Sunday, March 22, 2015

Blog 462 Gifts of God's Love

Blog # 462  Gifts of God's Love

          In  Isaiah 35: 4ff  we hear the Prophet telling the people of God's great power and love for them.  There is no need to be afraid.  God is with us!  The blind will see,  The deaf will hear.  The lame run. Those who cannot speak will sing!  Water is promised even in the desert. God's power is without limit. God' love is real.

           In the Gospel of Mark 7:31-37 Jesus lives out the prophesy of Isaiah in the case of a deaf and speechless man.  Jesus  possesses and expresses the power and love of God in the here and now of that man's life.  This is clear and wonderful!

            Yet a strange element enters the story when  Mark tells us that Jesus asked the people not to tell anyone about the cure.  We begin to see the depth and meaning of Mark's story in this incident in the ministry of Jesus when Mark immediately adds: "but the more He ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it."
            As seems to have happened frequently, the people missed the point of what Jesus had come among them to say and do.  They wanted physical gifts for their present life. They sought to be able to talk, to walk and to hear.  Jesus wanted to give them something to say, someplace to go, and a message to hear and proclaim that could come from no other source than from God. With God's power over nature within them, Jesus could produce physical healing at will.  His marvelous cures would be evidence of this. But that would not be enough to satisfy God's infinite love for those who would trust and believe in Him.

          Others could heal the body in the name of God and in some instances (in their own minds) independently of God's Name but not independently of God's will. But Jesus is not just another prophet, another messenger from God, another healer. Jesus is not just one among many.  Jesus is unique and His message is unique.

          Jesus is among us not simply as a physician to heal the body more quickly or wisely than others.  He did indeed do such things in the Name of God's love and as an example of human goodness for others who would be called to dedicate themselves to the welfare of their neighbors in this way. In the case of Jesus, as the Gospels so regularly point out, there was more on His mind and in His message than the  physical dimensions of God's love.

          Our Catholic faith teaches us that Jesus was sent among us not merely to demonstrate the power and goodness of God our Father but to share it with each of us personally in the new life we receive through faith and Baptism.  Jesus healed and performed physical cures so that we would know He had God's infinite power and love within Him.  But He wanted us to know as well the more important truth that God's plan for us was not that we should all and always have healthy bodies, fine homes, and long lives on earth. Rather God's plan called us all to be holy even now, by faith, to possess protect and enjoy the new life given us in Baptism that lasts forever.

          The people in the episode  in Mark7 did not understand this and they went after all of their  friends who were sick and crippled to being them to Jesus for physical healing.




Saturday, March 21, 2015

Blog # 461 Love unites

Blog # 461  Love unites

           The fundamental and basic truth of a genuine religious experience is the fact there is but one God, the Creator of all that is not God.  In this truth we find our common origin and our common destiny.  As human beings we share a common design even though we be as different from one another as a Greek from a  Roman and a Saint from a sinner. Do you ever get hungry, happy, thirsty, tired, lonely. ill, joyful, healed, forgiven, disappointed, loved?  So do  I. And so do we all. We have been designed and called into being by the same Creator-God.

              In all of this we are united.  We are one in the truth we have a single Creator.  Yet we can be separated from one another in various ways and in various degrees, physically,  emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. If I am hungry thirsty or lonely and you do not know it or do not care then we are in this regard separated from one another.  I may be in Texas and you in New York, separated from one another physically by many miles but united in our knowledge and love for one another as I celebrate your birthday in my mind and heart.

              One of the main features of the ministry of Jesus, Emmanuel,  God-Among-Us, was the proclamation of the design and desire of  God that all people could and should be united in his love. What a vision of the world this truth invites us to create and to live!  In the Christian world view there is but one Savior of all.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, in Jesus, through faith and Baptism, all are to be made one Vine, one Body.  From the beginning the Church has been given the mandate to live this truth and to tell it in words and deeds to "all the world". ( Matt, 28: 18-20).  How sad it is that Christians are still a minority of the world's population, and among ourselves we are divided rather than united in the total love of Jesus for the Father and for all people.  (Jn. 17: 20,21).

            My constant hope as a simple Christian believer and especially as a Glenmary Missioner is to find a way to get the attention of my fellow Christian believers and especially local Pastors who live around us and who control much of the human aspects of the Church's work on the local scene, and alert them to the seriousness of our division as a contradiction of  the desire and prayer of Jesus that we all be one in Him.  (Jn, 17: 20,21 again).

                I can think of several items in our divided experience that do unite us part of the way to the unity for which Jesus prayed.  We recognize a unity among us in our recognition of Jesus as Lord and God's Son. We are one in our praise and thanks to Him, in our effort to imitate Him in our obedience to the Commandments and in our recognition of the Gospels as an authentic story of His life.  But the actual words we have cited do not call for a mere union of minds and actions. The union to which Jesus calls us is a union of a community, a single vine with many branches, a single Body with many membersThen He specifies the love which is to unite us is a share in His own divine love for all people. "Such as my love has been for you, so must your love be for one another."  (Jn. 13: 34).

                 Jesus had already told the disciples there is no greater love anyone can have ( not even God!)  than to lay down one's life for another. (Jn.15: 13). That is the love Jesus  experienced in His loving death on the cross!  That is the love He shared with the Apostles at the Last Supper and of which He said "do this in memory of me". That is the love we are offered and are called to share in our reception of the Lord's body "given up" and the Lord's blood "poured out" in the Sacrifice of  the Mass.
                To realize more perfectly the nature, power, and intended effects of the Eucharist we should be aware that its prime emphasis is not merely upon an "I-thou" relationship with Jesus but a personal relationshjp with Him in His love for the Father and for all of creation.  In receiving Jesus in Holy Communion His thoughts become our thoughts, His desires ours. There is but one universal thirst  in all the world, one hunger, one loneliness, one love to come to the aid of all in need. It is the love of the Father brought to earth in Jesus and shared in our communion with Him. lt tolerates no sin. It has power to draw all to a divine union in Jesus.  It is the truth for which all people hunger and thirst whether they are aware of it or not.     "...and I - once I am lifted up from earth- will draw all men to myself." (This statement indicated the sort of death He had to die."(Jn. 12:32,33).

