Monday, January 31, 2011
Blog # 110 Love in the Bible Here is an optical illusion. The black hat seems to be taller than it is wide at its base. But this is not true. The eye, designed to see, can be a victim of an illusion. Then it tells the brain the hat is taller than it is wide. Could it be this way with the human heart and love? The human heart is designed to love God. Could it become a victim of an illusion, telling us, in action if not in mind, there are other gods, there is greater joy and value in other realities than the one true God? I think this could be the case and is the case with many who live as victims of our current materialistic culture. May we not be victims when it comes to answering the questions: Is God real? Does God love us? May we love God? As we head into Febuary and a couple of weeks of focus and newspaper ads on Valentine's Day, it might be a good experience to refresh our memories as to some of the things the Bible says of love. Here are several of the references we might find useful in discovering in a deeper and more meaningful way the content and challenge of the command we have to love God above all and to love one another as Jesus has loved us. We are never without God's love but sometimes we forget or are too distracted by something else to realize that fact. 1 John 4:8. God is love...God's love for us was revealed when God sent into the world His only Son. Matthew 22: 34-40. "Which is the greatest commandmant?" Jesus said "love the Lord your God...love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole law..." John 13: 34,35. This is how all will know you are my disciples, your love for one another. Jude 21 . Persevere in God's love... John 14:31 I love the Father. John 15:9. ...abide in my love. John 15:13...greater love than this no one has. John 21:15. You know I love you... Romans 8:28. We know that to them that love God all things work together for good. Romans 8:35. What shall separate us from the love of God? Romans 13:8. Owe no one anyting but to love one another. One who loves his neighbor fulfills the law. 1 Cor 2:9 Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it dawned upoon us what God has prepared for those who love Him.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Blog # 109 Emmanuel Genesis, the first book of the Bible and the Gospel of St. John, the last book of the four Gospels begin in the same way: In the beginning... Moses tells of God the Creator. St. John tells of Emmanuel, God-Among-Us. With Moses God comes on the scene with nothing there but God. The entire scene is created by God. With St.John God comes into our world already formed, as one of us. (Heb 4:15; 2:17f; 5:7). John refers to God 'in the beginning', that is before the Incarnation as the Word. Afterthe Incarnation the child born of Mary is called Jesus. Mat 1: 21,25; Luke 1:31; 2:21. These are essential facts to realize and remember if we are to understand the true complete identity of Jesus as Emmanuel, promised in Isaiah and proclaimed in Matthew.(Isaiah 7: 14; Mat 1: 23). In the story of the Incarnation the terms Word and Jesus refer to one single divine person! The Word, revealed as one of three in the divine Godhead of the Blessed Trinity,IS GOD. AS GOD. the Word is equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit. This is a supernatural mystery for us of course, but if it were not true we would be confronted with the problem of more than one God. "...this is my beloved Son". ( Mat 17: 5; Mark 9: 6; Luke 9: 35; 2 Peter 1 17). "Philip, if you see me you see the Father." (Jn 14: 9 - 11). The word was sent to earth with a mission to accomplish that required a single person who was both human and divine. As one of us in every way but sin ,the Word did not abandon His eternal identity as the Son of God. We firmly believe Jesus was God on earth, Emmanuel in its strictest sense. We believe as well Jesus was born the son of Mary. I helped clarify this for myself with the following illustration. A blind man cannot see, A man who can see and closes his eyes does not see. The Word of God in the Incarnation voluntarily submitted Himself to the laws, limitations, temptations and opportunities that are native to our human experience. Apart from the Incarnation the Word had none of these limits. On earth the Word was limited, 'blind', like us in every but sin except when in obedience to the Father He was to 'open His eyes' and speak and act as God. Then in the Resurrection and Ascension the picture changes. The physicl mission of Jesus in history was finished.(Jn 17:4; 19:30). The salvation of all the world was accomplished. The work of salvation was accomplished. The work of applying it remained and will remain untl the end of time. The divine Jesus was is and will be the single shepherd's gate, the Way the Truth and the Life, and the Bread of Life. The Word of God Who was called Jesus while among us in history continues on in the everlasting union of the divine and human natures of the Resurrected Jesus ! Our faith in the divinity of Jesus undergirds our faith in the efficacy of His death on the Cross in history and Sacramentally at the last supper and in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Because Jesus continues on as God He has the power to say of the bread and wine we brought to the altar this morning "This is my body given for you...This is my blood poured out for you" and it happens. Our gifts are transformed by His total unconditional love on Calvary into worship of the Father in our name. In His divinity Jesus has the power to forgive sins and share that power with the Church His Mystical Body on earth in the Sacramanent of Reconciliation. Because Jesus is divine we have confidence in our ability to pray in Jesus' name. Because Jesus is divine we are not called merely to imitate Him as we are invited to do in the case of other holy men and women, but to share within us by faith His divine life! "Anyone who loves me...my Father will love him; we will come to him and make our dwelling place with him." (Jn 14: 23). "I pray for those who will come to believe in me... That they may be on as we are one...so that Your love may live in them and I may live in them" (Jn 17: 20,23,26.) Thank You, Jesus!
