Saturday, October 29, 2011

An Image of the Church: 31st Week of the Liturgical Year, October 30-November 5, 2011

Romans chapters 11-16; Luke, chapters 14-16.


If we take this week’s readings as a whole, they present us with a beautiful, an inspiring image of the Church. It is not in every respect the Church that is — Vatican II was explicit about that: “The Church... will attain its full perfection only in the glory of heaven, when there will come the time of the restoration of all things.” But in another sense, the true image, even of the sinful, struggling “pilgrim Church” we see, is the image of the Bride of Christ already radiant in splendor. The Church we see is the Church that will be. And she will be “without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish.” No picture of the present is complete without the projection of the future.

Knowing this, and seeing what the Church is called to be, we have to work for that as faithful stewards of the kingship of Christ.

What the readings this week particularly focus on is a Church united by several factors, none yet perfectly realized, but all promised as part of the victory of Christ. What do we see?

1. Equality with diversity. In the Church there are different ministries and different gifts to support them. But no gift and no ministry makes anyone “higher” or more important than another. In every ministry, it is Christ himself who is acting, and the same Spirit of Christ present in every gift. As Paul said, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus,” we say today: “There is no longer pope or bishop, laity or clergy, male or female; for all of us are one in Christ Jesus.

This does not eliminate the different offices or states of life in the Church. Paul was not saying there were no more ethnic Jews or Greeks, slaves or free people, men or women in the Church. He was saying that “differences make no difference” when it comes to the respect we show all, the acceptance of each one’s gifts and ministry, the right and call all have to speak and be heard, to act and be encouraged. The readings tell us that, yes, there are popes and bishops, laity and clergy, the teachers and the taught (Newman’s ecclesia docens and ecclesia docta), but all are exercising the ministry of Christ, and all must work together in unity and respect for one another. And in love.

2. We are all stewards. We are all charged to find, not faults but ways: ways to honor and respect each other, to serve with graciousness and generosity, to preserve peace through mutual recognition of each one’s gifts and ministry. This is the work of all, and all will enjoy together the fruits it produces.

This week we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. We need to celebrate it every day.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Face of Rome: 30th Week of the Liturgical Year, October 23-29, 2011

Romans chapters 8-11; Luke, chapters 13-14.


The sights of Rome can arouse mixed feelings. I imagine that they might be related to the mixed feelings people had about Jesus and have about Christianity, once they begin to understand it. They come from seeing the divine identified with the human in a single person (Jesus) or in a single human-divine Church (us): the Church that, it could be said, shows its “winner” and its “loser” face in Rome.

Rome is a “boast in buildings” that the Church is a winner. Or, if we go deeper, that Christianity is a winner. Or, if we penetrate to the real mystery, that Jesus is not just a winner, but has won. The great buildings and monuments of Rome honor the triumpth of the Church, or give glory to God, or both, on the buried remains of the Roman Empire.

Sadly, this is also where the “loser” face appears. It really is not clear whether the great churches of Rome were built more to glorify God or the popes. One third of the huge inscription across the fa├žade of St. Peter’s Basilica says “To the honor of the Prince of the Apostles.” Two thirds of the space glorify Pope Paul V, who built it. Other great churches are similarly credited. It detracts.

Are these churches more museums of art or places of worship? For believers, where the art is inspired by worship it inspires worship.

When thousands of pilgrims and tourists gather in front of St. Peter’s every Wednesday to see the Pope, does this make him upstage Christ? Does it minimize local bishops and dioceses? Pope Benedict was humble in dress, manner and speech. He preached on Scripture, and turned attention away from himself to honor pilgrims from all over the world. As he greeted the groups, some cheered, some sang a prepared song. A circus group did an acrobatic act. It was fun. The pilgrims had fun with the Pope.

This in itself makes one think: When do people meet with bishops just to have fun? To mix informally? What if bishops held an “open house” every week or month? Just to mix; to make mutual appreciation visible? To give a sense of a diocese enjoying each other? Would it put another face on the hierarchy? Would laity and bishops both grow into a new image of themselves as Church?

