Inspiring Words Are a Gift to the Heart

eternityI found this really special blog the other day. And today it had this lovely poem.

It was and is powerful stuff.

I hope it inspires you.

To those who withhold refuge,

I cradle you in safety at the core of my Being.

 

To those that cause a child to cry out,

 

I grant you the freedom to express your own choked agony.

 

To those that inflict terror,

 

I remind you that you shine with the purity of a thousand suns.

 

To those who would confine, suppress, or deny,

 

I offer the limitless expanse of the sky.

 

To those who need to cut, slash, or burn,

 

I remind you of the invincibility of Spring.

 

To those who cling and grasp,

 

I promise more abundance than you could ever hold onto.

 

To those who vent their rage on small children,

 

I return to you your deepest innocence.

 

To those who must frighten into submission,

 

I hold you in the bosom of your original mother.

 

To those who cause agony to others,

 

I give the gift of free flowing tears.

 

To those that deny another’s right to be,

 

I remind you that the angels sang in celebration of you on the day of your birth.

 

To those who see only division and separateness,

 

I remind you that a part is born only by bisecting a whole.

 

For those who have forgotten the tender mercy of a mother’s embrace,

 

I send a gentle breeze to caress your brow.

 

To those who still feel somehow incomplete,

 

I offer the perfect sanctity of this very moment.

 

Author unknown
From the blog: Blue-Eyed Ennis
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Jesuit

A friend posted this on Facebook. It is compelling. It says what I feel. This is why this Church means so much to me still. Because within it are those who are moved by the Spirit of God to stand forth come what may and speak truth to power.

This is simply awesome.

 

Bert Thelen’s Letter of Resignation
June 2013

TO : Family, Relatives, and Friends, Colleagues and Partners in Ministry, CLC Members, Ignatian Associates, Project Mankind, Parishioners of St. John’s, St Benedict the Moor, Sacred Heart, Jesuit Classmates and Companions
FROM: Bert Thelen, S.J., June, 2013

Dearly Beloved,

May the Grace of Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Peace of the Holy Spirit be with you! I am writing to tell you about what may be the most important decision of my life since entering the Jesuits. With God’s help, at the behest of my religious superiors and the patient support and wise encouragement of my CLC group and closest friends, I have decided to leave ordained Jesuit ministry and return to the lay state, the priesthood of the faithful bestowed on me by my Baptism nearly 80 years ago. I do this with confidence and humility, clarity and wonder, gratitude and hope, joy and sorrow. No bitterness, no recrimination, no guilt, no regrets.

It has been a wonderful journey, a surprising adventure, an exploration into the God Who dwells mysteriously in all of our hearts. I will always be deeply grateful to the Society of Jesus for the formation, education, companionship, and ministry it has provided, and to my family for their constant support. I can never thank God enough for the loving and loyal presence in my life of each and every one of you.

Why am I doing this? How did I reach this decision? I will try to tell you now. That is the purpose of this letter. For about 15 years now, as many of you have noticed, I have had a “Lover’s Quarrel” with the Catholic Church. I am a cradle Catholic and grew up as Catholic as anyone can, with Priests and even Bishops in our household, and 17 years of Catholic education at St. Monica’s Grade School, Milwaukee Messmer High School, and Marquette University. I took First Vows at Oshkosh in the Society of Jesus at age 25 and was ordained at Gesu Church to the priesthood ten years later in 1968. I have served the Church as a Jesuit priest in Milwaukee, Omaha, and Pine Ridge for 45 years, including 18 years on the Province Staff culminating in my being the Wisconsin Provincial for six years and attending the 34th General Congregation in Rome.

My last 14 years at Creighton and St. John’s have been the best years of my life. I have truly enjoyed and flourished serving as pastor of St. John’s. I cannot even put into words how graced and loved and supported I have been by the parishioners, parish staff, campus ministry, Ignatian Associates, and CLC members! It is you who have freed, inspired, and encouraged me to the New Life to which I am now saying a strong and joyful “Yes.” You have done this by challenging me to be my best self as a disciple of Jesus, to proclaim boldly His Gospel of Love, and to widen the horizons of my heart to embrace the One New World we are called to serve in partnership with each other and our Triune God. It is the Risen Christ Who beckons me now toward a more universal connection with the Cosmos, the infinitely large eco-system we are all part of, the abundance and vastness of what Jesus called “the Reign of God.”

