Saturday, January 25, 2014

I'm Leaving too?

“In the battle of life, it is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better.  The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do deeds, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.  Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live the gray twilight that knows neither victory or defeat.”

While this quote from Teddy Roosevelt was given to encourage American exceptionalism and resolve, it can also reflect the life of the Christian disciple. And those who Jesus first called would for the most of them find this to be very true. There was little gray in those days when it came to His teachings. Jesus did not give much middle ground.  As he would say one is either with him or not.  And far from perfect, this group of fishermen and members of small communities based on fishing, agriculture, or small businesses and trades just left it all to follow him.  Radical to say the least.

How often we have heard this gospel in either Mathew, Mark or Luke.  Fr. James Martin gives a good description and sets the scene…  He says the story is almost shocking, for how could four fisherman walk away from everything-their jobs, families, entire way of life-to follow a carpenter?  To leave the comforts of home? They knew the scriptures and could have been waiting…Perhaps Jesus had been there for a while and they heard about him.  And what he says to them; I will make you fishers of men!  (by the way the Greek word is anthropoi, meaning people)  Either they though he was a total madman or his humor attracted them.  But their profession was already a prerequisite to their new vocation….  Fisherman are patient, and go out whenever the fish are near.  But Jesus also drew people to himself. Think of charismatic people…John Paul II or Mother Teresa.  Even if one is not religious they are drawn to them; we are drawn to them. 

Jesus left his own home of Nazareth to move to a place where many non-Jews gathered.  A reminder that the gospel must be preached everywhere.  The true teachings of Jesus; peace, justice, and new life though repentance and forgiveness can be offered to our world today; to believers and non alike. For example, protection of life in the womb is NOT solely a religious teaching!  Even atheists and followers of most world religions value human life. Some even better than us professed Catholic Christians at times. They have made a decision to stand for what is scientifically proven and morally right. Most folks do not like killing other human beings, if we would only follow that idea throughout a person’s entire life; whenever their life is threatened by death due to poverty, starvation, sickness, and abandonment.

So now it is our turn.  To decide to follow Jesus.  What need we leave behind? Just our fears.  We can see it as an adventure, going into new territories right here in our communities….by journeying to all of Jesus teachings….about life, poverty, war and peace, and our care for what God has entrusted to us all.  This Saturday past we celebrated the conversion of St. Paul.  He too left his old ways, his old home and went out to live Christ.  For us, to perhaps take a few steps outside our own homes to witness the homes of others?  Meaning the lives and experiences of others….Could be a little scary but we now have Jesus to lead us and to support us in what we say and do. Just being real and total Catholics. To invite into our lives the gifts of the fisherman….patience, and a readiness to be there when needed. To leave the comforts of home. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saving lives begins at home.

Like most families, mine also had its little quirks, safe secrets that only we family members would appreciate. One was in driving each summer to a family lake cabin, we would have a little game of who would "see the destination (the lake) first".  It became routine and we all would play even for years and years even into our teens. But it was our own family game. We could act like fools but yet find safety in our foolishness. Of similar family secrets;   They can be a place where members can bury embarrassing moments safely.  To celebrate moments that only we  would understand. They should also be a place to be ourselves comfortably.  After all, a family is where love is nurtured always.

The first Sunday after Christmas is celebrated as the Feast of the Holy Family.  Again as we did on the fourth Sunday of Advent, and even the addition of one line of the same gospel on Christmas evening, Joseph  has a dream.   This time it takes place after the visit of the Magi, and he is told to flee to Egypt to escape Herod.  Remember that King Herod is a Jewish leader.  Not necessarily the most observant Jew, he was a puppet ruler for the Roman occupiers and would twist Jewish law which many Jewish people would follow.  He is responsible for the massacre of all male  infants due to he being outwitted by the Magi.  This is known as the feast of the Holy Innocents, celebrated on the 28th of December.  Joseph was warned of this and he fled with Mary and the Christ child to Egypt.  Again, a man of the law and upright, he could have followed orders from Herod, do the census and register the family, but again, as he did by taking Mary into his home rather than shame her according to Jewish law, he proved his holiness by doing what God asked.   A true holy family takes its cues from heavenly guidance rather than national customs or values. A true holy family goes beyond the basic requirements of religion.  It is the first church, and again as Pope Francis has said about the institutional church that flows from the theology of the domestic church, it too is a place for nourishment as well as healing….a small field hospital for spiritual healing if you will.