Friday, January 28, 2011
Blog # 225 'Hearing God's Message' Why is it the moon a light in the sky for one person and a message from God about Himself and us to another person? Why does one man driving a truck from one city to another, see only corn growing, or cotton, and this same man's companion sitting next to the first one on the same front seat in the same truck, passing from the same identical first city to the same identical second city see God growing food and clothing for His people in the cotton and the corn? The reason does not seem to be that one man is more intelligent than the other no more than you or I do not speak Russian, not because we are lacking the intelligence of a ten-year- old Russian boy who does speak the language, but rather that we have not had the background he has had,and the experience of learning the Russian language. Somewhere along the line a person who now sees God and hears God's message in the world around him or her has had an experience similar to that of a young man and woman on a beach who know for the first time a special love for one another. To commemorate the occasion, to attempt to make it endure, to symbolize it, they take away two small shells. Those shells are the two shells now glued to one another on the mantel piece in their living room, which, in the same physical dimensions but with the added background of the knowledge and experience of husband and wife, and fastened together by the 'glue' of their love, mean so much more than before they found one another on the beach. . Once we have personally discovered God in creation it is possible for all of creation to speak to us of God. It is a beautiful experience. I would not know how many people we meet today have had it, but I believe it is offered to all. What I am writing about is seeing all that exists in a gifted faith based way, God's presence to us in the things and oersons God has created and placed around us, guiding us, calling us, developing us, rewarding us, punishing us, in our everyday world and in our everyday experiences. It is a mysterious gift and I suppose we will have to leave the answer to the questions I asked at the beginning of this blog to God. Based on this I can see more clearly why God instructed us not to judge one another as to guilt even though we may witness someone doing something wrong. The distinction we recognize between a sin and a mistake can be useful here. Anyone of us can make a mistake. But only those who know God can sin. The meaning and urgency of the command Jesus gave to His first disciples and renews to us that we share the faith we have received with those around us who have yet to believe in Him ( Matthew 28:18-20; John 17:18) throws significant light on God's answer to those questions. No matter where we go or what we experience God is there waiting to be revealed in faith. This is the message and truth we are sent to live and to share through prayer and our union with Jesus in the gift of Sanctifying Grace, a limited human share in His divine life and love..
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Blog # 108 Amen ! Amen is the response we have become accustomed to place at the conclusion of our prayers. It is a sort of stamp of approval to the content of what our prayers express. It means Yes, count me in, I desire to do or be or possess whatever it was for which I have just prayed. It was the response Mary made to the angel-messenger who gave her God's invitation that she should be the mother of the promised Messiah. It completely changed the rest of her life and continues on for us in the life of the Church today. Amen! Yes!,it is a short word, but it has a long history and great power. My sharing Blog # 108 with you is something like sharing my Amen to Blogs # 106 and 107. I believe what I have written in them. Blog # 108 is my practical response to what I believe about God as the sole Creator of all that exists. It will not be my complete response but only a sampling of it to invite you to reflect upon what you believe about God and Jesus and then what difference that faith makes in a practical way in your daily experience of life. In identifying my faith in God THE CREATOR of all that exists I go back to a philosophy class in the seminary many years ago in which I learned that although we can legitimately use words in speaking and thinking of God they do not mean the same thing in both cases. That is so because their application to God in the sense in which they apply in every other instance would place limits in my notion of God and God simply IS, that is to say unlimited or infinite. For example, I can say of you or another person or of myself we are powerful kind and merciful. I can use the same words of God. God is powerful kind and merciful. But that does not and cannot mean the same thing in both instances, with God being simply more merciful than we. God is powerful, merciful and kind by analogy. We would come closer to the truth to say and think in every instance of speaking of God something like this: God IS MERCY. God IS POWER. To think of God, to know God, to love God are all gifts rather than achievements. Faith, hope, and love are identified in our Catholic theology as supernatural virtues , all by definition gifts from God! In a practical response to that little reflection upon God I stand in awe at my faith in God, I appreciate more than ever the privilege it is to know God as I do. It gives me joy throughout the day to worship God in a simple prayer of welcome, praise, and thanks,'making God present' almost as though I were the creator and God were the creature. This would be blasphemy rather than prayer if I did not keep myself mindful of the content and meaning of the prayer with which I begin the day when I address my infinite God in the limited words: Here I am, Lord. I come to do thy will. I worship You, Lord, which as You know is the word we use in Jesus' Name to express our limited human yet genuine love for Thee alone as our Creator, the Giver of all we are and all that we possess. Amen! I don't think it would be good for these blogs to get too long so I am going to end this one now and hope to write a new one for tomorrow in response to # 107 which identified Jesus as God.