Why does this “YES” to embrace the call of our cosmic inter-connectedness mean saying “NO” to ordained ministry? My answer is simple but true. All mystical traditions, as well as modern science, teach us that we humans cannot be fully ourselves without being in communion with all that exists. Lasting justice for Earth and all her inhabitants is only possible within this sacred communion of being. We need conversion – conversion from the prevailing consciousness that views reality in terms of separateness, dualism, and even hierarchy, to a new awareness of ourselves as inter-dependent partners , sharing in one Earth-Human community. In plainer words, we need to end the world view that structures reality into higher and lower, superior and inferior, dominant and subordinate, which puts God over Humanity, humans over the rest of the world, men over women, the ordained over the laity. As Jesus commanded so succinctly, “Don’t Lord it over anyone … serve one another in love.” As an institution, the Church is not even close to that idea; its leadership works through domination, control, and punishment. So, following my call to serve this One World requires me to stop benefiting from the privilege, security, and prestige ordination has given me. I am doing this primarily out of the necessity and consequence of my new call, but, secondarily, as a protest against the social injustices and sinful exclusions perpetrated by a patriarchal church that refuses to consider ordination for women and marriage for same- sex couples.

I have become convinced that the Catholic Church will never give up its clerical privilege until and unless we priests (and bishops) willingly step down from our pedestals. Doing this would also put me in solidarity with my friend, Roy Bourgeois, my fellow Jesuit, Fr. Bill Brennan, the late Bernard Cooke, and many other men who have been “de-frocked” by the reigning hierarchy. It will also support the religious and lay women, former Catholics, and gay and lesbian couples marginalized by our church. I want to stand with and for them. I am, if you will, choosing to de-frock myself in order to serve God more faithfully, truly, and universally.

But why leave the Jesuits? Make no mistake about it: the Society of Jesus shares in and benefits from this patriarchal and clerical way of proceeding. We still regard ourselves as the shepherds and those to whom and with whom we minister as sheep. I discovered this painfully when the Society of Jesus decided against having Associate members. We are not prepared for co-membership or even, it seems at times, for collaboration, though we pay lip service to it. “Father knows best” remains the hallmark of our way of proceeding. I can no longer, in conscience, do that. But I still honor and love my fellow Jesuits who work from that model of power over. It is still where we all are as a company, a Society, a community of vowed religious in the Roman Catholic church. Leaving behind that companionship is not easy for me, but it is the right thing for me to do at this time in my life. When I went through a formal discernment process with my CLC group, one member whose brilliance and integrity I have always admired and whose love and loyalty to the Jesuits is beyond question, said of my decision, “You cannot NOT do this!” He had recognized God’s call in me.

A few other considerations may help clarify my path. The Church is in transition – actually in exile. In the Biblical tradition, the Egyptian, Assyrian and Babylonian captivities led to great religious reforms and the creation of renewed covenants. Think of Moses, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. I think a similar reform is happening in our Catholic faith (as well as other traditions). We have come through far-reaching, earth-shaking evolutionary changes, and a new (Universal) Church as well as a new (One) World is emerging. My decision is a baby step in that Great Emergence, a step God is asking me to take.

Consider this. Being a Lay Catholic has sometimes been caricatured as “Pray, pay, and obey.” Of course, that is a caricature, an exaggeration, a jibe. But it does point to a real problem. Recently, the hierarchical church mandated the so-called revision of the Roman Missal without consulting the People of God. It was both a foolish and a self-serving effort to increase the authority of Ordained men, damaging and even in some ways taking away the “Pray” part of “Pray, pay, and obey.” No wonder more and more Catholics are worshipping elsewhere, and some enlightened priests feel compromised in their roles. I, for one, feel that this so-called renewal , though licit, is not valid. It is not pleasing to God, and I feel compromised in trying to do it.

Now, consider this. All of this liturgical, ecclesial, and religious change is located in and strongly influenced by what both science and spirituality have revealed as happening to our world, our planet, our universe. The very earth we are rooted and grounded in, as well as the air we breathe and the water we drink, are being damaged and destroyed even beyond (some say) our capacity to survive. And, as Fr. John Surette, S.J., has so wisely observed, “Injustice for the human and destruction of Earth’s ecosystem are not two separate injustices. They are one.” Biocide is even more devastating than genocide, because it also kills future inhabitants of our precious Earth.

It is time. It is time to abandon our refusal to see that our very environment is central to the survival and well being of ALL earthlings. It is time for the Church to turn her attention from saving face to saving the earth, from saving souls to saving the planet. It is time to focus on the sacred bond that exists between us and the earth. It is time to join the Cosmic Christ in the Great Work of mending, repairing, nurturing, and protecting our evolving creation. It is time for a new vision of a universal Church whose all-inclusive justice and unconditional love, an expression of Christ consciousness and the work of the Holy Spirit, empowers ALL and can lead to a future that preserves the true right to life of all of God’s creatures. This includes future generations who will bless us for allowing them to live, evolve, and flourish. Can’t you hear them crying out, “I want to live, I want to grow, I want to be, I want to know?”

In light of all this, how can I not respond to the call both Isaiah and Jesus heard, the call of our Baptism? “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me and sent me to bring Good News to the oppressed.” All creation will be freed, and all people will know the freedom and glory of the Children of God. Yes, Lord, I will go. Please send me.

