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.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Mercy, not sacrifice

Go and learn the meaning of the words,I desire mercy, not sacrifice.  Matthew 9:13
Sometimes the most important insights are simple and yet we keep forgetting them.  I know that I need to be constantly reminded of this one.  These words of Jesus to Pharisees who were criticizing him for associating with "sinners" point up the fruitlessness of practices without a corresponding change of heart.  This was nothing new.  It is an insight found throughout the Hebrew scriptures and especially in the Psalms.  It is repeated so often because they like us, like me, tend to forget it.

What the Divine One desires of us is not a set of religious practices.  It is not even a set of acts of mercy but rather a heart that is merciful.  From such a heart will come acts of mercy in the same way that fruit appears in an orchard:  naturally and without conscious effort.  Trying to somehow produce the fruit without the life force of the tree or plant is precisely fruitless.

Eric Fromm wrote that the great masters of living all agreed that the key to a joyful, fulfilled, and engaged life was "to be, not to have."  To that, we can add, "to do."  If I focus on being who I truly am in the world as it most is, acts consistent with my true nature will emerge and flourish.

What could be easier....or harder?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

It's that spirit and flesh thing again.

I say, then: live by the Spiritand you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit,and the Spirit against the flesh;these are opposed to each other,so that you may not do what you want.But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  Galatians 5:16-18

Paul is again writing about the spirit and the flesh.  These are words that have acquired meanings which are not exactly what Paul meant.  "Flesh" has come to mean the body and thus by extension sexual and other pleasurable excesses.  The Roman church's preoccupation with sexual ethics and morality can be seen as an expression of this interpretation.  The "spirit," on the other hand, has come to be understood as the immaterial as though the true good is only what is not connected to the body in some way.  The Roman church's preoccupation with doctrinal orthodoxy can be seen as an expression of this interpretation.

Our ordinary experience, however, is that we are both spirit and flesh, body and soul, material and immaterial.  Surely the way of Christ cannot be one that requires us to deny a part of who we are.  I believe that Paul is trying to describe consciousness or awareness.  The consciousness which Paul calls "the flesh" is one that sees the world and other people as existing for me and my benefit.  Within this consciousness, my self interest apart from my inter-relationships with others is the highest good on which I base the choices in my life.

The consciousness that Paul calls "spirit" is one that sees the world and other people as expressions of the life and love of the Divine One.  It is the consciousness of St. Francis who saw the Divine One in everything and everyone, especially those overlooked and ignored by most people.  If I see the world and other people as expressions of the Divine One's life, I will see them and treat them as valuable and good in and of themselves.  I will see every thing and every person as things and persons to be loved, respected, and cherished, not things and persons to be used for my own ends, pleasure or ease.

Paul experienced this change of consciousness in many ways.  Perhaps he expressed it best when he wrote, "Now not I live but Christ lives in me."  This is the change in consciousness that we celebrate in baptism as an ongoing unfolding process in our lives.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Social Justice and the Feast of the Visitation

He bared his arm and showed his strength,    scattered the bluffing braggarts.He knocked tyrants off their high horses,    pulled victims out of the mud.The starving poor sat down to a banquet;    the callous rich were left out in the cold.  Luke 1:51-53
Today we celebrate the event of the visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with the future John the Baptist...a person who would figure prominently in the spiritual development of Jesus.  This story as told by the earliest Christian communities contained a hymn placed in Mary's mouth that we have come to call "The Magnificat" after the first word in the Latin version.

We tend to be most familiar with the first part of the hymn--"My soul magnifies the Lord"--because it fits in with our very human desire to see salvation in terms of our individual  relationship with the Divine One.  We are less familiar with the second part of the hymn from which the lines quoted above are taken.

The God that "has done great things" for Mary, the God magnified Mary's soul is not a God of individual holiness abstracted from the realities of human existence.  The God whom Mary proclaims, to whom the Hebrew Scriptures testify, about whom Jesus taught is a God preeminently of justice.  This prayer is not a nice little hymn by a pious and demure young woman but a revolutionary declaration that the world is at odds with the gospel.  If Christians do not work to turn things upside down, they are not being faithful to the deepest values of their faith tradition.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Can I be a child...and enter the Reign of the Divine One?