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Blog # 107 Jesus is God In blog # 106 I made reference to two fundmental insights or convictions that are necessary in order to understand and live the message of salvation Jesus revealed. The first of these was the identity of a single Creator of all that exists; there is but ONE GOD. Blog #106 was a brief consideration of that conviction. Blog # 107 will be a brief consideration of the second conviction : JESUS IS GOD. There is a danger in being so familiar with these statements from the time perhaps when we were mere children that we begin to take them for granted and consequently lose or never discover their full purpose and power as an adult living today in the midst and under the influence of much ignorance, denial, and sometimes open opposition to the message of Jesus. If it ever were necessary to be aware of and to harvest the fruit of possessing these two faith convictions it is today. In this blog I intend to review some Biblical references that clarify and confirm my own personal conviction as to the divinity of Jesus. Gathering them together here identifies them as a gift from God that has application and power in several aspects of our desire and quest for Christian holiness. First of all the Bible presents Jesus as an attractive human being, kind to the poor and those who live on the margins, compassionate and sympathetic to widows, the blind and the deaf, lepers and others who would have found it difficult to find such a response from people living around them at the historical moment Jesus came walking through their neighborhoods. Jesus touched them, spoke to them, and gave them His generous sincere attention and caring love,characteristics we and the people He helped would hope to find in the God to whom they prayed.( Mark 40: 40,41; 1: 21,22,30). Other people among the crowds Jesus encountered in the short years of His ministry on earth were also drawn to Him but rejected Him and His message because neither He nor it fit into the image of God they had come up with as a god with political human designs to conquer their enemies with violence and reinforce their personal power and authority over the people in the name of that god. In the light of our faith conviction that there is but ONE GOD, there is no room for competition to God. Any claim on behalf of a second God is a false claim and anyone making such a claim is guilty of the sin of blasphemy. In accusing Jesus of such a sin His opponents actualy bear witness for us of His claim to be God! The Pharisees were correct and understood well the claim Jesus made to be divine. Rather than apologise for it Jesus defended His claim again and again. For Jesus to call upon His actions and words as proof of His divinity would indeed have been blasphemy IF IT WERE NOT TRUE! (Jn 9: 1 - 3.) At the time Jesus lived on earth all the way up to the present it would be a truism to say only God has the authority to forgive sins. A sin is by definition an offense against God and only God has the authority to forgive that offense. In the various instances in which Jesus granted forgiveness of sin He was clearly claiming a divine identity for Himself. His acts of forgiveness were not given in the Scriptures after prayer or in response to prayer on His part but as coming directly from Himself by the power of His own will.(Jn 9: 3; Mat 9: 2,3,6; Mark 2:5; Luke5:20;7:48.) In addition to His miracles healing individual illnesses Jesus showed His divine identity through His power over nature itself by calming a storm (Mark 6:49; Mat 14: 25), raising the dead (Luke 7:14), multiplying a few loaves of bread to feed a huge crowd (Jn 6: 9 - 13), and walking on water ( Mark 6: 48; Mat 14: 25). Giving special force to Jesus' claim to divinity was the fact He performed several of His supernatural miracles of healing on the Sabbath. On one ocasion Jesus and His disciples were walking by a field of grain and were picking and eating some of the grains ripe for havest. This in itself was not considered an act of theft and was permisable in current Jewish law. It was unlawful and a sin if it were done on a Sabbath. Jesus justified it not by denying the force of the law but claiming for Himself the divine unique authority of God, identifying Himself as "Lord, even of the Sabbath"! If this were not true in His mind Jesus could not have come closer to the sin of blasphemy. However, as it was, it was clear that He was claiming for Himself divinity. (Mark 2: 23 - 28.) On another significant occasion Jesus referred to Araham as havng a relationship with Him. The Pharisees objected because Jesus was not yet fifty years old and his statment could not therefore be true. Jesus' reply to their objection was: Before Abraham came to be, I AM , harking back to the identity Yahweh gave for Himself when Abraham sought a name for Yahweh that he could give to Pharaoh. (Exodus 3: 14; Jn 8: 58.) Blog # 108 will consider some practical applications of the two basic convictions considered in Blogs # 106 and 107.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Blog # 106 God the CREATOR In order to understand and authentically live the message presented to the world by Jesus, I think there are two fundamental insights that must be ours. The first goes all the way back to Abraham, whom we refer to in one of our Eucharistic prayers as our Father in faith. The insight was the personal revelation to Abraham that there is but ONE CREATOR of ALL THAT EXISTS. Existence is the bottom line in identifying EVERYTHING, colors shapes sounds , ALL, past present and whatever future there may be. It sounds almost like something repetitious or nonsensical to say it, but what I am trying to say can be best and only said by saying if something does not exist it cannot be made. That is how fundamental existence is. When we begin to understand this we can begin to understand what we are saying when we say God is the Creator of all that exists and therefore there cannot be, absolutely,even in our limited human mind a valid NOTION of a second God. God has already claimed ownership