And that is why I am leaving Jesuit priesthood. Since first vows I have always thought and hoped and prayed that I would live and die in this least Society of Jesus. But now, something unexpected! A real surprise! I HAVE lived and died in the Society of Jesus, but, now, nearly 80, I have been raised to new life. I am born again – into a much larger world, a much newer creation. I have greatly benefited from the spiritual freedom given in and by the Society of Jesus. I feel no longer chained, limited, bound, by the shackles of a judicial, institutional, clerical, hierarchical system. As St. Paul once reminded the early Christians, “It is for freedom that you have been set free.” And as St. Peter, the first Pope, learned when he said to Jesus, “You know that I love you,” love is all about surrender and servanthood.

Thank you for your attention to this self presentation. I am grateful that you have followed me in the journey described here, and I am sorry for whatever sadness, disappointment, or hurt this may have caused you. But what I have written here is my truth, and I can’t not do it! If you want to discuss this with me, ask questions, or give me feedback, I welcome your response, either by letter, e-mail or phone.
(402-305-2665). Please pray for me, as I do for all of you, the beloved of my heart and soul.

Yours in the Risen Christ, Bert Thelen

And The Spirit Will Teach You Everything

pentecost-canzianiI spend most of my writing time talking about politics. If you devote any of your time reading about the state of our union, you undoubtedly know that the contentious nature of our politics has never been greater than it is today.

We come to our faith in the hopes of calmer and more peaceful time.

Yet, the same divisions that divide us politically, tend to filter into our faith traditions as well. We are divided there as well.

We divide over doctrine assuredly, and we divide over what constitutes proper obedience to God. We interpret differently about all too many issues, and miss along the way the truth that is offered to us in simple and complex stories, meant not to suffice as some history, but rather to teach important moral truths about us and our relationship to our God.

Yet, time and time again, when we look carefully, we find answers to our differences.

Today, on Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, that mysterious aspect of the Triune God that is in some sense ephemeral to us. Jesus we can “get”, for Jesus took human form, and we relate to Him in that fashion, as a person. We tend of course to do the same with God the Father, fashioning Him a “throne” and giving him a hands to hold us. The Spirit, however,  is wispy and not within our grasp physically.

Yet for us, the Spirit is perhaps the most approachable of the aspects of the Trinity. It is described in powerful language of wind and fire, things that were life-giving and life-sustaining. Wind moved the fields of grain, helped them to grow strong and thrive. It moved ships at sea, bringing us to safe harbor. Fire provided warmth, safety from wild animals, and the cooking medium for our food.

But I do not try to define the Spirit so much as acknowledge that it was a powerful physical presence to those who felt it that first Pentecost. They were astounded at its power, and perhaps, it was the seminal reason for the success of the early church. It more than anything gave proof to the teachings of the apostles who related stories of this mysterious but now departed “savior.”

And the Spirit is indeed powerful. Many attribute the Spirit for the Second Vatican Council, and its radical realignment of the Church. Many find the Spirit at work in important events of our time, drawing us together, bringing forth an unthought of consensus in our darkest of hours.

Paul said, that “No one can say Jesus Christ is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”

That is an amazing statement and should give us serious pause.

What Paul says is that if someone declares themselves to be a Christian, they can only say that because they are filled with the Spirit of God. They have been, in a sense, stamped with approval. Who are we, then, as mere mortals, those who are to be guided by that Spirit, to dispute what the Spirit has decided?

Does not God have the ability and power to move within any person God chooses? Does God have the ability and power to deny a person the Spirit? If the answer is yes, then we must seriously ask ourselves whether it is our place to claim that this person or that person, this group or that, fail to meet some standard we have erected as to what is “Christian” and what is not. We work against the Spirit when we do this. (To say nothing of judging how the Spirit does or does not move within the hearts of other faiths not Christian)

In our drive to “understand” we take upon ourselves the audacious “right” to decide that God would or would not come to “this type of person” or “that type of group”. We not only decide what God would or would not do, based upon our human thinking, but then we “act” for God in refusing such persons or groups the full welcome due them as members of our faith communities.

I was much taken aback when I learned that at the Cathedral home of Cardinal Dolan, the following took place:

After Timothy Cardinal Dolan wrote a column comparing practicing homosexuals and others who approach Holy Communion in a state of serious sin to children who fail to wash their hands before supper, homosexual Catholics and their supporters showed up for Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with filthy hands as a form of protest, and were denied entry.

Joseph Amodeo, the organizer of the protest, said that the act of dirtying their hands was an attempt to tell Cardinal Dolan that those who practice the gay lifestyle should be accepted as they are.

The small group of about ten protesters was intercepted by NYC police, who informed them that the Cathedral would not allow them to protest the Mass. Undaunted, Amodeo and his allies proceeded to St. Patrick’s anyway, where they were informed that they were welcome at Mass, provided they washed their hands.

