Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Best Thing in Life is Free: 18th Week of the Liturgical Year, July 31-August 6, 2011

The Best Thing in Life is Free
Eighteenth Week of the Liturgical Year, July 31-August 6, 2011
Numbers, chapters 11-20; Deuteronomy chapters 4-6; Matthew, ch. 14-17.


This week invites us to probe our faith. What do we really believe will make us happy on earth? What do our choices say we believe it is?

Sunday: “Come to me... Why spend your money for what fails to satisfy?” Do we really believe that interaction with God can give us what we want here and now? And do we believe God will give us happiness free? A serious question.

Monday: We will be disappointed if we seek satisfaction through achievement in work; even in ministry. But disappointment and failure can lead us to deeper dependence on God. And through this to real joy.

Tuesday: Religion is most disappointing to legalists who find their satisfaction in the achievement of keeping all the rules. They have little vital, personal contact with God. And they blind others to it. Focusing on any achievement opens us to jealousy, which just turns desires into torture.

Wednesday: Serving God through ministry is not satisfying to those who think it is so hopeless—or think they are so inadequate—that they give up before they start. When we “think big” we should think of how big God is.

Thursday: Evcn the greatest ministers have faults. History shows it. And faulty people can be great ministers. If we trust in God instead of what we see in ourselves or others, we will discover this.

Friday: We sometimes get the most encouragement by looking backwards: remembering the “great deeds” of God. If we look back to the resurrection, we can learn to see the risen Jesus in ourselves and others right now. Seeing his life in us gives us the courage to “die” to everything else. If what we die to is ultimately worth nothing outside of God, do we get God “free” no matter what we sacrifice?

Saturday: The ministry of the Church will be unable to heal the world of violence and war until we accept completely Christ’s command of perfect love. Perfect love casts out fear, including the fear of losing whatever we fight to defend in war.

The Transfiguration gave Jesus and his disciple-witnesses a preview of the glory he and they would enter into. By looking backwards to it the disciples could keep their faith when they saw Jesus crushed in his Agony in the Garden. When our prayer is darkness and defeat, we need to look back and remember the moments on the mountain top.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ministry is Mystery Made Visible: 17th Week of the Liturgical Year, July 24-30, 2011

Ministry is Mystery Made Visible
Seventeenth Week of the Liturgical Year, July 24-30, 2011
Exodus, chapters 32-40; Leviticus chapters 23-25; Matthew, chapters 13-14.


A key word in ministry, as in Christianity itself, is visibility. Jesus is the “Word made flesh.” The sacraments are visible signs. And ministry is surrender to letting Christ express himself in and through our physical, human actions. This is the mystery made visible in Christian ministry.

Sunday: Wisdom is “operative desire” for the Ultimate Good: union with God in heaven. Ministry, by working to “bring Christ to full stature” in everyone, makes this desire visible.

St. James: “The absence of the human is the revelation of the divine.” The renunciation of human desire for prestige and power makes visible divine desire for the true good wisdom perceives. In his Church, Jesus divorced position from prestige to make equality evident.

Monday: Our need for something visible to focus on in religion can lead to the idolatry of focusing on laws (Phariseeism), “sacred figures” (clericalism), or ecclesiastical splendor (triumphalism). Ministry makes God visible by letting God express himself in visible acts of love.

Tuesday: Ministers who judge others by their visible behavior are judged for making God’s judgment invisible. Because God is “steadfast love,” God’s “final judgment” about anyone awaits the person’s “final judgment” about God in the enlightened moment of death.

Wednesday: Our contemplation of God’s “steadfast love” leads to awareness, which, made visible in our bodies, makes God’s steadfast love visible to others. This is ministry.

Thursday: The ark of the Covenant, Eucharist, the Church, are visible signs of God’s “presence in the present.” They are all “eschatological” previews and promises of future fulfillment that is the focus of wisdom. So are the visible acts of ministry.

Friday: Liturgical celebration is a “symbol in action.” The human actions of liturgy make visible the divine action that was, is and will be. The essence of both liturgy and ministry is self-expression: God’s self-expression in ours. What we fail to make visible through expression, we fail to realize and remember. Our visible interactions with God make visible our relationship with God and remind us of it. Interactions with others that make visible our true relationship with them and with God are ministry.