As a head of his household he (Joseph) took charge as he trusted in God.  Each domestic church requires holy leadership if it too is willing to provide a safe place for its members. Too many families have relied on only a superficial understanding of the Church law rather than the spirit.  Too many families have confused national customs and law with the teachings of Christ. Too many children grow up in environments that nurture prejudice and hatred of others. Why would a child take a loaded gun to school to settle a score with a teacher or classmate?  Why would a teenager attack a person of a different race, or nationality?  Why would a pregnant teen be afraid to seek comfort and support at home?  Why would a gay or lesbian teen feel that they cannot be loved by their own parents?  Why to so many young people suffer from mental illnesses that their own parents refuse to acknowledge?  What has happened to our domestic churches?  What has happened to our families?  Are they holy?  If a child goes around saying that those who struggle or have been forgotten are somehow responsible and should not be helped, most likely he or she has heard this in the home or from another adult whom they trust for wisdom. And none of this flows from the gospel. These action are not holy nor is the family holy. It is just a family that follows the dictates of others and not of Christ.

The second reading from Colossians reminds us of obedience, leadership and mutual respect.  All are ingredients of a Holy Family.  When any family is led by a holy person, man or women, the entire family is imparted by examples of holiness. How one responds to injuries of its members, and how it also works to heal the injuries of others.  This is why a healthy parish family, or community of faith must be made up of members who live holy family lives in their domestic churches. So perhaps we can ask ourselves the following question… Is my family regardless of size a domestic churche-a place for nourishment and healing all based on Christ’s presence dwelling there?  And if not whom am I following and why?  Remember Joseph who did what was right…. Not just what was prescribed by the law. May our thoughts be like dreams that allow Christ to speak to and guide us. +Christ is Born, Glorify Him!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Twas the best of times, it was the worst of times...

In Dicken's "A Tale of Two Cities" one could live with great joy and comfort one moment, and another moment feel the cold blade of the guillotine on the neck; not too good of a time.

Each November as we draw to a close our current liturgical year, the Gospels speak of the end times.  To be more clear, Jesus speaks of the end times.  Something we rather pass off casually or scrupulously.   But again make no mistake, Jesus does teach about them as part of his ministry and we too are called to know and respect them.  Not out of fear with every waking moment, with every storm or earthquake or any act of violence or abuse that we witness, nor with a kind of “that’s just a myth that we need not even think about”, but as a supporting strand woven into our entire deposit of faith.  Even today many are saying we are living in the end times; (however I think a lot of that is due to one’s personal politic too). But for the Christian the end times are a time to anticipate with joy!  And we can prepare for them by living the central prayer of our faith, the Lord’s Prayer each and every day! 

I know I have mentioned this countless times but the message of the Lord’s prayer is the gospel message and it does NOT change. We pray for the coming of the Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. So we can complain that the world is going to “hell in a hand basket" or we can just commit to creating a better world. Friends, this is not the only time folks have been challenged.  Think about the plagues that almost wiped out Western Europe?  Even earlier early humans who perished in the ice age?   There have been some cataclysmic events in this world that continues to “grow in creation” as St. Paul says in Romans 8:22 “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now”…  And as in our history people have confronted each event with a positive response; good usually triumphs especially when animated by people of good will….something else we are called to be. Remember that other prayer from our Sacred Liturgy  (mass), the “Gloria” and "peace to people of good-will” Authentic prayer leads to action. Just yesterday Pope Francis said “the prayer of a humble person is the weakness of God. The Lord is weak only in this one sense: He is weak before the prayers of His people.”

