Friday, November 26, 2010
Blog # 90 Advent 1 , 2010 From the very first Christmas after my ordination to the priesthood back in 1954, instead of just signing my name to a commercially printed Christmas greeting I would write a Christmas letter to my family and friends. Yesterday I began to read a few of them . I decided to read them during the four weeks of Advent to help me keep my focus on the feast of Christmas and grow in my awareness and appreciation of the meaning and power of this divine event in the history of the world presented in faith and celebrated again for us in 2010. Then I decided to share a few of them with you in hope they would be a source of blessing for you and they have been for me. 1. When was the most recent time you heard someone, including yourself, use the word 'wonderful' ? I hope it was today. But I have a feeling it might not have been even yesterday or the day before, or for ever-so-long. When was it? Can you remember? Yet here comes Christmas, and surely Christmas is wonderful. Isaiah the 'Christmas Prophet', tells us the child born to us, the Prince of Peace, shall be called wonderful. (9:6) What could this name, given the promised Messiah, mean to us unless we had experienced something wonderful in our lives so we could translate this experience into meaningfulness with regard to the name and identity of Jesus? Can you imagine a blind person receiving a red wool sweater for Christmas? For me the answer is 'yes' and 'no'. The experience might indeed be red and wool and a sweater but with no experience of color for the blind person it would not be experienced as red. In itself, yes, but for the blind person, no. For a sighted person, to open a Christmas gift of a red wool sweater in the dark would be a similar experience. This person has experienced the color red and could see the sweater as red but not so well in a darkened room and not at all in total darkness. The red sweater on a blind person would be just as beautiful in itself as it would be on a sighted person. And you could argue the red sweater would be just as red in the dark as in the light. But the sweaters would not be red and beautiful as red might be for the blind person or for the person looking at them in the dark. There is a parallel in our lives as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. Without sight there is no color for us. Without faith Christmas is at best something that happened in history two thousand years ago. And if we have never experienced something wonderful in our lives then Christmas can hardly be wonderful for us, and the name of Jesus cannot be wonderful for us. We are like the blind person over against the color red. Then too even though we have experienced something wonderful if we do not apply it personally to Christmas, Christmas can hardly be wonderful for us . We are like the person donning the red sweater in the dark. It might be warm and wool but less clearly red. Wonders never cease, thanks be to God. I wonder at the fact I came to be. I wonder at how light casts out darkness. Where does the darkness go? What happens to it when it disappears? I wonder at how a chicken produces an egg and how a cell phone works. Wonders never cease, thanks be to God's love. May you experience many wonderful persons and wonderful things every day of your life . And as we celebrate the birth of Emmanuel, GOD-AMONG-US, may we share together this wonderful gift from our wonderful God, and may the experience make each of us the wonderful person God loves us to be, united with Jesus the Wonderful One as branches on a wonderful living vine the Church! (John 15: 5 ; Col 1: 24 ).
Blog #89 Thanksgiving Day It is the day after Thanksgiving. Dear Lord, I want to write this blog in the form of a prayer. I think, rejoicing, of the many of my fellow-Americans who gathered about bounteous tables yesterday and gave thanks to You for Your many and rich gifts to us as individuals families civic communities and as a nation. Some of course do not claim a faith in You. They would eat their festive meal in special Joy and gratitude to one another but not in Your name. I thank You for all You offered and gave to people who do not believe in You and do not have You as their Creator and their friend. For all that may have been overlooked or forgotten in the list of things and people for and for whom we who believe in You were thankful, Lord, I express thanks to You now. For the phone conversations that brought people who love one another together even though they were miles apart, I thank You. For all who held hands in the affection of family and friendship, for all who said "I love you" and for all the joy and excitement these words brought to human hearts, and, if we could use the expression, to Your Own Heart, I thank You. For all the memories of thanksgiving celebrations in the past and for those that were not remembered but which nevertheless were real,I thank You. For the number of smiles that appeared on the lips of people who live in nurseing homes throughout the nation as a result of a visit from a friend or loved one telling them by their presence and perhaps with a few cookies or a flower they are loved and there is a God, I thank You. For all the miles of American roads and for all the cars vans and trailer homes that brought families together to express enjoy and develop their love for one another, I thank You, Lord. Who but You, O Lord, could know the number of turkeys apples nuts onions string beans pies and TV programs we enjoyed here in America yesterday? And so, in the light of the fact that You are really the only one who could and does know all that You gave and all that we received, I sum it all up and include it all when I thank You, Lord, for Yourself! Amen!
