Thursday, December 27, 2012

Blog 288 Christmas 2 - 002

Christmas 2 -002

            As Jesus often used parables and natural images to help us understand and experience the mysteries of God's love, so I found myself trying to envision our sharing in the divine life which Jesus said was necessary for knowing and experiencing the Kingdom of God.  The first image came to me when on the final Sunday of Advent I noticed an altar server lighting the four candles on the Advent wreath with a single match.  The match  was sharing its fire, which for the fire we might say was its life. The candles, though designed and made to be lit could not light themselves.  I think this is similar to how it is with the gift of divine life Jesus came to bring.  All people were designed and created for God's love.  But we cannot create it.  It must be received in faith and freedom.

             A second image that came to mind made use of a magnet.  I was reflecting upon the promise of Jesus that if He be "lifted up" on the Cross He would draw all to Himself.  (Jn 12: 32; Jn 3: 14).  Jesus is not speaking merely about the physical reality of the crucifixion but rather its spiritual dimension, the total obedient love it entailed.  The word 'draw' captured my attention. I went to my tool box and got a drill bit.  I brought it close to a strong magnet that I keep on hand. 
              With the drill bit drawn to the magnet by a real but invisible force I had a good image of what Jesus said about His death. Next I substituted a kitchen knife for the drill bit and noticed how much harder it was to pull the knife away from the magnet than the drill bit. Then I used a tea spoon and that also had a strong pull. Finally I used a plastic spoon the same size and shape as the other. The magnet had no effect upon it.
                In all of these experiments the magnetic force was the same. The difference came from the various objects I was using. I could see in this a parallel with our reception of Sanctifying Grace.  The life God shares  is infinite, without limit, but since it is a personal gift it is unique in each person who receives it.  The plastic spoon did not qualify to be magnetized.  It was the right size shape and color but something within it disqualified it from being drawn to the magnet. 

                 I was reminded of how similar this was to how we are drawn to God's love.   We may be physically strong wealthy intelligent and gifted in many ways with qualities that make for a successful human life here on earth, but if we do not believe or if we choose to sin we cannot personally experience the Kingdom of God any more than the plastic spoon experiences the  drawing force of the magnet. 

Christmas is about the magnetism of the love God brought to earth in Jesus to be shared with all people. May we ever strive to be worthy of such a gift.  A little prayer I use to express my daily appreciation in response to God's presence and love says:"Live, my Triune God, so live in me that all I do be done by Thee, that all I think and all I say be Thy thoughts and words today. Amen.

Happy Christmas all year long!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Blog # 287 Christmas 1 - 001

Blog # 287 Christmas 1 - 001

              Today is Wednesday, December 26,2012, so it is too late to wish you a Happy Christmas, right?  Well, not really.  Our Church calendar celebrates Christmas for a full eight days and today is within that octave, so I am actually right on time.  And from another point of view, if there is any substance to the wish on some of the Christmas greetings we receive that the peace and hope and joy of Christmas might remain with us all year long and beyond, I am on time again!  And I think there can and should be a significant substance to such a wish.  In fact that is what this blog is going to be about.

               It started several weeks ago at the beginning of Advent with the customary Advent question "Why was Jesus born?"  'Reasons' that may have come to your mind by merely reading that question here in my blog are probably the same or similar as came to my mind again this year.  ...because God loved us so much He wanted to be  as close as possible to us, right among us, Emmanuel, to be our friend, give us good example, encouragement and power even in temptation, to suffer and die to win for us forgiveness for our since and show us from the Cross how much the Father was worth to Him, how much He loved the Father and how much the Father and He loved us, to go to Heaven and prepare a place for us there...

               These and similar insights were all true and valuable in helping us appreciate the significance of Christmas as the initiation of the life-story of the Word of God incarnate on earth.  Surely Jesus was not sent merely for that single first day of His life among us, though if you witnessed it only from the point of view of the business world you might get that impression  The lighted trees are put away. Beautiful Christmas wrappings and decorations are valued at half price or less. We tend to think less of Christmas until next year and it happens again  for all who will not have died in the meantime.

              But our Church calendar is right.  Christmas is more than a day.  The birth of Jesus bought to earth a new eternal relationship to God of one of us, Jesus, and in Him all of us who believe and are Baptized.  

               So we watch the baby Jesus grow.  A boy. A man. He is good and generous, doing all that we would expect from Him. Eventually He publicly claims that God is His Father. When someone questions Him about His age, He says "Before Abraham came to be, I AM.  That is the same way Yahweh spoke of Himself when Moses asked Him who it was who was sending Moses to free the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. 

            So the people knew Jesus was  making Himself equal to God.  They were not mistaken here.  Jesus would say it again on more than one occasion.  "Philip, whoever sees Me sees the Father".  (Jn 14: 9.  :If you knew Me you would know the Father also."   (Jn 8: 19;  14: 7).  "The father and I are one.  (Jn 10: 30).  Jesus clearly claimed to be God.  The people accused Jesus of blasphemy. They could not believe God could be so humble.

                In His conversation with Nicodemus in chapter five of John ( v. 3), Jesus says a  person must be born from above to see the kingdom of God.  In this context the word 'see' can mean to know, understand, or experience.  Thinking Jesus was referring to a second natural birth, Nicodemus asks how could it be that a person could enter his mother's womb a second time and be born again.  Jesus clarifies the issue.  He is speaking of a spiritual reality rather then a physical one.  

              In this light we realize Jesus is speaking of the same spiritual reality when in other significant texts He uses the word 'life'.  Texts such as "Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you  have no life in you" (Jn 6: 53), and "...the person who feeds on this bread
shall live forever" (Jn 6: 58) do not refer to our physica human life but rather to the spiritual life of faith Jesus made reference to in His conversation with Nicodemus.

                This is the common life we share as members of Christ's Body, the Church, and, as Jesus put it,  as branches on the living vine.  God became one of us in Jesus so that by faith we might in Him share God's divine life in our limited human way.  This is the gift we refer to as the gift of Sanctifying Grace, the gift that makes us holy or like to God.

