Family

Our Sunday Vesper prayer group lost a member this past week – Miss Roberta Little was called home to our heavenly Father.

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I don’t know about you; but Jesus’ final words in the Gospel today: ‘So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Gives me chills.  How am I going to measure up to such a high mark?  How can I possibly hope to meet that desire, that expectation?  But if we look at who Jesus is taking to, we can see that it is possible.  True, Jesus is talking to me, but He is also talking to each of you.  Christ is talking to the community of believers.  Christ understands our weakness, He understands that His call to conversion, for an individual, is an impossible mission; so He has given to each of us a community to help with our journey.

We are born into the Mystical Body, through Baptism individually – but we are given this gift through community.  No one can baptize themselves – they need others. We journey through life and strive to grow in our faith, through community.  We rely on each other, to correct, to encourage, to enlighten, to teach us what the Lord has revealed; and we especially rely on each other’s prayers.  Through this community action of witness and prayer we can, together, join with the Holy Trinity in a journey that leads to our heavenly home – there is strength, physical and spiritual, in community – there is love.

But to view this as an earthly community would be to narrow it to here and now, and this reduces our understanding of family, community, to such a small few.  Holy Mother Church has proclaimed that our family is much, much larger than those who are alive, those on the earthly journey.  Our family is here on earth, those in heaven, those in purgatory, and sadly those in hell.

Our prayers for each other reach past the limits of this earthly reality, it stretches to purgatory and to heaven.  Those in heaven have no need of prayers on their behalf but they can pray for us.  Those in purgatory need our prayer just as we need theirs – through their purgation they can and will offer prayers for our wellbeing.  We are in constant dialog with this family of Christ – we are never alone.

This should give us comfort, especially in these days with the passing of Miss Roberta; we are not cut off from our sister.  Her efforts in the Mystical Body for those she loves hasn’t ended, hasn’t even changed – she helps us through her prayers – her love.  Our efforts haven’t changed either, we pray for her and all those who have preceded us, and we ask for her and their prayer as well.

As we go through a period of mourning we should realize that, as painful as it is, it is a good thing.  We loved and we lost, that is good and holy.  The only way to keep from this pain we feel is to not know love; be numbed like Satan and that, of course, is hell on earth.  Through this period of mourning and pain we need to remember that love reigns supreme and we need to keep communicating with our beloved sister and our community with prayer.  In this way we help each other achieve what we prayed for at Mass in the Collect: that, always pondering spiritual things, we may carry out in both word and deed that which is pleasing to God. – that we can ‘be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect.’ Remembering always that we are not alone.

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Look Next to Us

Today’s readings reinforce in us the necessity to choose wisely. 

  • In Sirach we hear the prophet tell us: ‘Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.’  We get the feeling that we have to choose whether we are ready or not.
  • St. Paul finishes the second reading with, seemingly, an ominous sentence: ‘For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.’  It can give the listener a rather Orwellian feeling, as if they are being watched over at all times.
  • Jesus, puts into stark terms what demands He places on us to be followers of His; it seems insurmountable and we are doomed to fail. 

To the prophet’s proclamation the answer is – yes we have to choose whether we are ready or not – and we have to choose constantly, it is never over. To Christ’s message: we will fail, again and again.  Our choices will err and we will find ourselves in the despair and turmoil of one who is outside the embrace of our Heavenly Father.  But the good news is the rather ominous sentence from St. Paul – yes we are being watched over at all times, but not by a Cold War Secret Police but by Love itself.

The mountain that we are called to climb for our Lord is definitely an impossible climb.  Due to our concupiscence we can never make it to the top.  It is out of our reach.  The teachings of Sirach and Christ that we hear today are too much for us.  But they are not too much for God; and He is never apart from us. ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’ St. John the Baptist proclaimed to those on the shore as Jesus walked toward them. Here is the one who can help us, save us he proclaims. Christ is not only walking toward us but walking next to us, and He is looking to carry our sins.  These teachings He gives us today comes with His loving help.  He gives His Holy Spirit to open our minds and guide our hearts; He gives us the continual chance to cleanse ourselves and re-choose in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  He gives us His very body and blood, soul and divinity to nourish and strengthen us.

