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Posted by on Dec 5, 2021

The Lord Comes in Historical Times

The Lord Comes in Historical Times

Once upon a time …  Many stories we tell begin with a reference to a time long ago and far away. These stories relate important truths, but the actual facts of what happened may or may not be true. As storyteller and theologian Megan McKenna likes to say, “All stories are true and some of them actually happened.”

The readings for the Second Sunday of Advent differ from many of the stories we encounter in the first books of the Bible. The first books were written hundreds if not thousands of years after the events they describe. Some of them are clearly not historical – “In the beginning …” Others present a picture of how things came to be, somewhat like fables we learn as children. Some tell stories of the first families from whom all are descended. Details of these stories are hard to document in terms of our modern understanding of history. But in the readings today we have historical details that support the narrative, the story being told.

The first reading comes from Baruch (5:1-9). Baruch was an aristocrat, a member of the court of King Zedekiah just before the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. He was also a scribe for Jeremiah the prophet. We know this from a history written by Josephus, a Jewish historian in the first century. In the book of Baruch, Jerusalem is described as a woman mourning the death of a loved one – sitting in clothes that indicate she is mourning during the first seven days after the death. A woman “sitting shiva.” Baruch speaks words of hope. “Take off your robe of mourning and misery, put on the splendor of glory from God forever.” She is to put on a cloak of justice and wear a mitre (a special turban or hat) proclaiming the glory of God’s name, like that worn by Aaron when the Israelites traveled with Moses through the desert.

Jerusalem will see her children returning from exile, being led back by God. As they come, the mountains will be leveled and the gorges will be filled ahead of them, so the road back will be smooth and secure. Fragrant trees will protect the way and welcome the travelers, as Israel is led by God in glory, with mercy and justice personified as their companion.

What a glorious hope for a people suffering exile in the land of their enemies! This book was probably written long after that time described, but the person whose name it bears is known to have lived during the time just before and during the exile. It is a book of prayers, poems, and prophecies filled with hope.

Psalm 126 repeats the refrain of the joy of exiles returning from foreign lands. Those who watch them return marvel, “The Lord has done great things for them.” They return carrying the fruits of the harvest that has grown during their time of exile. They have not remained helplessly suffering and stagnating. During their time of exile, they have grown.

The Gospel of Luke begins before the birth of either Jesus or his cousin John, but today we hear some of the story of the prophetic travels and activities of John (Lk 3:1-6). This section begins with a long list of political rulers, the timeframe in which it occurs, the regions they governed, and their leadership positions. We get a very real sense of what was going on in the Roman empire, Palestine, and Jerusalem as John and Jesus come onto the scene – two cousins who will unexpectedly become influential in their world. Both men are from families that would not ordinarily have attracted any attention at all. John’s father was a priest at the temple. Jesus’ father was a tradesman in the town of Nazareth in the north of the country near the sea of Galilee. Yet both men played critical roles in the drama of reconciliation between God and humans – salvation history.

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea … the word of the Lord came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.” John had been living as a hermit in the desert for many years, but the Lord called him to action. He began to call people to repentance, to change their way of behaving towards each other and move towards the freedom of living in God’s forgiveness and justice. As a symbol of this transition, he used baptism, a ritual of purification with water that was deeply rooted in his Jewish tradition. He spoke of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Valleys are to be filled and mountains leveled. Everything that can get in the way of those who seek the Lord is to be leveled. “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Many years after John the Baptist announced the coming of the Lord, St. Paul sends a letter to the community of believers in Philippi (Phil 1:4-6, 8-11). This is a community to which Paul has brought the message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. They are people he knows and loves. They are also people whom he is not likely ever to see again. He writes while he is a prisoner in Rome, awaiting the judgement that will result in his release or his execution. He shares the joy he feels in their faith and commitment to the life of the gospel. He expresses his deep-seated love for them and prays that their love will grow and deepen each day, so they will be pure and blameless at Christ’s return. Love in the sense of the word he uses is love with no limits and no strings attached. Love in the best and deepest sense of the word, a love that leads to purity of heart.