The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.  Mark 10:13-16
This passage is very familiar to us and can be understood in many ways.  I think the key is to be clear about what it means to be a child.  I think this becomes clear when you observe children and their interactions.  Children seem to be at their most "natural" when they are playing with each other with out any kind of adult supervision or "rules."  Not to overly romanticize this--I have raised seven children who have 17 grandchildren--but children at play enter fully into a play world.  They seem to create a new reality with relationships and interactions that have meaning within that new reality.  It is a world that they create and into which adults cannot gain admission unless they become part of that new reality.  An adult who attempts to enter as an adult breaks the new reality apart.

Sometimes this passage has been misinterpreted by those in powerful positions in religion to mean that members of a church should accede to the judgments and decisions of those in leadership without questions, a kind of childlike obedience to adult authority.  This is tantamount to an adult trying to enter a child's play world while remaining an adult.  One can do it but it changes and degrades the reality of the child's play world.  More than that, any one who has spent any time with children knows that the last thing one would say about children is that they are "unquestioning!"  The unending series of "why" questions makes that quite clear to those who listen.  The exasperated adult who finally ends that sequence with "Because I said so" is simply using authority to break the reality of the child.

Can I enter into the Reign of the Divine One with the commitment of a child?  Can I enter into this new reality with all my being?  Can I leave aside the authoritarian inclinations of human nature and become fully one with a new reality?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

St. Paul in Athens: What lesson for us?

For ‘In him we live and move and have our being,’as even some of your poets have said,‘For we too are his offspring.’Since therefore we are the offspring of God,we ought not to think that the divinity is like an imagefashioned from gold, silver, or stone by human art and imagination.  Acts 17:28-9

Although it is tempting to read these lines as confirmation of the universality of the Divine One's self revelation, I think the relevant message for us today concerns Paul's failure in Athens.  These lines are taken from Paul's address at the Aeropagus--public gathering place--in Athens.  He was trying to use the prevailing cultural and religious beliefs to communicate the Christian message to those considered pagans.  He takes lines from two poets--and he takes them out of context--to try to convince the Athenians that the Christian message is compatible with their traditional beliefs.  Interestingly he mentions nothing about "The Way" of life that is central to Christian faith.  His communications tactic does not work and he never find Paul again trying to use this to spread the message.

This reminds me of some of the current Christian thinkers and writers who seem convinced that quantum physics has provided a way to "almost prove the validity" of the Christian revelation.  I am not a physicist but I do have two children who are.  If I have learned anything from them it is that when I think I understand quantum physics especially through the writings of someone who is not a quantum physicist, I almost certainly do not understand it.  Most writers of this sort use words that seem understandable but which are distortions of the quantum insights.  It is all too easy both as physics and as theology.

Paul learned that the Athenians were not buying his facile interpretations of Athenian religions.  Just so, we should learn that those who understand--if that is even possible--quantum physics find the Christian message undercut by such tactics.  The core Christian message is about a way of life and the only effective evangelization will be based on lives lived in that way.  Philosophical and theological analyses are certainly important but will never bring people to faith.  Contact and engagement with Christians who are on the way will do that.  The analysis will come later if at all.

Friday, April 26, 2013

"I am the Way, the Truth, the Life."

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14:6
These words of Jesus are at the beginning of his final discourse with the apostles as he is about to be betrayed, condemned, and executed.  I have heard them many times and typically understood them to describe the essential requirement of being a Christian in order to enter the reign of eternal life, i.e., heaven.  There is another way of understanding them that I now see is much closer to what Jesus intended and more in line with a 21st century world view that extends well beyond our immediate geographic and social environs.