Amodeo said he was “astounded” by the request.

“What astounded me most was when he said that we could enter the cathedral so long as we washed our hands first,” Amodeo wrote in The Huffington Post. “Even now, writing those words I find myself struggling to understand their meaning, while coming to terms with their exclusionary nature.”

This is taking over what belongs to God in the most awful way to my mind. Surely Jesus can come to those persons Jesus chooses under the bread and wine without the help of the Cardinal or any one for that matter. Surely Jesus can refrain from joining to any person under the bread and win without help of the Cardinal as well.

We do well to remember that we are creature, not mini-gods. None of us, from the laity to the clergy stands in any different place vis-a-vis our Creator.

The Spirit goes where it will, and it affects what It chooses. Let not we poorly understanding humans get in the way.

Amen.

What of This Spirit?

holyspiritIn John’s Gospel, we have the beautiful final discourses. John places Jesus’ last words before his arrest, where they can be seen as prophesies and promises and become all the more powerful to us.

Jesus, among other things, promises that the Holy Spirit of God will come after he has left them:

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.

Surely this is not a new idea, for the Spirit of God appears as in the opening sentences of Genesis:

“In the beginning there was a formless void and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters … “

As Fr. Ron Rolheiser suggests, the Spirit is the very life force of the universe, breathing it into existence, and being the “glue” if you will, that animates and orchestrates it.

Jesus thus suggests that this Spirit of God, present since before the beginning, will be a personal presence in the lives of all who welcome it into their lives. The Spirit represents that personalized God who dwells intimately with His people.

The Father, so Jesus explains, sends His Spirit in Jesus’ name, as a sign to us that what we have learned from Jesus is in fact the Father’s will. We begin to see the interplay in this trinity of love, God, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit. All are one, one are all, each a part, yet not separate, each with its own duties, yet doing the will of all. This is mystery in its finest manifestation.

We can trust this Spirit as being of God, because Jesus has told us it can be trusted. It will teach us everything. It will remind us of what Jesus taught. Strange and opaque words are they not?

It is said by some that Vatican II showed the in-pouring of the Spirit in a most obvious way. A council that started in one direction, is captured by the Spirit, and sent on a new trajectory. Some are saying the same thing about the Pontificate of Francis.

The question becomes, will we open our minds and hearts to the working of the Spirit, confident that it can be trusted? As our dear friend Tim reminds us, much of the Hebrew Scriptures can be seen as a discourse on learning to trust this God that we have come to know. This becomes the ultimate in trust–“the spirit will teach you everything!”

But the ending statement is, I think most telling–“it will remind you of all that I have told you.”

This is the key to understanding I believe.

We are all of us, attempting to discern truth. We read the bible. We read learned and not so learned “experts”. We pray. We think. We ponder.

We all wish to believe that the Spirit guides our conclusions. We all wish to believe that we understand rightly. Some of us are very sure of that. Some of us are not at all sure. How can we be? The bible, (except for some few of us) remains a maddeningly enigmatic series of documents, difficult to define, difficult to unravel, seemingly contradictory in places and inexplicable in others. The more we study the more we realize that it is a collection of very different writings pointing in many different directions. As I said, it is only the most arrogant of persons who claims that it is obvious and clear.

Let us be honest. We are but mortals attempting to define that which is ineffable. We walk upon holy ground. We breath holy air. We are gifted with this life of short duration, a mere moment in the grand design. We are like an ant trying to discern the pattern in an area rug which we walk upon. We cannot see the expanse to make out the pattern.

Yet, we have this Spirit guiding us. And if we remember the words of Jesus, recorded in some fashion within the Gospels as they have come down to us–if we remember the ideas and the themes he brought to us, THEN these become the guide to how we might approach understanding “God’s Will”.

When our understanding is in alignment with what Jesus said, then we approach truth. When it does not, when we stretch and twist the Gospel stories to stand for things that can bear no relationship to Jesus’ world, or to the body of his teachings, then we are moving from truth and toward a self-centered non-truth that may  serve us but not the Gospel. If we must warp the Gospel to reach the place we want to go, we are most assuredly heading in the wrong direction.

We can learn “everything” from the Spirit when we use as our template the basic tenets of love, kindness, forgiveness, inclusiveness, justice, fairness, equality, patience, humility, and honesty. These are what the Master taught. We will act within the Spirit of God when we bring to every experience these qualities.

What Would Jesus Do?

The Spirit will tell you everything.

Amen.

The Easy Way

Baptism_of_the_LordToday we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. Jesus makes his way to John the Baptist and in a turn about, has John baptize him, the one who has come to save the world. John’s mind must have been reeling at the thought.