Paul’s words speak to us too. We too are called to this deep love and to growth in love throughout our lives. Hearing the word of the Lord is only the first step on the road to salvation, the road to the fullness of life in God’s kingdom. We grow each day as we practice loving and caring for each other and those whom the Lord sends our way. The child who bumps into us in the grocery store. The stranger who doesn’t know the roads in our town and makes sudden moves to get into the lane just ahead of us to make a turn. The family member who will never (insert your pet peeve here). The man on the street who cries out in madness, unable to find release from the illness that torments his mind. The uneducated woman who travels from another country with her young daughter, seeking a safe place to live and protection from those who would kill them both because her husband is a police officer.

Many opportunities open up each day, calling for us to reach out in love. God is coming. God has come. God lives among us. How do I make the ways straight for others to experience his presence? Do I notice the valleys that have been filled and the mountains leveled to help us to pass? Will I continue to grow in love? How will you and I spend our Advent time? Will we be bearers of peace and hope in our world?

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Posted by on Nov 24, 2021

A Letter from Saint Paul Le-Bao-Tinh

A Letter from Saint Paul Le-Bao-Tinh

This morning in the Liturgy of the Hours Office of Readings I came across a letter written by Saint Paul Le-Bao-Tinh, one of the 117 Vietnamese Martyrs that the Church celebrates today. Saint Paul, a priest, was imprisoned during one of the persecutions against Christians in 1843, and he wrote the following letter to his seminary students:

I, Paul, in chains for the name of Christ, wish to relate to you the trials besetting me daily, in order that you may be inflamed with love for God and join with me in his praises, for his mercy is for ever. The prison here is a true image of everlasting hell: to cruel tortures of every kind—shackles, iron chains, manacles—are added hatred, vengeance, calumnies, obscene speech, quarrels, evil acts, swearing, curses, as well as anguish and grief. But the God who once freed the three children from the fiery furnace is with me always; he has delivered me from these tribulations and made them sweet, for his mercy is for ever.

In the midst of these torments, which usually terrify others, I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone—Christ is with me.

Our master bears the whole weight of the cross, leaving me only the tiniest, last bit. He is not a mere onlooker in my struggle, but a contestant and the victor and champion in the whole battle. Therefore upon his head is placed the crown of victory, and his members also share in his glory.

How am I to bear with the spectacle, as each day I see emperors, mandarins, and their retinue blaspheming your holy name, O Lord, who are enthroned above the Cherubim and Seraphim? Behold, the pagans have trodden your cross underfoot! Where is your glory? As I see all this, I would, in the ardent love I have for you, prefer to be torn limb from limb and to die as a witness to your love.

O Lord, show your power, save me, sustain me, that in my infirmity your power may be shown and may be glorified before the nations; grant that I may not grow weak along the way, and so allow your enemies to hold their heads up in pride.

Beloved brothers, as you hear all these things may you give endless thanks in joy to God, from whom every good proceeds; bless the Lord with me, for his mercy is for ever. My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant and from this day all generations will call me blessed, for his mercy is for ever.

O praise the Lord, all you nations, acclaim him all you peoples, for God chose what is weak in the world to confound the strong, God chose what is low and despised to confound the noble. Through my mouth he has confused the philosophers who are disciples of the wise of this world, for his mercy is for ever.

I write these things to you in order that your faith and mine may be united. In the midst of this storm I cast my anchor toward the throne of God, the anchor that is the lively home in my heart.

Beloved brothers, for your part so run that you may attain the crown, put on the breastplate of faith and take up the weapons of Christ for the right hand and for the left, as my patron Saint Paul has taught us. It is better for you to enter life with one eye or crippled than, with all your members intact, to be cast away.

Come to my aid with your prayers, that I may have the strength to fight according to the law, and indeed to fight the good fight and to fight until the end and so finish the race. We may not again see each other in this life, but we will have the happiness of seeing each other again in the world to come, when, standing at the throne of the spotless Lamb, we will together join in singing his praises and exult for ever in the joy of our triumph. Amen.

Saint Paul Le-Bao-Tinh is celebrated along with St. Andrew Dung-Lac and 115 others today. These 117 saints were chosen from among the approximately 130,000 Christians killed during the Vietnamese persecutions between 1625 and 1886. Despite over 50 decrees banning the Christian faith, the Church has grown to almost 6 million Catholics in Vietnam. Along with St. Andrew Dung-Lac, a diocesan priest, his companions included 11 Spanish missionaries, 10 French missionaries, and 96 Vietnamese priests and laity.