We can and will fall and He can and will always lift us up.  All we need to do is trust in the Lord. Some might feel that this is a risk – it is not – it is the most sure bet we can make. Pope Francis, in a homily to a Rome parish told them: ‘this is a risk we must take: to trust in Him, and He never disappoints. Never, never![1]

As we continue on our journey, as we try and retry to climb the mountain to our Heavenly Father; let’s not look back down the mountain or up towards the summit but look to our side and gaze on our Lord as he offers us His hand to help us and His back to carry our failings.


[1] 1/19/2014 – Homily to Sacred Heart Parish Rome

Our Part (icipation)

February 16, 2014 – 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus tell us: ‘Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.’; His comment to the group listening points out how important worship is to them.  The discussion is a powerful reminder to them about the importance of being prepared for worship, the necessity of proper disposition and attitude when presenting oneself to God in a Temple service – for us that would be Mass.  Worship, is about interior preparation that leads to a proper disposition and actual participation.

The Vatican II fathers used the Latin phrase ‘participatio actuosa’; some translate it ‘active participation’ others translate it ‘actual participation’ – both highlight important aspects of the phrase.  In my view, because the English language reverses the words it removes the importance of the phrase; or rather changes the paradigm. When we define first: ‘participation’ we can then properly flow to the second word ‘active’ with a correct perspective, disposition.

Participation, in the sense of the Mass, refers to a primary action that we are part of.  What is it that we are participating in? And of course it is the Eucharistic Prayer, the ‘Opus Dei’ (Work of God) of Christ; Jesus prayer to the Father in words and action; His Pasch, His passion death and resurrection in obedience to the Father and for our salvation.

Now, it is obvious that the true Eucharistic Sacrifice is Christ’s gift of Himself to the Father; so what is our part? How do we participate? It is our prayer. To actually participate in the Mass, we need to be actively praying along with Christ.  Our preparation for Mass as well as our disposition in the Mass is one of prayer; we are attaching our prayers of thanksgiving, of petition, of forgiveness, of mercy, of penance, of everything to those of Christ as He offers His whole being to the Father.

I think it bears repeating; our actual participation in the Mass, that makes us active within Christ’s sacrifice to the Father, is our prayer.  Now, of course there are some who are called to ‘do things’ in the Mass and that is laudable, or as the Church likes to phrase it ‘praise worthy’; but when it comes down to it, the most important thing we do is pray.  And as with any important activity we need to train ourselves; as I said earlier place ourselves in the proper disposition, so that our hearts and minds are in tune with the prayer of Christ.

Holy Mother Church recognizes this and knows that the Mass needs to facilitate our being able to place ourselves in the right frame of mind.  The actions in the Mass not only reveal to us the powerful aspects of the liturgy but always help us center in on the active participation of our prayer.  By coming to understand why the church has structured the Liturgy the way she does is not only a study in the history of revelation but it is a means to deepen our relation with the Holy Trinity.  If someone thinks that our liturgical actions are more or less just choreography then their participation will be more of passive spectatorship.  If, on the other hand, someone strives to understand why we do what do at Mass then their participation will become deeper, fuller, more active in what is actually happening; and by means of this deeper participation our personal relationship with God deepens.

I would like to point out three aspects of the Mass as examples:

1 The Altar
The Mass revolves around two centers, the Ambo where we hear proclaimed God’s Word, and the Altar.  You have all noticed that the clergy come up to the Altar and kiss it. Why? Because the Altar represents Jesus Christ Himself; above any other symbolism that can be given to the Altar this is preeminent.  We don’t reverence a table, we reference a person.  It is always interesting to me to listen to people talk about the altar.  One of the most telling differences in comments is when someone describes adding an altar cloth as decorating the Altar, while others describe that action as dressing the Altar.  We decorate a thing, we dress a person. We should look at the Altar as the clergy do when they kiss it – they kiss Christ, they reverence our Lord who is about to perform the great Opus Dei (work of God), for us, and with us to the Father.