Friday, November 5, 2010
Blog # 88 THE HOLY SACRIFICE OF THE MASS A symbol is a tool we have devised or discovered that expresses a reality that is beyond or greater than itself, similarly to the way a sign works. For example a nation's flag expresses a nations' history, physical expanse, a people's dreams and achievements, etc. and a warm handshake or embrace expresses a welcome and friendship. There is always more to a symbol than its physical expression. Throughout our human history we have learned to make use of symbols to express various aspects of our relationship with God our Creator. Bowed head and closed eyes can be a symbol of our desire to close off distractions and give our minds more attentively to prayer. The posture of kneeling can symbolize our humility before God and our desire to be submissive to God's will. Our fundamental and all-pervasive relationship with God our Creator was expressed by Jesus in His answer to the question of the lawyer who asked Jesus what was the most important of all the Commandments. Jesus answered that we must love God above all else, totally, unconditionally. We were created and designed for this and in this love we find genuine happiness and everlasting peace. Though our love of God can be expressed or symbolized in various ways and at various times through prayer, spiritual and physical fasting, acts of love for one another, granting and receiving forgiveness etc., none of these symbols of our love express our total love totally, in themselves. The unique symbol that does precisely this, designed by God for this very purpose of expressing our total love totally in itself is SACRIFICE. We find the reason this is true in our insight into love as self-giving. The more we love the more we give. The implication is there are degrees of love. The insight of Jesus in John 15:23 comes to mind: "There is no greater love than this: to lay down one's life for a friend." Until the very last conscious instant of our lives we have something more to give, that very conscious instant. In other words only in death can we experience the perfect love Jesus spoke of in John. That is the love that is symbolized in sacrifice, establishing the victim or whatever it is that is offered in place of the one who offers the sacrifice, as the sign of that person's total love. Next it is important to identify the multiple sacrifices legislated by Yahweh for His faithful believers as recorded in the Old Testament in the same definition of sacrifice we apply to the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary: an offering to God alone of some material thing by an official representative of the people, with the change or destruction of what is offered in recognition and response in total unconditional obedient love to God's supreme dominion and our complete dependence upon God. When we relate the experience of Jesus at the Last Supper with that of Jesus on the Cross and consequently the experience of Jesus in the Mass with that of Jesus on the Cross we find the basic definition of sacrifice verified in all of these instances. However the sacrifice of Calvary is so different from all the rest it can be put into its own category. God's eternal infinite wisdom and goodness is to be found in the whole plan of creation and in the question of authentic worship, from the design and definition of the sacrifices legislated for the people before the coming of Jesus right up to our current experience of the Eucharistic Sacrifice in our Catholic churches around the world today. The sacrifices of the Old Testament had to be repeated day by day not because the definition of sacrifice was not satisfied in them and the killing of a victim or the pouring out of wine was not a valid symbol of the total obedient love of those who participated in the offering of the sacrifices, but because of the limited nature of the human love that was offered. Of necessity, by its nature, as pleasing to God and experienced in obedience to God's will as it was, it was a human and therefore a limited love. That love was the only love the people possessed, the only love they had available to them to symbolize in their acts of sacrifice. Then when the time was ripe, beyond our wildest imagination, the Incarnation of the Eternal Word of God came to be. Jesus,the Word of God, eternally one with the Father, that is with no beginning or end yet equal to us, human as we in all but sin, brought a new love to earth, a divine love in a human heart. That human-divine love was the love with which Jesus died on the Cross. Here are some considerations that will help us understand what this means and make application of it to our understanding of the true real presence and action of Jesus in the Mass: As a human being every conscious thought word or act I perform is accomplished in my body but is actually done by me personally. In other words I use my body for all I think and say and do but I personally am the thinker the speaker and the actor. Applying this to the Crucifixion, the Last Supper, and the Sacrifice of the Mass, we have Jesus as the main actor. We firmly believe the Eternal Word of God became incarnate in our human nature and was given the name Jesus. As we personally go about our lives making use of our human bodies, so Jesus, PERSONALLY IDENTIFIED AS THE ETERNAL WORD OF GOD INCARNATE made use of his humanity. Jesus is not identified as a different