Friday, February 25, 2011
Blog 124 Transformed Our blog yesterday left out one item on my wall presentation of our life story. I try to imagine the six billion human creatures scattered throughout the world. There are non-believers, people for whom God just does not play a part in their current everyday experience of life, religious Jews, faithful Muslims, Protestants, Catholics. I believe that all among them who conscientiously have followed their conscience could and should feel blessed when they come to the end of their time here on earth to find themselves in the category of reformed sinners, now with their sins forgiven or forgotten, unafraid of the future where they have not yet and hopefully never will commit a sin again. But even that is not all there is to the story of creation and God's love. Going all the way back to the Book of Genesis in the fifteenth verse of chapter three we find the Creator's promise of a response to sin that turned out in history as infinitely and therefore unimaginably more than the mere forgiveness of sin and the consequent return of the sinner to a state of human innocence. "where sin abounded grace did more abound." (Rom 5: 20). Jesus. Emmanuel, God-Among-Us, brought a gift from Heaven that no one before Him even dreamed of. "What nation ever had a god as close to it as our God is to us?" It is the gift of God's own divine life, shared with us in our unique human way through ( Jn 14: 6; 1 Tim 2: 5). with ( Mt 28: 20), and in (Jn 15: 4-7) Jesus. Talking to Nicodemus Jesus identified this gift in terms of being "born from above", or "again" as some versions of the text have it. (Jn 3: 11). Other texts throw light on this one: See what love the Father has bestowed on us in letting us be called Children of God! YET THAT IS WHAT WE ARE!. (1 jN 3: 1). And "If anyone is in Christ he is a NEW CREATION ! ( 2 Cor 5: 17) In Christ, through faith and Baptism, we are TRANSFORMED ! These thoughts and texts deserve more space and time than we are giving them here, but I thought it would be good to focus them with you and hope that will incline you to discover more of their richness power and possible impact upon your life. Images come to mind in reference to the key words. ALL of creation is FORMED by God. The image of God as the DESIGNER AND OWNER OF ALL comes to mind. Conjointly with the process through which we pass from being INFORMED by faith, DEFORMED by sin, and REFORMED through forgiveness, we Christians are TRANSFORMED . We are not merely made into better men and women. Rather, we are created anew, "BORN FROM ABOVE" (again) as children of God in a definite and real way, through with and in Jesus. Through Him: Jesus our BRIDGE, or MEDIATOR. With Him: Jesus our FRIEND, COMPANION, HELPER. In Him: Jesus our LIFE. Wow! What a story that is! And it is offered FREE to all who believe. As you can see from the image printed above, the fifth segment of our story is not just another one among the others. It is very special, in a cetagory of its own. A flash of white , a gold 'T'. and a crucifix in the center of the T to express and remind us of our faith in the total unconditional obedient love of Jesus for the Father and for us on the Cross. Here, revealed to us by the Holy Spirit is the source of our faith and forgiveness and the eternal love into which we have been transformed. Our next blog will give a few more Bible texts and insights to identify our transformation and and the call it makes to us to share the mission of Jesus to sanctify the world in which we live at this particular moment of history. May the Lord be with us and within us so that we might be blessed and be a blessing to those around us.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Blog 123 A Life Story Several years ago it occurred to me we could sum up our Christian experience in just five words. Here they are: 1.FORMED, 2.INFORMED,.3. DEFORMED, 4. REFORMED, 5. TRANSFORMED. I don't know who the oldest person on earth is right now, but we can be sure there was a time in the really not too distant past when NONE OF US EXISTED. We came to BE. By God's design and desire we were formed. At the time of our birth we knew very little. As the years went on we grew in KNOWLEDGE. We had to learn many things we now know so well and take for granted, how to walk, talk, run, play, and work. Some people received a gift of Faith, which is a special kind of knowledge. We who believe in Jesus received that special kind of knowledge which tells us many things about the world ourselves and God. We are INFORMED by our faith in Jesus. He is our teacher, teaching us about important questions like where the world came from, the meaning and goal of our lives, and how we are to live in order to please God, be a blessing for those around us, and be happy. Sometimes we live our faith and do and say what we know is right. Sometimes we don't. That is when the design and plan and love God desires to have for us is sort of bruised or broken. The beautiful person God wants us to be is DEFORMED. But God is so much in love with us that His love does not stop there. God never goes looking for someone else in place of us. When we realize this we come back to Him. God forgives. We are REFORMED. But even that is not the end of it. We take up the fifth disk on blog 124 tomorrow. The colors in the disks are attempting to interpret and express the identity of the four disks. Green symbolozes life and growth. Yellow is for joy and the light of truth. Red symabolizes love and forgiveness. Black and dark grey are for the darkness of sin.