Friday, November 16, 2012

Hope for the Church — Thirty-Second Week of “Ordinary Time,” November 11-17, 2012

Scholars ask whether the “rock” of Peter on which the Church was founded was Peter’s person or his faith. I think it was his human weakness supported by divine grace.

Peter was not educated. He may not have been very bright. He has more recorded sins and errors in the Gospels than any other individual mentioned. He was wrong every time he opened his mouth except twice. He was a coward before and after the Resurrection (Matthew 26:34; Galatians 2:11-14). When he denied Jesus he cursed and swore. In short, he was not an all-around model of human virtue. And this is the man Jesus chose to be the first pope. 

How explain that, unless Jesus wanted to make clear that the Church is not founded on human brains or virtue, or any other quality of any created being? When we call the pope “Your Holiness,” that is based on hope, not on history. So the Church is on just as solid a foundation when we have a stupid pope as she is when we have a wise one. If the pope is the worst sinner in the world, the Church is still on the most solid foundation that exists. She is founded on human weakness supported by divine grace. 

Peter’s first act after being named pope was to reject Christ’s teaching and try to lead the Church astray (Matthew 16:22). Then he publicly denied the faith under oath (Matthew 26:72). But God was still able to hold the early Church together through him. Jesus never promised that the popes would not lead the Church in false directions, teach error in their “ordinary magisterium,” or be shocking examples of corrupt Christian living. He just promised that, in spite of their sins and errors and weaknesses, the gates of Hell will never prevail against his Church. She is founded on rock, and in Peter we see the kind of rock that is. 

St. John Chrysostom is supposed to have said, “The road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” In previous centuries nobles bought promotion to bishop for their sons. It was commonplace for bishops to lead armies into war, live opulent, debauched lives, and gobble up church revenues. They did great damage to the Church; they may have helped bring on the French Revolution and the Protestant Reformation. When Napoleon boasted to the Archbishop of Paris that he would destroy the Catholic Church, the bishop replied, “Priests and bishops have been trying to do that for 1800 years and have failed. What makes you think you’ll succeed?” The Catholic apologist Frank Sheed wrote: “We are not baptized into the hierarchy; do not receive the Cardinals sacramentally; will not spend an eternity in the beatific vision of the pope. Christ is the point.,,, Even if I find the Church, as I have to live with it, a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing a pope (or a priest) could do or say would make me wish to leave the Church, although I might well wish that they would leave.”  

Our faith is not in the priests, bishops or pope, but in the promise of Jesus Christ that his Church will survive, regardless of whether his ministers are good or bad, fervent or pharisaical, holy or hellbound. Its foundation is human weakness supported by grace. 
The Church can decline. Her members can defect. We need to work against this. But the remedy is not in the hierarchy; it is in each individual Catholic’s response to grace. You are the hope of the Church. 

Any comments? Share them with us through the COMMENTS link.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Image, Prestige, Power and Pride — Thirty-First Week of “Ordinary Time,” November 4-10, 2012

Let’s face it: I would like to be a guru. That means to be recognized as a guru. I want the image. Why? Because the image gives prestige, and prestige gives power. 

Power to do good, of course. Of course. I want to be a best-selling author: not for money; for something worse than that. If I were a recognized guru, my name (my prestige) would sell my books. That would give me power. Power for good, of course.

I am convinced my books have great power to do good for the Church and for the world. If I could only acquire the image of a modern-day guru, I would have the prestige that would sell them, and I would have power to do great good.

One accepts “absolute” power when one uses it autonomously, without consultation, correction or modification from others. To do this makes power identical with pride, which is properly defined, not as thinking one is better than one is (that is just vanity), but as seeing oneself as the criterion. It is pride when you believe that whatever you think must be true, and whatever you will or command must be good. The power you get from prestige based on the image you project (true or false) sets you up for pride.

Saint Ignatius teaches that the strategy of the devil is to tempt people to riches, because wealth brings prestige and prestige leads to pride.

Spiritual gifts are authentic riches. But to display them in a way that creates an “image” of holiness (even if it is real) is to fall into the first trap of seeking riches for the sake of prestige.