O God,source and origin of all fatherhood,who kept the Martyrs Saint Andrew Dung-Lacand his companions faithful to the Cross of your Son,even to the shedding of their blood,grant through their intercession, that,spreading your love among our brothers and sisters,we may be your children both in name and in truth.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Vietnamese Martyrs, pray for us!

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Posted by on Nov 17, 2021

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Today the Church celebrates the life of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, who was queen of Hungary in the 13th century.

We don’t hear much about this inspiring woman, who was certainly a Mother Teresa of her time and place.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary was the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary and his wife, Gertrude of Andechs-Meran, a family that produced many saints. St. Elizabeth married Ludwig, the duke of Thuringia and their joyous marriage produced three children. She was very generous, donating many of the couple’s possessions to the poor. After Ludwig’s death, St. Elizabeth joined the Third Order of St. Francis. At Marburg, she started a home for the poor, dying, and infirm, whom she personally tended. She was canonized four years after her death by Pope Gregory IX.

This morning’s Office of Readings in the Liturgy of Hours has a wonderful description of Saint Elizabeth by her spiritual director:

From a letter of Conrad of Marburg, spiritual director of Saint Elizabeth(Ad pontificem anno 1232: A. Wyss, Hessisches Urkundenbuch I, Leipzig 1879, 31-35)“Elizabeth recognized and loved Christ in the poor“From this time onward Elizabeth’s goodness greatly increased. She was a lifelong friend of the poor and gave herself entirely to relieving the hungry. She ordered that one of her castles should be converted into a hospital in which she gathered many of the weak and feeble. She generously gave alms to all who were in need, not only in that place but in all the territories of her husband’s empire. She spent all her own revenue from her husband’s four principalities, and finally she sold her luxurious possessions and rich clothes for the sake of the poor.“Twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, Elizabeth went to visit the sick. She personally cared for those who were particularly repulsive; to some she gave food, to others clothing; some she carried on her own shoulders, and performed many other kindly services. Her husband, of happy memory, gladly approved of these charitable works. Finally, when her husband died, she sought the highest perfection; filled with tears, she implored me to let her beg for alms from door to door.“On Good Friday of that year, when the altars had been stripped, she laid her hands on the altar in a chapel in her own town, where she had established the Friars Minor, and before witnesses she voluntarily renounced all worldly display and everything that our Savior in the gospel advises us to abandon. Even then she saw that she could still be distracted by the cares and worldly glory which had surrounded her while her husband was alive. Against my will she followed me to Marburg. Here in the town she built a hospice where she gathered together the weak and the feeble. There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table.“Apart from those active good works, I declare before God that I have seldom seen a more contemplative woman. When she was coming from private prayer, some religious men and women often saw her face shining marvelously and light coming from her eyes like the rays of the sun.“Before her death I heard her confession. When I asked what should be done about her goods and possessions, she replied that anything which seemed to be hers belonged to the poor. She asked me to distribute everything except one worn out dress in which she wished to be buried. When all this had been decided, she received the body of our Lord. Afterward, until vespers, she spoke often of the holiest things she had heard in sermons. Then, she devoutly commended to God all who were sitting near her, and as if falling into a gentle sleep, she died.”

Prayer

O God, by whose gift Saint Elizabeth of Hungaryrecognized and revered Christ in the poor,grant, through her intercession,that we may serve with unfailing charitythe needy and those afflicted.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,God, for ever and ever.– Amen.

Prayer from Liturgy of the Hours, Morning Prayer, November 17

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Posted by on Mar 17, 2021

A Symbol of St. Patrick

A Symbol of St. Patrick

St. Patrick first went to Ireland as a teenager, kidnapped by pirates. After his escape from captivity and slavery, he became a priest. Eventually he also became a bishop. He returned to Ireland as an adult and began to teach the people about God and our Catholic, Christian faith.

This window from St. Patrick Church in Spokane, WA combines many symbols into one image and merges their meanings to tell us of Patrick.

