel drawn, and what God sees in me that I might benefit from.  Another way to have an experience of being counseled by God is the Ignatian Examen.

Very briefly, sit quietly and think of or imagine things you are truly grateful for. They can be big or small: Clean sheets, good food, your dog, ways you have been loved, accomplishments, a family member or friend, your house or job etc.  Tell God what you are grateful for. See, if God has given you things you are grateful for: a rescue in life, money you needed, safety, a trip you took.  Then think of the things in yourself or your life which you have chosen that have harmed you, undermined your well being, or side-tracked you.  These can also be big or small: being resentful, feeling superior, or not being willing to do something new that you need to do. Ask God to help you with these fears or hurts that have held you away from Him. Lastly, ask God how you can spend the next part of your day or life doing what is best.  You will get answers. You can surrender to what is best and see how much more peace-filled you are. I do this every day, sometimes more than once. I act on what I hear and I am much more at peace.

Image: Three Candles by Alice Birkin, public domain

Read More

Posted by on Sep 19, 2012

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

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

Read More

Posted by on Jul 21, 2012

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

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

Read More

Posted by on Jul 3, 2012

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

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.

Read More

Posted by on Jun 6, 2012

The Sixth Gift: Reverence

Reverence is rare in American society yet we love to see it.  We are enthralled by dignity in great people.  We appreciate graciousness and care, attention to detail, kindness to the helpless.  We love to gaze on a photo by Ansel Adams of a ray of sunlight coming down on fern beneath redwood trees and ache to be in that very quiet, quiet place.  Many of us love the scent of incense, the intonation of chant, and bowing before the Blessed Sacrament.  All of us, even non-believers feel humbled by special churches or temples.  If I spy a butterfly up close or gaze on a sleeping baby, I feel taken aback by these, I feel reverence.

Reverence is an attitude and feeling of being in the presence of something bigger and more important than we are.  It is not a feeling of unimportance but rather of an encounter with something one admires and wants to honor and respect.  In order to feel reverence for someone or something, I have to have realized that this reality is special and unique.

St. Ignatius of Loyola speaks of reverence a number of times in relation to God.  He links reverence to honor or service.  He is not referring to the idea that one should honor or serve God as a duty.  Rather he is stating that one wants to honor and serve because God is so amazing and humble with respect to us that we cannot but want to reverence Him.  Teresa of Avila refers to Jesus as the Divine Majesty who desires only one thing — that of humble closeness to us.  Julian of Norwich speaks of Jesus who is so courteous with us that He will not force any aspect of himself on us.

Reverence requires that I am able to be grateful and humble.  All of these are gifts.  It is only by the grace of God that we are not blind and obtuse all the time with respect to what God has done and is doing for us. Reverence implies that I have deference for God, that I acknowledge the majesty and superiority of God and feel deeply thankful for God’s attention to me.

This kind of admiration and gratitude is not automatic.  Our daily lives and problems are so all-encompassing and often overwhelming that we feel little relief.  God does not seem involved.  Where is He?  We have a difficult time finding God in the discomfort.  I often resent the fact that God could eliminate my problems in the wink of an eye if he wanted to.  He could do that.  So why doesn’t God construct a world in which there is no pain and suffering?  He allows the struggle to go on because he envisions a far better outcome for us than we can imagine.  He allows all the challenges to purify us because he is the best possible parent.  He lets us make choices and learn from them.  He lets us live in a world that presents growth possibilities — controversies, complications, tragedies, opportunities.  He loves us enough to risk our hating him.

When I realized that God was calling me, dragging me, carrying me, and letting me be beaten by the most awful forces so that I could be stronger and surer, I began to admire him.  When I watched Jesus in the Gospels be ridiculed, baited, criticized, and threatened, I really grew in respect for what an awesome and holy opponent he was.  Jesus was smart, humble, strategic, direct, disarming, and kind.  What a special person just on the human level! I feel the desire to bow before him any time.

Reverence also extends to  how we feel about other human beings.  This is much harder for us because we have encountered so many who are arrogant and ignorant, childish and irrational.  But, God sees a spark of himself in each one.  We also cannot imagine ourselves being anything less than perfect.   It is so easy to perceive the insensitivities of everyone else.  We do in fact feel the abrasiveness of being in relationships.  People are very hard on each other — demanding.  Real love though is not about enjoying only the pretty parts of people.  Real love is reverent.  It hopes in my potential and that of others.  Real love is not arrogant or overbearing.  God calls us to love each other as we want to be loved.  This is a very hard thing to do.  It means that I wish for the other the joys  and respect that I want for myself.  It also means that I am not superior.

In the past twenty years we have also begun to appreciate the importance of the natural world and our dependence on it.  We no longer take for granted our environment.  We see the beauty and complexity of every scientific process within our bodies and every element of the universe.  While not wanting to cling to physicality in a literal way, we do want to reverence it.  The entire process of living, developing and getting nurturance is an amazing interplay of resources, influences, choices, and challenges.  Our bodies, the solar system, atomic particles, and plants and animals are all amazing.  Learning about these realities should help us to appreciate them and to reverence them — from wanting clean water to finding a cure for malaria.

