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.

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.
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.

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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States