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Blog # 460 Why again

Blog # 460  Why again

          You are sitting at your desk in the den.  Your dog is lying on the floor nearby.  Close your eyes for a moment,  The phone rings.  Your dog begins to bark.   Keep your eyes closed.  Reach over on  your desk and answer the phone.  The person calling asks you to take a message for your wife.  Keep your eyes closed.

            You find the writing pad easily enough, next to the phone, but where is the pencil?  Open  your eyes.  There it is right in front of you, easily seen, but hard to find if you could not see. 

            All you experienced while you could not see was definitely real.  The shape and color of it was not dependent upon or determined by sight.  It was the same color after you opened  your eyes as before.  But for you there was no color until you opened your eyes.

            I see a parallel between the scenario I have just described and an experience of all of us  over against the reality that surrounds us each day of our lives wherever we might be. We are real.  And there is something beyond us that is also real. We discover the reality outside of ourselves through sight hearing taste touch and smell. It is a wonderful and complicated process, but one that is so common that we tend to take it for granted until something goes wrong and causes interference. We know ourselves in an even more wonderful and complex way. And here again we tend to take it all for granted until something goes wrong.

              Though the process of discovery and response to ourselves, and to all that surrounds us is common to all, it is limited as well in all, and therefore can be experienced in degrees.  Some have better eyesight than others.  Some hear better. Some have more peace of mind. Some have more pain. Some more joy. But for all of us the process of discovery and response is the same.

                Now tie this in with the scenario I first presented.  Suppose instead of sitting there at your desk with your eyes closed, you were a person born blind.  All in the room would be equally real as the colors and shapes. The colors would be real too and therefore capable of being seen, but not by  you.  A dimension of reality would be missing for you, not in itself, but in your ability to perceive it.
               Our experience of faith is something like this. Both for those who believe, and those who do not believe, the world of psychology and the world of physics is the same.  But for those who believe, a whole new dimension is discovered and comes into play. The difference our faith experience is designed to make is more dramatic and consequential than the difference between the experience of a sighted person and one born blind when it comes to perceiving and responding to the reality around the two.  And just as what we see does not contradict what we hear, yet can relate to it, so what we know by faith does not contradict what we know by reason or sense experience.

            When you open your eyes, you see that your fluffy barking dog is brown. The sound of his bark or the fluffiness of his coat does not stop or go away when you perceive the dog by sight.  But there is a new dimension to the reality when you open your eyes.  When we believe, there is a new
dimension to all that is proclaimed by faith.
             This is true because by nature we are capable of discovering only what exists,  not why it exists.  And this is true because all that exists is created by the will of our all-powerful God.  In other words there is a whole dimension to creation that is real yet beyond our natural capacity to discover, and only known by faith.  We can discover ever more perfectly and completely what has been created.  We can know the motive or reason behind it all if it is revealed to us and we believe.  If we want to experience all that is going on within and around us, we should always have two questions in mind, What?, and why?

                 The more important, though the less popular of the two questions is why?.  This is true because it deals with the goal of all creation, the destiny of it, the everlasting  part. The question what?  deals with only portions of reality, in segments, the part that is passing even as we discover it, the part that has its purpose not in itself, but in the answer to the question why?

                Faith is a gift.  It is offered to all of us, but must be received individually and personally.  The power to believe was won for us by Jesus. That power is personified in the Holy Spirit.  If  you did not care what color your barking dog might be, you need not open your eyes. If you do not feel the need to know why, why, why, why of all that exists then you do not feel the need of the Holy Spirit.
                   Jesus, as one of us, living in a particular moment of history more than two thousand years ago did not know the answer to the question what  as well as we do. ( electricity, automobiles and airplanes, I-phones, etc., etc.). But the Word of God incarnate in the humanity of Jesus as one person lived the answer why perfectly in His unconditional trust and total love in obedience to the Father's will. The Father introduced Jesus as My Beloved Son at the  river Jordan where John was baptizing sinners and said: Listen to him.  Jesus said: Follow me.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Blog # 463 Lent

Blog # 463  Lent

           Just imagine living in a house where the temperature was thirty seven degrees night and day.  That would be cold, right?  Well, that would depend upon whether you were in New York City or in Paris.  In New York it would be cold.  In Paris it would be hot even though it would be thirty seven in both places.  What kind of conversation is this?  Does it make any sense?  Sure. In New York the temperature would be measured on the Fahrenheit scale, where water freezes at thirty-two. so the house would be cold at thirty seven.  In Paris the temperature is measured on the Centigrade scale, where thirty-seven degrees equals more than ninety-eight on the Fahrenheit scale, and that would mean the house would be hot.

            The moral of the story might be that we should always be ready to ask questions before we start arguing over what is true.  Actually 37C and 98.6 F are the same temperature, though the scales we use to measure them in New York and Paris are different and the sounds we use to express the same temperature come out differently in French and English.  Our spoken identity of the temperature in English and French on one scale or another would come out differently even though the actual temperature would be the same.  We  have no problem agreeing with that once we find out a few words in French and English and then which of the two scales we are going to use to make our measure.

             There is another scenario regarding the temperature of a place that comes out differently.   Here we are in church, in the same place, at the same time. One person might say it is warm in here today.  Another person might say it is cold in here today. Is one of  these persons right and the other one wrong?  Not necessarily.  Can both be speaking the truth?  Yes.

