Sunday, February 23, 2014

Be Holy!

Some time ago I had read a book by Fr. Ronald Rohlheiser, The Holy Longing.  In one section he wrote about the 'Incarnational' spirituality.  Rohlheiser suggests that we as followers of Christ, baptized into the Body of Christ, constantly show the face of Christ in our own flesh and blood.  By our touch, response, and interaction with others we always want to be demonstrating our "Christ-ness."  He even tells the story of a woman who left the Church because she could not recognize the face of Christ in anyone connected to the Church.

In the text Rebuilt, the authors suggest the very same observation.  They share the observation that the churches that thrive have a broad sense of hospitality and generosity.  Like Jesus in his ministry these places have mastered the art of table fellowship.  Even Pope Francis conveys to us that our Church is a missionary Church.  We can never sit still and be satisfied with the way things are.  We are always on a journey and bearing witness to the gospel.

Even in the Gospel today Jesus offers these very difficult challenges.  Be holy as your Father in heaven is holy.  Jesus tells his hearers that they must love and forgive even their enemies and persecutors.  More so we go the extra mile and give to each other even to the point of it being painful.  Holiness is not a posture per se, but an attitude that seeks out the paschal mystery on an ongoing basis.  We continually want to go up higher bringing others with us.

This in particular is true with the ability to forgive and seek forgiveness.  So much of the gunk and yuck in our society stems from the inability and unwillingness to work for reconciliation, justice and peace.  While dysfunctional families make great movie fodder, such animosity, anger, and brokenness breeds unhealthy relationships with God and other.

It is important to remember that we walk on sacred ground.  God has made all things, and created al men and women, so we have value, dignity, and worth.  Above and beyond simply being "nice" to others, is seeking out other's goodness, and striving to convey upon them God's life and grace.  By embracing the cross we testify to the holiness that God has bestowed on us.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Faith and Religion

A long time ago our Diocese undertook a process of evaluating parish life and ministries throughout the Diocese.  It was a long endeavor, and for the most part had positive effects for most parishioners and places.  Basically this endeavor asked us to examine who we are as Church.  It revealed our strengths as communities and peoples of faith, but also exposed a lack of ecclesiology and understanding of the connection we have with the mission and ministry of Christ and the Church.

Yesterday's Gospel from Mark tells the story of Jesus inquiring of the apostles, "who do people say that I am?"  We know the story; various responses are given, and Peter declares Jesus to be the 'Christ.'  Yet, in the same breath Peter urges Jesus not to go through the passion and death, as Jesus had enunciated it.  Peter had yet to reach that faith level, the depth of relationship with God which leads to an intense intimacy, and outpouring of love and mercy.

This certainly demonstrates the difference between the concepts of Faith and Religion.  Our faith indicates our belief, as St Peter will say much later, and embrace, of those mysteries that are unseen but lead us to a deeper understanding of our life with  God.  Our religion, those external practical facets which give expression to our faith, helps assist and guide us through our life, and can lead us to a deeper faith experience.  Having a religious practice does nothing if it does not transform and expand our hearts.

Eons ago, at a parish far away, I would go to the local 'Y' to swim and lift weights.  Each time I went there was this same rather stout man sitting in the locker room.  He never seemed to budge from the bench which he and his gym bag occupied.  He probably told others that he went "To the gym three times a week," yet I never ran into him at any other place in the Y.  We too can "go to church three times a week," but if we simply occupy space, and our hearts are not moved, then our religion does nothing for us.

Pope Francis in his Evangelii Gaudium, wants to impress upon us that we are a missionary Church.  God so loved the world, St John tells us, that he came into our midst as one like us, to suffer, die, and reveal the resurrection.  Filled with that same love we are to go forth into the world and share the Good News of the Gospel with all of our brothers and sisters.  Our religion calls from us a faith response in accord with the needs and concerns of the world today.  Pope Francis reminds us that an evangelizing community gets involved in the world today, taking up our cross, and following the Christ.  We are to take responsibility for our faith.

I recall having a young person imploring me to bless him prior to a math test.  When I pushed him as to whether he had studied, he admitted that he had not.  We can bless ourselves, go through all sort of religious motions, but unless we have a close and intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ, our hearts are never transformed.  More so, the mission of the Christ is not expanded.

In the spirit of God's love and mercy we have to continue to move forward in life, embracing the mystery of the cross, and remaining close to Jesus.  Then we become a living testimony, a faith-filled witness of all that we have seen and heard in faith.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Amen, amen ... what I say to you is

For the people of Deuteronomy, and of Jesus time, the most important precepts that one needed to follow, was the covenant and the law.  The Pharisees and Sadducees spent hours mulling over the smallest iota of the law.  The law became sort of a check-list as to evaluate how you were living with God, and one another.

