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Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Eph 5:15-29) August 19

“The days are evil but be filled with the Spirit”

Conscience is higher than institutional religion

Today I prefer to concentrate on he first reading which has two main points, the rejection of evil and life in the Spirit. The letter to the Ephesians has a relatively mild view of the evils of the world: “Be angry but do not sin.” “Thieves must give up stealing.” “Put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander.” And “Fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you.” We may say,”All of this I have done since my childhood.”

The crux of the argument is this. “Good teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?” The answer is known: obey the Commandments and the laws of the church. If the Ten Commandments are not enough for you, there are 613 of them in the Torah, 1,752 canons in Canon Law, and 2,865 articles of discipline or faith in the Catholic Catechism. Even if we follow all these laws, we are not justified by obedience but by faith. Obedience and the avoidance or evil are clearly not enough. You must be filled with the Spirit.

“Do not grieve the holy Spirit of God with which you were sealed.” Or in different terms, do not grieve the voice of God in your conscience. Conscience is greater than institutional religion, the prophets told us. There are so many crimes that were committed in the name of obedience and the lack of conscience, from concentration camps to...

The Founding Fathers recognized the rights of conscience in religion, while for another 200 years the Vatican allied itself with repressive regimes. Vatican II recognized the right to religious freedom, but Canon Law under papal direction made loyal dissent illegal for Catholics. For over 50 years victims have reported hideous sex crimes by priests but the hierarchy used cover-ups to silence them and their own conscience. Ultimately it is newspaper reporters and the secular courts that showed conscience. As you can see, conscience is higher than institutional religion, but also more elusive.

Question: What is it you have done since childhood? Is it just obey the rules to stay out of trouble? Today’s reading calls us not to grieve the voice of conscience. Do you listen to conscience by reviewing your day?

Send your reflections and comments to hegy@adelphi.edu

COMMENTS

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Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Jn 6:41-51) August 12

“Whoever believes has eternal life”

Today’s gospel is full of extreme aphorisms: “Whoever eats this bread will live forever,” “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven,” and “Whoever believes has eternal life.” These statements are best understood in light of the opposition between light and darkness of the Prologue: “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

“Whoever believes” would be best translated as “whoever has faith.” We now realize that there are many levels of faith while beliefs are either true or false. Also: “there are many mansions in my Father’s house”– there are many heavens for people of many faiths, not just an economy class, the same for all. How do the various levels of faith lead to eternal life? In short, as is in Romantic love, religious faith is based on constant mutual attention; faith never sleeps. Do you have morning or evening encounters with the Loved One?

“Whoever eats this bread will live forever” is also best understood in light of the Prologue: “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” The Word is to be received, consumed and appropriated, and this Word gives life because He is life. Needless to say, one must nourish oneself with this bread daily if possible. He is also light for the mind for those who study his word. Neither a life-time of study nor a multi-generation library can contain it. Again, like for all studies, it takes years to make progress. We believe in the Holy Spirit and in the possibility of miracles, but not in progress through magic; rituals are not magical performances. The heavenly bread becomes a source of life usually through a life-time of appropriation.

Let’s not be fooled by simple phrases like “In God we trust” as on our currency or “Truth makes you free,” which is the motto of the CIA. “However believes has eternal life” speaks of the whole mystery of salvation. So what does it say to you?

QUESTION: How do you make the bread of Jesus Christ source of life in everyday living?

Send your reflections and comments to hegy@adelphi.edu

COMMENTS

Faith involves the whole person

Here's the line that particularly resonated with me: “Whoever believes” would be best translated as “whoever has faith.” This hooks up nicely with Jesus speaking to Thomas after the Resurrection when he admonishes Thomas to be (in my interpretation) "faithful" instead of "unfaithful" (and in place of the usual "believing/unbelieving" binary. Growth in faith is not simply an exercise of volition to respond to a challenge of belief, but something which involves the whole person and grows more gradually (and unevenly) over time.
Jim Bretzke SJ james.bretzke@bc.edu
now at Marquette University

I see two messages. First: we are offered a gift. The gift is for "everyone."Second: this is not a spectator sport. We are called to be that living bread to others, often in very ordinary ways. Do we take seriously Jesus' example, that is, to give ourselves totally to nourish others?
Dolores Christee dlchristie@aol.com
Shaker Heights, OH

On Hurting and Healing

Last weekend I had a harrowing experience of anger and disgust at some public manifestations of bigotry in the media and ignominy with the church scandals...Then Sunday came along, and at Mass God spoke to me. The Second Reading (Ephesians 4:30-5:12) seemed directed very pointedly to me: “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you.....” Chastized, I knew I was being severely admonished indeed. I swallowed my anger, and—hopefully—I have learned my lesson. Surrender to persecution, no, but patience, steadiness, forgiveness, yes. Then in the Gospel, the Lord went on to tell us, “No one can come” to Him “unless the Father... draw him.” I must learn to be compassionate and “understanding” even to those non-Catholics who hate us. And within the Church, even to those in ecclesiastical authority over us. Moreover, as Pope Francis has said more than once, the embarrassment, the “shaming,” that all Catholics are passing through because of the scandals is the “sacrificial offering” whereby we do public and collective penance for the public sins of some in our midst. In Christ, the Mystical Body heals itself in Christ. Healing often hurts, hurts very much.
Robert Magliola rmagliola@yahoo.com
Assumption University of Thailand (retired)

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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost. (Jn 6:24-35) August 5.

The bread of life in its many forms

Jesus as bread of life has been understood in many different ways. For some Christians, Jesus is the bread of life through scripture only. Some churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper once a month only. The meaning of “This is my body” has also been understood differently within Christianity.

In the Didache of the first century we read about the broken bread, “We thank You, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant.” Here the emphasis is on the symbolic nature of the broken bread: “As this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together.” At the other extreme, at one time people believed that Christ is physically present in the Eucharist the way the pope in present in the Vatican, as attested by the belief in miracles of bleeding hosts.

The “real presence” of Christ refers to something more than a symbol, but what? His presence is spiritual, not physical. Of course God is present in the whole universe. More specifically, Christ is present in the scriptures, in the sacraments, in the liturgy and the praying communities, in the pastors and the flock, and in the bread and wine.

These beliefs are not very important unless one acts upon them. Believing that Christ is present in scripture is of little use if one does not read scripture, and believing in the “real presence” is meaningless to the mice hiding in the walls and the beggar spending the night in the church.

What is most important is the active belief that the presence of Christ is relational: there is no “presence” when one is absent. A presence is relational when it is mutual and constant – like the mutual presence of lovers. Of little consequence is a five minute mutual presence on Sunday morning. To be food for life in a mutual presence, Christ needs more than beliefs and a few minutes per week.

Question: How to you see Christ as the bread of life?

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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost. (Jn 6:1-15) July 29.

Miracles are signs — of what?

We all know that the multiplication of the loaves refers the Eucharist but that’s a first grade catechism answer. There is more to biblical “signs” than catechism. If Jesus is the “sign” or image of the Father, then what are his miracles signs of? Each generation has to answer in its own way, “Who do you think I am?” And, what are his miracles a sign of for you?

“For me Christ is life and to die is a gain.” “Nothing will separate us from the love of Christ.” “It is not I who live but it is Christ who lives in me.” These are exceptional professions of faith on the part of St. Paul.

Most of Paul’s letters begin with a blessing. To the Corinthians he wrote, “I give thanks always on your account for the grace bestowed on you in Christ Jesus.” But the Corinthians for Paul were like a thorn in the flesh. They were polarized in endless disputes and one of them was a sexual pervert. Paul had to write three times to the Corinthians (the third letter is lost) and once in tears. But here is the point: all is grace to give thanks for; all things are signs of God’s creative generosity.

Miracles are marvelous events (from Latin “mirare:” to admire, to marvel). There are many marvelous things that happen to us, but we may say, “It’s just a coincidence,” or, “It’s good luck,” or “I was born under a lucky star.” No! All coincidences are God’s gifts. What do they mean? Coincidences are signs through which God may communicate and their meaning depends on our profession of faith of who Jesus is. Poets can see the extraordinary in the ordinary; so can faith. It is faith that makes us admire and see, and leads us to give thanks. Most people have stories of divine assistance in extradorinary coincidences.

Question: What are your experiences of divine assistance in exceptional circumstances?

COMMENTS

Don't Forget the Leftovers

The loaves and fishes passage is presented in this gospel as a significant “OH WOW” moment. It must be, since we find it repeatedly, in the gospels and in the Hebrew scripture (Elijah’s feeding story and the Moses’ miracle of manna). In John, of course there are alterations that appear to be minor but have great significance. Unlike in the synoptics, here Jesus himself distributes the food. The event takes place near the feast of Passover. The happening is described, as Pierre notes, as “sign” and not a “miracle.” It is not a pointer to an extra-worldly action or a gimme-God parable.

Do we trust that our very flesh is nourished and perfected in the bread of life, in real time? Do we believe that we are precious people sustained by the manna of God’s love and unconditional acceptance? The Passover is continued in the celebration of the community of believers and extended into the rest of world by the “bread of life” we carry in our being.

When we or others experience pain, cry, feel alone, this food is available to nourish us. And there is enough to nourish others. Is not God present most richly when we hit bottom, when our hunger and weariness are at their nadir? Check out those twelve baskets. Do not miss the miracle.
Dee Christie, dlchristie@aol.com
Shaker Heights, OH

The real miracle

 As Monika Hellwig noted years ago, the real miracle of the Eucharist is in the spiritual transformation of the believer, not in the transformation of the bread and the wine.  I would only add that the deeper meaning of the Eucharist is to recall the self-sacrificing life of Jesus as summed up in his passion and death and to urge us to imitate it ("Do this in memory of me").
Joseph Bracken, bracken@xavier.edu
Xavier University

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Tenth Sunday after Pentecost. (Mk 6:30-34) July 22.

Moved with pity

The Greek word translated as “moved with pity” is better rendered as “his heart was broken” or “he felt sympathy deep in his gut.” It is a word that recurs in the Gospels to indicate intense sympathy. For instance, in Luke 15, Jesus uses the word to describe the father’s reaction to seeing the (so-called) prodigal son off in the distance, returning home at last. This deep, gut-wrenching compassion is at the core of how Jesus responds to us. Christ’s compassion is so vast and strong that it breaks his heart to see us suffer.

Naturally, we should go and respond likewise to the suffering of our fellow human beings (and even, to an extent, non-human creatures). It is easy to grow numb to the never-ending stories of devastation on the new and in our relationships. The shootings, the opioid crisis, the crisis over the horrible treatment of immigrants and refugees, climate change—the bad news is endless. Then there are people we know who tell us their stories about battling cancer or addiction. I want to care and work hard to convey my sympathy or at least empathy, but it is challenging to do that every single time.