The pointed hat at the top is a bishop’s mitre. The mitre is a symbol of his role and authority as a bishop and leader of a Church community in a particular place in the world. The bishop is responsible to lead and guide many smaller communities of believers.

The cross on the right side of the window tells of Patrick’s role as a missionary. As a missionary, he is one who brings the Good News of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to those who have not yet heard it.

The shepherd’s crook on the left tells of Patrick’s role as a shepherd of souls.  It also reminds us that he was once a slave set to work as a shepherd by his owner.

Finally, the shamrock is a plant native to Ireland and has come to represent that nation. The shamrock was used by Bishop Patrick as a symbol of the Holy Trinity – one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Together we are reminded of a teenage shepherd, kidnapped and enslaved, who escaped but returned to share the joy of the Gospel with a foreign nation, and eventually with all of us.

Window detail from St. Patrick church in the historic Hillyard neighborhood community of Spokane, WA.

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Posted by on Oct 14, 2018

Mercy in the Life of St. Oscar Romero

Mercy in the Life of St. Oscar Romero

Archbishop Oscar Romero came from modest circumstances in a village in El Salvador. His family did have somewhat greater financial circumstances than most others, but they were still poor. He attended a school in the village which only went to the third grade and then was tutored at home. During those years he worked as a carpenter with his father who had taught him the trade. After he decided he wanted to be a priest, he went to the seminary from age thirteen on. At one point he left the seminary for three months when his mother became ill. While he was home, Oscar worked in a gold mine with his brothers.

After he was ordained, Fr. Oscar Romero worked in a village parish for 20 years. Eventually his superiors saw his talent with administration and his high level of pastoral care. Ordination to bishop followed and he was the Secretary-General for the Catholic Episcopal Secretariat of Central America. By the time he was appointed as Archbishop of San Salvador, he had had broad exposure to the repressive policies and actions of a number of national governments against the poor. But he remained traditional and conservative.

As Archbishop, Oscar was aware of the poverty and terrorizing of the poor by the military in his country. He was also aware that a number of the priests under him were organizing protests, teaching organizational skills to their parishioners, and some were advocating violence. For a number of years he advocated the unity and interior conversion of all as a way to remedy the injustices and bring forth mercy. Archbishop Romero was well loved by many families of the ruling class. He tried not to “rock the boat.” He was worried that would bring on more repression.

After a close priest friend, Rutilio Grande, was assassinated, Archbishop Romero stepped forward much more strongly. His homilies and weekly radio broadcasts then emphatically identified the marginalization and injustices and even ordered the perpetrators to put down their arms and refuse to take orders from their superiors. Romero visited and ate with both the rich and the poor. He baptized the babies of both social classes, often in the same groups, which infuriated the elite. He had very little support, including from church officials.

He was a loving and very pious man. He wrote in his diary that he examined his conscience every day and strove constantly to be a son of the Church. This was very difficult because many of the church hierarchy were of the wealthy class in power. They knew there was injustice and torture, but the official policy was tolerance. Active mercy was the last thing on their minds.

Archbishop Romero was suspected of being an extremist or at least of backing them. He was no such thing. In fact, he ordered the extremists, priests and laity, not to confront the governmental violence with violence. He further did not subscribe to the Latin American versions of Marxism, although he was accused of this. His entire focus was on the suffering of the poor and the peril of the souls of the perpetrators. On March 24, 1980, after attending a day of recollection for priests, Romero celebrated Mass in a hospital chapel. As he raised the consecrated Host, he was shot.

This was an unlikely man, called to something which was foreign to his background, personality, and his superiors. Romero did not go looking for controversy or seek to be famous. Rather, in his diary he wrote of his desire to follow Jesus and for holiness. He saw Jesus particularly in the faces of those suffering. His willingness to be available to God opened his heart to mercy.

Today he is recognized as St. Oscar Romero.

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Posted by on Jun 11, 2018

Finding God’s Dream for Us

Finding God’s Dream for Us

The expanded treatment of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen that follows is meant to show the richness of this format of prayer for incorporating spiritual / psychological learning and insights for closer union with God through a genuine repentance of our sins and freedom from shame, so that we can “praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord.” For St. Ignatius, that is what life is all about: life to the full for the Glory of God.

