Thursday, April 30, 2015

Blog # 476 Living as the Body of Christ

Blog # 476 Living as the Body of Christ

            Before we forget, I thought it might be good to have a blog that would help us guarantee the benefits Lent offered us as a believing community.  In the early Church Lent was a time for the intensive preparation of those getting ready for Baptism and those who were to be reconciled to the Church by public penance.  In recent years, we have been trying to focus again this identity for ourselves. Through Baptism we are united to Christ and through Him to one another in a new supernatural life..
             Lent is a community experience in which the whole Church is interested and involved. It is the work and mission of Jesus today, sent by the Father for the salvation of all people. Lent calls us to the love Jesus gave the Father on the Cross,  and the love the Father gave Jesus in the Resurrection.

            Before the renewal of  the liturgy and Christian life that came from Vatican 11,  there was a different emphasis.  Rather than being a time for focusing mainly upon the mission of Jesus shared with us, the emphasis tended to be upon works of penance to 'make up' for our individual sins.  The emphasis seemed to be upon individual effort rather then on the effort of the community, His Body, the Church. More frequent Mass attendance was seen as an act of penance rather than an act
seeking growth in holiness.  The two are related, it is true, but there seemed to be a greater emphasis on one over the other.

            Since Vatican 11, the Church has been trying to acquaint us with the insights and experiences of the early believers in Jesus,  and to hear His call to us as He called His original disciples to be one with Him in in His mission from the Father  to bring light, truth, and divine love into the world, beginning with our  own  minds and hearts. 

            As members of the Church there is a connection between what we do as individuals and what we do as united in the one  Body of  Christ.  So strong and definite is this connection that all that we do should be done, in our awareness of it and in our intentions in doing it, in union with Jesus and one another as a sharing in His mission as Savior of the world.

             Sadly, such a vision, though clearly grounded in our Catholic  theology and  in the Scriptures. does not seem to be commonly and clearly experienced by many, even of those who are faithful to attendance at Mass and efforts to live a Christian way of life.

               Yet without such a vision and an awareness of its implications in our everyday experience of faith and life, our moral goodness , our honesty, concern for the poor, and even our prayer can be much the same as those of other human beings throughout the world who strive in the name of the
God of Islam, of Israel, or of  Buddha..  Without such a vision we are less than mission minded and the truth about Jesus and  His glory is less well known, appreciated, and effective.

               We need the experience of Peter, James, and John in the Gospel story of  the Transfiguration of Jesus.  We need to be convinced again in the divinity of Jesus.  Without  Jesus, as God's  Son, we are without the full meaning of creation.  Without a personal relationship with Jesus in our everyday experience of life, in our prayers, in our relationships with one another, we are
missing something of the reality of  God's plan for us, and the joy peace and love the Father desires to share with us all.

                "This is my Son, My Chosen One. Listen to Him."  We need to be constantly reassessing and reconfirming our belief  in the divinity of Jesus in order to listen to Him.  In the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain the Father wishes to identify His Son not only for Peter James and John but for us. With the grace of our faith in the Transfiguration of Jesus as our base, let's establish His identity again today, so that we can listen to His call and follow, together as a community of  faith, members of His Body, branches on the Vine, one in faith hope and love.          

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Blog # 475 The Good Shepherd

Blog # 475   The Good Shepherd

           In each season of the Church's Liturgical Year the theme of Jesus identified as the Good Shepherd is celebrated. In the  Easter Season it is the  fourth Sunday of Easter and the readings this week other than on feasts will remind us of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

         The initiative in identifying Jesus as the Good Shepherd was taken by Jesus Himself.  (Jn. 10: 11-16).  In early Christian art and as Biblical references in the catacombs, carved in stone, the Good Shepherd was most commonly used.

           Living as we do so far removed from a regular experience of sheep and shepherding, we might ask what lesson or value can be ours in celebrating Good Shepherd Sunday, 2015.  Chances are none of us is, has been, or will be a shepherd.  Very likely most of us have not even known any shepherds personally.  Is the theme like a delicate precious antique we have in our possession, to be handed down from one generation of Christian believers to the next?  I hope not.

           In identifying Himself as the Good Shepherd Jesus compared and contrasted  that image with what He referred to as a hired shepherd.  The Good Shepherd has a high regard for the sheep, is dedicated to their welfare, and is willing to risk his life for their sake. The hireling works for the pay
he receives rather than for the good of the sheep. When danger comes the hireling flees from the scene and leaves the sheep to be scattered and killed.

              In reflecting upon the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd various thoughts begin to focus for us. The Good Shepherd is dependable, generous, self-giving, and worthy of trust.  In identifying
Himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus is inviting us to see in Him these same qualities, not by way of bragging about Himself on the part of  Jesus, but by way of  relating  closely  through them to Him as a personal friend, one of us, unafraid, with ourselves in place of the sheep He cared for so well.

              This insight makes a difference in my prayers to Him.  I never want to lose an awareness of
the awesomeness with which my prayer to the Father should be identified in response to the infinite, beyond-my-imagination, power and perfection of the Father, which may have tempted me to fear rather than to love God. unless Jesus, as the Eternal Word, equal to the Father, and as our friend the Good Shepherd, equal to us, revealed Him as Our Father.

                When and how can we remind ourselves of this invitation, respond to it more frequently, and appreciate its implications more frequently and effectively?   The early Christians did this through prayer to Jesus the Good Shepherd, through drawings and paintings of Jesus as the Good Shepherd in their homes, cemeteries, and places of worship. On one wall of my room I have a large I image of  the  Crucifixion.  Just below it I have an image of Jesus  the Good Shepherd.   This was the man who was crucified.  The combination of the two has been a special grace to remind me of the great love of  Jesus for us all, human and divine. 