person from the Word Incarnate. Because of the limitations of our created personhood all of our thoughts words and acts are limited. However, and this is a key insight into our discussion, in the case of Jesus, all that he thought said and did , including His choices and therefore His love, were both human and divine in the light and truth of the Incarnation of the Word in Jesus. Jesus always did the will of the Father. When it was the will of the Father that Jesus raise the dead or cure a leper it was the Word of God that obeyed divinely. When it was the will of the Father that Jesus walked from Jerusalem to Jericho it was the Word of God that obeyed humanly. There were not two persons in Jesus, one human called Jesus and one divine called the Eternal Word. That is an important insight to keep in mind in our present discussion. The death of Jesus on the Cross seen as His total obedient love for the Father can be found or identified in the definition of sacrifice. Sacrifice is motivated by love and is an expression of love. The total love expressed on the Cross was not the love of two persons one known as the Word of God and one called Jesus, the love of Jesus and not the love of the Word or the love of the Word and not the love of Jesus. Jesus is the Word Incarnate , one divine person, one with the Father, one with the Spirit, yet one with us in his true historical humanity. The love on the Cross with which Jesus loved the Father and offered the Father in our name according to the Father's will, was divine as well as human. This sets it apart from all other sacrifices. The blood and wounds, t he sweat and the mockery of the crowd, the beatings and the physical death all go to make a symbol of the love Jesus was experiencing and offering to the Father on the Cross. This was a symbol because it was the human side of the Crucifixion and in the limits of anything human there is always more to come, something further to which it points. The divine side of the crucifixion, the love of the person of Jesus was divine, complete, unlimited, eternal,incapable of being symbolized because there is and could not be any love greater than it, the total love of God's Eternal Word on earth, total always, everywhere beyond our comprehension, divine. You cannot symbolize a ten dollar bill with a ten dollar bill, nor the moon with the moon. Each is a ten dollar bill or the moon. A symbol points to something beyond itself. A ten dollar bill and the moon point to themselves and stop there. Applying all of this, ( if you are still with me ! ) to the Last Supper and to the Sacrifice of the Mass we continue. The actual historical blood and sweat the beatings and the mocking of the crowd on Calvary as symbols of the divine love of Jesus are not repeated in the experience of the Last Supper and the Mass, but the divine love of God for God in Jesus is present in the experience of the Upper Room and in the Mass. This love is the infinite total divine love offered on Calvary. Total and infinite, it cannot be symbolized and it cannot be repeated. And so it was not only fitting but absolutely necessary for Jesus to say not this bread and this wine symbolizes my body given for you and poured out for you, but this IS my body, this IS my blood. No symbols here. Just appearances. If we believe Jesus they will not deceive us. O Sacrament most holy, O Sacrament divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine. Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, may You be adored loved and glorified every moment in all the tabernacles throughout the world. May the Love You give the Father and offer us in the Eucharistic sacrifice become a source of light and power among all people who profess a faith in you for us to be united with You in the living unity of Your Body, the Church, the unity for which You prayed the night before You died for the Father's glory and for us. Amen.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Blog 87 Total Unconditional Love Even in the response of limited praise and thanks that is due to fellow human beings who have helped and blessed us in one way or another we have learned to make use of symbols. Words of thanks and praise, greeting cards, the invitation to a meal together, and other gifts are all ways we know and make use of to express our love for those around us. These limited expressions of our love do not, however, capture the totality of our love. There is generally more in our minds and hearts than can be expressed in words or gestures. As a result they become SYMBOLS of the total depth and breadth of the love we have and wish to convey. We may read the message on several of the greeting cards that are available on the rack before we hit upon the one we feel comes closest to the particular love we have in mind and are seeking to express. Which is the best symbol of our love is the question we answer in the choice we make of a particular card. If in the case of our response to a limited love that has been given us by a fellow human being we can experience the meaning, use, and need of symbols, it should be easy for us to appreciate the need for symbols in the case of our necessarily limited response to God's divine love. From the very beginning of the story of humanity in the book of Genesis we find the act of SACRIFICE identified as the symbol uniquely fitted and worthy to express our love for God THE CREATOR OF