               How do we explain it?  It is easy. To begin with, the temperature might not be the same in all areas of the room. One person might be sitting near a heating vent and another person might be sitting in the draft of a doorway.  Perhaps the problem of securing their comfort and permitting  them to get back to the task at hand of prayer need not go further than to have them exchange seats.  The
temperature in each place would not change, and could be measured as different in each place, but the people involved would now be satisfied.  This would be so, not totally because of the temperature in itself, but also because of the personal preference of each one as to the temperature perceived and desired by that person as a comfortable one.

           What we have been considering is easily understood by all of us and probably has been the experience of some of us at one time or another. Applied on a higher level, it can perhaps be useful as we enter more deeply into the season of Lent 2015. What we have been considering is the question of truth, objective truth, that is truth in itself, as it is, independently of whether we are aware of it or respond to it, and subjective truth, as we see it and understand it, and are aware of it, and respond to it. Objectively the temperature is what it is whether I am aware of it or asleep, whether I like it that way or not. 
              All that we have said so far applies to the field of philosophy, the field of natural human intelligence reason and experience.  It also applies to the field of faith where claims are made not in contradiction to our human intelligence  or reason, but beyond their competence and beyond our natural experience of truth.  Since we are  dealing with truth in both instances what we experience in philosophy can be significant and helpful in our experience of faith.

            Here are a few examples. Always and everywhere, in every room and on every mountain there is a certain temperature. I can gauge various temperatures in more ways than one, approximately by the effect of the temperature as I feel it on my body, and more precisely by the use of a thermometer.  Though the temperature is always real, I am not always consciously aware of it, certainly not when I am sleeping and most of the other times of the day as well.  I may have a thermometer permanently attached outside the window of my office, but only look at it once or twice a day.  I may have an oral thermometer in the medicine cabinet over my sink in the bathroom but only refer to it when I think I may have a fever.  For comfort some people prefer warmer or cooler temperatures than others.

           Applying this to faith we have some interesting parallels.  As the temperature, God is real, in every room, on every mountain.  We can be confident we are in the presence of  God in more than one way. First by the fact we feel or are emotionally drawn to God's reality and presence. We have a bias in favor of God's presence. Second is through the acceptance of the reality and presence of God  by faith. The first is like the temperature gauged by our skin.  It could be perfectly true, but tends to be approximate. The second way is precise. The danger here is like the danger of reading a thermometer wrongly, the danger of interpreting the revelation of  God in a wrong way. We may have a bias against the realty and presence of God as we can have a bias in God's favor. 

            Our faith in the identity and presence of God is something like the thermometer outside my window. It I always there, night and day, though I may be sleeping and unaware of it, 'working' for me by providing the correct temperature. Like the thermometer outside the window telling the true temperature , God is real and present always and everywhere even though I may be 'sleeping' and unaware of  Him, 'working' for me not in some small way like telling me the temperature but willing that I continue to live, giving me everything that I am down to my very existence!  Without God I would not only have nothing, I would not even be! 

              Lent has traditionally been a good time  for me to check on the reality and quality of my awareness of  God' presence in my life. A daily recitation of the prayer we learned in early grade school entitled An Act of Faith still is a source of joy for me.   A question I have found effective is : Am I happy because of my faith in God's presence?   I think this is a good question because I am convinced the closer we are to God and God to us the happier we should be. 

Blog # 459 WHY?

Blog # 459     WHY?

         Even though we may have received 100% on our final spelling exam in school, that does not mean we know how to spell every word that is in the English dictionary.  And even if we did know how to spell every word there, there are dictionaries in German, Spanish, French and in numerous other languages  all filled with words that can be spelled correctly or not. This would be true as well for knowledge we might have of physics, medicine, music, history, literature or whatever other field of study it might be that we have learned or experienced.  For all but God there is always more, more than we have known or accomplished, more than we could imagine.  That is true absolutely of us.
        For God, however, and for God alone, this is not true.  Beyond God nothing whatsoever, is, or ever shall be.  Beyond God there is no more.  All that exists, ever, is present to God, comes from God, and is in one form or another in union with God.  A single drop of water is an object of a  complicated design.  And there is no design without a designer.  Though we might be sitting 'all alone' on a remote mountain top, God is there, in all that exists, within and around us.  Nothing is apart from God. Nothing is real without God creating it to be real. Beyond God there is no more.

         God claimed this truth about Himself both in the Hebrew Bible and in Jesus.  "In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth..." (Gen.1:1).  "Hear O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore  you shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength." ( Dt. 6"4,5; Mk. 12: 29,30), " And how could a thing remain unless you willed it; or be preserved had it not been called forth by you?"  ( Wis. 11: 25).  "I, the Lord, am the first, and with the last I will also be ." (Is. 41 4).  "Thus says the Lord...I am the first and I am  the last; there is no God but me." (Is. 44:6).

            There is but one God.  There is no other. That is a fundamental truth of all that we believe.  As a consequence of it, all of creation is connected or related in God.  No one nor anyone exists by accident. Nothing and no one has or will ever 'fall through the cracks' or be unaccounted for in God.  There are no exceptions.  String beans, garlic, water, moons, stars, 'our' sun, the 108, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000  molecules of air in a single normal breath, the time it takes to walk across a  Street, the 5,000,000 or so red corpuscles and 10,000 white in a drop of blood the size of a pinhead, the upwards of 200 bones in our bodies, the 12,000 000, 000 cells in our brains, the flesh of Jesus and His blood poured out for love of the Father and for us.  All of creation is connected in God.  God is before, after, and within it all.