So when Jesus comes upon the scene, it seems like he is going to do away with the law.  Jesus tells the peoples that nothing is farter from the truth.  They expect this Jesus, who does nice things for and to people, to abolish the law.  No Jesus tells them, he is here not to abolish be to fulfill the law.  For Jesus the law is too narrow and he comes for its fulfillment. 

So Jesus begins with expounding each of the main categories of the law.  It is not enough, Jesus say not to kill, but do not allow anger and rage to disquiet others.  Do not commit adultery is too narrow, Jesus tells his hearers.  Lust and impurity disregard the innate dignity that is part of al men and women.  Jesus wants his listeners to know that we go above and beyond the basic tenets of our faith.  We are to strive for holiness and work to transform our very lives.

We are made in the image and likeness of God.  This fact brings to us a particular identity and a challenge as to our own self-worth and value of those we engage with in life.  Looking at the news one can become discouraged as we see the variety of awful and terrible violence, abuse, and oppression which takes place.  Human life is sacred and requires our respect as well as our full and active response.  I our engagement of each other we are always on sacred ground.

I recall a gentleman from a parish, long ago and far away, who advised me that he did not need the sacraments, nor the Church, since doesn't go around killing people.  More so, as he went on, God and he have an understanding.  I thought 'how beautiful.'

But the reality is that all of us need to be aware of our words, thoughts, honesty, chastity, charity and understanding.  This is why we need to call upon the Holy Spirit so as to know the will of the Father, that we might be always obedient to him.  In a world that can be ugly and un-Christ-hard and like, we need to have the courage to live a life of Christ. 

As we trek through the gospel we can come to recognize that it is fraught with many challenges.  If we love Him, as he loves us.  We do not need to chop off our hands only remain faithful to the Lord

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Be Salt. Be Light

Some days ago I was watching a video of an evangelical tent revival.  On the stage were many very well known and popular evangelists.  The vid itself, lasting about seven minutes, was of a woman, with a powerfully beautiful voice, singing "Precious Lord Take My Hand."  After her rendition, the ministers; then the congregants sang.  It was outstanding.  What was fascinating to watch was these people swaying back and forth with their hands waving freely in the air.  The environment was certainly charged with the spirit, and people were really moved.

As Jesus speaks about being salt and light today, I think that it is that spontaneous joy and witness that he is suggesting.  Our faith should demonstrate itself in powerful ways so as to positively affect the hungry, naked, homeless, and all of those afflicted by the darkness of Sin and Evil.  To be sure the Vatican II document of the Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, would recommend that our profession of faith be bold and clear.  As the Gospels relate, all men and women should see our good works and give honor and praise to the Father.

Back in the 60s we sang "They will know we are Christians by our love."  That was sort of the theme song of the sixties and early seventies.  While we did not have much in theology or ecclesiology we did understand that our profession of faith needed to be accomplished outside of church and in addition to the Mass.

When I came to this parish several months ago, and had asked about the RCIA program, the program leaders had stated that they put information in the bulletin so as to attract candidates.  Certainly we should be going out into the highways and by-ways, but the community of faith, in the manner it serves and worships in spirit and in truth, should draw peoples into the Body of Christ.  Like the Christopher West song, we can no longer simply go through the motions.

While Vatican II alluded to full and active participations being mainly in regards to the Mass, Our entire faith life asks that we take responsibility for the mission and ministry entrusted to us.  We are to be salt and light in the world today.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Presentation at the Temple

In the film "The Lion King," Simba is lifted up by his father.  The future 'King of the Jungle' was to become a sign of hope and promise.  There is something very powerful and prophetic in this scene and many like it in movie and animation.  The child is shown to the people as someone who would become the leader and shepherd; heralding a new time and season.  To be sure Simeon's gesture of proclaiming the child is a moment of revelation for the hearers to understand that the Christ-child was not merely a nicety bestowed on us by God, but a communication to us of God's divine plan of salvation.

Simeon and Anna are presented to us as righteous people.  Their longing for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, their prayer and devotion are presented to us as evidence that these are indeed holy people.   To be sure because of their connection to the covenant, in addition to their understanding of God's love and mercy, they have the ability to recognize Jesus as the Christ.  And this is certainly good news for all of us.  Even in the midst of chaos and frustration they are still able to proclaim the 'greatness of the Lord,' helps us to understand the demeanor we need to undertake.

The experience of this small faith-filled communion saw the same pattern in Jesus’ earthly ministry – proclamation of the good news of God’s salvation followed by acceptance and belief by some and by opposition and crucifixion by others (the civil and religious establishment). But then God triumphs, raising Jesus to new life.

Our encounter with the Christ is a challenge and a call for conversion and discipleship.  This story is no exception.  We must as Christians to proclaim God’s salvation, by deed and in word, being mindful of the response we will evoke, and remembering that the crib of Bethlehem lies in the shadow of the cross at Calvary.