Given our linear style of thinking in the West, it can be easy to look at the Examen of St. Ignatius as a set of check boxes. However, it is an ongoing dynamic spiral that moves us closer to perfect freedom and love or moves us away into the realm of shame and darkness.

God has a dream for each of us. As we journey through each day of our lives, we move towards or away from that dream. We move freely into  God’s life and dream for us or we move away from God

How can we move freely and fully into God’s life every day? How do we know if we are on track or headed in the right direction? Once again Jesus has shown us the way and even explicitly told us to pray and to listen attentively with our heart, soul, and mind. Becoming aware of God’s activity in our lives, intuitively and consciously, is the act of theological reflection. According to Donald D. St. Louis, the Examen of St. Ignatius Loyola can be a method for theological reflection on one’s ministry. It can also be a method of reflection on one’s daily life that can help us focus on the Way of Jesus, the path of our calling that is God’s Dream for Us.

St. Ignatius shows the way in the five points of the Examen.

The Examen can take on many forms while following this general pattern.  Theologian Susan Mahan presents her own adaptation in Seeking God – Decision Making and the Ignatian Examen.

“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 wellbeing, 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”

The core of the Examen is discernment, which is all about growing in awareness and freedom. Susan Mahan provides a succinct over-view into the spiritual psychology of discernment.

The desire to be closer to God requires letting God tell me what would please him.  That sounds very old fashioned and odd.  But, there’s no way around it.  Knowing God is knowing what is best — best for me and best for the world.  I cannot eat sugar and refined carbohydrates and feel good.  I just can’t.  I love that stuff!!  Knowing God and growing in holiness means that I would like to know which actions in my life would help me to be happy.  Discernment is the skill with which I can learn to evaluate what is the best choice at any juncture in my road every day, all day long.  There are certain feelings and thoughts that characterize good decisions and others which characterize poor decisions.

The End is the Beginning

Certainly, St. Ignatius never intended for the Examen to be a long exercise – perhaps 10 or 15 minutes. It was part of his view of being a contemplative in action. We see and experience God all around us every day in everything. The Examen, in my view, was meant to reinforce a fundamental behavior and mindset that action for the Kingdom of Heaven is contemplation. Clearly, prayer and contemplation are prominent in the Spiritual Exercises.

As we move through our daily lives, the Examen offers a quick opportunity to check our direction through the day’s activities. It should not take a long time. It is simply a tool, like a road map, to help us stay on the road, on the Way of Jesus to God’s dream for us.

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Posted by on Feb 2, 2016

Dirty Macaroni for the Feast of St. Blaise

Dirty Macaroni for the Feast of St. Blaise

Dirty Macaroni

  Dirty Macaroni

In the city of Dubrovnik, since the days of the Republic, on the Feast of St. Blaise, folks from the countryside traditionally came into the city to celebrate the life of their patron saint with Mass and processions. Families living in town were expected to provide a meal for their visiting relatives. As this could get quite expensive, families opted for a simpler dish, with less expensive ingredients that would be both tasty and filling. “Dirty Macaroni” was the result.

How did it get this name?

The sauce was prepared the day before the feast, with the macaroni left to cook fresh on the feast day itself (February 3). Those who arrived early to eat got a nice serving of both meat sauce and macaroni. Those arriving later got more macaroni and less sauce. Eventually, when the kettle of sauce was pretty much empty, the macaroni got a light coat of sauce and came to look like it was not quite clean anymore. Hence the name, Dirty Macaroni.

Recipe please!

 

Dirty Macaroni

Ingredients:
(serves about 5 people)

1 lb elbow macaroni
1 lb ground or chopped beef (or other meat)
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, including liquid
½ C red wine
2 cloves garlic (or less, to taste)
2-3 cloves
1 bay leaf
Pinch cinnamon
Chopped parsely
Shredded cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste

Saute onion in olive oil or lard until lightly yellowed, then add the meat. After the fluid has evaporated, add the tomatoes, including the tomato juice and let it cook a bit more. Add the red wine and a bit of water and simmer, stirring from time to time. Add parsley, garlic, cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon, salt and pepper and simmer for around 2 hours. Add warm water as needed. Cook until the meat is very soft.

