Episodic

During our vacation last week, we went through the Amish region of northern Indiana. Every time I go through there and see the Amish traveling the roads in their horse and carriages I am both impressed by their total devotion to living their faith in the wider society and am saddened and concerned by our inability to do the same.  It seems to always bring me back to one issue in our society.

I have noticed for decades that the lives of people have become more ‘episodic’.  Men and women go through their daily existence and relationships as if they are watching TV. Each move through the day as if they turn on and then turn off the different events; and one event doesn’t relate to the other.  They live in sequential but different realities; family life is one episode, work life is another; weekends are different from weekdays; interaction with friends are different from interaction with their loved ones; and their episodes of faith are separate from their secular life.

Holy Mass doesn’t escape this malady. People seem to turn on their religious life as they enter the church for Mass and then turn it off when they leave.  When faith is viewed in this way, it is easier to understand why it is so hard to build a vibrant parish. But there is an even more direr aspect to this episodic malady, and it has to do with a fundamental reason for Mass.

An important purpose of the Holy Mass is, sadly, almost unheard of; and it is the mission of the faithful: consecratio mundi. We are to go forth and help consecrate the world – make it holier.  The dismissal at the end of the Mass isn’t just a quaint way of closing the celebration, it is a mandate. The original and still primary dismissal is ‘Ite Missa Est[1] – Go, she (meaning the church, us) is sent. Two alternatives in the Roman Missal which closely reflect the essence of the Latin dismal are ‘Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.[2], and ‘Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.[3]  The Mass, our participation in it and the fruits we receive from it are not to be stored in the back of the Church as we leave, they are not turned off as if we switch the channel from Mass to Sunday Morning breakfast, they are to continue outward. In a book review in the September Adoremus Bulletin the reviewer writes: ‘The liturgy of the Mass nourishes Christians to sanctify the world[4]. This is what it means to us and how important it is to mankind. The reviewer goes on in the next paragraph: ‘…the liturgy does not exist for its own sake, but it is oriented towards the transformation of the world. All Christians have the vocation to take the cues for how they live their lives and they see the world based on the liturgy.[5]

But this understanding of the Mass is missed by many today because of this ‘episodic’ paradigm they live their lives under.  How can we hope to instill in the faithful this understanding of consecratio mundi if they don’t understand the organic connectedness of all moments in their lives?  When they leave their lives in the narthex and pick them up as they go out? This is not only a malady of Mass participation, it is a malady for all religious participation: the Liturgy of the Hours, private prayer, devotionals, and so on.

So, the question for us this evening is: how can we enliven the mission of the Royal Priesthood of the faithful; reinvigorate the true paradigm of living our lives; remove the social mentality of ‘episodic’ lives? The complete answer is complex and nebulous; but maybe, our small part is clear: living our lives in an even more public way.

Brothers and sisters, for those of us who try to live a full and connected life within our faith – let others see what we know; that all parts of our lives are interwoven with the Mass, with Christ. There is no ‘turn off one aspect and turn on another’; at every moment the Mass affects our lives and every moment of our lives are offered up in the Mass; because it contains Christ in the Eucharist which is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life..[6]

But, of course all of our actions mean nothing without receptivity to the Holy Spirit by those around us; and this means prayer.  We need to pray and then pray more.  Our plan is clear, though hard, in the words of St. Augustine: ‘Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.’ May God bless us all in our part of His plan. Maybe, just maybe, more and more people will see life as it is intended to be, an interconnected and continual journey towards He who made us. In turn, person by person, the world will be become a holier place.

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[1] http://www.usccb.org
[2] Roman Missal page 673 order of the Mass Dismals.
[3] ibid
[4] Adoremus Bulletin September 2015, page 9. Book review on Consecrating the World: On Mundane Liturgical Theology by Dr. David W. Fagerberg – written by Roland Millare.
[5] ibid
[6] Lumen Gentium #11

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The love of Christ urges us on

Seventh Thursday in Eastertide (5/12/16)

Today, we have heard the final part of Jesus’ prayer to His Father at the Last Supper (of which we have been hearing for the past few days). Many call this chapter (chapter 17), or at least the first part of it, the High Priestly Prayer.  The next line in John’s Gospel, after today’s reading is: ‘When he had said this, Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to where there was a garden, into which he and his disciples entered.’ [1]. Jesus has finished His last meal with His apostles and now moves towards His passion. His greatest act as a priest; His sacrifice of Himself to atone for our sins.