                In telling the Apostles to preach the Gospel to every creature throughout the world Jesus is revealing that it is the Father's will that all should be invited to share this gift of new supernatural life in Him. How sad it is that we are so far from realizing this plan of the Father for all people. No wonder the Church can't let go of Christmas in just one day!   

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Blog # 213 Advent - c Gifts

Blog # 213 Advent - c     Gifts  

                   Each Christmas, and sometimes in between, I take down a shoe box from the top shelf in my clothes closet. In the box is a toy clown on a bicycle that can peddle his way back and forth on a length of string held in the air by another person and myself. The clown is a gift that was given to me over forty years ago. I keep it and take it out again to remind myself of the lesson I learned from that simple toy.

                    The clown was given to me as a Christmas gift jointly from my nieces Cathy and Jeannie. They are the two oldest daughters of my brother Tom. At the time they gave me the gift they were about ten and eight years old. I was already forty. What could I do with a toy except let myself be amused with it for a day or so and then give it away to a child? But I have it yet. What happened in between?

                   The clown became for me a holy thing, a 'sacramental' as we say of such objects as blessed or holy water, statues of holy people, books of prayer, relics of Saints, etc. , things that tend to inspire us, remind us of our relationship with God, or motivate us to seek and serve God and one another better.

                   Forty-four years ago Cathy and Jeannie were living in Ventura, California. I was teaching at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana. For several consecutive celebrations of Christmas I spent the Christmas vacation from the seminary visiting them. Eventually there were five girls and one boy in my brother's family. We sort of grew up together as we corresponded through the mail and celebrated Christmas together. We were good friends and loved one another deeply. On the Christmas I received the clown, Cathy and Jeannie were old enough to have a little money of their own and could choose a gift for different people in the family themselves. Mine was the clown. A toy.

               What made me so happy about it and helped me turn it into a holy thing for me was the fact they saw me as still a child, as one of them, sort of equal to them even though I was already over forty. We used to play together around the house, crayoned coloring books together, went on walks, and jumped rope out on the back patio. I always enjoyed wrestling with their big brown dog, admired the beauty of their tropical fish, and was fascinated by whatever frogs lizards or salamanders they might have in a special enclosure in the back yard. They knew me pretty well and decided the clown would be a good gift for me that Christmas.

                 And it was, not only for that Christmas, but for all of them ever since. That is because of the lesson the clown still teaches me. The lesson is this: The identity we see in a person we love determines the gift we wish to give that person. My nieces saw me as one of them, as a child. They gave me a toy. If all I did while I was with them was pray they probably would have tried to find a prayer book for me as a gift. If the only game I tried to play with them was tennis they might have given me a few tennis balls.

                 The basic lesson here applies to all love and to all people. It applies to our love for God and God's love for us. So we ask the very important questions: 1)What can God give to me? and 2) What can I give to God? The answer to these questions depends upon the identity God gives to me and the identity I give to God. Just as the identity my nieces gave to me as one who would enjoy the clown came to them through a process of our relating to one another over a period of time, the games, the songs we sang, the tropical fish and the food we enjoyed at family meals, so the identity we give to God determining the gifts we wish to make to Him is a process that ideally keeps going on as we experience more of life and identify God again and again in new and more perfect ways as our love for God develops and our gifts to God become different through the years.

                 Could I give God the gift of trust if God were to give me the gift of cancer? Could I give to God the gift of forgiving someone who has betrayed or injured me? Could I give to God the gift of prayer for wisdom when difficult decisions are placed before me? Could I give to God some time in prayer each morning and each evening when God gives me the gift of the beginning and the end of every day? The answer to these and similar questions depends upon the identity I give to God.

                 If God is predominantly fearsome for me I may give God the gift of obedience, but not that of love. If God and my relationship with God is identified by me as one value among others rather than a value above and beyond all values, I can hardly pledge to God my total love. I may obey the Commandments out of fear or of some other selfish motive, but if we identify God as lovable and because we identify God as lovable, we obey the Commandments out of love. That is a greater difference than the difference between night and day.
               We are on our way through Advent to Christmas , the season of love, the season of gifts.  God so loved the world that He gave His only Son...(Jn 3:16). Jesus is God's gift to all the world. How sad it is that only a minority of the world's population realize and experience this and have in faith received Jesus as a perfect gift of the Father's perfect love. Years ago when after Christmas my nieces went back to school and I went back to St. Meinrad we exchanged letters through the mail. They told me on paper of their fish and frogs and jumping rope, their cuts and bruises, their joy and their love. How much better it was when I came to them and shared my love and concern in the three dimensions of their living room and kitchen, their back yard and their church.

                 And so it is with Jesus. He comes to us in a real way on the pages of the Bible, but in a better way and even more closely than the mere three dimensions of our living room, office, kitchen or church. In the gift of Sanctifying Grace the Resurrected Jesus comes to us and dwells within us, in our minds by faith and in our hearts by love. I can't imagine Him coming any closer than that. What a gift!   Lord, help us prepare well for Christmas 2012!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Blog # 212 Advent - b

Blog # 212  Advent - b

               In our Catholic experience of  faith we claim for God our Creator the power that wills the earth to be constantly spinning at a rate of more than a thousand miles an hour at the equator and to move in its orbit at a rate of 1,500,000 miles each day as it travels around the sun . In Advent we prepare to celebrate and respond to another power of God even more wonderful and mysterious than the physical power that moves the earth and stars.

               It is the power, shared with us by faith, that enables us to discover and to love God as our Creator, the power to pray, to receive forgiveness for our sins, to love and be kind even to our enemies, to believe in life eternal, to hope to be worthy of everlasting peace and joy beyond the grave, and the power to rejoice in the transforming new life  that comes to us in Baptism.

                In part I can imagine, because it is so dependable, we can take the power that rules the movements of the earth and stars for granted. Yet we can do nothing but marvel at it when we stop to reflect upon it. So it is we can take for granted the marvelous multifaceted power that comes to us through faith in Jesus.

              Advent presents an invitation for us to step back and reflect again upon our life and the powers God invites us to receive in our identity with Jesus through faith and Baptism. It is a time to grow in our knowledge and love for God through growing in our knowledge and appreciation of ourselves as Christian believers.