This humility before God, each other and the universe is reverence and it is a gift.

Two saints to read about in regard to this gift if you have not already done so are St. Peter Claver, S.J. and St. Solanus Casey, O.F.M. Cap.

Read More

Posted by on Jun 2, 2012

The Fifth Gift: Courage

Courage comes from the Latin word for heart cor and the French coeur.  To have the heart for something means to be able to face something difficult or frightening and to persevere.  Courage therefore does not mean not being afraid.  It means to be afraid and go ahead and do the right thing anyway.  Plato, Aristotle and Cicero wrote about this virtue as well as others, just as the authors of the Bible did.  They and later philosophers and theologians recognized the importance of courage for the moral life.  Courage is considered the most important of the virtues by many because without it the others cannot be practiced consistently.

There is an interesting and important distinction between the non-Christian and the Christian traditions in the understanding of courage.  The Greeks, Romans, Buddhists, Taoists, Shintoists and others did not/do not believe in grace. They feel that if someone does not have courage, he or she has not been trained properly, has a psychological problem, has a physical illness or is being compromised or harassed by evil spirits. All or one of these may be true, but at base, Christianity teaches that true courage or heroism, which is not self-seeking, is a gift which builds on the other natural human efforts. Christianity often quotes St.  Thomas Aquinas’ famous teaching that “Grace builds on nature.”

In considering courage, the teachings of Aristotle make sense as a foundation. Courage can be taught to a great extent and moderation is important in exercising it.  A person does not have to take risks all the time or confront every fearful thing in order to be morally strong.  On the other hand, it is good to try new things, to face one’s fears and develop parts of the personality that are underdeveloped.  If I want to be able to dance I can take dancing lessons.  If I would like to be able to do public presentations I can get some personal coaching and feel more comfortable.  From the faith perspective, even these decisions are based on the work of the Spirit.  It is the life of the Spirit, the Paraclete, in the world which calls us and empowers us.

At times I may find truly upsetting or frightening situations in my path.  I may face an illness, the addictions of a child, or the possible loss of my job.  Being at peace or thinking clearly may be beyond me.  I can internalize this crisis and work on it by myself or I can consciously offer it to God and ask for help.  I can practice consciously giving it to God over and over and ask for light on it.

I can also use Discernment to identify if any motions are going on inside me that lead to distress.  These powerful negative thoughts can come from my own psychology but often they come from the Enemy (St. Ignatius of Loyola’s, term for the Devil) who loves to undermine us by introducing negative interpretations and scenarios.  St. Paul confronts these deceptions by reminding us that if at all possible we have to counter anything that does not bring peace.  I might be feeling fairly stable even in the middle of a crisis and all of a sudden a thought comes that is very scary.  The thought says: “This might happen.  That might happen.”  Someone who is seasoned in courage will immediately sweep away speculative frightened thinking.  The only thing that matters in a frightening life or event is the question addressed to God: “What should I be doing right now?”  Cultivating a prayer life all the time goes a long way later on when I need to center myself and ask God for courage.

Courage is a grace.  We get the grace when we need it.  The saints who have done heroic things or died as martyrs were given the grace for that at the time.

Courage also may be needed for non-crisis situations.  It may be needed for a long term commitment to something difficult.  Parents who find that they have given birth to a sick baby may need a lot of courage to live day-to-day with this struggling child.  Courage can be called fortitude or perseverance in this case. Caregivers who take care of a spouse with Alzheimers or any severe condition also have need of great courage in order to live out the other gifts of knowledge, understanding and wisdom.  In both cases,watching another suffer without becoming cynical requires the gift of courage.

It is sometimes startling how far life can challenge and stretch us.  The tragedies, injustice, and atrocities can almost strip us clean of hope and energy. Christ had the courage to take the side of goodness and it cost him his life. We can be called to extend ourselves and donate ourselves for the good of another.  Wisdom and Right Judgement can take us to the point of choice but the Gift of Courage will have to take us across the line.

For an excellent movie on courage rent Of Gods and Men about 7 Cistercian monks in Algeria — good casting — fantastic music.

Read More

Posted by on May 31, 2012

A Fourth Gift of the Holy Spirit: Counsel or Right Judgement

A recent issue of the Costco Magazine, The Costco Connection, included an article on Sir James Dyson, inventor of the Dyson vacuum and an number of other products. The article described the history of the development of the vacuum as a way of also relating the process that Dyson went through in the development of his business and his values.  One of the most compelling aspects of the story was Dyson’s clarity about his decision to produce the best vacuum possible.  Sir James went through 13 years of failures (5,127 prototypes), near bankruptcy, 2 lawsuits, rejections, illicit copycats, and supply problems.  But, in it all he knew his concept was right.  He also did not mind working alone.  Now that his product is a huge success (number one in the UK) he is quite happy to let go of total control of his business to a group of engineers.  He is very involved but not hovering.  Dyson has never been concerned with a certain timeline for getting products from concept to marketing.  He told The Connection, “I don’t care how long things take.”  He also states: “Failure is to be celebrated–That’s how we learn.  I learned from each of my mistakes. That’s how I came up with a solution.  So I don’t mind failure.”  There is not a shred of religious talk in this article but it is in fact full of Gospel values and the basic principles of Right Judgement.