As someone who was baptized well into adulthood, I can tell you that even in the most normal circumstances, the process of baptism is life-altering. One enters into the life and death of our Lord in a way that feels in the end like a great weight is removed from one’s heart.

I think the best explanation of what that feels like is akin to the first reading in today’s mass, Is 40: 1-5, indeed what is said in Mt 3:3 is from this passage in Isaiah.

A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be

filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

For in our baptism, indeed we feel the sudden peacefulness and the sudden comfort of a great weight lifted from us. The Spirit of God has come upon us, and now our way is easy. We have the help of God. Our mountains and hills of life are made low, the turns of twists of everyday life are made plain, the world is no longer a desert of dry day-to-day purposelessness, but is a fertile world of joy and bounty.

Hope is ours, peace is ours, joy is ours. Of course that doesn’t end our ups and downs in life, but it does give a structure to them that makes sense. We can place the inevitable woes of life into perspective. We know who we are and what we are and where we are going. That is our rock and upon it we place all the vicissitudes of  life, knowing that all shall work out for good in the end.

It is unfortunate that most people experience baptism as an infant, I think. They are of course unaware of what has happened to them, and they miss this wonderful experience of awe and wonder which comes from a mindful understanding of what is occurring.

Yet our experience of remembrance of the Lord’s baptism is our time to recall the gift given us by a loving and gracious God. In placing ourselves in that place and time, we can but imagine the awe that overcame those in attendance. Imagine if you can some mighty movement of the heavens, sufficiently impressive to get your attention and cause you to gaze upward in expectation and wonder.

Imagine the breaking of the clouds and of it a dove descending. Imagine if you can the voice deeply moving in your heart which spoke, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.”

Or is it that we hear but faintly within “you are my beloved daughter, with you I am well pleased.” Is that the echo we truly hear when  we contemplate this wondrous event that is the centerpiece of our  faith–Jesus  Christ.

Let us make it a regular practice to recall this time, this lifting of the burden of going it alone that so plagues us and so limits us. It is that which makes us stubborn and selfish, angry and short-tempered. We are not meant to be solitary creatures. We are made for community. The first community we enter is that of the Trinity.

Come, let us rejoice,  for like Jerusalem as Isaiah told us,

Go up on to a high mountain,
Zion, herald of glad tidings;
cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Fear not to cry out
and say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,

Amen.

Taste and See the Goodness!

 

 

Sophia, or Lady Wisdom tells us:

Wisdom has built her house,
she has set up her seven columns;
she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine,
yes, she has spread her table.
She has sent out her maidens; she calls
from the heights out over the city:
“Let whoever is simple turn in here;
To the one who lacks understanding, she says,
Come, eat of my food,
and drink of the wine I have mixed!
Forsake foolishness that you may live;
advance in the way of understanding.” Prv 9: 1-6

Lady Folly tells us:

The woman of folly is boisterous,
She is naive and knows nothing.

She sits at the doorway of her house,
On a seat by the high places of the city,

Calling to those who pass by,
Who are making their paths straight:

“Whoever is naive, let him turn in here,”
And to him who lacks understanding she says,

“Stolen water is sweet;
And bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”

But he does not know that the dead are there,
That her guests are in the depths of Sheol. Prv 9: 13-18

We are called to wisdom, signified by the “perfect” table set by Lady Wisdom, and not the table of Lady Folly, who tells us, “no matter, eat, drink, and be merry–take what you need, cheat, lie, it is all toward the goal of satisfying only you.”

Yet, as always the question remains, how do we discern the wise and forsake that which is evil and wrong? On some things of course, it is quite easy–we know not to cheat or murder. We know not to steal, but what exactly constitutes cheating?

Paul offers us his advice:

Brothers and sisters:
Watch carefully how you live,
not as foolish persons but as wise,
making the most of the opportunity,
because the days are evil.
Therefore, do not continue in ignorance,
but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.
And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery,
but be filled with the Spirit,
addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts,
giving thanks always and for everything
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. Eph 5: 15-20

Note that he tells us to “try” to understand the will of God. Paul reminds us that it is not always easy. He suggests that immersing ourselves in scripture and prayer, and praying continually are useful in opening ourselves to the Spirit which we know will guide us aright.

Lastly in the Gospel of John, Jesus gives us the most important help: the Eucharist. Now admittedly, not all of the Christian community agree that the bread and wine that we receive each mass is indeed the real body and blood of our Lord, changed in some mysterious way from their original elements.

We as Catholics do believe this, and we take this offering as God joining us in a special way that we can count on to bring us to God’s will for us.

What does that mean?

Often, as a dissenting Catholic, I find that those who profess a strict adherence to church teaching, tell me that my way is “easy”. It’s easy to just love everyone they claim. It’s hard, so they say, to cut across what is popular and secularly permissible. That is how they discern “it is the right thing.”

But is it hard?

I really don’t think so.

