Wednesday, July 31, 2013

For the Greater Glory of God

Born and raised in the early part of the sixteenth century, Ignatius of Loyola was from a noble family, and eventually found his way into the military.  A serious injury sent him home to recuperate.  During this time he read extensively a life of Christ, and the lives of the saints.  Reflecting on these texts brought him to examine his own life, and relationship with Jesus.  A vision of Christ implored him towards conversion, which eventually lead him to religious life.  In 1534 he and six other men, founded the Society of Jesus.  The premise of their service was to serve the needs of the papacy in whatever capacity was needed.

Recall too that about this time was the Protestant Reformation and the rebuilding of the Church.  The powers of Europe were increasing in the world, and the economy was about to become 'global.'  The activities of this new order were to be the reform of the Church, especially through the sacraments, missionary activity, education, and to counter heresies which were developing.  The spiritual order of Ignatius, which were developed in his Spiritual Exercises, emphasized coming to know, and to follow, the will of God.

In on of his letters Ignatius writes, "I beg God ... grant us a superabundance of grace, in order that we may fully experience his most holy will ... ."  Ignatius would challenge all of his followers to do everything for the glory of the name of Jesus. 

The premise of a saintly and holy life is that we become caught up in doing holy 'things' and living a holy life.  Of course that does not mean that we are kneeling all of the time, nor are our eyes always rolled back in ecstasy.  All of us have at some time or another met holy people while doing non-church activities.  This was the sort of vision which Ignatius had. His desire was that peoples would direct themselves towards doing the will of God the Father.

From the Exercises themselves St Ignatius still speaks to us, as he quotes St. Paul, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ask, Seek, Knock

As little children our parents not only taught us how to pray, but had a selection of prayers to pray.  And again in catholic grade school or RE, we were given even more prayers, with the suggestion that we 'make up' prayers, as if we were simply conversing with God.  As time moved forward, our best intentions in regards to our prayer life fell aside.  We became sort of like the apostles today who in their travels with Jesus began to know they needed a firm foundation in Jesus, and the Father in heaven.  So, teach us to pray.

Jesus would again and again challenge the disciples (that would be us) with the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom for Jesus had a sense of urgency to it.  We are reminded from the prophet, and the Gospel of Matthew, that the Kingdom is not in a far off place, but the Kingdom is here and now.  Venerable Bede reminds us that, "Our Lord and savior wishes us to attain the joy of the heavenly kingdom, and so he taught us to pray for it, promising to give it to us if we did so. Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you."

Bede goes on to reflect, "We should consider most attentively and seriously what these words may mean for us."  This text warns us that it is not the "idle and freckles," that have the door opened for them;  there has to be this process of  prayer, reflection, and meditation.  Even more so, as St Paul suggests, we are to be a people who embrace right living, charity, chastity, the nurturing of our own dignity, and responding to the dignity of others.  Very much the psalmist our prayer life comes out of a heart that desires God above all things, struggles with Sin and Evil, and is affronted upon hearing about brokenness and evil.

The Vatican documents which discuss the Church, suggest that if we want a better world then we have to pray, allow inspiration, and not close down the Word of God.  We really have to work at being holy as our Father in heaven is holy.  Persistence and faithfulness are two tall orders here.

From the cross, in pain and suffering, Jesus cried out, "My God my God why have you forsaken me."  In the middle of pain and suffering we need to have the confidence and faith to cry out to God, and expect transformation.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

St James the Apostle

About a year ago I had read a book by a gentleman, James Hunter, simply entitled, Servant.  Mr. Hunter is an executive at a large company, and wrote the book for other business leaders.  The text relates his experience at a leadership retreat, held at a catholic retreat house.  During this time he learned that real leadership comes not from commanding people as much as connecting with their needs and concerns.

In today's Gospel the mother of James and John requests that Jesus allows her sons the places of honor in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus explains to 'Mrs. Zebedee,' and her sons, that to follow him necessitates the ability to "share the cup of suffering and death."  Discipleship is not about laying down like a doormat, by engaging in the needs and concerns of others.  James seems to have eventually understood this since in his letter he insists that it is not enough to wish the poor, suffering, and sick, well being and good luck, but we respond to their needs and concerns.  Our service is making oneself available to the other.  Often at our own expense.

St. James is one of the first apostles martyred for his discipleship.  While we are not chased around by people with sharp pointy sticks, our Church stand for justice and peace, our insistence of respecting the dignity of life, is not always well received.   The goal of our discipleship is exposing the Kingdom of God.  Like the apostles we do so all the while we are conveying what we have seen and heard of the ministry of Jesus Christ.

We celebrate and participate in the Paschal Mystery by means of a self-less love.  Think of moms and dads who check soiled diapers, or spend Friday evening eating fish sticks with the kids, as opposed to pan seared tuna on a rice pilaf,  because there is something larger at stake.  Our dying to our wants and needs, putting ourselves out, and living outside of our comfort zone, draws us into the mystery we celebrate, while being a witness to the faith we celebrate

Discipleship invites us to a counter-cultural lifestyle.  The agape love we celebrate at Mass is a springboard to our own servant leadership.  "Whoever wants to rank as first among you must serve the needs of all."  (Mt 20: 26-27)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Gathering of Youth

This week Pope Francis participates in the World Youth Day, with over a million young people.  It is an overwhelming and powerful event.  The event is much different from the days of John Paul II, whereas the Pontiff was widely received with joy and high expectations.  Our cultural shift has left much cynicism and irreverent responses.  But Pope Francis is undaunted.

During this year, the Year of Faith, an the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II, he Pope's words calling the young people to holiness is most appropriate.  For most young people, for most all people, the concept of holiness involves kneeling, folded hands, and eyes gazing heavenward.  First of all that is not even most of the Saints.  Secondly a life of holiness entails a higher way of being, of finding joy in the world around us, and the expectation of goodness and truth in the response to daily encounters. 