Of course, we need to take time for self-care, as Jesus seems to do with the disciples. Sometimes, though, we have to put the self-care aside, at least for the moment, to tend to the need right in front of us. Jesus does that in our reading. When he sees the people, who are interrupting his down time, his heart breaks, and he helps them.

Thanks be to God that it is not all up to me. The Trinity is the one ultimately responsible. Also, thanks be to God that the Church is not just me. All of us, guided and empowered by the Trinity, fed through the Word and the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, supported by the communion of saints, both living and dead, are in this together.

May we all assist one another in taking time to rest and also feeling that heart-break for those in need.
David VonSchlichten, vonschlichten@setonhill.edu
Seton Hill University

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Nineth Sunday after Pentecost. (Mk 6: 7-3) July 15.

Missions begin at home

Our most common educators in the faith are our parents, mostly mother, only secondarily our catechism teachers, and lastly our parish priest. Most homilies this week may encourage people to get involved in missions – a noble endeavor. But missions begin at home: unless people are “missionaries” to their children, they have little faith to share with others.

  • Parents (usually mothers) should read the bible to their small children, even before they can read (I did not).
  • Parents should prayer with their children, starting when they are small – something more than saying grace before meals (I seldom did).
  • Parents and children should read the bible together, maybe once a week (I did only a short time)
  • Parents should speak about matters of faith with their children, especially as they go through sacramental preparation and religious education (I seldom did).
  • The whole family should go to religious events (conferences, pilgrimages, visit to churches or shrines (I seldom did).
  • Finally (if encouraged by Vatican II pastors) parents should be active in voluntary associations and ministries and encourage their adolescents to do the same.

Some parishes support a poor sister parish abroad. This may be the opportunity to make a regular financial contribution to a missionary charity. One may become a godparent to a child abroad through financial support.
Many churches (especially evangelical churches) organize short mission trips of a few days or a week. Such trips are usually great eye-openers for many people.

There is an enormous potential of good will and manpower among seniors. Their contribution could be a new wave of both giving and receiving. Mission starts at home, but it requires as much listening as it does giving.

COMMENTS

Only sacri-fice “makes holy”

It saddens me that so many, including my own children, find many who represent the public face of the good news do nothing like that. Two of my kids have put it much this way: “Mom, I know that you taught us justice and caring; and I know those values came from the Catholic faith you hold. Nevertheless, what I hear preached from the pulpit is not justice but exclusion and hate. How can I be a part of such a community? I won’t bring my kids to such a place.” While their argument has holes, it has merit as well.

That message of exclusion, of we-are-better-than-you, of sin not love seems so loud to many that they cannot hear the deeper offer of God’s love. They do good, yet the good they do is not nourished and replenished by the community of the bread of life. They get discouraged, they drop out.

I am saddened by the emphasis often of the both church and country on partial pieces like abortion and gay marriage rather than see the bigger picture of intrinsic human dignity and rights (see Pacem in Terris), racism, health care, and basic needs (translation: take care of pre-natal and post-natal care of all human beings). And Pierre is right. As a senior I have time and energy to listen, to care, to heal and cast out demons. Maybe I can pack my small bag and join others to do so.
Dee Christie, dlchristie@aol.com
Shaker Heights, OH

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Eighth Sunday after Pentecost. (Mk 6:1-6) July 8.

The rejection at Nazareth: No faith seeking understanding

- “Where does this man get all this? Is he not the carpenter?” Please answer!
- “What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is not his sister here with us?” Please answer!
- “"What sign can You show us to prove your authority?" Please answer!

In matters of beliefs we usually ask for proofs or explanations, as in math and science. In class, any student can stand up and say, “I have a question. Please answer! The Jews were simply asking questions. For them religion was a question of correct beliefs. They wanted answers that can be accepted passively.

Hear the prayer from an unknown complainer. “I have become like dust and ashes. I cry to you, but you do not answer me. You have turned into my tormenter, and with strong hand you attack me... Let my accuser write out his indictment! Let the Almighty answer me.”

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm and said: ‘Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me if you have understanding.” “Then Job answered and said. ‘I have spoken but did not understand, but now I have seen you. Therefore I disown what I have said.’”

In matters of faith, seeking is active, not passive; it precedes and hopefully leads to understanding, not the opposite. One cannot summon God to court and demand answers to our questions. Faith must begin with a humble seeking, God may or may not answer out of the storm. Faith and understanding are a divine gift.

When reading this Sunday’s gospel, do you find it uninspiring? I did. I had to consult commentaries and reach out for understanding. Only humble seeking can bring forth inner light.

Reflection. Isn't it a common tendency to identify the Christian faith with beliefs and doctrines? E.g,.in bible reading, in church teachings, in personal questions like those of Job.

COMMENTS

[The ability of being amazed]

In Nazareth, the amazement of what was happening in the person of Jesus captivated people. But in a society where public acclaim was a right by birth more than a possibility to be attained, the people could not fathom that maybe God could break that pattern. Maybe we also tend to forget about what God can do in our own settings in and through the lives of others. Overlooking what God is doing in our own settings happens to all of us, but hopefully not so often as to be a pattern in life. May God help us to see the holy things that are happening in our own midst.
Bill Warren, wfwarren@aol.com
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

[Faith is not doctrine]

Faith seeking understanding will never find it if the attitude is purely intellectual and dismissive. This is not about doctrine. If I look for answers and proof instead of openly seeking relationship, I get nowhere. Notice how Jesus responds. He is distressed that his reaching out is rebuffed. This is what happened also in Mark 10 with the rich young man: Jesus “loved him.” The man couldn’t handle it and “went away sad.”
How often do we miss Christ’s presence in our lives in simple encounters, in giddy gatherings, in acute agony? That lovely friend is there to listen, to laugh with us, to hold us tightly when we hurt. We can see that presence, feel it; but only if we are open. God’s presence is fleshed in the Christ of our everyday. Do we believe that? Do we really?
Dee Christie, dlchristie@aol.com
Shaker Heights, OH 

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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost. (Mk 5:21-43) July 1.

Jairus: faith in the throngs of death

– “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” to which Jesus replied:
      – “Do not be afraid, just have faith.”

How can you have faith when there is no future, when everything is dark, when you are in a tunnel with no end? My daughter is dead: this is irreversible. How can I have faith now?

After Lazarus’ death, Martha complained to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Why did you not heal him before it was too late? Yes, I know: “You are the resurrection and life – in the other world!” Then Mary rushed to the scene and repeated, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” How can you have faith when it is too late?

Just think of the hundreds migrants lost in the Mediterranean Sea when no country wants to accept them, or the migrants at the Mexican border separated like cattle into adults and children. How can they have faith? Many of us have probably been in a situation where there seemed to be no future, maybe not as stark as that of Jairus and the immigrants. The question is the same: how can you have faith when there seems to be no future?

Faith gives hope, and hope by itself makes impossible life possible. Without hope there is no future. Faith is both a divine gift and a decision. Faith is different from optimism which sees life in rosy colors. Faith is based on the conviction that God is greater than death, no matter what. Faith is not the hope that things will turn out the way we expect, and often this is not the case. Faith is hope in hope, hope in a power than is greater than our expectations.

Here is the story of an Pentecostal pastor. When his father was dying, he launched a prayer campaign for his miraculous healing. And the father recovered. Ten years later, the same happened but the father died. This failure became a crisis of faith for the whole congregation. Then in prayer, the pastor heard an inner voice saying, “I know what it is to lose your father. I too had to bury my father Joseph when I was still young. But the power of God is greater than death.” At these words the pastor wept and his crisis of faith was healed. Maybe that was the miracle that he needed. Faith is not hope for a miracle according to our expectations but something greater than that.

Reflection: Have you been in a similar situation? What happened then?

COMMENTS

[In God’s ways there is a way when there is no way]

"Lord, make a way where there is no way." I heard this prayer repeated over and over in the healing and deliverance ministry at a prayer breakfast. It has become a prayer that I pray as well.

We are always urged to trust and to believe, not to be afraid. But the realities of life prove that there are things for which we have good reason to be afraid. But the truth is that, yes, there really is no way at times. Some things are very wrong and we are powerless.

God's ways are really not our ways. The God of our future has already seen and been at work preparing us and the path ahead of us. There is a kind of backward causality, prevenient grace, reversed order of things. Divine Providence reaches back toward us time and again. Perhaps this is the Christian vocation.

John the Baptist came to see how the fear of God who struck dumb his doubting father was a promised miraculous intervention. Like him, we must wait, watch, see! He is coming, the God who makes all things new, even death, especially death.
Clare McGrath-Merkle, OCDS, cmm4@verizon.net

[Listening to all needs]

In Mark 5:21-43, the synagogue leader Jairus gets a hearing and his daughter is cured but the other person in this story, a woman with whose health problems that made her unclean, is an uninvited intruder into Jesus’ social space. Who would bother with her? Jesus does, delaying his journey to Jairus’s home.

rhaps we live too often in a world that doesn’t want intrusions by needy people who don’t meet our “importance” qualifications. We don’t want to be bothered in the midst of what we deem important by peoplewe do not deem to be “important.” May God help us to hear the cries of those whom society deems as not important. Jesus ministers to all groups in society. May we do the same.
Bill Warren, wfwarren@aol.com
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost. (Lk 1:57-66). June 24

The vocation of John the Baptist and ours

When growing up, John was famous because his father had spoken to an angel in the Temple of Jerusalem. At age 14 or 15, he was eligible to be betrothed to the most prominent girl in town. He studied the Thora and started serving in the Temple like his father. Then, one day, he renounced this promising career.

News reached the family that John had been seen in a hut or cave somewhere in the desert of Judea. They were very sad at such a prospect. Of course they supported him in all the ways they could but were very disappointed. They saw no future for him. Besides nobody knew where he was and nobody was coming to listen to him.

One day someone inquired about the man in the cave. “He wears a hairy garment with a leader belt around his waist.” “That’s Elijah!” said the other who, like king Ahaziah, recognized him by his cloths (2 Kings 1:8). From then on, the news spread that Elijah had come back to prepare the way for the Messiah. And people came flocking to be baptized from all over the country.

I am currently reading a very readable story of Joan of Arc. What an incredible vocation, one that began like a firework and ended in the flames at the stake! The author of the book gave his heroine a very modest title, “A Good Heart.” In a certain sense, Joan’s mission was very simple, just go and do as told by your voices! Joan’s words at the trial have been preserved; they are inspiring by their simplicity. It does not seem that many people read the lives of saints and heroes anymore (like the story of John with a hairy garment and a leather belt.) Scholars tried to reconstruct the life and deeds of the historical Jesus but the need for historical accuracy may have killed the imagination. Washington and Lincoln need to be known without legends and exaggerations, but not without imagination. And this holds for saints and heroes. They are our best role-models; they are outstanding vocations to help our own more modest ones.

