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.