            All of this is true whether we believe it or not.  If we believe it, we make it our own, and it becomes true for us and in us. The string beans, the garlic, and all that I have listed above exist in the truth about them without any comprehension or awareness of it on their part.  Human creatures on the other hand have a capacity to understand in a limited way what it means to say that God is real, God is unique, God is our Creator. 

              Through our advances in scientific investigation and experience we grow in the amount of knowledge we have of what God has created and how it developed.  We can see and understand in a limited way how one creature depends upon another and why certain things are true, such as how plants depend upon the sun and how this occurs, but we do not have the capacity of knowing and understanding, on our own, why all creation exists.  Since the why of all creation is the will of God, it
could only be known completely by us through being revealed  to us by God. This was done in a limited way in the consciences and experiences of human creatures from the beginning.  The desire for and appreciation of peace, happiness, freedom, companionship, support, and love for one another were in the content of what human creatures, made to the image and likeness of God, could see as a purpose or 'why' of creation.

             Then in Abraham, Moses, the Prophets, and finally in Jesus the purpose or why of creation was focused more and more precisely. The purpose or 'why' of all the rest of creation was to be found in the 'why' of humans.  It was that we, made capable for this by being created in the image and likeness of God, should be loved by God and return God's love.  This Jesus did most perfectly in His life death resurrection and ascension to the Father's glory in Heaven.

              The flesh of Jesus was as limited as ours.  The sun is as warm for us as it was for Jesus.  But united as He was with the Word of God as a single person His love was divine. Jesus received God's love perfectly in His perfect obedience to the Father's will throughout His life on earth.   He returned God's love perfectly in His unconditional trust and total love on the Cross.  Now the 'why' of His coming was achieved.  He would ascend back to the glory He had with the Father from all eternity to 'prepare a place'  for all who believe in Him, that united with Him through faith and Baptism and sharing His obedience to the Father's will in our lives on earth we too might be glorified in the Fathers eternal life in Heaven.




Thursday, March 12, 2015

Blog # 458 Hospitality

Blog # 458  Hospitality
           This week when after reflecting on the passage in Luke's Gospel telling of the well known visit of Jesus to the home of Martha and Mary, ( Luke 10 25-37) I looked up the  references to hospitality in the Bible. Here are samples of the references I found.

              To refuse to give hospitality or to violate the laws of hospitality was looked upon as disgraceful. (Jb. 3132; Gen. 19:5ff; Jgs. 19: 22f).  Likewise a refusal to accept hospitality was considered an insult (Gen. 192f). Exhortations to practice hospitality are found in Is. 58;7;
Sir. 11: 29-34; 1 Tim. 3:2; Heb.12:2; 1 Pet. 4:9. In the  New Testament particularly in the Gospels, hospitality plays an important role.  Jesus  often received  hospitality as a guest and He praised the virtue of hospitality in His parables. ( Lk. 10:34f;  11: 5,f; 14: 2 ).  Hospitality is given as a gift of the Holy Spirit.( 1 Pet. 4: 9f), and it offers the possibility of coming in touch with the invisible world.  Hospitality offered to strangers for the sake of  Jesus is considered as given to Jesus Himself. ( Mt. 25: 35f0.
                It was at Martha's invitation that Jesus came to their home.  Then she got busy with the cooking. To make His visit a social experience rather than simply a meal as one in a restaurant would be, Mary was speaking with Jesus in the parlor.  Martha complained that she needed help with the food.  Jesus affirms Mary's behavior without denying the value of Martha's part in the total experience.

               I remember on more than one occasion in my seminary training when a spiritual director in an ordinary weekly conference to the seminarians would recall this incident from the life of the Lord to remind us of the danger of getting so involved in good works there would not be enough room for prayer and reflection, the "better part" chosen by Mary in contrast to the activity in which Martha seemed to be completely absorbed. 
              We were told it was not to be a question of either-or, activity or contemplation, but a
proper combination of both.  Our prayer was to be the 'soul' of our good works, giving  them new
meaning and life, raising them from the level of good, merely human experiences to the level of
Christian love and worship, gifts in us, through Jesus, to the Father.

               This week I asked Martha and Mary a question.  What kind of person are you?  Both of them were holy, yet each one of them was different.  Then I asked the same question of myself.  What kind of person are  you?  That is a significant question and the process of answering it was interesting.  It was like discovering who I am all over again.  Martha and Mary were doing what they did the way they did it because they were a certain type of person.  So it is with me and with all of us. God loves each of us uniquely and offers each of us whatever it is we need to accomplish the Father's will uniquely. It is something like having a finger print that is our own,
               Some of the elements in our personal identity are given and cannot be changed, our age for example. One of us is Chinese, another is Greek, a third French-Italian etc., and this element of our identity as persons is fixed.  Even these fixed elements of our personal identity are important, and can have a significant part to play in determining the type of person we are.  But more important, especially with reference to our identity in Heaven are those elements that are variable, that can be chosen and changed by us in freedom, directed toward a specific purpose, developed or abandoned as we see them helping or hindering our growth and our goal.

                 To help us here, we ask such questions as: Am I primarily a self-centered person?  Am I genuinely interested in the welfare of others?  Am I a generous person?  Am I able and willing to listen to those around me when they speak, to listen with my heart open to them when with no words they speak to me from their hearts, broken, wounded perhaps, and in need of sympathy and understanding? Do I desire to grow as a person?  Do I pray?  Do I pray enough? 

                   You may  have noticed I have applied the notion of hospitality in these questions  on a level other than merely inviting others for dinner. What I have done is apply the notion of hospitality  to invitations to enter my life rather than my dining room, on a spiritual level, to someone hungry and thirsty for understanding, acceptance, companionship, and love.. 

