Monday, January 27, 2014

Give Thanks

Conceivably, we could admire, and even praise God without being grateful. But once we realize that everything God made, he made for us, our hearts acclaim, “It is right to give you thanks and praise.”

When we also know through the Christian revelation that God took flesh in Jesus Christ, lived on earth and died for us, then thanksgiving should invade our life.

Not to give God thanks and praise should be inconceivable to us.

We gather on Sundays to do this as a community. Catholics give thanks by celebrating “Eucharist,” which in Greek means “thankfulness” (from eu- well + charis, favor; or eucharizesthai, to show favor to). The meaning of “celebration” is “to single out for grateful remembrance.”

At Mass we “single out for grateful remembrance” the mystery of Christ’s dying and rising, through which we “became Christ.” We received this new and divine identity by being incorporated into Christ’s body on the cross in Baptism, dying and rising in him, and offering ourselves as a “living sacrifice” to continue in our bodies his life and mission on earth.

At every Mass we gratefully offer ourselves anew – “through him, with him, and in him” – our “flesh for the life of the world” (see John 6:51; Romans 12:1).

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 (2Corinthians 4:11).

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

We are “a new creation” (2Corinthians 5:17). We thank God every Sunday – and need to thank him every day, several times a day – for the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the favor of sharing in his own divine life, that has let us know the “love of the Father” as only those who are his true “sons and daughters in the Son” can know it. It is because of our common experience of sharing in his divine life that we have “communion in the Holy Spirit.” Our whole existence has been raised to a higher plane. We are called, we have been taught, and we have been enabled to live on the level of God.

That is something to be grateful for.

But we won’t be, unless we keep ourselves aware of it by giving thanks.

How can we keep ourselves aware? What will remind us to keep thanking God?

Mass will – if we listen to the words. We have quoted the words of the Greeting. These are followed by the Kyrie: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.” It should fill our hearts with thanksgiving to know we can ask God for “mercy” with absolute confidence that he will give it. We have his own word on that:

His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation (Luke 1:50).

God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our sins, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4).

He saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).

The Gloria specifies what we have to be thankful for in the Good News. It is first of all just for what we know God is: “We give you thanks for your great glory.” How often do we thank God just for being the kind of God he is? (Granted, it is impossible that there could be another kind).

We thank God for Jesus who offered himself as the “Lamb of God” to “take away the sins of the world.”

What if he hadn’t? What if our sins could only be forgiven, but not “taken away”? We would remain unchanged in our guilt. Instead, by dying with Christ and in Christ, we are a “new creation.” As Lamb of God, Jesus “gave himself up” for us, “in order to make us holy by cleansing us… so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind – yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.”

That is something to thank God for.

We thank God that Jesus is “seated at the right hand of the Father.” He will “receive our prayer.” He will “have mercy on us.”

The Gloria leads us in saying thanks.

“We give you thanks for your great glory.” We should make a conscious effort to do it every day.

A suggestion: In the morning, recite the Benedictus: Luke 1:68-79. In the evening, recite the Magnificat: Luke 1:46-55).

Monday, January 20, 2014

Silence is a Sin

To be authentically human we have to praise God.

Why? Because we can recognize and admire his work in the things he has made. If we don’t, we fall short of being human. But we don’t “realize” what we see until we express it in praise.

To “fall short” or “miss” (‘amartia) is the Scriptural word for sin. Paul attributes it to those who do not praise and thank God:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools (Romans 1:19).

We cannot judge the victims of our distorted culture for being blind. They have been educated by blind guides. But we can blame ourselves if we, who do know God, do not give evidence of it in praise. Isaiah says that makes us worse than animals:

Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.[1]

If we praised God we would understand. What we praise, we will appreciate. What we do not praise, we will not appreciate. What difference is there between those who are silent about God and those “who have forsaken the Lord, who have despised the Holy One of Israel, who are utterly estranged!”?

There is a difference, but it may not last long. How long will we keep seeing in church the people – especially the young – who stand silent and disengaged while the assembly is praising God? What does it say about them that they will not sing:

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests (Luke 2:14).
We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory.

To deny praise is to douse appreciation. To keep denying it is to risk losing the faith.

What we do not express, we will not experience. If we do not express our faith, our hope, our love, we will not experience them. The next step is to stop going to church because it does not give us any “experience of God.”