            We grow intellectually as we increase our treasury of information. It works like this. First we want to be able to recognize letters of the alphabet. Then we want to be able to make words by combining the letters we have learned. Then we want to be able to read the comic strip in the daily paper, then the editorial, then the text book in our science class. Then we want to be able to combine our words in such a way they become a message from our inmost heart, telling someone we love how much this is so. Then perhaps prose is not enough and we want to write a poem. All of it is connected as we grow as a person.  All of it begins and is  based upon the very first knowledge we attained about the letters of the alphabet .

             This is just an illustration and reminder of something that is true of growth in other fields as well as grammar and language. It is true of math medicine and theology. The more questions we have the more information will be ours, and the more opportunity we will have to grow.

              Here is one way it applies. We are driving north on I-95. We stop and eat at Shoney's. We have spaghetti and meat balls and a salad. It costs $ 4,25, the price for seniors. It is one PM. We finish our meal and are on our way. That is the physical part of it. It could be the same for someone other than ourselves. Now for the question of the value of what is going on. We are very tired. We had a short night's rest and a long drive to arrive at Shoney's. We are still a long way from New Jersey. No one else in the restaurant knows what it is costing us to make this trip but we are very willing and happy to be paying that price because of the value we have placed on the goal of the trip. We are going to spend Christmas with Grandma. She is 91 now and that has something to do with the value of  our heading north on I-95.

Some of the people in Shoney's will not even notice us. We will be visible but not seen by all. They will not ask us if  we are tired or happy. They will never know. We will not make any difference to them. Our relationship to one another will not grow beyond the physical one of being in the same restaurant at a particular time of a particular day.

                 Now look at it another way. Suppose I never ask questions of myself ? As a result I might not ever  know who I really am. We, the inner person present in each of us, would never make much difference to the body that is mine. My relationship to my daily human experiences will not grow beyond the physical awareness of being hungry tired hot cold comfortable existing in some particular place at some particular time, changing by way of growing in age, but not in meaning purpose wisdom and goodness. How sad that would be!

            Unfortunately, most of the influence upon our daily lives at the present moment in history here in the US seems to encourage just such a situation. How many ads on TV encourage us to grow beyond the physical possibilities that are open to us? How much emphasis do you think would be placed upon Christmas if it were not a money-maker? Who cares whether the tremendous number of men and women in prisons around the country right now are happy as long as they are kept from causing trouble on our streets? Who is bothered by the fact and the consequences of the fact the average chief executive officer of a large American Company made forty times the wage of an average worker in the Company two decades ago and now he or she sometimes makes a hundred ninety times a worker's salary ? Advent is a time of questions, a time of growth. Who am I?  What am I doing, physically, intellectually spiritually? Is there any change going on in my life? What really matters to me?  In what direction am I going? Jesus comes to help with the answers.

           The infant of Christmas will grow up and proclaim  for  himself  the title Good
 Shepherd.  He will tell us he came that his sheep may have life and have it to the full.  ( Jn 10: 10).  He will tell us that as the Father loved  him he loved  us so that his joy may be ours and our joy may be complete.  ( Jn  15: 9, 11).  In these two texts taken together I hear Jesus telling us,as one of us, that  he knows  and acknowledges the goodness and value of our human natural joy but knows too and proclaims this joy is designed to be completed with the supernatural joy Jesus knew as the Father's beloved Son so that through the gifts of faith and Baptism the Father could indeed love us and all people throughout the world as He loves Jesus. That is the love that is rooted in Christmas and blossoms in the Resurrection of Jesus.  It is our story through faith in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit!  

         Is a greater awareness understanding and appreciation of God Our Father's unique love 
  for you in Jesus His Beloved Son among the gifts you desire to receive receive this Christmas?  Be on the lookout for it.  It will be wrapped in faith, trust, and freedom.                                        

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Blog # 214 Advent - d

Blog # 214 Advent - d

                 Could you ever imagine that God would be sitting on the ground calling a puppy over to Himself to play with Him?

           Yes, that is hard or impossible to imagine. Yet that is exactly what we believe of Jesus, a divine Person, who came among us as one of us, capable and willing to share our life on earth, yet keeping His identity as God. Jesus grew hungry and tired. He ate our fish and fell asleep on a cushion on Peter's boat. He had to walk from Jerusalem to Jericho. He enjoyed the puppies of His day. Yet Jesus is God! In Jesus was all that we know of the human within ourselves other than our sins. Yet the PERSON called Jesus is Divine! As one of us, Jesus does invite us to follow His example of human goodness, generosity, mercy, humility, and prayer. But as divine He invites us to share by faith God's very Life/Love through with and in Him in a very real way. We are invited to experience in Him not just a better human life but a new life in addition to our natural human life. Born "from above" by faith, we are a new creation, God's holy temple, the body of Christ, branches on a vine. ( Jn 3:11; Jn 1:11ff. 1Cor 6: 19; Gal 2:20; 2Cor 5:17; Rom 12: 3ff; 1Cor 10: 17; Jn 15; 5. and other texts).

                  As we begin to reflect upon and understand this new identity of ours it begins to appear almost as unimaginable and marvelous as the notion of God sitting on the ground and calling a puppy over to play with Him. Yet it is a simple and clear task to relate these ideas about God among us in Jesus ( Emmanuel), and our union with God through Jesus in the new life that is ours, referred to as the gift of Sanctifying Grace. Moses, a 'fore-runner' of Jesus in his role as leader of God's liberation of His chosen people from the slavery of Egypt , tells the people their obedience to the commands of God will bring them life and entrance into a new land which God wishes to give them. The process leads to a wisdom on the part of God's people that is a source of inspiration and wonder to their neighbors. Our life in Jesus is designed to do the same for us. A new patience is to be ours, parents with children, pastors with people, neighbor with neighbor. A new faithfulness, and new generosity, a new mercy, a new prayer, a new 'land'. (cf Deut 4:1,2,6-8)

                  The entire letter of James is very clear on the practical effects of our new birth in Jesus. "...welcome the word that has taken root in you with its power ...Act on it. If all you do is listen to it you are deceiving yourselves." (James 1:17 - 18, 21,22,27). And in the Gospel, for example in Mark 7: 1 - 8,14,15,21 - 23, Jesus clearly faults anyone who is taken up merely with the externals of obedience and not its faithful love. Good works done for show can be an obstacle to holiness. Playing with a puppy done out of joy can be a religious experience. The first Christmas gave God as Jesus the beginning of His opportunity of going before us in our experience of this truth. In the light of this I have formed the habit not of wishing for people a mere merry Christmas but a happy one! Such a greeting can be honest and applied to those for whom life at the present moment is going along very well but also for someone who for the time being is poor sick or suffering in any way.