                Also, though I would not be able to say how many folks who offer Mass regularly think of this, each time we offer Mass we offer the loving obedient death of our Shepherd. I also have a  small photo of  the Good Shepherd attached to the front of my file cabinet.  This gives me many opportunities to be reminded of  my Shepherd-friend.

                    Here are some questions that might be helpful.  Identified as we are with Jesus through faith and Baptism, do we see ourselves as good shepherds, to ourselves and others?  What type of persons must we be to live out the truth, that we are sent by Jesus as He was sent by the Father to be good shepherds?  What attitudes and habits of thought and action should we be cultivating in order  for the love of the Good Shepherd  to be alive in us?

                      What questions! Questions such as these tend to act as fertilizer in the garden of our lives.  They clarify the path to holiness and call us closer to the Lord and to one another.  They are valuable gifts.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Blog # 474 From God

Blog # 474  From God

             The Bible  makes a claim that anyone who enjoys  the  power of reason and is looking about himself in the world, with all its wonders, if he asks himself the question where did all of this come from, should be able to say "From God".   (Rom 1: 19.   I stand in defense of that claim.

               Charlie White is a Ford mechanic.  At first he could just tell the difference between a Ford and other makes of cars.  Then in high school he could tell you what model Ford was passing by, the particular features of that particular car, and its cost.  On Saturdays you could find  him changing tires in his father's  Ford dealership and garage business.  Now he is  a  master mechanic, and knows just about all there is to be known about Ford cars.  And Charlie White is no closer today to denying that Henry Ford ever lived than he was back in his high school days when he was just beginning.  That is just what  you would expect.

               The same is true in other fields as well.  We should not be surprised, then, that such great scientists as Bacon, Newton, Dalton, Pasteur, Madam Curie, Edison. and Marconi were deeply religious people as well as outstanding scientists.  There is no more reason for persons who made extensive studies in science to love  God less or believe in Him less because of their studies, than there is for a man like Charlie White to deny the fact Henry Ford ever lived. 

               There is, however, much more reason for anyone who studies creation in view of the claim of  God the Creator of all that exists, to love God more in knowing God better through their research. in science. In the case of Henry Ford, he was an inventor, and a manufacturer.  He made one thing out of others. And he did not do all this by himself. For an automobile this would include glass, rubber, metal, leather etc.  There is an infinite distance between this and the act of creation  by force of which whatever exists does so by  the will of its Creator.  Without the Creator currently willing whatever exists to exist, it would not exist.  From this flows  our total love for God our Creator Who has been revealed to us by His  Son Jesus  as Our  Father.                                                                  


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Blog # 473 Anatomy of Love

Blog # 473 Anatomy of Love

           Let's consider what might go into a decision to love someone, whether it be God or someone else.
           First of all we must know someone if we are to love him or her.  We cannot love someone we do not know.  This implies in our decision to love, that we be open to discover one another, using knowledge, as it were, as a key to our hearts. This is true of our love for God as well as other loves.

            If we really want to love God, we must want to know  God.  If we do nothing  to discover  God, or nothing to know God better, we can hardly say we have decided to love  God or to love God
           Also part of a decision to love someone is to draw close to that person, share, praise, receive gifts and give gifts, to rejoice in the love, and to protect it, strengthen it and help it to grow.  Such decisions are not made by accident, nor can they be taken for granted, Again, whether we are speaking of our love for wife, husband, children, friends, enemies, or God, this is true. 

            A big question for husbands and wives who wish to grow in their love for one another, then,
should be the question what have we done today to increase our knowledge of one another?  How have we praised one another?  What have we shared?  What have we given? 

             With God too, for all who wish to love Him and grow in love for Him, we should be asking the questions: What have I done today to increase my knowledge of  God?  How have I  praised  God?  When did I rejoice in God's love?  Have I made any effort to protect my love for 
God?  What have we shared?  What have I given to God and what have I received from God as a sign and expression of our love?      

              In preparing for this blog today I came across a letter I had filed away back in 1980.  It was written by a man in Minnesota to the editor of a national Catholic newspaper.  Here is a portion of it.
"Catholics  want to hear the word of God preached, complete, with the words sin, heaven, hell, damnation and salvation mentioned occasionallyInstead, all we get in our homilies is love, love, and more love, accentuated by the odious kiss of peace which has  turned into a love-in in many churches."
               You may have heard a similar complaint before or even felt that way yourself.  Yet Jesus summed up all the commandments in love.  St. John teaches us that God is love.  And St. Paul certainly and clearly puts love at the top of  the virtues and good deeds we might perform.

                The solution seems to lie in identifying what love is, what it entails , and what the consequences of distorting or losing it might be.  In the Scriptures, with Jesus, John, and Paul, to love is to give, the more we love, the more we give.   "There is no greater love than this, to lay down one's  life for a friend."  That is because we would have no more to give.

                  Take a look at this past week in your life. Most likely it was a typical week. Look at it honestly.  Listen to it. How much love was present?  How would you know?  Love is a choice.  It requires freedom, patience, kindness, lack of rudeness, no self-seeking,  no undue anger, trust, hope, the power to endure.  How much of this did you see and hear, within yourself and around you? (1Cor. 13: 4-8).              
                    That is how much love there was in your life this past week.  Will this week be the same?


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Blog # 472 Come!

Blog # 472 Come !