If we take the Bible as a whole, we see a steady progression, it seems to me, in understanding that God’s love extends to all his children. Those that thought they had his exclusive attention are often angry and shocked, and yes, unwilling to accept that “others” also find His favor.

While it may seem “hard” to speak against the poor’s “drain” on the budget, or why gays should be denied marriage and the full sacramental life in the church, or why women should be regulated in their health care by more “knowing” men, is it really hard to take these positions? Or is it really quite easy?

Easy in the sense that it always makes us feel better when we can point our finger at someone, anyone, and say they are not as good. They don’t live “right” in one fashion or another. They are different, not holy and “saved” because they are not willing to forgo this or that perceived sin. But what is hard about not getting an abortion if you are post menopausal? What is hard about not engaging in homosexual behavior if you are not homosexual? What is hard about not marrying a divorced person if you are happily married to your first spouse? What is hard about working hard and paying your taxes if you are blessed with a good-paying job.

What is hard about being “holier than thou” toward someone else? It’s really easy isn’t it? It is human nature to not want to feel oneself to be the most disadvantaged, the worst off. We quickly look for someone to point to who is worse off, or simply worse  as we define things.

In discerning that is God’s will for us, it seems to me that we are better off doing that which doesn’t divide people into groups of “like me” and “not like me.” For in the end, we are all God’s chosen. We are not God. Our job is be gracious, kind, loving, charitable, open-hearted, strong in spirit, helpful, compassionate. If God wishes to judge anyone as unworthy, I’m sure he doesn’t need our help.

Lift up your Hearts to the Lord!

Amen.

 

Vanity of Vanities

 

 

Paul spoke:

Brothers and sisters:
I declare and testify in the Lord
that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do,
in the futility of their minds;
that is not how you learned Christ,
assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him,
as truth is in Jesus,
that you should put away the old self of your former way of life,
corrupted through deceitful desires,
and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
and put on the new self,
created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth. (Eph 4: 17, 20-24)

He tells us that we must not continue to live in the “futility” of our minds. When we think of our minds, we think of our intellect. Futility means, in the Greek, Mataiotes or vanity, which alludes to emptiness or uselessness.

What does he mean by this?

Gentiles, the unbelievers, live by their minds. They have no purpose beyond what ever they define as success in the world about them. They may seek power, money, professional success, public fame, or any number of things that seem to the intellectual thought process worthy ends.

But are they? Can you take any of them to the grave? Will they do you any good if you do?

Of course not. Such goals are fleeting, passing with our mortal bodies. They are empty goals.

Paul attempts to explain to these new believers that they have become different by their baptism. They are no longer seekers of transient things such as money or fame. They now seek permanent goals–loving God and the promises of heaven. They have purpose finally. Real purpose.

This is not to say that intellectual pursuits are bad, as some would claim. In fact many on the far right would dismiss the intellectual , considering it dangerous and unbiblical,  based on a simplistic reading of this passage. But Paul is not saying that at all.

What he is saying is that God and Godly pursuits are beyond the logical results of our thinking. We cannot welcome the spirit of God simply by logical analysis. It requires a leap of faith–something beyond 1 + 1 = 2. Basing our entire life on the logic of intellectual reasoning will take us far, but never far enough–for that we need to put on a new self, and be renewed in the spirit of our mind.

The Spirit offers us a new way of examining the world, a new way of judging if you will. We no longer rely on  slide rules and Socratic methods as our sole means of determining our reality. The Spirit offers us a new plane of existence, a new way of examination, to over-lay upon our three-dimensional world.

Now we do not conclude that something is either good or bad, right or wrong, beneficial or harmful based on a “me” approach. That is what the pagans do. No, we see the totality of the world as all of creation, and that changes the equation dramatically.

Now some may say that I am only talking about a sense of morality, and those who consider themselves “atheists” also can and do have great moral standards that include considering the entire world in their calculations of good and evil. I would agree, such people often do exhibit such considerations, and there are many an atheist who is a good deal more moral that a good many self-defined believers in God.

But of course, just because one is unaware on the intellectual plane of the God who graciously offers guidance, doesn’t mean that they don’t open themselves to that gracious assistance, simply by calling it something else. Now I admit that is an argument that is circular in nature and surely won’t satisfy the average thinking atheist. All I’m saying is that atheists can be perfectly moral while at the same time having no way of knowing why they are. I choose to think that God works in those who profess no faith, yet who open themselves to divine instruction, unknowing as it may be.

Paul concludes by telling us that this new self is created in God’s way, in righteousness and in holy truth. We, these new creations are bound to seek and speak truth, for all truth is holy. All truth is righteous, all truth is God’s way.

Pray for truth in the renewal of the spirit of your mind.

Amen

 

 

 

Challenges

Today’s initial reading is from Amos (7:12-15). It seems of little importance at first, but appearances are often deceiving. In fact, when read in conjunction with the gospel reading in Mark, it raises some extraordinary questions for us.

