Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Beginning: First Week of Advent, November 27-December 3, 2011


We are beginning a new theme. The Immersed in Christ Reflections this year will still be formation in assimilation of the five mysteries of Baptism (what Immersed in Christ and the Christian life are all about), but we are taking another approach. We are showing how, in the petitions of the Our Father, we are both asking for and committing ourselves to each of these five mysteries in turn. The theme booklet, Five Steps to the Father, explains how the first five phrases of the prayer Jesus taught us present the five phases of our growth into the “fullness of life” Jesus came to give.

The Reflection booklet, “Our Father in Heaven,” develops the first phrase, using the Mass readings for the Advent and Christmas seasons. Keep this theme in mind as you read the reflections.

This week is all about mystery: the mystery of the new identity Baptism gives us; the mystery of being real “sons and daughters of the Father” through the mystery of incorporation into Christ; through the gift of sharing, “in him,” God’s own divine life.

The readings focus us on the mystery of knowing God as only God knows himself; the mystery of sharing in God’s own act of knowing himself by sharing in God’s own life “in Christ.” And they invite us to go to the source of our human understanding and expression of this divine knowledge: the Scriptures, the word of God. St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” We can continue: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of ourselves,” because, if we do not read the Bible, we really do not know clearly what we know or where it comes from. Unless we go to God’s own words, our human understanding of our faith is all secondhand. And inevitably “dumbed down.”

This week is challenging. It invites us to ask whether we really want to know God better. Whether we have experienced the mystery of this. What steps are involved in really “hearing” the Good News. Whether we really believe Christ can “make us see.” And whether we really ask him to. Whether we find our security in knowing God or in something else? Whether our religion is real.

This week’s reflections are ruled by Jesus’ prayer to the Father: “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

This is the mystery of our life, the mystery of our religion, the mystery we proclaim and become aware of every time we pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven....”

This is the mystery of the revealed identity of God and of the identity we receive by Baptism. To enter into this first phrase of the Our Father is to enter into the first phase of our growth toward the “perfection of love” — it is to enter into awareness of our true relationship with God.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

The End that is A Beginning: 34th Week of the Liturgical Year, November 20-26, 2011

Daniel chapters 1-7; Luke, chapter 21.


Sunday, the 34th Sunday of the Year and Feast of Christ the King, begins the last week of the liturgical year. Liturgically, the Church’s “New Year” begins with the first Sunday of Advent, when we begin to focus explicitly, in anticipation, on the event with which Christian time begins: the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Immersed in Christ Reflections this week review and bring to a conclusion a year of formation. Every day we have focused on drawing out of the readings what helps us to understand and enter fully into the mystery we celebrate at Mass. By now we should all be alertly conscious of the five mysteries that are presented in turn during the Eucharistic celebration. We should have acquired the habit of actively celebrating and embracing them during the liturgy. This is what the bishops asked for in Vatican II:

It is very much the wish of the Church that all the faithful should be led to take that full, conscious, and active part in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a redeemed people,” have a right and are bound by reason of their Baptism.

All those who have read and put into practice the Immersed in Christ Reflections for the past year have been formed to do this. They have learned how to enter into the five mysteries of Baptism as they are celebrated, one after another, in the Mass.

This is an experience of the New Evangelization that the last four popes have been calling for. They say we have not truly “heard” the Good News. It has not been effectively preached to us. We have not really been “evangelized” (i.e. told the Good News).

The key to the New Evangelization is to re-affirm — to explain and show people how to experience — what was lacking or “dumbed down” in the religious instruction we received. What was not brought into focus for us was the mystery embodied in every doctrine we profess, every sacrament we receive, every action we are called on to perform; and above all, in every celebration of Eucharist.

A “mystery” is “a truth that invites endless exploration.” Catholics who think they have “learned their religion” have misunderstood everything they were taught (probably because it was not taught). If they are not actively exploring the truths of their faith, they don’t know they are “mysteries.” They think they have “heard” the Good News, so to them it isn’t news any more. That means they never heard it.

Faith formation is not the same as instruction in the faith. Formation is “reiterated instruction combined with insistent intentionality” — in other words, we have to keep telling people the truth until it sinks in (and then, because it is a mystery, it will be in them “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life”); and we have to keep urging and showing them ways to live it out in action.

That is the guiding principle and goal behind the Reflections offered each year by Immersed in Christ. Next year we will take you through the same deep mysteries of Baptism as they are found in the prayer Jesus taught us to say: the Our Father.

“Go: the Mass is ended.” And just begun.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Bottomless Cup: 33rd Week of the Liturgical Year, November 13-19, 2011

1Maccabees chapters 1-6; 2Maccabees chapters 6-7; Luke, chapters 18-20.