Saturday: Praise is perception expressing itself. It is response to what is seen. To authentically praise God for the “wisdom of his laws,” we have to see God’s love made visible in them. When laws are interpreted with love and implemented with flexibility, we don’t perceive them as imposed. The law of Christ is love. The limitation of love is the deformation of law.

Immersed in Christ is a practical means to achieve the three goals of the United States Bishops’ letter, “Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us”:

1. Invite and Enable Ongoing Conversion to Jesus in Holiness of Life: through 1. awareness of our identity “in Christ” and 2. commitment to discipleship. (“Our Father, hallowed be thy Name!)

2. Promote and Support Active Membership in the Christian Community: through 3. dedication to mission (“Thy Kingdom come!”) and 4. surrender to ministry (“Thy will be done”).

3. Call and Prepare Adults to Act as Disciples in Mission to the World: by 5. abandoning ourselves, as stewards of the kingship of Christ, to the work of establishing the “unity and peace of his kingdom” throughout all of creation until he comes in victory (“Give us... and forgive us...”).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mystics of the Mountain Top: 16th Week of the Liturgical Year, July 17-23

"Mystics of the Mountain Top"
Sixteenth Week of the Liturgical Year, July 17-23, 2011
Exodus, chapters 14-24; Matthew, chapters 12-13.


Ministry is for divine life in the Church what feeding, healing and teaching are for human life on earth. This week’s Reflections show us God’s reflections on ministry and how they are expressed in the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass.

Sunday: All Christian ministry is founded on the renunciation of power. Jesus came to “serve and give his life” in mercy and love.

Monday-Tuesday: In Jesus God’s glory was revealed, not through the defeat and destruction of his enemies, but through his defeat and victory at their hands: his life-giving death on the cross followed by resurrection. In the Church, Jesus is glorified when we make his resurrection visible. To minister is to “glorify God in your body” by giving physical expression to the divine life of the risen Jesus in you. That divine life reveals itself, not through human power (and never through violence), but through acts that express divine faith, hope and love.

Wednesday: Through the “ministry of expression” we give Jesus to each other as the “daily bread” he taught us to pray for. This bread is Jesus himself, the Bread and joy of the “wedding banquet of the Lamb” in heaven. Since Jesus is the Word made flesh, we do this by “giving flesh” to his words in two ways: in our own words, and in our actions. To do this, we must know his words; so all Christian ministry is a “ministry of the word.” That is why the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass is always preceded by the Liturgy of the Word.

Thursday: In the readings at Mass we do not just listen to words; we encounter God, who is present and speaking to us. This is an encounter with the mystery of God’s Being, Truth and Goodness. For us to truly “hear” him and “see” what he is revealing, we have to rise above the particled atmosphere of human space, where we see light only as variously reflected off of creatures, and enter the undistorted atmosphere of outer space, where there is nothing but pure Light and utter darkness. This is mysticism. And all experience it, in different degrees, who make the effort to “meet God halfway” by “going up to the mountain” as Moses did. Since all won’t do the reading and reflecting this involves, ministers must be “mystics of the mountain top” who go up to see and come down to speak.

Friday-Saturday: Ministers who neglect to be mystics only teach God’s laws; not the God whose mind and heart are revealed in them. They offer rules without revelation. In the Mass we celebrate the New Covenant based, not just on the guidance of the Law, but on the gift of Life. When the host is lifted up, we see ourselves in it, “in Christ,” offering ourselves with him, in him and through him to let Jesus minister with us, in us and through us. With him, we give “our flesh for the life of the world.”

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mystery as Focus: 15th Week of the Liturgical Year, July 10-16, 2011

"Mystery as Focus"
Fifteenth Week of the Liturgical Year, July 10-16, 2011
Exodus, chapters 1-12; Matthew, chapters 10-12


I just gave a retreat on the five mysteries of Baptism that Immersed in Christ is based on. Saint Paul took us all to another level.