Reflection questions:

  • Was there a time when reading the stories of saints and heroes was common in your life?
  • What happened since? What life stories have you read or watched at the movies? Gandhi? M. L. King? Oscar Romero? Silence? What books or movies would you recommend?
  • Little vocations feed on big ones: tell us about it.
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Forth Sunday After Pentecost (June 10)

What is love?

This is a common topic at weddings.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:9)

The gospel of John uses the term love 19 times in four chapters, and even several times in the same sentence. But what is love? Romantic love and the psychological theories of love are of little help, and so is the opposition between agape and eros. What is needed is a translation of “agape” into modern concepts.

In homilies, love of neighbor is often equated with works of charity like those of the Good Samaritan, but that is a limited view of love.

Love has been defined as caring, using spousal and parental love as root metaphor. Caring is not static; it must change with the evolving relationships: spouses change and children become adults. Caring also implies knowledge: care must be adapted to the other person’s real needs, not one’s wishful thinking. This caring love implies dedication to the daily needs of others, being present at their successes and failures, and freely giving praise, support, encouragement, ideas, and practical help.

There is something missing in the metaphor of care: God is the creator of the infinite universe and his love for the material things is expressed in the infinite creative power of mind over matter. If God’s love in the universe means endless creativity, then love of neighbor must also include creativity through knowledge, skills, arts, sports, etc. Love as caring should not be just emotional; it must involve innovations and activities.

Finally the creative caring for others must also include a common turn to God and a concern for spiritual growth: “Remain in me as I remain in you.” But there are two major obstacles: most people do not see spiritual growth as part of their religion, and most of us are too busy to even think about it. Moreover, we may be tempted by two extreme attitudes: never speak about spirituality because it may seem irrelevant to others, or at the other extreme, make moralizing suggestions which turn people off.

I could suggest Paul’s practice of caring for his churches in prayer: “I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you.” (Phil. 1:3). Caring for others in prayer helps caring for them in everyday life.

  • What is love for you? An emotional longing? A practice of works of charity?
  • How do you include concern for spiritual growth in your relationships?
  • How would you talk about love at a wedding?

COMMENTS

Love on the occasion of Father’s Day

I am thinking of love with regard to Father's Day, a day that I have long been ambivalent about, in part because of my horrible biological father and in part because I feel unworthy of being celebrated as a father. Why should I receive a holiday to commemorate my simply doing what I am supposed to be doing? But I have no problem showering positive attention on my wife on Mother's Day.

Father's Day and "What is Love?" are certainly related. God is the ideal Parent (I am ambivalent about calling God "Father," as well) who loves us the way we should love others, even as we fall short in that love. Our biological and social families are important, but Christ creates a new family. In all these families, love is less about how we feel and more about how we live. Caring requires action and innovation. To love means to be attentive to people's needs and contexts and to respond in a way that reflects the greater, perfect love of God.

If I were preaching this Sunday, I would want to focus on the Parable of the Mustard Seed which teaches us that God can bring the great out of the small. This process is an expression of God's love. Part of this process is God cultivating a new understanding of the family that is the Church, as we heard last Sunday. In the Church, we all are to sow seeds and cultivate them in imitation of God the Father
David VonSchlichten, vonschlichten@setonhill.edu

To love all creation

True Christian love extends to all creatures, and–if one chooses to eat meat–that animal slaughter be humane. Catholic vegetarians do not argue against meat-eating as such (remember Acts 10:9-11 on Peter eating meeat!–though the message there is that no animals are "impure"), but against the cruel industrialization of animal-slaughter, and by the increasing environmental unsustainability of feeding hundreds of millions of beef cattle, pigs, etc.

I recently witnessed, on a bus from Los Angeles to San Francisco, what were literally several square miles of beef cattle, stunned and standing stiffly erect, zombie-like, in long, long, rows, around a huge slaughter house. In another incident thirty nesting Canadian geese, near a lake around which I jog, were violently assaulted and their eggs destroyed by spikes driven through their shells (literally). The deed was performed by affiliates of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The manifest lack of love for God’s creation, the cruelty of it all, pierced me to the heart.

Robert Magliola, rmagliola@yahoo.com

No fast growth in the parables of the kingdom

We live in a fast-everything society. We desire fast food, fast service, fast cash, fast internet access, fast cell phone service, fast weight loss, and we often even want fast spirituality. The first-century Zealots wanted a fast deliverance by means of a military and political victory over the Romans.

The parables in Mk. 4:26-34 give an answer to this. God works in ways that are often not even noticeable on a day to day basis. Also, God’s work often starts very small in our lives, families, and other settings. But the reality is that God is working even if things don’t fit our a “fast everything” expectations. God works at the rate that we can sustain in our lives, in ways that bring amazing results long term. May God’s patience rub off on us to where we become less of a “fast-everything” people and more of a long-term investing in God’s world people. And may our spirituality be life transforming even more than bringing a fast change.

As we celebrate Fathers’ Day, may dads remember that it takes a long-term approach to parenting and investing in our children if we are going to see the results that make a real difference in their lives and in our world. We’re in it for the long-haul because our children need and deserve nothing less.

Bill Warren
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

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Second Sunday After Pentecost (MT 28:16-20)
Feast of the Holy Trinity (May 27)

“Go and make disciples of all nations”

Discipleship today is formed through relationships, not through preaching doctrines. For instance, children imitate parents, students their teachers, and all of us follow role models in work and society, in small Christian communities, and in networks of friends. “Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.” Friends tell about their worthwhile experiences and thus enrich one another.

A major obstacle for making disciples is a fixist conception of religion, for instance a set of behavioral rules like receive the major sacraments or being born again. Such a conception was common in Catholicism before Vatican II. The younger generations have rejected this other-worldly conception but have nothing to replace it. So what is the content of religious growth?

As sons and daughters of the Creator, we are entrusted with body and mind that need to grow. Food is the natural medication of the body and physical exercise is a physical need in times of undisciplined eating and obesity. The mind must be cultivated through all forms of exploration; education is a universal right but self-education is a personal duty. This exploration will leads to all things excellent or praiseworthy: “whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—put it into practice.” (Phil 4: 8-9) We all must grow in body and mind and help others to do so.

A second obstacle for making disciples is the belief that religion is private: we should not talk about it and avoid proselytizing. A basic misconception is at work here: witnessing requires transparency about oneself and authenticity rather than propagating doctrines. People know intuitively who we are: our behavior has long ago betrayed us. Pulpit preaching is always autobiographical: by avoiding self-revelation preachers may hide some emptiness: it is easier to preach doctrine and morality than be transparent about one’s discipleship.

A third obstacle is that we are mostly busy with immediate concerns, yet most people are occasionally open to ultimate concerns. For many people God speaks through the book of experience and the book of nature (health issues). On these occasions there can be discipleship through transparent sharing in social networks, not preaching.

Finally St. Paul offers a perfect example of transparent sharing when he wrote “I have not yet arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” All of us must “press on” and if we do so and are transparent, people will notice it. Ultimately we would like to say with Paul, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philip3:13-14) This should be our ultimate testimony.

How transparent and authentic are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist discipleship and evangelization?

COMMENTS

[Trinity and Christian Discipleship as Relationships]

On Pentecost Sunday, Christians celebrated the birth of the church and seven days later, the focus is on the Trinity. The link becomes clear when one asks, what type of church was given birth to on Pentecost Sunday? What ought to be the model for this church that was founded on Pentecost Sunday? To answer the first question, the church is a community of believers that attempts always to live out the fullness of this sense of community in friendship, love, trust, respect, and openness. In response to the second question, less the members of the church forget what they are called into, the sure guide for the church becomes the Trinity.

By locating the Matthean passage on discipleship within the context of the Solemnity of the Trinity, the church is reminding itself that the guide for the church on how to live out its mission by looking up to the Trinitarian relationship. Yet the actual missiological praxis has not yet caught up.

Of recent, Cardinal Francis Arinze, argued against allowing Protestant Christians to receive the Eucharist in Roman Catholic liturgies. He states a Tridentine position that states that Protestants ought to first convert to the Roman Catholic faith and then be in the state of grace before they can be allowed to receive communion. This is juridical framework. I am not comfortable with that approach because ecclesial catholicity is rooted in Trinitarian theology and the Spirit welcomes all and does not chase away.

Finally, discipleship essentially means being invited to set one’s gaze on the inner life of God as Trinity in a world that is divided. It means becoming a church for all and not for the few who want to universalize their particularity under the guise of doctrinal purity.
SimonMary Aihiokhai, aihiokhais@yahoo.co.uk
University of Portland

“I am with you always, until the end of the world”

"Making disciples" is like creating a tasty stew. The final product cannot be hurried. It is formed in the gentle flame of slow cooking. So too the mission of teaching: use good ingredients, and then wait for the warm love of God to make them into a nourishing meal for hungry diners. Such a recipe calls for more than a pinch of humility.

Are we willing to be this kind of cook? Discipleship is not a matter of arm-twisting others into belief and charitable action but rather of God's grace. Having been a teacher – and a mom – for more than a half-century, I have experienced how little influence one has unless or until there is receptivity. Mostly it's important to be with, to watch, to listen, and to wait.

We stand and watch as Christ rises to the Father and is no longer in our sight. We hear the message, "Go in peace, to love and cook a great stew for the Lord." And the meal satisfies us all.
Dee Christie dlchristie@aol.com
Shaker Heights, OH 

“We are material”

I love the metaphor of cooking to understand discipling. Cooking isn’t about following a recipe: it takes a knack, a sense of what goes together and what goes in next. The brain scientists tell us that smell is one of the oldest senses that has evolved in us. The scent of things takes us deep, it takes us back, it helps us connect, to sense the bigger perspective. Maybe our sense of discipleship is not all visual, and not all measurable. Jesus told us we would become fishers, not hunters. Fishing takes patience, waiting, in addition to preparation.

Last weekend, in anticipation of a medical procedure, I received the sacrament of anointing. I felt the oil on my hands. I left if there for a while afterwards and smelled its very different scent. The anointer told me, “we are material.” I easily forget that because I live in my head. After hearing the readings of Pentecost, I am glad to be reminded of the material.
Dan Finucane, djfinuc@aol.com
Saint Louis University

[Reminiscences of friends and discipleship]

This weekend as we are anticipating the Memorial Day celebration on Monday, and so I'm going to try and weave in a bit of that along with Trinity Sunday. I’m going to begin by recalling a movie of 20 years ago, "Saving Private Ryan," which starred Tom Hanks and Matt Damon. I'm presuming most of you will remember the movie. It begins with an elderly version of "Private Ryan" coming across the grave at Omaha Beach of the Tom Hanks character, who had led the rescue party – and in the process sacrificed his own life. The movie then is a flashback, but the final scene shows us the elderly Private Ryan being surrounded by his wife, children, grandchildren who comfort him in his sorrow and in response to his cri de coeur: "Tell me I’ve been a good man."