Spiritual prestige gives power in the Church. If one’s image also happens to conform to the current policies of the Vatican, “politically correct” spiritual prestige gives political power in the Church. We saw this in Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was an obvious saint. But she would have had no influence in Rome, and the Pope would not have set aside the rules to get her canonized in record time if she had not been in a habit. Or if she had challenged Church policies in any way.

Mother Teresa was a saint. Intentionally or not, she did project the image. And it gave her exceptional prestige that gave her exceptional power in Rome, which she made use of. She also lived in the “dark night of the soul,” which may have been what saved her from pride.

I am not Mother Teresa. I am not a saint. And I would not welcome the “dark night of the soul.” Maybe I don’t want to be a guru after all.

I can hear you saying, “Not to worry, David. You’re not even in the ball park!”

Aside from the obvious, like that last remark, any comments? Share them with us through the COMMENTS link.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Seeing Results — Thirtieth Week of “Ordinary Time,” October 28 to November 3, 2012

I have a friend, a layman, who wants to do great things for God. He would just say “specific things.” He is competent, dedicated and trying. And having only minimal success. That is a problem for me.

God knows a good deal when he sees one. And God certainly sees in this man a believer who wants to serve him, is open and responsive to God’s voice, and willing to do whatever God asks. Okay, within limits. But he would not have to be a saint for God to use him more than he seems to be doing. So why isn’t God, who is all powerful, making this man’s ministry more effective? He’s got a guy who is willing to run with the ball; why doesn’t he help him make touchdowns?

The Holy Spirit is vast; not some little dove fluttering down from heaven. Think of the most awesome thunderstorm you ever saw: dark, rolling clouds from one horizon to the other. Then make the clouds brilliant, shining with light. That is a better image of the Holy Spirit. “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful… Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and our hearts will be regenerated. And you will renew the face of the earth!” We’re talking power here. Why isn’t God pouring out his Spirit on the Church and on the world, moving everybody to respond to his prophets?

Don’t we all relate to this man? I do. Yes, seeing him makes me see myself (is that narcissism?). Don’t you see yourself in the description of him? We may not be super-competent or super-holy, but don’t you and I both want to serve God? Aren’t we willing volunteers? We aren’t heroes, but then we are not volunteering for anything heroic: just to use whatever talents we have to do something good in the world. Seeing my friend’s frustration made me ask questions I did not dare to ask about myself. It seems to me God should be using him more. If I am honest, I think the same about myself. Are you having the same experience?
Another good friend of mine would call this whining. I just call it honesty. And honesty makes us look for answers. Do I have any?

Yes and no. None that satisfies me completely. But there is one that leads us into mystery: the fact that Jesus himself lived and died a failure.

People flocked to him, yes. But not for what he came to give. Most just wanted physical healing. Of the others, none spoke up for him at his trial. He was rejected in Jerusalem, Capernaum, and in his home town (Matthew 11:23; 23:37; Luke 4:29). When he challenged their faith, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him” (John 6:66). Judas betrayed him. Peter cursed and swore that he did not know him (Mark 14:71). When he was on the cross he felt abandoned by God and everyone else. Even his chosen twelve deserted him, except for John, who was probably kept there by his mother and the few women with her. He died without bringing about any changes in Judaism, much less in the secular world. Jesus died as he had lived: a visible failure.

And yet he said to all of us: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name” (John 15:16). We pray for faith; for the hope that is based on faith; and for the love that makes them both authentic.

Any comments? Share them with us through the COMMENTS link.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Christianity — Twenty-Ninth Week of “Ordinary Time,” October 21-27, 2012

Vicksburg, Mississippi: Preaching a mission on St. Paul — in St. Paul parish. And the pieces just keep falling into place.

The Good News: Paul puts it into three words: “Christ in you” (Colossians 1:27).

Christianity: Paul describes it in four words: “Faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).

In these two lines Paul gives us everything we need to keep the “Year of Faith” on course. This year was conceived as “the New Evangelization.” But there is danger it might be tragically stillborn. What may emerge instead is another review of  “orthodox” Catholic doctrine, with a myopic focus on “fidelity to the magisterium.” This insistence on “myopia over mystery” is what has kept Catholics from being evangelized in the first place.