           Peter died more than nineteen hundred years ago.  Elijah lived in the ninth century before Jesus was born. Both of them lived and died far away from here and a very long time ago. We are separated from Peter and Elijah by vast distances of space and a very long time.  Is there anything  special that unites us with them?
           This is an important question because if we cannot recognize anything special in their lives and in ours that is similar and related, their stories and writings would not have a great deal of influence in our imitation of them in our lives.

         One basic key element in the lives of Elijah, Peter and ourselves is the fact the same God Who was present to them is present to us today. Whatever was happening to them in relationship to God could happen to us. We cannot live nine centuries before Jesus was born.. We cannot die in the first century after He was born.   But the same God Who called  Elijah to be the great prophet that he was is the God Who called each of us to be the child of this or that particular mother and father, from the very moment we were conceived.  And the same God Who promised and gave to Peter  the courage love and grace he needed to lay down his life in the name of Jesus, is the God Who promises and offers us the courage love and grace it will take to discover and achieve the unique goal He has set for each of us.

               With our relationship to the same God to Whom Peter and Elijah were related in mind, we approach their writings and stories given us in the Scriptures with more insights and better questions.
We listen for God to speak to us as God spoke to them.  We preach with Elijah.  We go fishing with Peter.  But primarily to discover what God said to them and through them so we might hear that same God speaking to us.

                   We marvel at the fact we see the same moon shining as Peter and Elijah saw.   No doubt they knew the tribute the  Psalmist paid to the moon in exalting it as "a faithful witness in the sky".(Ps 89: 38).  We think of how this might have inspired their own faithful witness and hope it would do the same for us. We find ourselves closely related to Peter and Elijah in our freedom our faith and our deep desire to discover and follow God's plan for us.

              My mind was drawn to the offertory prayer at Mass. "Blessed are You, Lord, God of all creation..."God of the large and the small, of mountains and valleys, of the great miracles like healings that occur only now and then, but also of the ordinary miracles that occur before our eyes each day, a geranium plant, a rose, the gift of sight, prayer, forgiveness, grass growing fresh after a rain,  raisins, a tomato, a smile.  What miracles!. "Blessed are You, Lord, God of all creation".

                  I was surprised today while reflecting on the story of Peter accepting the invitation to walk on the water with Jesus. (Mat. 14:  22-33). His first response taught me about prayer. It seems to me many people try to set an agenda for God in their prayers, and that agenda set for God seems to be for God to help us in our agenda.  "Help me get as raise."  "Please find us a nice house." "Please heal this pain of mine."
                   These prayers are good. but I see a different kind of prayer illustrated for me in Peter today. Remember he and the other Apostles were out on the Lake in a storm.  It was three o'clock in
the morning. They were all awake and worried.  Jesus approached, walking on the water. It was a perfect setting for a prayer for help.  "Please, Lord, keep us safe." "Please, Lord, calm the storm".  I can easily imagine some of those on board with Peter prayed such a prayer. But not Peter. First he wants to make sure he was not deceiving himself by thinking it was Jesus when it might have been just an illusion. So he begins his prayer by checking it out with Jesus:  "Lord, if it is really you..."
              Then he says what he wants: "Tell me to come to you, across the water".   Peter loved Jesus deeply.  And he knew Jesus loved him too. This is part of the story, and his words might be interpreted something like this: Jesus, I love you and want to be close to you, even though it takes a miracle like walking on the water as you are doing.  For Peter it was a prayer to be more like Jesus.  And Jesus said: "Come. Be like me! Forgive! Pray! Love unto death! Trust!  Believe! Work miracles in my name! I will be with you."
               For us. today, living under the strong influences of our current secular  culture,  the gift of faith in the Church, faith in the Mass and Holy Communion, and faith in the reality of sanctifying grace is a miracle just as walking on water would be. Whenever and wherever faith is required of us it is 3 AM in our life, we are on the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus says: "Come ! "            

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Blog # 471 God

Blog # 471    God

          Wherever the sun is shining,  wherever there is a stone, wherever a flower, a drop of water, or  a human tear, God is present.

            We use the word present both of God and others.  In both instances it means something similar and yet something different. We know and are present to others beginning with our five senses.  God, the Creator of all, is present to all of creation in a way that is unique to God and mysterious to us, totally beyond  our limited human comprehension.

              Everything we say or think of God falls short of the whole truth about God.  The whole truth about God is absolutely beyond anything we might say or think.  Few people seem to realize this and we find ourselves speaking and thinking about God almost as though God were just better than  we rather than absolutely different.  Understand just a little of that statement and we begin to realize how foolish it is for anyone to say there is no God.  Such a person does not know what he or she is talking about, or what he or she is saying.

                Analogies sometimes help but they do not solve the problem.  You may have a quart of water from the ocean in a jar, but you do not have the ocean there. If someone were to ask you of the photo you keep in your wallet who is that (sic)?, you have no problem saying she is my sister.  It is a  photo of your sister all right, and  no one else, that is true.  But the photo , like all photos, is paper, and your sister is a living woman.  All we think or speak of God is by way of analogy.

                It a case of something being similar yet different on a limited scale, when we think and speak of God there is a limited similarity between our thoughts and words and the total truth about God, but the difference is absolute, without limit.  Words like awesome, majestic, stunning, adorable, generous, kind, and great are all words we could be comfortable with  in speaking and thinking of God. Yet not one of them or all of them together express the solution to the problem we have by the very nature of our limited human thinking and speaking of God.  If there is a solution God alone would  know it.