and total responsibility for everything in claiming to be the single creator of all. With responsibility already claimed for all of creation, all that exists, there is no further justifiable claim possible for any other but a false god that might come on the scene and seek our worship or allegiance. Other gods may offer something real,experienced through any of our five human senses, something having color shape and sound but always a reality MADE OUT OF SOMETHING THAT EXISTS PREVIOUSLY TO ITSELF, rather them CREATED OUT OF NOTHING which is the claim of the creating God revealed to Abraham. As soon as we capture a true understanding of the notion of a single creating God several other notions logically follow. There is a relationhip between the Creator and all of creation. Inanimate creatures and all living creatures less well developed than we as human creatures relate to the Creator in perfect obedience. A stone always falls to the ground even though it would fall on the toe of the King of a nation. Fire is always hot, the sun always shines and water is always wet. Mathematical truth is always true, whether we are counting chickens, measuring the distance to the moon or counting the number of the stars. When we come to the experience of human creatures the relationship between ourselves and the Creator in essenially different from that of inanimate creatures and the creator. We have the awesome and mysterious gift of freedom and the consquent effect of the possibility of disobedience and of love. Questions come: Did God make me? Yes,absolutely. Did God create me? A qualified yes. God made me out of something, something that existed before me, but God made that too, and other somethings all the way back to where there was nothing but God and out of that nothing God eventually made me. We go all the way back to the beginning. That is how well God knows us. Then ten, thirty, eighty-three years ago God willed us to be. That is how much God loved us, each one of us. How do we know? We know because we exist and only God is responsible for that. What an insight it is to understand even in our limited human way what it means to know love and worship God as our personal Creator from all eternity!
Monday, January 17, 2011
Blog # 105 Singular, Unique Back in January of 2000 I didn't want just to throw away the beautiful Christmas cards I had received at Christmas and decided to use them as part of one of my bulletins to the inmates I knew at the State prison where I used to visit. I cut the cards into pieces with one piece for each bulletin. Each unique piece made each of the bulletins unique. I explained to the ladies how although several of them may have received a piece with the picture of a shepherd, or of St. Joseph, a camel, a palm tree or any of the other items and people we find on a typical Christmas greeting, the piece each of them received was unique. Others were similar , but there did not exist in all the world another of the one each of those received who received a bulletin that week. And you could not buy it, even if you were an artist or a photographer or you had a lot of money, because it was a GIFT ! I sent it to them and I had to be part of it forever. If we think of it, it is something like this with all of creation. There is one sun, one moon, and many stars. There are many shells on a beach, many leaves on a tree, many blades of grass in a lawn, many people living and working, many sick and many well here in Augusta any day of the year. Yet each time I see, touch, or even think of any one of them that experience is unique, never done before, never to be done again, by no one else but by me. If we identify such an experience correctly we see that it cannot be bought with any amount of money. In a similar way,ALL OF CREATION is a gift of the Creator of all! We have a part to play in order to make it real and complete. It is to understand it as a gift and to receive it from God's love. Simply that. One person is ninety years old. Another is three. One person is blind. I am deaf. God loves us that way! This may seem strange to you, and I admit it is unfamiliar territory for many people. But that is perhaps the background of God being a stranger to many. Holiness is not a question of good works but rather of being more and more aware of God's presence and receiving God's love personally and uniquely as our own. That is the root and reason for good works. "...as I have loved you." The fact is we cannot here on earth in our natural human limitations be conscious of God and be consciously loving God always , but we can be conscious of God and love God in and among the other things we do. THAT ,it seems to me, identifies authentic holiness and prayer
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Blog # 104 Keeping Warm in Winter I don't think very many people if any would have difficulty in assessing our American culture in our current moment of history as predominantly secular and to a growing degree recently anti-God. Rowing upstream against the current is more difficult than floating in the other direction with the current carrying us along. With almost two thousand years of world history behind us, with almost instant communication with any place in the world at our disposal, we Christians are still a minority of the world's population and less than twenty-five percent of the population of the US. With the command of Jesus not only to know and love God above all but to share that knowledge and love with all the world, when you look out the windows of your home, your life, your soul in 2011 what do you see? What do you think of it? Is there anything you see that you can/should do about it? This morning, close to the middle of January with a rare snow and ice storm chilling us here in Augusta, I reflected upon the content of that first paragraph, using the problem of keeping warm in winter rather than rowing up or down the Savannah river. Here is how my reflection went. I shined my flashlight on the thermometer outside my bedroom window at 4:58. It was cold, below freezing. That was my observation. It was an important one relating to my health and comfort. I was planning to