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.

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.
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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.

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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?

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Consume the Word of the Divine One

In Sunday's gospel, Jesus tells his disciples and us that he is the Bread of Life and those who eat his flesh--the bread of life--will live forever. In this he echoes Ezechiel who experienced his call in a vision where God offered him a scroll with God's words for the people. He was to eat this scroll which tasted sweeter than honey and then announce its content to the people.

The Divine One is present in my life in many ways. Two of the most obvious are in the celebration of the Eucharist and in the words of Scripture. I am to consume both of these so that the presence of the Divine in each becomes part of me in an essential way. My words, my actions, my life in every way are all to expressions of this presence for a world that hungers for meaning. The actions that speak loudest are those that value those whom we so easily forget, the unimportant people in our society.
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Location:E College Ave,Appleton,United States

Monday, August 13, 2012

I am the bread of life

"I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
this is the bread that comes down from heaven
so that one may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
John 6:51

For Catholics with the Church's emphasis on sacraments in general and Eucharist in particular, it is all too easy to read these words of Jesus as referring to the bread received in Holy Communion as the Body of Christ. As a Jew, the notion of eucharist in this sense would have been foreign to Jesus. However the notion of eucharist as a memorial meal would have been easily accessible. In this sense and in line with the final meal with his followers, Jesus understood himself as the bread of life for all those united to him in a communion, similar to the communion which he shared with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Our sharing the bread is truly a "holy communion" in which we become so closely entwined with Jesus that we enter into the life of the Trinity...not in some future heaven but right here and right now.

The metaphor of consuming bread which is converted into our very life energy, the source of continuing life, was as close as Jesus could come to communicating what union with him meant for the disciples. They and we would consume his very life, his values, his notions, his fundamental driving life force and thus would, in some mysterious way, become him.

The passage from John's gospel quoted above was read on Sunday August 12. It is the second reading from Ephesians (4:30-5:2) that gives us an idea of what it means in the day to day lives of disciples, this becoming Jesus through a holy communion. It is not some ethereal and philosophic proposition that becomes a test of faith. It is a life, a way of life, as the early Christians termed it, characterized by love and service of others.

If I stop with the theological proposition and rest content with some "feeling" that Jesus is within me, I miss the whole point. Jesus is not within me but I and Jesus become a single entity with a single life force that is expressed in every word and deed in my life. There is a new principle of life within me that has more to do with baptism than eucharist. I was born into new life in baptism and I continue to celebrate that ongoing communion with Jesus and through him with the Trinity in the eucharist.

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Location:E College Ave,Appleton,United States

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Why this blog...and why now?

These are two questions which seem reasonable when starting a new blog. The answers are not so obvious or clear to me but here goes. For many years, the last thirty anyway, I have from time to time kept a journal. Mostly the entries were triggered by prayer, reflection, reading of scripture of various kinds, spiritual direction, retreats, and other more formal prayer experiences. About eight years ago or so, I went through the 19th annotation, a way of experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius throughout a year rather than concentrated in a single month. Also I journaled a lot during times of sustained psychological therapy which I did three times in my life so far.
I found that by writing down my thoughts and reactions, I came to deeper and more complicated understanding of what I was experiencing. These are scattered in various notebooks and more recently computer folders and files. I have almost never gone back and read these. Sometimes I reflect on what to do with them. While I don't reread them, I can't quite get myself to the point of just destroying them. I realize, of course, that if I don't do something with them, they will at some point pass on to someone--my wife, my children--without any explanation and without any context.
I typically get up early, before anyone else in the household. That provides me with time of calm and quiet to read the daily scripture from the lectionary and other writings and to reflect on that. At home I typically do this in the sunroom. Where I sit I have the view shown in the photograph in this post.
Often--but not always--I will write down some reflections including a scripture or other quotation that has stimulated my reflection. Some of these are familiar like old friends and others are new thoughts which take me in new directions, toward new questions, and new insights.
So for the next couple of months or so, say till the beginning of Lent, I will make these notes in this blog which will be available to anyone who wishes to view them.  One never knows what happens to material one puts on the web and so it will be with this.  There will be only two exclusions.  I will not post anything to do with politics.  I have learned that this can be divisive rather than disclosive.  In any event, I have a general blog where I can put that.  Second I will not post reflections that deal with my personal issues in any detail or those of others in any way.  I will always try to include one of my photos in each posting since photography is part of my spiritual practice, helping me to be present to world in a powerful way.
So in answer to the second question--why now?--I have no clear idea.