Friday, July 29, 2011
Blog # 170 Freedom As I recall it, it must have been back around 1936 when Sister Mary Polycarpa OP taught our fifth grade English grammar class the meaning and proper use of the words may and can Can has to do with ability, power, knowledge, time available, and talent. "I can means I have the power, ability, knowledge, money, etc to do something, to go somewhere. If I were to ask the school's basketball coach "Can I substitute for Pete Murphy in his absence this evening?", the answer "Yes" would mean the coach judged I was able to do that, and my question would have sought that precise information. In 'can' questions the information sought has to do with the person asking the question. A 'May I' question seeks information that has to do with the person who is answering the question. The information sought is in the power of the person to whom the question is addressed. 'May I' questions seek permission for something and asks am I allowed to do this or that, would you permit me to do this or that. The difference in the two questions would show if I were to stand before Pete and the coach with loaded camera, fully charged flash and a confident smile and ask "May I take your picture together?" I know I have the power to take the picture but I want to know whether I have permission to take it. "May I?" In another scenario I am in a supermarket in quest of a jar of mustard. A friendly clerk asks me "Can I help you?" My correct answer would be "Yes, IF you know where the mustard is". My answer has a condition on it. If the clerk said " May I help you?" I would have correctly said "Yes, please do". Now, applying all of this to our unique individual relationship with God it comes out this way. In order for God to help us, we have to be searching. As Psalm 42:2, and Psalm 63:2 put it "thirsting" for God "in truth"( Ps 145:18). To be thirsty is to be in need, to be reaching out, to being aware of a personal incompleteness. To search for anything that is good,in view of our faith in a single Creator of all that exists, is in its completeness a search for God. God is all powerful. all good. and loves and cares for all creation with an everlasting love. If we ever hear God asking the question "CAN I...?, that is merely God's way of asking us do we know who God is. When we know, the question need not be asked. It is altogether different with the 'May I' question. This question comes from God to all believers over and over again. The very nature of the question implies and requires freedom on the part of the person to whom the question is asked. The question comes through our conscience in many forms. "May I give you peace, patience, generosity, forgiveness of your sins, a deeper faith, courage. May I help you think of the poor among you, feed the hungry of the world, and help you pray? God CAN do all of this. Because of an unfathomable mysterious infinite love God asks MAY I do it in you? Though we are commanded to go one way, we are free to go another. Freedom is a mystery. It is like fire. It can give light. It can give warmth. It can destroy. It is one of the essential elements in the content of the notion we have received in faith concerning our creation "in the image and likeness" of God. What a gift! What a God!
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Blog # 169 Our Creator 'at Work'. Here are a few examples of what God is 'doing' in our physical universe. God the Creator is also present and 'at work' in the spiritual reality we cannot see or hear but which we experience just as surely and wonderfully as we see and hear the physical world around us. The sun (a small star) is BIG - so big that if you put the earth in its center, the moon ( 220,000+miles from the earth) would reach just about half way to the sun's surface. Compared to the sun the earth is like a pinhead in the center of a saucer. Traveling 1,000 miles an hour, it would take you a month , going night and day, to go around the sun. At the same speed you could go around the earth in 25 hours! As for speed,Pluto, the 'slow' planet, is moving more than 23,000 miles an hour. The fastest planet is Mercury, doing 30 miles a second - more than 100,000 miles an hour. Earth moves 18 miles a second, 65,000 miles an hour, and covers 1,500,000 miles a day around the sun. (All free of charge!) In our galactic system there are so many stars that if you looked at each one of them for a minute you would be 60,000 years old before you counted them all. If we really care to look almost everything we experience in creation is just as amazing.We inhale about 108,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (21 ciphers after the 8!) molecules of air at each normal healthy breath. If you could arrange to let those molecules escape at the rate of 10,000 each second, it would take a million years to blow out one breath. The molecules in an air space the size of a golf ball, if placed end to end 4,250,000 per inch, would circle the earth 10,000 times at the equator, or reach to the moon and back 52 times. An average oak tree, in its five active months each year, evaporates about 28,000 gallons of water. Man-made suction cups make water rise 33 feet. Yet water flows in great quantities to the tops of trees 200 feet high. There is a Brazilian moth with a wing span of eleven inches. There is also the Nanosella, a water beetle one-hundredth of an inch long complete with eyes, mouth, legs, etc. If a man could construct a tiny machine designed to walk and fly, with automatic appliances for finding and consuming food, for building itself a suitable garage or shed, for repairing breaks in its parts, and finally for reproducing other machines like itself, his name would be world-famous overnight. Yet it has been done ! (The name is God if you care to tell someone). What is color in the dark, or sound unheard? It is perhaps something like Goodness unappreciated or a person's life without personal contact with God our Creator. There is still the choice that any man can make: there is no God. But it seems very important to me for someone who does happen to say there is no God to know something of the content of what he is saying. Some people never look beyond themselves. Some people look out but only see what they see. Others see the work of a Workman, and see God. In the light of some of the previous considerations how minor some of our personal problems seem ! And why do we not hear more of this kind of thing when we speak of God? How wonderful it is to trust and love Someone Who has and shares such wisdom, power, and goodness with all who believe in Him !