                  Because God is kind, generous and all those words we use when we try on our own to think or speak of God,  God has solved the problem for us in Jesus.  In Jesus, by faith, we see God walking, hear God speaking, share God's love in human circumstances and in particular times and places.  Jesus claims this for Himself on behalf of all people down to the very end of the world.  "No one has ever seen God.  It is God the only son, ever at the Father's side, who has revealed Him." (Jn. 1:18. Also (Jn.3: 32; Jn. 6: 46.  And: "I tell you what I have seen in the Father's presence." (Jn. 8 :38).  "Lord", Philip said to Jesus,  " Show us the Father and that will be enough for us."  "Philip", Jesus replied, after I have been with you all this time, you still do not know me?   Whoever has seen me has seen the Father."  (Jn. 14: 8,).   "If you really  knew me, you would know the Father also". (Jn.14: 7; Jn. 8: 19). "The Father and I are one. (Jn. 10 30).

              Jesus insists there is but  one God.  Yet Jesus speaks of God as Father. Jesus Himself claims to be God.  Jesus speaks of sending the Holy Spirit from Heaven, and the Holy Spirit as divine.  In what Jesus tells us of the Father, Himself, and the Holy Spirit being truly God, and in His clear proclamation of one God the Creator of all that exists, we have a supernatural mystery clearly   beyond our limited human  understanding.

               We believe, that is, we know, by faith the Father is God,  The Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.  We believe, that is, we know, by faith there is but one God. We know this now, by faith.  After judgment our knowledge will be "face to face".  But now, and then, always and everywhere, the one Eternal God, Father Creator, Son Redeemer, and Holy Spirit Sanctifier, awesome beyond thoughts and words, is intimately and personally close to us through faith in love. The model of our love for God is the perfect total unconditional human obedient love of Jesus on the Cross. His trust there was unconditional.  His  love there was total.

                   In response to the words of Jesus: "I am in the Father and the Father is in me", ( Jn. 14:10) and His identification of our union with Him as a union of branches on a vine(Jn. 15:5) , here is a short prayer inviting God to keep us mindful of one of the gifts that comes to us in Baptism.
                                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.




Saturday, April 18, 2015

Blog # 470 Lost and found.

Blog # 470   Lost and found

               In the Bible there is a  great deal of coming and going. I was surprised when I looked up the words 'come' and 'go'  in my concordance and found the word 'go' is used more than fifteen hundred times and the word 'come' more than eighteen hundred times,

               What sent me to the concordance was a phrase in the story of the Prodigal Son in the 15th Chapter of St.Luke's Gospel.  He decided to go back to his father, to return home.  Previously to that he had decided to leave his father and go away.  That is the way it is with the verb to come and to go.  When we come to one place we have gone away from another. So I looked up both words and found there is a great deal of coming and going in the Bible.

           If we never go anyplace we will never lose the way. But who of us who have done  any traveling have not had the experience of making a wrong turn, having an accident, running out of gas, giving up, losing the way.  So as long as I had the concordance in my hands I decided to look up the word 'lose' as well as the words 'come' and ' go'.  I found the Bible making reference to the possibility of  losing time, hope, money, strength, life, reward, self, sheep, wars, confidence, patience, our souls.

           In Luke 15 we have Jesus making reference to a lost coin and a lost sheep.  Loss entails separation of something from its owner.  The younger son in the third reference of Jesus separates himself from his father, and in this sense he can be categorized as lost. The passage refers to three different ways  of being lost, and three different responses on the part of  the owner. In the first case, the coin was lost in the sense of being separated from its owner.  In its natural condition of being without life and consciousness, it has no way of knowing it is lost.

              With regard to the sheep. we can well imagine it is out on a hill by itself. bleating, lonely, afraid, and searching.  In the case of the prodigal son, for a time he felt all was going well, with money in his pocket, drink in his glass, and friends all around. He was just where he waned to be.  But after a while the truth came out.  His 'happiness' was gone. He longed for the peace and goodness of home and he wanted to go back.

             The response of the woman, the shepherd, and the father in each of the three references is also different.  In the case of the coin the woman takes all of the initiative.  In the case of  the sheep it is shared, the sheep looking for the flock and the shepherd looking for the sheep. In the case of  the boy  the response of the father is to yearn for the boy's return, but to wait and then to welcome.   He is aware of the boy's gift of free will.

             If we apply the Gospel passage to current human situations, we find people in each of the three categories of loss.  Some people are apparently, through no fault of their own, separated  from or unaware of any conscious personal experience of God. They do not pray or see the need for prayer. They are not seeking or aware of anything more than natural  human happiness in this life. God, however, loves them. Wishing to share God's love for them with us, Jesus has told us to search for them, go  to them, and tell them of God's love as we know it. Each one can be compared to a lost  coin.  There is rejoicing when it is found.

           Like sheep who are lost, some people who do not for the time being have a personal relationship with God are yet looking for something . They have a concern or at least a feeling that something is missing in their lives, there is greater happiness and peace than they know.  They are not living lives of sin, but they are  nevertheless separated from a personal experience of God's love for  them. When they find Him they too rejoice.

            In the third category of people who are separated from God are those who are conscious of sin. They too are loved by God, but God respects their freedom, most precious to Him in all His gifts to them, and waits, ready at any moment to welcome them home. There is great rejoicing on the day they come.
             Now, how does all of this apply to us? Time is moving, and we are moving along with it, like it or not.  80. 81, 82. 2012. '13' 14 '15... Then the destination, the end; life is over.  Questions come. Are we a coin, a sheep, or a boy?  Are we already now, living in our Father's house, rejoicing, and determined never to leave again?

