Sunday, March 30, 2014

I was Blind, but now I See

Some time ago I had read a book by Fr Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing.  Father Rolheiser certainly asks those who believe that they live a life in the Spirit, to look again, and to make sure that it is really the Holy Spirit that they are following.  While not a Jesuit, Rolheiser certainly has some Ignatian spiritual twists and turns asking one to look deep within their heart for the holiness of God.  A spiritual life is certainly founded in God, but also our humanity, and that relation we have with God and others.

So we come to the Blind Man in today's Gospel reading.  Isn't it strange that his parents are readily available, as are neighbors, and perhaps other family members.  Yet the religion and social mores of the day insist that the man take his place as the 'town beggar' in the village square.   So along comes Jesus to introduce this broken and hurting man to an experience of grace, love and mercy.  The healing that takes place is to be sure a great sign of God's love and desire to restore all men and women into wholeness. 

This action of healing is a great source of confusion and anxiety.  Certain premises and accepted expectations are now shattered.  Suddenly God has leapt out of the box in which he had been comfortably placed in.  But if God brings us salvation, restores a fallen humanity, and brings healing and peace, then we have to reconsider our relationship with God - and others.

Again the Blind Man recognized his brokenness and desired to be healed.  Those who had physical sight could not accept that life could ever be different.  They loved God, but not enough to be changed or transformed.  Many a holy man and woman has wandered into the darkness, filled with the light of Christ, to stand as a stalwart witness of goodness and truth.  That is really the testimony of the Blind Man.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Woman at the Well

The Samaritan Woman at the Well story is decidedly rich with images and theology.  Sort of like an icon, one could sit before it for days and days and be moved by its meaning and depth.  Almost immediately we are told that the Jews and Samaritans are not close.  Besides this we have Jesus, a man, speaking to a woman.  So the stage is set for a theological tension; and there will be teaching.

The woman here is a broken person.  She is gathering water in the middle of the day's heat, alone, with no one to help her.  As Jesus speaks with her, we come to know of her history which involves five husbands, and presently a living situation with a man which  does not sound appropriate.  Apparently her neighbors and kin want nothing to do with her.  We can only assume that her searching for meaning, purpose, and love, in her life has left her scarred and hurting.

Jesus does not see the social or religious differences, nor does he see her as a sinner, but as a child of God who has lost her way, dignity, and sense of value.  As he begins to speak with her his words begin to break down all of the barriers and fear as she starts the new journey into transformation.  We will see that as she recognizes Jesus for who he is, and most importantly what he means for her life, she will become a proclaimer of Good News to those in her village.

It was Fr. Henri Nouwen who suggested that response to the world is so full simple solutions and easy answers to the deep needs of life, that we end up pushing away prayer, reflection, and meditation.  We do not take time to ponder God.  So then we end up roaming from one bright light to a loud sound, never discovering who Jesus really is.

Oh sure we have our grade school level understanding of Jesus that we carry around from one place to another.  But this relationship is usually no deeper than a finger bowl and cannot respond to the needs of our adult relationships, sickness, disease, death, and all of the other chaos or crisis we face.  So we attach ourselves to unhealthy sexual relationships, because we think its love, alcohol makes us not feel, and money and power make us feel powerful. 

Jesus offers us the Father in heaven and eternal healing.  When we gather around the altar we take care to note that we are not worthy of the sacred gift we are to receive.  But Jesus makes us worthy.  The love and mercy of the Father are more powerful than we can understand.  Jesus stands there before us asking for a drink, all the while wanting us to enter the living water.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Joseph, Beloved Spouse of Mary

The term 'righteous,' is probably the most admirable of all of the descriptions for Joseph.  Here is a man, religious, pious, to be sure, who meet s the love of his life.  Upon finding out that she is pregnant, while the Law clearly give direction of the course of action to take, decides to divorce her quietly.  This same man is so centered that he ponders his dreams and makes a decision which is beyond the dictates of the law.  He does what is right because it is the right thing to do.

Evidently Joseph has a firm understanding of the covenant and the was of God.  Certainly here is a man that does not follow rules and regulations for their own sake but rather understands the foundation of mercy and justice to which the prophets keep calling us to.  To love God and others transforms our heart to make us more God-like, at least in principle.  To be sure this will be the invitation of Jesus Christ.  As he emptied himself to come in human form, we are to be filled with holiness to become more "Godly."

Conversion does not come easy.  Was it Catherine of Siena, who lamented in a time of trouble, that God had few friends, because of the harshness they endured.  For Joseph this role of 'foster father' would be wrought with pain and difficulty.  And it by giving an unconditional 'yes' to God, he would find himself in the middle of the plan of salvation.  There is a challenge there for us too.