The new identity as Christians we receive at Baptism is not, for Paul, a matter of a “religion”—doctrines, rules and practices—we accept. Paul preached the mystery of identification with Jesus himself: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” We all need to say with the awareness he had, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me!”

For Paul, to be a disciple was not, just to read and reflect on Scripture or to learn what Jesus taught and try to live by it. Paul said, “We have received the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand.... these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit.” True discipleship is a mystical experience of intimate union with the mind and heart of God by the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.

Baptism consecrated us prophets. So we never ask again just whether what we are doing is right or wrong, but whether it bears witness to the values Jesus taught. But for Paul it is more radical and rooted in our baptismal resurrection: “If you have been raised with Christ.... set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God….” Paul welcomed challenges and difficulties, “so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.... While we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.” Our lifestyle should be a constant manifestation of the “Gift of the Spirit” empowering us.

Baptism consecrated us to ministry as priests. We can see this, rightly, as all the things we do for other that express our faith, hope and love. But Paul saw this as the mystical work of bringing Christ himself to birth and to full maturity in those who believed. It was an ongoing, intimate experience of Jesus in him forming Jesus in others.

Finally, as sharers in and stewards of Christ’s kingship through Baptism, we work for change in family, Church, culture and social structures in order to realize the “kingdom of God” on earth. But Paul looks beyond this to the fulfillment of God’s plan, which is the mystery of Christ himself, the Alpha and Omega of creation, come to completion as the “perfect man” in whom everything in heaven and on earth is “brought together” under himself as head. In the light of this mystery, we live and work to give shape to the Christ who is to come, in whom the light of God will shine out through all the human characteristics we have helped to develop in ourselves and others. We are “stewards of the Christ who is to come.”

At the end of the retreat, the consensus was that people should read Reaching Jesus before getting into Baptism on Paul’s level

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Love takes the focus off of fear: 14th Week of the Liturgical Year, July 3-9, 2011

Love takes the focus off of fear
Fourteenth Week of the Liturgical Year, July 3-9, 2011
Genesis, chapters 28-50; Matthew, chapters 9-10


Most people are trying to make life better for themselves and others. This is a classic definition of love: to want people to “be and become all they can be.” Jesus came that we might “have life and have it to the full.”

The problem is in how we go about it. Do we begin with fear or with love? Fear leads to violence, love to surrender—specifically, the surrender Jesus made when, quailing before his passion and death during his agony in the garden, he prayed to the Father, “Thy will be done.”

Those who turn to violence, whether just the violence of impatient words or the deadly violence of war, euthanasia, abortion or business-for-profit-only, can believe they are motivated by love. They really believe they are making life better for themselves and others by removing what they perceive as an obstacle to happiness. The question, again, is: should we begin with fear of a threat, or with love for those who threaten and are threatened? Should our first focus be on problems or on persons?

Actually, our first focus has to be on the person of Jesus Christ. He is the only Way that leads to Life. We just have to accept his Truth. Jesus summarized the truth of the whole Christian life in less than sixty words by teaching us we only need to pray for five or six things. And by “pray for” he means “set our hearts on,” and “strive for” in action. If we do this, our hearts and our priorities will be conformed to his. And that is what Christianity is all about.

This week the Mass readings invite us to focus on the petition-priority: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is a prayer of surrender to God when his will is difficult to accept—as it was for Jesus when he prayed this in Gethsemane.

God’s most difficult command, which Jesus gave as his “new commandment,” is “Love one another as I have loved you.” This love calls us to keep ministering to others who don’t respond. Or who reject us. To minister to “impossible” cases who are simply “dead” to truth and goodness. Jesus raised the dead in more ways than physical.

Love calls us to dialogue rather than demand; to speak from within a community as an equal rather than from “above” as a ruler; to minister rather than to “manage;” to accept vulnerability as Jesus accepted humiliation from his enemies; to surrender to what we fear rather than seek to escape it: “Thy will be done.” If we think about the meaning of the words from a Christian
perspective: Love makes it possible to die. Fear makes it impossible to live.

It isn't a koan, because it does make sense rationally. But it does invite one to think.