Friday, July 22, 2011
Blog # 168 One Creator of All To believe in a single creator of all that exists is to believe everything and everyone has its/their origin and destiny, purpose and fulfillment in God. Knowledge of the anatomy and life of a single honey bee would be enough for me to marvel at the wisdom and power of its creator. That awesome wisdom and power is shared in some mysterious way with all who believe in a single Creator of all. In the light of my strong conviction in the truth of this insight I have no problem welcoming advances in science technology and human development. I see the tremendous advances we have experienced just in my own short lifetime not as threats to my love for God but as ground and reason for deepening that love. Yet my faith and my love for God remains a choice on my part. The answer to the question Is God real? is Yes or No. The question is more important and God deserves more than the answer Maybe. Can I prove God is real? No, thanks be to God. To prove God is real would in a real sense require us to be greater than God. God would necessarily have to be identified. measured and contained in our limited human capacities and consequently under our control, identifying us as God's God. Can or need we prove that red is red, or five pounds is five pounds? It would be something like that to try to prove that God exists. The big question is not whether God exists, but whether or not God is benign and gracious, whether God is our Friend and our Father. To prove that God exists is one thing. To discover God is another. That we can do.. God has revealed Himself in creation, the Bible, especially in Jesus, in history, and through our own individual unique conscience. Someone has said: "I know God exists because I pray." You need not prove someone is with you when you are talking to him. It is something like this with God and God's relationship with those who pray. Once we arrive at the idea of God's 'footprints', as it were, in nature (Wisdom 13, Romans 1: 19) then it helps to investigate the nature of things around us. We know something of a person by what that person does. We know something of God through our knowledge of creation. Beginning here in Blog # 168 and continuing tomorrow I will share with you quotations from a small pamphlet a science prof gave our class back in third year high school in 1943. It is an invitation for us to remind ourselves and respond again to the claims we make for God when we say we believe in God as the single creator of all that exists. Perhaps it is because we find too little in our personal world that is marvelous wonderful mysterious and loving that we do not relate these terms in a significant personal way to God. The words of Jesus: knock, seek, ask, seem very important here. What do you know about the sun? The sun has been throwing out 4,000,000 tons of light energy a second for millions of years. (There are 86,400 seconds in a single day.) The sun's surface is 10,000 degrees. Its interior is about 30,000,000 degrees. If we had to pay some power Company for the light received by the earth daily from the sun the bill would make the national debt look like the price of a hot dog at the beach. Yet the earth receives only one billionth part of all the sun's power. And it all belongs to God our Creator !
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Blog # 167 WAKE UP ! Not being conscious of ever experiencing a single day I did not wake up, and not having heard from my mother or anyone else who might know with regard to the earliest days of my life I estimate I woke up a minimum of 30,496 times including today. In my grade-school days my mother would wake me. In the seminary one of my fellow seminarians appointed to the position of bell ringer would walk through the hall of our residence in one direction ringing his bell and then reverse his direction and on his way back knock on each door while saying in Latin "Let us bless the Lord", with each of us responding with "Deo Gratias!"("Thanks be to God!"). After ordination I used an alarm clock and as I gradually began to lose my hearing I used two of them and then three, all set for the same time in the morning. After that became inconvenient and ineffective I gave up on alarm clocks and began to depend upon setting my mind to get up at a certain time and that has worked out very well. In recent years, with no one else but God living in the house with me, and with no other resource available to me for performing the task, I habitually identify God Himself as the one who personally awakens me each day. In response to this conviction it has been appropriate for me to form a habit of making the first thoughts of the day the proclamation of Jesus identifying Himself more than thirty times in John's Gospel as being sent by the Father. "Here I am,Lord. I come to do Thy will!." Then it is a short series of standard prayers that includes the 