Today we buried a brother priest.  A very young man in his middle thirties.  Originally from Mexico, Fr. Lorenzo embraced the priesthood with his heart, mind, and soul.  The Bishop fondly remembered his joyful disposition.  Hopefully the same can be recalled about us.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

He Was Transfigured Before Them

There is this great song by Mercy Me, entitled, "I Can Only Imagine."  A great contemporary Christian song which reflects on our possible reaction before the face of Christ.  Our participation before the glory and beauty of Jesus Christ would be overwhelming to say the least.  With it of course is the recognition of our unworthiness and the desire of God's love and mercy.  Not unlike St. Peter we would most like recoil with shame and beg Jesus to "Leave me for I am a Sinful man.

Such is the response of Peter, James, and John, in the Gospel on this Second Sunday of Lent.  They have a response of fright, if not shame, as they behold Jesus in his glory.  Falling down to the ground, a voice from the sky recalls for them that Jesus is the favored Son of the living God. 

A great mystery is revealed here as the Apostles are given a glimpse into the fullness of the Paschal Mystery.  Jesus had been alluding to his suffering and death prior to this moment, and now they behold the glory of Christ.  Our participation in the mystery of faith demands that we 'die to our self,' with the promise of resurrection to guide and strengthen us.  But there is no glory without the passion.

Our culture today wishes that there was a way to avoid suffering and simply the reward of glory.  We have little league teams in which everyone receives a trophy, and some school systems that are doing away with grades.  But suffering can make us deep,  Moreover it enables us to connect with our humanity in all of its foibles and brokenness. 

Relying on God's grace and mercy through the person of Jesus Christ, we can transfigure of Sins and Evil, and encounter a relationship of divine love.  But we really do have to move away from fear and learn to nurture and nourish what God has already given us in faith.  Looking at folks like Mother Teresa and Francis of Assisi, while knowing their own limits, sought the mission of the Kingdom as they endeavored into the unknown.  They simply believed in being a presence of Christ.

The sacraments we receive are centered in the Paschal Mystery.  They cannot be something 'we get' so as to enhance our degree of holiness.   They are a matter of encountering Christ, within the Body of Christ, and unfolding his glory to others.  Like the apostles, we are always on that journey up the hill - be it Tabor or Calvary.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Mission Church

This week I was sent an email with an article about a priest who had renovated the church building.  One of the central features was the inclusion of the communion rails.  The Priest emphasized that Vatican II never forbade the communion rail, and kneeling is the absolute best way to receive the Eucharist.

Now it is very important to have a sense of reverence and solemnity at Mass, and surrounding the Eucharist.  Once in awhile someone will bring up "clown Masses" and using raisin bread for the Eucharist.  As a child of the sixties I had experienced neither of these.  And, most probably this sort of expression and familiarity has not been of our liturgical tradition for some time.

I mention this as I also share that a couple weeks ago I had suggested dropping the morning Mass on two days of the week, and having an afternoon or evening Mass.  This caused quite a stir.  To be sure our neighboring parish Has morning Mass at the exact same time we do.  For two days of the week, go next door, and allow the parish to open daily Mass to entirely different group.  Because I am sure that there are peoples who would love to go to Mass, receive the Eucharist, to begin their day in communion with Jesus.

While these two things seem unrelated, I think that we need to revisit the Vatican II challenge to reclaim our status as a 'Missionary' Church.  To be sure there is a small group which would find comfort in communion rails, for many catholics, and potential catholics, it is a spirituality which is not even close to being part of their faith expression.  And while it is convenient to have a Mass time which suits our needs, didn't Jesus suggest that we move out of our comfort zone for the good of our brothers and sisters.

Once upon a time we had large catholic parishes in which large families went to Mass every Sunday, we filled our catholic schools, and rectories and convents were bursting with priests and religious.  Things were comfortable.  But in retrospect I don't know if they were good.  Our faith really is about sharing 'Good News' and witnessing to the Gospel in word and in deed.  For most catholics I suspect the very idea of sharing faith is anathema.  But the Second Vatican Council suggests that this is what we should have been doing all along.

'Faith' was something that 'Father' and 'Sister' did.  The average catholic was about paying, praying, and obeying.  When Jesus sends out the apostles, or the seventy-two, or his disciples, he makes no mention of theology degrees, or taking vows.  Jesus makes known the fact that we are expected to proclaim the Gospel.  "Whoever is for us is not against us."  At Baptism, and as parents, we are told that we must share faith with our children.  This seems to imply more than dropping kids off at Religious Education class.