go out for a regular morning walk. I had no inclination to pray that the sun would come up and make it warm for me at that hour. I was fully aware of the sun's power to warm the earth, but also that it would not ordinarily do that in these circumstance and as this particular time. For me to hope or pray the secular culture around me would go away merely by prayer would hardly be a better response than to expect cold weather would go away by prayer alone. God, like the sun(God's sun!) has power to make things and people warm in the case of the sun, holy in the case of people. But this power, in both instances, is not exercised willy-nilly in contradiction to a plan and the truth about God's love. I had other options for my response to the cold. I could have decided to go back to bed. That would be like deciding to read only prayer books rather than also newspapers. I wanted the exercise so I looked for a different response. This was like desiring to remain current in my moment of history and facing the fact of the dominance of secularism in our American culture today. Secularism was as real as my desire to exercise in spite of the cold. I thought of the text of Scripture reminding me that I could not be the slave of both God and mammon. I could have cursed the cold. That too would certainly be ineffective for changing it to warmth and would be like failing to see and appreciate a definite though limited goodness in all of creation, in the secular order, in all but sin. I decided to wear a different hat, put on a scarf and gloves, and an extra sweatier and it worked out very well. I was warm, even in the cold. Our response to secularism can be as simple and as effective. Keep making observations. Check the thermometer. What is going on? Decide whether we want to go along with the current or not. to be cold or not, to be faithful or not. Take measures to counterbalance the cold, the secular influences and the sinfulness around us . Scarf, hat, gloves. Prayer, reflection, study. Let Christmas keep happening in our lives. Let Jesus be born in us each day, each time we choose the Father's will. Jesus is the fulfillment of all God's promises. He is truth, a light shining in darkness. He is always inviting us to share His obedience to the Father's wisdom and love. That is His gift to us as we celebrate liturgical feasts and as we experience and share His love in Ordinary Time.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Blog 103 Cultural Changes /influence I remember one time years ago when I was pastor in a small rural parish there was a beauty contest for girls from the local high school. Twenty-six girls vied for the title.Here are their first names; Jill, Jamie, Emily, Brandt, Kristen, Darissa, Kelly, Mandy, Mandi, Lorrie, Nikki, Misty, Ayesha, Sharlee, Samitha, Wendy, Ami, Jena, Kristen, Melissa, Jeanna, Leanin, Krystal, Renee, Jennifer, and Wendy. In my immediate family there were only boys. Here are our names: John James, Andrew Paul, Thomas George, William Francis, Edward Joseph, and Charles Matthew. The difference in the list of names is not merely in the fact one is a list of girls and the other is a list of boys. Another significant difference lies in the fact one of the lists is made up totally of the names of Saints, and the other is not. This difference is rooted in significant cultural and religious changes that have been occurring in our world and nation during my lifetime. No such changes came about with the pressing of a button or overnight. In the case of our generation almost all of the kids in the neighborhood back in New York City, girls and boys, had the name of a Saint. But in most cases the names were also those of the father and mother of the family, then of uncles and aunts. There was a combination of the secular and the sacred. I don't know what degree of awareness there was in the average person's experience of the fact he or she was named after an especially holy person so that he or she might be inspired by that person's example and follow suit , but nevertheless most of my neighbors and friends possessed the name of a Saint. In our Catholic tradition we had the regulation that everyone was to have the name of a Saint which was to be given on the occasion of our Baptism. Born of mother and father we were children of nature. Reborn or born from above in the Name of the Holy Trinity we were children of God, united with Jesus and one another as branches on a vine, the Church. I would imagine in my own generation the practice of having the name of Saint was to some extent just something taken for granted, a custom handed down, secure for whatever , or, perhaps for no reason at all, unquestioned from age to age. In other words the custom had become something different than it had been in the past. All of us celebrated birthdays. A far smaller number of us even remembered the date of our Baptism let alone celebrating it with the joy of a festive meal. Health and pleasure began to compete with holiness and prayer on the list of the top priorities in our lives. From a comparison of the two lists given above it is easily and clearly seen the practice of giving a Saint's name to our children is far less common than a universal custom today. This is just one example of the general secularization of our current American culture. If we wish and seek for explicit support or inspiration for our Christian life we cannot look to the secular world around us. We would have a hard time discovering the God Jesus claimed to love and to be if all we relied upon was current experiences of popular TV , newspapers, magazines on sale at the check-out counter in our grocery stores, junk mail, shopping malls, politics and public education. Only in a strong religious culture would these realities be explicitly supportive of faith. They are not committed to faith or to life beyond the grave. They deal directly and explicitly with earth not Heaven. They do not pledge more and we should not for the time being expect more from them. My observation, therefore, about them not being a source of explicit support for my faith is not a complaint. It is an observation. But it is a very important observation and invites a response. I'll leave that for another blog, tomorrow.