Monday, May 31, 2010
TO KNOW GOD Wherever the sun is shining, wherever there is a stone, wherever a flower, a drop of water, or a human tear, God is Present. There does not seem to be a single difficult word in the entire sentence. Yet I am deeply aware that I do not know what the sentence means. The word that makes this true, of course, is the word God. It is not that the sentence has no meaning for me. It has a great wealth of meaning, and beauty and power. It has so much meaning that I can read it over and over again and still see more of what it actually says to me, of what it means, of its beauty, and its power. This is all true because the sentence contains the word God. Just stop for a moment and think of what comes to your mind when I use the word God… What words come? What thoughts? Do memories come? Do special occasions in your life, people, and experiences come: How much time would it take for you to run out of ideas when it comes to thinking about God? Was there any excitement or thrill for you in the experience of thinking about God? Could you fill a page with the ideas that came to your mind in thinking about God? Would it have been just as easy, or perhaps easier for you had I invited you to think about a neighbor or a close friend rather than of God? Now, perhaps, you begin to understand why I said I did not know what that first sentence means, though I know it means more than any of the others that have followed it. And perhaps you will understand why I used a capital letter “p” when I said God is Present. For anyone else, or anything else, a small “p” would have been correct and enough. I know that. But for me, though I do not know all this means, God is always Present. No one else but God knows what this means. No one else can, because no one else is God. We use the word present of God and of others. In both instances it means something similar and yet something different. God is not just bigger and better, stronger and more wise and good than we, though this is as far as some people get in their notions about God. Everything we say or think of God falls short of the whole truth about God. The whole truth about God is absolutely beyond anything we might say or think. Few people seem to realize this and we find them speaking and thinking about God almost as though God were just better than we rather than absolutely different as well as absolutely the same! Try to figure out what that means and we are trying to figure out the answer to the question who is God. Analogies sometimes help, but they do not solve the problem. You may have a quart of water from the ocean in a jar, but you do not have the ocean. If someone were to ask you of the photo you keep in your Bible “Who is that (sic!)?, you have no problem saying “She is my best friend. It is a picture of your best friend all right, and no one else; that is true. But the photo is, like all photos, only paper, and your best friend is a living woman. It is a case of something being similar yet different, on a limited scale. When we think and speak of God there is limited similarity between our thoughts and words and the total truth about God, but the difference is absolute, without limit. Words like awesome, majestic, stupendous, astonishing, stunning, adorable, most generous, kind and great are all words we could be comfortable with in speaking and thinking of God, yet none of them or all of them together, express even in human terms the solution. God alone would know it. Because God is kind, generous and all those words we use when we try on our own to think or speak of God, God has solved the problem for us in Jesus. In Jesus, by faith, we see God walking, hear God speaking, share God’s love in human circumstances and in particular times and places. Jesus claims this for Himself on behalf of all people down to the very end of the world. “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, ever at the Father’s side, who has revealed him.” (Jn. 1: 18). (Also Jn. 3:32; Jn. 6; 46; and: “I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence” J. 8: 38). “Lord,” Phillip said to Jesus, “Show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” “Phillip” Jesus replied, “after I have been with you all this time, you still do not know me? (Jn. 14: 8,9). “If you really knew me, you would know the Father also.” (Jn. 14: 7; Jn. 8: 19). “The Father and I are one.” ( Jn. 10:30). Jesus insists there is but ONE GOD. Yet Jesus speaks of God as Father. Jesus Himself claims to be God. Jesus speaks of sending the Holy Spirit From Heaven and of the Spirit as divine. In what Jesus tells us of the Father, Himself, and the Holy Spirit being truly God, and in His clear proclamation of one God the Creator of all that is, we have a mystery clearly and appropriately beyond our limited human understanding or imagination. Otherwise we would not be thinking or speaking about God but an image or thought our minds would have produced. We believe, we know by faith the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Now by faith, after judgment our knowledge will be “face to face”. But now, and then, always, and everywhere, the one Eternal God, Father Creator, Son Redeemer, and Holy Spirit Sanctifier, awesome beyond thoughts and words, is yet intimately and personally close. The model of our love for God is the perfect total unconditional love of Jesus on the Cross. In response to the words of Jesus: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jn. 14: 10), and His identification of our union with Him as a union of branches on a vine (Jn. 15: 5), here is short prayer you might find appropriate for the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity: “Live, my Triune God, so live in me, that all I do be done by Thee, that all I think and all I say be Thy thoughts and words today. Amen!”
