Thursday, June 27, 2013

Living Outside the Cave

The Greek Philosopher Plato once proposed an image of several prisoners chained to the wall of a cave.  Behind them was a fire which projected shadows onto the wall, caused by people and animals walking near the fire.  For the prisoners what was projected on the wall was reality.  Plato suggests that the Philosopher, the seeker of truth, is like a prisoner who has escaped the cave and views the people and creatures as they really are, not by shadows.

Recent actions by our government agencies, but the current social mind-set, seems to indicate that we are more like the prisoners chained to the wall, rather than the philosopher who seeks the truth.  In this post-modern age our take on life tends more to the relative and external than of any depth.  In recent years the Pew research foundation has shown less of a draw to religious or philosophical principles, as to what is described as being 'spiritual.' 

Over the course of the last three or four decades our Church has talked a great deal of knowing our faith, and we have tomes of adult catechetical programs to prove it, but we failed to move peoples hearts.  Sadly our culture is quite satisfied with shadows.  Back in the seventies a sociologist (whose name I have forgotten) proposed that urban blight and crime takes hold because of broken windows.  Neighbors get used to an abandoned building, broken windows, and criminal activity.  This is the new normal.  The same moral decay progresses in our faith.

Maybe our schools need to teach philosophy or the classics.  The is a lot to be said about a Liberal Education curriculum.  There is that truism about appreciating our past so as not to repeat the same mistakes in the future.  Sort of like Lazarus we need to listen to the voice of Jesus, become unbound, and set free.  And it is seeking the truth which will set us free.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Sinful Woman

One of my first pastors would use a phrase (which used to drive me crazy) in regards to sin, and admitting guilt, which had a tinge of 1960s psycho-therapy to it.  In any conversation, if he wanted the individual to admit responsibility he would chime, "name it and claim it."  While an irritating phrase there is some truth to that.  Healing, and especially forgiveness begins to occur when we are honest with ourselves.  If we understand that we are broken, fragile clay vessels if you will, then we will all the more realize our need to healing and forgiveness; and be more willing to forgive.

Even more so when we begin to realize that Jesus Christ is our Saviour and the Lamb who takes away our sins, we enter into the Paschal Mystery and a deeper level of love and passion with our God.  I recall many years ago receiving a call from a young lady, on a Saturday afternoon, who wanted to go to confession prior to her evening activities.  She explained that what she had planned was sinful, and wanted forgiveness before the fact.  Knowing that we are saved does not allow us a 'pass' on living a good moral life.  All the more so realizing that God loves us, and that Jesus suffered and died for us, should lead us to a life of conversion and discipleship.

The Pharisee today sees sins in others.  In matter of fact he does not refer to the woman in our story today by a name, but simply as a 'sinful woman.'  Perhaps he has never struggled with sin and the need of conversion.  To be sure his self righteous attitude would lead one to wonder whether he is aware of sin in his life.  If you have ever been around a bunch of recovering alcoholics you know that they are bluntly honest about their own brokenness, and are more than ready to un-mask their friends who try to mask their own plight.  Being able to name the affliction comes from a grateful heart that knows a God who is quick to offer love and mercy.

The woman in the Gospel today understands the revelation of the Christ.  She knows her sins and from a heart that has experienced the love of God, seeks to rectify her situation.  Receiving forgiveness she embraces the feet of the one who loves her in new life.  When we are courageous enough to name and claim our sin, and know a Father who loves us, our response will be an outpouring of thanksgiving of the one who is at the table with us.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Let Your Yes Mean 'Yes.'

Jesus concludes his instruction today (Matthew 5:33-37) with the direction to make our "Yes" mean yes, and our "No" mean no.  Of course after just hearing the Beatitudes we are being summoned to living a faith-filled and committed life based in truth and faith.  To be sure when Mary gives her unconditional Yes, it is based on a foundation of God's faithfulness.  She does not fully understand all that will be required of her, or how her life will be different.  She only knows that God has been faithful from one generation to the next.

I love the series Jesus Freaks, by DC Talk.  This is a compilation of stories of trues martyrs, and other men and women who have suffered as they professed and lived their faith.  One might wonder why they did not simple follow the program and avoid all of the hardships and difficulties they endured.  Well for them they had said "Yes" at Baptism, Confirmation, and each time they participated in the Eucharist.  Faith is not lived in secret or the privacy of one's home.  These folks understood that faith is lived as a public expression of love and charity, all the while standing for what is right and good.  And sometimes that means standing out against Sin and Evil.