              Back in the seminary we had a daily experience of an 'examination of conscience'. These are the type of questions we would ask ourselves in the presence of the Lord in chapel.   It was a significant daily experience because it gave the Lord an invitation to help us grow as persons and prepare us  to love the Lord, ourselves, and others more perfectly.  Do you think something like that would be good for you?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Blog # 457 ...temples of the Lord

Blog # 457 ...temples of the Lord.

          Normally we think of the word temple as applying to a building, a place where God is recognized and worshipped.  However by extending our vision and using the word temple to refer to a dwelling place of  God  it can be applied to all of creation, and in a special way to ourselves and all of humanity, "Are you not aware that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?"  (1 Cor. 3:16f; 1 Pet. 2: 5).

            Back in 1991 I was in Bryson City, NC living with and caring for our Glenmary Father Frank Gardner who was dying of cancer.  I arrived on March 7.  He died on August 29th.  My time in North Carolina was a very special moment of my life as you might imagine. This week I looked back at some notes I made at that time and will share some of them with you now...

               There are several birds at the feeder outside the kitchen window.  They have no personal relationship with me.  Yet they are related to me, dependent on me for the seed in the feeder and their water nearby.  A bird could be domesticated and have a limited relationship with me to recognize me and distinguish me from another person, from the enemy cat, etc.  There would be trust toward me and apparent joy when I came out with food and water. 

               The bird is not capable of entering into a personal relationship with me on the level of another human being, but on a different yet definite level a domesticated bird can relate to me in ways the wild bird does not and for the time being cannot so relate.  Stones and plants are not developed enough by their nature for this.  For birds and other animals it is possible.

                There is a thrush out there now 'working' for its food, picking and scratching grains out of the grass where it has blown at the edge of the cement walk by the feeder.  There is no awareness of me, the giver of the grain, and no ability right now to trust me were I to open the door and go out. The wild birds would fly away if I did.

                 Is there an analogy here between the birds, ourselves, our world, our experiences, and  God?  As human creatures, we are capable of receiving and being aware of God's love in all creation, and in ourselves.  Others have testified to this and we have experienced it to some degree. Yet we seem to be living in an age and in circumstances when a focus on God's presence and love is not sharp nor emphatic in the public arena. It is not the popular way of experiencing  human life.  We seem to be sharing more in the experience of wild birds rather than living in the house of the Lord, within His temple.  It is interesting the word  domesticate has its basic root in the Latin word domus  meaning house or home.  For us to be domesticated would be for us to live at home in God's creation, God's love.
                What should be our response?  Specific time energy and effort to discover and keep ourselves aware of the reality of what we believe, what we have heard of the Lord from others and from the Lord in prayer and grace, attempts to clarify and make more significant, conscious, regular, and frequent applications of  the contents of our faith, that God is real, close, loving, and dependable.
                 Father, we know that in each of us is a portion of Your  wisdom and Your love.  You created us all and we are Your children. We are not to be strangers to one another but sisters and
brothers.  Dear Father, help us to find You in ourselves and in everyone we meet, and so learn to understand and love each other as You would have us do. Amen!.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Blog # 456 The goal for everyone

        Blog # 456     The goal for everyone

         Recently I have been reading some bulletins from  parishes where I have been Pastor years ago. It occurred to me some of them could be used as blogs.  This is one of them.

        Last Tuesday morning about five minutes after five o'clock I was walking south on Harris Street toward the junction of Riddleville Road. A pick-up truck was stopped at the red light. Before I got to the corner the light turned green and the truck turned south on Harris. I go by that corner almost every morning at about the same time on my way to the high school track. It is not an unusual experience to see a car or truck waiting there for the light to change.

         What was unusual about it this morning was the fact I was thinking about my response to our liturgical readings from Isaiah 56:1,6,7 and Matthew 15: 21-28..  In both of the readings we have an indication of the relationship God desires to have with all people. The short section from Isaiah is making reference to how it would be after the Israelites returned from exile in Babylon and the temple would be rebuilt.

         "All who keep the Sabbath holy and hold to my covenant I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of house shall be called a house of prayer for all people".  In the Gospel message a non-Jewish woman whose daughter is troubled by a demon begs Jesus to have pity on her and heal her daughter.  At first Jesus gives her no reply.  The disciples want him to chase her away.  She keeps begging.  Jesus acknowledges her faith, and her daughter is healed. An outsider is brought into the fold.  Just imagine her joy!

        The practice envisioned in Isaiah of welcoming all people to the temple and sharing prayer with them was not easy to accept on the part of those for whom the vision was originally laid out. The difficulty could have been built on a righteous fear the true faith and God-given standard of  the Israelites would be contaminated or watered down by such a close association with non-believers and that would seem to indicate there was no consequential difference in what each of the groups held to be true. It could also have been based upon a false pride and arrogance that caused them to look down on all but themselves, or a selfish possessiveness with regard to the gift of faith.

          The danger of contamination of their faith was real, and God gave various rules and safeguards for protecting the truth and moral standard to which He had called and directed them.  God's love for all people was so strong there was no danger for it to be conquered if it were understood and lived out as it should have been.  This understanding would come about gradually and the living out of God's love would have to be learned and perfected step by step, as we might learn the way of doing other things such as playing the piano or operating a computer.  Some would never understand the truth God desired to reveal.  Some would never learn to live according to God's plan.  But the truth would stand, and the plan would be the only plan that would lead to the joy that God desires for all.

             By this time I had already arrived at the high school track and was well on my way into the first lap of mile one.  My mind went back to the pick-up truck at Harris and Ridddleville Road. I wondered why the driver had stopped at the red light. There seemed to be a connection between this experience and the experience of the people of Israel as a whole, then of the Church, and finally of individuals. I could imagine several motives the person driving the truck could have had for stopping.

