Monthly Archives: February 2012

Jonah

God sent Jonah to the “enormously big city” of Nineveh. Three days to go through it. No wonder poor Jonah headed off in the opposite direction, seeking smallness, safe and sound. But God doesn’t call us to smallness. “You kingdom come” we pray; let’s work for it.

In this holy time,

a time of grace, Lord,

awaken kingdom dreams in us,

save us from dreaming too small.

You came to Jonah a second time,

Come

send us into Nineveh

as your presence there.

For a homily.

Our Father

Lent is a time of grace, and what grace do we need more than the gift of prayer? Today’s reading offers the familiar prayer Jesus taught, the Our Father. What better prayer can we pray? We know it by rote. What better grace than that Jesus teach us its inexhaustible secrets ?

“Lord, teach us to pray.”

You give us, your children, the words to say,

tell us what they mean;

make them lead to you.

Bring us as we pray into that Presence within,

where words end

and where we rest in you.

Seeing the Least

 

We know Jesus Christ in the Gospels, but today’s reading tells us to find him where it’s hardest to see him–in “the least.” They would be the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner. The least are hard to see. Mother Teresa called them “Christ in disguise.” Like the blind in the gospels, we ask that we may see.

Lord Jesus Christ,

may I see you in my neighbor,

especially in those in need, who seem so unlike you.

with little charm or response,

sometimes ungrateful for interest or care.

May I love you in my neighbor, the neighbor hard to love

and find you in the least of them.

The Temptations of Jesus

As supreme ruler in China from 1949-1976  Mao Zedong began the practice of sending young recruits for the Communist party on what was called the  “Long March.”  They retraced the 8,000 miles that Mao and his army took in 1935 through some of the toughest parts of western China to evade their enemies and eventually become the fighting force that conquered China. The recruits were expected to learn from people like Mao and his soldiers who made that difficult journey what made you into a good Communist.

Lent is our “Long March.”  For 40 days, we retrace the 40 years the Israelites journeyed through the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land and the great journey that Jesus Christ took to his death and resurrection.

This Sunday we begin that journey with Jesus in the desert after his baptism where he is tempted by the devil. Mark’s gospel describes it succinctly:

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,

and he remained in the desert for forty days,

tempted by Satan.

He was among wild beasts,

and the angels ministered to him.”

The experience of Jesus in the desert mirrors his experience in his life. At his baptism, God calls him his “Beloved Son” and tells us to “listen to him.” He is the Messiah, sent by God to save his people. But in the desert he is tempted by Satan to be a Messiah of another kind.

In his recent reflection on Lent, Pope Benedict said that in the desert Satan “offers Jesus another messianic way, far from God’s plan, because it passes through power, success, dominion and not through the total gift on the Cross. This is an alternative messianism of power, of success, not the messianism of gift and selfless love.”

Matthew and Luke’s gospels speak more than Mark’s gospel does about the temptations of Jesus in the desert. Jesus is hungry; “Turn these stones into bread,” Satan says. You’re above the ordinary laws of life.  From a mountain, Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. “Here’s political power,” Satan says. From the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, Satan says “Throw yourself down; you can have religious power.”

Mark’s gospel goes on from his account, saying simply:

“After John had been arrested,

Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:

“This is the time of fulfillment.

The kingdom of God is at hand.

Repent, and believe in the gospel.’”

Instead of Satan’s suggestion, Jesus follows John the Baptist and the way of the prophets. He goes to Galilee, not Jerusalem, and proclaims the gospel of God.

Jesus’ ministry in Galilee has all the ambivalence of the journey of the Jews in the desert. He’s a sign of God’s presence. Like a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night he teaches in the synagogues and along the seashore in Galilee.  He gives manna to the hungry and strengthens the poor and heals the sick. He pitches his tent among them and makes his home with them.

But he finds murmuring and rejection there too. You can hear it in the constant questions and doubts that he faces. Demons cry out against him. Finally, going up to Jerusalem, Jesus faces death; he becomes the sacrifice that saves his people from their sins. As he did in the desert, Jesus accepts his role as the Servant of God in his life–he “ renounces himself and lives for others and places himself among sinners, to take upon himself the sins of the world. “ (Benedict XVI)

So what do we learn from Jesus on our long march of 40 days? Our great temptations will be like his. We like to control things, we like the world to be on our side; we like to control God. His great wish was “ your will be done, your kingdom come.” Our temptation is “my will, my kingdom come.”

Our world is a lot like his. We wish God were more visible, not hidden in signs or limited to believing eyes. We wish for a world more supportive of good values, not a desert where Satan’s voice is strong and wild beasts roam.

This Lent we make the Long March with Jesus Christ who is with us today and all days. He has pitched his tent with us. We’ll have manna to eat and rocks will give water for our thirst. A fire goes before us in darkness and a pillar of cloud marks our path in the day. Angels still minister to us.

Prayers teach us to pray

Prayers teach us how to pray. The collect for  this Thursday after Ash Wednesday is a simple prayer that says so much.  Listen to it:

Lord,

may everything we do

begin with your inspiration,

continue with your help

and reach perfection under your guidance.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever.

Let’s recognize where we stand before God– empty-handed. And so we look for God to put something into our hand, to give the bread we need, inspire us. We start with nothing.

Then, we ask for help with what we are about now. We can’t continue without God.

Finally, God must guide us to complete what we are about in our lives. It’s not about what we want or plan,  but “your will be done.”

Yet, we pray with a sublime hope:

We ask this through Jesus Christ, who has shown us a God who loves us, who promises to make our prayer his own, who is our advocate, our Savior, our reward.