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Blog 122 Out the Door On the wall in the short hallway just outside my bedroom door is a picture of my immdeiate family of six boys and my mother and father. I imagine I am about two years old and am sitting on my mother's lap. The formal picture must have been taken about eighty-one years ago. Now all but my my brother Bill who is eighty-eight and I are gone. And I have noticed recently that when I attend various meetings or spend time in the adoration chapel more times than not I guess I am the oldest person in the room. Each of us has a life's story. Though there are over six billion of us on earth right now each of us has a story that belongs to none other. Though each of us is unique we do share many major or minor common human experiences. We are older than we ever were. If that scares you just put it this way: we are younger than we will ever be! If life were envisioned as taking place in an enclosed room with a single doorway as an exit from the room , no matter how many steps it would take for each one going out of the room a single step would take him or her out of the room. That is sort of the way it is with life and death. There will be one last breath, one final conscious thought, our last desire, all unique to each of us. But every step we have ever taken to get to that final one takng us out of the door counts. If a millionaire finds a penny on the pavement of the parking lot at the grocery store and puts it into her purse she is richer than she ever was. Conversely if she loses one. I suppose the first concern we should have is to be confident we are heading in the right direction, then be aware of the fact that if we are not moving we will ever be in the same spot we were when we began, and finally trust God and believe that on the other side of the door we call death is not more death but new life in the Kingdom of God where love is the coin of the realm and faith is never challenged by suffering or distress and love is never distorted by sin.
Monday, February 21, 2011
121 Christmas Christmas is whenever you think about it, and the more you do the better it gets. Christmas is whenever you think about it and whatever you think about it. With the original event of Christmas occurring two thousand years ago the only access we have to formulate our thoughts about it today is by faith. Speaking of here in the United States, on December 25th the whole country is aware of the day we Catholics call Christmas. The day on the calendar is the same for all of us as all the other days of the year as far as the number of hours it contains, or in other words as far as the sun is concerned. But it is very special for some of us who have spent the whole month of Advent getting ready for it to come. Even so, especially since under the influence and effect of the present current pagan culture and mass media , whether we realize it or not, we are pressured and tempted to conform to the way the day is lifted up under the name of Holiday rather than Christmas in many instances. As the sun goes down on Christmas Day we sometimes have the feeling the day was too short and we have wished to event of Christmas could go on forever. Actually the event of Christmas can and should and does go on until the end of time. But we must think about it, understand it and make it our own by faith in order to experience Christmas as it was designed to be. We are advantaged thinking about Christmas here in February without the possible distractions and competitors for our time and energy such as pies and presents, snowmen and reindeer, Santa Claus, gourmet dining and jolly good times of December 25th. All of these are good and we will be blessed and please the Lord if we are still on earth and enjoy them again in December 2011. But they are not what Christmas is all about. The theology of Christmas invites us to think more deeply than the colors shapes and sounds of Christmas to discover the identity and meaning of the original event two thousand years ago. We are called to realize in our limited human way the baby born of Mary, to be called Jesus, and the divine person revealed in the Gospel of St. John as the Word of God is one and the same person. The Resurrected Jesus as the Word of God on earth, Emmanuel, is by the power of the Holy Spirit our prime and sole witness today to the creation by God of all that exists, the love of God for all people, the authenticity of the Bible and of the Church, His Body, and the possibility and unimaginable power what would be required and available to bring peace among all nations around the world if we would seek and follow His will.