Paul sets us right. He summed up his whole mission in one line: it was to preach “the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” His message was this mystery. That is the Good News.

So if anyone asks, “What do Catholics believe?” we should answer, “We believe in Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Everything else is explanation.

And if anyone asks, “What do Catholics do?” the answer is, “Our religion cannot be explained that way. Our religion is faith working through love.” The minute you try to spell it out in rules and obligations, you have denied the faith.

Does that sound extreme? Paul sounds worse. Writing to those who felt it was an obligation to keep a fundamental law of the Covenant, circumcision, he wrote: “I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

Paul would say Catholics who identify “being a good Catholic” with obediently affirming the right doctrines, keeping the right rules, and observing the right practices of our religion have cut themselves off from Christ; they have fallen away from grace.

That is pretty strong. But it is the inspired word of God, bursting from the mouth of a man who saw the Church in his day threatened by the same Phariseeism of  self-righteous, closed-minded insistence on legalistic morality and narrow dogmatism that is being sown throughout the Church today.

Paul says our religion is “faith” — that is, deep, personal, grace-enlightened knowledge of God — “working through love.” Our “morality” is our sharing in the “mind of Christ” translated into actions that are unpredictable because they are inspired by the Spirit, not codified in law. Our “doctrine” is the gift of sharing in God’s own act of knowledge (the theological definition of “faith”) translated into human thoughts and words. The ancient definition of “theology” is “faith seeking understanding.” Any insistence on doctrine, even true doctrine, that is not coming out of deep, enlightened, personal sharing in God’s own act of knowing is a denial of faith in action that distorts one’s affirmation of faith in words. Those Catholics, whether bishops, priests, deacons or laity, whose teaching is anything but “faith working through love” have “cut themselves off from Christ” and “fallen away from grace.”

Any comments? Share them with us through the COMMENTS link.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

“The devil made me say it” — Twenty-Eighth Week of “Ordinary Time,” October 14-20, 2012

I am preaching a mission in an inspiring parish in Oregon. The people are educated, reflective and open. I don’t pick up the presence of the “Pharisee party” in the pews. Result: I am much more free in what I talk about. That raises a question.
A supporter took out a piece of paper while we were at lunch and wrote on it: MISSION —— AGENDA.
“What is coming across in your talks,” she said, “is two things: your mission and your agenda.”
‘Your mission is pure Gospel: relationship with Jesus, the mystery of Baptism. Being a Christian, Disciple, Prophet, Priest and King.” She is right. My mission would be equally exciting to fans of the National Catholic Reporter and Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). And I think that is no mean feat.
“But you also have an agenda. You bring up — by way of example, it is true — controversial issues.”  In short, I address issues that are drawing some people into the comforting embrace of the establishment and driving others out of the Church. 
“If you would stick to your mission,” my parish ombudsman said, “You would do more good. As it is, some people are walking out.”
Right after that, I got a phone call praising me to the skies for addressing those very issues. I told the caller what my other friend had said. “Yeah,” he answered, “and if Jesus had kept quiet about some things, he might have been better accepted too.”
That doesn’t answer the question. My first advisor said, “Read your audience. Don’t give everything to everybody. Give your mission in some places; preach your agenda in others.” Wise advice. Jesus himself said, “Don’t cast pearls....”
The problem is, we act in space and time. The same place doesn’t invite you for two different kinds of input. Most chances to speak are a one-shot deal. And almost every audience is going to have the wounded and the wounding alike; those to the right and those to the left; some who can’t take more than the “milk of children” and others who are thirsting for the “new wine.” For every person I have shocked and alienated, I could probably name another who thanked me for lifting an intolerable burden. There are afflicted sheep that need to be healed; and there are unafflicted for whom strong medicine acts like poison. What sheep do you sacrifice?
Plus, there is never time to explain everything adequately. Is it better to let sleeping dogs lie, even though you know they are biting people in their sleep?
I have been trying to “play it by ear,” grateful for the advice I get from every side. And praying I will recognize the voice of the Spirit.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Marketing Problem — Twenty-Sixth Week of “Ordinary Time,” September 30 to October 6, 2012

The daily reflections for Immersed in Christ are going out of print on December 2, First Sunday of Advent. They haven’t sold well enough to even pay for themselves. As the Spanish say, “No hay remedio.” There is just nothing we can do about it.