It is helpful to me to use a simple but profound distinction between orthodoxy and orthopraxis.  These are theological terms from the Greek with relatively simple meanings.  The first, orthodoxy, is the more familiar to us and means "right teaching or thinking."  We are orthodox if our beliefs accord with the standards set by, in this case, the Christian church.  The second, orthopraxis, means "right practice or behavior."  Jesus himself is the source of this distinction.   “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’(orthodoxy) will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father (orthopraxis) who is in heaven." Matthew 7:21  His emphasis throughout his ministry was not on sectarian practice or theology but on behaviors that evidenced the Spirit of the Divine One living in and through people.

These words of Jesus refer to the kind of life one lives, not the religion to which one is an adherent.  No matter what we say our religious beliefs are, there is only one way to the Father:  living a life of solidarity and service to all all brothers and sisters and indeed to all creation.  Or as Jesus said, "Love one another as I have loved you."  It would be easier if he had said, "Profess what I have taught you."  He didn't, however.  He did say, "Live the life that I have lived even to laying down your life for others."  That is why Jesus is the way, the light, the truth.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. Really?

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  Matthew 5:48
 This line is not in the readings for today but it is resonating with me because of a conversation I had with a new friend a couple of days ago.  Perhaps because of my engagement with social ministry at the moment, I have been focusing on works of mercy and justice as the works of the reign of the Divine One in my life.  Prayer and individual holiness have perhaps taken a back seat to a more proactive life in the world.

When he mentioned that his journey in faith had led him to focus on becoming perfect even though he knew that he could never be perfect in this life, it brought me up short.  Had I shifted my focus from who I am to what I do?  Unknowingly perhaps, but still.  The dynamic is always from the inside out.  What I do is to be a natural result of who I am and who I am becoming.  If my work in the world becomes disassociated from that inner reality, it begins to be more of the world and less of the spirit.

Jesus' notion of perfection is not some individually focused holiness.  The lines that precede the one above contain his aphorisms about going the extra mile, giving more than is asked for, and turning the other check.  Perfection has to do with my being which then produces the fruit of mercy and justice, not in some forced way but in the same way that fruit appears on a tree:  naturally and without external interventions.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Repentance can seem a bit trivial to us.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter said to the Jewish people,
“Let the whole house of Israel know for certain
that God has made him both Lord and Christ,
this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart,
and they asked Peter and the other Apostles,
“What are we to do, my brothers?”
Peter said to them,
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins;
and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Acts 2:36 ff

To me repentance has always seemed like an individidual movement.  Perhaps the understandable and often necessary focus on personal sin when I as growing up predisposes me to think of repentance as an acknowledgement of my personal sins and a resolve not to sin again.

The Christian call to repentance is much more than that.  While Jesus interacted with those who had committed personal sins, his concern was much more clearly focused on social sin, the ways in which a people or a class acted in ways contradictory to the values long espoused by the Divine One in the long history of the people God had chosen.  Thus in this passage from Acts, the people repent because they realize that they as a community have killed the long awaited Messiah.  Their sense of desperation and regret is palpable.  Their sin is not personal sin--the very sin with which we seem fixated--but the social sin committed, often unkowingly, by a group, class, or community.

It is easier for me to confront my personal failings than it is to cofnront the ways in which my community, group, class has perpetuated inequities and damaging inequalities on the most vulnerable persons in my community.  Regret for my personal sins generates a relatively easy sense of conversion.  Realization of my complicity in social sin generates a call to conversion of my life style which is much more difficult to act on or to ignore.   It mmakes me uncomfortable in ways that regret over personal since does not.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Perseverence based on faith.

Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
Yet my reward is with the LORD,
my recompense is with my God.   Isaiah 49:1-6

These words describing the "Suffering Servant" are particularly apt for those disciples actively involved in social ministry of mercy and justice.  That is work that seeks to make the Reign of the Divine real in the world right here and right now.  This means that it will never be fully successful until the "end of the age."  Those who are deeply involved cannot let success be the standard by which they judge themselves but rather faithfulness to their call to justice.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

It is not about bargaining with the Divine

If our God, whom we serve,can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us!  But even if he will not, know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue that you set up.”  Daniel

I know that I wrestle with the whole notion of praying to the Divine One to intervene in human life directly and specifically.  This is often when a loved one or friend confronts a health or financial difficulty in his or her life.  Do I believe that the Divine One directly intervenes in some lives but not in others?  Is it a question of some prayers being answered and others not?  Is it a function of how well or how hard one prays?  None of these questions leads me to a very satisfactory conclusion.