             Perhaps a way of helping ourselves answer such questions is to ask another. What are we looking for as we go along through life?  We go to bed, go shopping, go to sleep, go to the hospital,    go to school, go to work, go to a bell game, go to church, go to Grandma's house. Why go anywhere  unless we have a reason.  God is somehow the answer to all of our questions. When we are aware of this, accept it, and rejoice in it, we are finally home.  It should be the happy place destined for us in the Father's love from all eternity!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Blog # 469 Living out our Baptism

Blog # 469   Living out our  Baptism

             Since the year 2000 the Second Sunday of Easter has been  designated by the Holy Father as Divine Mercy Sunday.  The Feast calls our attention to two of the most fundamental articles  of our faith: God's revealed identity as Love, and the fundamental characteristic of all love, which is mercy.
We believe God is totally loving, and consequently totally merciful. To desire and to petition God to be merciful is similar to a desire that water be wet. Our petitions for God's mercy are petitions that we might realize the extent of God's mercy and that we would be worthy to receive it.

              In the Feast of Divine Mercy we recall and celebrate the content and consequence of  our faith in God's revealed identity as Love, and that  the fundamental characteristic of all love is mercy. We do this in the light and power of the love Jesus brought to earth from the Father, manifested and shared with us in the Resurrection of Jesus. In the Resurrection, his victory over death, Jesus conquered the greatest physical evil that is possible for us ( the destruction of life itself), and also the symbol of all of our possible spiritual woes, (sin of any kind).

              Each year on the first Sunday of Lent, we pray in  the opening prayer of the Mass:  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. Now on the second Sunday of Easter we are invited to identify and affirm possible ways this prayer might be realized in God's mercy..

                The meaning of Our Lord's death is not totally confined to the physical pain and suffering He endured. Rather, and more importantly, the pain and suffering was an experience and expression of the obedient love Jesus had for the Father and the extent of love the Father and Jesus had for all people.

                  The physical pain suffering and death endured by Jesus was inflicted on Him by others and by the natural limitations of His humanity.  However all of it was endured and embraced by Him  in obedience , and thus transformed into an experience and expression  of obedient love.  In a similar way death and some particular type and degree of suffering inflicted by others and by the limits of our humanity will occur in us. It seems to me in many cases, if not in the majority, Christian believers endure such sufferings to 'make up for' or in reparation for sin.

                  The motive and experience of reparation for sin was definitely part of the motivation of Jesus in His suffering and death. But it was not the total motive and experience.  To understand the total meaning and experience of the Passion of Jesus we must include as an essential factor His total
 love for the Father. In turn, if, as our Lenten prayer requests, we are to reflect the meaning of Jesus' death and  Resurrection we can expect the grace we need to have the same attitude and response to our death as Jesus had to His. Implied in our  prayer, then, is whatever degree and kind of suffering we might be given to endure, at any moment, and throughout our lives, even to the moment and type of death we will experience.

                  From my experience of observing people and relating to people who suffer from simple headaches on up to arthritis cancer and death, I think this insight into our faith with regard to our Christian response to these evils is rare.  As a result much suffering is not identified and experienced in union with Jesus as obedient love and thus is not experienced as transformed into love, and through our unawareness and lack of knowledge God's mercy is curtailed.

                 It does not seem to be that people reject such an insight but rather they are not aware of it or have never had it pointed out to them.  Almost as sad as this is with regard to the sufferings and death of Jesus and our own, it also seems to be true in regard to the good  things in the life of Jesus and ourselves to which it applies, such as His prayer and ours, His joy and ours.(Jn. 15: 11).  All  that we do, not only what we suffer, can and should be done and desired in union with Jesus to His Glory and to that of the Father. (Jn. 17: 23 "...I living in them")).  The experience that qualifies us for this comes to us through Baptism, in our new identity with Jesus as members of His Body the Church sharing His life..  The strength and guarantee it can be done comes in the gift of His total obedient love for the  Father, shared with us by faith.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Blog # 468 We believe...

Blog # 468      We believe...

           On one occasion after Jesus told his disciples that if a brother sinned, then  repented, and did this seven times a day, they should forgive him, the disciples said to the Lord,  "Increase our faith." Jesus answered: "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, 'Be uprooted and transplanted into the sea', and it would obey you." (Lk. 17: 5 - 10).

           Did Jesus really mean it when  he said with faith you could  uproot a sycamore tree and have it planted in the ocean?  Certainly !  The catch is the phrase: with faith.  If God told us to say such a thing to a sycamore tree, and we did, it would be done. Yes!

              Scholars agree Jesus said what he did as an extreme example of the power of faith and the trustworthiness of God, but also what he said was, and is, true.  We can depend that much upon God. We can believe that strongly.  God is absolutely trustworthy, including all that we can imagine of trustworthiness, and beyond.  It is a notion that relates to the Hebrew word 'emunah'.

             I remember one of our Scripture professors back in the seminary taking almost an entire class to explain and comment  upon this single Hebrew word. He loved the Hebrew texts of the Scriptures and was always eager to share his love and enthusiasm with us.  He was afraid we would miss the richness of the original texts in the translations we knew. His translation of emunah was 'steadfast loyalty', holding on in obedience to Yahweh's law of truth, even when it was not the popular or easy
thing to do, holding on in thick or thin, always, everywhere, publicly or in private, to the end. All God's promises would be fulfilled. Yahweh is absolutely trustworthy. The sun is shining even behind the darkest clouds. When it is night time in Cincinnati, it is morning in Hong Kong.  The reliability of the sun is but a shadow of God's trustworthiness.  For faith, a sycamore tree has shallow roots!