Amos is a shepherd, and we know from history that shepherds in this time and place were lowly and somewhat held at arm’s length by the surrounding communities. They lived their lives in isolation in the hills and were rough men. You can but imagine that he had little in the way of education or social grace.

Yet we learn that God has plans for Amos. At this time, the Hebrews have split into two countries, Judah to the South and Israel to the North. Judah encompasses Jerusalem, while the religious center of Israel is Bethel.

Bethel and it’s priests under the leadership of Jeraboam, have set up a new worship practice, one not authorized by Yahweh. It is here that Amos is sent from his home in Judah to warn Israel that she is straying from the right path.

As you might assume, this Amos is met with no little anger and dismissal:The high priest Amaziah shouts:

“Go away seer, taken yourself off to Judah, earn your living there, and there you can prophesy!”

One wonders if similar thoughts coursed through the minds of the Twelve when we learn that Jesus, after being rejected in his own home town, sends off his followers to preach the “good news”.

Will they be received in similar fashion? After all, Jesus instructs them to “take nothing” not even a second tunic. They are to beg housing among strangers in these towns, and to go meekly from those that dismiss them and have no interest in their message. Did they think they were going to face the same derision and hostility that faced Amos on his mission to Israel?

Paul tells us that God chose us in him, “before the foundation of the world.”

Yet we all, at one point or other feel ill-equipped to answer the call that God makes to us.

We feel that we are not educated enough, not old enough, too old, not healthy enough, not wealthy enough to sustain the difficulties, too busy, needed by others, not worthy, and on and on. We, like so many of the great prophets of history, have excuses upon excuses. Moses stuttered, or had difficulty speaking.

Surely we can all agree that we feel unworthy of God’s choosing us to speak truth. Who are we after all? Mere mortal humans. None of us, for the most part, would feel experienced enough, wise enough, versed enough, in scripture and theology to have the audacity to go out and attempt to convert others.

And indeed all those things are true. We are not worthy. Yet we miss the most important aspect.

It is not ourselves that speak. We are not constructing some message we have thought of.

We are not alone. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit which, if we pay close attention, will lead us straight.

This is the important point that Jesus was trying to make when he sent out the Twelve with virtually nothing to fall back upon. They were to depend solely on God. They were to learn that they needed nothing further.

Of course, this has led a good many well-meaning folks to do similar things in our modern world. They have taken to the streets and stood on corners preaching to largely deaf ears. We do well to consider there are few fields to glean wheat from in the streets of New York City!

But in any case, we are told that we each have a vocation, one blessed by God, if we accept the call. And we can rest assured that when we rightly discern that call, the Holy Spirit will assist us in fulfilling our calling. That is not to say that times will always be rosy and easy, they most certainly will not, but we can know that our continued attention to the mission will prove bountiful in the end.

The Twelve were able to do great things on their trek of preaching.

They believed.

Do you?

Amen.

Amos 7: 12-15
Eph 1: 3-14
Mk 6: 7-13

I Myself Am Also a Human Being

Having settled all the immediate issues of moving to a new state, I decided that it was time to get to Mass. Here in Las Cruces, which is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, I figured I wouldn’t have much trouble finding an appropriate parish church. I settled on the Cathedral known as the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

But this is not about that, it merely sets the stage for the operation of the Holy Spirit. My experience with the Spirit, is that it usually surprises me. It pops up when I least expect it. I read the readings yesterday and was fairly certain that I would speak about Jesus’ radical statements in Jn 15: 9-17. In it Jesus sets a shocking standard–love others as GOD loves you. Since God loves with pure and complete unconditionality, it is far beyond the standard of loving others as we love ourselves.

But as I heard the first reading from Acts read this morning, I was struck by it in a way that had not been clear upon the first reading. It perhaps speaks to my ongoing tension with Mother Church–its determination to make decisions about who is and who is not welcome at the table of Christ.

In Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48:

When Peter entered, Cornelius met him
and, falling at his feet, paid him homage.
Peter, however, raised him up, saying,
“Get up. I myself am also a human being.”

Then Peter proceeded to speak and said,
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.”

While Peter was still speaking these things,
the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word.
The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter
were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit
should have been poured out on the Gentiles also,
for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God.
Then Peter responded,
“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people,
who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?”
He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Most Christians would agree that Peter was given “custody” of the religious movement that Jesus instituted. He was the Lord’s most trusted disciple, the one, presumably that he shared the most with and taught in the fullest. Certainly the other disciples were privy to most of all this knowledge as well. The Gospels report, individually and collectively, those issues and teachings that they thought were the most important, those things Jesus stressed the most.

While the Gospel today reminds us that Jesus said that our love for each other must be radical and extreme–as God’s love for us is, still we learn that the disciples were often surprised and found themselves in disagreement on many issues as the fledgling church gathered itself and became a church in fact.

