Monday, June 30, 2014

Saints Peter and Paul

Whenever we consider the very beginning of our Church, its preaching, teaching, and evangelization, we cannot help but consider the two great Apostles - Peter and Paul.  Peter's profession as is found in Matthew's Gospel, "You are the Christ," and the extensive missionary activity of Paul, continues to inspire and encourage the Church today.  More so, it is evident of the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of these two men, and in that early Church.
Again and again we come to recognize how God can and does do wonderful things using very basic instruments.  Peter at times could come off as self-righteous, seeming to know what was best for the mission and ministry of Jesus.  Peter's three fold denial brought him shame, especially after he adamantly pronounced that he would stand by him.  And Paul, so caught up in a limited vision of the word of God, could not imagine God unfolding a new chapter of salvation for His people.  He set out, with good intentions mind you, persecuting that early Christian community.
The words and works of these outstanding Apostles reminds us that doing Christianity is a daunting task.  Sometimes we act as 'nabobs,' and get it wrong.  At other times we end up standing against sin and evil, very much by ourselves.  As both Peter and Paul came to understand the cross plays a major facet in the Christian life.  In very real ways  the Apostles suffered while and in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Discipleship requires that we continue to ask the very basic questions of our life.  Why did God create us?  Why are we here?  Who do we say Jesus is?  In pondering these inquiries with our hearts, we begin to draw close the one who has all of the answers.  When like Peter and Paul we allow the power of the Spirit and integrity of the Gospel to be our guide and guardian, we are made strong.  This of course does not mean we will not have pain and suffering; but we will have the courage to witness the mystery of faith.  Jesus calls to us, "Come follow me."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Nativity of John the Baptist

There was a man sent from God whose name was John.  He came to bear witness to the light, to prepare an upright people for the Lord.  (Jn 1:6-7)

Today's celebration of this great prophet, John the Baptist, is filled with awe and wonder.  Luke's infancy narrative recites the story we are all familiar with.  We are told that the people are filled with 'fear' as they see the events surrounding John's birth.  We have to understand that the word 'fear' alludes to 'awe,' and not being scared.  John is seen as the last of a line of prophets who is sent by God as a sign of expectation and promise.

Father Carroll Stuhlmueller had once commented that John was a "Fierce prophet of truth and justice.  So great was John the Baptist that the entire prophetic ministry of the Hebrew Scriptures was summed up in him."  John called for conversion and discipleship as people came into the desert to be baptized by him.  While his message was not original, calling people back to the covenant, John was telling them to reflect and look deeply into their lives so that they would be able to recognize the Christ; the Word of God made flesh.

In John's time, as is the case today, there were people who had doubts, who were confused, and wondering.  John asked them, through repentance, to put their interior selves in order, and to believe more strongly in the living God.  Sin and confusion opens the doorway to all sorts of evil.  A life which seeks the truth, and puts it into practice, pushes evil away.  John's plea is to make our lives more worthy of God.

John's ministry is very much about recognizing the Lamb of God, and pointing him out to others.  The premise of John the Baptist is to prepare ourselves to follow the way of the Lord.  Our best spiritual practices and efforts tap into an abundance of grace and blessings.  It's not about becoming a monk or a nun, but to be aware of our faults and failings, learn to do good, and o be attentive to the Word of God.  In the foreground of our minds and hearts we want to be aware that Jesus is our salvation and our peace.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Corpus Christi

The Second Vatican Council teaches us that the Eucharist is the "Source and Summit" of our Church; of our faith.  The Paschal Mystery continues to be celebrated, and experienced, in the Eucharistic Celebration.  In the U.S. Bishops document, "Eucharist: Hungers of the Human Family," again the Bishops speak about the many gifts which Christ left his Church, and the Eucharist is the most cherished of all of those gifts.

I remember going on retreat twenty plus years ago whereas the director held the loaf of bread which that community used as communion bread.  He spoke about the labor that went into making the bread, and in sharing this loaf of bread, whether we be the bakers, farmers, Priest, or congregation,  we all have some participation in what happens at the Mass.  To be sure the sign and the symbol of the Eucharist supersedes our brokenness and gathers us together in joy and healing.

By the ritual actions which is our Mass, we are gathered together, affirmed and even challenged.  The Eucharist reminds us that the ways of the world are not our ways, thus challenging us to bear faithful witness to the Eucharist which we celebrate.  Perhaps this is why St John places so much emphasis on the washing of the Apostles feet in his Gospel.  The Body and Blood of Christ becomes real food for our journey so that we can go out and continue the ministry which Jesus has left us. 