To be sure not everyone is going to be happy at the same time.  More so most of us remember a time or experience that we hold as the "best time of our life."  But our parishes have to make an effort to evangelize, draw new people into the Church, to catechize, and to transform our world.  The Church has a mission to unfold the Kingdom of God.  We don't do it be staying the same.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Tempted by Demons

In a hymn composed by John Henry Cardinal Newman, Newman recounts the foundation of salvation.  Using the theology of St. Paul, Newman lays out the premise that Sin entered the world through human disregard of our Divine relationship, in favor of selfish ambition, but humanity is redeemed through the Paschal Sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Again in Philippians we are told that Jesus willingly became empty so as to take up in himself our sinfulness, and to bring salvation to the world.

Our human story is one of a contemptuous relationship with God.  Sort of like a squirming little child, the more God tries to hold on to us, the more we want to wiggle away, and do our own thing.  But when we hurt, we come crying back to God.  While we refuse God's friendship, God remains faithful to us and restores us to the dignity and wholeness that is properly ours. 
with a
The temptation by the Demons in our life is subtle and often veiled.  We are convinced that we should question our relationship with God and go it alone.  Following the construct of God limits us and can be quite naive.  We are tempted to believe that we can be so much more without God and a life of holiness.  But this is really a delusion and a dream.

When I was much younger I want on vacation with a good friend down south.  We were told be some locals that a certain section of the beach was clothing optional.  With visions of young, well formed and tanned women, we in search of this beach.  Well, instead of finding women around our age, we discovered women about our grandparents age.  Our expectations were not to be realized.  But Sin is like that.  Promises of greatness give way to frustration and sadness.

Jesus' response to temptation is to remind the Demons that haunt him, that the Word of God is all that he needs.  God has placed sacred relationship deep within each of us.  Recognizing that we are made for God, we strive for holiness in our relations, response to the world, and our demeanor.  Just as Jesus is revealed to be blessed at his Baptism, we have union and communion with God.  Our daily pondering should be one of pushing away from Sin and Evil; recognizing the voice of God.

It is difficult to be sure, but ours is an ongoing process of discerning what is of God and what is not.  The more our hearts are directed to goodness and truth, the more our pondering can seek our God in all things.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday

Today is the beginning of our Lenten journey.  It is fantastic to begin the day with Mass, to contemplate the mystery we celebrate, renew our commitment to Jesus, and take with us the grace and blessings from Mass to guide our purpose down this seasonal road.  The marks of ash on our forehead should be seen as a reminder to us as to what we are about, and a sign to others that our lives are an ongoing profession of discipleship.

Now I do cringe when I meet folks who look to the reception of ashes today as the end all, and be all, in their Lenten journey.  With Joel, St. Paul, and the Jesus we hear in Matthew's Gospel we should be ready to tackle the spiritual evils which befall us.  As Pope Francis has reminded us in his Lenten message, our faith should be an active faith.  The Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving, certainly enables transformation in our lives, but it also calls us to be sharers of the gifts which we have received.

Back in Seminary Ash Wednesday was a prayer day.  One of these days we celebrated the Mass throughout the Day.  That is we began with the penitential rite, late in the morning we read from the scriptures, and later in the day we brought up bead and wine, concluding the day with the Eucharist.    What was most powerful here was to go through the Mass very slowly, taking each part separately, and pondering its meaning and implications.  Ash Wednesday can be the beginning of this journey of faith.  We have an outline as to where we want to end up, but it is a process of looking at sin and evil, our sin and evil, and reflecting on the need for conversion, as well as the grace and mercy God holds out for us.

While there is a gnawing hunger from the fasting, the greater hunger should be for the wholeness and love which God has promised us through the covenant.  We ought to turn around, metenoia, and go back home to where God is calling us.  The greatest thing that we can learn today is the insistent  relationship we have with God forged by the blood of the cross.  So we must 'repent and believe in the Gospel.'

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Gird the Loins of Your Soul

On this the eve of Ash Wednesday, we had the opportunity to read from the First Letter of St Peter.  In this very straight-forward text St. Peter is emphasizing the necessity of refuting the values of the culture and to live according to the precepts of the scriptures and the Paschal Mystery.  In the end St. Peter challenges to be holy in every aspect of conduct.

To be sure we have come to believe that holiness is simply about being nice to one another.  So we accept any sort of deviation from the virtues and teachings of the Church, and our Scriptural tradition, because not to do so might 'hurt the feelings' of one or another.  While Jesus is not nasty or mean-spirited, he insists that men and women live by higher standards than what is offered in the world. 