This gift of the Holy Spirit was exclusively referred to as Counsel” until the end of the 20th century.  The more recent use of “Right Judgement”  for this gift points to the balance needed in availing oneself of the gift.  “Counsel” has always emphasized the active need for and role of the Holy Spirit in determining the truth and making decisions.  The term “Right Judgement” emphasizes the role of the person.  In Catholic thinking, both God and the person are involved in the constant process of identifying what is real and what is best and correcting one’s course towards these.  Some religious groups emphasize either the sovereignty of God in the process or the sovereignty of the person. Catholicism holds both in balance.  The Tradition is sufficiently optimistic about humanity to affirm the role of free will and yet well aware enough of human weakness to affirm the need for grace.   Another term for this gift is Discernment.

James Dyson speaks of not being afraid of being alone, of failure, of learning new things, or of long processes.  With these values as his foundation, he is in a perfect place to make good decisions.  The only thing he is missing from this life stance is the place of God in his perceptions and actions.  Why does it matter that God be involved if Dyson is so successful and reportedly happy?

In the article, Sir James reports that he loves to invent and has a passion about setting one goal after another and working toward them.  All of that is fantastic on one level.  On another level, one could ask if a person might let God get a word in edgewise about the over-all direction of his life?  The surrender of that basic orientation of life is incomprehensible  to nonbelievers.  The idea that life is a dance with the Spirit is crazy to the successful person in the normal secular context.  Dyson is happy, so why bother with him?  My inclination is to leave him alone, but a large part of me has had a lot of experience with universal human limitation.  By definition, James Dyson (and all of us), does not have access to the sum of his full potential.  At this point, he is controlling all variables of his life as far as he perceives them.  The idea of consciously referring himself to a high reality is not in his view.

In seeking Right Judgement, a person first lives a life as open to the truth as possible.  With specific aspects of life, such as job, relationships, health, education, finances, civic involvement, or faith, a person is expected to do as much as possible to grow in knowledge of these things and self-knowledge in relation to these things.  Beyond this, he or she can bring these things to prayer.  Doing a daily exercise of putting different aspects of life or the way the day has gone in front of God can open up a type of detachment in which one can sort through how a specific part of one’s life or the whole day feels.  If I ask for an openness to my finances I may see that I fritter away money on creative projects that I end up not doing, supplies I never use.  If I ask for an openness to the truth of my health and consistently feel a kind of anxiety about how I eat, I can let this commitment to the truth carry me past the desire not to see the truth and ask to see why I am troubled.  I may like to collect things, but I may never face the fact that as long as I am in debt I should not be buying anything unnecessary. In Right Judgement, I learn to identify my feelings when I entertain helpful ideas or unhelpful ideas.

Two days ago I knew I needed to get gasoline for my car because I was going to go on a trip the next day.  As I got off the freeway to go to a store, I approached a gas station I know well and a voice inside me said that I should go in there right now and get gas.  I absolutely, positively did not want to do that.  I was tired and sick of errands and obligations and wanted to continue up the street to the last errand and get that over with.  I would get gas later (in some vague gas station– who knows where?).  This was just a bald case of procrastination.  My brain forced me off the road into the gas station.  I saw an inner vision of a taller me as a parental figure leaning over me saying, “You will be so messed up tomorrow if you don’t get gas today.  You will be yelling at yourself as you pay 20 cents more per gallon for gas in San Francisco!!  Go get the d…n gas and quit whining.  You will feel so much better.”   It is the same inner conversation when calling for a dental appointment, walking the dogs two miles, or setting up my durable power of attorney.  I do not want to deal with complications (as if procrastinating on these things will not create any complications!). Right Judgement helps us identify the feelings around the truth versus the feelings prompted by false reasons to do or not do something. With Right Judgement I ask God to send me whatever imagery or feelings will clarify what is His will and what is best for me.

Right Judgement always involves self knowledge.  We often choose out of very deep desires and fears.  If I recognize that I am in pain over never being noticed in my family, then I will understand why I often get depressed at bigger family gatherings.  I will see that I can be quite happy being in the same room with these insensitive people or on a inner tube in a murky river with them if I bond with someone like my sister-in-law or a cousin.  With Right Judgement I will begin to see if I regularly surrender appropriate control of life to overbearing people.  I might see that I give up on things I want for myself legitimately before I even begin to figure out how I might get them.  I will feel the difference between longings I should pursue and guilt or laziness I should ignore.

We can ask for and receive this inner feedback at any time.  We may not want to hear or feel the motions of the Spirit versus our own appetites or emotions, but they are there all the same.  The more we obey the loving, healthy voice, the easier it gets.  Thanks be to God!

Read More