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Blog # 119 FRANCIS It seems like all the world has heard of a certain poor man who lived close to God over eight hundred years ago. When we study the life of St. Francis of Assisi we find almost immediately that he was one of the happiest people we have known. What made Francis so happy, born as he was in the year1182? Certainly it was not a fine modern up-to-date electric home. It was not an automobile or television. Francis of Assisi did not find his happiness in picture magazines, in an electric dish washer, or in baseball, for these were not available in 1182. We find in our nation today millions of automobiles and airplanes, radios and television sets, electric dish washers, picture magazines, movie houses, bathing beauty contests, bottles of whiskey, and yet few people seem as happy as Franci was. Why is that so? Simply because of the same reason that no matter how much gas we might have available to our stoves, it will never cook our supper unless it is lit. From this I think we can begin to see why it is that Francis of Assisi could be so happy back in the twelfth Century when there were no automobiles airplanes television and all the rest of things that go to make up our modern life, whereas many people today who enjoy all of these things are not necessarily happy. Francis of Assisi was looking for happiness and found it in the only place where complete and perfect happiness can be found, in God. Everyone living in the world today is looking for happiness too. But genuine happiness in not to be found in things apart from God. St. Augustine told us this very beautifully in the fourth Century when he wrote the famous words: "Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee" Jesus told us this in John 15: 5. when, talking of things of lasting value, He says "...without me you can do nothing." Material things, radios television automobiles houses etc. are designed by God as unable to make us completely happy of themselves and forever. They are good when used properly, just as gas in a stove is good to use for cooking. But as gas in a stove will never cook a meal unless it is lit, so all the created things we might possess will never make us eternally happy unless they are referred to God. That is part of the reason Jesus said : "What does it profit someone to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his or her soul in the process?" St. Francis very well knew that to be happy is a great way to please and glorify God. Inspired and encouraged by his simple life may we seek and discover the happiness God holds out for us here and now in the 21st Century, the kind of happiness that glorifies God and lasts forever.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Blog # 118 SALVATION / OBEDIENCE / LOVE To say of us that we are 'saved' is similar to saying we are 'alive'. The notions of being alive or saved invites the question what does it mean to be alive, or to be saved. Both life and salvation are similar notions. We are never merely alive but always alive as someone, in the here and now, alive as doing something. So we are never merely saved, but saved as someone, in the here and now, saved as doing something. Both natural human life. and salvation, (God's life /love shared with us), ever invite us to ask questions. What do I want to do with my life? How do I go about it? What is God calling me to do with my gift of salvation? How do I go about it? To be alive is one thing. to know the fullness of life is another. To be convinced we are saved is one thing. To know what this entails is another.To help us do this with salvation we listen to what Jesus teaches. He did indeed ask the question what does it profit a person to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of one's soul. In asking this question Jesus pointed up the absolute and primary importance of the salvation of our souls. But Jesus also said be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect, and blessed are the clean of heart. We begin to see the meaning or substance of being saved is to be holy. In other words, Jesus did not come into the world just so that God could love us, but also so that we might love God! And in order to love God, as Jesus reminded us, we live by the Commandments. (Jn 15: 10). The way to make this experience a conscious act of love for God is to keep ourselves aware the Commandments are an expression of God's wisdom goodness and love. The Commandments issue forth from a personal relationship God wishes to have with those who believe. In obedience to the Commandments we share God's wisdom goodness and love. As a student becomes like her teacher by sharing the teacher's wisdom, so we become like God, in our limited human way, by sharing God's wisdom goodness and love in obedience to the Commandments. We can live by the commandments all week long, every day, at home at school at work, in church and out, twenty-four hours a day. Even our sleep can be a response to God's command to refrain from 'killing' ourselves with work and worry, the fifth Commandment! Through the gift of Baptism and salvation in the here and now we are entitled and empowered throughout our life to be united with Jesus as branches on a vine. As we grow in holiness we become more like Jesus ( Col 3: 10). To help make His holiness grow in us, which is the call of salvation, we ever seek to know Jesus better, as a boy, a young man, a carpenter, a brother, a friend, and as our God. Then will the thoughts of Jesus be our thoughts, the words of Jesus our words, and the actions and attitude of Jesus our actions and attitude. That is the basic plan of salvation, the fundamental meaning of being saved through with and in Jesus.