I think this movie reminiscences may be woven into remarks on friendship and discipleship, and in a certain sense then too we must all "mirror" the embrace, love, and sacrifice of the Holy Trinity.

Finally, I plan to bring in the Mandate of Jesus in Matthew 28 to "go and make disciples of all nations," though I shall do a gloss on the original Greek (panta ta ethne) highlighting the Gospel command to go out to all ethnicities and not just those on the GOP approved list of potential immigrants (I shan't mention "GOP" explicitly, but I'm pretty sure most of the congregation will pick up the reference....).
Jim Bretzke S.J.. james.bretzke@bc.edu
Boston College

“As you go, Make disciples”

This Matthew text is a favorite of mine for several reasons, among which are the following. The command to make disciples (which I take as “As you go, make disciples” since the main verb is “make disciples” or “disciple”) is still vitally needed in our world today as we are called to invest our lives in the lives of others in the most positive ways possible. And I can think of no more positive manner than to help others as we seek to be the people that we were created to be and are called to be, which means living life as God desires.

The world is very short on mentors and long on critics, short on positive examples of investing life for others in a godly manner and long on self-centeredness, so I use this verse as a corrective for seeking to be long on sharing the good news by way of mentoring others, including leading them to faith of course, but even more so mentoring them in their daily lives as fellow disciples on the same road.

I’ve used the Saving Private Ryan clip on this as well, and also have used this as a call for praying for the persecuted church around the world as well as others who are facing persecuting in whatever forms. With my work in Cuba over the past 14 years, I’ve seen the patterns there of establishing mentorships for the new believers within the church fellowships, with most of the church members being involved in some way in mentoring others both within their own families and beyond with other new Christians.

This passage is a foundational one for this type of emphasis for the churches and seminary there where I work. At present, I’m trying to establish more of that practice in the life of the church where I serve here in the USA, with mentoring or disciple-making being a determined effort within the body of Christ.
William Warren, wfwarren@aol.com
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

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Pentecost Sunday, May 20 (John 20: 19-23)

Entering Pentecost Time

The celebration of the birthday of the church at Pentecost is the highest point of the liturgical calendar. The year begins with Advent and the preparation for the coming of the Savior. Lent is the time for acetic practices leading to the Pascal Triduum. The fifty days after Easter have traditionally been the time of mystagogy, the inner illumination in the mysteries of faith. And at Pentecost the disciples were sent out to share the insights gained in their 50 day retreat. The liturgical cycle approximates in its own way the various stages of spiritual development, the via purgativa, via illuminativa, and after Pentecost, the via activa.

In today's reading we recall again the Easter morning appearance when Jesus breathed over his disciples saying “Receive the Holy Spirit,” thus opening their minds to the understanding of Scriptures. They did not receive any new revelation, only a better understanding of what they already knew. This reading about the Easter morning mystagogy is appropriately repeated today on the occasion of the Pentecost celebration..

On Pentecost day, the apostles learned nothing new, but they came to understand their past experiences. The vision of prophet Joel had become a reality: sons and daughters shall prophesy, that is, look at the future in light of the past, and young men shall have visions and old men dreams, that is, have mystagogical experiences to guide them into the future. Peter then repeated this illuminative process by saying (in substance), People of Jerusalem, you know the facts about the death of Jesus the Nazarean. Now understand the meaning: God raised him up! “Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah.” Conversions begin with a new understanding, that is, by “knowing for certain.”

After having learned to know for certain the understanding of scripture, the disciples were sent out. There will be 27 weeks of Pentecost Time during which we should look at the world in light of the gospel. The first Sunday after Pentecost is dedicated to the missionary sending,”Go and make disciples.” The following Sunday the church celebrates the New Covenant in Jesus’s blood. After a two week recess, we will follow John the Baptist into the wilderness of the world.

Do you see the liturgical year as progressive growth in the via purgativa, the via illuminativa, and the via unitiva? Does the liturgical cycle follow appropriately the seasons leading from the ascetic harshness of the winter, to the illuminative rebirth of the spring, and to the active life over the summer?

Can you related to inner illumination as better understanding of what we already know or intrinsic understanding of scripture, as opposed to outer illumination as knowing better through scholarship or an extrinsic understanding of the bible?

COMMENTS

[The power of small communities]

Signs of a new Pentecost for me mean continuing to recognize, claim, and celebrate in many and diverse ways the gifts of the Spirit at work in the whole church with profound new gifts in the laity. I am saddened when so often clericalism (and I am a priest) and institutional structures “stifle the Spirit” by failing to trust the laity. I am inspired by new ecclesial movements and individual people who refuse to give up. They know, “it's their church.”

Until a younger pastor with a heart for traditional priest centered worship changed a given parish, a few of the Renew groups were still meeting, a number of years after Renew II. A Bible study group that met for 7 - 10 years was disbanded since the group engaged and paid for an outside teacher. The pastor wanted control.

Small groups for devotion, and other programs of active engagement, have a real potential to promote and engaging Sunday Eucharist as they promote both personal devotion and a sense of belonging. The community of Sunday worship gathers the communities of the parish - communities of family, prayer groups, Bible studies, service groups, social groups, and ministry groups.
Frank Berna, berna@lasalle.edu
La Salle University

[Connecting in small things]

The link between weekly liturgy and private devotion and (or smaller group practices in this or previous times) runs parallel with the groping of our decentralized or isolated selves for something to both experience deeply and find in others. We are reaching for the group, the bigger place, for connections that give but also sustain life. What upper rooms are we sitting in (maybe individually interacting with a screen as I am now?) It seems to me that the via purgativa these days is connected to unplugging. Then comes a waking up. We can look up and see each other differently.

I find it helpful to reflect on the notion that the Spirit did not teach the disciples something they didn't already know – they were given understanding and the ability to act. Where can we connect to Christ, to the Body of Christ – to the “elements” in the meal, and to the subjects that need each other to act? Where is the breaking bread where we recognize him? In the places, some obvious, and others not so obvious where we recognize each other, and Christ in each other, there hope can surprise us. There the Spirit surprises us. Mostly I find the connections start small and are handmade. Then the larger liturgy, the work of the people, has something to work with.
Dan Finucane, djfinuc@aol.com
Saint Louis University

[Pentecost and the church of empire]

I am usually suspicious of concepts of visions that perpetuate a dualistic way of thinking, living, and encountering God. That said, i do not think illumination ought to be spoken of as inner and/or external. We each encounter God via our bodies and that ought to be understood as a holistic reality. That which is encountered internally ought also be encountered externally.

I have been asking myself the following question, Is the Christian Church today ready to embrace the Pentecost Church prior to its marriage to empire identity? The church of Pentecost was a church of concrete koinonia; it was a church of radical embrace of the other, of peace, and an icon of God’s mercy in the world. The church of empire is primarily a church of control, of identity:- who belongs and who does not? Who has the correct doctrrine and who does not? The focus is not on the Spirit; rather, it is on church structures and systems and the Spirit is only a tool used to serve those structures and systems.

I recall many times I heard a bishop in Nigeria telling his priests and seminarians that he is the church and his decisions were always confirmed by the Holy Spirit, even when the decisions were themselves products of his own clerical ambitions. The church of Pentecost is a church that recognizes the freedom of the Holy Spirit. Such a church would not be synonymous to our current juridical notions of church.

If we are to move away from the empire church, our current ecclesial systems ought to be reformed in more ways than we may be willing to accept. For example, the Church of the Pentecost was not a male only ministerial church. Are we in the Roman church, ready to let go a male-only church? Pope Francis says we should think of ways of a broader ecclesial leadership that includes everyone. In response to his wish, I say, be courageous and open ministerial ordination to include all of God's people, men and women.
Simon aihiokhai aihiokhais@yahoo.co.uk
University of Portland

[Images of Pentecost]

All the readings for Pentecost tie together, and the message is us. There is no separation among those whom God loves – with that rich and abundant love expressed in the Psalm 104 – to the universal language of God's care and ours. We float above it all, tied together securely in the risen Christ.

Christ bursts into the fearful and protective bubble of the isolated upper room, wipes away the membrane that separates the private “me” from the universal “us.” Isn’t this the message of the liturgy: to experience God’s love in community; eat the torn and nourishing flesh of the savior – God with us? We are called to become full, bright, and going out “to love and serve the Lord.” We are like those in the base communities of liberation that demand a different, non separatist, non imperial church. We are called to embrace one another with healing, with caring, with forgiveness, in fearless love.
Dee Christie, dlchristie@aol.com
Shaker Heights, OH 

[Pentecost in times of persecution]

When I think of Pentecost, what comes to mind is a scared group of disciples who become bold, a language-divided world becoming united, and a hoped for presence of God becoming a powerful reality. I’m reminded of our time in Colombia during the 1980’s with so many problems and so much violence, yet the churches kept growing and the people kept ministering and in many ways the power of God keep flowing even in the midst of martyrs, threats, poverty, violence, and overall difficulties. Pentecost represents a breath of fresh air from God in a world suffocating on its own self-centeredness and the related fallout of what so often becomes a debasing and dehumanizing tendency in this world.
Bill Warren, WFWarren@aol.com
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

[The missionary zeal of Pentecost]

The reading from Acts on Pentecost makes clear that the disciples had “assembled together,” and the Holy Spirit’s descent triggered the “inner illumination” that caused the outward expression of “speaking in tongues,” etc. Stirred by the zeal of Pentecost, the disciples went “out to all nations.”

Let me share with you an example of this dynamic at work. The Trento diocese in Italy for many years has had a Diocesan Missionary Center that organizes fourteen or so gruppi missionari (missionary groupings that are "basic communities") collectively called Comunione e Missione (Communion and Mission). These missionary groups are comprised of laity, Sisters, Brothers, priests who are posted to foreign missions (of course, the laity "volunteer" for their service abroad--often for three years and for repeated missions).

A priest celebrates Mass for each of their small meetings, and its members, the majority of which is composed of laity, share scripture, testimony, and prayer together. From this combination of “inner” and “outer” illumination, the members generate the zeal motivating them to “go out to the nations.” Almost every issue of the monthly magazine features reports back from the missionary fields (most in Latin America and Africa, but some in Asia). One issue of magazine I lookedat listed two lay missioners going to Brazil and Togo, one returning from Brazil, two Sisters going to Benin and Peru and four returning from Eritrea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroun, and Chile, Brothers returning from Bolivia, Brazil, and Ecuador, two priests returning from Brazil, five returning from Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, and Peru and six priests going to Brazil, Uganda, Kenya, and India.