Of course, I believe in the product – which includes much more than the daily reflections. The “plan for spiritual growth” that is Immersed in Christ is essentially an idea. It amounts to a simple, intentional way of living out the five mysteries (five promises, five commitments – they are all the same) of Baptism. Everything else is just support. And we offer a lot of support besides the daily reflections.

We just don’t have the resources to make the plan known.

This morning I was lying in bed, half awake, having an imaginary dialogue with someone.  I was saying there are people “out there” with so much money they could finance Immersed in Christ with massive marketing and not even notice it. They wouldn’t miss what it would take to do that any more than ordinary Catholics miss what they put into the collection on a Sunday. But I don’t know anybody that rich.

Then I realized: my own father has that kind of money. He just won’t use it for me 

When my oldest brother (who was his favorite, and who worshipped him) started his career, Dad gave him nothing but “moral support.” Encouragement, advice, but no financial backing. He left him so poor that my brother once told the rest of us he sometimes literally did not have a roof over his head.

And the people that worked for my brother? They were volunteers. He sent them out with no salary, no expense account, no credit cards, sometimes not even a change of clothing. He told them not to worry about it!

My brother was murdered. Dad saw it coming and did absolutely nothing about it.  It was a “legal murder” – a combination of lynch mob and frame-up that resulted in my brother’s execution. And Dad could have stopped it by using his connections, through bribery, or even by force. He had the resources. But he stayed out of it. He let my brother be killed.

I expect to come into a great inheritance. But I can’t touch it now – only the tiny advances my father sometimes gives me. And in terms of money, they would not finance a corner grocery store! I know Dad is not going to let me starve, and I do have a roof over my head. I’ve got no complaints about day-to-day needs.

But it sure would be nice to have some financing for my work. At least, I think it would.

But I might be wrong about that.

Any comments? Share them with us through the COMMENTS link

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Secret Sign— Twenty-Fifth Week of “Ordinary Time,” September 23-29, 2012

IMAGINE you know little of Christianity. You see some people moving their right hands to touch their head, heart and shoulders. “What are you doing?” you ask.

“That’s our secret sign,” one answers. “We’re Christians. This sign tells us Jesus is risen from the dead. That’s what our religion is all about. You won’t understand it; it’s a mystery. But I’ll try to explain.

 “We touch our head to say what we know. We know that because Jesus rose from the dead, we are not just humans anymore. He is alive and continuing his life in our bodies, sharing his divine life with us. That makes his Father our Father. When we touch our heads and say, “Father,” it reminds us we are children of the Father. Not just God’s creatures, but his family. We are divine.

“Then we bring our hand down to our heart to say what we feel – on a level deeper than just emotion. This is where the center of our life is. Jesus lives in us. He acts in us and through us. Our bodies are his body. Our life is to live in union of mind and heart and will with Jesus. We speak the name of God the Son, who came down from heaven and was ‘made flesh’ – not just to live among us, but to live in us as his own body. This is the secret of our existence: Jesus has risen from the dead and is living now in our bodies. Every Christian says, as St, Paul did, ‘It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.’  That is the mystery of our identity. The sign we make reminds us of it and identifies us to those who understand it.

“Then we touch both shoulders to say what we do. We are ‘ yoked’ with Jesus to let him continue his mission in us. We all carry our share of the load. But his ‘ yoke is easy’ and his ‘burden is light,’ because we have received ‘power from on high’ through the gift of the Holy Spirit given to us to. We speak the Spirit’s name as we move our hand from shoulder to shoulder, describing an arc that takes in the whole world. Our mission as Christ’s risen body is to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

“You may not have noticed, but when we touch our head, heart and shoulders we are tracing a cross. All we have said above comes out of the mystery of the cross. The mystery is that Jesus did not just die; we died in him. By Baptism we, with all the sins we would ever commit, were incorporated into his body on the cross. ‘For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’

When Jesus died, we died with him and in him. He took us down into the grave with him, erasing the history of our sins. Then he raised us from the dead by rising himself in our bodies to continue his life and mission in us. We are “a new creation.” Our sins are not just forgiven but “taken away” by our death in Jesus as “Lamb of God.”

