This is a blog that I post to several times a week although not necessarily daily. These reflections are triggered by the scripture found in the lectionary used by many Christian denominations. While I am part of the Catholic tradition, these posts are not --or rarely--sectarian. I try to put myself in the space of a of Jesus Christ and listen to words that come to me as I read and pray the scriptures. Each post also includes a photograph. These rarely have any connection to the content of the post but are simply pleasing images that I capture as I make my pilgrimage through life.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The dawn is about to break.

"In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace."
Luke 1:79

This final sentence from Luke's gospel for Christmas Eve is a lovely summary of the Incarnation. This is a part of the Benedictus said by Zechariah at the circumcision of his son, John the Baptist. The Benedictus is said everyday in the Divine Office at the conclusion of morning prayer.

This refers to breaking into human existence of the Divine One. It refers to the Incarnation of the divine into the fully human, Jesus the Christ. But most importantly it refers to those of us who profess to be baptized disciples of Jesus the Christ. We are members of the Body of Christ which is just another way of saying that we are Christ. We are to be that dawn breaking on high that will bring light to those in darkness and peace to those who live in fear.

Am I up to the task? Can I risk commitment to that task knowing that I will fail. It helps to remember the prayer attributed to Oscar Romero.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Can it be that each of us is chosen?

2-5 At that time there was a man named Manoah from Zorah from the tribe of Dan. His wife was barren and childless. The angel of God appeared to her and told her, “I know that you are barren and childless, but you’re going to become pregnant and bear a son. But take much care: Drink no wine or beer; eat nothing ritually unclean. You are, in fact, pregnant right now, carrying a son. No razor will touch his head—the boy will be God’s Nazirite from the moment of his birth. He will launch the deliverance from Philistine oppression.” Judges 13:2-7

This is the beginning of the story of Samson in the Hebrew Scriptures, one of the Bible stories I remember well from my time in Catholic grade school. Today's gospel provides a parallel account of the miraculous conception of John the Baptist. There are many other similar stories in the Hebrew Scripture about the divinely caused conception of people important to the establishment of the Reign of God flowing out of the covenant. This reaches its apex with the account of the birth of Jesus, the very incarnation of the Divine One in a human being.

But what does all this have to do with me? Every birth is miraculous and is an incarnation of Godself into the world. Each of us is chosen to prepare the way for all humans to accept the entry of the Divine One into their lives. I am chosen to live my life in way that gives evidence of that acceptance and that makes clear that a life lived out of the spirit of the Divine One is a life of fulness and joy, lived out in the actual world of messiness, disorder, sadness, and evil and the actual world of peace, joy, love, and compassion. Each of us is chosen.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Peace of Christ surpassing all understanding

Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:4-7

These words take on added significance in light of the mass killings at Newtown CN on December 14, 2012. Human understanding cannot make any sense of what happened there. And yet our very divine humanness yearns for some kind of understanding, something that makes sense out of the senseless.

Last week before that tragedy I posted the following on Facebook: "Because there is evil in the world does not mean there is no grace. Because there is grace in the world does not mean there is no evil. My challenge is to confront both realities within myself." These words ring more true now than when I wrote them.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Can I believe in a non-judgmental Divine One?

Jesus said to his disciples:
"What is your opinion?
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?
And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it
than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.
In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost."
Matthew 18:12-14

Can I really believe in a Divine One who is totally consumed with bringing everyone including those who transgress into the community of love of the Trinity? The test of my belief, my faith is whether I can exhibit that same divine love toward those in my life, especially those who transgress, who have hurt me, who manipulate me, who wish me harm.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Monday, December 10, 2012

Which is easier to say?

"What are you thinking in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,'
or to say, 'Rise and walk?'
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins?"
he said to the one who was paralyzed,
"I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home."
Luke 5

This the familiar story of the paralyzed man whose friends lowered him through the roof of house so that he might present his need directly to Jesus. His first response is to forgive the man his sins which scandalizes the Scribes and Pharisees to whom he was speaking. He then asks that question and cures the man of his paralysis.

It was commonly thought at the time that there was a relationship between spiritual purity--lack of sins and obedience to the purity laws--and physical health. If one became ill especially with any chronic disease, people thought that the cause was personal sinfulness or impurity. From this passage at least, Jesus apparently thought so as well. The resulting emphasis on personal sin as the focus of a spiritual life has been a consistent part of the Christian tradition.

Paul saw things differently and emphasized not sin but fullness of life and faith. Our lack of sins did not save us but rather faith in Jesus the Christ and the resulting life behaviors that flowed from that faith. Faith, not rectitude with regard to laws, saves us.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

All in?

When Jesus looked up he saw some wealthy people
putting their offerings into the treasury
and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.
He said, "I tell you truly,
this poor widow put in more than all the rest;
for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood."
Luke 21:1-4

This little scene has nothing to do with contributions to a church...even though it has been used by church fundraisers over and over. This story is placed at the beginning of chapter 21 which is filled with Jesus' teaching about the end times and about what will be required of those who follow him. The previous chapter ends with the notice that the chief priests and leaders were searching for a way to rid themselves of jesus after his teaching in the temple on his arrival in Jerusalem.

In this context this story is about the extent to which one will be a disciple. Nothing less than total and complete commitment will do. Those who think they an follow Jesus and continue their ordinary life in the world are either fooling themselves or do not fully comprehend what Jesus is teaching.

My discipleship requires that I give over and give up my very life to Jesus the Christ, that I hold nothing back. Remember the rich young man who couldn't do thsi because he had so much? I do and the memory unsettles me.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christ the King

So Pilate said to him, "Then you are a king?"
Jesus answered, "You say I am a king.
For this I was born and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
John 18:37

One can only communicate through one's culture. Thus for Jesus and those of his time, the powerful image of King was appropriate language to describe the Divine One and the Messiah. A king was one who held all power, whose commands could not be contradicted, and who served not through merit but through his very being. It was only natural to think of the Divine One as a king. And yet, he was not really a king at all. If he were a king, it was not a king as most people of his time would recognize. One had to be oriented to the "truth" before one could even listen to the voice of Jesus the Christ.

The danger in such "royal" language was its misunderstanding. There was a seed implanted early on that the Roman Empire would use to make Christianity the state religion of the empire. This "royal talk" would infect the language, structure and consciousness of the governance of the Church. This reached its peak during the late Medieval period and has stubbornly continued today.

Jesus used other language to talk about himself, language that Paul emphasized. It was a radically communitarian language in which we became integrated into the very body of Christ which itself contained all that had been, is, and will be.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Which God?