This kind of connection between dioceses and foreign countries nurtures the fire of the Holy Spirit in hearts at home and abroad, and the fires start in and with "basic communities" at home and abroad.
Robert Magliola, rmagliola@yahoo.com
Assumption University of Thailand and National Taiwan University, retired

 

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ON TRIPS & PILGRIMAGES
A reflection for your summer vacation

Traveling is a basic image of our condition as homo viator or pilgrims. Trips are like rites of passage because they involve a liminal or departing stage between leaving and arriving; that’s when we can reflect on the past and prepare for the future. Everybody goes through

- leaving home, e.g. to go to college
- getting married and settling in one's own home
- family trips (me: the Liberty Bell, national parks. What about you?)
- discovery trips (me: Latin America. What about you?)
- endurance trips (martial arts. What about you?)
- intellectual explorations (pastoral sociology. What about you?)
- cultural explorations (web technologies. What about you?)
- pilgrimages (the Holy Land. What about you?)
- religious explorations (American Evangelicals. What about you?)
- retirement to complete one’s unfinished explorations
- the trips of no return: grieving for and with others

Traveling is a basic metaphor of change and discovery. Each time I was in a stage of transition, I felt the need to travel, and in the process I found a new direction for my life. What about you? (There are many kinds of adventures: intellectual, Romantic, religious, geographical, etc.)

SEE TESTIMONIES

 

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Seventh Sunday after Easter, May 13 (John 17: 11-19)

In the World but not Of the World: on Money and Time

“As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.” We are sent into the world to bear fruit. We also have our private home in this world; it is our place of comfort for family, and friendships. Are we being asked to leave this comfort zone?

We all know the basic values of society because we share them. These values are wealth, power, and fame. These are the values that make our comfort zone so homey: we appreciate the coziness of our little wealth, our deserved power at work, and the recognition for our achievements. Then we are in the world and of the world.

Wealth seeks more wealth and power more power. Millionaires want to be multi-millionaires, and multi-millionaires to be billionaires. After acquiring wealth, people often seek public power, and in the process acquire more wealth. This is being totally of the world.

The gospel values are quite different. Christians are only the managers of their wealth and they are accountable for this management. “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none.” In the civil society power is sought for personal gain while in the kingdom of God “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” . Finally, one should seek praise in the eyes of God rather than humans. Secular and religious values are totally different, yet not opposed.

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.” The secular world of wealth, power and prestige is not evil but a slippery road: cozy wealth, deserved power and social recognition are not evil but can easily become a worldly prison in which we regress.

As managers of the wealth entrusted to us, we should have a plan of generous giving, like tithing, rather than just give the equivalent of a tip at the Sunday collections. Our greatest power is our use of time; it should include service to others and silent time for thanksgiving.

In terms of money and time management, how are you “in the world but not of the world”?

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Sixth Sunday after Easter, May 6 (John 15:9-17)

“I Will Call you Friends”

It is most gratifying to be called a friend by the Most High. How shall we understand this? First of all it is a process rather than a title. “I call you friends if [and when] you do what I command.” To love one another is something that takes practice. It is more than loving one’s friends, which is easy while loving one’s enemies and all who are unfriendly to us takes much time and effort. By practicing “Love one another as I love you” we truly become Jesus’ friends.

“I have called you friends because I told you [and have given you] everything I have heard [and received] from my Father.” Friendship must be reciprocal. It is not a tit for tat; it cannot be one-sided. In that respect I have a lot to complain about.

Many friends of God have complained, some bitterly. “I must lay out a case against you, Lord. Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” (Jeremiah. 12:1). Why do others prosper and I do not? I feel I have not always been treated in a friendly manner. After five escalating complains, Jeremiah exploded: “You seduced me, Lord. You were too strong for me.” Then he slowly recovered from his anger.

Some well-intended preachers like to repeat in many ways “Jesus gave his life for your sins.” I do not buy this. I do not want anybody die for me, and my mediocre sins are not worth dying for. The Anselmian theory of buying back through blood is repulsive to contemporary sensibilities, and so are the legal notions of satisfaction and atonement. There is no mention there of he resurrection. If there is no resurrection, what the purpose of all this talk about blood and atonement?

“God became man so that man can become God.” (Augustine and Athanasius). This theology is better music. Christian life is both death and rebirth, cross and resurrection. This is the way, truth and life: Jesus died so that all can have life, and have life in abundance.

Now the opening quotation makes even more sense: “You are my friends when you love one another as I loved you.” This reciprocal love takes time and effort. There are times we must give more than we receive. Of course some people are luckier than others, but this is irrelevant to “love one another as I loved you.” For this purpose, God became man so that man can become God. “I told you this so that your joy may be complete.”

What are your experiences in your friendship with God?

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Fifth Sunday after Easter (John 15:1-8)

“If you remain in me, you will bear much fruit”

The purpose of spiritual life is to bear fruit. We have so many outstanding examples like St.. Francis and Clare of Assisi, Francis of Sales and Jane of Chantal, Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day, but these are exceptional people and we have little in common with them.

“I have no time” is a common excuse. We have to make time, which may be difficult and even impossible at times. All spiritually committed people I interviewed had found time, either early in the morning or late at night. Some have silent time, some take a walk in nature, some sing while driving.

Today Americans check their cell phones 47 times a day; that’s every 19 minutes. This amounts to five hours a day. Would it be possible to check one’s cell phone only two or three times a day? Lots of free time could be gained. Most people spend from half-an-hour to an hour driving to and from work. That’s when we are alone with ourselves if we turn off the radio. Some people listen to an inspirational tape or CD.

The brain needs silence to function. I have most of my insights when I wake up or during a nap, because I usually think about an important issue before falling asleep. The silence of meditation heals the brain and nourishes the spirit. “It is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” Irenaeus of Lyons said something similar, “The glory of God is man fully alive,” that is, alive in Jesus Christ.

“Those who keep his commandments remain in him and he in them, and the way we know he remains in us is from the spirit he has given us.” (1 John 3:24) Do we have the spirit of Mammon or the spirit of God? Can we say, “The one who is in you [or in me -- the spirit of God] is greater than the one [Mammon] who is in the world?” Anyone who belongs to God listens to God, and anyone who belongs to the world listens to the world. Depending on whom we listen to, we have “the spirit of truth" or "the spirit of deceit.” (ibid 4:4-6).

To bear fruit is learning to listen. Silent time is listening time while cell phone is chatting time. Silence and listening are good for the brain and food for the soul. “Remain in me and I in you, and you will bear fruit.” We must have listening time to bear fruit.

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Fourth Sunday after Easter

An Example of Scriptural Meditation and Preaching

On July 24, 2016, after about an hour of praise and worship, Fr. Pfleger, the pastor of St. Sabina in Chicago, came to the pulpit and said, starting in a very low voice:

I was going to preach this morning from the first book of Samuel about the choosing of David but the Lord woke me up early this morning and had me re-read today’s gospel from Luke. I do not know who this is for or why, but God has his ways and heaven has its own ways. God told me to speak about this gospel and put aside what I had prepared. I tried to be obedient because I understand this is not about me or us; it is about him. It is all about him! God had me re-read this gospel this morning at about 5 o’clock – I wish he had waited until about 7! (general laughter). I re-read that gospel we are so often focused on, that gospel where he teaches us how to pray.

So I thought, “Sure God, what you want me to preach about is the importance of prayer.” I read that first part of the gospel over and over, “Our Father who art in Heaven...” I did that over and over. Then God said, ”Keep reading.” Then I read the next part of the gospel, and what began to move inside me is where Jesus said, “God will answer you, if not because of friendship then because of persistence.” God started to teach me in my heart that somebody obviously needed to hear that. What is important is persistence.

Somebody shout “persistence!” Somebody shout “endurance!” Somebody shout “tenacity!” Somebody shout “determination.” God spoke to my heart. In the days we live, we have to have a persistent faith, not just an easy faith. Not just a casual faith. Not just a normal faith, but a persistent faith! With endurance! With tenacity!

My comments. This is a typical scriptural meditation. Pfleger usually has a devotional hour at 5 in the morning. That day he found the gospel reading un-inspiring, so he decided to preach on Samuel but God told him to put his prepared sermon aside. He tried again. He found the readings of the day un-inspiring again. A common experience! He tried hard and was ready to give up, wishing God had come at 7: then it would have been too late

“Continue reading. Continue searching.” Then, at the word “endurance” he was moved inside; he felt that God was speaking to his heart. He had found a spark of light and at once wanted to share it. This is the most important point: Scriptural meditation should lead to an inner illumination, usually about a verse or a few words of scripture. This is different from theological meditation.

He spoke with inspiration for about 35 minutes. People were moved. Then he called for an altar call around him (as in Protestant churches). Many people came forward. That lasted another 20 minutes of improvised prayer and preaching.

Here is a section of his sermon that I found most moving: Pfleger described his discouragement after another shooting in his neighborhood.

I had to go to my room, close the door and just weep. I was hurting. I had to sit down (he sits on the steps of the altar) and said “God I am tired! Your son is tired!.” God said, “Get up!” God told me to walk around my room yesterday. “Walk around your room just like Joshua did. And walk around until a spirit of determination raises up and gets louder than the spirit of discouragement. Just begin to speak about who I am. Begin to speak that I am the Almighty God, king of kings and lord of lords. I am shepherd and there is nothing you shall want. I am the light, the truth and the way....” And while I was declaring who God is, I felt something rise up in me that said, “ I am NOT going to win this battle, not in this city, not in this neighborhood, but (shouting) GOD WILL!” (People in the pews were moved and applauded).

Transcription from video of July 24, 2016

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Third Sunday after Easter

Jesus Opens the Intelligence of Scriptures

On Easter Sunday evening, Jesus explained to the disciples that “everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the Prophets and psalms had to be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to the intelligence of scripture.” (Lk:24: 44-45). Thus began the long 50 day retreat that will lead them to the full reception of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost day.

What did they do for 50 days? “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was till with you...” A retreat consists of remembering the words and deeds of Jesus’ public life in order to gain a spiritual understanding. In the 30 day long silent retreat of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius proposes to meditate on the mysteries of the life of Christ, from the baptism in the River Jordan to the passion and resurrection. It is very likely that the disciples in the Upper Room did the same: they reminisced and shared memories and in the process got a better understanding. This is what meditation is all about.

On several instances it is mentioned in the Gospels that the disciples did not understand what was going on. Now, in retrospect, it made progressively sense. On a small mountain Jesus had proclaimed, “Blessed are the poor, for your is the kingdom of God. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.” These proclamations made little sense at the time but in the light of the passion and resurrection the values of the Kingdom of God took a new meaning, although still unclear. “I have not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil them.” Such claims seemed unrealistic at the time but now no more, although it required reading again the law and the prophets to get their accurate meaning.