The Eucharist becomes a reminder that we are not abandoned or left alone in the world.  But rather the grace that is available to us through the Eucharist is our promise, strength, and protection.  For many who are home bound, hospitalized, the poor, or in prison, find in the Eucharist solace and strength in order to meet the challenges of that particular moment.

My very favorite part of the ordination rite occurs after the priest is vested and the bread and wine are brought forward.  The newly ordained priest kneels before the Bishop, who hands the new priest the bread and wine, and instructs him to know what he is doing, and to imitate the mystery he celebrates.  These are powerful word for any one of us.  We are challenged to appreciate the Eucharist for what it really is, and to imitate its significance in spirit and in truth.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Saint Romuald - Monk

Romuald lived during the early part of the 11th century as the son of a wealthy landowner.  Early accounts of his life suggest that he indulged in many of the niceties afforded to the wealthy and influential of the time.  As a youth he witnessed his father kill another man during a duel.  This situation bothered Romuald greatly.  As he began to reflect on his life he came to understand a great void existed within the depth and breadth of his being.

The young man Romuald ran away from home to the Benedictine abbey of St. Apollinare, in the northern Italian city of Classe.  There he embraced the Benedictine lifestyle.  But over time, while this was a strict monastery, he felt this was not ascetic enough.

With encouragement of the abbot he began his own community which we today know as the Camaldolese Order.  From the beginning this order of hermits lived in solitude in simplistic and harsh conditions.  According to his rule, monks were encouraged to, "Empty yourself completely and sit waiting."  This sense of passivity and simple life was to lead to an interior conversion and both an intellectual and spiritual movement towards God.  Much of the day of the hermit was to be spent in prayer, and most importantly, in quiet meditation.  The monk was always waiting to hear the voice of God.

To be sure Romuald's lifestyle is extreme.  As one might imagine the strict nature of the Camaldolese  do not attract large vocations.  But his understanding of waiting in stillness, and listening for the Lord, is an ideal that we can take home with us.  Sometime even when we pray we believe that we have to either be speaking or singing.  It is rather amusing as I lead evening prayer here, no one likes to pause for too long of a time between psalms.  We always want to distract ourselves with 'stuff.'  Even good and holy stuff!

Reflection, meditation, and eventually contemplation, are good and beneficial ways to pray.  It's good sometimes to sit in the presence of the Eucharist, icons, or in total silence, and wait for the Lord. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Holy Trinity

The Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, Chalcedon, all up until the present age try to make sense of the mystery of the Holy Trinity.  Theological ideas were thrown about but none could adequately describe how the God of mercy and love exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  St. Patrick attempted to describe the relationship of the Trinity through the shamrock; and dozens of times more, various saints and holy men and women attempted to talk about the Trinity.

But our understanding is best articulated through the scriptural narrative of our faithful God who sojourned among them.  St. Paul talks about the mystery of the cross revealing the love of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit.  The people of faith, and the early Christian community were not so much trying to develop a theology, as they were bearing witness to the simple divine reality of our God who came to dwell with us, who gave his life for us, and lives in our midst as the Holy Spirit. 

This was who God was for them, not by an ecclesial edict, but because they experienced, as St. Paul states, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.  Mutuality is the source of life.  Relationships ground our very being.  To be sure true love relationships direct us towards he other.  The most famous passage from St John, "God so loved the world..." demonstrates a love of otherness.  God loves us more than we can imagine (or deserve)  Our faithful response would be to profess, or bear witness, to what we have come to see and hear.

It is in beginning to understand the attributes of God as grace, we hopefully can come to desire God all the more.  Just a when we are in love, our coming to know God and Godliness will effect a longing for God's eternal friendship.  Then we can experience the God who so loved the world.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Come Holy Spirit

For these last several weeks we have read the journey of the early Church, from the Acts of the Apostles.  While early on this community is described as one guided by the Word of God and in love, the stories certainly indicate various challenges and moments of consternation.  As we know his will continue for the next two thousand years. 

This is the post-Pentecost Church.  But what we find is that this body of believers, when they succeed, rely on the wisdom, knowledge, and right-judgment, of the Holy Spirit.  When the Church allows itself to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ, we see a Body alive with faith and faithfulness.  Certainly the celebration of the sacraments communicate the outpouring of the Spirit as they indicate a communion with God.