The Church once again is inviting all Catholics to express the awareness and appreciation of Religious Liberty.  We have been invited to pray and fast as we acknowledge our concern over the threats to Religious Freedom.  Some might smirk imagining solders with guns not allowing us to go to Mass.  In reality religious oppression is much more subtle than that. This exercise though might help us to reflect upon what we say 'Yes' to each time we receive the Eucharist, or pray, or bring a child to baptism.

I like telling the story of a gentlemen who had expressed that he did not need the sacrament of reconciliation.  "I haven't murdered anyone Father."  If murder is the standard of sin which we judge or life, then we might want to look again at the values which we find in Sacred Scripture.  When we receive the Body of Christ at Mass, and pray throughout the day, we are reaffirming a relationship we have with God in faith.  We make that strong in our commitment to the truth bestowed by Christ.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

St. Barnabas, apostle and martyr

While very little is known about St. Barnabas, whose feast we celebrate today, he seems to be an important figure in the early Church.  A companion of St. Paul, it is believed that he was a Jew from Cyprus, and convert to Christianity.  He accompanied Paul in his preaching ministry in Antioch and at Cyprus.  In the Acts of the Apostles Barnabas have a major role at the Council of Jerusalem. 

How does one even reach the Barnabas level of discipleship?  There is no apostle application process.  From the very beginning it would seem that Barnabas had been a leader in the Christian Church at Jerusalem.  A ardent defender of the Gentile converts he proclaimed the foundational truths as expressed in the Gospels.  Most certainly Barnabas expressed his convictions to the Word of God on a personal and relational level.  Perhaps his imitation of Christ was more as a 'Servant-leader' rather than trying to theologize the Paschal Mystery.

St. Paul sometimes alludes to the fact that he always tried to be gentle in his approach, never pouncing on the communities he served.  When he had to challenge the beliefs or lifestyle of the various churches, he followed his own advice and did so with love and charity.  We have to imagine that the early Church chose its leaders based on their imitation of the Paschal Mystery.  It was those persons who preached and lived the cross which were sent out to proclaim the Gospel.

When we consider the the Council of Jerusalem we see in its final consensus a determination to continue on the context of the Gospels, but not making the faith overwhelming for its converts.  What is essential for belief in Jesus, and what is simply piety.   These are good questions for us in the Church today as well.

Tradition has it that Barnabas was instrumental in the establishment of the Christian Church in Cyprus.  Tradition also holds that he was martyred.  Though details of the latter are not real clear.  What is evident is his faith-filled leadership and commitment to the truth of the Gospel.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Jesus Christ King of Glory

An important piece of today's Gospel (LK 7:11-17) which goes unnoticed, is that this son is the child of a widow.  In Jewish society, at the time of Jesus, a woman's social status is dependant on her husband, or some other male in the family.  So the loss of her son is devastating enough, but now she will live in poverty.  So Jesus' compassion and pity is multi fold.

Throughout the mission and ministry of Jesus we see him restoring men and woman (and children) to life and wholeness.  This is commensurate with his mission statement whereas he quotes from Isaiah, "...Bring glad tidings to the poor, and release to prisoners... ."  Jesus does not fear death, sickness, or oppression, but transformation into the lives of the broken and afraid.  in all of the Gospels we see a Jesus who not only has compassion towards the sick and suffering, but is troubled and angered at death and injustice.

The creation story points to a God who makes all things in beauty and wonder.  Gazing upon creation God proclaims all being to be 'God.'  Jesus knows that we are not made for Sin and death, but for full communion with God.  Jesus stops the coffin and commands the  young man to rise.  An encounter with Jesus always brings about newness of life.  Just as he commands demons to release their grip, and paralytics to stand up, pick up their mat, and walk. 

Knowing that Jesus is in our midst our faith communities take up the mission of offering new life to people.  So we support and encourage those who have lost loved ones, suffering from disease, and struggling with issues of unemployment.  We are Church when we gather people who suffer from addictions, and support the young and the old.  Today we continue to be called to halt the 'coffins' in this the culture of death, and offer a vision of light, happiness, and peace.  Where our brothers or sisters seem to be dead, in Jesus' name we command them to arise.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Solemnity of the Sacred Heart

Today's feast sees its origins in the 11th and 12th centuries.  Saints Bernard of Claivaux, Bonaventure, and Gertrude, wrote reflections concerning the love of God being made manifest in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  In particular the Gospel passion images of blood and water flowing from the side of Jesus are remarked as indicators of the beginning of sacramental life of the Church.  When we receive the sacraments we are returning to that hill at Calvary, receiving the grace of that sacred moment.  In the 18th century we have the revelations of the Sacred Heart and the immaculate as given to Margaurite Marie Alacoque.