             There were no other vehicles in sight at that particular time, and no police in evidence. so the driver could have thought there was no danger of an accident or of getting a ticket if he or she did not stop.  Perhaps the person stopped without a strong conscious motive, merely out of a habit of stopping at all red lights. It is something he does every day and never thinks of why. I can imagine another possibility, though it might rarely occur.  I thought of the person saying to himself or herself:  "I am going to work now, to do some good for the world, to make a living for my family, in evidence and as an expression of my love for them.  Here comes a red light.  I will stop as an expression of my obedience to the truth about myself and my love.  I am going to work. That is my immediate goal. But every inch of the way is a part of it.  If my goal is good and I will be happy to arrive there, then all the way to the goal is good and I should be happy to be on my way.  The red light is an invitation from the police department, from my neighbors, from the truth about myself, and from God. What a bargain is combined in such a thing that I can do every day! Thank  You, Lord!  And the light turns green.

             It is lap three, mile two. I realized the thoughts I had  placed in the mind of the person who stopped at the red light Tuesday morning might very well be rare.  Yet I realized they were good thoughts and were possible for anyone who wished and was willing to have them.  Without such thoughts the moments on the way to a chosen goal might be vacant or even damaging.  Such moments could be wasted or sinful. I see all of this in relationship to the single driver of  the pick-up truck at the corner of Harris and Riddleville at a brief moment of time last Tuesday morning. But I knew it applied on larger scales as well, to married couples, to organizations, to nations, and to the Church. All of us are doing something all of the time, whether it be eating sleeping running jumping killing dying.  Many times it seems individuals and groups as well, just continue to do whatever it is they do, day by day, and over long periods of time, without asking why we are doing this, and what it is we are doing.
       Back around 1932 our class at St. Thomas the Apostle school in New York City  learned in some limited way there was a single goal for us and for everyone. We were taught to ask and answer  the profound yet simple question: why did God make us?  It was to know Him, to love Him, and to do His will on earth and be happy with Him forever in Heaven.  That was our goal. Just as lap four is built on three and mile three is built on mile two, so our goal is built on all that leads up to that goal, even such a thing as stopping at a red light as an expression of our knowledge love and desire to do God's will, leadng to the joy of Heaven, where all the lights are green. Our readings today remind us this vision in God's plan is not for a few but for all.  Many have yet to hear it, to understand, to believe, to rejoice. We should keep them in our prayer.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Blog # 455 The joy of salvation.

Blog # 458  The joy of salvation.

          Blog # 455 is an edited re-presentation of the text I wrote for the parish bulletin on the 4th of July, 2004, which happened also to be the fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time that year. I thought it was appropriate and helpful as we enter more deeply into the experience of Lent 2015..

         The first reading is Isaiah 66: 10-14. "Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her".  The Gospel tells of Jesus sending out disciples to prepare for His coming to preach His message of salvation. (Luke 10: 1-9).

           Throughout the world  Mother Teresa was acknowledged as a holy person. She had accomplished a great deal in her love for the poor and afflicted.  Yet if we study her life and the talks she gave on occasions of dedicating hospitals and places of refuge for the poor it becomes evident that in her own mind her holiness did not consist so much in what she had accomplished as in her personal relationship with God through Jesus.  It was in God's name and with God's power within her that she did what she did and said what she said.  And it has been that way with holy people down through the ages all the way back to the seventy-two disciples sent out two by two by Jesus in the Gospel reading..

             It is significant that in the middle reading ( Gal. 5:22) the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness, and chastity rather then great accomplishments.  It is when and because we love that we do things for others, and because we are joyful that people listen and receive the message of  joy that we bring.

            In the text from Isaiah we are invited to celebrate and reflect upon the joy of the people who have been called back to Jerusalem from exile. "Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her you who love her..."  There was a road that led from the exile of  Babylon to the joy of living once more in the Holy City Jerusalem. Likewise there is a road  that leads back from sin to the joy of knowing and living once more 'at home' with our sins forgiven in God's love.

              The  Psalm Response continues the invitation of Isaiah: "Let all the earth cry out to God with joy!"  "Shout joyfully to God all the earth, sing praise to the glory of His name; proclaim His glorious praise.  Say to God, "How tremendous are Your deeds!".

                  The great joy and comfort extolled by Isaiah and the universality of the invitation of Psalm 36 lead very appropriately into the Gospel reading from Luke.  Jesus is sending 72 messengers ahead of Him to every town and place He intended to visit.  At the time Luke was writing it was thought among the rabbis there were 72 nations in the world.  This would mean Luke has Jesus sending His messengers to the whole world and His message of peace to all people. We have Psalm 36 revisited.

             The messengers are given specific instructions to help guarantee their mission would be focused  properly on the message rather  than on any special worldly advantage it would bring to themselves.  In reading the words of Luke describing the messengers as lambs among wolves, the prohibition to carry money, and the warning there would be opposition to the message they would bring, I hear the call for courage, trust, humility, generosity, and perseverance in the faith on the part of the messengers. These virtues are as important for anyone who would represent Jesus in
our world today as they were when He sent out the original 72.

            Finally, when the 72 return rejoicing over the effect their ministry had and the good they were accomplishing, Jesus rejoices along with them.  He reminds them, however, the more important thing for them was not what they had  accomplished but their identity in the Kingdom of God's love, that their names were written in Heaven.  The messengers' accomplishments, from the greatest to the least, are left behind when God calls them to the joy of their eternal home in Heaven. Their goodness
zeal courage faithfulness loyalty generosity and love go with them. This is what we hear Jesus saying to the original 72 and to anyone who would work for the spread of His Kingdom today.
           If what we do is the expression of who we are, and this seems to be what Jesus was telling the returning missioners, then we do rejoice in what we do, yes, but even more so in who we are.  Both elements of our identity are the will of God and cause of rejoicing..