Even as the mystics and saints understood, holiness is the ongoing conversion and discipleship that comes from prayer, the sacraments, reflection, and becoming actively engaged in a life with Christ, in the Body of Christ.  Sometimes we try to avoid suffering; convinced Jesus would not want us to suffer.  Or we avoid confrontation on moral matters; assuring ourselves that Jesus would not want us to appear self-righteous.  Holiness develops in the depths of prayer and worship, as well as those moments when our journey brings us to stretch our understanding, compassion, kindness, and charity.  Certainly the Word of God made flesh comes along with us to guide and guard us.

If  the last time we have prayed well, been to Mass, read the scriptures, taken in some theological or spiritual reading, was in eighth grade, then we are ill prepared for the spiritual awakening which we all long for.  The apostles in Mark's Gospel, today notwithstanding, often demonstrate a very shallow grasp of God's plan of salvation.  Jesus points out to them that the process of dying to oneself brings out healing and grace, in addition to revealing the self-less love of God.  This is an active process in which we are engaged and conscience of God's love and mercy.

Paradoxically holiness is often found in the tensions and trauma of life.  Holiness continues to demand to know how we can bring God and Godliness in a variety of situations in life.  The Word God directs us:  "Be holy because I am holy."

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Not a Hair of Your Head

The love of a mother is often the most powerful, unconditional, lavish and compassionate love, that one will ever experience. The prophet from today's scripture suggests that, even if a mother could forgetting her child, our God promises, “I will not forget you.” God is present here to us in an everlasting and powerful manner, as a mother who always and without fail cares for her child.  We are forever inscribed on the hand of our God, and burrowed beneath the shadow of his wings.  Our awesome God continues to watch over us.

The Gospel shares with us today that through this covenantal relation in which we are part of God's life as he is in ours, we do not need to worry or be concerned about our welfare, those who desire to harm us, or the needs and concerns which constantly gnaw at us.  God will make sure hat we are okay.  Too often our fears and anxieties send us scrambling for brighter light, loader sounds, and stronger tastes, all in order that we might have a sense of security or meaning. 

Of course the problem becomes that we can spend a lot of time and energy trying to gain authority, prestige, and to accumulate wealth, all to have what we have achieved come falling down around us.  Seeing folks at the end of their lives, I have seen them mostly naked, requiring help to dress, eat, bathe - and other things - all apparently disassociated from their wealth and titles.  Yet as I wander through the peoples I have encountered in life, it is not the rich and famous whom I can recall, but those who were kind and generous, who loved, served, and had time and a place for others.

This is what Pope Francis is trying to help us remember.  We cannot allow the need to have or acquire stuff get in the way of our relationship with God and with others.  Too often we let our culture, our want and whims, to lead us around by the nose.  We are challenged to develop a vision of the Kingdom of God and use our gifts and talents to achieve that end.

St. Paul will ask the question in one of his letters, "If God is for us, who can be against."  The love of God enable the Holy Spirit to enable us to put our life in order.  O course that order always includes putting God first in all things.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Church's Poison

As the Dean of this Deanery, and as a Pastor who likes to travel hither and yon to help with confessions, I have concluded that one of the greatest toxins we have in our Church today is Parochialism.  The community I live in now is smaller than my former residence, yet we have three (and had four) parishes.  The two older parishes struggle financially as do the catholic schools, and we are fairly cozy out here.  The suggestion that places combine or share falls on deaf ears.

At a Deanery meeting last week we had spoken about the combination of some youth activities.  One of the obstacles is that in many of the rural areas most towns are football rivals.  Some families, and their pastors, are hesitant in trying to attempt to draw the youth together.

One of the many great things that came out of the Second Vatican Council was an understanding that the Church is a community of faith.  The Eucharist we celebrate is a memorial of the Paschal Mystery which draws all men and women into one communion.  As such the needs and concerns of any part of Body of Christ, is a concern of the whole Body.  More so it is the foundational obligation of the entire unity to nurture and nourish our gifts so as to proclaim the Good News. 

Now there are pockets where the Church does come together to minister and foster an understanding of the Kingdom of God.  In some locales the catholic school, ministry to the poor or sick, are accomplished by a group of parishes with that vision of having a communion in the Body of Christ.  The recent text, Rebuilt, proposes a radical look at how to do 'Church' well.  Part of the process is to break down the barriers within and outside of the parish community.

When I was in DeKalb I had envisioned a Easter Sunday Mass at Northern Illinois University.  I could see combining the choirs, liturgical roles, use lots of smells and bells, and divide up the collection at the end.  Folks smiled when I suggested it, but that is as much of a response I received.  So we remained crowed in our own churches.

The ministry of Jesus sees him going from place to place, sharing the Good News in very different scenarios.  The Kingdom was proclaimed and the resurrection was revealed.  We could follow his pattern of ministry carefully and become less focused on "my space" and my ministry" and center on making present the Good New.  If we never engage with and for each other, the parochial toxins will kill us.