“When we make our secret sign, the ‘sign of the cross,’ we are reminding ourselves and each other of ‘the glory of this mystery,’ which St. Paul says ‘is Christ in you, the hope of glory.’

“Now do you understand? If you think you do, you’re mistaken!”

Any comments? Share them with us through the COMMENTS link.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Greater Than Our Hearts — Twenty Third Week of “Ordinary Time,” September 8-14, 2012

All my life I’ve prayed, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit” — without an inkling of what I was saying.

I knew the Father, Son and Spirit were the Three Infinite Persons of the Holy Trinity. But in praying, I half-consciously visualized them in human dimensions: not exactly as an old man, the human Jesus, and a descending dove, but something like that.

Then a Jesuit from the Vatican Observatory showed us slides of the universe: two hundred billion stars in our universe, and our sun with its solar system is only one of them. Just to find our little planet in the whole universe, one would have to be God!

And that is just the spatial dimension. To translate the age of our universe from “light years” into calendar time, I would need to know mathematical symbols that I never learned. I could not even say to someone in ordinary speech “how many years old” our universe is.

Then one day, praying the “Glory be...” it dawned on me: the Father is this immense Being reaching “from one end of heaven to the other.” The Son is as vast as the Father. And the Holy Spirit, whom I have been asking to come down and inspire me like a visiting dove, is all-encompassing. A Being too huge to imagine. And all the description just given doesn’t begin to approach the reality, being couched in physical images.

These are the Persons I am talking to!

And this God has existed “from the beginning” — beyond the reach of mathematical calculation He “is now,” when I am increasingly aware of how contingent my own being is. And he “will be forever,” when I — and everyone, everything I know — will no longer be even a memory on this earth.

This is the “eternal Life” these Three Persons are sharing with me!

I understand why the monks, when they say this prayer to end each Psalm, bow low from the hips.

Ask now about former ages, long before your own, ever since the day that God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of heaven to the other: has anything so great as this ever happened or has its like ever been heard of? (Deuteronomy 4:32).

No, not from the beginning. It only “is now” that the Word made flesh has revealed him. And it “ever will be” revealed to all who “in Christ” will live with him forever — “world without end.”

Any comments? Share them with us through the COMMENTS link.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Love is Union of Hearts — Twenty Second Week of “Ordinary Time,” September 1- 7, 2012

Everybody knows that the Greatest Commandment is to love: love God as All, and our neighbor, no longer “as ourselves,” but according to Christ’s “new commandment” — “Love one another as I have loved you.” Which is humanly impossible.

So we love by surrender to “grace” — that is, to the divine Life of God within us. This really means surrender to the living Persons of Father, Son and Spirit living in us, uniting us to the Life they are living, acting in and through us, letting us share in their own divine life and action. To act by grace is to act by God.

The opposite of love is hate. But few of us really hate anybody else. So, to be practical, we have to ask what the “groundlevel opposite” is to love. It is disunion.

After giving his “new commandment,” Jesus prayed to the Father:

“I ask... on behalf of those who will believe in me... that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

This is how Jesus is “glorified” in the Church. Our unity is the visible proof of his victory over sin.

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.

We forget this constantly. At least, I do. I “fight for the right.” I condemn errors and those who are teaching them. And when I am accused of error (always falsely, of course!), I don’t make peace; I make war. I know only too well what Gandhi meant when he spoke of the “rage of being right.”

Then God says to me through Paul:

Let no evil talk come out of your mouth, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God...

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you... Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us...

When I’m right, I’m wrong;

When I’m strong, I’m weak.

When I’m weak, I’m strong.

When I’m wrong, I seek.

Any comments? Share them with us through the COMMENTS link

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Doing the Impossible: Twenty First Week of “Ordinary Time,” August 26 to September 1, 2012

It is not easy to love one another as we should in this world. Fortunately, Jesus has given us confidence by making it absolutely impossible.

The old Commandment was, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That is, at least theoretically, something we might be able to do. And if able, then we are obliged. If the ball is in our court, it is up to us to hit it.