No church can “give us” the experience of God. The word “church” means “assembly.” Believers “assemble” to praise and thank God. To express the appreciation for God that they have through both reason and faith. But what we do not express, we will not experience. The obstacle is in us. And it is a deliberate choice.

What assembling with others in church gives us (among other things) is the opportunity to express ourselves. To express the admiration, the appreciation, the gratitude we have for God because of our faith-enlightened understanding. It lets us express what our “secular” culture discourages us from expressing in public.

According to Cassell”s Latin Dictionary, “secular” comes from saeculum, which refers to the time-span of “one human generation.” “Secularism” confines us to our particular culture’s narrow perception of what belongs to the time and space of this earth and forbids us to speak of anything beyond it. But when Christians gather to worship, we are free to express our faith, our hope, our love for God and others. If we refuse to express ourselves, we defeat the reason for gathering.

Bottom line: praise God. “Praise him in the morning, praise him in the noon time, praise him when the sun goes down.” Praise him in church. Praise him at home. Praise him on your way to work or school. Praise him when you get there.  Praise him for everything you see and hear around you that helps you admire him. The more you praise, the more you will admire him, and the more you will appreciate him.

So praise him. In your heart. In your mind. And when appropriate, with your lips.

(When is it not appropriate? You decide. Don’t let our culture decide for you).

Laus Deo semper![2]

[1] Isaiah 1:2. Scholars say this text inspired the custom of putting an ox and a donkey into Christmas cribs – as if they knew and understood the Savior.

[2] In some Catholic schools it became a custom to write this (abbreviated L.D.S.) at the end of every paper: “Praise to God always!” At the top students wrote A.M.D.G. –  “For the greater glory of God!” This is the motto of Pope Francis.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Pontifex of Praise

To be a Christian is to be a “pontifex of praise.”

Actually, we need to be this just to be human.

“Pontifex” means “bridge-builder” (from the Latin pons and facere). One role of humans in the universe is to build the bridge, make the connection, between creation and God.

God made everything that is. But nothing in existence knows this except humans (and angels, of course). So it’s up to humans to complete “the circle of creation” – from heaven to earth to heaven; from God to creatures to God again.

We do it through praise.

The components of praise are recognition, admiration, expression – all of which are the realization of relationship. (To “realize” means both to “be aware of” and to “make real”).

Animals know how to use things, but they don’t know what they are. Cows eat grass, but they don’t know it as grass. They can “see and eat,” but they cannot “see and name.”

So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name (Genesis 2:19).

To give something a “name” is to realize what it is for. We “call a spade a spade” when we conclude someone shaped it this way for digging. To do this is to experience kinship with the one who shaped it: we know why he made it like it is. We see what he wanted and how he thought. That he is someone rational, like us. We can “read his mind.”

When we recognize the design and intentionality in the things we give names to as “beings,” we experience kinship with God. We are like him. We can read his mind.

Recognition becomes admiration when we see how ingeniously things are structured. Or appreciate their beauty. (Beauty is “the harmony between unity, truth, and goodness.” Duns Scotus, 1266-1308).

Admiration becomes fully conscious when expressed in praise. It is a principle of experience that what we do not praise we will not appreciate. The more we praise, the more we will appreciate.

To recognize, admire and praise the One who designed the universe is to realize our relationship with God – in both senses of “realize”: we become aware of it and, by expressing it, we “make it real.”

Praise is a realization of relationship through the expression of admiration.

Both experience and relationship are realized in expression. This is rooted in the existence of God himself. The relationship between the Father and the Son “became real” (although it always was) when the Father, knowing himself, expressed what he knew in the “Word” that is the reality of God the Son, the “Word of God” made flesh in Jesus.

Our relationship with others does not become fully conscious or real until we express it in words and actions. The same is true of our relationship with God.

The first authentic expression of relationship with God is praise. If we appreciate who God is, we will praise him. If we do not praise him, we will not appreciate who he is.

The word “praise” appears 111 times in the Psalms alone. Or 136 if we count “praises” and “praising.” The Psalms are the common core of Jewish and Christian prayer.

Why not begin to pray them?

Be human. Be the bridge. Make the connection between creation and God. Be a “pontifex of praise.”