Blog # 211 Advent -a

Blog # 211 Advent -a

                 We find many promises made by God in the Bible . By faith we know the absolute trustworthiness of God and that every promise made by God will be fulfilled. God's promise to send a redeemer, a savior of all the world, has been fulfilled in Jesus. 

                Yet, since Jesus was is and will be the savior of all, the promise of God to send Jesus was made to all and will be fulfilled for all, personally and individually. In other words salvation is not something already done, in the past alone,  but is now, and will be as long as history continues. It is something already fulfilled and not yet fulfilled completely.

                 In each of us who have believed and are Baptized the promise of salvation in Jesus has been fulfilled. Yet this afternoon and tomorrow if we are still on earth the promise will continue to be fulfilled anew. We are constantly being invited and called by God to be more aware of, to understand more fully, and to appreciate and experience more deeply the promise of salvation and its fulfillment in the world in general and in us personally.

                To help us do this we have the Season of Advent as an annual current gift of God's redeeming love. We make an effort to taste the hunger of the Prophets of old as they lived and died trusting the promise of God to send a savior. We spend four weeks reflecting upon how the world and we would be without Jesus, and how it and we could be with and in Him. One of the problems is we are not in the habit of reflecting this way. There are many distractions in and around us. The religious questions are not a large part of our everyday agenda. The experience of faith might primarily have something to do with prayers of petition in time of need. Or the primary work of faith for some is the work of building the earth rather than building our personal relationship with God and through this relationship building God's work of justice and peace on earth.

             Also there are so many distractions within and around us and so much pressure in the processs of trying to make a decent living it is hard to find time or form the habit of thinking of God beyond the token of one hour a week on Sunday. If we are serious about receiving and fulfilling God's promise of salvation in Jesus personally, we should be looking for and discovering reminders of that promise and insights into its meaning for us. I will share here a few of the opportunities I have found as I await the birth of the Lord to grow in my eagerness for His coming. Through them I see more frequently and clearly the connection between His birth and that portion of creation I know as my everyday experience of life. Perhaps they will be useful to you as an invitation to find similar reminders in your life.

                  A mail box has as its purpose  to receive the mail. It is waiting until the mail comes to be its complete self. It is in an Advent mode. Some of the water coming from the local reservoir will cook my carrots. It is waiting for me to open the faucet and let it out, to let it serve me as it should. A door is waiting to be opened or closed. A taxi, a birthday cake, an expectant mother, a parking meter, a pencil, a saw hanging in the garage, all are waiting to be what they were made to be.

                  When I lie down to sleep at night the whole world is waiting for me to awake and appear in the morning. No one but God, Father Word and Holy Spirit and  I may realize this, but it would be true if I rose with a prayer for all people in my heart each day and a will to serve the Lord as best I can in my small corner of creation. Dishes plates cups utensils and food wait each day for their fulfillment in us. The work to which each of us is uniquely called waits for us to come. More than waiting for Christmas, we see Christmas waiting for us, to welcome the Lord Jesus and join Him in His current joy. The hour of His birth has come, the simple chosen place is ready, in the manger of our hearts. Bethlehem belongs to us. We are saved! Come, Lord Jesus!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Blog # 286 A Psalm shared

Blog # 286  A Psalm shared

Yesterday morning as  I was about to begin the daily experience of praying the breviary,  some thoughts came to me that I wanted to share with you in a blog.  I clearly remembered more than one Spiritual Director  back in the days of my seminary training reminding us the prayers and readings that made up our daily use of the breviary were  not the private prayer of an individual Christian believer but rather were part of the Church's official publc worship. I had assumed the responsibility and privilege of praying in the name of  the entire Church at the time I was ordained for this as a subdeacon back in 1953.

Clear evidence  and an invitation to be aware of this responsibility and privilege  can be found in the prayer that is daily given to introduce  the breviary: " Lord, open my lips. - And my mouth shall declare your praise."  Even when a large community of monks or a group of priests would be praying the breviary together the official opening words do not change  from my lips and my mouth to  our
mouths and our lips.

The entire Church throughout the world, individuals made one  in the Sacrament of Baptism in a relationshp with one another that is closer than the natural relationships that make a Frenchman close to a Frenchman, a Chinese to a Chinese,  male and female to one another, husbands to wives, parents to children , children to parents and to peers in a natural human family,  rich and poor, old and  young, saints and sinners, sick and well, suffering and celebrating, some to continue living on earth fifty, sixty, or more years, some to 'die' tomorrow,  all sharing God's everlasting infinite  love made one by the Holy Spirit in the Body of Jesus the Church.

All of this is true for the monks who are identified in their dedication to praying the breviary as public worship in community.  They are supported in their dedication by the faith and the beautiful sounds of their singing companions.
Diocesan, or 'secular' priests as we are sometimes labeled,
do not have the daily audible support of a monastic
community, but we do have the authenticity, opportunity, and obligation  of praying the breviary daily in union with and as a blessing  for the  entire Church throughout the world.

I am not sure every priest sees it this way, but that is the way I learned it back sixty years ago, and it continues to be a blessing for which I am thankful every day. 

The thought that got me going on this blog and I wanted to share with you came when I was praying Psalm 1.  It was a special blessing for me and a genuine source of encouragement.  I thought this belongs to the people as well as to me. Don't keep it to yourself.  Give it to anyone who might read  your blog and it might be the sort of blessing for them as it was for you.

