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

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.