'Morning Offering', the 'Memorare', acts of faith, hope, and love, a prayer for dedicating and preserving chastity, and an experience of calling to mind in thanks and praise a litany of people who have gone on before me and remain a source of inspiration and support. Positioning my watch on my wrist and putting on my shoes are also part of the standard ritual of waking up and 'getting on the road'. A watch is a wonderful example of a servant role. It stands ready to serve by telling the time any time at all, night or day, to anyone who seeks it. And shoes are great examples and reminders of how obedience works. They will go with me any place I desire, uphill or down, rain or shine, wearing themselves out in 'obedience' to me. If they had a human nature and the freedom that is mine they could be labeled perfectly obedient. Both the shoes and the watch are good teachers! I don't imagine many or any of the folks reading this blog, in light of the different circumatances of their life and mine, could or should even desire to follow the routine I have outlined as my own. But I would hope it might be an invitation to discover the grace and joy of being aware of God's presence and love throughout the day and appreciating each new day as a special gift from Him to be shared with Him in praise and thanks and with all with whom we meet each day in generous joyful love.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Blog # 166 Jesus lives ! A long time ago a small boy told me he wanted to be like Jesus. I have lost contact with him since and I wonder how his life is turning out. "to be like Jesus..." Our Christian faith is not an invitation or command to become a carpenter, but rather the power and command to receive in faith the share in God's love which is offered us uniquely in Jesus each day and in each experience of our life. Many people seem to see and experience the Christian life as an attempt to imitate Jesus, but it is more. We can and should imitate all the holy people who have gone before us and who are living around us now,and Jesus is among them, but with Jesus there is more. We do not merely hear the words of Jesus and then try to make them our own. Rather we receive the experience of prayer as a gift that unites us to Jesus. Prayer is our response,in Jesus, to God's love in our life, death, and resurrection. When asked how to pray by the disciples, if Jesus merely wanted to be a model or a good example of prayer for us, I think the Lord's Prayer would have begun: "My Father...". But the prayer Jesus gave in response to the disciples' request begins with the words Our Father...". We pray not merely in imitation of Jesus but in union with Jesus. We find ourselves trying to become more honest, more generous, more prayerful, more chaste, as the ideal of the Christian life. Many holy people have been sent as messengers and prophets to teach us these good human experiences. We tend to put Jesus in the same category as others, a teacher, a messenger, a prophet, a good example. These insights are true. Jesus is all of these. But Jesus is also more. We tend to think of God as giving us commands and inspiration to encourage us and inspire us to do good and avoid evil, almost as though in creating us, that is in willing that we exist as a unique creature, was for us to get something done for God and wanted us to do it. Again these insights are true. But there is more. Behind and within God's commands is not a need on God's part as we think of need from our experience of need. Nor is there a desire on God's part as we think of desires from our experience. Rather in God's commands we have God's wisdom and love shared with us. In the personal meaning behind the good we are called to do and the evil we are commanded to avoid we have the question of our relationship with God through Jesus. Through reflection upon these insights we can begin to discover the deeper meaning of the words Jesus spoke of the poor widow who gave two pennies to the temple treasury, that she had given more than all of the rest. Jesus was not talking obedience or mathematics in this instance but rather love which is not so much an achievement as a relationship, which can ever continue to grow even between two equal human beings, but unimaginably so between God and us. It is New York City to anyone, but it is where I was born to me. She was a woman to anyone, but she is mother to me. It is December 25th to anyone, but it is Chrismas to those who believe. In each of these realities there is one thing for all and something more for some. There is more in Christmas and Easter not because we are better than those around us or have worked harder, but because we believe, and guided, supported, and motivated by love we seek to grow in holiness in our accomplishment of God's will. May our Christian faith , our union with Jesus in love, bring joy to us and to those around us, now and forever !