 Pray it rather than just reading it, a bit more slowly and thoughtfully than you might do if you were just reading it and see what happens. When I prayed it the other day  I was praying it for you. Neither one of us knew it was precisely for you. But God knew.  May it be a blessing for you!

Psalm One  - true happiness.

Happy the person who follows not  the counsel of the wicked   Nor walks in the way of sinners, nor sits in the company of the insolent,   But delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on his law day and night.    He is like a tree planted near running water,    That yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade. [Whatever he does prospers.]   Not so the wicked, not so;  They are like chaff which the wind drives way.  Therefore in judgment the wicked shall not stand, nor shall sinners, in the assembly of the just.  For the Lord watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked vanishes. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Blog # 285 Ten Lepers

Blog # 285   Ten Lepers

The Gospel reading at Mass on Wednesday of this week was from Luke 17: 11 - 19.  Jesus and some of his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem where he, the  Eternal Word , Emmanuel, God-Among-Us, will experience the greatest human love of his entire life on earth in his unconditional total obedient love for the Father on Calvary.  As he entered a village  ten lepers shouted out a spirited appeal.  "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!."  Jesus directed them to go to show themselves to the priests.  On their way all ten of them were healed.  One of them returned to praise and thank Jesus for what he had done.  " Were not all made whole?  Where are the other nine?"

The Gospel narrative does not even hint that any of the lepers were evil men.  None of them are identified as  thieves or robbers, adulterers or any other specific type of sinner.  Yet Jesus is disappointed in the failure of nine of the lepers to come back to him because in this they missed out on the greater and most important part of the gift that was offered them.  We can easily imagine how happy they must have been in their new life and  reunion with their families in perfect  health.

This was the physical, temporary part of the total gift that had been offered them. I imagine this must have been all they were aware of , desired, shouted after, or received.  The part they missed was a personal unique relationship of praise and thanks with the healer, signified and proclaimed by the one leper who returned  to Jesus and fell to his knees before Him. No less humanly happy and blessed than the nine, this man tasted a spiritual joy that told him he was loved as well as healed.  He received the total gift.

These thoughts led me to come up with another question: "Where is the one?"  If the problem we see for the nine lepers began and perhaps was constituted by unawareness
of a personal relationship with the healer,  it follows that we don't need to be a leper to be  among the nine.  Physical  health  maintained as well as regained  is a giftAll of creation is a gift.  God is the sole designer author creator owner and giver of illness as well as of healing. The only thing that should not exist and does not have a right to exist is sin.  Faith is our guide in our awareness of this and love is the measure of our response.

To personally verify, experience, and  respond to God' presence and love is the core of our Christian life.  We should be forming and safeguarding a conscious habit  of being aware of what we believe and responding to our faith in a personal relationship of love with our Creator. This is the element that seems to have been missing in the experience of the nine lepers.
As in a factory that manufactures no matter what, there is need for quality control, so in our Christian journey to our 'Jerusalem' and our 'Calvary' there is need for check-ups and check points to guarantee we are aware of  the danger of unawareness and the  blessing of  growth in our faith and love.  Examples of this would be in our seeing and experiencing the  ever-present sun moon and stars as personal gifts from our Creator,  the gift of being able to walk, in itself,  but also for the gift of a reason and someplace to go, the gift of colors shapes and sounds expanded in their ability to paint or appreciate beauty,  use a ruler, cook a meal, or sing a song and not to stop there but rejoice in the wonder of the gift of being consciousjy aware of standing walking sitting kneeling existing in our personal relationship with  God  in union with Jesus, God's  belovd Son.   

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Blog # 284 Two Widows

Blog #284  Two Widows

The 1st and 3rd  Bible readings at Mass on  the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, were 1 Kings 17: 10 - 16,  and Mark  12: 38 - 44.  Each of the readings tells us of a  poor widow.
 In the first reading the prophet Elijah goes to Zarephath.  At the entrance to the city he meets a poor widow gathering sticks.  It was a time of a terrible drought.  Elijah asks her in the name of God for a cup of water and some bread.   All the widow has is a "handful of flour and a little oil".  She is gathering the sticks for a fire to  make something for herself and her son "before we die"...

The prophet tells her not to be afraid, to do what she had planned but first give him what he requested.  With his request he gives the widow a promise.  "For the Lord God  says, ' The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth." She left and did as Elijah had said.   She was able to eat for a year...the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the Lord had foretold through

The lesson proposed in this story is that God is worthy of unconditional trust.  Every promise God makes will be fulfilled. 

The second widow is also very poor.  Jesus notices her putting a small donation in one of the collection baskets placed at the entrances to the temple and calls over his disciples  to tell them the widow put in more than all the rest who contributed  much more money but only from their surplus and for show whereas the widow put in less but all she had, motivated not by hope of being praised or for show but  in response to her relationship with God and her conviction God was worth her entire love. 

The lesson proposed in this story is that God is worthy of our total love. Everything that exists is a gift from God.  All of creation invites us to discover and enter into a personal relationship with God, that of total love resulting in praise thanksgiving peace and joy. 

A new and very impressive insight came to me yesterday in the response of Jesus to the love of the second widow.  Our eternal triune infinite God, Father, Word, and Holy Spirit, cannot 'be' nor be imagined as 'experiencing' the limitations of our human responses such as appreciation and gratitude for the love of those around us, including the love of God in creation,  as wonderful and worthy as these limitations might be for us.    However in the experience of the historical Jesus,  Emmanuel, God-Among-Us,  equal to us in all but sin and equal to the Father and the Spirit as the Person of the Eternal Word, God could and did experience our human emotions.  This was born out in His response to the generous love of the poor widow in the temple.  I saw Jesus as humanly proud of the widow and humanly happy in seeing her generous love.  It brought to mind the words of Isaiah (62: 5) : "as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you".

"Come here and look at this", He called to His disciples. Then He told them the poor widow gave  more than all the rest in giving all she had and we have another example of the love He had been telling them about and living among them in His love and generosity to people in need even down to sinners, and would show them (and us !) at its best from His experience of total love for our Father God in His human death on Calvary and  which would be available to every human creature ever to be created if only they had it explained to them  by the word and example  of those who would know by faith  the real meaning of death is total love  and death is the only opportunity given to fulfill perfectly the first of all the Commandments , to love God by giving over to Him all we have.