But Jesus took the ball out of our court by making it impossible for us to do what he commands. He changed the Commandment.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another... just as I have loved you (John 13:34).

That is impossible. To love as God does, we would have to be God. The old Latin proverb says, “Ad impossibile nemo tenetur”: “No one is bound to do the impossible.”

So, first of all, we can relax. Jesus isn’t calling us to make some superhuman effort to love as he does. “Superhuman” means “supernatural,” and we can’t achieve that by any kind of effort. On the other hand....

What we cannot do by effort, we can do by surrender. They didn’t teach us that in grade school.

Yes, we are called to live a “supernatural” life. We are obliged to. As Christians, we have a moral obligation to do the impossible. But not by our own efforts.

To love as Christ loves, we have to surrender to letting him love in us and through us.

In us: Jesus is in us, sharing our life and sharing his life with us. Our life is a partnership with God: a divine-human way of living in which we do what is divine by letting Jesus in us do it through us. We surrender to him as “senior partner.” We let him act.

But for him to act through us, we have to choose to give expression in our physical, visible, human actions to the spiritual, invisible, divine action of Jesus living in us.

We love as Jesus does by surrendering to letting him love in us and through us. The ball is in his court. We don’t try to hit it; we let him hit it. But for Jesus to hit the ball on earth today, he needs a body. That is what we contribute to the partnership. We make his divine love human by giving it human expression. We speak and act in a way that expresses the divine love that Jesus in our hearts is sharing with us. We give it human, physical expression. As his partner.

In a partnership, there is only one action: the act of the corporate whole. When the “corporation” does something, neither partner is doing anything, and both partners are equally doing everything.

So when we love as Christ’s body and he loves in us and through us, Christ is loving humanly and we are loving divinely. Our bodies are not “packaging.” They — with our human minds and hearts — are our contribution to the partnership. What Jesus does through us, we do in him. What he does humanly, we do divinely, and vice-versa. Jesus is loving as a human. We are loving as God.

Does that take off the pressure? If not, reflect on what it means to “surrender.”

Any comments? Share them with us through the COMMENTS link.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Simple as One-Two-Three: Twentieth Week of “Ordinary Time,” August 19 to August 25, 2012.

When you “go to” Mass, you can “be there” passively, hoping that something might turn you on (and it probably won’t), or you can go to participate — and then you have to make it happen.

The three magic words Vatican II gave us are “conscious, active and full.” That is the participation that works.

Surprise! I am not going to analyse them. I am going to give three other words that will help you get into that kind of participation.

The words are “faith,” “love” and “hope” — in that order. Be conscious of them in turn, activate them in that order, and you will participate fully in the Eucharist.

During the Introductory Rites and the Liturgy of the Word (up until the end of the homily and Profession of Faith), listen for invitations to be aware of what you believe. Listen to what the words of the presiding priest and your responses to them say you believe. Then say them, actively believing. Actively express your faith that you are living by the divine life of God (the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ), know the love of the Father and are called into the mystical “communion of the Holy Spirit” with God and others.

Listen to what the words of the Gloria proclaim about the Father, Son and Spirit. They are saying what you believe. Say them as if you believe what they say. Say them choosing to believe.

Don’t listen to the readings. Listen to God speaking to you through the readings. Listen to what he is calling you to believe. Believe it.

Do the same with the homily. Forget about whether it is good or bad; listen for what it challenges you to believe. And to do as an expression of your faith. Process what you hear. Be a “doer of the word,” not just a hearer.

From the Presentation of the Gifts through the Eucharistic Prayer, be consciously, explicitly loving. Put yourself on the plate with the bread and wine to be placed on the altar and offered. Present your “body as a living sacrifice” (see Romans 12:1), pledging that where your live body is, you will be sacrificed to letting God work through you for the good of others. Make every word of the Eucharistic Prayer an expression of your praise and gratitude, your love for God and others. Offer yourself with and in Jesus as his act of offering himself on the cross is made present. You are in that host. Offer yourself, your own “flesh for the life of the world.”