At that moment there was a gigantic earthquake—a tenth of the city fell to ruin, seven thousand perished in the earthquake, the rest frightened to the core of their being, frightened into giving honor to the God-of-Heaven. Revelation 11:12-13.

Contrast this with the parable of the prodigal son in which the father receives back the wayward son with love and rejoicing. In that rejoicing, he disappoints his older son who clearly feels that the father should withhold his acceptance and affection from the sinner.
It is easy to see how the concept of God described in that passage from Revelation would gain such traction with people. It seems so much in accord with our human instincts for rectitude and judgment. Yet, we at the same time realize that compliance based on fear of destruction is really manipulation and coercion. The God that Jesus described and the person that Jesus was both bespeak a God who profoundly respected the freedom of each individual and desired a life based on a free living from the spirit within to the life without.
Today is the memorial of St. Andrew Kim and the other Korean martyrs. One can hardly imagine that they were martyred for such a God of vengeance and violent punishment. It seems more likely that they were martyred for the God of the prodigal son parable. Shouldn't our lives reflect that reality as well?
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sweet in the mouth but sour in the stomach

“Go, take the book held open in the hand of the Angel astride sea and earth.” I went up to the Angel and said, “Give me the little book.” He said, “Take it, then eat it. It will taste sweet like honey, but turn sour in your stomach.” Revelation 10:8-9

The mysterious Book of Revelation reminds me that the Word of the Divine One is sweet to taste but acidic and sour to digest. The writer uses this all too human experience of food that tastes so good we perhaps over eat and then suffer the consequences of indigestion. This is not meant to be applied literally to the prophecy from the Divine One but it still connects with the meaning of Jesus and his teaching.

His teaching of love and compassion is comforting, even sweet to hear and think about. But when we consume it so that it becomes part of us and seeks to change our lives, it is difficult and even unpleasant. That is because ti calls us to change our view of the world from an egocentric one to a compassionate presence, absent judgment and rationalization. It is hard to give up a view of ourselves as the right perspective on reality and to let what is infuse us. It feels like dying to self.

But that is the path to which Jesus called his disciples, a path that ends in the words of Paul, "Now not I live, but Christ lives in me." Help me drink deeply of the sweetness and experience fully the sourness so that I too may arrive at that point.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Thursday, November 22, 2012

All I have to do is open the door!

"'The Amen, the faithful and true witness,
the source of God's creation, says this:
"I know your works;
I know that you are neither cold nor hot.
I wish you were either cold or hot.
So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold,
I will spit you out of my mouth.
For you say, 'I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,'
and yet do not realize that you are wretched,
pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich,
and white garments to put on
so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed,
and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see.
Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise.
Be earnest, therefore, and repent.
"'Behold, I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
then I will enter his house and dine with him,
and he with me.
I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne,
as I myself first won the victory
and sit with my Father on his throne.
"'Whoever has ears ought to hear
what the Spirit says to the churches.'"
Revelations 3:14-22

While some passages from Revelations may be difficult to understand with obscure and poetic references, this one is pretty simple and direct. This is directed to the church in Laodicia which had been co-opted by the affluent and success oriented culture of that region. One gets the impression that the church had been planted and disciples gathered but eventually it became part of the prevailing culture. All the right words were said; all the correct gatherings were held; all the money was contributed. Yet, there was an absence of spirit and life. They neither sinned nor prayed but followed all the rules and withheld the one thing desired by the Divine One: their love of God and neighbor.
They were rich and affluent and had no need of anything. Yet in the midst of that affluence, they were wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. Clearly the church in Laodicia sounds like the church in America, subject to the same temptations to think they we do not need anything; we have it all. We do have it all...all of the wrong things. We lack the one thing necessary.
Jesus knocks at my door, every second of my existence. He desires deeply to enter my life and to share fellowship and nourishment with me. All I have to do is open the door and he does all the rest. How hard can that be?
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The judge and the widow

"While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being,
because this widow keeps bothering me
I shall deliver a just decision for her
lest she finally come and strike me."
Luke 18:5

The Irish Jesuit site, Living Space, referencing Sr. Melanie Svoboda, provide a different interpretation of this well known parable of the unjust judge and the persistent widow. What if I view the unjust judge, not as the Divine One, but as me? The Divine One then becomes the widow badgering me to do the right thing, the just thing. This makes more sense and surely speaks more directly to my life and concerns. While it is true that the Divine One cares for us and will provide the everlasting life to which each of us is called, there is no guarantee that justice will be done in this earthly pilgrimage unless I and others do justice for those less powerful, on the margins and forgotten by those in power.

I pray that I will hear the demands for justice and will be the channel for the Divine One to do justice in the world.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Am I the master or the servant?

Jesus said to the Apostles:
“Who among you would say to your servant
who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field,
‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’?
Would he not rather say to him,
‘Prepare something for me to eat.
Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink.
You may eat and drink when I am finished’?
Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded?
So should it be with you.
When you have done all you have been commanded, say,
‘We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.’”
Luke 17:7-10

It is so interesting to me that I typically read this story as an allegory in which I am the master. This, of course, complicates my understanding because the behavior of the master seems at odds with the typically generous and solicitous attitude displayed by Jesus in the gospel stories. Leaping over 2000 years of social and cultural history, I feel that I as master would of course invite the hard working servant to share a meal with me.

But if I read this as an allegory in which the master is The Divine One and I am the servant, a different meaning emerges, surely the one the early church meant to convey.

I am a creature of the Divine One and I am to live out that reality in my day to day life. I have obligations based on that reality to live a life of faithfulness. When I live that life, I don't deserve any special praise or thanks from the Divine One because I am only doing what I was created to do. The reward comes from living that life and living it to the fullest.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Scribe Within

"Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes
and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
seats of honor in synagogues,
and places of honor at banquets.
They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext
recite lengthy prayers.
They will receive a very severe condemnation."
Mark 12:38-40

These familiar words of Jesus always make my blood boil. They bring to mind people who clearly are overly invested in their own self importance. Often these are the very people whose mission is to serve us and the rest of the human family: religious leaders, political leaders, scholars, successful people of all kinds. Those who are rich in the goods of this world can tend to feel that they are worth more as human beings than those who are poor or suffer lack. Sometimes these are quite ordinary people whose sense of self importance blinds them to the plight of others and the call from the Divine One to care for them, to be concerned about them, to just take them into account.

Psalm 146 is used in today's liturgy and it makes clear that those who are part of the Reign of God established by Jesus the Christ are to be different: to feed the hungry, provide relief to the imprisoned, to attend to those on the margins of society, to pay attention to those whom the world forgets and counts as unimportant. A reading of this psalm provides a wonderful format for an examination of my life and the ways in which I respond or fail to respond to the call to discipleship.