              Part of the grace of reflecting upon the short passage we have considered from Luke's seventeenth Chapter during the octave of  Easter is the invitation it gives to examine the notion and place of faith in our relationships with God, the world, and one another. Any hope or experience of sharing in the resurrection of Jesus and our own resurrection is based on faith. It is only the beginning, but it is the beginning and is altogether necessary in order to begin.

             Gold and silver are precious metals. A diamond is a precious stone. They can be used in trade to buy food, clothing, shelter.  But in themselves they are not capable of nourishing or keeping us warm.  A similar thing could be said of faith as an ingredient in our pursuit of peace and happiness.  Faith is a tool, a basic building block, that is capable of influencing a person's entire life. In itself, however, faith could be, as the Apostle James said :'dead'.  Used in trade, faith is valuable, necessary, and a thing of beauty.  

             Are there degrees of faith?  Is someone who does not believe necessarily a sinner?  How does such a person differ from someone who believes?  What does Jesus say of faith?  These  and similar questions are helpful if we are to make adequate or full use of the gift of faith within us.  Many people seem to rely heavily on feelings when it comes to their relationships with God. Genuine faith
is based upon truth and our response to that truth, in freedom, leading to love.
              Recently I heard of the death of a friend at the age of 87.  By faith we accept and acclaim that somehow, according to God's promise he is yet alive. This seems to be a stronger challenge to faith than to say a sycamore tree was planted by faith in the ocean. Yet we say it. We believe. What a wonderful tribute our faith is to God's goodness and God's power shared with us! 

            Although faith is to have an effect on our behavior and calls us to action, it does not call us to pride in what we do, but in the to truth of it. We are not called to do God a favor in what we are called to do. God can place His sycamore trees wherever He wills them to be, without us.  We are called, each of us to be where we belong, in that unique place where  God wants us to be planted, in the truth about ourselves, in the peace and joy that comes from knowing and doing God's will, the peace and joy that begins with faith and continues on to our resurrection from the dead and eternal life. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Blog # 467 Lord, teach us how to pray

Blog # 467  Lord, teach us how to pray.

          Twenty years ago, on one occasion when I was  praying my breviary while walking back and forth on the front porch, a young  boy came by and asked me what I was doing. I told him "I am praying,"  Then he said "What is that?"

           He had asked me a difficult question.  Prayer is an experience, and the only way a person can really know what it is, is to have that experience. It surprised me, and I suppose even sort of shocked me to realize this boy was not familiar with the experience of prayer. I think I told him it was "talking to God".
            When he would come by at a time when I was feeding the chickens, sweeping off the porch, cleaning the house, or hanging up the laundry I never remember him asking me what I was doing.  While it was true he probably never actually did any of these things himself, he knew what they were and did not need to ask in order to identify them. But when it came to prayer that was a completely new thing, a stranger, a mystery, a question.

            A classic definition of prayer is this: Prayer is a lifting up of the mind and heart to God, to adore Him and thank Him, to make up to him for our sins, to implore His blessing upon our life, and to ask from Him what we need to know and do His will.  To pray is to experience a personal conscious response to God as present to us at that particular moment. In popular terms, prayer is "talking to God", living in the presence of God.

            The essential elements of any genuine experience of prayer are two: God's presence, and our conscious personal response to God present to us.  Whether we be on our knees, with hands folded, focusing our minds upon one or another series of thoughts or words, whether we be alone or with others, whether we are sad or happy, healthy or ill, does indeed have a bearing on every one of our experiences and on that of prayer, but these elements do not constitute the essence of prayer. Prayer essentially and simply is a personal conscious one-to-one response to God. 
           Prayer can be private, when we are alone, or public when we are with others.  Prayer can be formal when it is expressed in a set formula of words or thoughts taken from a book of prayers or some  other source, or spontaneous when  it is expressed in words or thoughts that come directly and originally from the heart.

           Prayer can be silent, not expressed in words or sound, or vocal.  Ritual prayer is prayer that is expressed in some form of symbols, such as incense water fire.  The Church's official public prayer is referred to as Liturgical prayer, or the Liturgy.

            In manuals of moral theology we read of an obligation to pray.  It is pointed out that just as there is an obligation to be thankful and appreciative to those around us in our daily human experience of life, so there is a similar obligation with regard to our response to God.  As we are to make  up for and repair any damage or harm we have done to those around us, so it is with regard to making up for our sins before God through prayer.  Rather than specify "morning and night" , though this is highly recommended, we are told of an obligation to pray "regularly", which is generally interpreted at least daily. 

             A special obligation to pray is given when we are conscious of temptation and at the time of our death.  We realize this may not be possible at the actual time of our death on the calendar because of our physical condition, but we can and should identify the response we wish to make to God at that real future moment well beforehand in the prayer that answers the question; "What is my response
before the Lord to the life I have lived, to all that God has given to me, to all that I have done?'

             Even, and especially, professional athletes continue to practice to improve their skill.
Genuine scholars continue to study. Great scientists are always making further investigations and are on the lookout for more information.  Saints have always been interested in developing the quality of their prayer.  May we share their interest and desire.  Lord, teach us to pray.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Blog # 466 Good Friday

Blog # 466  Good Friday

            There are many ways to say "I love you".  One of the ways would  simply be to say the words.  Another would be to send a flower, bake a cake, take someone to a fancy restaurant, or to give a child a piece of candy or a toy.  Other ways to say I love  you would be to say: "I am sorry", or "I forgive you", or  "Would  you like to play tennis this afternoon?", "You are beautiful !", or "Happy Easter !"
             Did it ever occur to you that  another way of saying I love you might be to say: "May you have a  Good Friday"?  Good Friday on the calendar this year was five days ago. It was that for us all, seven billion of us now living on the earth, whether we be  young or old, rich, poor, Christian or not. However there has been a long tradition among believers in Jesus to call the Friday before Easter 'good'.  Among all of the other Fridays of the year this one is singled out and designated 'good'. Why?