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Blog # 116 GENUINE HUMAN HAPPINESS Did you ever look back into history at certain men and women with admiration and say within yourself that you wished you had the opportunities these men and women had? Did it ever appear to you that you were born too late? If only I had the opportunities this or that particular person had ! If only I had been born in that first Century, like St. Peter. How happy I would be! Actually none of us was born when we were by accident as far as God is concerned. Nothing happens by accident with God. We can learn a great deal from how others achieved happiness, and did great things years ago, but we must realize that for ourselves the time to be great and happy is not eleven Centuries ago or fifty years ago, but now. Where is our happiness and greatness to be found? In God. Each of us has something that God wants and which nobody else but ourselves can give, and that is our love. God doesn't need any great heroic deeds that we might do with the attitude that we are doing God a favor. God told us this long ago, in Psalm 49, and it holds good for us today as well. God's people were sacrificing valuable goats and oxen to God as if this were something He had need of, and at the same time were disobedient to His will in other matters. God had told them He had no need of sacrifices but He wanted their love, which could be symbolized in sacrifice. If God were hungry, as He says in Psalm 49, He would not have to tell us about it in order to get something to eat. All of the world is His, and everything in the world is kept in existence by the force of God's will. The people were neglecting the most important part of their obligation toward God when they failed to join their sacrifice with love and obedience, the very things of which their sacrifices were to be a sign. This too is what Jesus tells us in Matthew 7: 21, when He says that not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven but he who does the will of my Father in Heaven shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In order to be completely and genuinely happy we must love God. And if a person were to think of complete happiness in terms of anything else than God that person has not imagined what complete happiness is. He would be like a rose, perhaps, that might say to itself there is no greater beauty than my own. Both would be wrong. But a rose can not do this. A man or a woman can. Complete genuine human happiness is achieved only in God, knowing God and loving God. We can no more change this than a rock dropped from the roof of a building, could fall up instead of down!
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Blog # 115 Creator The first liturgical reading being currently proclaimed during our morning Mass each day has placed us at the very beginning of the Bible in the Book of Genesis. It tells the story of the creation of the world. Some people who believe in the Bible as the written word of God, and therefore without error, would place that Biblical story some several thousands of years before the4 day of the birth of Jesus. Others, some of whom believe in the Bible as the written word of God, and therefore without error, and some of whom do not hve so total a faith in the authenticityand veracity of Genesis place the origin of the world many many light years away. If we label the first group A and the second group B with its two sections labeled 1 and 2 open for membership for either those who believe in God and the identitiyof the Bible as the word of God and others who do not have such a faith, I do not think I could reconcile group A and B. I would have to take one side or the other here. With regard to group B, I identify a place and a need for dialogue with sincere respect for one another and with hope and effort on the part of both working together to discover and follow the truth of the matter. If ever we wish to engage in a sincere and effective dialogue with anyone who holds an opinion that contradicts or is contrary to our own it is most important that we know and understand clearly what it is we believe or hold as true. In other words what is the content of our conviction and the claims we make in holding that conviction. In the case of the story of creation in the book of Genesis, our quest is to establish the overall purpose and theme of the story. That will be discovered as expressed in wording and details that are not accepted as true by modern science, as for example the time it took, the sequence of events and other details such as God 'walking' in the garden and 'resting' after a week of 'work' . We can easily imagine such details as these as being otherwise than they came to be written with the theme and purpose of Genesis yet remaining intact and secure. For God to walk in the literal sense of what it means for you and me to walk, feet and legs would be required and until the Incarnation of Jesus, for God to have legs and feet would be to establish a limitation of God that would defeat the whole purpose and contradict the essential theme of the Book .