Friday, May 28, 2010
Blog # 8 God, Presence - Response Years ago when I was Pastor out in Oklahoma I used to maintain a compost heap for enriching the soil of a large vegetable garden out in back of the church. In the Fall I used to drive around town and gather bags of leaves that would be placed at the curbs for the trash collectors to pick up and haul to the dump. The home owners had declared by their actions they no longer could use the leaves for shade or beauty, no longer needed to be identified with them, no longer wanted them as part of their life. Yet the dead leaves were real, They would not be real, would not exist but for God. They, as all that exists, belonged to God. In gathering them I saw myself as truly receiving them from God. He was as close to me as the giver of a gift. In praise and thanks to Him I placed them on the compost heap and waited for Him to process them into rich fertile soil for the garden. If the home owners were aware of the desire and use I had for the leaves they might very well have put a price on them and cause me in the process of buying the leaves to be removed a step away from receiving them directly from God. Rather I would receive them from the seller and tend to have the experience of thinking in terms of the seller rather than of God, in terms, in view of the fact I bought the leaves, of possessing the leaves by right rather than as a gift. Something like this is the case in regard to artificial fertilizers and so much of our modern experience of life. God is behind it all, no doubt about that. But we have to step beyond the immediate evidence to know and experience by faith this truth about God. Some fail to do this and God is for them less real less present less loving, Several parallel situations occur regularly in the daily experience of most of us. We may give the mail carrier a gift of appreciation at Christmas but most of the year we tend to take him or her for granted and focus upon the mail we receive. The traffic lines in yellow and white up and down the miles of highway we regularly travel did not just happen to be. They are measured out and placed strategically to help us drive more safely. Someone did this we know if we stop to think about it. But I would think most people never do. I have formed a habit of expressing thanks in a short prayer to God for those persons, now living or dead but equally real as myself who were responsible for the traffic lines I use. The same goes for the persons who had something to do with the manufacture of my computer, baked my bread, delivers my gasoline, keeps the street lights lit and so many other blessings that come to me each day. I have a hunch not everyone or many have this experience. Maybe the same reasons that is true are the reasons many people do not experience God’s presence and love in all of creation. A good place to start such a habit might be with yourself, precisely with your heart. It is an involuntary muscle pumping night and day at its own discretion because God wills it to be so.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
THE 'WORLD' /'CREATION' in Scripture We have heard Our Lord Jesus speaking of 'the world' as of an enemy. "Have confidence", He said, " I have overcome the world". John 16 : 33. Again in John 18:36 He says : "My Kingdom is not of this world." Even more strongly Jesus states : " The world hates me because I bear witness concerning it, that its works are evil" ( John 7 : 7 ). And as we read in the first chapter of John, verse ten, Christ "was in the world and the world knew him not". We must always avoid the danger of substituting the notion of 'creation' for 'world' in these and similar Bible texts that speak negatively of the 'world'. All of creation is the 'work' of God and is good.(Gen. 1:21) "God looked at everything he had made and he found it very good." The world, capable of reflecting the Presence, Love, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, can also be a source of temptation and sin when it is misinterpreted abused and given power and responses that are rightly due to God alone. The 'spirit of the world' is a spirit that is opposed to the spirit of Jesus. The spirit of the world is one of selfishness and self-centeredness, whereas the spirit of Jesus is one of love thansgiving and God-centeredness. Yet the spirit of the world tries to sell itself as something that is good for us. As food is good for us when it nourishes us, so the world is good for us when it helps us to know love and serve God better. When it does not do this it is deceiving us, promising us happiness which it does not possess to give. The world can only promise pleasures that are temporary, destined to pass away. Our hearts were made for those which are eternal. Only God can give us these! In a time of temptation a sincere prayer for Wisdom will help us know the difference.