However, the three yooung men in the fiery furnance offer an alternative.  If the Divine One can intervene, I pray that the Divine One will intervene to reduce or eliminate the issues and challenges.  But if that does not happen, it changes nothing; it really makes no difference.  I am called, as we all are, to discipleship to The Divine Word.  My life should reflect that reality,, no matter what the realities of my life might be. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It is not the law that saves..

It was not through the lawthat the promise was made to Abraham and his descendantsthat he would inherit the world,but through the righteousness that comes from faith.For this reason, it depends on faith,so that it may be a gift,and the promise may be guaranteed to all his descendants.  Romans

How hard it is for me to escape the necessary childhood formation that being obedient is the guding principle of one's life.  It is no doubt necessary for children to be obedent because it keeps them safe and provides them with a stable and secure environment.   But it is not a healthy principle ffor a mature person.  Paul is making that point by reminding us that it is our faith in the Christ that gives us life and wholeness. 

A mature Christian relies on faith, not adherence to the law.  This is what explains the doubt, ambiguities and vitality of faith as opposed to a dry and lifeless obedience to a law or set of rules.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Ideology can get in the way of faith

They answered and said to him,
"You are not from Galilee also, are you?
Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” John 8:52

When Nicodemus reminded his fellow Pharisees that it was not just to condemn Jesus without giving him a hearing, they reminded him that the traditon taught that the Messiah could not come from Galilee because he would come from David's line and from Bethlehem, David's city.  Jesus came from nazareth and thus could not be the Messiah.

It seems historically certain that Jesus came from Nazareth in the Northern Kingdom of Galilee.  Christian scipture and tradition also has him having been born in Bethlehem and of the line of David.  Whethr that is historically certain is not as clear in my own mind.  Since the gospel traditions were formed after the Resurrection, it would not be surprising if the communities redacted Jesus' history to include a birth narrative and genealogy that would make clear that Jesus was the Messiah described in the Hebrew scriptures.

The point of this story, however, is the way in which the preconceptions about where one would find the Divine One led those Pharisees to ignore and even attack the incarantion of the very Divine One whom they worshipped and promoted.

How often have I failed to see the presence of the Divine in my life because I had an ideologically based preconception about where and how the Divine One would manifest?  An open mind and an open heart. Is all that Jesus asks of me to allow his grace to ffully flower in my acceptance of his life and love.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Would my life make anyone uncomfortable?

To us he is the censure of our thoughts; 
merely to see him is a hardship for us,
Because his life is not like that of others,
and different are his ways.  Wisdom 2:12-22

Although the Book of Wisdom is n ot included in most Bibles, it provides an insight into the lives of thsoe who are living righteous life.  This passage speaks of the reaction of the people to a prophet whose very life is a testimony against the way they are living their lives.  This testimony--whether spoken or not--sets them on edge, makes their uneasy, and often results in violence against the prophet.

St. Francis told his follwers to "preach always, use words if necessary."  It was this kind of preaching by living that tthe passage from Wisdom describes.  It is easy enough to shrug off words--no matter how eloquent or persuasive..  It is difficult to ignore a life that lives out such a reality.  Mother Theresa.'s life and actions were the eloguqent and discomforting expression of her faith.

The question for me is whether my life is an example of evangelical values that discomforts people..  Or is my life really no different from a life that proceeds from the values of the world.  Do I by my very life make others uncomfortable?   Do I seek to be around people whose lives make me feel uncomfortable because they exemplify the values of Jesus rather than the values of the world?

Monday, March 11, 2013

New heavens and new earth

Thus says the LORD:Lo, I am about to create new heavensand a new earth;The things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind.  Isaiah 65

As difficult as it might be for me to understand, faith in Jesus the Christ recreates me and my world.  Of course, this does not objectivvely changethe realities I face in my life but it does change my subjective reallity.  How I respond to the flow of life in which I find myself does change.