2 The Collect
In the Liturgy, after the greeting and the penitential rite we participate in the Collect.  Most probably know it by the misleading title of ‘Opening Prayer’.  It is called the Collect because of what is said just prior to it.  We hear Father announce ‘Let us pray’. This is not an alert for the Altar Server to bring the big red book to him; it is a call for everyone to quietly gather their thoughts and prayers together to offer them along with our Lord’s offering.  There should be time between the call to prayer and the Collect.  The Collect does what the name says – it collects the congregation’s prayers and through the priest, by means of this prayer, they are offered upward to God the Father.  For me, the term Opening Prayer almost sounds like Opening Act and it makes me feel like we are passive viewers whereas the term Collect calls us to active participation.

3 The Bow-less Creed
I must be honest with you, sometimes I cheat during the Creed.  I look up to see how many people bow at the words ‘by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man’ Holy Mother Church thinks that this little action is very important, it is right there in the Missalette.  The Incarnation is that important; we who are undeserving of this gift, should bow at the thought of God coming to us.  But, in my peeking at you I notice that about as many don’t bow as do. The idea of the bow should be spontaneous for those who have come to participate in Christ’s sacrifice – we recognize our unworthiness for this gift and we humble ourselves for it.

So, three examples of aspects of the Mass that, depending on our understanding, affect our disposition and thus affect our participation; three examples out of the many aspects of the Mass that depending on our understanding can deepen our relationship with God. My prayer for all of us is that we renew our effort to come to a better understanding of the Mass so that we can then participate worthily in Christ’s action to the Father for us.

Reviving the Great Experiment

Last night I was watching Governor Mike Huckabees’s weekly news discussion and commentary show.  In his opening monologue he was reviewing the past week’s political news.  In his opinion the actions of the rulers in Washington DC show that they don’t fear the people.  In a country that was created by the people and for the people the ruling elite have separated themselves from the founding father’s desire for less controlling government.  Right after his monologue he interviewed, via television link, a lawyer for one of the groups that, according to the lawyer, has been targeted by the IRS.  Her comment to Governor Huckebee was that the powers in Washington did fear the people and that is why they are aggressively pursuing all avenues to control the population. Though there are good points, for and against, for both opinions I couldn’t help but think they were missing the most important point.  What our ruling elite was missing, or trying to suppress, was not fear of the people but fear of the Lord.

It is true that our founding fathers desired the philosophy of government by the people.  It is true that, though they didn’t know it, they wished for a version of what Catholic’s call subsidiarity – where the federal government was the last resort.  In the constitution they added the 10th amendment, probably the most forgotten or ignored of the amendments which reads ‘The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.’  This amendment, in my opinion, is the core political ideology that made the American experiment so radical.  But spanning over all these great ideas of government by the people was the knowledge of a transcendent truth.  They realized that mankind, in any endeavor, was guided by the transcendent truth of the Creator – God.  One has only to read their correspondence, official documents and open letters to the people (such as the Federalist Papers) to see the influence of the belief of transcendent truth. Two powerful examples:

  • The founding fathers, in our great Declaration of Independence declared in the second paragraph: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
  • Thomas Jefferson, who penned probably the most abused idea: ‘separation of Church and State’ where he used this phrase in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association to protect Churches from Government interference and not the other way around, acknowledged in the same letter ‘the common father and creator of man

Fear of the Lord (as defined as belief in and reverence to) was foundational in their ideals.

So, here we are today, with a polarized political and social environment unlike any I can remember.  All sides in our national discussion (which is more adequately described as a cacophony of diatribes and ad hominem attacks for personal gains) have pushed away the foundational basis for our democratic experiment: transcendent truth.  What next?

