Monday, January 26, 2015
Today's Memorial of Sts. Timothy and Titus, takes us back to the second great transition. The first was of course Pentecost, when after the ascension of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was poured out on those who had been with him, the witnesses of his ministry whom we call apostles. These apostles served as it itinerate preachers, never staying too long in one place but spreading the gospel as far as possible. St. Thomas would reach modern day India.
The second great transition in the structure of the Church was the need to establish stable leadership in each of the local communities. Today we celebrate two such leaders: Timothy and Titus.
Contrary to what I grew up with, these men were not self-appointed. They didn't decided one day that God had called them to the ministry, and set up a church. They weren't elected or hired by the membership. They were chosen by the apostle, in this case Paul, and empowered by him through the laying on of hands. They were designated as overseerers, episkopos in Greek, the source of our English word Bishop.
As the number of churches grew, they would require help and so I his letter to the bishop Titus Paul tells him:
The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders (presbyterois) in every town, as I directed you. Ti 1:5
It is worth noting even there that St. Paul tells St Titus to appoint them . No leader is elected or self-appointed. Leadership in the Church was never meant to be a popularity contest or an ego trip. There was from the beginning a hierarchical structure to the Church. Each leader called by one above him in the order.
While representative democracy may be the best form of governance for merely human society, the hard truth is that nothing in the Bible suggests that this is the form of governance God calls for in the Church.
I'm sure many American would have been happier if Paul had written to Titus,"The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and have the people in every town choose a presbyter from among their number." But he didn't.
A part of the reason I became Catholic was that the more I read the Bible the more I saw that the Catholic Church may have added uniforms/vestments, but apart from that, we have kept the Church that Jesus founded and the Apostles developed. The fundamental structure and teaching has remained unchanged.
Some may want some 20th century invention. And when it comes to technology count me in. I'm can't wait to see the new Apple Watch. But when it comes to my Christianity, I want the antique, I want something as close to the original as possible, a church with a clear linkage to those first Apostles.
Every religion has dark moments in its history. For us Christians, as long as we stay rooted we will always find our way home.
Sunday, January 25, 2015
As St. John Paul II reminded us in his 1984 post-synodic exhortation Reconciliation and Penance in the Modern World, repentence/metanoia is a radical change. It refers to a change of heart, a change of mind. It requires us to see the world in a totally new way. And when we see the world in this new way, we behave in a new way.
Pistis is faith in the sense of trust or reliance. It is a willingness to rely totally on God, to abandon reliance on self and others.
Notice what happens in today's gospel. Immediately after this proclamation, we have story of the call of the first four apostles. The first four citizens of the Kingdom. But in order to enter into the kingdom they had to abandon their present life. They had to walk away from their present life and follow him and him alone.
What am I willing to abandon in order to be a part of the Kingdom of God? The first two apostles abandoned their nets. For them these nets represented their livelihood.
The second two apostles went even further. They abandoned not a what but a who. They abandoned their father. St. Luke will say it even more harshly,
If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even their own life--such a person cannot be my disciple. (Lk. 14:26)
Are we wiling to go that far? Are we willing to look at even our closest friends and loved ones and abandon those relationships that lead us away from God?
And just in case you think my interpretation of this is crazy. Look at the second reading today in which St. Paul says,
let those having wives act as not having them
The Kingdom of God is the pearl of great price, and we have to be willing to sell everything we have.
It is a very simple sequence. Pistis leads to metanoia leads to the Kingdom. Total trust in and reliance on God lead to conversion which leads us toward the Kingdom of God. It is so very simple and yet so incredibly difficult.
We are creatures of habit. We want both. We want to be part of the kingdom and we want to hold onto our current life. We want a better life, but we don't want to change.
This gospel calls us to examine every aspect of our life and sort: those things and people who lead me towards the kingdom and those that don't. To lean totally on God, and abandon.
Friday, January 23, 2015
Jesus said: "The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14)
Exodus 2:15-22 Moses at the well of Midian
Psalm 91 The song of those who take refuge in the Lord
1 John 4:16-21 Perfect love casts out fear
John 4:11-15 "A spring of water welling up to eternal life"
The dialogue that begins with Jesus asking for water becomes a dialogue in which Jesus promises water. Later in this same gospel Jesus will again ask for a drink. "I thirst," he says from the cross, and from the cross Jesus becomes the promised fountain of water which flows from his pierced side. We receive this water, this life from Jesus, in baptism, and it becomes a water, a life that wells up within us to be given and shared with others.