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Blog 102 Creator of All In reading a Scripture passage in my breviary this past week I was especially impressed with the author's elation and response to God in creation. Here is what I read from the book of Sirach (ch 42: 15 - 43:12)."As the rising of the sun is clear to all, so the glory of the Lord fills all His works. How beautiful are His works! ...all of them differ, one from another, yet none of them has He made in vain...the sun...the moon...the stars that adorn with their sparkling the heights of God at whose command they keep their place and never relax their vigils. Behold the rainbow! Then bless its Maker, for majestic indeed is its splendor ; it spans the heavens with its glory, this bow bent by the hand of God." Sun, moon, stars, rainbow; all are ordinary things so frequently taken for granted, overlooked and missed as an expression of God's presence power goodness beauty and love. At any one time or another we may not have an opportunity of actually seeing with our eyes the stars the moon or a rainbow, but if we stop to think about it we know they are 'there', real, in some actual place in the universe. Wherever we are we have to take time, put other agendas aside for a while, and relax to let the Lord in. A poet might tell us the stars and the moon are 'watching' us though we may not be watching them. For someone who experiences faith in God as the Creator of all that exists the stars the sun and the moon are not just natural realities that we see, but gifts that we receive from our Creator. There is a dimension here that we cannot buy or earn. Once we we believe in God as the Creator of all, everything that exists is a gift. An atheist sees the sun and is warmed by it. So are we. An atheist is nourished by the same food and process as we. Only those who believe are consciously and personally gifted by the Father's love, always. God's love takes everything out of the ordinary, even time, and makes it special. All creation is a gift, an expression of the Father's love. Let's not pass it by as though all the beauty it offers is what we see rather than what we know, through faith.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Blog #101 Ordinary Time It has been eight weeks now since we have been dealing with what is referred to in the liturgy as 'Ordinary Time'. The Feast of Christ the King, the four Sundays of Advent, and the Christmas season were all special times, related to the rest, but with a distinctive purpose flavor and goal of their own. Now we are back to Ordinary Time. Does this mean or imply dull, more of the same, boring, uneventful, commonplace or inconsequential? These words may truthfully describe the experience of some people, but it should or need not be so. As it is for feasts and special times in the liturgy, Ordinary Time should be an experience of growth in knowledge and love for the Lord and one another, a time of realizing more fully the value of our faith experience and its power to guide us in our quest for peace justice holiness and God's love in our everyday lives and in our relations with one another. In the few weeks of Ordinary Time before the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday March 9, we have a moment of world history and our own personal history that has never occurred before. It will never occur again. It is related to all that went before it and all that will come after. All of it counts. Let's try to use it well, to listen, to learn, to discover, to respond, to grow and be thankful for all that it will offer and all that we will receive. We are not alone here. We depend upon one another in many ways and to an extent that some have never imagined. We are in the process of co-creating with God through our conscience the eternal name by which our Father will call us at the instant of the experience we are in the habit of calling 'death'. Since this instant is theologically our experience of the fulfillment of the promises Jesus brought from Heaven and by faith and Baptism already ours in the personal unique share in God's eternal love which we refer to as the gift of Sanctifying Grace, I think a better word than death we should form a habit of using for it is eternal life. In Catholic theology 'death' is not an interference but a goal attained.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
Blog # 100 More on Epiphany This is my first try at incorporating a photo into a blog . Years ago when I moved from Sandersville to Sylvania ,GA and could no longer visit the ladies' State prison at Davisboro, each week I used to send a four-page bulletin out to some of the ladies who had been attending the theology classes we had each week for them there at the prison . This past week I was reading over some of those bulletins from the week we celebrated the Solemnity of the Epiphany . Our photos that (I hope! ) appear here on Blog #100 are images of the Magi who apeared on one of those bulletins. On page one of the bulletin our friends the Magi appeared separately. Then on page three they appeared together. I chose to present them in this way to remind us of how each of them were drawn to Jesus personally and each had a unique personality and gift to give. However they did not come alone. It should be that way with us in our search for and discovering of Jesus. Each of us is identified as a unique person with our own individual unique gifts. When we set out to find the object of our star which is our conscience we find there are others on the same road as we. Then we find that as we approach closer and closer to our goal we find ourselves closer and closer to one another until having found Jesus we discover we are not only one with Him but one with each other, not merely as companions on the way, but as branches on a single vine, and members of a single Body, the Church. No wonder Jesus told us those who live around us will know the Father sent Him through their observance of our unity (Jn 17: 21). And no wonder Jesus said: " This is how all will know you for my disciples: your love for one another".