Thursday, January 9, 2014

How to Stay Aware: The WIT Prayer

The first step into lived Christianity is to accept that we have become Christ – and keep ourselves aware of it.

How do we do that?

We say the WIT prayer – all day long.

As soon as we wake up, we remember the mystery of who we are: that we have “become Christ” by Baptism. We reaffirm the gift we made that day by saying: “Lord, I give you my body!”

Live this day with me, live this day in me, life this day through me.
Let me think with your thoughts and speak with your words and act as your body on earth.

With, in and through: WIT.

With me

Our life is a mystery: the mystery of living by God’s own divine life, the life of Jesus himself. We ask Jesus to live it with us, in us and through us.

Everything we do today, we want to do in partnership – koinonia – with Jesus as God. There are over thirty times when St. Paul attaches the Greek prefix syn- to words to make them express our union with Christ, as co-actors with Jesus in what he did and what we do now. (In English we use the Latin prefix co- ). For example, we “co-live,” “co-suffer,” “co-work” (cooperate) with Jesus as members of his body. When we act, he co-acts with us and we co-act with him. Saying, “Lord, do this with me!” keeps us aware of this. Aware that we are never alone. And that we never act just as individual human beings. Everything we do, we want to do consciously with Jesus. “Lord, do this with me!
Say it when you wake up, when you get out of bed, when you step out of your room, when you leave your house, get into your car or walk into your workplace, when you sit down at your desk, when you open a drawer or turn on your computer, when you pick up the telephone, every time you start a conversation or someone starts one with you.

Say it when you go home, fix yourself a drink or turn on the television set. Say it when you kiss your spouse or play with your children. Say it when you write a letter or pick up a book to read. Say it when you clean your house or mow the lawn.

Say the WIT prayer all day long.[1]
“Lord, do this with me; do this in me, do this through me.”

This will keep you aware all day long that your life is to be Christ.

That becomes an ongoing mystical experience.

In me

Jesus doesn’t just co-operate with us like a friend by our side. That would be great, but it wouldn’t make what we do divine. The mystery of our life is that Jesus lives and acts in us, and we live and act “in him,” the way a vine lives in its branches and the branches act as part of the vine. It is a mystery of identification. We act divinely as Christ – with him and in him. He acts humanly as us – with us and in us. What he does in us, we are doing. What we do in union with him, he is doing. As Christians we are divine-human people living divine-human lives and performing divine-human actions. This is the mystery we remind ourselves of when we say, “Lord, do this in me!

Through me

We might think that Jesus acts with us and in us just to help us “do our thing” and to raise everything we do to a higher level, the divine level of God. It is more than that. He also acts through us to do “his own thing.” He uses us (as partners, not tools) to keep fulfilling his divine mission on earth. He is always working with us, in us and through us as Messiah, the “Anointed One,” the Savior, Emmanuel, which means “God-with-us.”

The name “Jesus” means “God saves.” The name “Christ” is Greek for “Anointed,” which in Hebrew is “Messiah.” We were anointed at Baptism – consecrated, committed and empowered – to continue the “messianic” mission of Jesus as Prophet, Priest and King. Or better, to let him continue it with us, in us and through us.

How do we do this? Say the WIT prayer:

Say it all day long. Make it a habit. Say it until saying it becomes “second nature” to you. Say the words until they are implanted in your mind. Until they settle into your heart. Until they become the abiding stance of your will. Don’t do anything without saying, “Lord, do this with me; do this in me, do this through me.”

Say the WIT prayer all day long. [1]

“Lord, do this with me; do this in me, do this through me.”

This will keep you aware all day long that your life is to be Christ.

That becomes an ongoing mystical experience.

[1] Quoted from my book Nuts and Bolts of Daily Spirituality (23rd Publications, 2013), page 28.

[1] Quoted from my book Nuts and Bolts of Daily Spirituality (23rd Publications, 2013), page 28.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Be Aware

How do we go about “being Christ”?

How do we go about being human? 

The first step is just to be aware that we are one.

We don’t act like animals because we are very aware (once we are adults, at least) that, unlike them, we can understand what we do and make free choices. This gives us a special relationship with everything and everyone we interact with. A relationship of conscious responsibility.

We are authentically human when we act out of awareness of the special relationship we have with God, and with everything God made, because of understanding and free will. We know our being, our existence, our life comes from him, and that we are responsible for using it the way he wants. This is the dawn of “conscience.” It implies “consciousness, awareness.