Isn't it time in our current moment of almost instantaneous world-wide communication to take the Savior's command to evangelize the entire world more seriously and personally at least by daily prayer and by any other means the Lord may put at our disposal to tell the world that to die means to love at its best?    Lord help us be worthy to give You this perfect love as You are the only one worthy to receive it.  Amen !

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Blog # 283 The Year of Faith (2012 - 2013 ) - 5

Blog # 283 The Year of  Faith ( 2012 - 2013) -5

I can imagine many children at one time or another have been told by mothers and fathers to stay away from a hot stove because it will injure them.  They could have discovered the same truth by the experience of touching the stove.  Experience and faith are  two ways we have of discovering truth

Faith, similar to experience as a revealer of tuth,and  as a companion to experience in revealing truth, is not an enemy but a friendWithout faith some significant and consequential truth could not be ours. In the light of this insight we appreciate the value of faith as a friend. I think some people have a fear or hesitation when it comes to accepting the gift of  faith because it reveals truth that cannot  be ours in the ordinary limited familiar way we have of possessing truth.  They may have a feeling it represses or  diminishes our freedom when in reality it  is a friend of freedom and requires freedom to exist!  

However, in spite of whatever it might be that keeps people away from an awareness of our need for faith and a desire for faith, it still remains that not every truth we can imagine and want to know as truth can be discovered by experience.  Faith claims and proposes for our acceptance  answers  to important questions we have that cannot be answered by experience. For example:  Is there a single Creator of all that exists?  And if so, is that Creator personal, and can we be in a personal relationship with that Creator?  Is that Creator benign and worthy of our unconditional trust and total love?  Is there conscious life for human creatures beyond  their physical death?

These questions, the answers we give to them , and the conclusions we draw from our answers in faith or in lack of faith are of significant importance to the whole human community throughout the world and throughout our human history.  There are other questions that are of importance to each of us primarily as they affect us individually. 
Our options in responding to such questions are similar to those that are ours with regard to the universal ones and a review of the process of arriving at faith in answer to one set of  questions throws light on the process of arriving at faith in answer to the second set.     

 Here is how the process works with the individual questions. Who is my father and my mother? and Are these five boys living in our house my brothers?  I am too young and therefore incompetent to know by experience the truth that comes in answer to these  inportant questions. I am confident, however, that I know the truth in question on the testimony of Mary and John Hughes , my mother and father.  I am the youngest in a family of six boys.  That becomes true for me on the testimony of my mother and father,  by faith.
Truth in general can be mine  on the testimony of  someone whom I take as a reliable witness, by faith.  To know truth,  whether it by faith or experience,  is one thing.  To respond to it is another. To know this man is my brother is one thing.  To love him is another.  So it is with faith.  I may know all the answers requred to get  an A grade in a  religion course at school.  To live the truth of those answers in my everyday life,  to use it effectively in my quest for holiness, is what the world around me is waiting for and has a right to expect.

One of the 'reasons' I have for loving God as I do is one that I do not remember ever hearing from anyone else as having this reason among the reasons they harbor for loving God. It is very simple. Yet for me it is profound. It came to me when I contrasted experience with faith.

Experience 'captures' 'conquers' 'takes away' freedom. For example: I buy four oranges. That is my experience. I touch them with my fingers. Four. I see them with my eyes.Four. I count them them with my mind. Four. I can lie to you or someone else and contradict my experience by telling you I bought ten oranges but I cannot lie to myself. I have freedom in choosing my experiences but I am not free in determining their content.

In contrast, faith is 'built' on freedom and requires freedom to exist. When it comes to faith, what is proposed for me to believe can be true or not true as far as my limited experience or completence to know is concerned. The choice is mine to make in freedom and trust. In this I find the 'reason' I referred to for loving God more.

When it comes to an act of supernatural faith, there is a personal relationship with God the REVEALER , and that is another 'reason' I have for loving God as I do. GOD ,Infinite, All-Powerful, Unimaginably Good, Loveable Beyond Measure and all the rest of terms we grasp in an analogous way when we try to think and speak of God, HE, YAHWEH, ALLAH, FATHER WORD AND SPIRIT, knowing me personally from a 'time' beyond time and as modern science points out from a distance beyond fifty billion light years away yet HERE AND NOW, gives me, a mere simple limited creature the gift of faith,  knowing Him  in my unique human capacity and consequently the opportunity of responding to His eternal love with my own love through with and in Jesus the prime witness to Himself and to all that in freedom I believe.

I can imagine it could have been otherwise. We could have been created with other of the wonderful perfections we posses as highly developed creatures but motivated as lower animals are by instinct rather than in freedom. We would do what is right for us and never sin. We could not sin without freedom.

In this Year of Faith I pray that all Catholics will take the invitation of Pope Benedict seriously and make a special effort to grow in our awareness and understanding of the content of our faith and in our response to what be believe in new efforts to grow in holiness, for our own individual sake, for the sake of the Church and the world, and most importantly as a joyful witness  to  God's love for us and our love for God.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Blog # 282 The Year of Faith (2012 - 2013) - 4

Blog # 282 The Year of Faith ( 2012 - 2013 ) - 4

          An important insight into the nature of faith, is the realization that faith is a gift. As gift, faith cannot be bought earned or created through study or desire.  Faith must be received.  One person or another, or the same person at different stages of his or her life with different  circumstances present may be better or less well prepared to receive the gift, but the gift  of faith comes to us in no other way than as a gift

             I don't think we always realize the importance of defining faith as a gift  and consequently do not emphasize this identity of faith strongly and clearly enough in our religious eduction efforts. As a consequence we miss out on some  important elements that go along with the process or experience of believing. For example the very word gift implies love, loving and being loved, on the part of both the gift  giver and the one receiving the gift.  Here is a significant difference from seeing and responding to faith, falsely, as if it were ours under labels such a salary, earnings, an accomplishment , or a reward.