ALL. The unique love we have for God our Creator is called worship. The official universal symbol we use to express our worship is called sacrifice. Sacrifice in its strict sense is defined as an offering to God alone of some material thing by an official representative of the people with the change or destruction of what is offered in order to recognize and respond in total unconditional obedient love to God's supreme dominion and our complete dependence upon God. It would do us well to memorize and take that definition with us when we go to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The stories of Cain and Abel, of Noah, and the tribe of Levi all relate to worship and sacrifice. Laws from God for His people gave intricate details as to how when where and by whom various ritual sacrifices were to be offered. Then the letter to the Hebrews clearly and forcefully identifies JESUS as our great high PRIEST, officially appointed and sent by the Father as THE SOLE REPRESENTATIVE of ALL PEOPLE in the work of salvation, and sees HIS DEATH on Calvary as an ACT OF SACRIFICE . Others looking on may have seen his death as a tragedy, as the death of a man being killed, but for Jesus it was an act of "laying down" His life in an act of perfect obedient love, "that the world may know I love the Father". How is it that the act of sacrifice is the most perfect symbol of our total unconditional love for God? We will consider that question in Blog # 88.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Blog # 86 A Unique Part of the Whole As I typed this I found myself wishing I could be with you when you would be reading it. Your comments and questions would be helpful to me I know. Thoughts and insights feelings and responses we could share would be enriching. Then I realized a wish like that could be an example of the enemy. To harbor a wish for something we know just cannot be is to spend time and energy unprofitably and give the enemy power. Such a wish for me would illustrate something that could contradict and weaken the very point I had in sharing the article with you. What I had in mind when I saw the article as something that could be useful to you, was the reminder it gave that ALL of us have been created by God INDIVIDUALLY and that we ALL are called and prvileged to co-create with God something unique that is destined to make at least some difference in the whole world. Any one of you might be tempted to think this 'something' could be yours in some other place, at some other time. But in reality, whenever we stop to think of it, wherever we are, now is the time and here is the place. So the task is not to ask when or where. That is settled for the time being. The task is rather to IDENTIFY and CHOOSE the SOMETHING that is OURS to make, co-create, sing, dance, think, say, believe, proclaim, share, write home about, celebrate, and 'stick on the refrigerator of the world'. As I know from my own experience and as you may know from yours, this isn't always easy to do. We may at times not see ourselves as important to the world. Yet we are. God did not make us by mistake. We did not get into the world by slipping through a crack. Every one of us is likely to have stuff in our backgrounds we wish did not occur. Yet none of us is big enough or strong enough to interfere with God's love and plan for us in the present and the future. In fact all of it is part of that love and that plan. Romans 8: 35 - 39 puts it this way: "Who will separate s from the love of Christ? Trial, distress, persecution...? For I am certain that neither death nor life,...nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, Our Lord." So the time and place for each of us to be creating our eternal personal unique glorious name is here and now. In other words everywhere and always. And there are no excuses we can bring out of the closets of our lives. God knows it all and desires to love us still. I find it helpful and encouraging to keep myself aware God needs nothing I might do for Him or give Him. All already belongs to God The big thing is not so much what we accomplish but our relationship with God and through that relationship our relationship with one another. (cf Mark 12: 28 - 31). We keep ourselves aware of our relationship with God and one another primarily through prayer. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was a great example for us here. Small things done well. We can love God and one another with a broom in our hands! God and I did it together. Then that goes 'on the refrigerator'. It helps as well to realize somebody cares about what we are doing. God cares enough to send His Son. (cf John 2: 16). And others care too. I do. I pray for each of you each day and feel happy and privileged to know you and to know we are striving together, miles apart but one in the Holy Spirit to co- create something worthy of God's eternal love. ......................................................................................................................................................................... What you just read is a copy of a letter I sent several years ago to inmates I knew in the Georgia State Prison for women at Davisboro. In reading it over I found it useful to myself still. I hope you will find it so. . In any case please take a moment and make a prayer for the ladies who first received it. Some of them are still in prison. Thanks!