“If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” This may have seemed outrageous, and Jesus did not do so before the Sanhedrin. Now, not every word, not every parable and sayings, they realized, had to be taken literally. Parables are wisdom stories. Sayings use hyperboles or litotes. Scripture requires open-minded intelligence.

“If anyone should be first, he must be last of all and servants of all.” This is the opposite of reality. When Jesus said “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men and they will kill him... they did not understand and they were afraid to ask him” – like shy students. On Easter Sunday Jesus gave them a glimpse of scriptural understanding to meditate on in their 50 day retreat. And they were to meditate about it until their death.

There are no limits to scriptural understanding but there are beginnings. We are often given a glimpse of understanding. Let us not allow this little light to die out, but let’s turn it into a fire of light. That is the purpose of meditation.

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Second Sunday after Easter

Reflections and meditations

Reflections are rational and universal. Meditations are personal and involve the emotions and the will. Both are useful. The readings of Easter week 2 (Jn 20:19-31) allow us to use both.

MEDITATION. Early on Easter Sunday, Mary of Magdala goes to Jesus' tomb and rushes back to the disciples to tell them what she saw: an empty tomb. Then Peter and John rush to the tomb but John runs faster. They see nothing special. "They did not yet received the understanding of scripture." All this rushing and running lead to nothing. How often do I rush -- even to church -- and get nothing special out of it? Rushing, even for God's kingdom, is not enough.

REFLECTIONS. Later on that day, Jesus appeared to his disciples and said, "As the Father sent me, so I send you. And when he said that, he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the holy Spirit.'." That's when, in John's Gospel, the disciples received the understanding of scripture.

There have been very few outpourings of the Holy Spirit over the centuries. Today we must receive the understanding of scripture through meditation and reflection. It is like learning a foreign language, it requires daily practice. Or it is like learning to paint or play the violin, we get better only through practice.

There are poems or paintings I like which leave you cold, and vice versa. Some (and many) pages of the bible leave me cold, this is why I must begin by reading a few pages to find a passage that will inspire my meditation and reflection. We must practice that regularly, like learning to play the violin.

MEDITATION. That morning Mary of Magdalen "stayed at the tomb weeping.." She must have stayed weeping a long time, She talks with two angels and the assumed Gardner but understood nothing. But when Jesus said "Mary!" she was touched. and saw. Because she has been in a state of meditation for a long time, she finally heard the voice of Jesus. In mediation we must talk to Jesus until he says to us -- to me: "Pierre!" That's what meditation is: waiting, talking, and connecting.

Now Mary can run to the disciples and say "I have seen the Lord!" Now she has inspiring news she can share with the whole world. Now she has the understanding of scripture. It is only when we have scriptural intelligence that we get daily a better understanding of scripture and a message to share with others.

 

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Palm Sunday (Ps 22)

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

This is a feeling I felt quite a few times. The complaint goes on, “My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief.” Depression is bad, but the feeling of abandonment makes it worse.

This psalm is very long. It goes through ups and downs. At once the writer recalls the faith of Israel: “In you our father trusted; they trusted and you rescued them. To you they cried out and were not disappointed.” This was true in the past, but will it apply to me now?

“All who see me mock me. They shake their heads at me: ‘He relied on the Lord – let him deliver him; if he loves him, let him rescue him.’” This line evokes the situation in Babylon when the Israelites were the butt of local contempt as the subjugated under-class. (This psalm was probably written some time after the end of the exile.) Abandoned by God is one thing, but to be rejected by neighbors makes it worse.

The depressive mood evokes nightmarish images: “Many bulls surround me; fierce bulls encircle me. Dogs surround me; a pack of evildoers closes in on me.” In depression one has the feeling of being totally surrounded, with no possible exit.

Finally, one may contemplate one’s own death, in the worst possible situation, that of a criminal execution: “They have pieced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They divide my garments among them.” It may even be an execution by crucifixion.

Physical depression is challenging; psychological depression is morose, but spiritual depression can be suicidal, at least in thought. And it drags on. The psalmist seems to say, “It’s OK to complain on to the Lord. Complain! Complain! but keep the faith.

In a storm, the sun does not disappear; it only hides behind the clouds. It takes faith and patience to weather a storm. When it is over one can say, “You who fear the Lord, give praise! He has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch, but heard me when I cried out!”

After Good Friday comes Resurrection Day. Alleluia!

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Fifth week of Lent (Jn 12:20-33)

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Lord!

This is Laetare Sunday: REJOICE: MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY OF THE LORD! In today’s reading:: “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified...Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified him and will glorified him again.’”

The glory of God is celebrated throughout the bible, especially in the psalms. His glory shines in nature: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands.” (19:1) This is a common experience for most people. His glory also shines in his temple,” Rise up, ancient doors! Let the King of glory come in!” (24:7) People have lavished their greatest works of art to their temples to inspire reverence and to let the King of glory come in. Yet God’s greatest glory is man “You made him little less than God and crowned him with glory and honor.”

Scripture also tells another story about human greatness: “All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” But by the grace and glory of God we are all transformed. In a breathtaking sentence: “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.” ( 2 Co 3:18)

It is the greatest man, the Son of Man, who is the greatest glory of God. Yet his glory came as a high price, the price of anxiety and utter despair: “Father save me!” And worse, if possible, “It is for this purpose that I have come.” It is unfathomable how the great glory of God can be revealed under such inglorious ways..

This is the Sunday of Laetare – the midpoint in the Lent – Rejoice! He who died conquered death, so that we may all say, “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” Laetare! Rejoice!

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Fourth week of Lent (Jn 3:14-21)

To Nicodemus: on Universal Salvation

No, salvation is not limited to those born again, as one may expect from the dialogue with Nicodemus. The promise of universal salvation is repeated three times: “That everyone who believes in him might not perish.” “That the world be saved through him.” Whoever believes in him will not be condemned.” The judgement is this: “The true light which enlightens everyone, has come into the world.” Everyone who live in the light will be attracted to the truth, “so that his/her work may be clearly seen as done in God.” Those who do not live in the light will retreat into darkness, thus condemning themselves.

There is no mention here of “good works” or of church identity but of faith (“to believe” is mentioned four times in these few lines). There is a clear distinction between “believing that” in reference to creeds, and “believing in” in reference to a person. Believers often repeat their creed at church – upon command, when prompted to do so. This kind of faith is mostly based on tradition and habit; it often implied little conviction and makes few demands. “Faith in” is shown mostly in times of crisis or through religious commitment. Failures in career, finances, family life, and health often trigger questions of faith; some lose faith in themselves and sink in depression and self-destructive behaviors. Failures test whether our faith is strong enough to profess that we are not abandoned by God. Psalm 21/22 begins with “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” and ends with “I will proclaim your name.” This kind of faith is work, really hard work. It applies to all people of whatever religion.

Nicodemus was a pious Jew who had many beliefs – out of habit and custom. He needed to learn a faith beyond tradition which required commitment. “I will poor over the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of mercy and supplication, so that when they look at him they have pierced, they will morn.” (Zech. 12:10) This prophecy is part of a promise of general destruction.. When this crisis will come, people will need a new spirit and a new faith, beyond custom and tradition. This prophecy is also often applied to the crucified Christ who is the ultimate test of faith – whether, in a time of personal crisis, we can have faith in a forsaken Christ. But the crucified Jesus is also present in all tho suffer: will we then show a spirit of mercy?

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Third week of Lent (Jn 2:13-25)

The Cleansing of the Temple & the Dangers of Reform

This story, at the very beginning of the gospel of John, has the same meaning as in the gospel of Mark: it describes the conflict that will lead to Jesus' tragic end. In Mark Jesus’ opponents are the scribes and the Pharisees, while in John they are “the Jews,” an anonymous group that represents the forces of darkness like in a Greek tragedy, rather than real people.

“The Jews” asked for a sign, but were only given the image of the temple rebuilt in three days. This is an unintelligible sign by common standards. What “the Jews” expected was an unquestionable sign like the sun turning black or the moon shining in the middle of the day. Jesus is suggesting here that biblical signs require an openness to mystery that goes beyond the obvious, but from the very beginning there is resistance and misunderstanding. Even the disciples did not understand this sign until a few years later.

From the very beginning of John’s gospel, the sign of contradiction is the temple-body of God destroyed and rebuilt in three days. We thus realize, after having read the Prologue in chapter one, that Jesus is the new temple that will replace the old one, until in the heavenly Jerusalem “the temple is the Lamb [where} the glory of God gives it light.” All this is suggested through symbols.

The cleansing of the temple brings to mind the temple story of Jeremiah. The prophet stood at the gate of the temple and proclaimed, “Reform your ways and your deeds [or else] I will destroy this temple like Shiloh.” What was required was a total change of heart, “no longer oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow.” It is not this moral sermon but the indictment of “The Temple! The Temple! The Temple!” that provoked an immediate outcry: “the priests and the prophets laid hold on him, crying: ‘You must die!’” (Jr 8:1-15; 26:1-19). Clearly it is dangerous to attack people’s sacred objects, their temple, their rituals, and their ingrained traditions.

Change is inevitable. We all have to introduce changes in work and family, and they usually provoke resistance and outcry. In order to succeed, changes require proper timing. If, in a vsion, we could see the past, the present, and the future, timing would be made easy. The Spirit of God scrunizes everything, even the dvine mysteries, hence what we need is spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that we may know the mystery of God's will. Intimacy with the spirit of God through reflection and prayer is needed for reform to succeed. As in gospel times, the spirit speaks through signs–often those of every day life: a conversation, a reading, or a casual event, and these are the signs we miss most easily .

I am in the process of scrutinizing the future. I haven't seen any clear signs yet. It is tempting to decide by outselves, and then the road taken may lead to failure. May we all introduce change in wisdom and spiritual knowledge!

Inspired by the commentary of Marie-Noëlle Thabut at:
http://www.ktotv.com/video/00092706/3e-dimanche-de-carme-b-vangile align="center"> 


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Second week of Lent (Mk:9:2-10)

Transfiguration: Jesus Firstborn Among Many Brothers

By becoming transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, we will become transfigured into glory with him, in a family where he will be the firstborn among many brothers. As stated in the free translation of Voice, "From the distant past, His eternal love reached into the future. You see, He knew those who would be His one day, and He chose them beforehand to be conformed to the image of His Son so that Jesus would be the firstborn of a new family of believers, all brothers and sisters." (Rm 8:29). All things have to be re-created in him, for "he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation." (Col 1:15)

The voice in the cloud tells us what to do: "This is my beloved one. Listen to him." This line echoes Isaiah's poems about the servant of the Lord. "Here is my servant, my chosen one with whom I am pleased." To be a servant of the Lord is a life time program. Such a servant is a friend of peace, healing bruised relationships and letting conflicts die away: "A bruised reed he will not break and a dimly burning wick he will not quench."