            As with the original 72, each of us as a disciple of Jesus is sent into some definite corner of the world to proclaim the Good News of God's love for all  people. ( Luke 4: 18,19,21; Jn. 17: 18, 20, 21.  The physical area of our missionary field is limited by  many 'fences': our background, our age, our personalities, a lack of cooperation from those around us. etc.  We might be tempted to think there is not much that we can do.  But our zeal and love should be measured by the zeal and love of Jesus...everyone, everywhere.  We can respond to the request of Jesus and "ask the Master of the harvest to send laborers for His harvest".  We may not have the same results as the 72 but we are called to have the same faith and love that results in the same joy that was theirs.

              There are people living around us who, unaware of it themselves, perhaps, are  hungry and thirsty, waiting for the message of salvation.  We need to pray for the fruits of the Spirit ( Gal. 5: 22f). When we are equipped with these our hungry and thirsty family and neighbors will have food and drink available to them in the message we live and the joy we share with them.  Go!...

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Blog # 453 Invitations

Blog # 453  Invitations

          William Shakespeare lived in England from 1564 to 1616.  That is far away from Cincinnati, and a long time ago.  Yet we can read his poems and dramas here and now.  Not only can we read them, we can be moved and influenced by them in a way similar to the way we would have been moved and influenced by them had we lived then and there rather than here and now.

           It is something like that with the Bible and the stories from the life of Jesus we read there. Matthew Mark Luke and John lived a long time ago and far away.  Yet their written words are available to us here and now. It is similar to the way it is with regard to Shakespeare and ourselves.
We can watch Jesus cure a blind man just as Andrew did.  We can eat some of the fish supper Jesus shared with the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee just as Peter and the others did. We can go fishing with James and John. We can listen to Jesus preach, and watch him hug the children. Shakespeare lived out on the stage can move us to laughter or to tears. So it is with the Gospels. The distance and time gap tend to disappear.

          There is a large difference, however, between our reading and response to the works of Shakespeare and the words of the Gospels.  I do not know what Shakespeare had in mind when he was composing his works. I imagine he enjoyed writing.  He must have had an audience in mind as well.  That would be friends and members of his family perhaps, literary critics of his day, maybe even the King and Queen. I can't imagine him having you and me , the year 2015, or the City of Cincinnati in mind when he composed his sonnets or wrote the words of Othello.  Though it was not his explicit intention to do so, Shakespeare did write for us if we care to read what he wrote.  With the Gospels it is the same and different.  Matthew Mark Luke John and the others hardly had us explicitly in mind any more than Shakespeare did.  But when it comes to the Scriptures, God enters in at this point and the entire picture changes. 

          All of us live at a specific time  and in a specific place. God simply lives, infinitely, always and everywhere the same. We are some-one, some-how, somewhere.  God simply IS. When the  Gospel stories were being lived out in the three dimensions of history, long ago and far away from here, and when they were being remembered and written down, our copy and our experience of reading them were 'on God's mind'.  Then is now, now is then with God.  We are there in God' plan, in God's love.  We tend to forget this, or perhaps never actually  realized it was true.

         In the light of such a realization we pray before reading the Scriptures in a way we do not pray before reading  Shakespeare.  Before reading Shakespeare we might pray for intelligence and patience.  Before reading the Gospels we pray for faith and love. We respect and respond to Shakespeare as a work of literature. We respect and respond to the Gospels as a word of  God. God is not speaking to us there only of yesterday, but of today, not only of then and there, but of here and now.  "Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening." should be our prayer.

           Sunday, the Second  Sunday of Lent, we had the story of Abraham and Isaac in the first reading at Mass and the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus in the Gospel. What is God inviting us to hear think learn and do?  We are with Abraham and Isaac.  We are with Peter James and John on the mountain of the Transfiguration of Jesus.

           Abraham is certainly an important figure in the Bible.  He is mentioned by name more than two hundred times.  His outstanding characteristic is his faith.   He trusted God, believed God's message to him, and was obedient to what he believed.  In our reading Sunday we found Abraham willing to sacrifice his only son at the command of God.  What an example of perfect obedience to one's faith! 
             This reading is presented on the Second Sunday of Lent as a model of obedience to faith for those who throughout the world are preparing to receive the Sacrament of Baptism this coming Easter. Through faith they know their sins are forgiven in Jesus, they die to sin and rise with Jesus to the glory of a new birth which is symbolized in the 'drowning and rising' of the Baptismal liturgy. For all of this to be ours we must believe.  It is challenging. We are Abraham. 

         In the early years if the church, believers were often ridiculed and had to suffer, sometimes even death, for the sake of their faith.  It was difficult to live out our faith in  the pagan culture of the early history of the church.  Abraham was a perfect model of how it could be done.  In our current moment of history here in the United States it is also difficult to go against the tide of current pagan Godless humanism that is so strong in its influence upon our changing culture. We need someone to show us it can be done.  We look to Abraham.  He is faithful. We know the way to go. We call him our 'father' in faith.  We say "Yes, I believe!"

           The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus was chosen on the Second Sunday of Lent to complement the story of Abraham.  Those who were getting ready for Baptism or renewal of their Baptismal vows were getting ready to lay down their lives, if that some day would  be required in order to be faithful.  They needed our assurance it could be done. Abraham gave that assurance.  They needed an assurance as well that what Abraham did and what they might be required to do was the right thing, was worthy of their trust and allegiance, was the will of God.

         In the Transfiguration of Jesus, God makes a claim and offers that assurance. "This is my Beloved Son..." You can bank on him.  Listen to  Him". which is another way of saying believe.  He is authentic, and worthy of your trust.  The kind of trust and faith Abraham placed in Me is the kind of trust and faith you can place in Jesus, my Beloved Son.