Now some might think it strange that Holy Mother Church chooses to revisit the Last Supper so soon since the last time we celebrated it; after all, it is only about seven weeks since the celebration of the Sacred Triduum where we dived deeply into His passion, death and resurrection.  There might be the temptation to think: ‘We have been through it already, why bring it back up during our celebration of Eastertide?’

Because it is that central, that foundational to Christ. His words to His Father, in front of His disciples brings a degree of clarity to what He is about and what we should be about also; which will be made totally clear to them in a few days during Pentecost – when His Holy Spirit comes.

Today’s gospel, contains the explanation why His mission is so important to Him. ‘Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.[2]  Christ loves each and every person, and His whole being desires that we see what He sees; the ultimate joy of creation – the creator.  How do we know this? He tells us so at the beginning of His High Priestly Prayer: ‘Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.[3] Christ knows what mankind is made for.  He understands that we won’t be complete and at total peace until we enter into that eternal life. He knows that we can’t find rest until we are completed. Or as St Augustine says, so beautifully, in the very first paragraph of His Confessions ‘…You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.[4]

Brothers and sisters, why does Holy Mother Church urge us to go out into the world and proclaim the good news of Christ?  Why have so many men and women throughout the last 2,000 years offered their talents, their time, their energy and, yes, their lives (as today’s celebration of the martyrs Sts. Nereus and Achilleus highlight)? Because we understand how empty a life can be until we allow our hearts to rest in Christ. We can’t help but let others know what we are feeling.  It can’t be contained. This is who we are, what we are made of and for.

But, as humans, letting those around us know the good news can still be daunting. We might tend towards inactivity in regards to proclaiming the Gospel because of fear of reactions; fear of unworthiness; concern about our talents. But take heart and remember what the martyrs understood: ‘Emmanuel’ – God is with us. He is our eternal companion. We show our joy, introduce its reason and allow God to do the rest. I would like to finish with a quote that is always in my mind and heart, especially in times of doubt or being overwhelmed; it is from Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love):

There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then we are helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord’s hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keeps the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14).[5]

The love of Christ urges us on[6]

With firm resolve let’s respond with the pilgrims’ exhortation heard on the road to the shrine at Santiago de Compostela, Spain for almost 1,200 years: ‘Ultreya!’ onward!

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[1] Jn 18:1
[2] Jn 17:24
[3] Jn 17:3
[4] St. Augustine, Confessions, paragraph 1
[5] Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI, paragraph 35
[6] 2 Cor 5:14

Blind Man’s Lesson

In his first letter to the Thessalonians St. Paul tells them and us: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification:[1] He is goes on to tell them what they need to do gain sanctification – holiness. He doesn’t give them the totality of the means but his words ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification:[2] tells us the totality of God’s desire for us. If this is so important to God then it should a paradigmatic for us. Each of us should place our sanctification as our primary goal. With the help of God, His saints and His Holy Church we should live our lives in search for and protection of sanctification. We should stop at nothing to reach what God wants to us have and be – holiness and holy. When this level is reached we are sharing more fully in the life of God and can gain his eternal reward – heaven and the beatific vision.

This has more than a personal dimension – it is societal as well. St. Francis of Assisi wrote ‘Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.[3]  Our sanctification can instill in those around us the desire to follow the same path to sanctity; we build His kingdom one person at a time. After all, when standing in judgment in front of Christ I fear He will not only look to our own lives but to those we could have helped.

So, how do we go about gaining sanctification? The path is varied but the attitude is the same. Saint Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘The plane of sanctity our Lord asks of us is determined by these three points: holy steadfastness, holy forcefulness, and holy shamelessness[4]. In today’s gospel we see a great lesson in what Saint Josemaría was talking about.

Holy steadfastness
For Saint Josemaría this means being firm in the faith, not abandoning a teaching or practice because it might give others a bad impression.  Bartimaeus, when he hears that Christ is walking by starts to cry out something that would be blasphemous to the ruling class, indeed most inhabitants: ‘Jesus, son of David, have pity on me’[5]. By calling Christ the Son of David Bartimaeus is declaring Jesus King. Bartimaeus continues to call out, not fearing what those around him might do. Holy Steadfastness.

Holy Forcefulness
For Saint Josemaría this means putting power behind our witness; or as we would say putting weight behind our conviction.  When told to be quiet Bartimaeus called out even more.