We are authentically adults when we form adult relationships with others by interacting with them as reasonable – and responsible – human beings.

We are authentic family members when we take conscious responsibility for interacting with relatives according to the relationship we have with them as father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, or seventeenth cousin once removed.

We are authentic in our work when we act consciously and responsibly according to the relationship with others our job description describes. When we deliver what they count on – as president or janitor, salesperson, accountant or manager.

And we are authentically Christian when we take conscious responsibility for acting as Jesus Christ. By Baptism we “became Christ.” So we need to be Christ in all our interactions with others.

It’s all a matter of relationships. And relationships are formed through interaction.

A truly Christian relationship exists when two or more people interact with each other as Jesus interacting with Jesus.

For all of this to happen, the first step is to cultivate awareness. To keep ourselves conscious of our graced identity – the identity we have through “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

That grace is the favor of becoming Christ by Baptism and sharing in his own divine life. As branches share in the life of the vine. As members share in the life of the body (John 15:5; 1Corinthians 12:12; Romans 12:4).

Just as branches grafted onto a grape vine become a grape vine and bear grapes as fruit, so we who have been baptized into Christ become Christ and bear in our lives the fruit Christ bears. The angel who said to Mary, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb” says to us “Blessed is the fruit of your life.” It is divine.

But only if we keep ourselves aware that we have “become Christ” and let him do everything we do with us, in us and through us.

Awareness is the key to it all.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

“My Soul Proclaims…”

We have all heard the words of Mary’s hymn of praise in Luke 1:46-55: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…”
So does your soul, if you listen to it.

Is God great? Do you know that? How often do you think about it? Praise him for it?

In the Gloria at Mass Catholics sing, “We give you thanks for your great glory!” But how often do any of us say during the week, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord”?

If we don’t proclaim it, we won’t be aware of it.

If we are not aware of it, we will not experience the relationship we have with God as rational persons. Because we can “read his mind” and follow the thought-process that guided creation, we know we are like him. We are “kindred spirits.”

Admiration is awareness of understanding. Understanding is awareness of relationship. Relationship is the key to existence itself, because the mystery of the Being of God – of the One who alone can say, “I Am Who Am” – is the mystery of Three Persons in relationship: the Father, Son and Spirit. The Three-in-One are exactly the same in “what” they are (their nature), but they differ in “who” they are as persons by their interaction with each other, which is their relationship.

At its source, which is God, Being is relationship. So all who are created in the image of God achieve the fullness of being through relationships -- that is, by interacting with creation, with each other and with God.

Our first interaction with God should be recognition, appreciation and praise. Followed by thanksgiving.

Mary said, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” God chose to interact with her.

Has he not chosen to interact with you? How has he loved you? Can you “count the ways?”

More important: Do you count the ways? And praise and thank him for each one of them? (To see how, read Psalm 136, which begins: “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” and gives examples. So do Psalms 146 and 147. Try them for starters).

Mary continued: “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Don’t you know the whole human race, seeing you in heaven, will call you blessed for all eternity? We will all call each other blessed, and praise God who “has done great things” for every one of us, saying “Holy is his name!”

Why not start now? Praise and thank God for what he has given to those you know and work with. And to yourself.

No one throws a forward pass without using a gift of God. And no one misses one without experiencing – without demonstrating – the gift that made him able to try.

God’s gift is not in the winning, but in the ability to try. And that is true of everything.

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.

If we think we are better because we win – physically, mentally, or even morally – we are losers. God’s “mercy is for those who fear him” – not those who are “afraid,” but those who have the true essence of fear, which is perspective. Those who recognize the difference – and the distance – between themselves and God. Those who see that they are nothing and he is All know how to respect him.

To them God draws near. He “lifts up” those who know they need it. He “fills with good things” those who are “hungry,” who are aware of their emptiness.

But we need hope. We need confidence based on God’s promises.

God “remembers the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” And so should we. Remember and praise and thank him for his promises and their fulfillment.

Life is all about interacting with God in response to his interaction with us. That is, it’s all about forming relationship with God. Or more precisely, sharing in the relationship the Three Persons have with each other:

May they all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us… The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:21).

We respond as Mary did:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.
The Almighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

We owe him thanksgiving and praise.