The real problem is not the scribe without, but the scribe within...and there is a scribe in each of us, in me. Will my life express my "scribeness" or my discipleship?
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Sunday, November 4, 2012

It is really that simple

The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
'He is One and there is no other than he.'
And 'to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself'
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
Mark 12:30-33

Jesus responded that this scribe was "not far from the Reign of God" because he got it and it was simple. Religious practice while necessary is not sufficient for one to be a true disciple of Jesus. One must love others as one loves one's self.

One of the important and unique insights of Jesus was that this injunction to love was not restricted to one's neighbor narrowly construed. It is still easy for us to "love" those who are like us, who are members of our group. Jesus asks us to stretch our notion of neighbor to include everyone and to exclude no one. Typically when we think about the concept of neighbor, we are trying to include some groups and thus exclude others. The message of Jesus is that no one is to be excluded from the Reign of God except by their own choice.

So who is my neighbor? Who is deserving of my love and concern? The victims of child abuse and those who abuse them. Innocent victims of violence and those who inflict that violence. Those addicted to drugs or alcohol and those who enable them. Those who are discriminated against and those who discriminate. Those who are poor and those who impoverish them.

There is no end to those whom I am to love.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Two views of the same reality

Today's lectionary readings provide us with two different views of the reality of the incarnation: what does it mean that the Divine One became a human being who created a new reality through death and resurrection?

For Paul writing to the Ephesians, it means a new, life-changing reality at the very core of our being.
I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.Ephesians 3:16-20

This lyrical out burst is Paul's attempt to put into words what is beyond all understanding, namely, that Christ dwells deep within us and is the source of a new life of fullness and love, a life that is so new and different that we become new beings in a radical fashion.

The gospel reading is from Luke and is far from lyrical as Jesus talks plainly about what discipleship will be like. It will not be peaceful and calm. He says he did not come to make everything nice and comfortable but rather to shake everything up, to turn everything upside down.
"Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; 52 for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”Luke 12:51-53

A disciple of Jesus the Christ will continue to live in a world that is at odds with the new life created through the baptism with Christ into death and new life. Once one becomes incorporated into the body of Christ--a way of saying once one becomes Christ--one cannot go on living as one did before. This will put one at odds with the others in one's life who have not undergone this transformation/conversion and who thus continue to live a life unformed by this new principle of life.

Both visions are true. They indicate the fact that the Reign of the Divine One has come in its fullness but not yet. We live in the in between times.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sometimes the parables don't need any explanation

"There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
He asked himself, 'What shall I do,
for I do not have space to store my harvest?'
And he said, 'This is what I shall do:
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.
There I shall store all my grain and other goods
and I shall say to myself, 'Now as for you,
you have so many good things stored up for many years,
rest, eat, drink, be merry!'"
But God said to him,
'You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?'
Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself
but is not rich in what matters to God."
Luke 12

How will it be for me?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Unexpected Christian Leadership

Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.”Mark 10:43-45

As someone who has been in positions of leadership and authority in organizations, I know the true difficulty of this saying of Jesus. I know that this is not the only time that he articulates the great reversal of life in the Reign of God. Those who have it all have nothing at all and those who have nothing have eternal life in its fullness.

This so inconsistent with prevailing values in our culture--really in any culture--that it seems either laughably idealistic or just plain sappy. When one is in a position of authority, one comes to understand that such a position is to be used for the benefit of the organization, for the common good if you will. One's own personal benefit become irrelevant. If it does not, if it becomes a focus of one's leadership, one simply becomes toxic for the organization.

The discipleship to which Jesus calls us is the antidote to that toxicity. Our life is truly not about us at all but about our capacity to hear the word of God and then act on it. That word always calls us to the fundamental dynamic of the life of Jesus: dying and being raised into new life. A life lived for others in a psychologically healthy fashion is the path to the Reign of God announced by Jesus.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Saturday, October 20, 2012

We are Christ

At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence. Ephesians 1:22-23

It is essential to understand "Church" as the Body of Christ if this passage from Paul is to make any sense at all. The institutional church of structure, hierarchy, processes, and rules--all necessary in some way for human concerted action--is not the Church but rather serves the Church. We together are the Church which is the Body of the Christ. We are the way that Christ as head is to be present in the world, our world of everyday reality.
Each of us is called to a vocation of accepting that reality and to speaking and acting in the world in a way that expresses the deepest reality of the Divine: all embracing and all inclusive love.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Reign of God has come near

“When you enter a town and are received, eat what they set before you, heal anyone who is sick, and tell them, ‘God’s kingdom is right on your doorstep!’"Luke 10:9

On this feast of St. Luke, this is the final sentence of commissioning of the 72 disciples Jesus sent ahead of him to the towns he would later visit. The fundamental message was simple: The Reign of God is at hand, is close to you, is right under your nose. The Reign of God is here right now in each one of us if only we respond to the offer of life and love extended by the Divine through Jesus Christ. We don't have to wait for some by and by. Right here and right now, if only we say yes.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Religion was not the focus of the teaching of Jesus

But the Master said to him, “I know you Pharisees burnish the surface of your cups and plates so they sparkle in the sun, but I also know your insides are maggoty with greed and secret evil. Stupid Pharisees! Didn’t the One who made the outside also make the inside? Turn both your pockets and your hearts inside out and give generously to the poor; then your lives will be clean, not just your dishes and your handsLuke 11:39-41
Jesus was quite clear about what was important behavior. He came to help us understand and complete the Law by rising above simple rule following behavior. This little vignette is an example. Ritual washing before meals--and by extension all religious practices and religion itself--were meaningless and without power if a person's spirit was not aligned with the Spirit of the Divine.
In modern theological terms, we would say that orthodoxy without orthopraxis is essentially meaningless. No amount of "right thinking" makes up for a lack of
right living." In fact, the only purpose of right thinking is to lead to right living. "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and do it!"
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Am I blessed?

While Jesus was speaking,
a woman from the crowd called out and said to him,
"Blessed is the womb that carried you
and the breasts at which you nursed."
He replied, "Rather, blessed are those
who hear the word of God and observe it."
Luke 11:27-28

How often do I say that I am blessed because of what I have: loving wife, lovely home, good health, large family, membership in several communities, good friends, more than sufficient resources? And yet, Jesus makes clear that if I am blessed, it is not because of any of these, as important as they might be.
I am blessed if I hear the word of God and live it. I can do this only because God makes it possible in me. It is nothing that I do so that I deserved to be blessed. My only role is to hear the word of God and then respond to it with an unconditional yes. Do I do that? That is what determines whether or not I am blessed.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sometimes one word can make a big difference.