            Along with our definition of faith as a gift comes a personal relationhip between the giver and the receiver.  The process of believing God should not be treated as a process such as discovering the number of jelly beans in a jar by counting them one by one.  In this process the 'revealer' of the information we were seeking is ourselves with no other person required to be present in the room.  In the mysterious process of a person coming to a conscious act of faith in God,  God, the giver through creation of every creature that exists,  always and everywhere present in some way whether we realize this or not, is now present by faith and known as  in love with that person, uniquely and by name.

What you  have just read is true of course not only with regard to a certain persons's first conscious act of faith but of every genuine conscious act of faith throughout a person's life.  How appropriate valuable and joyful it is therefore to maintain a habit of praying the prayer we call an act of faith and which  those of us who attended Catholic grade schools and CCD pograms of religious education learned as children. "O my God, I firmly believe that Thou are one God in three Divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe that Thy Divine Son became man and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead.  I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because Thou hast revealed them, who canst neither deceive nor be deceived.  Amen."

There are other insights with regard to faith that could prove useful in our efforts to make this year a Year of Faith  so hang on for Blog  # 283 - 5. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Blog # 281 The Year of Faith (2012 - 2013) - 3

Blog # 281 The Year of Faith (2012 - 2013 )  - 3

A good place to start in the process of gaining spiritiual profit from our experience of theYear of Faith is to establish the meaning of faith.   In its strict theological sense faith is identified with an act of believing, that is, an act of taking something as true on the word of another. It must definitely and clearly be distinguished from an act of taking a guess, having  a certain  opinion, an act of hope, or of  superstition. In a less strict sense faith is sometimes used in a sense of having confidence or trust in another person independently of  the element of taking that person's word as true. In this sense it is seen as a preparation or condition for faith in its strict sense.  Faith is refered to as natural or supernatural depending upoon whether the revealer of the truth is human or divine.

I looked up the word faith in my concordance and found that it occurs 494 times  so it must be important in our task of working out our salvation.  In fact some of the texts identified faith not only as more important in a similar category as other virtues that are helpfull on our way , but most important and essentially important in that faith is the foundation for our knowledge of the very reality of God our Creator, and hence of all that stems from and is rooted in that basic truth.

Here are just a few samples of the texts that help us come to our conclusion as to the importance of faith in the Christian economy of salvation.  (Wis. 1: 2)  "the Lord is found by those who test him  not, and he manifests himself to those who do not disbelieve him."  (Mat 17: 19) "...if you  had faith the size of a mustard seed, you would be able to say to this mountain, "Move from here to there", and it would move. Nothing would be impossible for you."  ( Gal 5: 6 )  "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor the lack of it counts for anything; only faith, which expresses itself through love."  (2 Tim 4: 7)  I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith." (Heb 11: 6) "...without faith it is impossible to please God.  Anyone who comes to God must believe he exists."  ( James 2: 26)  " Be assured, then, that faith without works is as dead as a body without breath." (Eph 2: 8) "...salvation is yours through faith." (Rom 4: 20 ). "Abraham never qustioned or doubted God's promise; rather he was strengthened in faith and gave glory to God, fully persuaded that God could do whatever he had promisd."  

Faith is a tool, like an alphabet, a saw, a map, a recipe book. A saw hanging in the garage is a saw, but not in its complete meaning until it is sawing.  So with the letters of an alphabet, A to Z.   Strung togeher they can share the truth of a history book, the beauty of a poem,  the wonderful taste of fresh baked Irish soda bread , the memory of  home made peach jam and a prayer of thanks for the tree in your back yard and the goodness, skill, and love of your mother when you were just a boy 75 years ago. In these instances the alphabet 'lives', to use the term James gives us in reference to faith. 

Here is how the term 'living' works for faith.  Let me pose as the revealer.  I come before you with a claim  that God is real, the sole Creator of us all and of all that exists. Do you believe it?   I claim there are and have been many witnesses among us  that help us believe and invite us to believe, lives of holy men and women who suffered a great deal and sometimes torture and death for the sake of their faith yet were, through faith, among the happiest of  those living around them.  Then  come the ordinary people like most of us who, through faith,  praised and thanked God  in prayer and generous love for their neighbor and tasted the joy of believing God's word. The sun  helps me believe because it speaks to me of God's power.  The bees help me believe  because they speak to me of God's wisdom. A mother's  self-giving generous love helps me believe because it speaks to me of God's wonderful goodness and love.  

There are a few more insights in reference to the Year of Faith we want to consider so hang on for blog # 282.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Blog # 280 The Year of FAITH (2012 - 2013), 2

BLOG # 280  The Year of  fAITH  (2012 - 2013) , 2

Pope Benedict's proclamation  of a Year of Faith beginning Oct 10. 2012 and ending November 1, 2013 gave me special joy. As I see it, the agenda for the Year focuses for the entire Catholic Church at this particular moment of history the condition of our seven billion fellow human creatures and our responsibility and relationship toward  ourselves and  them in the light of our Baptismal commitment to  God as beleiving Catholic Christians.  It should be a time for examining renewing and strengthening our awareness , understanding, and proclamation of our personal individual and worldwide community response in faith to the message that Jesus brought from Heaven of holiness leading to justice love peace joy and eternal life for all people.

 My hope is we will be inspired and directed by the attitude and strategy Pope John Paul II called for under the title given it by him as the ' new evangelization' of the world. We will recognize more clearly and explicitly the holiness and presence of God in all of creation and become more aware of the sincerity of others who claim and experience a faith and relationship with God different from our own.  Rather than seeing and emphasizing religious experiences that are different from our own  as evil or wrong, we will see the good that is present in them and recognize it as good, genuine faith, and God-given, but for the time being as incomplete.   

All of this reminds me of a story I presume is imaginary but can be effective in illustrating what I see as our real and serious responsibility as baptized Christians toward our Catholic faith, and the command of Jesus to share that faith thrughout the world. 