As expected Francis reiterates the Church's call to live faithfully, working for justice and peace, and living simply and humbly.  In some of the holy people of the twentieth century, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, and Oscar Romero, we have seen models of this sort of faithfulness.  Our Church teachings on justice and peace are some of the best kept secrets in our Church today.  But it is these elements that makes our Church relevant and attractive.  I have met some young people in a former parish that understood that going to Church is not about sitting in a church for an hour, but a springboard to do Church in the world around us.

Pope Francis can be quite radical in his invitation to be Church.  To be sure he has looked out over these young people and discovered sheep without a shepherd.  While he calls people to respond to the more traditional vocations, more importantly he is summoning people to a life of holiness.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Be More Like Mary

The Martha and Mary saga has been the starting point for many a homily advocating the duel, yet equally important, spirituality in our Church.  More so people have used Martha's response as an indication that anxiety and worry do not draw us closer to Jesus but preclude a real relationship with Jesus Christ.

Mary by placing herself at the feet of Jesus shows herself to be the perfect disciple.  While we might scratch our heads and declare, "But she isn't doing anything," we have to understand that the beginning of discipleship is listening to the Word of God.  Call to mind that in Mark's Gospel the Apostles are often admonished because they have misunderstood Jesus; and perhaps not really listened to him. 

In the U.S. Bishops document, Stewardship: A Disciples Response, we are told to receive gifts from God gratefully, nurture and nourish those gifts, share them with love and in charity, and return them with increase to the Lord.  Of course before any of this we need to take a posture of active listening.  The Word of God needs to find a home in our hearts and lives.  St. Paul recognized this as he began to understand that resisted God's initiatives before his conversion and discipleship.  Further Paul will muse that the life he lives is not his own, but that Christ Jesus lives within him.  His ministry is not his own but that of Jesus Christ.

In parishes persons can take over ministries and try to further their own needs and agenda.  More often than not these ministries fail when the individual moves on or becomes unable to do the work.  There are households where one person tends to be the bonding element that keeps the family together, not always in a healthy way.  When the person becomes infirm or absent, the family falls apart.  Jesus and his mission and ministry have to become part of the equation in all of our wanderings  and interactions.  Stewards of faith, that is disciples, listen carefully to the words and wisdom of Jesus, so as to be soundly founded in his Body.  Otherwise the daily anxieties of life will cause frustration, anger, and despair. 

Like Abram's encounter of the three men, our sincere ministry, based in Christ Jesus, can bring about a new revelation from God.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lumen Fidei

On 7 July, Pope Francis issued his first encyclical letter, Lumen fidei, the Light of Faith.  This completes a trilogy of letters as issued by his predecessors  on love and hope.  To be sure this encyclical like the others challenges us to live a deeper relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  More over this text calls to mind for us that the Church continues to be the instrument of holiness and evangelization in the world today.

Beginning with the texts of the Hebrew Scripture, Pope Francis shows how easily Sin and sinfulness enters human history when a peoples accepts easy answers, rather than seeking that which is true and good.  The light of faith illumines the hearts and minds of men and women so that they might be disposed to accept the truth of faith.  Using the theology of St. Augustine, and classical philosophy, to be truly human is to recognize that there is a moral component to ourselves.  We belong to a higher way of being and of living. 

Quoting from St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians Pope Francis reminds we the readers that Jesus Christ is the revelation of God the Father.  What this means for us is that when we follow Jesus Christ, and seek to imitate his mission and ministry, we can begin to see and recognize God.  Of coarse this process reminds us that there needs to be some sort of transformation that is taking place here.  Again as St Paul puts it we are putting on Christ.

The Paschal Mystery stands in the crux of the revelation of the Father's love for us.  The prophets and holy men and women prepared us for this.  The Church by its celebration of the sacraments (in particular the Eucharist) and its teachings continues to unfold the mystery of faith.  "It was only in this way, by taking flesh, by sharing our humanity, that the knowledge proper to love could come to full fruition." (31)  For the early Church the kerygma of the early Christian communities drew people into the light of faith, and the Body of Christ.

Pope Francis again alludes to Paul's reflection that we are a seeking people who walk be faith and not by sight.  To be sure we need to have an understanding of what we believe, so reason does come to play, but we also recognize that faith centers us on what we profess.  Pope Francis concludes with the example of Mary as  that perfect person of faith.  In the midst of oppression and brokenness Mary's faith allows her to trust in God's word, to respond fully, and to share the light of the world with the entire world around us.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Our Lady of Mt Carmel

The story of Elijah on Carmel is one of faith and faithfulness.  Elijah reminds us that to be prophetic is a most difficult task.  From our place in history we can easily read of these heroes of the bible and become amazed at their bold words and wisdom.  Yet they were sometimes afraid and even doubted their own effectiveness.  God used these broken instruments to convey the premise of the covenant and call men and women to holiness.

That we honor the Blessed Mother is of no surprise.  Mary's unconditional 'Yes' is founded on a deep intimacy that she has with God.  Passion, intimacy, and conviction, when nurtured by love and affection, allow persons to make bold and stand for what is right and true.  To be sure we have seen this take place throughout history whereas person committed to true and goodness have faced many obstacles to set things right.

The hermits who settled on Carmel in the twelfth century were truly prophets, maybe not in our sense, but because their lifestyle and prayer-life was so counter-cultural.  From the mountaintop vista they invite other sojourners to look to the heavens for guidance and direction in their life.  This gives us a clue also.  We need models of faith to follow, and are cajoled into seeking what is right and good. 

Today we are asked again to ponder the mystery of the Incarnation.  God become one like us so that we could be prophetic in becoming more holy - like God.