Holy Shamelessness
For Saint Josemaría this means being unapologetic for one’s commitment to Jesus Christ. Bartimaeus is unapologetic throughout this gospel. He doesn’t apologize for believing in Christ as He walks by and obviously he follows Christ unapologetically after regaining his sight. Bartimaeus isn’t embolden by his new found sight as much as he is convinced and strengthened by who Christ is. Saint Josemaría explains Holy Shamelessness this way: ‘If you have holy shamelessness you won’t be bothered by the thought of what people have said or what they will say.[6]

Bartimaeus shows us what attitude we need to gain the ‘plane of sanctity’; total surrender of ourselves to He who our heart yearns for and the deepest part of our soul recognizes – Christ. Once we give in to what our soul knows we become steadfast, forceful and shameless in our discipleship to Jesus Christ. Our lives become clearer because our desires and needs, our expectations and goals become simpler, indeed singular – Christ. Bartimaeus asked for sight and by his actions he tells us what sight he truly wanted – He followed Christ.

Maybe the greatest lesson from today’s gospel is how do we hope to recognize this in our lives? In our societal sophistication we have become too jaded in our thoughts and points of view. In spite of trying we are overwhelmed with nuances and intricacies of logic (or illogic – depending) to grasp, maybe, the lessons that Christ teaches us. How do we overcome this?

Christ teaches His followers and us how in the gospel today.  Look to the children and the simplehearted to help cut through what modernity has done to us. Look to the saints who have succeeded – look to Mary. Christ tells His followers to ‘Call him[7], bring this loud blind beggar to Me. Not so much to heal him as to teach His followers and us the importance of seeing in all we meet the face of Christ; to hear in all those we help the words of salvation; to learn from those on the margins the riches of faith.

May each of us have the blessing of a Bartimaeus in our lives.

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[1] 1 Thes 4:3
[2] ibid
[3] St Francis of Assisi
[4] St Josemaría Escrivá The Way #387
[5] MK 10:47
[6] St Josemaría Escrivá The Way #391
[7] MK 10:49

Christus resurrexit!

Just four months ago, at midnight, we heard these words from Isaiah:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.’[1]

As Christmas dawned, as Christ was born, the darkness of mankind was broken by a light from Bethlehem.  A solitary light, small maybe, but great in our darkness; it gave mankind a focus, a point that gave us hope.  Though He was still in His infancy, indeed just born, God brought the light of hope into our existence.  We were drawn to that light, though we didn’t know what it would accomplish, at least fully.

Today, we know.

Today, God’s light is not just a light in darkness, it has exploded in full force; it has obliterated the darkness that we knew.  Today, all is made clear to us. God has done what He proclaimed He would do, through the prophets, through Christ.  God’s light has burst into every corner and crack; it has driven the darkness out of every place; Christ has risen from the dead and Satan is howling at the brightness that love brings.

Our lives are now forever different because God has come and done battle with Satan and won.  From His resurrection Jesus shines back on the whole of salvation history, all is made clear and all is now good.  The light of the resurrection, His light, shines the truth and we rejoice.  But light only shines on us and does nothing else, if we don’t see it.  We must open the eyes of our soul to let the light in. St. Augustine said ‘God who created you without you, will not save you without you’[2].  Our hearts and desires need to be open to His light for it to bring about God’s will. This might be troubling because we will see with clarity things we don’t like about ourselves; but it brings healing. This light will show us where we need to change, what about us is far from the path of Christ.  But that is ok; it is good for us to take inventory of ourselves and our journey.

It might help us to remember that what we see about ourselves, in total clarity in this light; is what God sees and He still placed Himself on the cross for us.  His resurrection brings us this explosion of light and it also brings the warmth of love.  So let’s go forward on this Easter day, when light triumphs over darkness; when life defeats death; when God proves to be the greatest with joy and peace of mind because we now understand fully those words of Isaiah proclaimed that dark night of Christmas.

My brothers and sisters:
Christus resurrexit! Resurrexit vere!
Christ has risen! He is truly risen!

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[1] Isaiah 9: 1
[2] St Augustine, Sermo 169, 13

Look to the Magi

The celebration of the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord brings to light a great question put in front of mankind. How do we answer God’s gift to us?  How do we respond to He who is the Way, Truth and the Life?  There are two answers to this question and today we see one of them in the Magi.  The other we see on Good Friday.

What is truth?

