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

Monday, July 14, 2014

Necessary perhaps, but not sufficient.

Elephant trees in San Diego Botanical Garden
“Quit your worship charades.
    I can’t stand your trivial religious games:
Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—
    meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more!
Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them!
    You’ve worn me out!
I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion,
    while you go right on sinning."  Isaiah 1:13-14

This is from Isaiah's first chapter, the beginning of his prophetic ministry.  The point is clear:  the practice of religion is a means to an end and not an end in itself.  Liturgies, prayers, meetings, litanies, missions, etc. are all meant to lead to a change of heart which is made manifest in a life that "works for justice; helps the down-and-out; stands up for the homeless; goes to bat for the defenseless."

Sunday's liturgy was particularly uninteresting and uninspiring:  the music was slow; the homily was irrelevant and "literary" without any sense of application to the lives of members, and the gathering was low energy.  When this happens, I am tempted to feel short-changed and dissatisfied with the local church.  This passage from Isaiah helps remind me that I typically place unrealistically high expectations on liturgies and religious practices.  No matter how well done they are, it still always, always comes down to the continual change in my heart and turning toward the gospel message in the details of my daily life.  

There is a trap in liturgies that energize me, that make me feel good.  The trap is that it all ends right there instead of making a difference in my life.  I can begin to think that the quality of the liturgy is the sufficient cause when it clearly is not.  My personal relationship with God is the sufficient cause.  More precisely it is my response to the Divine One that is central with or without liturgies that make me feel good.

Isaiah calls me to look at my life and to assess it in light of the call to justice and mercy, not in terms of how much I like the liturgy!

Friday, July 11, 2014

What's in it for me?

Sunset on the Genesee River at Charlotte
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.  Matthew 19:29
We are human beings and so that question--What do I get out of this?--is a natural one.  There have been times when I thought this was not an appropriate question to ask about religion or about the church, but I was wrong.  It is always an appropriate question if we are to be fully human and to make choices that are thoughtful and considered.  When the apostles asked that question, Jesus gave the reply quoted above.

What we get is eternal life, which is to say existence within the interior life of the Trinity, a life we cannot envision, cannot imagine.  What we do know is that a reliance on power, connections, wealth, property, even family will not lead to that fullness of life.  In fact, as the next verse reminds us, those who rely on those things and who stand first in the eyes of the world will be last in the everlasting Reign of the Divine One.  Those who are last in the eyes of the world will be in the first rank in that Reign.  

It was this last statement repeated in many different ways that so enraged the power structure of the urban elite of Jerusalem--because it threatened their position of political and religious power--that they demanded the death of the one who spoke such words to the peasants and ordinary people.  These were "dangerous words" especially if spoken in a Jerusalem crowded with those very peasants to celebrate Passover at the Temple.

Are these still dangerous words for me and my world?  Or do they roll off my back like rain on ducks?  Of no consequence because I do not have ears to hear?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

We are called to a generous and gracious life

Lower Falls of the Genesee River in Letchworth Park
"You have been treated generously, so live generously."  Matthew 10:8

These are the words of Jesus to the 12 apostles as he sends them out to spread the word of the Reign of God.  This translation is from The Message.  We may be more familiar with this rendering:  "You received without payment; give without payment."  All I am and all I have are graced to me by the Divine One.  In a sense, who I am and what I have is given to me to give to others in a generous and gracious way.  The Christian way is not a way of quid pro quo.  It is a path of opening to others because it is our deepest nature to do so.  Our generosity is not to be a function of the response of others.  There is a peacefulness to a life that is not taken up with constant calculations of how others should respond to us but simply lives generously.