Here is the witness of a Brazilian woman who has drunk from this water and in whom this water becomes a spring:
Sister Romi, a nurse from Campo Grande, was a pastor in the Pentecostal tradition. One Sunday night, all alone in a shack, in Romi’s neighbourhood a sixteen year old indigenous girl called Semei gave birth to a baby boy. She was found lying on the floor and bleeding. Sister Romi took her to the hospital. Enquiries were made – where was Semei’s family? They were found, but they did not want to know. Semei and her child had no home to go to. Sister Romi took them into her own modest home. She did not know Semei, and prejudice towards indigenous people is great in Campo Grande. Semei continued to have health problems, but Sister Romi’s great generosity brought forth further generosity from her neighbours.
Another new mother, a Catholic called Veronica, breastfed Semei’s child as she was unable to do so. Semei named her son Luke Nathanial and in time they were able to move away from the city to a farm, but she did not forget the kindness of Sister Romi and her neighbours.
The water that Jesus gives, the water that Sister Romi received in baptism, became in her a spring of water and an offer of life to Semei and her child. Prompted by her witness, this same baptismal water became a spring, a fountain, in the lives of Romi’s neighbours. The water of baptism springing into life becomes an ecumenical witness of Christian love in action, a foretaste of the eternal life which Jesus promises.
Concrete gestures like these practiced by ordinary people are what we need in order to grow in fellowship. They give witness to the Gospel and relevance to ecumenical relations.
How do you interpret Jesus’ words that through him we may become "a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14)?
Where do you see Christian people being springs of living water for you and for others?
Which are the situations in public life to which the churches should speak with a single voice in order to be springs of living water?
following the example of Jesus,
make us witnesses to your love.
Grant us to become instruments of justice, peace and solidarity.
May your Spirit move us towards concrete actions that lead to unity.
May walls be transformed into bridges.
This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Then the woman left her water jar (John 4:28)
|Genesis 11:31-12:4||God promises to make Abram a great nation and a blessing|
|Psalm 23||The Lord is my shepherd|
|Acts 10:9-20||"What God has made clean, you must not call profane"|
|John 4:25-28||Then the woman left her water jar|
The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman shows that dialogue with the different, the stranger, the unfamiliar, can be life-giving. If the woman had followed the rules of her culture, she would have left when she saw Jesus approaching the well. That day, for some reason, she did not follow the established rules. Both she and Jesus broke with conventional patterns of behaviour. Through this breaking forth they showed us again that it is possible to build new relationships.
As Jesus completes the work of the Father, the Samaritan woman, for her part, leaves her water jar, meaning that she could go further in her life; she was not confined to the role society imposed on her. In John’s Gospel she is the first person to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. "Breaking forth" is a necessity for those who desire to grow stronger and wiser in their faith.
That the Samaritan woman leaves behind her water jar signals that she has found a greater gift, a greater good than the water she came for, and a better place to be within her community. She recognizes the greater gift that this Jewish stranger, Jesus, is offering her.
It is difficult for us to find value, to recognize as good, or even holy, that which is unknown to us and that which belongs to another. However, recognizing the gifts that belong to the other as good and as holy is a necessary step towards the visible unity we seek.
Meeting Jesus demands that we leave behind our water jars, what are those water jars for us?
What are the main difficulties that prevent us from doing so?
help us to learn from Jesus and the Samaritan
that the encounter with the other opens for us new horizons of grace.
Help us to break through our limits and embrace new challenges.
Help us to go beyond fear in following the call of your Son.
In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
Monday, January 19, 2015
Tired of the journey, Jesus sat down facing the well (John 4:6)
Genesis 29:1-14 Jacob and Rachel at the well
Psalms 137 How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 Each one of you says, "I am for Paul," or "I am for Apollos"
John 4:5-6 Jesus was tired out by his journey
Jesus had been in Judea before his encounter with the Samaritan woman. The Pharisees had begun to spread the word that Jesus baptized more disciples than John. Perhaps this rumour has caused some tension and discomfort. Perhaps it is the reason behind Jesus’ decision to leave.
Arriving at the well, Jesus decides to stop. He was tired from his journey. His fatigue could also be related to the rumours. While he was resting, a Samaritan woman came near the well to fetch water. This meeting took place at Jacob’s well: a symbolic place in the life and spirituality of the people of the Bible.
A dialogue begins between the Samaritan woman and Jesus about the place of worship. "Is it on this mountain or in Jerusalem?" asks the Samaritan woman. Jesus answers, "neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him" (Jn 4: 21- 24).
