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!