The mother of the seven Maccabee boys had a view of life it would be good to wake up with. She told her son, “It was not I who gave you breath and life, nor was it I who arranged the elements you are made of.... It is the Creator of the universe who shaped the beginning of humankind and brought about the origin of everything.”

The starting point of human consciousness should be: “I am basically nothing. Nothing explains my existence except the fact God is choosing to give me being right now. My existence is simply an ongoing act of God.”

This should be encouraging. If God is choosing right now to keep me in existence, he must see it as a good idea. My life on this earth must have some value for him. He is “voting” for me.

So are other people: all those who love me. The truth is, God has arranged things so that no one comes to be on this earth unless, in addition to himself, at least two human beings vote for it: a father and a mother. We are born with a support group, even a fan club!

The same is true of the divine life of grace. God adds that only by the unanimous vote of the Father, Son and Spirit. And, although a single human can give it to us by baptizing us, Baptism is, in fact, an entrance into and reception by the whole Church. And, consciously or not, by every redeemed human being on earth.

Why do they vote for us? Why does God?

God wants us to exist so that we can enjoy what he enjoys. With him and forever. We know that because Jesus told us. But he has another reason: Just as he doesn’t give life to anyone without the cooperation of other humans, he has arranged it so that the life he gives depends on other humans’ work to survive and develop. The same is true (normally, if not absolutely) of the life of grace. We are all our “brother’s keeper,” responsible for the well-being, both human and divine, natural and supernatural, of every other man and woman on earth. We all have a job to do, and God is giving us both existence and divine life so we can do it.

We are stewards. Everything God is giving us, from our existence to the latest good thought he has inspired, is an investment. We are charged to use, to work with, to manage all that we have and are for the good of others. Those are the terms of our existence. When Jesus comes at the end of time, he will ask us how we have given to others what he has given to us.

We mustn’t allow anything or anybody to stop us from doing that.

And nobody can. Love may be the only commodity there is that we can have as much of as we want, just by using it. And we can give it constantly: at every moment, in every situation, and to every person, whether it is received or not. Nothing can stop us from loving except our own choice not to.

To love is to give life. And we have it in a bottomless cup.

Keep this in mind as you read the Immersed in Christ reflections on the readings this week.

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Gift and Liturgical Experience of Wisdom: 32nd Week of the Liturgical Year, November 6-12, 2011

Wisdom chapters 1-19; Luke, chapters 17-18

This week’s readings are loaded! The theme of them all, New Testament as well as Old — and of the Rite of Communion, on which Immersed in Christ focuses us during this season—is “wisdom.” But we have to keep in mind what “wisdom” is. It is defined both as “the habit of seeing everything in the light of our last end,” and as the gift of the Holy Spirit that is the logical consequence of that: “the taste for spiritual things.”

It figures: if we really see everything we do, everything we use, buy, seek and experience, in the “light of our last end,” we will have a “taste” for, a desire for whatever leads us to that; i.e. for “spiritual” things. Things like prayer, Scripture reading, Mass, the sacraments, the mysteries of our Baptismal consecration (three of them, remember?), whatever makes us more aware of the mystery of Christ’s presence in ourselves and others, and of the real value and significance of the time we have to work with on earth.

The “end time” is the special focus of the Rite of Communion. If we understand what we are celebrating during this part of the liturgy, we will see how it gives us--and is an experience of--wisdom.

Communion is not just a private, one-on-one experience of receiving Jesus into our bodies and souls. It is a communal experience. The “Bread of Life,” the Bread of heaven, is only served at a communal meal: the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.” We receive Christ in communion with others or we don’t receive him. That says already that we can only receive Communion if we accept the condition of total, universal forgiveness and reconciliation that is a characteristic of the “peace and unity of the Kingdom.”

That is the “end time,” the “last end” on which the Rite of Communion focuses us, and which the Gift of Wisdom keeps us conscious of in every choice we make while interacting with the created reality of this world. We evaluate every pleasure, every joy held out to us by asking how it fits, how it prepares us for the total joy of heaven. We deal with every suffering, every loss, trial and challenge, by placing it in the perspective of the “end time,” when “every tear will be wiped away.” More mystically (that is, with more awareness of the mystery of our life as members of the body of Christ on earth), we see how all that we do and suffer here and now, whether through afflictions, hard work, frustrations or other emotional distress, is a participation in the redemptive suffering of Jesus. With Saint Paul, we see that “in our flesh we are completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.” That is the gift of wisdom.

The Rite of Communion is inseparable from the Eucharistic Prayer, when we celebrate and make present the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Seeing Communion in the light of the cross helps us to see our crosses in the light of the communion to which they lead: the full and glorious communion with God and others in the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.”

Keep this in mind as you read the readings and the Immersed in Christ reflections on them this week.

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