Pontius Pilate, looking into the face of truth asked the question and didn’t find the answer, couldn’t find it – because he didn’t want to find it.

His question ‘What is truth?’ not only reflects a desperate desire within him and many throughout history, that truth should be subjective; but, I believe, it is a sophistic argument to allow them not to have to accept ultimate truth because that would cause them to change when they found it. Pilate didn’t want to look for the truth, didn’t want to have his life affected by it.  He would rather be uninformed, ignorant of truth so he could continue on the path to his wants and not his true needs.

This mindset might bring short-term comfort but it eventually leads to great disappointment as it fails to produce the peace and joy within us that we were made for – for it is manmade and not from God. ‘Man is degraded if he can’t know truth, if everything, in the final analysis, is just the product of an individual or collective decision.’ Pope Benedict XVI wrote.

The answer of course, is God; God within.  St. Augustine so famously wrote:‘“Great are You, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is your power, and infinite is Your wisdom.” And man desires to praise You, for he is a part of Your creation; he bears his mortality about with him and carries the evidence of his sin and the proof that You resist the proud. Still he desires to praise You, this man who is only a small part of Your creation. You have prompted him, that he should delight to praise You, for You have made us for Yourself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in You.

No, we can’t ignore God’s gift and go our own way to achieve happiness for the reasons given by Pope Benedict XVI and St. Augustine.  The only correct answer is the one followed by the Magi.  We find God regardless of where it leads us.  And He will lead us where we don’t expect; where we never thought we would go; but, He will lead us to where our hearts will be fulfilled.

…they departed for their country by another way.’ the Gospel ends with today.  When we meet our Lord in our hearts we will never continue to walk the same path, we are changed; priorities will be different; desires will be through the eyes of faith and not of flesh.  We will have found Truth and recognize it as such; it will not only change us but be our companion.

The Magi, in their hearts were searching for meaning of life, were searching for the truth and traveled great distances and through unimaginable trials to find it, and did. They never allowed Pilate’s fear of the unknown to enter their hearts. As fallen creatures our search for the truth follows the path of the Magi – great distances and unimaginable trials.  When the daily choice is put before us of answering as Pilate did or the Magi look to the Wise men. Look for the lighted path, look for the guiding star and though our life will be new it will be filled with the peace and joy we were made for, what we prayed for today at Mass in the Collect (Opening prayer):
O God, who on this day
revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star,
grant in your mercy
that we, who know you already by faith,
may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory.

May the feast of the Epiphany be a new starting point for each us as we follow the guiding star.  May Holy Mary our Mother – Gate of Heaven, Star of the Sea – be our best example and Advocate. Merry Christmas !

Fall Restlessness

In a talk at the General Chapter of the Augustinians the Holy Father talked of restlessness.  He was commenting on St. Augustine’s famous quote from his autobiography Confessions: ‘You made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.’  Though this meeting took place in late August, his comments seem to me so appropriate right now.  The fall, to me, brings a wanderlust into my being.  The changing of the weather, the color of the trees, the obvious effects of time seem to make me want to go out and wander.  Fall brings a restlessness into me, I want to see what else it out there.  I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t also the knowledge of my life flowing past me, the natural course of our time in this reality. But mixed with this restlessness is an uneasiness about the unknown future and the desire to have a solid base on which to rest – I want to be safe and want to know that I will always be safe.

The Holy Father said of St. Augustine: ‘it was this very restlessness in his heart which brought him to a personal encounter with Christ, brought him to understand that the remote God he was seeking was the God who is close to every human being, the God close to our heart, who was ‘more inward than my innermost self’

It is so easy to go outward and search what is over the next hill. Though it may seem like a journey of exploration, one that will satiate the wanderlust we feel, it is also an escape from the ultimate exploration: God and each of us.  To turn inward, as St. Augustine finally realized, was the greatest of journeys.  To turn ourselves within and search the God of our true happiness was and is, the true exploration that we are made for.  It isn’t easy; to do so we need to get to the truth about ourselves, the absolute truth of who we are – without our self-created blinders and filters, for that is where we will find God.  We probably won’t like what we see, but this is who God knows us as, and in spite of this He is willing to reside there, to wait for us to journey to Him and to acknowledge how much we need Him.  He, in turn, will then lead us, the real us, into His peace; help us become restful instead of restless – or as so beautifully proclaimed in one of the Communion Antiphons for today: ‘You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, O Lord.