"Upon him I have put my spirit. -- Listen to him." Listening is the greatest gift we can make to others; it is giving them our mindfulness, in body and soul. The child listen out of obedience but the disciple listens out of admiration. The child only listens when told to do something, while the disciple lists at all times to be able to say like Samuel, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,."

“Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth, like a lamb led to slaughter.” The disciple is no greater than the master but when treated harshly he can say, “The Lord is my shepherd;’ there is nothing I shall fear.” To violence he will not oppose violence. In all things he will be an instrument of peace, for where there is hatred he will sow love. “See I am doing something new!” It is the transfiguration of those transformed at the image of the Firstborn of all creation.

Inspired by the commentary of Marie-Noëlle Thabut at:

http://www.ktotv.com/video/00091811/2e-dimanche-de-carme-b-vangile

 

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Second week of Lent (Genesis 22: 12-18)

Abraham's Sacrifice: Not a Test!

To understand Abraham's sacrifice of his son as a loyalty test is probably as gross historical misunderstanding. The text of the book of Genesis was probably written at about the same time as the others books of the Pentateuch; if not, we may assume that the main ideas of all these books were discussed in relationship to one another.

In Exodus 22:28 we read "You shall give me the firstborn of your sons. You must do the same with your oxen and your sheep." This prescription comes among many others that are totally unrelated. The next one says "Flesh torn to pieces in the field you shall not eat; you must throw it to the dogs." People must have understood these prescriptions. It must have been clear to them that the oxen and sheep offered to the Lord would be slaughtered in sacrifice but not human beings.

A temptation may have emerged in the minds of some people: do not people in the neighboring nations offer human sacrifices? Is it possible the Yahweh requires a human sacrifice?The "parable" of Abraham's sacrifice may have been introduced in the Genesis narrative precisely in order to answer this question. The story makes it absolutely clear: in no way does the God bound by covenant with Abraham and his descendents want human sacrifices. The shedding of human life has always abhorrent to him. Hence the parable of Abraham's sacrifice can be understood as a thought experiment meant to reinforce the sacredness of human life.

We may apply this thought experiment to ourselves. What would we say if God said, "what you have most precious, offer it to me in sacrifice." Some people offer their lives, but this is not a common vocation. More than a thought experiment, it is a common experience to lose job, friends, money, family, and health. Many people then say, "How can God this to me!" It is the time then to renew our part of the covenant which requires love not sacrifice, faith not material things. God does not test; rather, he invites all to his banquet through faith and hope.

Inspired by the commentary of Marie-Noëlle Thabut at:
http://www.ktotv.com/video/00091808/2e-dimanche-de-carme-b-1re-lecture

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First week of Lent (Mk 1: 12-15)

JESUS’ EVERYDAY TEMPTATIONS

            Mark tells us that the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert to be tempted by Satan, but he does not describe these temptations. Instead there are a few hints of ordinary everyday temptations. They are: the temptations of success, of giving in to social expectations, or using power in order to convince, and the temptation of flee from suffering and impeding failure. These are very common temptations.

            The Markan narrative begins with a success story. In his first teaching at the synagogue of Capernaum, Jesus gains the admiration of his audience for his authority and the cure of a demoniac. Next, he heals Simon’s mother-in-law, and a night cures many people pressing at the door of the house. Clearly his reputation was set as a powerful faith healer and his future success assured. In the morning Simon beseeched him, “Healer, everybody is looking for you,”– meaning, “Let have more healings!” – “No, let us go to nearby villages to preach, for this is the purpose I have come.” (Mk 1:35-38)  Success is always very tempting but it may drive us in a false direction. Like for actors and actresses, success may cast us in limiting social roles. Success may also fill us with vanity and self-glory.

            “Who do people say that I am?” – “Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah’ and he warned them not to tell anyone about him.”  There were high expectations about the Messiah, and all were flattering. Here the temptation was giving  in to social expectations. A future of turmoil and suffering?  Peter rebuked him. “Behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as humans do.”  (Mk 8: 29-33) It is very tempting to see social expectations as God’s will. Are they?

            Shortly after feeding a crow of four thousand, the Pharisees asked for a sign. “He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign?... Then left, got into the goat, and went off to the other shore.” (Mk 8:11-13) Miracles are signs; if misunderstood they are counter-productive.  Here the temptation was to use one more sign of power to gain confidence his reluctant audience. Common tools of power to convince others are irony, sarcasm, exaggeration, belittling, yelling, even hitting. In such a temptation it may be better to leave the scene rather than use hurtful words of power that are counter-productive.

            Finally, at the prospect of suffering and public failure, Jesus in Gethsemane was “greatly distressed and troubled.”  His temptation was to flee. The movie The Last Temptation of Christ projects what would have happened had Jesus run away. At the prospect of failure, we may at times have the opportunity to run away. Instead  we may cry, “My God, my God why have you abandoned me?” Then only answer is trust. And at the end, hopefully we may be able to say with the psalmist, “The generations will be told of... the deliverance you have brought.” (Ps. 22)
            Inspired by the commentary of Marie-Noëlle Thabut at:
http://www.ktotv.com/video/00091806/1er-dimanche-de-carme-b-vangile

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19th Sunday of O.T.: Elijah on Mount Horeb (1 Kings, 19)

From the God of power to the God of silent whispers

Elijah walked forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai to encounter the God of Moses in storm, earthquake, and fire. All his life he had experienced the God of power. During the seven year famine, God had provided: “Ravens brought him bread and meat.” Later a widow provided him with little cakes, “for the Lord says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty nor the jug of oil run dry until the day when the Lord sends rain.” When the son of the widow died, Elijah prayed. “The Lord heard his prayer, and the life breath returned to the child’s body and he lived.”

The greatest show of power was the contest on Mount Carmel between the priests of Baal and the God of Israel. Elijah had proposed: “You shall call upon the name of your gods, and I will call upon the name of the Lord. The God who answers with fire is God.” The priests of Baal hopped around their altar, slashing themselves with swords. Elijah had his altar drenched with water, not once but three times. Then upon Elijah’s invocation, “The Lord’s fire came down and devoured the burnt offering, wood, stones, and dust, and lipped up the water in the trench.” Adding his own power to the power of God, Elijah ordered, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal. Let none of them escape.” And he slaughtered them all. Great is the power of our God!

At Mount Horeb, the Mount Sinai where Moses had encountered God in the fury of nature, he expected to find the same. “Why are you here, Elijah? He answered, ‘I have been most zealous for the God of hosts [the God of armies and victories]. They have destroyed your altars and murdered your prophets.’” I want revenge from the God of power, that he kill all my enemies.

“There was a strong and violent wind–but the Lord was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake–but the Lord was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire–but the Lord was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent whisper.” Elijah probably did not understand. The event was recorded, but it was understood only many centuries later.

The prophets slowly discovered that God speaks in soft whispers. He “Won’t shout, or raise his voice, or make it heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.” Elijah had murdered his opponents; maybe he realized his mistake when he confessed, “I am no better than my ancestors.” God did not give up on him but provided him with food and water for a long journey into the desert of silence. Then God revealed himself to him in a whisper.

The conversion from a God of power to one of whispers is experienced anew by each generation, by each individual. When Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus on a high mountain and his garments became white as light, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here. This is what we expected all along: a sign in the sky for all to see, a sign of your power!” Jesus turned to him and said “Behind me, Satan, because you’re not thinking God’s thoughts, but human thoughts!” What a reprimand after Peter had just been given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, that is, ecclesiastical power. Peter and the papacy may represent church power, but Peter was the first to abandon Jesus, along with all the others. God's power is greatest in weakness.

“Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet mighty in deeds and words” – a man of divine power.– “We had hoped that he was the one to restore Israel” – to restore Israel’s political power. “Then Jesus told them, “O, men of little intelligence! How slow you are to believe everything the prophets said! The Messiah had to suffer these things and then enter his glory, didn’t he?” In spite of all the prophets, it is easier to believe in a God of power than in a God of silent whispers.

The revelation on Horeb did not replace that on Mount Sinai. God still reveals himself, individually and collectively, in earthquakes and fires, or sickness and failure. It is hard not to listen to the inner voice when one is struck with cancer or a family collapse.

What are the earthquakes and fires that challenged your self-righteousness? What are your spiritual practices to listen to God’s silent whispers?

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13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (John 1:1)

God's voice in everyday life

Today on television one could see coming to Mass about 2,000 men at the end of their three day pilgrimage on foot. They had come to Cotignac, a sanctuary dedicated to Mary and Joseph. These fathers came from all over France to discuss, share, and pray for their families, especially their children. (Wives have their own 2-3 day pilgrimage a few weeks later). I found their piety during this outdoor Mass and their testimonies after Mass to be a good illustration of my understanding of John 1:1.

At the beginning was the Logos (Voice, Grand Design, Wisdom)

For more than 15 centuries, Western Christianity read in St. Jerome's translation of the bible that "In principio erat Verbum." In the Roman culture centered on rhetoric and public speech, "verbum" referred to the spoken word of orators. For us who have spent ten to twenty years learning from books, "word" unconsciously refers to the written word. At Mass, the priest often presents processionally the written Bible to the assembly. In common language, the "word of God" usually refers to the written Bible.

At the beginning of the universe was the Spoken Word: "Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light." God spoke to Abraham, Moses, and the prophets. God's Voice is life and light, never discourse, speech, or written message. Most of the Jewish Bible was written between 500 and 1,000 years after Abraham and David. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit gave the apostles a new voice and the power to proclaim God's grand design through Jesus Christ. To this day the creative Voice of God speak (never tweets) to the mind, soul, and conscience, often through the written word, and more often independently of it.

Logos means much more than "verbum." It was central in Greek culture and philosophy. It meant word but also rationality, wisdom, intelligent design, and much more. At creation, God's Voice was intelligent design for the universe in expansion. With salvation the Voice is the grand design for humankind to return to the Father. God's Word is wisdom, knowledge that fulfills, news that bring happiness, good news to share with others.

This is what I saw on the French state television on July 2. During Mass, one could see how these men were listening to the Voice, motionless, eyes closed. In four testimonies after Mass, we learned about God's Voice, grand design, and wisdom in their lives. Edouard had been a very successful CEO. Unexpectedly he went to deliver medication to sisters serving the poor in Africa. He heard the Voice, and had a dream like Joseph. It changed his life. He had found the grand design of God for his life. Bernard and Anne-Claire now have a life full of joy, they say, as the unexpected result of an accident that left Anne-Claire amnesic after a coma of ten months. They have been transformed by this trauma which gave them wisdom and silent joy. Laurent heard a steady Whisper at the annual pilgrimage of men reflecting on their role as fathers. He has learned to follow the example of St. Joseph, the soft father of his adoptive son, and to give up the authoritarian model inherited from his father and grandfather. Michèle and Jean-Marie, like Joseph the migrant to Egypt and Nazareth, learned to give up their careers as nature lovers to become ever more involved with the poor in the streets in poor neighborhood. In short all heard the Voice outside the structure of liturgy and bible studies, they came to understand the true grand design for their lives, and find wisdom and joy.