Monday, February 7, 2011
Blog # 113 Relating to God It seems to me for some people the most common way they have for relating to God is through feelings of guilt. Guilt would seem to result in feelings of fear which in turn would seem to produce feelings of alienation rather than closeness to anyone to whom we relate, including God. Since we love goodness and rightfully fear what is evil it seems that to fear God almost amounts to declaring that God is evil rather than good, and this would seem to be an offence against God that would stand in the way of feelings of closeness to God. Yet we are instructed and encouraged by spiritual directors and the Scriptures themselves to cultivate " fear of the Lord" as a virtue. " Behold, the fear of the Lord is wisdom; and avoiding evil is understanding." (Job 28:28). "The fear of the Lord is a paradise of blessings.(Sir 40:28) ( Ps 18: 10; Prov 9:10; Sir 1:16; 27:3; 40: 26,27; Is 33:6 ; Acts 9:31; 2 Cor 5:11). It should be obvious the term fear of the Lord can have two different meanings. In one sense it would mean being afraid of God and this fear should never be ours. The type of fear of the Lord that is a virtue is more a fear of ourselves rather than of God. An example of his type of fear would be the fear a person might have of breaking a very valuable antique vase, a fear of losing a precious diamond ring, or the friendship of a close friend. Confidence reverence and awe are the words that come to mind when we reflect upon the virtue of fear of the Lord. "Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all who dwell in the world revere him.(Ps 33: 8). My heart stands in awe of your word. (Ps 119: 161). "If God is for us who can be against ?" (Rom 8: 31-34). The more fear we have in our relationships with one another and with God the less room there is for love and the more love we have the less room there is for fear. Jesus regularly invited His companions not be afraid. His command that we love God above all with our whole heart mind and soul would seem to leave no room at all for fear to dwell if it means to be afraid of God.
Friday, February 4, 2011
Blog 112 Suffering (Con't.)
In the compassion and healing ministry of Jesus, we see something of the attitude of God toward suffering and those who suffer : "Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will refresh you. Take my burden upon your shoulders; it is light. Take my yoke; it is light."
Jesus also clarifies the meaning of suffering.
It can be the raw material out of which genuine love is made. "No greater love than this can anyone have, than to lay down one's life for a friend." (Jn 15: 13). And it can be the price to be paid for doing what is right. "He who will not take up his cross and come after me is not worthy of me." ( Mat 10: 38; 16: 24; Mark 8: 34; Luke 9: 23; 14: 27).
Much of the suffering in the world would be eliminated or avoided if God's will and commands were followed. For example battered wives and children, accidents while driving drunk. The suffering that comes from thoughtless and selfish behavior both to those who are thoughtless and selfish and to those affected by that behavior would not exist. Suffering can be a way to atone for our sin, an invitation to deeper patience humility and a deeper trust in God, an occasion for support sympathy generosity and encouragement to our neighbor and the context of an experience of unconditional love for God.
The three drawings I have placed with this blog help me illustrate the identity and meaning we can give to suffering. All reality and all suffering is incomplete apart from God. The drawing of the single sandal is incomplete without its mate. The first drawing of the robe is unfinished. The unfinished robe and the sandal represent a reaction on the purely human level that some people have with regard to suffering. It is the occasion of anger, depression, sadness. But even on the human level it can be more. This is represented by the completed robe and the pair of sandals. Here suffering is an occasion of patience humility and joyful healing.
