Monday, August 15, 2016

Transcendence

My guess is that for most of us, when we thing of today's feast, the Assumption of Mary, our minds go immediately to what will happen to us after death. The opening prayer for today's mass focuses our attention on something more immediate.

...grant, we pray,
that, always attentive to the things that are above,
we may merit to be sharers of her glory.


Always attentive to the things that are above? How do we do that when the things (and people) here on earth are constantly, not just asking for but, demanding our attention?

We start by remembering that we are transcendent beings. However earthbound as we may feel, we were created to be with God for eternity. As such our souls are constantly yearning for God. As much as our bodies need air and water, our souls need prayer.

At its most basic, this means starting our day by turning our hearts to God, and then throughout the day pausing to check and make sure our hearts stay pointed in the right direction. Then one final course check before we go to sleep at night. In this way we can be constantly attentive to the things that are above and still deal properly with the things here on earth. As a matter of fact we will deal with the mundane better, if our hearts are constantly oriented toward God.





Monday, August 1, 2016

Hand it on

On the surface today's gospel would appear to be one of many miracle stories. If we look closely we will see a story backed with theology and catechesis. By the time St. Matthew committed his gospel to writing he had already come to understand the deeper meaning in Jesus's action. The community of believers already had standardized what we would now call the celebration of the Euchrarist. And so when he recounts the story he uses a formula that they would all recognize. The four verbs associated with the Eucharist:

Taking
the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.

No Christian in the early Church would have denied that this miracle was the precursor to the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus, but there is also something more. 

There is a second "gave." Jesus gives to the disciples and it is they who in turn give to the crowd. This gospel is not only the precursor to the Eucharist but the precursor to Tradition, literally handing on. Jesus gives to the disciples who then give to the crowd and they are filled.  Presumably those who are filled will in turn give to others. Two millennia later, we are the recipients not of fish and bread but of the Bread of Life and the Word of God. 

Now we are the disciples having received we now have the obligation to give. Those of us who are priests do this above all in the celebration of Mass where we hand on the Word of God and the Bread of Life.  But all disciples are called to participate in the act of handing on, this act of feeding, of nourishing. Hopefully we do this every day. 

Today let us look for those opportunities through our actions to nourish others, to share with them the love of Christ. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

When being big hearted isn't good

In the gospel today Jesus quotes the condemnation of the Prophet Isaiah. 

You shall indeed hear but not understand  you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people, 

No, he is not using gross in the current American sense of disgusting, or revolting. Here gross is used to mean fat, thick, or obese. It comes from the same verb used to describe pitching a tent. Yes, it is crass. But prophets often smack us in the face with reality we would just as soon not face.  

In this country over half of adults are overweight. For guys my age more than 3/4 are overweight or obese.  But that is merely one symptom of the problem. How many of are holding on to stuff that we do not need, stuff that we never use? I wonder if we don't like watching shows like Hoarders so we can reassure ourselves-"At least I'm not that bad."

There is a space in ever human being that can only be filled by God. But allowing God to fill the space is not as simple going to Church.  There are people who go to church all the time and are still ravenously hungry. They have eyes but do not see,ears but do not hear. 

Real faith is not simply believing in God. It requires trust of God. St. Paul gives us the measure in his letter to the Philippians. 

For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance 

Part of the problem is that I don't think we really want to be content. I'm not sure we see content as a virtue. Even many ministers like to rail. Perhaps that's why we need an entire section of the liturgy dedicated to peace. 

It is not easy for us to relax enough to trust God, open our hearts and let him be the one who fills it. But we should never cease try. And my guess is that if we were to only eat or buy when we were in that content space, we would consume less. 


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Family Reunion

One of the principal images we use to describe the Church is family: the Father, the Son, Mary the Mother.  We speak of how in baptism we become the adopted children.  But in today's gospel Jesus opens another door. 

Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother."

From this we derive our teaching regarding the possibility of salvation for those who are not baptized Christians.

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation. (Catechism, 847)

This is a very carefully nuanced middle between the two erroneous extremes: those who would say only baptized Christians get into heaven, and those who think that just being nice gets you into heaven.

Following today's gospel the Church teaches that the person seeks God and tries to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience.

For Christians as well the key to our salvation is striving to do God's will. 