Peter of course, reminds the pagan centurion, Cornelius, that he, Peter is a mortal and not to be bowed to. Peter hears Cornelius’s story about how an angel told him to locate Peter and listen to him. When he has finished describing this vision, Peter realizes that God must speak to all nations, not just the Jewish one.

And when the Holy Spirit descends indiscriminately upon the Jewish followers and the Gentiles, he realizes and proclaims:

“Can anyone without the water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?”

This is something apparently that had not occurred to Peter beforehand, and this is confirmed when we recall the arguments held between himself and the Jewish community and Paul and his new community of Gentiles. The question was, to what extent these Gentiles were required to take on the Jewish faith in order to be these new Christians.

So what is my point?

Peter and the other disciples, male and female had spent three years with the Lord. They had lived with him almost day and night. They had been privy to his every thought, his every expression. He explained the parables to them, he taught them as carefully and fully as he deemed necessary. No one could claim to know more than they.

And yet, they almost to a man and woman were not prepared to understand the breadth and depth of what Jesus taught. The fullest and deepest meaning still escaped them.

Are we to assume any more ability than they? Are we as Church, able to discern without error who is welcome at the Lord’s table?

As we are instructed to accept this or that teaching as “given”, as we are instructed not to discuss this or that rule, as we are instructed who is in sin and who is not, and how to be “reconciled”, should we not  question these limitations? For Jesus placed no limitations–love others in the radical unconditional way that God loves you. Make no distinctions, make no judgement–love period.

Peter, the disciple we trust without question to be the titular head of the Church, thereby living in perfect understanding of Jesus’ teachings, proved to not have that perfect understanding. Are our bishops and priests to be given more faith in truth than him?

Truly the Spirit seems to teach the lesson that every time you think you have loved enough, double, and triple it. Every time you think you have reached the goal, look toward the horizon and see Me beckoning you further.

God’s love is all-encompassing. Can we turn anyone away from the table except at our peril? I think not.

Amen. 

Waffles Anyone?

Have you ever made waffles? No I don’t mean open the freezer and pop a couple of frozen discs into the toaster. I mean make up a batter and heat up the waffle iron. Real waffles, the kind your mother used to make?

One has to learn the art of waffling. It’s not the batter, any good cookbook will give you the simple recipe. No, the art is in the pouring. Too little and the waffle is deformed with incomplete edges. Too much, and batter drips out of the iron and makes an awful mess.

Just right? Ahh, now that is a thing to behold. You learn by doing. Pouring and then watching as the batter oozes and slides around the patterned nubs. When you have the right amount, it runs slowly like lava until it has covered the entire grid. Close the lid, and wait until it’s golden and you have perfection.

Today’s readings remind me of waffles.

Jesus relates a number of parables all of which have a common theme: that the Word infiltrates throughout the world.

The good seed grows up among the weeds and at harvest can be separated. The mustard seed grows, it fills out into branches and twigs and becomes a wonderful full shrub that can support and care for those who nest within its intricate structure. The yeast permeates the entire dough, leavening it all over time.

We learn that if we live as vital members of the Kingdom, we too permeate all of creation and leaven it for good.  Some of our “good works”, our “good neighborly” voice rubs off on those around us. Or as the Buddhist might say, good karma draws good karma.

We look at the world around us and there is little to be happy about. Governments worldwide fail miserably to serve their people. Our misbegotten practices, designed to satisfy our own greed has seemingly turned Mother Nature against us. People argue and war against each other over real or imagined wrongs, greed, fear, and other negative emotions. It is easy to believe that we are “going to hell in a handbasket” as the old saying suggests.

These parables give us comfort in remembering that that is not so. In the Hebrew Testament from Wisdom, we are reminded that God is always just, and when we emulate that justice, that mercy, and that forgiveness, we are most like God and we can be assured that we are seeping into the cracks of a broken world, working the magic that is love. We are joining together, uniting a fractured community and binding it together. We knit a network that provides hope and security to a frightened people.

Paul reminds us in Romans that we do not act alone, but that the Spirit of God is ever with us, perfecting our words and actions so that they are more than the woeful efforts of our individual desire. The Spirit residing within makes our words more loving, more gentle, more powerful. We reap a greater harvest than we perhaps can be aware of. We remember to trust that our meagre efforts will yield a hundredfold.

We are not alone as souls lost among the evil of our times. We are lighthouses providing the guiding light that calls home the frightened and tired sailor. We form an interconnected network that upholds and uplifts humanity to an ever-growing awareness of God’s center in us all. We are a thread in the tapestry that creates the perfection that really underlies all the mud we seem mired in.

Or we can be. If we remember.

Amen.

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Romans 8: 26-27
Matthew 13: 24-33

 

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