Reflecting on the Gospels

 

People came up yesterday after I gave my homily on the paralyzed man in church and said they liked to hear the scriptures, especially the gospels, explained in the light of archeology and the other historical sciences. I think this approach is a way of doing what older meditation methods called the “composition of place,” using one’s imagination and senses to enter the gospels and the scriptures.

Formerly, we would set a gospel scene as best we could, sometimes using the descriptions of mystics or artists who imagined the time and place as they would, often using the topography, the dress, the world they saw around them. Their depictions are still helpful, not so much because they accurately described things, but from the lessons they drew from their meditations.

The picture above from the 1500s or so of the beheading of John the Baptist is an example. Nothing like 1st century Palestine, but the little light in the distant sky tells us what the gospels say: God sees it all and will vindicate his prophet in the end.

Two engineers were listening to my talk yesterday. One said “There were two miracles in that story. Those fellows and the paralyzed man on the roof should have fallen through. No roof I know could have sustained that weight!”

And someone who knows insurance told me: “Peter wouldn’t have any worries if he had a good policy!”

I think we are on to something.

A Lenten Journey

Last year I wrote “A Lenten Journey with Jesus Christ and St. Paul of the Cross” for Christus Publishing. It was a little late for last Lent but Lent is almost upon us and it’s available now on Amazon and Crossplace.com.

The book attempts to link St. Paul of the Cross with the Lenten season, an obvious connection for someone who loved the mystery of the cross. His spirituality responds well to the gospels we read during Lent.  Saints feed on the Word of God and he not only fed on it but preached it too. This book takes a look at his life and  spirituality and offers a daily reflection for each day of Lent based on the gospel of the day.

I hope to follow St. Paul of the Cross as he follows Jesus Christ in this season of grace and to use some excerpts from the book on this blog.

Lent is a journey that’s blessed. The church and the whole communion of saints take part in it.  Let’s make it together.

Goodbye and good luck!

 

We’re reading at Mass from the Letter of James. Scholars wonder who wrote it and when it was written, but you can’t miss its overriding message that “faith without works is dead.” It’s not enough to hear the word of God; be “doers of the word,” the author of the letter says. Be practically concerned for others.

What does it mean to be practically concerned? The Letter of James couldn’t be clearer in describing it:

“If a brother or sister has nothing to wear

and has no food for the day,

and one of you says to them,

“Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,”

but you do not give them the necessities of the body,

what good is it?”

Kind words and wishes aren’t enough. When people are hungry or cold or sick or without shelter, you have to do something for them. If you really hear God, that’s what God says to do.

Though the letter speaks of “a brother or a sister” as the one in need, it isn’t just a family member or a friend you’re called to care for. Concern doesn’t end with your own; it’s impartial and extends to all in need, even our enemies.

The letter surely isn’t directed only to concern by individuals either. Don’t countries and communities have to look out for the needy? “Don’t worry, work hard, aim high and good luck.” Is that any answer to the poor among us?

The Letter of James says it isn’t.

Lord, open my lips

We begin to pray with words like this. St. Ambrose explains what they mean in one of his explanations of the psalms. We are not asking just for help to pray:

“We must always meditate on God’s wisdom, keeping it in our hearts and on our lips. Your tongue must speak justice, the law of God must be in your heart. Hence Scripture tells you: You shall speak of these commandments when you sit in your house, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down, and when you get up. Let us then speak of the Lord Jesus, for he is wisdom, he is the word, the Word indeed of God.
  It is also written: Open your lips, and let God’s word be heard. God’s word is uttered by those who repeat Christ’s teaching and meditate on his sayings. Let us always speak this word. When we speak about wisdom, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about virtue, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about justice, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about peace, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about truth and life and redemption, we are speaking of Christ.
  Open your lips, says Scripture, and let God’s word be heard. It is for you to open, it is for him to be heard. So David said: I shall hear what the Lord says in me. The very Son of God says: Open your lips, and I will fill them. Not all can attain to the perfection of wisdom as Solomon or Daniel did, but the spirit of wisdom is poured out on all according to their capacity, that is, on all the faithful. If you believe, you have the spirit of wisdom.”

Successful and Unsuccessful Saints

In yesterday’s post I offered a summary of Bishop N.T. Wright’s talk to the Italian Catholic Bishops in which he stated that our understanding of the resurrection of Jesus is influenced today by the thinking of the Enlightenment, which placed God (if God exists) beyond our world. We are the lords of creation, according to that thinking. This life and all in it is in our hands to shape and control as we think best.

Yet, the Risen Christ is Lord of creation, still present in our world, fashioning it to become God’s new creation. He has not just come and now is gone, with us only at our death to take his own into heaven. Nor is he just lord of the perfect. Every knee bows before him.

I wonder if the thinking of the Enlightenment has also influenced our thinking about the saints. We like “successful saints” who seem to leave their mark in society by what they accomplish: building schools, hospitals, blazing new trails on the world scene. We like saints who do something big.

What about saints like Saint Gemma, Saint Pio–who seem to be sidelined most their lives without obvious human accomplishments­– aren’t they witnesses to the power of the Risen Christ to reach into humble life and be present there?

I heard recently that Saint Pio is probably the most popular saint in the church right now. Interesting. Books about St. Gemma are the most popular books we distribute at Passionist Press. Interesting.

Is holiness only for the perfect, the bright, the accomplished? Or does the Risen Christ reveal himself to the humble, sometimes giving them the treasures of his wounds? Maybe the voice of the faithful is telling us something.