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Blog # 165 The Power of Faith Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Augusta. You cannot remember places unless you have been there. You might imagine what it is like in Chicago or Augusta but that is not the same as remembering. So it is with occasions and experiences. The St.Patrick's Day parade in Savannah. The New York World's Fair in 1939. To be there is one thing; to remember is another, and to imagine it all is a third. So it is with people. We cannot remember someone we have never known, though we can imagine what a person we think of or heard of might be like. Abraham Lincoln, Adolf Hitler... From Chicago to Augusta to Bethlehem, from the St. Patrick's Day parade. to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, from my mother and father as persons to Jesus as God-Among-Us, it is similar. Without having been there, having had the experience, having known the person, we cannot remember, only imagine, at the best. So far,what you have been reading here is the same for someone who believes in God and someone who does not. Now the difference comes. For someone who does not believe it will continue the same as long as that person does not believe. But once the experience of faith occurs the WHOLE PICTURE changes. By faith, rather than having to go to Bethlehem, Bethlehem comes to us, wherever we are. The life death and resurrection of Jesus becomes a current experience rather than a memory. Jesus lives and continues on as someone who loves us "madly" as some of the Saints have said, even at the present moment, always. I believe this is included in what Jesus said to His disciples before ascending into Heaven when He said: "go and make disciples of all the nations. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you. And know that I am with you always until the end of the world."(Mat 28:19,20,26), and when He prayed to the Father for all who would believe in Him in these words: I pray..that they may be one, as we are one - I living in them, and You living in me...so that your love for me may live in them,and I may live in them" (Jn 17:21,23,26). Only God could do it that way, of course. But our faith tells us that Jesus is God as well as the carpenter of Nazareth. As carpenter Jesus is remembered, and there is no one on earth today who remembers Jesus that way because no one of us is as old as nineteen hundred years. We have stories from the life of Jesus the carpenter in the Christian Bible, and from them we know something of the actual historical life of Jesus as we might know something of the New York World's Fair from pictures, old newspapers, and poems written by folks who were there in 1939. But for anyone born this side of 1942 the world's Fair of '39 can indeed be real, but not remembered. From these considerations the words of Jesus over the bread and wine at the Last Supper followed by His words: "DO THISin memory of me" have a whole new meaning different from our natural experience of memory. As a result,doing, in obedience to His command,at our daily experience of the Eucharistic Sacrifice what He did at the Last Supper, we know by faith Jesus is really present in the Eucharist rather than merely remembered. The personal supernatural presence of the Resurrected Jesus in the Eucharist is as real and true for us by faith as the personal physical natural presence of the historical Jesus was for Peter and the other Apostles on the occasion of the Last supper.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Blog # 164 The Sower Three I didn't think there would be a blog called #164 The Sower Three, but after preaching on the parable of the Sower at Mass on Sunday several thoughts were on my mind and since they were a blessing for me I will try to share them briefly with you At a first reading of the passages on The Sower in the Gospels of Matthew 13: 4-23 and Mark 4:1-20 it might seem the fault for what is wrong would be on the sower for not being more careful in spreading the seed, with no fault on the part of the wayside, birds,thorns,stones or weeds that hinder or prevent the good soil from producing a good harvest. But it is clear that Jesus, talking here in parable form as was His custom, is actually talking about people and implied choices on their part rather than a literal use of wayside, stones or birds. The fault comes on the part of people for not recognizing and removing the obstacles that prevent the good soil from being what it was designed to be by the Creator. A second insight that came to me was an awareness of the necessity of seeing the complete meaning and application of the parable, realizing that Jesus, particularly in our current moment of history, is not talking merely about some individual's back yard or garden but of the Creator of the universe and of all six billion of us living on the globe today. Together all of us are being influenced by the enemies of peace happiness truth and virtue that is is being produced, tolerated, and left to an extent unopposed in our City, State, nation, and world. In God our Creator I am poor with the poor, rich with the rich. I watch TV in your living room even though I am not there physically and I do not have a TV plugged in here at my house. We are that closely connected in God's infinite love and design for all that exists. For those of us who believe in a single Creator the sun is more than merely light. It is a personal gift, an expression and evidence of God's presence, power, and love for all of us throughout the world from our common Creator. In our desire and effort to be holy we influence and support one another in making the small portion of earth that is under our control to be good soil, without the obstacle to God's love and grace we call sin. The whole of creation is blessed in the blessing we call down upon it in our desire and effort to be holy. The wayside, rocks, thorns, and birds glorify God in all they are and do too, and it might seem at first even better than we since they never sin. The essential difference is that we are created and capable of loving God, and love requires freedom in order to be itself. In freedom we can say yes or no, even to God. But it is only in freedom that we can be truly like to God Who is totally free because God is totally Love.