“When a corrupting spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can bedevil. When it doesn’t find anyone, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my old haunt.’ On return, it finds the person swept and dusted, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits dirtier than itself and they all move in, whooping it up. That person ends up far worse than if he’d never gotten cleaned up in the first place.”Luke 11:24-26

I never quite understood this little vignette told by Jesus after he had been challenged by religious leaders and other big shots for casting out devils. They claimed he was doing this by the power of the Devil. Jesus clears that up by giving the lesson of the house divided against itself cannot stand. But then he goes on to speak the words quoted above.
This translation from The Message adds some key words that helps me understand this rather than just putting it off on a shelf because it didn't make any sense. What was the meaning of a devil--having been cast out--then roaming in the dessert and finally returning to the same person--house--and finding it all set in order. That devil then moves in with other evil spirits. This translation adds the notion that while the house had been set in order, it was vacant. The spirit of God had not been invited in to fill up the house or the person and thus it was possible for the evil one to resume residency.
It is not enough that I cast out my demons if I do not somehow replace them with the spirit of life and love offered to me every second of my life by the divine and holy one. Jesus makes clear that not doing evil is not enough to change my life. I need to say yes to God's offer and to live my life into and out of that reality. When I do that, there is no room for evil in my life.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Real Meaning of the "Our Father"

When his disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he taught them what has become known and familiar as "The Lord's Prayer" or the "Our Father." We know that Jesus is portrayed in the gospels as praying often, especially before significant events in his life. It is unlikely, at least in my mind, that he was repeating formulaic prayers which is what we typically do with the Our Father.
Prayer is fundamentally placing oneself consciously in the presence of God by calling to our consciousness the underlying reality of our identity and our relationship with the Divine. The Irish Jesuits in their edifying web site--Living Space--have helped me understand the Our Father as a set of themes for reflection during a time of prayerful relationship with the Divine.
Often we become caught up in the controversy about whether to call God father or mother or both or neither. We have traditionally used the masculine form because of cultural bias about the superiority of the male over the female. But this issues misses the point of Jesus' instruction. The Divine has no gender. God is neither Father nor Mother and yet is both. The parental notion is as close as human conscious can come to the creative reality of the divine.
Call God "Our Father" is not about the nature of God so much as about the nature and relationship of all of us. If God is precisely our Father, then all of us are sons and daughters of the same parent. In fact, we are brothers and sisters to all people who ever have been, are now, or will be. Even more, we are brothers and sisters to all that has been, is now, or ever will be. "Our Father" is meant to remind us that we are united ontologically with all--people and things. It is this radical equality which should be reflected in our solidarity with all people and in our stewardship of all creation.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

This is no way to run an economy!

Give me enough food to live on,
neither too much nor too little.
If I’m too full, I might get independent,
saying, ‘God? Who needs him?’
If I’m poor, I might steal
and dishonor the name of my God.”
Proverbs 30:5

Perhaps it is symptomatic of being a 20th Century American, but I certainly would think that having my daily bread means that I would eat until I am full, i.e., to the point where I couldn't eat any more. Consistently eating until one is full, however, would be to overeat consistently. Don't the statistics about over weight and obese Americans give evidence of our over indulgence, all in the name of having enough.
In fact, I have more than I need...of everything. I can consume to the point of fullness, that is, to the point that I can consume no more. If I reach that point, I have over consumed and will be filled with the things of this world and with my own ego. If I don't have enough, that is, less than I need, I may well become desperate and engage in unlawful behavior. While this may seem reminiscent of Aristotle's "moderation" principle, it becomes something much more radical when understood in a Christian context. It becomes something much more like Ignatius Loyola's prayer "Suscipe."
Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient.

But now, here is the odd thing. When it comes to grace--life eternal within the Divine reality of Trinity as a community of love--there is no moderation. The Divine offers to each of us life and love without limitation or condition. Here is where we are called to eat till we are full and even over full. We cannot get enough of that grace.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Who loves whom?

A good life arises not so much from our desire to love the Divine but rather from our acceptance of how much the Divine loves us.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Monday, September 24, 2012

Who gets richer? The rich...or the poor?

Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from themLuke 8:18
Given the macro economic issues of the presidential election--redistribution, etc.--this passage from the Gospel of Luke can be easily misunderstood. Taken out of context, it can seem to mean that the rich are blessed by God and therefore will get even more blessings while those who are poor are not in God's favor and will get even less than the little they have. Recalling that Luke's version of the beatitudes is very direct and uncompromising--Luke write of the "poor" and not Matthew's less direct "poor in spirit"--it seems unlikely that he would intend that message, even though some have found that message in his words.
What is much more likely and clear from the full context is that Luke is writing about those who truly listen to the words of Jesus and put them into action in their lives.
The verse in question is preceded by the admonition not to hide your light under a basket but to let it shine out, not to keep secret the life of God's spirit in a faithful follower but to let your life and actions bring that interior life out into the open.
Thus one who has much is exactly one who truly hears the words of Jesus and lives the life to which he calls us to its fullest. Such a person has the riches of eternal life even here in this life. Such a person by living out such a life will increase God's life within by responding even more fully to God's offer of life and love.
The one, on the other hand, who fails to hears the words of Christ or who keeps them within as personal and individual will not really have the life one suspects and by not living it out will lose even the little one thinks one has. So in the often upside down world of the Reign of God and the Good News announced by Jesus the Christ,
The rich in the life of the Divine do get richer in that life and those whose ability to hear and act on the words of Jesus is compromised by the things of this world become even more impoverished.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Friday, September 21, 2012

Faith comes before Church

September 20 was the Memorial of St. Andrew Kim Taegon and St. Paul Chong Hasang and companions. They are part of a group of thousands of Christians who were tortured and martyred in Korea before the institution of religious freedom in 1887. The Korean church is particularly relevant to us today because it was a lay founded and sustained church for hundreds of years. The first Christians appeared in the 16th century as a result of baptisms by Japanese soldiers. This community of Christians continued to exist within the cultural fortress of Korea for 300 years before priests and missionaries began to enter. This more formal and visible form of the church led to these brutal persecutions.
Catholicism began with a small group of Koreans reading books smuggled into the country. For several decades this Catholicism existed and was vital. So much so that when priests arrived, they were astonished to find a flourishing church. This story makes us aware that the institutional church--as necessary as it might be--is not the true church. It is the underlying faith community of disciples of Jesus Christ the forms the church on which all the external forms and practices exist. Without this underlying reality, there cannot truly be a church.
How often did Jesus say, "You faith has saved you?" Or when he could not heal or perform wonders, he would say that the reason was lack of faith and belief. As important as the sacraments, including the Eucharist, are to the church, they do not exist apart from a community of faithful believers. With such a community, they exist even without the presence of an institutionalized structure with its special class of agents. We learn this from the story of St. Andrew Kim and St. Paul Chong.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Perfect Society...if you are a member of the royal court

In today's reading from 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the analogy of the human body to underscore the fundamental dynamics of the Body of Christ of which we are constitutive members. The human body has diverse members, each of which is important to the health of the body and no one of which is more important or more valuable than another. The individual part or member is not as important as the whole. In fact, the importance or value of each member arises from the whole not the part.