When ready to serve the meal, cook the macaroni, drain, cover with the sauce and let sit for about 10 minutes to allow the sauce to soak into the macaroni.

Serve with a bit of grated cheese and enjoy!

 

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Posted by on Nov 18, 2015

Dirty Macaroni for the Feast of St. Blaise

A Prayer for Our Times

 

Gift of Flowers

God of Love, whose compassion never fails,
we bring you the griefs and perils of people and nations,
the pains of the sick and injured,
the sighing of prisoners and captives,
the sorrows of the bereaved,
the necessities of the homeless,
the helplessness of the weak,
the despair of the weary,
the failing powers of the aged.
Comfort and relieve them, O merciful Lord.
Amen.

St. Anselm of Canterbury

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Posted by on Jun 17, 2015

Dirty Macaroni for the Feast of St. Blaise

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 Apr 20, 2015

Dirty Macaroni for the Feast of St. Blaise

Martyrs Continue To Witness

21 Martyrs of Libya - Tony Rezk - B-d6yZ9IMAAlR-zFrom the earliest days of Christianity, before Jesus’ followers were even known as Christians, men and women have been called upon to testify to what they have seen and experienced of God’s great love for all of us as it shines forth in the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord. We call those who witness with the total gift of their lives martyrs.

Today is no different. The martyrs of Libya and those who are dying in other countries around the world because they are Christians are a reminder that love and faith are risky. We pray for those who face this risk, that they may testify with courage and know the Father’s love in their hour of trial. And we pray that they will remember us when they meet our Lord.

Help for those left behind

As members of the wider community of faith, we may also feel called to make some offering of deeper support to the families of these martyrs. A program called Coptic Orphans works with poor families in Egypt.

Artist Tony Rezk, whose art is featured above, offers prints of his digital icons. A portion of the sale of the icon of the 21 Martyrs will go to support needy Christian families in Egypt.

Another group that is helping needy Christian families is Gather the Remnants.

The Vatican’s agency for humanitarian and pastoral support, Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) is also active in supporting Christian communities in this time of need.

Help will certainly be needed as this campaign against Christians in countries around the world continues.

 

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Posted by on Jan 22, 2015

Dirty Macaroni for the Feast of St. Blaise

Sainthood for Father Junipero Serra

Bl. Junipero Serra Public Domain Image

Bl. Junipero Serra
Public Domain

Pope Francis on January 16 announced his decision to canonize Fr. Junipero Serra, the Franciscan founder of the California missions during his visit to Washington, DC this fall. The ceremony will take place at the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The Pope decided to waive the requirement for two miracles. Blessed Fr. Serra is said to have cured a nun in St. Louis from lupus. However a second miracle has not been attributed to his intervention. Pope Francis said that Blessed Junipero Serra has been considered to have been a holy man for many decades and that he is a good example of evangelization — bringing the gospel — to those who have not heard it.

Blessed Junipero Serra has become a controversial figure since the mission system led to the downfall of the ancient cultures of the native people and their way of life. He and the other missionaries are blamed for the destruction of ancient ways. Others see him as the founder of California and a moderating force in the Spanish expansion into Alta California. For example, when the Viceroy demanded the execution of 12 captured Kumeyaay Indians who had attacked Mission San Diego in 1775 and killed three Spaniards, Blessed Junipero Serra managed to spare their lives. The Los Angeles Times published a well balanced article on January 16,  “Decision to Canonize Father Junipero Serra draws divided reaction.”

Native people today are divided on the subject. Andy Galvan an Ohlone Indian and curator of Mission Dolores in San Francisco focuses on the positive aspects of Spanish colonization and says that Blessed Junipero Serra “was a very good man in a very bad situation.” His cousin, Vincent Medina, who is also an Ohlone Indian and the assistant curator at Mission Dolores, focuses on the negative outcomes. Jesuit Father Thomas Rausch, SJ, PhD, a religious studies professor at Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles, has characterized the controversy as a debate about “an 18th century Catholic missionary by 21st century standards of cultural diversity, religious pluralism and personal autonomy.”