In human cultures, from the beginning of time it would seem, the heart is seen as the center of life.  A healthy heart allows blood to flow throughout the body.  A diseased heart hurts the human body, as well as the emotional state of the person.  To be sure scripture, and literature itself, describes persons who are stubborn, inflexible, obstinate, or immovable, as having a hardened heart.  Cold or unfeeling persons we are told have no heart.

So in Scripture Jesus' heart is moved with pity as he recognizes the hurts and brokenness of the crowd before him.  He begins teach them and will eventually feed them because they are like sheep without a shepherd.  Throughout his mission and ministry Jesus is moved with compassion for individuals as he brings them healing and peace.  And most importantly his heart is focused on the love of God and will allow his own hart to suffer, and be poured out if you will, so as to bring salvation and peace to a broken and corrupt world.

This devotion today focuses us on the fact that yes 'God so loved the world,' and continues to pour out upon us every grace and blessing.  This complete and selfless love requires from us a response of faith and faithfulness.  Just as the Paschal Mystery is a profound and deep response to human Sin and suffering, so too our devotion to Christ and his mission requires an extreme response.  While it is easy to stand back and admire this kind of love, our kinship with God, through Jesus Christ, can also be a sign and symbol that we are truly children of God.

Just as Bonaventure today suggests that the Passions unveiled a hidden love for humanity, we are challenged to receive God's love with faith and devotion, and share it with increase for the world.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Boniface - Bishop and Martyr

Even into the last century the words "Bishop" and "Martyr" are often tied together.  It is not easy to be a bishop today, and extremely difficult to be a faithful bishop.  And Boniface was just that.

A Benedictine monk, was sent as a missionary to what is today the Rhineland, Bavaria, and west Germany.  His primary role was the reform of the Christian communities in this region and outreach to the pagan Germanic tribes.  In 748 he became Bishop of this region, and spent his time in preaching and evangelization.  His establishment of several Christian communities in this area, including a monastery at Fulda, provided for a foundation of strong faith in this place.

In a letter to his people Boniface reflects, "Let us wait upon God's strengthening aid, let us stand fast for what is right,  let us preach the whole of God's plan to the powerful and to the humble, to rich and to poor..."  To be sure there was a real zeal about Boniface, and as the Collect states today, he was loyal to his faith.

I think that sometimes we can be too much like persons posing for holy cards in respect to our faith.  I had a Pastor that had suggested the communion song at First Communion should be, "That Magic Moment."  Anne Dillard's reflection of Christians rings true.  If we believe what we profess we should be wearing crash helmets and wearing life preservers.  It is good to know about God, but we have to feel and possess God in our hearts too.

Boniface tread-ed on many toes throughout his journeys and in his preaching.  Like many who proclaimed the Gospel to the pagans, unbelievers, and truly evil people, Boniface was murdered by marauding tribes.  But his life and efforts had a great impact on many in that locality.  His faithfulness was a living witness to the cross, and an invitation to remain faithful.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Body and Blood of Christ

St. Paul today reminds his listeners that our blessing and sharing of the bread and cup, are done in memory of the Christ who saves us.  More over our participation in this Sacred meal is at once a comfort and a challenge.  St Paul will say later on that if we receive this meal unworthily, then we are eating to our own condemnation.  Paul implies an interior disposition, and an exterior response to the Eucharist which we receive.

We have to say from the start that the Eucharist we celebrate and participate in is the Body and Blood of Christ.  It is not simply blessed bread but consecrated elements of bread and wine that have been transformed into Christ's Body and Blood.  In the same way then that food is changed and becomes part of us, the Eucharist becomes part of us an Christ lives within us.  When at St Edward's High School, if I came around the corner to the sound of profanity or other un-chaste conversation, I would ask whether they received the Eucharist with that same mouth.

Christ Jesus presents himself to us in very simple signs and symbols.  Vatican II calls this sacrament, and the liturgical action surrounding it, the source and summit of our catholic life.  This action is what unifies us and brings us into communion with each other.  The Body and Blood of Christ are the great equalizer which demands that we remember all that God has done to save us.  The ultimate act of love an charity, by the Father, are repeated each time we celebrate this mystery, and asks us to share what we have received through God's love and mercy.

Now there is a sadness in that many who had received the Eucharist for the first time several weeks ago have not been seen since.  Lately person opt out of having a wedding or funeral Mass.  It would seem that Jesus is not invited to participate in these lives.  The mission and ministry of Jesus was certainly about caring for those who "Were like sheep without a shepherd."  The Eucharist reveals to us the nature of our God and his life with us.  It is a challenge but also a promise of salvation.

God have given us His unconditional "Yes" in this sacrifice of the altar.  We gather together in faith and love to say "Yes" back to got.  With this food for the journey we offer our faithful response.