The was a movie some years ago called the Apostle.  In it a talented and articulate preacher enjoys the fruits of his ministry as he leads faith communities and gatherings.  His wife commits adultery.  Becoming enraged he seriously batters his wife's lover.  He runs away, changes his name, and now leads tent revivals.  During this time people come to faith, and find healing and peace in their lives.  The preacher at the end is so moved by the power of the Word of God, he sets out to make things right.

The power of the Holy Spirit will not be dissuaded by our sins and brokenness.  The Holy Spirit can work in us and through us despite our hurts and sin.  To be sure the Spirit seems to do best through frail human instruments.  Perhaps this is why I keep going back to the book Jesus Freaks.  Ordinary folks are transformed into living witness who proclaim Good News, seeking the truth of the value and worth that is part of all humanity.  Our faith history is full of men and women who seek the good, beautiful, and true, becoming transformed themselves, and seeking the transformation of the Church, and even the world.

Through the Holy Spirit we are perfected and drawn into the unity and communion which is God.   The Paschal mystery is not some eschatological reality, but part of our profession of faith.  So we pray to the Holy Spirit to guide and direct all of our endeavors in the name of Jesus.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A time for the Word

More often than not anymore, at funerals, family members want to "say some words."  Now the Rite for Catholic Funerals does not allow for eulogies, or the like, during the liturgies.  During the vigil family and friends are invited to share stories and reflections.  The Funeral homily should reflect on the scriptures, and attempt to bring understanding and comfort to the grieving, as the Paschal Mystery is expounded upon. 

Sometimes there is a lack of appreciation for what is occurring at this point of the funeral.  The celebration of the Eucharist unites us to the mystery of faith we celebrate, and at the Mass we the grieving unite the soul of our loved one to the communion which is celebrated and offered.  So we have moved from gathering as family and friends around the body of our beloved, into the coming together as the larger faith family, to profess our faith on the Paschal Mystery, pray for the deceased, and begin the journey of healing, encouraged by those at the funeral.

Several days ago I celebrated a Funeral where the family was insistent at saying "some words" at the funeral.  I went through the guidelines, suggested no more than one page, and asked to see the text beforehand.  As I listened to this woman speak I was taken by the fact that the most important characteristic of the deceased, was that they were a 'nice' person.  After twenty minutes I came away with knowing that this was a nice and kind person.

What was absent was any sense of faith, mention of God, or hope that is held out to us by the Paschal Mystery.  In some ways this talk was more depressing than it was of any comfort.  To be sure, the words of sacred scripture, and the prayers of the Church, are filled with hope and joy.  At the time of death it would seem better to recall that we are loved and saved by God, than we will miss Aunt Olga's special brownies. 

Throughout the centuries theologians and spiritual writers have reminded us that we are made for something much more than the world we see around us.  The fact that we are created and redeemed by the God of life means we strive to be more than just nice, and we find comfort in the love and compassion that God has bestowed on us.  In the face of the Paschal Mystery, and the Christ who continues to be in our midst, our words pale in comparison.  At times of death, we should seek to hear the Word of God made flesh.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ascension of our Lord

Catherine of Siena and Francis of Assisi have to be two of my favorite saints.  to be sure both hold a very important place in our Church, but even more so, their lives were bold and faithful.  In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples are told to stop staring up into the sky and get busy about the mission entrusted to them.  In Matthew, Jesus mandates his Disciples, that would be us, to go to the ends of the earth, baptizing, and proclaiming what is true, good and beautiful. 

Catherine and Francis found themselves in challenging times for the Church.  We could no longer afford to simply 'be' on the top of a mountain, but needed to respond to the immediate crisis at hand in all that we had seen and heard.  In a time and place where me and women wandered in darkness, holy people such as Catherine and Francis brought light and hope to peoples. 

On this feast, and at this time in our Church we are in need of lively witnesses.  The temptation is to remain on the mountain, or even to revert back to a time and place we are familiar with, but that can never serve the Church.  We have to die to our desires, sinfulness, and doubts, and become proclaimers of truth.  We are today enamored with sound-bytes that can make us question our legitimacy.  So we fall back on the Gospel, and the Paschal Mystery. 

Jesus entrusts the Church to the frail yet faithful disciples.   We continue the work of the Church baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.