Blog # 99 Epiphany Applied In my lifetime the story of the Magi's visit to the holy family has always been a popular feature of the Church's celebration of the Christmas event. As a matter of fact, though, it's liturgical celebration goes back into history further than the official celebration of the birth of Jesus itself. One explanation for this phenomenon sees it in the fact Christmas was celebrated around the time of the winter solstice when the short nights were about to lengthen and their pagan neighbors would be celebrating at that time the victory of light over darkness ,to them the work of their sun god. There could be concern perhaps that the joyful celebration of Christ's birth would be taken by the pagans as a participation in their rituals. To avoid such a danger the celebration of Jesus' birth would be toned down. On the other hand, the visit of the Magi, wealthy, wise men, kings, or whatever sort of influential earthly rulers they were taken to be was a genuine boost and source of support to the Christian community at a time when Jesus had already ascended into Heaven and they by faith continued to believe in Him and trust Him even to the point of laying down their lives in the witness of bloody martyrdom. The details of the story of the Magi were obviously based upon God's special presence to them in guiding them to Jesus by following a star in the heavens beginning at a place very far from Bethlehem. The gifts they brought were fit for a king and they presented them to Jesus on bended knee. A story that focused so clearly on the divinity of Jesus engendered confidence in the Christian community at a time when the Christian life was a very dangerous way to live. No wonder it was celebrated. A second blessing that came from celebrating the feast of Epiphany stems from a serious difficulty experienced in the Christian community in the early years after Jesus ascended into Heaven. It was was the question of the relationship between circumcision and Baptism. The fact the visitors were not Jews and therefore not incorporated into the Jewish community by circumcision but nevertheless were blessed by God in their being guided by a star to the place where Jesus was gave support to the message of Jesus that identified Him as the SAVIOR OF ALL PEOPLE and not just those who would be or become Jews. With all of this as a background, our celebration of the Epiphany in 2011 becomes an invitation #1 to renew our personal faith in the divinity of Jesus and # 2 remind ourselves of our union with Jesus and with one another in the Church as members of branches on a vine. Only because Jesus is God can He say of bread this is my body given for you and of wine this is my blood poured out for you. Only because Jesus is God can He be the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Secondly as members of the Church we share the mission of Jesus as Savior of all people, His love for all, and His desire that all come to know the Father's love through Him by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Church. "As the Father has sent me I send you." The world is not waiting for Jesus to love them because He is yet to do that. Rather the world is waiting for us to discover that universal love personally and then tell the world of it by our love. In a sense we are the Magi in 2011.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Blog # 98 Importance of the Epiphany For centuries before the revision of the Church's liturgical calendar about fifty years ago, the Solemnity of the Epiphany was celebrated January 6 no matter what day of the week on the calendar January 6 would fall. At the time of the revision the committee responsible for the work of revision was so convinced of the importance of this feast they gave permission for conferences of Bishops throughout the world to celebrate it on a Sunday close to January 6 so that more of our people would have an opportunity of being present for it on a day that was normally not a work day. The history of the celebration of the feast goes back through the centuries to the very earliest years of our practice of celebrating the story of Jesus' life liturgically. It predates the feast of Christmas itself and was identified with the highest degree of importance among the feasts we celebrated by the title of a Solemnity with an octave or eight consecutive days designated for its celebration. Only Easter and Pentecost shared this high degree of recognition given the feast of the Epiphany. With all of this as a background for the feast it seems it would be a natural thing to ask why it turned out the way it did. In other words the question what is the background of the background people my age and younger experienced in celebrating the Epiphany with such high solemnity. We find footprints of the previous background all the way back to the time Jesus was physically present preaching and accomplishing His mission on earth in the original years of its history in the geography of Palestine about two thousand years ago. Born under the authority of the civil law of the Roman Empire, Jesus the son of Mary and Joseph was brought to Bethlehem to be registered in the census the governor had decreed to be taken. Born also, in the lineage of Mary and Joseph, as a child of Abraham Jesus was natively Jewish and in obedience to the Law of Moses was brought to the temple to identify and affirm His religious lineage by way of being circumcised on the eighth day of His life. For about thirty years Jesus lived in obedience to the law of Moses as a faithful Jew. Then on the occasion of His baptism among sinners in the Jordan River by John, which we celebrate liturgically this coming Sunday, a new era in the history of the world and religion began. The story takes on a radical shift. Jesus begins to preach and teach, to speak and act as only God should do. He makes claims for Himself that would be blasphemous if they were not true. People were divided in their response to Him. For some He should be done away with as a blasphemer. With others He should be believed, identified as Emmanuel, God-among-us, the promised Messiah, obeyed and worshiped as the Son of God. God revealed to Abraham the reality of a single God, the Creator of all that exists. The message of Jesus was radically different though well rooted in the faith that was handed down from Abraham. Baptism would fulfill and then take the place of circumcision as the sign of one's official entrance into the People of God, those who in a single community of believers would inherit in the name and under the authority of Jesus the Kingdom of God on earth and in Heaven. The gift of circumcision welcomed those who received it into the circle of God's friends. The gift of Baptism entailed a new substantial identity as children of God, actually sharing God's divine life in Jesus as branches share the life of a vine. Though stemming from the same faith of Abraham circumcision and Baptism were essentially different in their identity and effect. Some of the first Christians who had been faithful Jews were understandably convinced that anyone who wanted to become a Christian would have to be circumcised according to the law of Moses before being Baptized according to the plan laid out by Jesus. Peter himself experienced this as a problem and eventually had trouble convincing his followers that circumcision was no longer necessary. To retain it would be something like keeping ice in an electric refrigerator to keep the contents cold and not havng the refrigerator plugged in to an electric source. This blog has been long and demanding of attention so I will leave the job of tying it all in with the importance of the Feast of Epiphany in the early Church for another blog tomorrow. May the Lord bless you! Thanks for reading this far!