While there are differences in the charisms or gifts of each member, it is the whole which is Christ present in the world. As might be expected from a man formed by the culture of his age, Paul arranges the various gifts in a hierarchy beginning with the apostles and descending through prophets, teachers, administrators, speakers of different languages. Each derives its value not from its rank but from its service to the whole. Each is essential and no one rank can stand for the whole. Christ cannot be divided just as a body cannot be and still live.

These thoughts had special relevance for me as I reflected on a grand celebration this past weekend of the various jubilees of our bishop--birthday (75), ordination (50), and time as bishop here (33). He is an extraordinary human being whom I count as a friend and fellow pilgrim. I am not alone since this is how he presents himself and actually is the way he is. And yet he is a loyal member of a special class of members in the church. While he did not intend it, it is always true that the media is the message as McLuhan observed. Here the message was that the real church or at least the church for which this celebration took place is the men in robes and these men in robes looked and acted for all the world like a medieval royal court: They were ranked by orders and processed in with pomp and circumstance with the king(s) at the end of the procession.

We were the audience, the crowd that attended on this spectacle but were truly not a part of it. No matter what the individual intentions were and no matter what the ecclesiology might have been, a part of the body had assumed a position of importance at variance with Paul's insight.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Is it better to be smart or to be humble?

1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.[a] 1 Cor 8

Paul uses a controversy about food sacrificed to idols to present a more fundamental teaching about knowledge and love. Human knowledge is obviously important and comes from the Divine. It is to be desired, sought after, and used for the benefit of the community. The problem is that left to its own devices knowledge tends to lead to pride--"I learned this. I know this and therefore am better than those who do not."--Those who are in relationship to the Divine--a relationship animated by love--have knowledge that does not puff them up with pride but which opens them to a gracious and graceful relationship to all that has proceeded from the Divine Creator. This is the only knowledge worth having.
Paul uses this controversy to make his point. There is no problem eating food that had been sacrificed to idols although later in this letter he makes clear that actual participation in the religious sacrifice at the pagan altar is not acceptable. But even though I might have knowledge that renders this practice benign, my loving relationship with a community will trump that insight. If my engaging in that practice will cause others who are less knowledgeable to become confused about the morality of that, I am called to let my concern with the community trump that knowledge.
Whatever knowledge or skill I have is pure gift and thus is fundamentally communitarian in its orientation and proper use. As Paul constantly stresses, we are the Body of Christ, called to a new life of the Divine Love. This is not some abstract piece of knowledge but a new life, an fundamental transformation at the level of our very being. We are called to express that new reality in our relationships with others and with all creation.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Upside Down World of Jesus the Christ

20 And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are [a]you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are [b]you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. 23 Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to [c]treat the prophets Luke 6
It is difficult to side step these words of Jesus. This Sermon on the Plain--in Matthew it is the more familiar Sermon the Mount--comes immediately after the naming of the twelve apostles and is clearly designed to make clear the exact nature of the Kingdom that Jesus the Messiah had come to establish. It was precisely for the poor, the hungry, the mourning, the marginalized who would find fulfillment in the Reign of God established by this Messiah. In fact, the passage goes on to contain a parallel set of woes for the rich, the well fed, the rejoicing, the well respected. This is the seed bed from which all those reversal sayings of Jesus would come: the first shall be last; the rich, poor; those who lose their lives will save their lives, and so on.
The intent is to make clear that the Reign of God is not of this world and the ways of the world are simply not compatible with this new life and the Spirit of God.
Today's lectionary pairs this gospel with a passage from 1 Cor: "For the world in its present form is passing away." 7:31 While Paul and the early church may have been expecting a more imminent return of Christ than we have come to expect, the fundamental truth remains: This world and its way of being is slowly but surely coming to an end and so disciples of Jesus the Christ should be living a life that reflects the Reign to come rather than this world. In this new life, the poor and marginalized have a privileged place.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why did Jesus pray?

12-16 At about that same time he climbed a mountain to pray. He was there all night in prayer before God. The next day he summoned his disciples; from them he selected twelve he designated as apostles...Luke 6

After calling the twelve apostles, Jesus then delivers his core message in the Sermon on the Plain--Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's gospel. Living Space, the Irish Jesuit prayer web site, raises the question, "Why did Jesus prayer?" Clearly it was not to pray "for something" as we typically do. Equally clearly, Jesus didn't spend the entire night "saying" a set of formal prayers. Moreover, Jesus, especially in Luke's gospel, spends time in prayer at critical junctures in his ministry.
His prayer must have been what we would now call meditation or contemplation. It must have been a time of entering into the reality of the divine in Jesus just as prayer can be for us. We have at the core of our being a spark of the divine. Prayer is entering into that reality and "spending time" with the divine within us. As a fully human person, Jesus sought out that presence throughout his life in order to deepen the union with the divine. He calls us to that same reality.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Monday, September 10, 2012

Live an unleavened life

Yeast, too, is a “small thing,” but it works its way through a whole batch of bread dough pretty fast. So get rid of this “yeast.” Our true identity is flat and plain, not puffed up with the wrong kind of ingredient. The Messiah, our Passover Lamb, has already been sacrificed for the Passover meal, and we are the Unraised Bread part of the Feast. So let’s live out our part in the Feast, not as raised bread swollen with the yeast of evil, but as flat bread—simple, genuine, unpretentious.1 Cor 5:6-8

Paul is writing to the church at Corinth which apparently is tolerating some outrageously immoral behavior --incest in fact--on the part of some member(s) of the community. His message is clear and relies on Jewish culture to make its point. The Sabbath after the Passover was the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Yeast is understood here as something evil--from the Devil--that works its way into the entire batch of bread. This spirit is to be exorcised from the life of faithful Jews. Their life is to reflect the power and spirit of God.
The same is true of disciples of Christ. Jesus was crucified for humanity on the feast of the Passover, in effect becoming the Passover lamb that was sacrificed for the life of all. The disciples of this Christ are to live lives of simple, unpretentious faithfulness. The complex rationalizations of the rich and worldly wise are not to be found in their lives but rather the enlivening spirit of God, plain and simple. This is a life worthy of our prayers!
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Saturday, September 8, 2012

This wine is good enough.