And when the Rite of Communion begins, start looking forward with hope. Everything from the Our Father on puts our focus on the “end time,” on the “blessed hope” of Christ’s return and the manifestation (epiphaniam) of his glory. Communion is a preview, a foretaste of the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.” Be conscious during it of the “peace and unity” present in the community at that moment — a preview and motivating taste of the peace and unity of the Kingdom that animates us to work for peace and unity on earth now. “That there might be peace in our day.” To work with persevering hope in spite of the hopelessness of it all.

After all have received Communion, enclose yourself with Jesus in your heart. “Taste and see that the Lord is sweet.” You have within you, right now, all you need to be perfectly happy forever. Let the rest of your life be anticipation enlivened by experience.

Stop wasting your time “going to” Mass. Start participating with faith, hope and love.

Any comments? Share them with us through the COMMENTS link.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Does Power Always Corrupt? — Nineteenth Week of “Ordinary Time,” August 12 to August 18, 2012

If this blog raises more questions than it answers, that may be good. A question that makes us think can be better than an answer that shuts down our brain.
Lord Acton wrote in his famous letter to Bishop Creighton after Vatican I declared the Pope had supreme power in the Church, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Is that absolutely true? Does divine power corrupt? Is it dangerous to be “empowered by the Holy Spirit” as Jesus promised the Twelve they would be (and us with them) at Pentecost?
Apparently Paul found it so. When he was “caught up into Paradise and heard things that no mortal is permitted,” he said “a thorn was given me in the flesh... to keep me from being too elated.”
God taught him the secret of survival: “Power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul drew the conclusion: “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
When Peter was “weak” and said what the power of his own “flesh and blood” had not revealed to him, but the “Father in heaven,” he was strong in faith. This moved Jesus to make him Pope. But when, immediately after, strong in his own opinion, he opposed God’s plan, Jesus told him, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Even divine power corrupts if it is not matched by proportionate experience of weakness. If this is lacking, we need to supply it. Jesus said the greatest among us will survive by becoming the least of all. Power is saved by conversion into service, prestige by rejecting all signs of it.
Even when, empowered by grace, we establish control over our passions and begin to live good, well-ordered lives, we should be scared to death! Control is power, and power corrupts. Control is addictive. Once we establish control over ourselves, we don’t want to give it up — even to God!
Control is the curse of the people Teresa describes in the “Third Dwelling Places” of her Interior Castle. In them “reason is still very much in control. Love has not yet reached the point of overwhelming reason. But I should like us to use our reason to make ourselves dissatisfied with this way of serving God, always going step by step.”
Teresa says “we are so circumspect we fear everything; we don’t dare go further” by following inspirations of God. She is speaking of those who will not walk on water unless they see stepping stones. Who will not set out for the Promised Land without a map of Egypt. Or follow a star unless they can see where it is leading. These prudent, controlled people are the natural candidates for administrative positions. Above all, we want our bishops to be “safe” — like the first Pope warning Jesus off the path to crucifixion. But this timidity stifles the Spirit in the Church. Teresa says, “Let’s abandon our reason and our fears into his hands... Let those in authority take care of our bodily needs; that’s their business. As for ourselves, we should care only about moving quickly so as to see the Lord.”
Teresa says “it is very characteristic of persons with such well-ordered lives to be shocked by everything.” She adds, “Perhaps we should learn from the those who shock us what is most important” — even though we may “behave ourselves better and have a more acceptable way of dealing with others than they do.” If the hand of a smooth administrator on the tiller is keeping our boat in safe waters, we may have smooth sailing all the way to nowhere!
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Saturday, August 4, 2012

What Rallies the Risen? The Psalms! — Eighteenth Week of “Ordinary Time,” August 5 to August 11, 2012

The truth is, I never got much out of the Psalms. At first I said I didn’t know “what they meant.” This from a man who used to teach poetry! Then I just found them boring; I couldn’t “get into them.” I wondered how the Benedictines could stand to chant them all day.

Guess what? Growing never stops. I just rediscovered the Psalms. Now I am saying: “I’ve been missing all this! If I had been a Benedictine, I would be filled now with what I am just beginning to appreciate. And what is that?