This week’s readings are all about the “stewardship of love”—preserving the memory of God’s gift of love. Making it present through celebration: by remembering with faith and looking forward with hope. Showing in our dealings with every person that the “Kingdom of God” is in fact here, and that it is growing in “length and breadth and depth and height” in every heart. And will grow to embrace the world. If nothing else, Rome supports that.

The columned galleries that form the half-circle enclosing the space in front of St. Peter’s were intentionally designed to symbolize the arms of the Church embracing the whole world. The Pope speaks for us all when he welcomes every race and nationality to the diocese that symbolizes Christian unity. In every parish church, and in every office and home, each of us is charged with the same stewardship of love. To walk into any parish should be like an audience with the Pope.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

"Who dat?" Who Indeed?: 29th Week of the Liturgical Year, October 16-22, 2011

Romans chapters 4-8; Luke, chapters 12-13.


On my way to Rome, I stopped in New Orleans for a wedding. American bride; Serbian groom. Five generations present on each side. The scars of war. Pain of refugee exile. All enveloped in laughter, kissing and dancing, children playing and children promised. Life experienced as love. Love not erasing divisions but making divisions a non-thought. As they will be at the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.” Nothing but celebration: the celebration of life given and to be given through love. God was there.

It is so simple: where God is, there is love. Where love is, there is God. Where God and love are together, all divisions drop out of existence. The word “foreign” becomes foreign to reality. People are people just being people. That is all that counts. As it does for God.

I turn to the readings for the week. They are all about power: “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, now and forever!” There is no power but God’s; all other is illusory. But we live by the light of illusion. We think that law-observance has power to save us from sin. Or that sin has power to make us happy apart from God. Or that the powers at work in this world—the powers that create the conditioning of culture, and the power that cultural “programming” has over every one of us—are so strong, so entrenched, so omni-present there is no hope of overcoming them through wisdom, justice or love.

We dare not (or care not) to interact with God, unconvinced that his power is identical with his love. God’s love turns all his power to our good. God exercises power by lavishing love. Yet we dare not (or care not) to approach him. We deal with him through the “intermediaries” of written laws, written words of prayer (using another’s words to speak to him, not daring to trust in our own), the written words of others’ thoughts that we do not make our own through confrontation and reflection incarnated in personal choice. Our “religion” is immersion in a system; it is not immersion in Christ. We live the law, but we are not saying and experiencing in our hearts law transcended in the refrain of Paul: “I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me!” For Paul, Christ was the law; the law was Christ, and to live in lovc was the law of laws.

Love is relationship. And the reality of relationship is interaction. To live in love as persons and with persons, we must interact as persons with other persons. This is the life of the Trinity: what gives identity to the Three Persons as Father, Son and Spirit, what makes them distinct as Persons yet one in nature as God, is the mystery of relationship. The mystery of their interaction with One Another.

And this is what gives us our identity as made in the image of God, made in the image of the Three Persons. We were created and re-created by grace to be persons establishing our identity through our relationships with God and other persons. That is, through our interactions as free, self-orienting intellectual beings whose self-orientation has been swallowed up in surrender to the all-absorbing magnetism of the Attraction of God.

When all are drawn by love into the eternal celebration of Life undistinguishable from Love, we will all be one in Christ, dancing at the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.”

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Mystery of Rome : 28th Week of the Liturgical Year, October 9-15, 2011

Romans chapters 1-4; Luke, chapters 11-12


When I wrote these Reflections, I did not know I would be in Rome when they were read. Re-reading them, I think nothing could prepare me better for the trip.

Rome presents a mixed image of the Church. What impresses tourists—the magnificent buildings, precious works of art, the regal pomp and splendor, are a distraction, if not a challenge to faith. The recorded reaction of Jesus to the magnificence of the Temple buildings in Jerusalem—the historical predecessor of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome—was: “You see all these? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another.” Clearly, he wasn’t impressed. Probably no city on earth has been the site of more ecclesiastical mismanagement and mendacious maneuvering than Rome. Rome is a place of visible corruption and invisible mystery.

We mustn’t forget the mystery. It is because he is Bishop of Rome that he has the added task of keeping all the bishops united. Rome is a symbol of unity because both Peter and Paul died there, united in faith despite differences in charism that should have divided the Church. The pope gets his special importance from Rome, not Rome from the pope.