             Normally you would think of an experience the day on which your son or your brother died a sad day rather than a good one.  But this day on which we remember and re-experience the death of Jesus is called Good Friday.  Why?  To help you determine the answer, you might refer to the following references in the Bible.  Numbers 21: 49. John 3: 14; John 8: 28, and John 12: 32. 

               If I were to promise to give anyone who sent his or here name and address to me five hundred dollars, the days on which you received the promise and then the money would be experienced by you as good days.  The sad thing in this example is the fact I do not have that much money to give. Then too I might not have as much love for you as it would take to make the promise and give you the money.  But God has infinite goodness power and love!

               There are many ways to say I love  you.  God says I love you to each and all of us constantly and everywhere, in nature, history, the Church, our prayers,  our illnesses, our health, and all the other blessings we can count.  But on top of it all, God so loved the world that He gave his
Beloved Son, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. ( Jn. 3:16). And the Son loved us so much as to die for us.

                   God, the Best, in Jesus, gives His life.  Everything He has, the most, as an expression of His love.  Like a birthday, an anniversary, Good Friday is the day we celebrate that love.  It is a good day.

                       I love you!  Happy Easter ! Good Friday ! it is the same.   May Jesus be praised !   

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Blog # 465 He Lives

Blog # 465  He Lives

              On the cover of an EASTER greeting I have saved for several years is a beautiful picture in bright pastel colors of a sunrise over a flower garden.  Birds are singing in the trees. The words on the greeting are these: As Easter arrives, all the world celebrates SPRING with the blossoming of buds, the hymns of treetop birds, and nature's breezes that remind us that it is a time of RENEWAL.

               It is a beautiful card, and that seems to be a beautiful message, but there is much more to Easter than what it says.  For example, all the world does not celebrate Easter in the Spring.  In the southern hemisphere Easter comes in the Fall.  Though Easter comes in the Spring for us, and that is a special blessing, it is not merely or mainly a celebration of Spring, as beautiful and appropriate such a celebration might be.

            Is it then about colored eggs, chocolate rabbits , jelly beans and Easter bunnies as well as Spring?  That would seem close to the actual experience of most children in the US today, and of those engaged in the commercial enterprise that Easter has become.
                With Christmas we can see a possible connection between the glitter, gift giving, and human joy of it with the birth of Jesus. So with Easter, we can see a connection  between Spring and the Resurrection of Jesus.  So with the colored eggs, jelly beans, and chocolate rabbits. But there is also a very real danger of these other items overshadowing the real meaning and value of occasions we are called to celebrate at Christmas and Easter.  It would seem that for many in our current moment of history here in the US this has actually occurred.

                  Give yourself an honest answer to a question like this: Can you actually say the Resurrection of Jesus has a significant bearing throughout the year upon your personal identity, your everyday experience of life, your prayers, your joy?  

                   With the answer to that question for many people being no, it is hardly a wonder that it is not very evident in the stores and in the lives of our children that the real meaning of our celebration of Easter does not come from the fact it is Spring or that we enjoy the colors tastes and sounds of it, but rather that God desired to love us so much that Jesus made Christmas happen, then lived out our human experience in all of its details but sin, and then told us in his blood the Father and we are worth all that he had to give.
                  That would be enough to celebrate. But that would only have brought us up to Good Friday. However today we celebrate Easter. He died for us.  He gave his all. We love him for that. But the story continues. Raised from the dead, He lives!

                    How do I know?  By living my faith in the Resurrected Jesus.  Whenever I am assured of the forgiveness of my sins in  his name I know he lives.  Whenever I forgive someone else in his name I know he lives.  Whenever I pray, or read the Bible, go to sleep, or wake from sleep in his name I know he lives.  Whenever I discover the meaning and value of suffering and death in his name I know he lives.
                    All of this is as real as Spring, as beautiful as a garden, as pleasing as a chocolate rabbit, and much more valuable than them all. It is Easter.  Jesus lives!               

Friday, April 3, 2015

Blog # 464 The Eucharistc Sacrifice

Blog # 464  The Eucharistic Sacrifice

              Back ten years ago, in April of 2005, with the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope
Benedict XV1 we had a Pope whose background and reputation was that of a theological scholar.
Without being a scholar, I do have a deep interest in theology and have enjoyed reading a few of  Joseph Ratzinger's many books.

               Back at the time he was elected Pope I shared a concern he had with regard to an opinion that had grown up among current theological writers at that time that tended to strongly emphasize if not define the Last Supper and consequently the Mass as the experience of a holy meal for those whose sins had been forgiven by the act of reparation of Jesus on the Cross rather than the longstanding and original traditional identity of the act of Jesus on Calvary as an act of  sacrifice in the strict sense of the word as an offering of a tangible gift in worship to God alone by an official representative of the people with the change or destruction of what is offered in order to recognize and express an unconditional trust and total love for God on the part of those who offered the sacrifice.

               Several days ago an insight came to me out of the blue that fascinated me and threw light on the question at hand of correctly seeing the Crucifixion, the Last Supper, and the Mass as a single act of Sacrifice expressed in three different modes.  In response to the insight and in my desire to understand and apply it, I reviewed our faith in the identity of Jesus, Emmanuel,  God Among Us, truly God and truly one of us, as the personal fulfillment of the promise of a savior of God's people made to our first parents in the garden of Eden so many years before he was born.