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Blog # 163 The sower -two In the parable of The Sower some of the seed, the word of God, fell among thorns. Jesus tells us this is the case of people who have failed to realize a most important truth about ourelves, that we are not in this world forever. We are in this world as travelers, passing through. Our real eternal home is in Heaven with God our Father forever. This world with all of its pleasure and joys is a tool, given us by God that we might discover Him, work our way to Him, experience Him, and love Him. Our hearts are bigger than all the world. They can only be filled with God. But some hearts fail to realize this. They are too busy with things which Jesus classifies as cares of the world, the temporary value of riches and other desires. If you want to find out what these things are in your life today just take out a pencil and make a list of what takes most of your time and energy. For each item on your list ask yourself the question does this person place or thing or my use of it bring me closer to God or farther away? Does my reading of this particular magazine or book bring me closer to God or farther away? Does the amount of time I spend each day watching television bring me closer to God or farther away? These are good quesions for anyone who wants to grow as a Christian. For whatever it is that is not bringing us closer to God and cannot bring us closer to God Jesus has the word thorns, which growing up together with the word of God in our hearts choke the word of God and make it fruitless. Then finally Jesus comes to the seed which is sown on good ground. It brings forth fruit, one thirty another sixty, and another a hundredfold. Dear Lord, help us make ourselves make good ground. We know, dear Lord, that sometimes when You find that our hearts are a wayside, in order to make it good ground You have to plow it up with suffering and sickness. If necessary, dear Lord, give us this gift rather than letting us go on as a fruitless wayside. Take from our hearts dear Lord the rocks and thorns of our sins and carelessness. Make us good ground. Make us holy.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
Blog # 162 - One (Matthew 13:1-23) Behold the sower went out to sow...Wayside, birds, rocky ground, not much earth, no depth, scorching sun, thorns, good ground. The parable is familiar to us all. When Jesus had finished presenting the parable the Apostles asked Him to explain it more fully. Master, tell us more of this sower, and the seed. How does it fit in with our faith in you? How can we use this story to come to a more perfect love of God? What do you mean by the thorns,the wayside, and the rocky ground? So Jesus went on to explain what He had said. God is the sower. The seed is God's word, whether it comes to us in the Bible, our individual conscience, our headache, our neighbor, or any of the many circumstances of our everyday life. Many a seed never bears fruit. So it is with the presence and the word of God. In the hearts of some of us much of the time and in the hearts of all of us some of the time God's word finds a wayside. The seed is good but when hearts are not ready to receive it they are hard, and it cannot sink in and grow. The 'birds', whom Jesus says are Satan, come and eat it. How often the word of God, calling for reform, sown in the sinner's heart, has been repelled as soon as it was sown is know only to sinners and to God. A proud man might see an example of humility in his neighbor and be called by God to do the same, but Satan comes and steals away the inspiration and the thought is rejected. That heart is a wayside. Some of God's words fall on rocky ground. The word is received with joy. Good resolutions are made. I'm going to be a saint and love God with my whole heart and soul. But there is no root. The word of God lasts only until it is challenged. We have what has well been called a 'sunshine Christian', someone who will follow Jesus with a broad smile when He is curing the blind and the deaf and feedilng thousands, but who is unwilling to follow Him to the court of Pilate, to the scorn of Annas and Caiphas, to the humiliation of being called a devil and the the pain suffering and test of faith which is the Cross. Yet such experiences can prove very valuable in helping produce within us the beautiful likeness to Christ to which we are called. Sometimes the word of God grows best in times of trouble and persecution. Anyone who is willing to follow Jesus only when it is easy and not when it demands sacrifice and suffering is rocky ground. Perhaps at this point the Apostles began to realize more clearly why their band was few in number!
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Blog # 161 God in the Dictionary A couple of weeks ago I was reflecting upon the first words of the Apostles'Creed which we traditionally use as we begin to pray the Rosary: "I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth...". I let myself wonder whether the word God was in the dictionary. With hundreds of thousands of other words in my dictionary I should have expected that God would be among them but as I reflected opon it I hoped that was not the case. Why would I as a Catholic priest hope the word God would not be included with the other multitude of words the dictionary contained? Simply because a dictionary gives not only the correct spellingof the words it contains but also the correct meaning or DEFINITION of the words. And the word definition, together with words such as final, finite, finish line, and define all come from the Latin root finis or END. In our finite natural human limited capacity we cannot fully understand or even adequately imagine what it means to be absolutely unlimited. As a result we can appreciate what it means for us to recognize the fact we cannot define God. Any effort on our part to do so would be an attempt to place a limitation, boundary or conclusion upon God all of which would be a denial of God rather than a definition of God. When I went to the dictionary to check upon whether the word God was there I changed my mind about whether or not this was what I now would have hoped for. Now I want it to be there. This gives us an opportunity to examine and clarify our notions about God. After three definitions of false gods the God I recognize love and adore is found in 'definition' #4: "in monotheistic religions, the creatior and ruler of the universe, regarded as eternal, infinite, all-powerful, and all-knowing; Supreme Being;Almighty. These words each in its own way say God is without limits and therefore cannot be defined. That sounds just what I learned about God back in 1933 from Sister Christina Marie in the first grade of St. Thomas the Apostle school, Queens, N Y. I still do not know all that it means, but I believe it and find it a good guide in helping me appreciate and live out the Commandment Jesus gave as the first and the greatest, that I should love God above and in all that I love.