Rome is a symbol of unity and a source of division, even while faith in the papacy keeps those divisions from dividing the Church. Current Vatican policies have caused outrage in the Irish government, brought Austrian priests to the verge of schism, evoked protests from priests and theologians in Ireland, Germany, Australia and America. At Vatican II, Archbishop D’Souza of India denouncd the centralization of power in the Vatican and the “letter that kills” when canon law is rigidly applied throughout the world. “Love is endangered,” he said, “by the present practices of the Roman Curia.” The examples he listed have all been repeated within the past year. Lord Acton’s words return: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Then we read Sunday’s prayer: “Make love the foundation of our lives. Send us your Spirit, the source of unity.” We read that Mass is (should be, can be) an experience of the peace and unity of the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.” As people “called to belong” and “called to holiness,” we find the readings urging us to faith and hope in the “end time,” when all divisions will be overcome.

We see the Church—all of us—urged to be the “sign of Jonah” by living in a way that cannot be explained unless Jesus is alive and living in us. We are reminded that, to guide the Church into the way of love, each one of us must first strive to learn the heart of Christ in prayer.

It comes down to each one of us. We are the Church. If we seek union of mind, heart and will with the Father “in Christ” and by the Holy Spirit, we will be united with God and one another. In love.

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Saturday, October 1, 2011

To Understanding Through Action : 27th Week of the Liturgical Year, October 2-8, 2011

Jonah chapters 1-4; Malachi ch. 3; Joel chs.1-4; Luke, chs.10-11.


The readings are about Jonah’s cultural narrowness that made him resist doing God’s work; about societal conversion, about keeping the “end time” in view to give us direction and hope—and how the Rite of Communion helps us do this. In short, the focus is on our call to transform the world as stewards of the kingship of Christ. And to do it through truth and love.

Two weeks ago I was observing the Church trying to do this on Guam. Last week I was speaking in Illinois to “Cursillistas” committed to “transforming environments.” Next week I will be giving a parish mission in Mississippi, preaching the Immersed in Christ plan as a means to live out fully our baptismal commitment to be Christ and be Disciples, Prophets, Priests and Stewards of his kingship. If we live out these five fundamental mysteries of Christian life, we will have “life to the full” and communicate it to others. All the Reflections I write for Abbey Press teach and develop understanding of these five mysteries and support commitment to living them. But I am taking a new approach.

So far I’ve been “top down”—explaining the five mysteries and ending with a very simple, practical suggestion for making each one an experienced element of life. But on Guam, talking to school children, I began instead with the five simple suggestions, and gave as much explanation of the mysteries as I could to help the children live them with understanding and motivation. Now I am going to take the same approach with adults. Starting with you!

Do these five things and you will grow into understanding of the five-fold mystery of divine life that you received at Baptism.

1. Form the habit of saying the WIT prayer all day long: “Lord, do this with me, do this in me, do this through me.” You will grow into awareness of the new identity you received when you became Christ through Baptism (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 795).

2. Put a bible on your pillow and promise God you will never sleep without reading one line. You will experience, over time, the mystical gift of divine enlightenment as a disciple.

3. Promise God you will never ask again whether something is right or wrong, but whether it bears witness to the values taught by Jesus. You will gradually become aware of the “Gift of the Spirit” empowering you to bear witness to Christ as a prophet.

4. In every encounter with another person, surrender to letting Christ in you express himself to give healing and life. Without being explicit, let your words and actions express an attitude toward each consistent with your faith, hope and love. This turns every encounter into life-giving ministry as a “priest in the Priest” and a “victim in the Victim,” giving your “flesh for the life of the world.”

5. Make a point of noticing anything around you that could be changed to make the world better. Just noticing is an expression and an experience of the responsibility you accepted as a steward of the kingship of Christ. Do what you realistically can to change things, but notice everything. This is a mystical awareness of accepting your divine commission to establish the reign of God.

If you do these five things, you will grow into the mystical experience of the mystery of your Baptism. If you do them, you will understand what I try to explain. If you do not do them, anything I try to explain is useless.

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