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Posted by on Oct 24, 2013

Dirty Macaroni for the Feast of St. Blaise

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

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Posted by on Sep 17, 2013

Dirty Macaroni for the Feast of St. Blaise

St. Hildegard of Bingen

 

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen

St. Hildegard of Bingen lived in the 12th century. A remarkable woman, she founded a Benedictine convent, served as abbess of her community, studied medicine and physiology, including the use of medicinal herbs, composed and played hauntingly beautiful religious music, wrote poetry and morality plays, produced artistic works, and was a prophetic leader and preacher within the Church of her day.

Hildegard was also a mystic, having had visions beginning around the age of three. When in her early 40s, she began writing of her visions and their meaning. These were presented in three major works: Scivias (Know the Ways of the Lord), Liber Vitae Meritorum (Book of the Rewards of Life), and Liber Divinorum Operum (The Book of Divine Works).

Many of her musical compositions have survived to the present and have been recorded by contemporary artists and orchestras. Her music goes beyond the traditional chant of her day, with a much broader range of notes in her melodies than was common at the time.

Hildegard saw humans as the thinking heart of all creation, called to work with God in shaping our world. Humans, and indeed all of creation, are “living sparks,” “rays of his splendor, just as the rays of the sun proceed from the sun itself.” She taught that our separation from God through sin brought harm to us as humans and to all of creation, but through Christ, we have the way for all to return to our original state of blessing.

In her words:

All living creatures are sparks from the radiation of God’s brilliance, and these sparks emerge from God like the rays of the sun. If God did not give off these sparks, how would the divine flame become fully visible?

Hildegard is honored as a Doctor of the Church. We celebrate her feast on September 17.

St. Hildegard, pray for us as we seek to see God’s face in each other and in all of creation.

 

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Posted by on Aug 8, 2013

Dirty Macaroni for the Feast of St. Blaise

St. Dominic’s Insight and Evangelization Today

St. Dominic

Insights from Conversing with an Innkeeper

Dominic Guzmán (1170-1221), a Spanish priest traveling with his bishop in southern France, spent an entire night talking with an innkeeper who was a believer in Catharism, a dualistic religious cult that originated in the East. He discovered that the man had not really rejected Catholic teachings but rather was ignorant of them. This discovery led to the founding of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), a group dedicated to learning theology and other disciplines and communicating the beliefs of the Church to all they met, while living as beggars and travelers on the highways and byways of Europe. Many great theologians and prophets, both men and women, have served the church through the centuries as followers of Dominic and his early companions.

Moving into a Changing World

Dominic’s insight that the Gospel must be taught both with words and through the lives of the ones proclaiming it in the contemporary world with all of its challenges holds as true today as it did some eight hundred years ago. In many ways, we as a community of faith had, until recently, settled into an almost self-satisfied attitude that all of the answers to the questions of faith and  moral behavior had been resolved by theologians of the Middle Ages and/or at the Council of Trent. As Tevye (of “Fiddler on the Roof”)  might have expressed it, “Everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to be!”

Yet such an attitude of self-confident satisfaction with who we are and what we believed did not serve us well. The world’s people continued to discover new truths in science and new understandings of human behaviors and cultures. Industrialization brought changes in family life and opportunities. Education of both boys and girls has become a given in Western societies and increasingly this is also the case in non-industrial societies around the world as well. More strikingly, perhaps, we did not as intelligent inhabitants of this planet learn how to live together in peace, with the common good as our highest concern. Instead, we set about conquering each other, with the nations having the strongest military plundering the regions they had conquered. Somehow the old teachings no longer answered the new questions about God, life, and the reality of evil in the world.

Evangelization Today

Pope Francis and his recent predecessors have called the Church to a new focus on evangelization. The teachings of the Church, including new insights from theology, philosophy, anthropology, psychology and other disciplines, must be presented to the world and lived out joyfully by Christian believers. Pope Francis repeatedly stresses the importance of going out into our communities and meeting people where they live and work. We are to work to alleviate poverty and suffering. We are to serve without judging others whose lives and values differ from ours. We are to be true to the traditions of our community, but recognize that those traditions may need to be presented in different words and explained using different images. Some of those traditions may need to be stretched so they express the lived experience of a new generation of believers. This is the age of the Holy Spirit in salvation history and we must recognize that God is so much bigger and more amazingly wonderful than we could ever imagine, that no human formulation could ever totally express the full reality of who God is.