The story is of a famous tight-rope walker.  He set up a tight rope across the  Niagra Falls and proclaimed he could push a wheel-barrow across the Falls with any man or woman who would volunteer for it sitting in the wheel-barrow. He announced the date and time for his performance and a huge crowd gathered on both sides of the River to watch. He asked for a volunteer from the crowd.  A man climbed the ladder going up to the starting point to stand along-side of the performer who shook the man's hand and said "Thank you, get in". The man believed, trusted, and acted upon his faith. He crossed the river safely,

In real life Jesus is the 'Performer'.  The same Jesus who called James and John away from their fishing business and who changed the name and identity of Simon Bar-Jona to Peter the Rock , the same Jesus who claimed to be the promised Messiah of Genesis , God the Creator's Beloved Son, one with the Father yet now born among us as one of us and like us in all but sin, is the same Jesus who calls us to Himself in our particular moment of history, not just someone who is honest and tells the truth but The Truth, not just someone who can talk about where we are going with our lives and  knowledgeable about how to get there, but The Way, not just guesssing or hoping there is life beyond the grave but  BEing The Life each of us is called to desire seek and eventually share , the same Jesus who invites us to receive in Baptism a new identity and a new relatonship in Him with the Creator of all that exists, and promises  for us the value and experience for which all of us hunger and thirst whether we realize it or not, the gift of eternal happiness, through, with, and in Him.    

The only way any and all of this can be ours, real, understood ,and accomplished by us is by faith.  With living active faith  we can be more assured of its reality and more confident in the fulfillment of the promises upon which it rests than we can be assured and confident the sun will rise tomorrow mornng in the east.  This is true becuse God never promised the sun would rise tomorrow but He did set his seal on Jesus and promised eternal life in Him.

We will contiue with further insights into the meaning and experience of faith in  hope that such a review will help us appreciate more fully  and derive more benefit from our experience of our current year as The Year of Faith.   

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Blog # 279 Blessings

# 279   Blessings  

I wanted to get another blog out today dealing with the Year of Faith but after working on it almost all morning I had very little on the page. So rather than take the chance of not getting a blog out today and leave another large gap between them I looked into some notes I had typed back in 1986 and found what I will share with you now. I don't know where I got it in the first place but it is not original. May the Lord bless the person who gave it to me, whoever he or she may be! It was a blessing for me back in '86 and again today as I am sharing it with you.
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Holy One, our God, giver of all life and beauty,  You love us into being every moment of our lives. Thank You for calling us - alone and together, into the journey of life. Bless us with the gift of vision see your beauty around us and within us, to delight in the lavish gifts of your wonderful creation. Bless us with vision!  

Bless us with the gift of courage understand the meaning and value of the darkness and pain of the journey, to stand with those who suffer and ache.     Teach our minds and hearts to receive and share your faithful love. Bless us with courage !  

Bless us with the gift of  gentleness ... to walk through our joys and pains, especially the growing times,  with your gentle love.  Teach us to be gentle with our sisters and brothers as we share the wonder of living. Bless us with gentleness !

Bless us with the gift of creativity ... to help us brave new grounds, to test new horizons , to risk and trust being co-creators with You, transforming creation according to your vision of peace and justice.  Bless us with creativity ! 

Bless us with the gift of compassion ... to see the interconnectedness of all life, to celebrate with warm hearts your healing presence in and through us.
Bless us with compassion ! 

And bless us with the grace to recognize your gifts in all that we shall ever have, to recognize and call them for a time our own so that we will have something to give us joy and something of our joy to give to others.  Amen

Blog # 278 A Treasure

Blog # 278   A Treasure

Recently I have been reading some of the many pages of notes I assembled through the years. Blog # 278 is a copy of some thoughts that date back 24 years.  It tells of an incident that I think could have happened yesterday. 
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If, one day this week, while digging in the back yard, I found a million dollars wrapped in a package, you could use a bit of it, right?  Well, actually I found more than a million dollars, and I want to share it with you.
In the case of the million dollars, I would have had to be digging, be able to recognize a dollar, and to be able to count to a million in order to know what I had done and what had happened in my life. So with what I actually discovered . I needed to be looking, searching, working, open, focused, available, and other possible descriptive words in order for the incident to happen. I would have had to be able to recognize a value that was beyond sight, sound, touch, taste and smell to recognize the value I had found. This is just as I would have had to recognize what money can buy to recognize what I had found if I had found a million dollars, in itself just paper, but for someone who knows, a much more valuable realty than paper.

What I found was an egg. A gold egg?  No, just an egg. I found it in a nest I had set up in a coop where six chickens, hatched out just six months ago, lived. I was happy to find it and took it into the house.  The next morning I was preparing to have it for breakfast and I began to think about the whole indicent while waiting for the egg to boil.  What do you think I found when I creaked it open?  Right, an egg, just like so many other eggs I  had for breakfast through these many years of my life. 
But this egg was beginning to be special.

Size, shape, color, texture, and taste were very much the same as any egg. Egg white, egg yolk right in the center. The same. The difference began to show in my response to the egg. I began to ask what it really was, beyond what I saw, the why of it, and how it came to be. The egg was not in the nest yesterday, and the mother hen was herself merely an egg just six months ago . A prefect shape, the color of the yolk  just right, the wonderful taste of a fresh egg. What all went into it was the question on my mind.

Time, merely six months, corn, earth, water, sunshine, and grass all must have had something to do with my egg. But none of these, nor all of them together could explain sufficiently the fact the egg was so much like all other eggs in size and shape, color and taste. None of the chickens in that particular coop had ever laid an egg .

 Who taught the mother hen how to make an egg? Yes, the corn and the grass water and sunshine had something to do with it, but not all, nor in themselves. To think there was not some reality beyond these would have been like receiving a package in the mail from someone who loves you in Chicago and thinking it came merely from the local post office.  So I let my mind be touched by God, and began to imagine and praise the Designer, Gift-giver, Someone-Who-Loves-Me, Creator, Wisdom, Goodness, Presence, My God!

I had discovered far more than a million dollars in that egg. Scripture texts began to come to mind. “Look to the birds of the air”…and to chickens. “The Father cares for them…how much more you!”

May you receive many eggs in your life! May all that you call your own remind you of the Lord and call you to praise and joy. May Jesus, God-Come-Among-Us, God’s Greatest Gift, be your Great Teacher and Friend.  May His goodness, wisdom, generosity, and joy dwell in us always.
I love you!