In last week’s Wednesday reading (Jeremiah 15:10-16), the prophet wishes he had never been born! He complained that God sent him to minister to his people, and “all of them curse me.” And those who do not curse do not listen. Christian ministry is discouraging by nature, because its goal is to urge people to live on the level of God! We who are the risen body of Jesus on earth are called to let Jesus speak and act through us in everything we do. That is a “hard sell.” Paul said it like it is:

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 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 (Colossian 3:1-3).

Paul promises: “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” But in the meantime, ministers who preach this get a discouraging response. So most of us are tempted to “dumb it down” and just urge people to live good, moral lives by the going standards of the culture. We think we are being prophetic Christians by fighting against abortion, when that is a sin anyone with a conscience should abhor. As Christians we should focus on healing those who have had abortions, not on “preaching to the choir” about how bad they are.

And we can do it. The mystery that only Christians know, is that all who were baptized into Christ’s death, died and rose in him, have no record of sin. All the sins they committed before or after Baptism, if they have repented of them, are not just forgiven but taken away by Jesus as “Lamb of God.” No woman “in grace,” who lives the life of God as Christ’s risen body, has ever had an abortion. If one did, that woman — with all her sins — “died” with Christ on the cross and rose with him as a “new creation.” Her sin was not just forgiven, but taken away. Paul says

For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to a new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. You were dead because of your sins.... Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins. He cancelled [other translations: blotted out, wiped out, effaced, erased] the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross (Colossians 2:12-14; see Acts 3:19).

In other words, Jesus is an A+ redeemer: he doesn’t just forgive our sins, he takes them out of our history. Absorb that.

The Psalms will help. Repeatedly, they focus us on God’s power, God’s forgiveness, God’s healing, God’s victory over all our enemies. Now I read them looking for encouragement.

And I find it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Ugly Jesus — Seventeenth Week of “Ordinary Time,” July 29 to August 4, 2012

Talking to a friend whose son no longer assembles with the community for Mass or baptizes his children — but claims to love Jesus — I just realized how “unchurched” Catholics can believe they “accept Jesus” when they do not accept the Church. We were never taught the real mystery of the risen Jesus. We thought Jesus rose as an individual, and that we can relate to him as an individual. That is ten percent right and ninety percent wrong.

Yes, Jesus came out of the tomb in the body he got from Mary; the body that hung on the cross became alive again — but not the way Lazarus did (John 11:1-45), by just “coming back to life.” The body that rose “glorified” was the body of the “whole Christ,” head and members. When God raised Jesus from the dead, he “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6; see Colossians 2:12, 3:1). If we accept Jesus risen from the dead, we have to accept all who rose with him. If we do not want to associate with the risen body of Christ, the Church, we can't associate with Jesus.

Jesus’ condemnation of those who do not recognize him in the poor and needy apply also to those who do not recognize him in the Church: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” He is also saying, “If you reject the least member of my body, you reject me.” To reject the members of the body is to reject the head.

Jesus says today, “If you cannot accept me in my ugly body — in my body on earth wounded by sin and sometimes stinking with its infection — you cannot accept me.”

Think about it. Why did Jesus insist so much on mutual forgiveness (Matthew 6:15, 18:21-35; Luke 6:37)? Why did John say so strongly that love of others is the proof we are living by the life of God (read all of 1John)? “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.’” Those who cannot love Jesus visible in the Church (although “covered with sores” and sinfulness Luke 16:20), are kidding themselves if they think they love Jesus.

We are deluded if we think we can have a real relationship with the “man from Galilee” — the Jesus of the Gospels who spoke inspiring words, healed the sick and died for us with incomprehensible love — without entering into real relationship with the risen Jesus, Jesus living today: Jesus speaking and acting in the members of his body, the Church. If we think we can “follow Jesus” without assembling with his body on earth, we don’t understand the mystery of the resurrection. Jesus only walks in the company of his disciples — good ones and bad ones.

The great teacher of the Christian mystery is Paul. He never met the historical Jesus. The Jesus he met on the road to Damascus identified himself as identified with his Church: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Paul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Paul understood. From that moment on, the core of everything Paul preached was “the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

The “hope” of glory. We will not see the Church in all her beauty until we see her “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband... holy and without blemish” (Revelation 21:2; Ephesians 5:27). But if we don’t accept her now in her imperfection, we never will see her in her perfection.

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