Like the times of Dominic Guzmán, there is a great need in today’s world for people of faith to learn about God, about our Christian beliefs and traditions, and about the newly emerging insights of our living faith community. The days when the catechism lessons of childhood sufficed for an adult life of faith are long since gone, if they ever truly existed. We are all called to continue to learn, to study Scripture, to reflect on God’s active presence in our lives, and to share what we have learned with others. And we do this not just at Church or in catechism classes, but also in our daily activities on the highways and byways of our lives. The People of God are once again called to be proclaimers of the loving presence and activity of our God.

And that innkeeper with whom Dominic spoke all night? He returned to the Catholic faith once he understood what the community really believed.

St. Dominic, Pray for us!

Image: St. Dominic by Fra Angelico, Side panel of the Altarpiece in Perugia

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Posted by on Jul 31, 2013

Dirty Macaroni for the Feast of St. Blaise

Becoming Radiant in the Presence of the Lord

 

Sun Shining Through Clouds

The readings of the Church recently have been focused on the experience of entering into the Presence of the Lord and spending time there. One way of describing the experience of spending time with God is to use the word prayer.* An ancient definition of prayer, attributed to St. Augustine, is this: “Prayer is lifting our minds and hearts to God.” On this feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, it seems fitting to spend a few moments reflecting on ways we enter into the presence of God and the results of doing so.

Jesus taught his followers to be very direct and straightforward in their prayers, asking for what they needed with confidence and persistence. They were (and we are) to ask for the coming of God’s kingdom and that God’s will be done both in heaven and on earth. Their prayer was also to include such seemingly mundane issues as requesting their daily bread and forgiveness for having hurt others,  failing to live in loving ways, as well as the much more serious concern that they be spared from the soul-shaking temptations that sometimes afflict even good and holy people at difficult points during their lives. Jesus himself spoke familiarly and intimately with God, calling him Abba — a word that means Father in the sense of a loving parent, a “Dad,” or even the “Daddy” of a small child. The result of the conversation would not always be the reception of exactly what was requested or preferred (remember the Agony in the Garden and Jesus’ prayer there), but it was always frank and based in trusting love. Those who learn to rely on God for the “little” things (daily bread and forgiveness) become more able to rely on God for the big things (courage to make the hard decisions and accept the consequences of following the Lord).

Among those whose relationship with God we have seen as examples are Abraham, who spoke with God directly, pleading for the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrah if as few as ten good men could be found within their walls. Many years later, Moses met God and entered into the cloud with God for forty days, returning to the people with the gift of the Law that would guide their lives in holiness. When Moses returned to the people, his face was so radiant it was frightening to the people. He covered his face when among them and only lifted the veil when he again entered into the presence of God. Jesus’ friend Martha, who had spent many hours in easy friendship with him, did not hesitate to speak frankly to him, complaining at one point that she had been left to do all the work of entertaining the large group of people who accompanied him on his visit. But Martha also is known for her declaration of faith in Jesus: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” These and many others model for us the importance of speaking directly with God and of doing so on a regular basis.

Ignatius called his followers to contemplation in action, recognizing that the fundamental basis for a fruitful discipleship is the time spent in the company of the Lord. Out of the experience of friendship with God comes the gift of seeing how God would respond to those we meet in our lives today and the courage to act accordingly.

Entering into the presence of the Lord is not for the faint of heart. The great mystery of Love is not tame, nor is it particularly predictable. Love is a powerful force that can sweep away obstacles but can also be as gentle as a mountain stream bubbling through a meadow and washing the feet of children playing by its side. Yet as we enter regularly into the Presence, we are changed subtly and profoundly. Peace, joy, patience, gentleness, kindness, persistence, confidence, compassion, and zeal for justice become characteristic of ones who have spent much time with the Lord. Like Moses, if to a somewhat lesser degree, they become radiant with the joy of that relationship. And when at last they return to their Father and we remember them with love, sometimes we portray that radiance with a golden aura or halo surrounding their heads.

*Philip St. Romain offers a good presentation of Christian prayer and contemplation. See also Fr. Ron Shirley’s reflections on prayer.

Public Domain image by Robert & Mihaela Vicol

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