If we occupy ourselves with that we won't have time to try and figure out who is and is not part of the family. That judgement is left to God. In the meantime we strive to do God's will today, and perhaps our example will bring others into full communion with the family. 



Sunday, July 17, 2016

Why is it better?

In today's gospel we see Martha and Mary, a very familiar story. Often we will talk about the need to imitate both and the need for proper balance. But it is not about balancing two equally valuable choices, the active and the contemplative. Jesus does say that Mary has chosen the better part.  To this, the Marthas in the group always say, "if we all followed Mary's example, we would starve."  

They miss the point. This gospel is not about the mundane practicalities. This gospel is addressing a deeper reality, the essence of love. 

The Greek language has four words for love. Martha is the example of philia. We can think of this a horizontal love, person to person, love between equals. It's Barney the dinosaur, "I love you, you love me..."

Mary is the example of agape (in Latin caritas). As St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, it is "the friendship of man for God", which unites us to God". It is that vertical love that reaches up toward God. As Jesus reminds us, this unity with God is the one thing that is needed. From it will flow everything else. 

Agape will always lead to philia. But philia does not necessarily lead to agape. Sometimes people reach philia and stop, they are good kind people. But that is not enough. To be part of the kingdom you have to have agape, love of God, the hunger for oneness with God. 

Martha is so close, literally, she is running all around God. Jesus is, after all, God. But she is too busy to stop and enter into a personal relationship with God. Mary has indeed chosen the proper  starting point. She sits in awesome silence in the presence of God. Will she at the appropriate time act? of course. But first she must love God. 

We tend to measure life and value by accomplishment. What did I get done today?  This gospel reminds us that action for the Christian must be grounded in a love of God; not some actions, but all our actions. God must be the starting point of every day of our life. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Part of something larger

Many of the things our parents said, and we thought were crazy, turn out to be true. One f those was that as we get older time passes more quickly. Now in my mid-fifties, weeks hardly exist, and months fly by as well. If times seems to excelerate as we get older, we can begin to imagine what time is like for God who is eternal. 

In the Gospel today we see how the Prophet Isaiah foretold what Jesus would do. St. Jerome said that he was more an evangelist than a prophet for just this reason. But he was 7 centuries before Jesus. What Isaiah prophesied, he would never live to see, at least not on earth. He was part of God's plan, but in a story arc that would span 7 centuries. 

Most of us want to see the answer to our prayer now. We might give God 7 day, or if we really stretch we might give him 7 months. But particularly when we feel we are unjustly suffering, we want our vindication NOW. Few of us are willing to accept that we may never see it in our lifetime on earth.  And yet time and again the Bible shows us that that is exactly how God works. Good always triumphs over evil, but the triumph may be generations even centuries away. 

Isaiah understood what we are sometimes afraid to embrace. If we give our lives over to God we become part of something that is immeasurablely bigger than ourselves or our short little life on earth. We become part of the Kingdom of God, a story arc that stretches from the first coming to the second coming of Christ, whenever that may be. Precisely how the little piece that is one of our indivual lives fits into the whole, we cannot know. Why some particular suffering we experience is necessary, we cannot see. Like a single drop of black paint on a large canvas, alone it has no beauty. But faith enables us to trust that God see the enormous masterpiece as a whole, and why both dark and light colors are essential. 

For our part, the best we can do is wake up each morning and try to do God's will this day. And if we are truly wise, we will catch glimpses of the Kingdom, the masterwork God is creating right this very moment. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Acts of God

In today's gospel Jesus is seen condemning entire town, each with the same formula:

For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in ...

They are being condemned not for something they have done, but for something they have failed to do. God has done mighty deed but they have failed to see them. 

Even in our own time how often do people look for God in the bad and not the good.  When the hurricane hit New Orleans, how many were calling it punishment from God? Even in law an "act of God" is an event with and unforeseen cause ( eg. earthquake, tornado, flood). Nothing good is a legal act of God. 

I think part of our problem is that if we see any human envolment we exclude the possibility that something is an act of God. We forget that as Christians we believe that the Holy Spirit that is God dwells in human beings and therefore can act in concert with human beings. 

In the Gospel entire towns a are condemned for not recognizing the marvelous things God has done in their midst. When we stand before God do we want to face that same condemnation. This sin is easy to avoid. All we have to do is look around. We don't have to look far to see God's marvelous deeds done in our midst.