39 "And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough.'" Luke 5

I have heard or read the saying of Jesus about new wine and old wineskins numerous times in my life. However I often fail to focus on this final sentence. No matter how fulfilling and engaging newer levels of spiritual life might be, my natural inclination is to be satisfied with where I am. Life including spiritual life is a process, not some state of being. If I am not progressing, changing, evolving, I am settling for less than the fullness of life promised by Jesus.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Church treats us like adults

"The best thing about the Catholic Church is that it treats us like adults." That was the beginning of a homily preached a couple of weeks ago at my home parish, St. Mary's Church. Like many in the congregation, I was startled by that assertion and had to stifle a laugh. "What Catholic Church did he belong to?" I wondered. On balance, I thought this was probably a better beginning that to focus on wives being submissive to their husbands which was included in the reading from Ephesians. Of course, I wondered why those verses were included when the United States bishops had provided an alternative reading that excluded those words. At the end of both alternative readings, there is an almost poetic flight by Paul that gives us a fundamental insight:
He who loves his wife loves himself.
For no one hates his own flesh
but rather nourishes and cherishes it,
even as Christ does the church,
because we are members of his body.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.
This is a great mystery,
but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.
Ephesians 5:28-32

Paul isn't teaching so much about marriage as he is about the relationship between Christ and the church. That relationship is so close, so intimate, so life changing and life giving that the relationship between a man and woman (two becoming one flesh) seems to be only metaphor to even come close. Christ and the church become one!
But back to that homily about the church treating us as adults. There are two things to notice about this formulation. First, we tend to use that phrasing about treating people as adults when we are not treating as adults. Isn't this typically what we say to a child or to someone who we think is acting childishly? "I am treating you as an adult but you continue to act like a child." That is something that typically a parent says to a child, not one adult to another. So while it appears that this very formulation that seems to say one thing actually underscores the paternalistic instincts of church leadership.
Ah, but that brings to the more important learning from this homily. There is a fundamental question that was unasked and thus unanswered in that homily: Who is this "church" of which we speak? From years of being a Catholic in the pre-Vatican II church, the word "church" conjures up church building, Sunday Mass, priests, bishops, cathedrals. You know, "the church." The hierarchy and all its manifestations, isn't that the church? Well that is not what Paul was writing about and not what Vatican II tried to reclaim for ordinary Catholics. The church is the People of God, an assembly of faithful Christians, a gathering of disciples of Jesus Christ. The church is us. There are individuals who hold offices of service to and for the church, i.e., us, but these office holders are not the church, at least not the church that Paul was writing about.
If we are the church and the church is us, how is it that the church can treat us as adults? You see how this very formulation simply fails to communicate once we understand the church in this way. Who is this church that treats us as adults? It is the administrative apparatus that is sadly corrupt in so many ways and that fails to serve the assembly of disciples in so many ways. The flip side of that, however, is that this administrative apparatus is not the church and thus we as members should not look to it for life and grace as much as to ourselves. We must step forward to provide the common life and spirit of the church.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Two Necessary Things

The lectionary readings for the Twenty Second Sunday of Ordinary Time are rich with many themes and insights. They all point toward the true nature of religion as a way of life rather than a way of obedience to regulations of external behavior. The second reading from the Epistle of James provides a rich summary:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:
to care for orphans and widows in their affliction
and to keep oneself unstained by the world
James 1:27
"Orphans and widows" were among the most vulnerable people in the world of Jesus. Being a woman or a child immediately put one at a disadvantage but being a woman or a child bereft of a male dominated household was even worse. Without a male protector one was considered of no account and was subject to all kind of abuse. Thus to care for widows and orphans was a work of justice and mercy and went against the prevailing culture. It is also a use of synecdoche in which a part signifies the whole: widows and orphans signify all those on the margins of a society, the nobodies, the ones who are forgotten: the old, the poor, the sick, they dying, the imprisoned, the addicted. True religion according to the writer of the Letter of James calls us to action on behalf of all those and not just to obedience to "religious rules."
Perhaps even more important, true religion calls us to keep ourselves undefiled by the world, by the spirit of the world. For contemporary Americans this is a particular challenge because of the nature of our consumer dependent economy and the omnipresence of electronic media. It may be that the only way to keep oneself undefiled is to restrict the access that such media has to our consciousness. I do know that simply to "go with the flow" while telling oneself that I will be moderate in my response to the culture just does not work.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Parable of the Talents

The gospel reading today from Matthew is one of the familiar parables about the Reign of the Divine and especially the final judgment. The master goes off on a long journey and entrusts three servants with a substantial amount of money according to their ability to invest the funds wisely and productively: one gets five, another two and the final servant only one. The first two trade with the funds and double the amount. The third buries the money and then returns the original amount. The first two are rewarded while the third is punished by being shut out of the household of the master.
The master then says those words that have puzzled Christians for ages and whic have been misinterpreted for ages.
29 “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 30 Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 25

This is even more puzzling when we read in the first reading from First Corinthians.
Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"?

So which is it? Do those who have a lot, prosper? Or do those who have little? It helps me to remember that Paul was writing to a church he had founded in Corinth and that this church was experiencing all sorts of problems, the kind of problems that any new organization would encounter. He was basically calling them back to their origins. God called them through the ministry of Paul. According to Paul God quite intentionally called people whose life circumstances were not such that would project a successful start up. They weren't the brightest, the most energetic, the richest, the holiest. In short they were ordinary people like you and me...and somehow they came together at the earliest formation of this new religion. Paul's conclusion is simple: This is God's work, not mine and not yours. The church prospers because God is with this community and enlivens it with the Spirit of God.
And yet we read in the gospel that those who have much will get even more and those who have nothing--presumably the same people Paul was describing--would lose even the little they had and be excluded from the reign of God. This parable has traditionally been interpreted as teaching a lesson about our responsibility to use our "talents" for the good of the community, the "common good." Our talents--the English word actually comes from this biblical usage--are not just for our personal use but are to be invested and the returns given to God from whom the talents came in the first place.
Another understanding of this parable requires us to set aside this meaning of talent. A "talent" was a measure of weight that came to be used as a measure of wealth in a sense as a measure of gold. If this "gold" is not understood as "talent," how can it be understood? It seems very likely that Jesus was referring not to some set of abilities or capacities but to a fundamental reality of the Reign of God, the subject of all of his teaching. The gold or wealth in this case would be faith, the relationship of life and love between the Divine and a human. Since the Divine offer of this love and life is unlimited and is offered full and entire to every human, different levels of faith could only reflect different degrees of response and acceptance by each human. To be rich in faith means that one responds deeply and consistently to the Divine proffer of love. Those who do this will thus become richer, deepening their faith and thus "having more faith." Those who fail to respond or whose response is faint will gradually lose whatever faith they had. This faith is a relationship rather than some thing or quality.
Each of us is called to deepen this relationship in two ways. First we enter into that relationship more deeply through prayer and meditation. Second we deepen that relationship with the Divine by deepening our relationships with our neighbors, especially those who precisely are the nobodies, the forgotten ones.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Antidote to Addictive Self Gratification