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Blog # 97 Epiphany blessings 2011 Celebrating Feast Days as we progress through the annual liturgical celebration of the life death resurrection and ascension of Jesus helps us renew and grow as Catholics in our knowledge and love for Him. Something went on in the past. We remember. We believe. We are there. As with a family recipe book. A new sack of flour, new salt and new raisins, a new loaf of bread but the same recipe for experiencing God's love again in a particular way through celebrating this particular Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. We have questions to answer. Who are the people involved? What did they think or say or do. Can we find a place that invites us to enter into the story? Can we find a situation in any way like theirs in the world around us today in 2011? Mary and Joseph continue to be present. They are faithful servants of the Lord. They are holy. We admire them and thank them. They give us joy in their love for Jesus. The Magi are discoverers, willing to grow, willing to follow their star, responsive, self-giving, rich yet humble, blessed. The physical star of the Magi may have been Haley's comet. It is likely they were among many people who saw that physical phenomenon. Another 'star' within them told them to search for something further and somehow connect the star in the sky with a particular person, the King of the Jews as they put it. The star invited them to search for that person. The star was their conscience and they followed it to Jesus. We have a conscience too. And it too is a star inviting us to follow. Oh! there is another place for us in the story of the Magi. Herod was jealous, fearing and fearsome, selfish, insecure and violent. We can thank him for teaching us how we should never be. The traditional theological content of the Epiphany has been a recognition of the DIVINITY OF JESUS in the coming and testimony of earthly rulers and wise men to pay Him homage and offer their treasures to Him, and secondly an emphasis on the UNIVERSALITY OF SALVATION IN JESUS and the consequent call to welcome the WHOLE WORLD into the love of God in Jesus. This is seen in the fact the Magi are traditionally given as Gentiles rather than as Jews or as already members of the People of God and Children of Abraham.
Monday, January 3, 2011
Blog # 96 Liturgical celebrations : what? why? A song book, a home video of Grandma's 80th birthday party, a recipe book, seeds, Christmas, Easter, Pentecost. What do all of these have in common? There is something real in each of them that comes from the past and reaches to the present, inviting a response. Sing it again, play it again, plant another row of tomato plants, bake another cake. Remember Grandma. See her wonderful smile again. Introduce her to her four year old great-grandchild even though she died at the age of 87 six years ago. This is how we loved her on her 80th birthday. This is how she sang for us. This is what she said about Grandpa who had died seven years before. It is different, yes, but yet true, and also the same as it was when we were there with her thirteen years ago. The video helps us remember. Watching it again helps us renew and grow in our love for her. It is not just another TV show. We keep it and plan to watch it again. It is similar with the other items listed above. Seeds for more tomatoes. New and different tomatoes but the same breed we enjoyed last season , and connected with them in the seed. It is something like this with the feasts we celebrate throughout the liturgical year. Something real happened in the past. We believe. We remember. We sing it again. We watch it again. Jesus is born, and in our official liturgical celebration we are there. In another liturgical celebration Jesus claims to be God. Jesus teaches. Jesus dies on the cross in our liturgical celebration on Good Friday. We remember. We pray it again. We are there. In our liturgical readings Jesus asks of us the same questions He asked Peter and the other disciples. He gives us the same message He gave in Jerusalem. He offers us the same love He offered in Bethany. We are invited to respond, to make it our own. The same recipe, a new bag of flour. God's love in Peter. God's love in us. In our next blog we will apply some of this to the Feast of the Epiphany which we celebrated yesterday.