          Take your son Isaac, your only son, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah.  There you will offer him as a holocaust on the height that I will point out to you.  And Abraham set out to do just that. No wonder we hold him up as a model of trusting faith!

          God spared Isaac.  But He sent His Son Jesus, His only one, whom He loved, to the height of  Calvary to offer himself there in trusting love.  There he was crucified. He trusted the Father all the way to death. "Listen to him."  Jesus did not call it suffering, but love. It was His greatest love for the Father. It was their greatest love for us. It is ours again and again as we offer the Sacrifice of the Mass united with Jesus as branches on a vine through faith and Baptism.

         Our Lenten prayer: Father, through our observance of Lent, help us understand the meaning of Your Son' s death and resurrection, and teach us to reflect it in our lives. Grant this through Jesus Your Beloved Son, Amen!       



Sunday, March 1, 2015

Blog # 452 Suffering

Blog # 452  Suffering

         The content of blog # 452 came to my mind when I was reflecting upon the words of Luke 9: 19-24.  "The Son of Man must endure many sufferings", and then: "Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in my steps."

         Our current moment in history does not seem to place much positive value or meaning in suffering.  Just consider the volume of ads in the newspapers and on TV for pain relievers. Yet pain and suffering, physical and psychological, do not go away.  They seem to be a given in our human experience. I thought it would be good to review in a blog a few thoughts on our Christian identity of suffering. A good place to start might be a reminder it is not true that the more sinful a person's life would be the more suffering they will be given to endure.  In Matthew's Gospel, after Jesus gave the
command to love our enemies as a distinctive Christian ideal, Matthew says:This will prove you are sons of your Heavenly Father, for his sun rises on the bad and the good; he rains on the just and the unjust."  Just recently we saw this lived out in the death of St. John Paul 11.  He suffered a great deal in the final years of  his life and was canonized a Saint very shortly afterward. 

           Suffering is real.  Much suffering, however, could and should be avoided or eliminated.  And this according to God's will and plan for us.  For example the suffering of a headache on the morning after a night on the town, or the suffering of health problems stemming from high blood pressure that is the result of bad eating habits, lack of exercise, tolerance of excessive anger, etc.  Yet in spite of all we might do to avoid or eliminate it, suffering is real. We all have suffered, do suffer, and/or will suffer.

            So we have questions about suffering.  Does it have meaning or value?   How does suffering fit into our notion of an all-powerful all-loving God?

              We believe that nothing that exists exists by accident, or in other words outside of or apart from the creating power of God.  Nothing that exists exists without God willing it to exist. There are no exceptions here. So we can look to God for any meaning or value suffering might have. And since God is identified as love, we can and should seek something that has to do with love in whatever solution we come up with in regard to the question of suffering. That insight places the question in the proper framework.

              How, then, can love be found developed and expressed in suffering?  A key insight here is to see suffering as a gift from God.  As gift it brings us the truth about ourselves, the absolute truth that we are not God.  We are not in total control; we are not all-powerful.  We have needs that can only be satisfied from outside of ourselves.  Humility is the virtue that calls us to realize and accept this truth about ourselves.  Suffering offers humility, which, for those who believe in God, is a gift of God's love. Suffering has that potential, meaning, and value.

          Suffering also has the ability to build character, offering us an invitation and opportunity for patience courage and trust that could not be found outside of  the experience of suffering.

             And most significantly, suffering in our Catholic theology should be experienced as the suffering of Jesus in us. Others have an experience of their God being with them,  nearby, as it were,
identified as accepting their sufferings as reparation for their sins, blessing them and giving them support consolation and meaning in their sufferings through their family and friends gathered around their bed.   In addition, we  in our Catholic theology, joined by faith and Baptism with Jesus as branches on a Vine, are called to experience our God in a personal relationship within us!

              Two quotations from St. Paul  throw light on this insight.  In Philippians 3: 10 He says: " I wish to know Christ and the power flowing from the resurrection, likewise to know how to share in His sufferings by being formed into the pattern of His death.  Thus do I hope that I may arrive at resurrection from the dead."  Paul is not expressing a wish to be crucified in his expressed wish to be "formed into the pattern" of Jesus' death, but rather to experience the obedient total love with which Jesus gave Himself to the Father's will throughout His life, in suffering and in joy, all the way  up to the cross. That experience was Paul's desire and should be our own.

               In Colossians 1: 24 Paul shares another beautiful insight into the identity and value suffering   can have for a Christian person.  "Even now I find my joy in the suffering I endure for you.  In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body. the Church. The eternal Word of God, incarnate in the flesh of Jesus, gave every thought word and action of Jesus divine value.  The personal love which bought healing to a leper was no less divine than the love with which He shed His life's blood. However, incarnate in the flesh of Jesus, the Word of God was, in a way that we cannot fully comprehend, as limited as each of us in our humanity.  The eternal infinite love of the Word was limited in Jesus by time space energy and our normal  human relationships.  He had only twenty-four  hours in a day with which to love.  If He were healing a leper in Jerusalem He could not at the same time be fishing with Peter on the Sea of Galilee. 

               All Jesus did was done in the  Father's love for others.  Yet, as Jesus was truly human, the Father's love was of necessity limited by His humanity.  As Paul points out,  He and all of us united in Jesus can experience our crosses in union with Jesus for the sake of the Church.  Thus we continue down through the ages, in our flesh, the love with which Jesus suffered for the sake of the Church.

           In Jesus all suffering can be transformed into love. That is its meaning and value.  Since most people at the hour of their death experience serious limitation of their ability to think and choose their response to death, it is important that we do so beforehand when with clear minds and full freedom we decide what we want our death to be.