In the long run, the really good life, that is, a life based on truth and integrity, on love and compassion and sharing, will always be better than one based on phoniness, on selfishness, greed, hedonism and immediate gratification of every pleasure.
Living Space, the Irish Jesuit Prayer Web Site

Today's gospel from Matthew begins the Eschatological Discourse of Jesus. Today's reading is about the servant placed in charge of the household. The good servant does his job of taking care of the other servants and the household in the absence of the owner. The not so good servant when left in charge abuses the other servants and misuses the resources of the household for parties for friends with predictable excesses and abuses. When the household owner returns unexpectedly, he will punish that servant and cast him outside with the rest of the teeth-gnashing hypocrites. No one knows when the owner will return and thus we must always act with rectitude and responsibility.
What the quotation from the wonderful Irish Jesuit prayer site underscores is that true human well being and fullness of life comes not from the excesses of consumption and gratification exemplied by the irreponsible servant but from the behavior of the good servant whose life is based "on truth and integrity, on love and compassion and sharing."
21st Century Americans live in an economic system that is based on consumption and its need for constant and constantly increased consumption. Such a system prizes addictive self gratification as a primary motivator of behavior. It must be addictive in order to drive the economic system and it is precisely addictive because it is funadmentally ineffective. Self gratification can at best provide a momentarily feeling of well being that collapses as quickly as it arises. We then require more self gratification in order to feel better again. The Irish Jesuits clearly identify the elements of such behavior: "phoniness...selfishness, greed, hedonism and immediate gratification of every pleasure."
If Freud is right--and I believe he is--it is not possible to eleminate suffering from human existence. Our only options are to either anesthetize ourselves to suffering or to deepen our capacity to feel that suffering as well as the joys of human life. We do this best by reaching outside ourselves to compassion for, awareness of, and service to others. A path of love, compassion, and sharing leads to a fullness of life and grace that makes the addictive move to self gratification pale and fade away.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Monday, August 27, 2012

Unavoidable Paradox

In his daily meditation, Richard Rohr underscores the paradox of reality, all reality save the Divine. We can sense in ourselves both the goodness of our true self and the shadow that always presents itself. The same is true of every person and reality.

I think this is true in an even deeper sense. Every person or every thing that exists is a mystery. I can never completely know myself or others so that everything is known and the sense of mystery dispelled. My mind desires definition, to known something unambiguously and clearly. Yet I know that the only way I can achieve this sense of precision is to ignore part or parts of whatever reality I am trying to understand.

This is true not only because of the limitations of my mind and its ability to handle the complexities of reality but more fundamentally because reality itself is ambiguous and far from unitary. The insights of quantum physics lead to the same conclusion or insight. Since we cannot know both location and speed at the same time, everything that exists cannot be known in its fullness and complexity.

We are left with two possibilities. First we can approximate full knowledge which is to say that we can know something "well enough" to be able to operate effectively in the classical mechanics world in which we live. Second, we can rest in the paradox of reality through a practice of meditation and presence. We don't have to know--in the sense of defining and thus controlling--someone or something in order to simply be present to that person or thing.

In fact, this "being present" may be the best way we can fashion to actually "know" someone or something.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Continuing Choice Demanded!

As the Sundays of Ordinary Time pass by during the hot days of late summer, they seem to be one repeating the one before. But the last three are anything but ordinary, at least in this cycle. For the previous two Sundays the reading from John's gospel have been about Jesus' sayings that he is the bread of life and that we are to consume him, to eat his flesh and drink his blood, so that we become him. Today's reading from Ephesians re-enforces that idea by using another metaphor from everyday life, the relationship between husband and wife.
Paul writes that that the relationship between Christ and the church is as intimate and other-serving as the relationship between a loving and committed couple. Sometimes I find myself caught by misunderstanding of the term church. Too often our immediate response to the word "church" is to think of the institutional church of buildings, bishops, councils, doctrine, liturgies, etc. However if I let the insights of Vatican II inform my response, I realize that the church is the community of disciples joined together. It is the group of people I will see this morning in "church." Christ is present to us in the same intimate way that a loving and committed couple are present to each other.
From within this reality the readings from Joshua and John take on even greater meaning. Joshua puts the question to the leaders of the new nation as it enters the land promised by the Divine through Moses: Who will you worship? The gods of the Amorites or the God that brought you out of slavery and with whom you have made a covenant? The choice is stark, unavoidable. It is one or the other. This is the same choice that Jesus provides in the reading from John. You either eat my flesh and drink my blood and thus become me or you choose not to. Many of those listening including some disciples found this too much to take and "returned to their former ways" and away from the path to eternal life.
This is not simply a one time choice but rather a continuing dynamic of my life. The choice between the way of Christ and the way of the world is a constant choice confronted in the realities of my daily life, as it is for everyone. Like most, I would rather not think about that choice except on certain occasions, like Sunday Mass, rather than think it is something I need to be constantly alert to. The world never presents itself as a conscious alternative to the way of Christ. It knows that in such a bald choice it has less likelihood of prevailing. Mindlessly going along with the prevailing values is the world's constant message. Mindfulness and attentiveness naturally move one in the direction of life choices different from those provided by the world.
Even though I make and remake commitments to follow Christ, my life is filled with failures to do that throughout my life. But isn't that truly the underlying theme of both the Jewish and Christian scriptures? My life mirrors that ongoing struggle to become divine, to become Jesus. As Peter says when the question is put to him by Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” When I face that choice directly, even in the midst of evidence that I often fail to do so, I know that I can only choose to follow Jesus. What choice do I have if I truly believe that he has the words of eternal life?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Great Reversal

The saying of Jesus are filled with reversals. At first they are unexpected but then as we get used to them they seem to lose their pointedness. They are all variants on "the first shall be last and the last shall be first." They are typically directed at people in positions of power and authority. Jesus is at pains to point out that it will not be that way in the Reign of the Divine but rather just the opposite.
The gospel today from Matthew 23:1-12 is an example. It is directed at the Pharisees and scribes and critiques the way in which they "lord it" over the people with laws and regulations that all deal with the externals of life rather than fundamental changes of heart. Here is a familiar passage from the NIV Bible:
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.