           Jesus always did the will of the Father. Normally that would mean he would think speak and act as fully limited and human as the rest of us.  As one of us, for almost thirty years Jesus would normally have to walk from Jerusalem to Jericho in fulfillment of the will of the Father for him.  He would grow hungry and tired, rejoice with his neighbors and friends, pray with his fellow believers in the local synagogue in Nazareth, and experience compassion and sympathy for those living around him who were poor and suffering in some way.

                At times however, when he perceived this as the will of the Father, Jesus would act and
speak as only God could do. At these times He would raise a dead person to life, heal lepers,             cure the blind and the deaf, miraculously walk on water, and forgive sins. 

                  The insight that came to me several days ago had reference to the action and words of Jesus at the Last Supper.  As far as I can tell this was the first time in my sixty years as an ordained priest, offering the Sacrifice of the Mass daily through all those years, that I consciously identified and appreciated a particular element involved in his consecration of the bread and wine at the Last Supper.  The insight was this:  In the experience of Jesus at the Last Supper, as one of us, and in accordance with the Father's will,  Jesus had to believe  in his real Eucharistic Presence in what appeared to be bread and wine, just as it appears to be to us in the telling of  it in the Gospel of Matthew ( 26:26) and as we believe it in the Sacrifice of the Mass.

                    To understand and justify the words of Jesus over the bread and the wine offered at the Last Supper we rely upon our faith in the incarnation of the Word of God in the flesh of Jesus , known from the instant of the incarnation of the Word as Jesus, human as any of us with the exception of remaining always without sin, yet ever retaining his divine identity in the Trinity as the Word of God.  In the transformation of the bread into his body "given" and  the wine  transformed into his  blood "poured out"  at the Last Supper both the human elements of his identity as one of us and his divine identity as the Word are active and essential. 

                     It is an occasion similar to those in which according to the Father's will  Jesus performed the human act of touching a leper together with his divine power over nature as the Word of God. On the occasion of the Last Supper Jesus performed the human act of taking the bread and wine into  his hands and making the human sounds of the words of transformation with the absolutely necessary divine power of the Word effecting the transformation.  (1Cor. 11:  23-27).

                  In coming to a more complete realization of what occurred at the Last Supper and then occurs daily in the celebration of  the Mass, several references are useful.  First there is a very significant prayer that is given to be prayed "quietly" by the priest as he places a few drops of water into the wine that is offered: "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity."  We share with Jesus in a common humanity by the fact each of us with no exception came to exist by the creative love of the Trinity. In our common humanity we are like him and he is like us in all but sin. (Heb. 4: 15). The question of sharing in his divinity must also be addressed in order to realize how we qualify to share in the sacrificial obedient love of Jesus in the sacrifice of the Mass. .

                 The drops of water that were mixed with the wine we brought to the altar to be transformed into his "blood poured out" in the sacrifice of the Mass symbolizes for us, by their complete giving of themselves to the wine, our desire to be so united with Jesus in his worship of the Father in the sacrificial offering of his blood on Calvary. How we justify our sharing in his divinity and so qualify  to fulfill his command to do what He had done in regard to the bread and wine at the Last supper and we continue to do in offering Mass is an important question.

                  At the conclusion of the long discourse of Jesus during  the Last Supper in the Gospel of John, Jesus prays that all who will believe in Him will be united as he and the Father are one-  "I living in them, you living in me - that their unity may be complete. So shall the world know that you sent me, and that you loved them AS you loved me."  How could this prayer of Jesus be answered positively by the Father?  Only in such a way that the gifts Jesus received in his humanity were also accompanied with the supernatural gifts that were his from time to time as the Father willed it.
This is clearly done for us in the Sacrament of Baptism. Anyone being Baptized is the same physically ten minutes after his or her Baptism  as before ,but by way of the supernatural gift that Baptism brings he or she is a "new creation", a living branch grafted to a living vine, a member of the Body of Christ with Christ as its Head.

                  In summary and applying all of this to the Sacrifice of the Mass I will try to conclude this longest and possibly the most complicated of all the blogs I have  written.

                    First of all, Jesus alone died physically on the Cross.  As the Word of God he might have had in mind all seven billion people living on earth today but only in Jesus was human death experienced  personally as an act of  his obedient love in sacrifice.  At the Last Supper the same obedient sacrificial love with which Jesus offered his life was experienced again with bread and wine being substituted for the body and blood of Jesus.
                      In the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism there is no distinction made between male and female.  Why is such a distinction made in the question of  the administration of the Sacrament of Orders, with the Sacrament being administered to men only?  As a matter of fact no distinction is made between men or women joining in the offering of Mass who qualify through Baptism and without a current awareness of serious sin. This refers to the priesthood of the laity and is not a new concept. Back in the second grade of our parochial school Sister Christina Marie had us memorize the prayer referred to as the 'morning offering' and we  prayed that prayer together as a class, boys and girls, each morning before our lessons began.  I still pray it daily.  It includes these words : O my Jesus, I offer Thee my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world..."

                  After the gifts have been prepared the celebrant at Mass addresses the congregation, men  and women, this way; "Pray that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable..."  My reason for accepting the current practice with regard to the ordination of men alone to the ministerial priesthood is my obedience to the authority I recognize given by God to the Church.  I would not be scandalized if some day in the future the practice would be changed, but for the time being I have no problem with it theologically.