But the pair of sandals and the completed robe are still incomplete on a possible higher level. They have their real and full natural meaning and value on the feet and on the body of the shepherd in the third drawing.
There they have the capacity to go with him, to share his story and be part of his pilgrimage on a natural level from here to there throughout his life on earth and on the supernatural level of faith , united with Jesus to the Holy City. the New Jerusalem.
It is this way with all reality and our relationship with God. In ourselves we are incomplete. We are made to share God's love, to 'go', every step of the way, with God living in us to the Holy City, our eternal home where there is no suffering or sorrow but only love. If suffering is not seen and accepted as part of this it is not what it could be and should be for us and for the truth about God and God's glory.
It is good to realize a proper Christian response to suffering may include a desire and prayer for healing as well as for patience to endure it. Normally we can better work out God's will for us in good health. Go to the dentist. Love God that way. Get a pair of glasses. Love God that way. Try a hearing aid. Love God that way.
Have the recommended surgery. Love God that way.
But when all these measures have been taken and suffering continues to be our gift, with the power of our faith we can consciously transform that 'Bottom Line Suffering' into ' Hospice Love' and the next step, the final one, will be the victory and joy of eternal life.
After Jesus had miraculously multiplied the loaves of bread He told the disciples "Gather up the crusts now so that nothing will go to waste." It is easy to apply this and hear Jesus say "Do not waste suffering. It is a precious gift."
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Blog # 111 Suffering Philosophers have always been interested in what has been labeled 'the problem of evil' in the world. I prefer to address the same phenomenon as they but not as the problem of evil but rather the mystery of evil. I do this because of the relationship I recognize between all that exists and God. Nothing exists without God willing it to exist and with God there are no problems. Evil is a mystery for us because of our limited capacity to know and understand more completely than we do the infinite Creator, God. The existence of what we might view as evil is a mystery for us. When related to God it need not be a problem. Throughout history and all around us today there is great suffering in the world. Kings and peasants, Saints and sinners, men and women, have all experienced suffering of one kind or another, physical psychological emotional spiritual. The presumption is that each of us at one time or another in the course of our lives is going to have to address the experience of suffering. If we do not know how to give it meaning and value it is likely to be wasted in our case. It could be for us an enemy rather than a friend, a cause for diminishment rather than for growth. What can we begin to say of it? First of all it seems essential that we do not try to see meaning and value in suffering apart from God. Its complete meaning and full value is not there. Apart from God suffering is a problem rather than a mystery A second essential point is this: even related to God suffering in this life remains somewhat of a mystery for us. To be otherwise, for us to understand it fully, would require that we be God. Take the example of a blind person. You may tell her she is wearing a red dress but she cannot really know what you are telling her. She has no capacity for experiencing color. Yet she is wearing a red dress. There is color, but not for her. Your telling her she looks very pretty in a red dress and her mother's favorite color is red can be useful information for her however. For example the next time she goes to buy a dress and remembers what you have told her and trusts your love for her she is confident and happy to tell the salesperson in the store she wants to buy a red dress. This analogy finds application in our Christian insight into the mystery of suffering. All of us at one time or another will experience suffering or by analogy be wearing a 'red dress'. God does not claim it is pretty but that it is a singular gift that has great value for us if we have faith in God and trust Him. Sufferng offers an invitation and opportunity to experience a special degree of faith trust humility courage patience hope joy and love, all virtues that enhance our character and make us more worthy of God's love and the love of those around us. The letter to the Hebrews is powerful in this regard.(Heb 11: 32-12:1-13). Chapter 12: 2 exhorts us to "keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, Who inspires and perfects our faith. For the sake of the joy which lay before Him He endured the cross, heedless of its shame." Suffering remains a mysterious phenomenon, but not completely so. We will take that up in blog # 112.