I am called to work toward transformation of that reality even knowing that it is work of the Divine not of human hands.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Tale of Two Translations

So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48 New American Bible

48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” Matthew 5:48 The Message

The first translation is technically correct but largely meaningless. What does it mean to be perfect as God is perfect. Even if I had some conception of what that means, it is clearly impossible and thus irrelevant to my everyday life. The second translation seeks to get at the meaning--the message if you will--of the passage so that it can have meaning in my life. While obviously still difficult, at least the notion of "living generously and graciously toward others" is understandable and thus more likely to become part of my life.

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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Proof may be over rated.

As the crowd swelled, he took a fresh tack: “The mood of this age is all wrong. Everybody’s looking for proof, but you’re looking for the wrong kind. All you’re looking for is something to titillate your curiosity, satisfy your lust for miracles. But the only proof you’re going to get is the Jonah-proof given to the Ninevites, which looks like no proof at all. What Jonah was to Nineveh, the Son of Man is to this age.s the crowd swelled, he took a fresh tack: “The mood of this age is all wrong. Everybody’s looking for proof, but you’re looking for the wrong kind. All you’re looking for is something to titillate your curiosity, satisfy your lust for miracles. But the only proof you’re going to get is the Jonah-proof given to the Ninevites, which looks like no proof at all. What Jonah was to Nineveh, the Son of Man is to this age. Luke 11:29-30

We all wish we had proof of faith, of our belief. It would make it so much easier to deal with our inevitable and normal questions as well as the doubts and challenges of others. Luke here recounts Jesus dealing with this issue in his ministry. Miracles are not the point. We read accounts of Jesus healing miracles which had little impact on the acceptance of his message by the crowds and their leaders. What was the answer? Perform more miracles? Hardly.

Faith came from hearing the Word of the Divine and acting on it. One could almost think that the believing and the doing were simultaneous. Faith comes not from proof or wonder working. It comes from the action of the Divine in me. I am most likely to be aware of that action and to respond to it when I experience people who hear the Word of the Divine One, act on it in their everyday lives, and preach it through words and example. All that the king and people of Nineveh needed was to hear the Word of God preached as a call to repentance by Jonah. Why do we think that we need more than that?

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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Help me be a sheep, not a goat

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:37-40

This translation of these familiar verses from the Gospel of Matthew comes from The Message. This Bible translation intends to provide the words of Scripture in an idiom that is more accessible to everyday speech and understanding. This is a good example. "The least of these" takes on enhanced relevance when we read it as those "overlooked or ignored." Perhaps we could add "forgotten."

Think of all those people who are in need but who are not part of my everyday life. It is all too easy to forget about them. And yet it is these very people that Jesus says are him. Think of a group of people who are despised, forgotten, held of little account. These are exactly the people who are Jesus. These are exactly the people we are called to pay attention to so that they are not forgotten.
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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lenten Fast Pleasing to God

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
Isaiah 58:8-9a

How easy it is for me to focus on myself! A Lenten fast means that I am to give up something and that somehow will bring me closer to the Divine and thus closer to the Reign of the Divine Become Human. The ancient wisdom of Isaiah calls us to a deeper understanding. Our lives are to be lives that work against the oppression of the weak by the strong, both intentional and unintended oppression.
During the cold winter months, providing shelter and sustenance to the homeless is particularly relevant. However good it might be for me to give up something and thus try to break the grip of our cultural and economic addiction to self gratification, that is of little meaning or significance unless it leads to action to liberate those ground down by that very culture and economy, what St. Paul would call "the world."
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Location:Main St,Mount Morris,United States

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pick up a cross daily

23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Luke 9:23-25

This is from the readings for the day after Ash Wednesday. We begin to hear the rather stark and challenging message of the Divine One become human. To follow Jesus is not about believing certain dogmas, not about engaging in specific religious actions. It is not even about doing good works. It is about letting go of our sense of control of our lives and letting Jesus be in charge...just as he had to relinquish control of his own life and let the Father's will be done.