As disciples of our Lord what is our place in this dynamic?  Is it to withdraw or do we enter society’s discourse?  Today’s readings speak loudly of our place, our purpose. We are called to be in society, in the stream of social consciousness.  We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  We are to be as St. Paul and go to the people with God’s message.  Scary as this might seem in today’s political and social environment, it is because of this we need to be there. We need to bring back into the minds of the people that government needs to ‘fear’ the Lord.  It is by this overarching paradigm that the American experiment will once again gain its value as the best mankind has to offer in living together.

The Church will never again enter the sphere of governing, she learned her lesson.  Pope Benedict XVI, in his first encyclical wrote: “The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. … A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church.’ But he continued. ‘The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society, on the other hand, is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the State, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity…’

Brothers and sisters, today’s readings tell us that words will never be enough, let’s go out and live publically the Gospel so that people will see and want to know more.  Let’s go out and plant the seeds of what the fullness of humanity is so that more and more people will embrace it.  Let’s enter the national discourse with the love of God and radiate the peace of His message so that those who rule will see its import, or at least won’t be able to deny it.  Let’s express by words and our lives what we know is the truth, never backing down but always acting with patience and love.  By these means we bring the transcendent truth, so important in the thinking of our founding fathers, back to the light. In this way we will fulfill the words of today’s Gospel: ‘your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.’  Never let it be said that religion and governance are at odds.

 

Lesson of Simeon

The Feast of the Presentation of Lord takes us through the Holy Family fulfilling the religious and cultural obligations of their day.  Dutiful and faithful Mary and Joseph, taking their child to the temple to fulfill what the law proscribes, never mind that this child is God. This alone could fill hours of reflection, but what strikes me most this year is Simeon.

Every night I recite in Compline (Night Prayer) those words of Simeon.

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.

Words from this ancient man who lived his life for God, and at this moment he sees the fulfillment of his hopes and dreams, the messiah has come.

Today’s feast, indeed most every night while praying Simeon’s words I feel a little shot of coldness run down the spine of my soul.  I am praying the words of a man who had never known the messiah, recognize him and give greeting through his praise to the Father.  And here am I, 2,000 plus years later, with the fullness of revelation being passed on to me in the Bible and through the Magisterium of the Church, Christ’s bride.  I have been given millennia of examples, through the writings of the Church Fathers and the countless witness of the saints.  I have visited the hallowed grounds of Marian apparition sites, great cathedrals, and other places of worship.  I have been blessed with all of this, as Simeon hadn’t, and I can’t help but fearfully wonder whether I have truly greeted our Lord, as Simeon did.

Pope Francis, speaks of taking on the smell of the sheep, and I am afraid I don’t.  I am afraid that every time I go out and walk past Christ in the faces of those I meet I never breathe in deeply; never recognize the smell of sheep; never welcome it. There is no greeting of our Lord. He is presenting Himself to me in those others and I never properly present myself to Him through them.

The Pope speaks of going to the fringes and I fear that I haven’t left the center.  I have stayed in the safety of the sacristy, not daring to venture out and radiate the light that I have been given.  I have not gone to meet Christ who has come to meet me.

The Pope speaks of a believer as ‘essentially one who remembers’.  And I fear that I don’t remember, truly remember; because I fail to see in this world the glory of God in everyone.  I fail to mourn with the mournful; come to the help of the suffering; look through the eyes of the marginalized. I am deaf to the bells of the leper. I fail to embrace Christ, when through these He is embracing me.

In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis, quotes Pope Emeritus Benedict’s words: ‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person.’ In today’s Gospel we see four witnesses to this in Mary, Joseph, Anna and Simeon.  Would that I can truly make my own Simeon’s words in his great canticle:

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.

May each of our hearts be open to these words and allow the Holy Spirit guide us to the awareness that Simeon had as he presented himself to our Lord.