Friday, May 21, 2010
JESUS LIVING IN US / SANCTIFYING GRACE Most of us are familiar with the important distinction that can be expressed in the terms wedding and marriage. A wedding takes place at a single hour in a particular place. Beginning with a wedding a marriage is identified by the unique love of a husband and wife, a love chosen by them but designed by God to continue forever. The day of their wedding is identified and measured by the calendar and continues for twenty-four hours as any other day in spite of its very special character and the memories it engenders for the married couple and their friends. The event of their marriage identifies and shapes the entire remainder of their days on earth. A similar distinction applies to each of the six billion people now living on earth and to Jesus Emmanuel, God as one of us. We can distinguish the day of our birth and that of Jesus, identified as occurring in a particular hour in a particular place somewhere in the world, and the event of our birth and that of Jesus which continues as long as we are on earth. By faith we know the unique event that began with the birth of each of us continues beyond the grave. Like so, the human event of the life of Jesus on earth now glorified forever through His resurrection from the dead, continues in a unique way for the salvation of all people in His Body, which is the Church and in us, as members of the Church. The Word of God, incarnate in Jesus, was sent to earth with a mission to accomplish. In John's Gospel Jesus identifies Himself thirty times as being sent by the Father. Then as the Father sent Jesus He sends His disciples (John 17 : 18 ). We as members of Jesus' Body, united with Him as branches on a vine, share the same divine life and the same mission as He to save and sanctify our particular moment of history and our small portion of the vast vineyard of the Lord which covers the entire earth and all of creation. This is a tremendously important Catholic insight that few seem to be conscious of as we go about our daily human lives with little or no awareness of our identity buy Grace and the event of our Baptism of being called and enabled to be a current living expression of and witness to the love of Jesus for us and for all creation. What light this insight throws upon the full meaning of the words of Jesus commanding us to love one another as He loves us. Exactly so, not merely in remembrance of His love on earth in past ages, not merely in imitation of that love, but sharing and living His love, in our minds, known, in our hearts desiring it, and in our bodies, making it our own by His command. For ‘old timers’ like myself, what I am trying to share with you may recall how the Sisters in the third or fourth grade back in parochial school referred to it by always reminding and urging us to remain in the ‘State of Grace’. Then if we stepped away from the State of Grace by mortal sin, the serious sin that ‘killed’ the life of God in us, we could be restored to it through repentance and the Sacrament of Confession. Then further along in our Catholic education we learned to refer to the gift that blends our human life with that of Jesus and establishes us in the ‘State of Grace’ as the gift of Sanctifying Grace, a term derived from three Latin roots which translate into the ‘gift that makes us holy’ or like to God. Here are some bible texts that might be helpful in reflecting upon what we have been considering. John 3: 3 “I solemnly assure you, no one can see (understand, know) the Kingdom of God unless he is begotten from above.” Gal .2 : 20 “…and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me.” John 10 : 10 “I came that they may have life.” John 15 : 23 “Live on in my love as I do in you.” Rom 6 : 4 Through Baptism into His death we were buried with Him so that…we too might have a new life.” 2 Cor. 5: 17. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”
Sunday, May 16, 2010
..CHRISTMAS ...ASCENSION It seems to me that if we are to understand what a person is doing we have to understand why he or she is doing it. The goal of our actions gives them their meaning. So it is with Jesus. Christmas is connected to His teaching and kindness and miracles. These are connected to Calvary, and Calvary is connected to Easter. Easter is connected to the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, and the Ascension is connected to Pentecost. Since Christmas we have been celebrating the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus here among us at St. Mary on the Hill, in our present moment of history. This Thursday we celebrate His going back to the Father's glory, the meaning or goal of it all for Him, and in Him, for us. He had come to do the Father's will. He was to be on earth for a certain time, like us in all things but sin. Now that time was over and He was to go. For this to be, all the rest had to be. It was all the Father's will, all connected. He did not cease to be divine in coming among us. Yet in order to be really one of us He had to be limited, as we are, by space, time, and all the human limitations that are ours. He had to learn how, in His own time and place, in His own limited individual human way, to express His infinite, eternal, divine love for the Father and for all creation. He had to be satisfied, for the time being, to experience and develop and express this divine love in human limited words, thoughts, and actions. He had to pray. In His limited, short-lived human experience He had to praise and thank the Father for a very small part of all that He knew God had done. Maybe it was something like our own experience of thanking God for the stars we see, knowing all the while there are far more we do not see. We believe that all that Jesus was sent to do was done not only for the Father's glory, but for us. We need to deepen our understanding of this faith of ours. For example we often tend to view and experience the life of Jesus as an attempt on His part to set a pace, as it were, to put some footprints down for us to follow. Abraham, and Moses, and St. Paul, and Mary Magdalen, and Francis of Assisi, and our Patron Saints were sent for this. Jesus was sent for more. Jesus "came" from Heaven and lived among us as one of us so that we might "go" to Heaven living in Him! The gift of this reality is what we have called Sanctifying Grace, the gift that makes us holy, or like to God. This is what Jesus was trying to explain to Nicodemus when He spoke to him about being "born from above" and how necessary this was for anyone to "see", which means in this context to understand, the Kingdom of God. Down through the ages, back to the very beginning of our story, the Church has taken these words of Jesus at face value. As with St. Paul, we are a "new creation" in Jesus through faith and Baptism. Jesus did not just go before us in a previous moment of history, but he lives in us today. He did not merely live for us as a role model, but shares with us by faith His very life. "...and the life I live now is not my own alone; Christ is living in me." (Gal. 2:20; John 14:23; 15:1-5) Our faith is not like a house in which we live, or clothing we might put on, but more like medicine which heals us, and food that gives us life. God's divine love is to be shared with us as it was lived in Jesus. He has gone to prepare a place for those who believe, so that where He is they might be. (John 14: 2-3)