My very identity is at stake. Who am I really? Am I to be defined by the addictive self gratifications that often seem to control my life? Or am I to be who I am really am...an incarnation of the Divine Spirit in a way uniquely my own and yet the same as every living being? Lent is time to enter into that reality and to live from that deepest identity.

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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Parable of the Sower

3-8 “Listen. What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled among the weeds and nothing came of it. Some fell on good earth and came up with a flourish, producing a harvest exceeding his wildest dreams.

9 “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”
Mark 4:3-9

This parable is favorite in religious education especially of children. It lends itself to easy explanation and even illustration. In its original telling as in the quotation above it is about the ultimate productivity of the Divine One's offer of life and love. Through all the difficulties, it will always find a way to life and abundance. When Jesus explains it to his followers in a later passage, it is an allegory about the response that we can make to the Divine One's offer. Clearly it is a challenge to us especially the notion of the seed that falls into the thorns and weeds and is overtaken and choked out of life. In this case, the thorns and weeds are the cares and concerns of this world, the materialism that threatens the life of the spirit in us.

There is a third lesson here as well. Though the Divine One is the sower, we are the Body of Christ. We, in fact, sow the seeds of faith through our lives of discipleship. "Those who hear the word are to become doers of the word." There is no guarantee that our lives of discipleship will be productive in terms of other people coming to a realization of the offer of the Divine One and acceptance of it. That is not our concern. We are called to faithfully continue to sow the seed of faith by following the law of the new covenant, the law of love written now in our hearts rather than on tablets of stone. The acceptance or rejection of that offer is between the Divine One and others. Our job is to continue to faithfully sow...knowing that ultimately, somehow, it will be productive.
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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

And what is heaven again?

So when God wanted to give the heirs of his promise
an even clearer demonstration of the immutability of his purpose,
he intervened with an oath,
so that by two immutable things,
in which it was impossible for God to lie,
we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged
to hold fast to the hope that lies before us.
This we have as an anchor of the soul,
sure and firm, which reaches into the interior behind the veil,
where Jesus has entered on our behalf as forerunner,
becoming high priest forever
according to the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 6:16-20

This passage from Hebrews helps me remember that whatever we can say about "Heaven" or the life to come is not true but only our incomplete way of trying to describe something totally beyond our understanding, even beyond our level of being. It encourages my natural skepticism about those who have had "near death" experiences--some even claim to have truly died--and then returned to tell us of their experience of heaven. These experiences are naturally enough filled with human experiences, people, and understanding but heaven by definition is beyond all that. Eternal life with the Divine is life beyond all understanding, beyond all human categories.

The author of Hebrews uses here an analogy--analogies are the best we can do when trying to describe people and experiences substantially different from the human--from Temple worship. This is apt since this letter is addressed to Jews who had become followers of Christ. Our hope is that we too will go behind, go beyond the veil into the very presence of the Divine much as the High Priest once a year entered into the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple. We follow Christ there who is our brother. He is the "forerunner" whom we follow.

And what is behind the veil? We cannot know other than life with the Divine. Somehow we who are faithful will enter into the life of the Trinity where we will take our place with our adopted brother/sister Jesus Christ, the very Word of the Divine. This must surely be a matter of transformed consciousness about which we can say very little and nothing that is completely accurate, or even close to accurate. Yet for all its lack of specifics, it is this promise that resounds in my soul rather than the pastoral life of happiness where everyone lives whole and entire and happily ever after.

We do live eternally with the Divine but it is behind the veil.
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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Monday, January 21, 2013

Joy versus happiness

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered;
and when he was made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
Hebrews 5:10

