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, 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