We typically read that from the perspective of one who might be called Rabbi, father or teacher. The admonition is to not let that happen. As someone who has been in formal leadership positions, I read it that way and tried to exercise my leadership in a "humble" rather than "exalted" fashion. (12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.)
But this morning as I reflected on this passage, I realized that it has relevance to all of us, not just those in leadership positions, not just the Pharisees and scribes. Members of a community create a demand for a certain kind of leadership. We can easily place our leaders and teachers on pedestals and look to them for the kind of paternal care that Jesus critiques in this reading. Or we can realize that true leadership and direction come from the Divine and Jesus and that leadership comes to me in the quiet of my prayerful relationship with the Divine.
In other words I read this passage now as directed at me as one to be led. My task is not to look for a "good" leader or a "good" parent but to realize that I am to take responsibility for my own relationship with the Divine and through that discern my call in life. This is a difficult and frankly frightening course. It would be much easier to find a new and more compatible leader or "guru" who would give me the answers to the fundamental questions of life.
The Divine is within me and the Divine is my teacher, my father, my Rabbi. Reaching authentic autonomy in union with the Divine and with all that is is the path to the Reign of Eternal Life. It would be easier if this were not so.
Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Thinking as the Divine Thinks

8"When the day's work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, 'Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.'

9-12"Those hired at five o'clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, 'These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.'

13-15"He replied to the one speaking for the rest, 'Friend, I haven't been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn't we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can't I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?'

16"Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first."

This is a familiar story and I have generally--always--understood it as a story about human generosity and fairness. After reading a commentary on Sacred Space, the Irish Jesuit prayer site, I have a new and more profound understanding. This passage is from Matthew's gospel which was written to a community of Jewish Christians. He is at pains throughout the gospel to demonstrate how Jesus and Christianity grew out of Jewish faith and is fully compatible with it. However, one of the issues that impacted the earliest communities, especially in Jerusalem, was whether or not new members needed to go through the Jewish initiation rites. Eventually it was decided that this was not necessary nor was it necessary to maintain the Jewish purity rites and practices.
Seen in this light, the parable is not about how much laborers are to be paid nor even about the generosity of employers. It is about the generosity of the Divine and the Divine's offer of love and life. That offer is not modulated by the past history of a believer or a community. Those whose lineage stretches back thousands of years of Jewish faith and those who recently entered into the community of disciples are offered the fullness of the Divine life and love. The only contingency is the extent to which a disciple accepts that offer. No one deserves that love more than another. No one earns that love. It is offered fully and completely to everyone. The latecomers--so to speak--can accept that fullness to the same extent as those who have been long time believers.
In human terms this may not make sense and may even be unfair. In the world of the Divine, it makes perfect sense...thankfully.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Monday, August 20, 2012

St. Joseph's House of Hospitality

Two or three times a year, a group of people from St. Mary's Church prepare and serve a noon meal at St. Joseph's House of Hospitality on South Avenue in Rochester. Last Saturday 12 of us gathered to do this and to share a morning with each other as we worked to serve those whom most of us most of time forget.
These are men and women who are down on their luck and whose live have taken a turn for the worse. They are diverse in every way and each one has his or her own story. At least for this brief period of time, they know that they are not forgotten by a group of people who represent the mainstream of American society.

Whether or not they are changed, we who serve are changed...by our contact with them as ones being served and by contact with each other as those who serve. It is one way that the life of Christ within us can be expressed in the world as the Good News.

In today's gospel we read the passage from Matthew about the rich young man who approaches Jesus to ask what he needs to do to enter into life.
Jesus said, "Don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't lie, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you do yourself."

20The young man said, "I've done all that. What's left?"

21"If you want to give it all you've got," Jesus replied, "go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me."

We remember that the young man apparently had wealth and many things which he was loathe to get rid of and so he left Jesus with sorrow in his heart because he could not follow that injunction. We are all of us called to this same radical indifference to wealth and to the things that wealth buys. Whether or not we sell it all and give the proceeds to the poor, we are to base our lives on the life of the Divine within us and allow this life to flow through us into the world where it manifests itself in works of justice and mercy.

The 12 of us who gathered were trying to live out that tradition on Saturday in some small way.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Little Children

Children were brought to Jesus
that he might lay his hands on them and pray.
The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said,
"Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them;
for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
After he placed his hands on them, he went away.
Mt 19:13-15

I was not at St. Mary's last Sunday since I was traveling, but I heard that the homily somehow included at least three references to God the Father's desire that we be obedient children. I don't know if this text was referenced but it well could have been.

Admittedly it is easy to get to "obedient children" from this and similar scriptures passages but that may reflect a fundamental patriarchal mind set rather than a clear headed notion of what Jesus is saying. From the perspective of a parent, one might well think that ideal children are obedient children but this seems a rather lifeless value for the Son of Man to be proclaiming.

I think it more likely and more consistent to focus on a characteristic of children that is more natural: openness to life. After all, to a child the world is new place filled with people and things experienced for the first time. Children have a natural openness, a natural learning stance toward the world. For us to be as children means that we are able to put aside all the ego-based structures, filters, and needs that prevent us from seeing the world as it is and thus be able to truly and fully be present to reality. As Anthony DeMello wrote, the whole task of the spiritual life is simply to wake up!

Children are naturally awake to the world around them. Jesus is saying that if we too are awake to the world as it fundamentally is, we will enter into the Reign of God. Obedience is a pale and faded compromise that only seems life-giving to those in authority.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Feast of the Assumption

Today is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, a defined dogma of the Roman Catholic Church which holds that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was somehow brought into heave--body and soul--after her death. This popular belief can be traced to testimony from the Bishop of Jerusalem at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE.
St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.

As is typical with Marian doctrines, the Assumption was not a carefully constructed theological position but rather an acknowledgement of a popular tradition among the faithful. In fact, Marian doctrines are largely the expression of the devotional life of ordinary Christians and later Catholics who saw Mary as a more accessible figure than an hierarchical and imperial church concerned with defining doctrines and thus determining who was in and who was out.
Whether or not I accept this doctrine--and I think I do not--it and the other Marian doctrines stand as clear testimony of the vibrancy and power of the life of ordinary people within the Church. I read the official definition--by papal decree rather than counciliar statements--to be an attempt to co-opt this vibrant tradition.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States