The author of Hebrews is at great pains to remind us that Jesus, the High Priest of the New Covenant, was a human being, like us in all ways save sin. This passage brings to my mind two misconceptions that often intrude on my thinking about myself and about life. First, since Jesus was without sin, his life escaped the pain and suffering of human relationships and life until the very end. Of course, this cannot be true. If he lived a fully human life, he experienced weakness, illness, pain, disappointment, failure, success, happiness, sadness and all the other experience that comprise a human life. To the extent that I know of his life, he serves as a model for me of what it means to be a fully and deeply human person.
Second, this passage reminds me that it was precisely through his suffering and pain that he became perfect, that is, in complete alignment with the will of the Divine. As an American I typically confuse happiness and joy. In my culture, happiness is seen as the absence of pain or difficulty. I am happy when everything is going my way and I am insulated from physical and emotional pain. The Christian life is not about happiness but about joy. And the joy we experience comes precisely from the experience of pain, suffering and death along with all the good things of life like friendship, meaning, worth, and deep feeling.
Suffering, pain and death are essential parts of a human life and are far from incompatible with joy. In fact, they are indispensable to the development of joy. How hard this is to comprehend and live.
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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hold on tight till the end

Take care, brothers and sisters,
that none of you may have an evil and unfaithful heart,
so as to forsake the living God.
Encourage yourselves daily while it is still “today,”
so that none of you may grow hardened by the deceit of sin.
We have become partners of Christ
if only we hold the beginning of the reality firm until the end.
Hebrews 3:10-14

By virtue of our baptism and incorporation into the Body of Christ, we have become partners with Christ. But we live out that partnership in a world that is filled with, indeed often energized by, values that are the opposite of the values espoused and live by Jesus. Conversion is not a one time thing because we and our world are constantly changing and thus our conversion needs to be a living organic acceptance of the way of life of Jesus. It will be different when one is 72 than it was when one was 21; the same but also different because I have changed and I live in a world that has changed.

It is not that the world directly assaults my faith and commitments. Rather the danger is slow and gradual erosion of my commitment to the way. It is like cataracts. Your eye gradually loses the light and focus required for sharp eye sight and for vibrancy of color and images. But this loss is gradual, so gradual that one really doesn't notice it. It just becomes how one sees and with the adjustments that the brain makes, we don't realize that things have changed. Once the cataracts are removed and we see clearly again, only then do we realize what we have been missing. This is how the values of the world work against our discipleship. It is important that we periodically take stock of where we are and what we are seeing.

As the psalm response for today says, "If today you hear God's voice, harden not your heart." Although the healing miracle recounted in today's gospel deal with a leper, we recall that very often they dealt with people who were blind. Christ restored their sight so that they saw things clearly. That can be my prayer. In deed that must be my constant prayer as I live out my faith commitments in the world.
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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Monday, January 14, 2013

The whole story in a nutshell

Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
Mark 1:14-15

The time has finally come when the Divine One asserts its rule over all that is. That rule is based on love and justice for all creation without regard to tribal identity, religious belief, life style choices, sexual identity, and all the other characteristics of being human that we can use to separate and judge people. The only ones excluded are those who exclude themselves.

To enter this divine reality we need to change our lives and live this good news. It is not a matter of believing certain doctrines or mysteries as tests of membership but of living my life from the reality of Jesus within me. In that way, my life will reflect "The Way" of which the early Christians spoke. Nothing could be harder or easier.

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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The heart of the matter

We know that we belong to God,
and the whole world is under the power of the Evil One.
1 John 4:18

This is the heart of the matter. Each of us who have responded "Yes" to the Divine One's offer of life and love truly belongs to the Divine One. At the same time and in important ways, we continue to live in "the world" which is dominated and ruled by the Evil One. Even though we believe in the final divinization of the world, the current coexistence of "the world" and "the Reign of God" does not compromise the reality and power of either. The fact that we belong to God does not change the reality of a world dominated by the Evil One.

And so the disturbing question arises again: What am I to do? I am to confront both realities within my own being. I am to do whatever I can--no matter how small--to take my stand for Jesus in the world dominated by the Evil One. This is especially important for those of us who are successful in the eyes of the world. We run the real risk of deluding ourselves and living in comfortable complicity with the Evil One even though we live "good, moral" lives of personal rectitude.

In many ways, the fundamental message of Jesus to me and others similarly situated in the world is disturbingly simple: Wake up!
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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Storm tossed...and loving it.

Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing,
for the wind was against them.
About the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
He meant to pass by them.
But when they saw him walking on the sea,
they thought it was a ghost and cried out.
They had all seen him and were terrified.
But at once he spoke with them,
“Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!”
He got into the boat with them and the wind died down.
Mark 6:47-51

Whether I understand this story to refer to my life or to the life of the Church, the meaning is the same. I and the Church exist in the world. Although not of the world, we are in the world, the world that rejected Jesus the Christ. We should expect no different. As long as I am focused on love, I know that I draw near to the Word of the Divine who is always close to me, closer to me than I am to myself. I need not be afraid, for the Word is somehow in me and I am in the Word.
Help me to focus on loving service and awareness of others. Let me always keep in mind that Jesus came to serve not to be served and he asks the same of me. This is only possible to the extent that I integrated my personality into a sense of wholeness so that the ego does not stand as some independent entity demanding attention and praise but rather as a principle of identity that assists me in realizing who I am, where I came from, and to whom I belong.
The same is true of the Church...in every respect.
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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I love because I am first loved

In this is love:
not that we have loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
1 John 4:10

It is hard for us not to think that we have to love God in order for God to love us. Nothing could be farther from traditional Christian teaching. The Divine One first loves us, each of us, unconditionally and equally, regardless of how we live our lives or what we believe. It is so hard to accept that but it is and has to be absolutely true.

Our response to this love is what can and does vary. If we truly love the Divine One, that is if we truly and fully accept and respond to the love offered to us, then we will love others, indeed all of creation, with the same unconditional love that works in us. Just like the Divine One, our love of others does not depend on their living up to our code of behavior, our standards.

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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The consolation of the love of the Divine One

Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth
and reassure our hearts before him
in whatever our hearts condemn,
for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us,
we have confidence in God
. 1 John 3:21

As do all of the writings attributed to John, this full passage from the lectionary for today calls us to love one another as Jesus the Christ loves each of us. We should not expect that the world will love us in return for our love. In fact, we should not be surprised when the world hates us precisely because of our love of our brothers and sisters. The values of the world--self centeredness, greed, ruthlessness, and domination--are threatened by the actions of love by Christian disciples.

Our standards of love and discipleship must be our own hearts, our conscience. if our hearts "condemn us," we gain consolation from the realization that the Divine One loves us and knows us and our hearts even better than we do ourselves. If our hearts do not condemn us, we stand justified in the light of the Divine. Either way it is the love of the Divine that saves us and calls us to a life of love and service of our brothers and sisters in need. Indeed, it is that Divine love that makes it possible for us to live the life of a disciple in the first place.
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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Friday, January 4, 2013

What, indeed, do I seek?

And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” John 1:38

Two disciples of John the Baptist--one of whom we learn later is Andrew, one of the twelve--begin to follow after Jesus as he walks by them and is hailed by John as the Lamb of God, the Messiah. Jesus notices them, turns, and asks them the above question. It is the question that lies at the heart of the life of a disciple: What do I seek? What do I want?

This is a profoundly unsettling question. If I think of what I might want, none of that seems to be truly my heart's desire: health, longevity, creativity, calmness, peacefulness, energy, etc. When St. Ignatius reflected on this, he came to the conclusion that all those things and more were all gifts from the Divine One and thus were to be offered back to the Divine One. All Ignatius needed was the Divine One's love, which he already had and thus didn't need to ask for.

In this sense I want a recognition of the Divine One's love for me as a person and a response to that love in a way that recreates me as a child of the Trinity. If I have that, I have all I need.

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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Is my life like thunder in the desert?

“I’m thunder in the desert: ‘Make the road straight for God!’ I’m doing what the prophet Isaiah preached.” John 1:23

When the Jewish officials came out to question John about his identity and his ministry, his reply perhaps raised more questions rather than provided answers. The traditional translation has him saying, "I am a voice crying in the wilderness...." The Message uses the more startling "thunder in the desert."

The import of this passage for me is clear if unsettling. Is my life like thunder in the desert announcing the presence in our midst of the Lord and the Reign of the Divine? Does my life--not just my words--announce the Good News?
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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States