Two Paths

Last week Jesus, in the parable of the widow and the unrighteous judge, explained to us when we should pray – constantly. Today, Jesus explains to us through another parable how we should pray. But in a more foundational sense Jesus is showing us how our relationship with the Father should be. After all, prayer is the communication in our relationship and how we talk to others is a great indicator of our relationship with them. Personal interaction, verbal and nonverbal, are inseparable actions in a relationship, and outward signs of our interior disposition.

Today’s parable leads us to some valuable realizations about both how we talk to Him (prayer) and how we act towards God’s actions to us (especially our participation in the Mass).

How we talk to Him.

Jesus gives us two examples, the first is the Pharisee, who comes not to communicate but to advertise. He comes not as a friend who desires companionship and the love that it entails; but as one who promotes his superiority. We hear ‘The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself…’ Sadly, this translation does us a disservice, it erases some of the important aspects of this parable. Since the early days of the church this line in the parable has Jesus saying: ‘The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself.’ The Pharisee is standing, (in some Spanish translations it describes his standing as standing erect, prideful) and when taken in light of his words, it indicates a conceited soul. St. Basil the Great, a father of the church who lived in the 4th century, comments on this line: ‘He says he prayed with himself, not as it were with God; for his sin of pride turned in upon himself.’ He stands in front of the altar and talks at God about himself, not with God about themselves. Though he is seemingly physically close to God (the altar in this parable); he is far removed from him in his soul. His dialogue, or rather monologue continues with how pleased he is with himself that he is so holy. St. Augustine says of this monologue: ‘He says, I am just a man; the rest of men are sinners!’ The arrogance of this monologue is stupefying, he fails to notice the plank in his eye. He spends his time patting himself on the back at the expense of the other person praying in the temple.

Again, St Augustine: ‘Examining the Pharisee’s words you find he asks nothing of God. He came up to pray. He has no wish to ask God for anything. He wishes simply to praise himself; and insult the other man praying there.’ Which brings us to the tax collector, who though standing ‘off at a distance’ physically is brought near to God with his piety. He communicates as one who holds this relationship, this companionship, in the highest of importance. He cares how he responds to God’s gift of love. He is sorrowful about how he is living this relationship and worried about how his life might affect it, but he is also comfortable in talking with God. He is humble. Even given the power that his position in society affords him, he understands the importance of his relationship with God and talks with Him and offers up his sorrow in hope that he and God can still walk together.

How do we pray?

At God or with God. Do we run through a litany of our achievements without any remorse for the judgments and actions we continually make towards others? Do we focus on our dialog with God or is it a monologue? Do we place this relationship at the top of our desires and priorities or is it just something to do?

The other aspect of our relationship is how we act towards God’s actions to us – in this particular case – how to we participate in Christ’s gift of himself in Holy Mass.

We see in the parable that the Pharisee, who is a religious leader, well versed in the Jewish religion, has come with his own agenda into sacred space where man responds to God’s loving initiatives. It is a holy space for Judaism, a place of sacrifice that is regulated by the religious practices that have evolved over almost 2 millennia. But this leader doesn’t appreciate this space and the gifts that allow him to worship – he just does his own thing. The tax collector, on the other hand, is unsure of his suitability to be there and holds himself back. But still, he throws himself, and his sorrow, at God’s mercy. In a way, he offers his contrition for this failures as sacrifice in hope that they will be accepted by God. He, in his own way, makes correct use of the religious practices.

How do we act to God’s actions, His gifts to us – the sacraments?

Have we tried to understand the reasons why things are done the way they are in Mass? Do we come before this altar, which represents Jesus; which brings forward to us the actual passion of Christ and bow in reverence to all that it stands for and all that happens on it? Do we genuflect in acknowledgment that God is residing in the Tabernacle, indeed is the first thing we do when we enter a church look for the tabernacle and see if the tabernacle light is burning? Do we reverence our God by trying to understand all that He offers us in the Sacraments? Do we hunger for a more intimate relationship with our God? Or do we come in and self-promote ourselves as the Pharisee does, or just go through the motions because that is what is expected of us?

In both interactions, how we view our relationship with one another will be seen. If my view of our religion is more about me, then that is what I will end up with – me. I will be by myself, my pride will weigh me down and keep me from rising to meet God. If my view of our religion is more about relationship with God and how I can be a better companion, then we will most assuredly meet. Or as Christ tells us in the Gospel: ‘whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’