Next week we celebrate the feast of Christ the King.  We share in the baptismal charism of being part of His “royal priesthood”, to rule in humble service. This coming Advent I will be asking us to focus on being “Bread for the world”  by being of more service to our neighbor.  What a great way to lead up to Christmas, when it is Christ that we are called to honor as he was born humbly to serve all of humankind humbly. If our prayer life is genuine, we can more readily live our royal priesthood.  God will provide us through our prayer the means to live out our shared priesthood.

Back to the end times… I implied earlier for the Christian they are the best of times!  I propose that we all anticipate the end times by contributing to the joy of them here and now. Providing more of the "best" to those who are experiencing the "worst".  By living the words of the Lord’s prayer “on earth as it is in heaven” so that our times are truly “the best”!!! 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Prayer Poured Out-Gospel Reflection for 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

A story of a famous rabbi, who when faced with a real challenge to his Jewish flock, would go into the forrest to pray.  He would light a fire, say the prayer and the prayer would be answered.  Later when a disciple found himself with a challenge, he did the same by going into the forrest to offer the prayer. However he pleaded to God that he did not know how to light a fire.  Never the less his prayer was answered.  Later still another rabbi with his own crisis went into the forrest for the same purpose.  However his plea was that he did not know how to light a fire NOR even knew the prescribed prayer.  His crisis was averted.  Finally another rabbi needed to overcome an impending misfortune.  He just cried out to God. " I do not know how to light a fire, nor know the prayer, or even know how to find the forrest"!  Of course God heard his plea and no misfortune occurred. (from "The Sower's Seeds-Brian Cavanaugh TOR-Paulist Press 2004)

It is interesting that we can set so many limits to what authentic prayer is.  As we know prayer is nothing more than our communication with our God.  It can fit different moods and can be offered with great pomp and circumstance, or accompanied by only the natural sounds around us.  It should flow from a Christian piety; meaning a dutifulness toward a religion.  It is different than the piety that Jesus speaks of in the gospel.  That piety was so disconnected from the Jewish faith that it became both its own means and end. Constant unauthentic piety without integrating into the world is only self serving.  To live a pious Catholic life, one must be attentive to the world, because our religion is focused on life in this world and for us to prepare it to be like the world to come. And our prayer must reflect our faith. We cannot honestly pray or have an honest conversation with God if we only judge others harshly and set ourselves apart from those we meet every day.   Authentic prayer turns us inward to God that carries us outward to right relationship with others.  God who calls us to be of service to each other, especially the poor.

In the first reading from Sirach we are taught that God shows no partiality/God does hear the cries of the poor, the “Anawim”  But what about us?  We all know what Jesus asks, the challenge for us is to see how well we are doing on a daily basis. To pray like the poor….open to hearing and speaking to God; and constantly!  Too often we are like the Pharisees with the false piety of one.  Prayer then is to be poured out!  Not a trickle….or even a flash flood. An authentic prayer life binds us to our surroundings as well as ourselves.   A connective means to authentic prayer is a daily examen.   It is like standing in front of a mirror, a mirror that reflects our soul. If we all took every challenge, every disagreement, every hurt to authentic prayer I am convinced we would be led to a more positive and charitable outcome.  Most of our angers and disagreements stem from a refusal to acknowledge the God-in others, but simultaneously want to see the God-presence in ourselves.  Kind of unauthentic prayer, unauthentic piety, and unauthentic Catholic Christianity.

Most importantly for a Catholic Christian,  the tie that binds us together is to pray the liturgy, the mass.  This particular prayer is our apex for the week.  Listening to the words of scripture and the communal prayers; responding with our entire being, seeing ourselves and others gathered together. Bringing our sorrows and joys here for support and thanksgiving. This is true authentic prayer.  Poured out constantly.