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!”

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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.”

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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.

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