As envisioned by John in his Prologue, at the beginning was Logos, Voice, intelligent grand design, cosmic beauty and wisdom for the world. For tele-spectators like me, this program also brought forth a faint whisper of grand design and wisdom. Thanks be to God!

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17th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Mt. 13:44-52)

Misunderstanding All Four Parables

Today’s gospel reading invites us to reflect on four parables which all seem easy and obvious. The kingdom of God is like finding a hidden treasure or a rare pearl for which one must sell all one’s possessions. It is also like sorting the good and the bad fish after a catch: this is what the angels will do at the end of time.

"Do you understand all these things?" They answered, "Of course! It’s so obvious." Then, instead of congratulating them, Jesus added another parable: a good scribe must sort the old and the new. “Obvious again! What’s the point?” The apostles did not get it; this is why Jesus added this fourth parable. Let’s go over the texts.

In reference to finding a hidden treasure for which one must sell all one’s possessions Jesus had told a young man,”Sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." This is a radical demand. It is not just going to church on Sundays and saying “we have the treasure of Catholic truth.” Granted we cannot all do that, but that's what the text means.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls." One can only find the kingdom by searching. Finding God’s grand design for each of us is finding the rare pearl of our deepest identity or vocation. To find the will of God, hence our vocation and deepest identity, is a lifetime quest for which we may have to give up much of our superficial possessions.

After a catch the fishermen must separate the good and he bad fish, or in another parable, the weeds and the wheat. Let the angels do their job of separating the saints and the sinners; in the meanwhile it is our job to distinguish and separate the good and bad deeds, attitudes and beliefs. And this is also the point of the fourth parable.

To every scribe sitting in from of him, Jesus said, “Every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven [must] bring both new and old things out of his treasure chest.” All educated Jews must select both “new things” from the New Testament and “old things” from the Old Testament. This applies to all believers at all times: we must select both old things from scripture and church teachings and new things from the voice of God in nature, history, and conscience. Fifty years ago, one of the greatest mortal sins was pre-marital sex, while missing one Sunday Mass would send you to hell forever. Over the much of the last thirty years, abortion has been the greatest and often the only intrinsic evil in our culture of death. Today as ever, every scribe or educated believer must bring forth “both new and old things out of his treasure chest.”

"Do you understand all these things?" They answered, "Of course! It’s so obvious." While it may be obvious, the real problem is to practice it. In common parlance, the value of a thing is measured by its price. What is the price we are willing to pay for the hidden treasure, the rare pearl, and the search for Christian truth, identity, and vocation?

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20th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Romans 5:212-15)

“Through one man death entered the world.”

It is often assumed that the wages of sin are death. Had not God said to the first couple, “ When you eat from it [the tree of life] you shall die?”

I do not know the origin of the speculation that Adam would not have died had he not sinned. This belief continues to this day. Reportedly, “It’s commonly said that biblical creationists believe in ‘no death before the Fall’. But while humans clearly didn’t die before the fall, there’s no evidence that other life-forms didn't die.”

To understand the wages of sin as physical death contradicts the whole biblical tradition and vitiates St. Paul’s argument about Adam and Jesus.

After sinning, Adam and Eve did not drop dead but were afraid because they saw they were naked. The curses inflicted on them were clearly spelled out: labor pain and toiling all the days of life, “until you return to the ground, from which you were taken.” Throughout the Bible, death is the natural return to the dust from which the Adamites are taken. Punishment for sin may be sickness, disease, foreign invasion, and premature death, not death itself.

After forming man taken from the dust of the earth God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, obviously the breath of divine life, not just physical life – God did not breathe life into all the animals he created. Only Adam was created at God’s image, and all Adamites, not just Christians, benefit from the divine breath in them.

If we take the wages of death to be physical death, then the promised life of Jesus Christ refers tolife after death, in the other world, in a dualistic perspective. In this case we only have to wait to see this other-worldly life.

One may also read Paul’s comparison of Jesus with Adam as an individualistic theological thesis: “If by one person’s transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” This can be taken as a dogmatic statement to be accepted intellectually, the way children accept catechism teachings. By a single man, Adam, transgression brought death; by a single man, Jesus Christ, God’s grace came to overflow many. But such an interpretation does not do justice to the gist of Romans and Galatians.

Ultimately Paul's point is a comparison between the behavior of the followers of Adam leading to spiritual death, that is, the loss of divine breath in them, and the behavior of the followers of Christ leading to the gracious gift that overflows many. This is the very purpose of Romans: it is not just a dogmatic thesis to be accepted intellectually but an appeal to discipleship. “O stupid Galatians! Did you receive the Spirit from ....accepting a dogmatic thesis, or from your life of faith?” If God breathed his life into all humans, all the more will he breath the Spirit into the followers of Jesus Christ.

Now it is the job of the homilist to help his audience define the ways of Adam that lead to slow death: e.g. social media addiction, pornography, drugs and alcoholism, etc. and to define the ways of Jesus Christ that lead to life: e.g. love of neighbor and compassion for the weak, biblical studies, meditation, etc. Jesus Christ brought life so that his followers may have it in abundance, in this life, not just in the life to come.
Inspired by http://www.ktotv.com/video/00161144/12e-dimanche-ordinaire-a-2e-lecture

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Trinity Sunday (EX 34:4-9)

Mercy vs. Miséricorde: the limitations of language

I was happy to read on Sunday June 10 the words of God to Moses (Exodus 4-6:)
                 L’Eternel, l’Eternel, Dieu miséricordieux et compatissant
      I was less happy when I read the translation adopted by the CCB:
                  The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God.

The main difference is  “mercy” versus “miséricorde.”
The Sunday after Easter is called the Sunday of “divina misericordia” - in English the Sunday of divine mercy, and in French le dimanche de la miséricorde divine. The year 2016 was the Jubilee of divine Mercy; in French it was “l’année de la Miséricorde.” In English there is no equivalent of the Latin misericordia. In French there is no exact equivalent of the English mercy.

Mercy comes from “from Old French merci ‘pity’ or ‘thanks,’ from Latin merces, ‘reward,’ in Christian Latin ‘pity, favor, heavenly reward.’” Generally speaking mercy means clemency “toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm.” Mercy evokes the context of a judgment in court where the accused asks for pity like  a beggar.

Miséricorde means “compassion for the misery of others,” especially the most needy ones. Asking for divine mercy suggests asking for clemency to a God who has the power the punish, by begging for forgiveness for one’s sins. Asking for divine miséricorde  suggests appealing for compassion to a God who has always shown compassion for the misery of his people since he rescued them from slavery in Egypt. In the first case God is seen as just but eternally angry since the sin of Adam. In the second case God is compassionate by nature and  sin only increases his desire to save the sinner.

The imagery of an angry God has a long history. To the question Cur Deus homo? (why did God become man?) Anselm’s  answer was “satisfaction” to the honor of God for sins of humankind, and satisfaction was obtained through the suffering on the Cross. Over the centuries it became obvious that satisfaction required suffering and reparation.

In about 1665, “One night, after returning home from a ball for Carnival dressed in her finery, [Margaret Alacoque] experienced a vision of Christ, scourged and bloody. He reproached her for her forgetfulness of him.” She initiated the practice of the Friday Holy Hour in memory of the agony at Gethsemane.  Her life was full of suffering and mortification.  The devotion to the Sacred Heart is often associated with reparation. In about 1924, “Once I was at a dance,” recounts Faustina in her dairy, “I suddenly saw Jesus racked with pain, all covered with wounds [ who said] ‘How long shall I put up with you and how long will you keep putting Me off?” Her life was full of suffering and mortification. “My child, you please Me most by suffering. The more you come to love suffering, My daughter, the purer your love for Me will be.” There is a long tradition that requires suffering and mortification to appease God. There are also apparitions of the Virgin Mary asking for prayer and penance to avoid the imminent justice of God.

Revelation happens through language. Whether one thinks of God in terms of “mercy” or “miséricorde” depends on one’s culture. Even saints speak the language of their culture. The visions of Margaret Mary Alacoque took place within the context of French Jansenism. Faustina experienced Jesus according to the culture of expiation of the 1930s and 1940s when there were quite a few mystics experiencing union with Christ in his passion (e.g. Padre Pio). One can only think through the language of one’s culture but one's language is not a prison. The original language of revelation, Hebrew and Greek, must be translated into and understood in reference to the many languages of the world. This is the purpose of exegesis and indirectly, of the Sunday homily.

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Scriptural Intelligence

1. Why "intelligence?"

There are multiple intelligences: linguistic, mathematical, social, musical, interpersonal, etc. There is also religious intelligence, e.g. the intelligence of scripture, and the mystical intelligence of the mysteries of God. Here are quotations from various translations:

  • "Everyone who heard him was amazed at the intelligence of his answers."(Lk 2:47)
  • “Why do you reason that it’s because you have no bread? Are you still without intelligence?" (Mk 8:17)
  • "Listen, Israel. You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your intelligence, and with all your strength." (Mk 12:33)
  • He said to them, “O men without intelligence!” Then beginning with Moses and all he prophets, he opened their intelligence to all the scriptures concerning him. (Lk 24:25)
  • "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by renewing your intelligence so that you may discern the will of God." (Romans 12:2)
  • “O Galatians without intelligence!” (Galatians 3:1)
  • "May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith—that you may understand (with your mystical intelligence) what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses any knowledge." (Ephesians 3:17-19)
  • "Be renewed in your spiritual intelligence and put on the new man, which was created according to God’s image in righteousness and true holiness." (Ephesians 4:23-24)

The purpose of education is to develop a child's intelligence in light of Piaget's stages of cognitive development. Universities endeavor to develop more fully the many forms of human intelligence: logical, technical, artistic, musical, relational, moral, religious (in religious studies), etc. Technical rationality is a very limited form of intelligence; it applies only to logic and engineering but not to other forms of human intelligence. Most English bible translations use “mind” or “spirit” rather than “intelligence” but in the social sciences as in education it is more common to write about intelligence than mind or spirit.

Scriptural intelligence, like literary intelligence, requires a great familiarity of the texts. It takes years of study to assimilate the scriptural subculture, and it requires daily meditation rather than academic studies. Biblical intelligence leads to spiritual wisdom, while theology leads to cognitive wisdom; both are desirable but biblical intelligence should have the priority.

2. Is scriptural and buiblical intelligence the same?

3. How do you cultivate scriptural intelligence?

historial and textual exegesis, theological exegesis, and spiritual exegbesis