It still happens that instead of a common search for unity, competition and dispute mark the relations between the churches. This has been the experience of Brazil in recent years. Communities extol their own virtues and the benefits that accrue to their adherents in order to attract new members. Some think that the bigger the church, the larger its number of members, the greater its power, the closer they are to God, presenting themselves as the only true worshippers. As a result there has been violence and disrespect to other religions and traditions. This type of competitive marketing creates both distrust between the churches and a lack of credibility in society towards Christianity as a whole. As competition grows the "other" community becomes the enemy.
Who are the true worshippers? True worshippers do not allow the logic of competition – who is better and who is worse – to infect faith. We need "wells" to lean upon, to rest and let go of disputes, competition and violence, places where we can learn that true worshippers worship "in Spirit and in Truth."
What are the main reasons for competition among our churches?
Are we able to identify a common "well" upon which we can lean, and rest from our disputes and competitions ?
Often our churches are led to choose the logic of competition.
Forgive our sin of presumption.
We are weary from this need to be first. Allow us to rest at the well.
Refresh us with the water of unity drawn from our common prayer.
May your Spirit who hovered over the waters of chaos bring unity from our diversity.
Sunday, January 18, 2015
It is necessary to go through Samaria (John 4:4)
|Genesis 24:10-33||Abraham and Rebekah at the well|
|Psalm 42||The deer that longs for running streams|
|2 Corinthians 8:1-7||The generosity of the churches of Macedonia|
|John 4:1-4||He had to go through Samaria|
Jesus and his disciples travelled from Judea to Galilee. Samaria is between these two areas. There was a certain prejudice against Samaria and the Samaritans. The negative reputation of Samaria came from its mix of races and religions. It was not uncommon to use alternative routes to avoid stepping into Samaritan territory.
What does the Gospel of John mean, then, when saying, "it is necessary to go through Samaria"? More than a geographical issue, it is a choice of Jesus: "going through Samaria" means that it is necessary to meet the other, the different, the one who is often seen as a threat.
The conflict between Jews and Samaritans was old. Samaritan predecessors had broken with the monarchy of the south which required the centralization of the worship in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12). Later, when the Assyrians invaded Samaria deporting many of the local population, they brought to the territory a number of foreign peoples, each with their own gods or deities (2 Kings 17:24-34). For Jews, Samaritans became a people "mixed and impure". Later in John’s Gospel, the Jews, wanting to discredit Jesus, accuse him saying, "Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?" (Jn 8:48).
Samaritans in their turn, also had difficulty accepting Jews (Jn 4:8). The hurt of the past became even greater when, around 128 BC, the Jewish leader, John Hyrcanus, destroyed the temple built by Samaritans as their place of worship on Mount Gerizin. On at least one occasion, reported in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus was not received in a Samaritan city simply because he was on his way to Judea (Lk 9:52). So resistance to dialogue came from the two sides.
John makes it clear that "going through Samaria" is a choice Jesus is making; he is reaching beyond his own people. In this he is showing us that isolating ourselves from those who are different and relating only to people like ourselves is a self-inflicted impoverishment. It is the dialogue with those who are different that makes us grow.
What does it mean for me and for my community of faith "to have to go through Samaria?"
What are the steps that my church has made to meet other churches and what have the churches learnt from each other?
God of all peoples,
teach us to go through Samaria to meet our brothers and sisters from other churches.
Allow us to go there with an open heart
so we may learn from every church and culture.
We confess that you are the source of unity.
Grant us the unity that Christ wills for us.
Saturday, January 17, 2015
It is still hard to believe that I celebrated my 25th anniversary of ordination last year, and this year will mark 12 years since I first came to be pastor of St. John's and 7 years since I was asked to take over as administrator of St. Patrick's temporarily. The following year I became pastor.
Many have asked how it has been possible for me to work four days a week at the diocese and pastor two parishes. My answer is always the same: the grace of God, and a group of incredibly dedicated staff and volunteers. Both parishes have been blessed with new life, the addition of the Hispanic community to St. John's and the renaissance of Church Hill at St. Patrick's.
When a diocesan priest is ordained he promises to three things: to pray the Liturgy of the Hours for the Church, to live a celibate life, and respect and obedience to his bishop and his successors. Indeed we believe that our bishops are the successors to the apostles, and the Holy Spirit works through them in a unique way.
When Fr. Peter left to go to New Orleans his slot at the Tribunal was never filled. Bishop DiLorenzo has asked me beginning July 1 to move to full-time ministry at the tribunal, helping with masses in Spanish on the weekends. The diocese will be paying St. Elizabeth's parish for me to live in their presently unoccupied part of the rectory.
On Thursday Bishop told me that he is allowing the priests to be the first to tell their people of the changes however they choose. Since I could not be simultaneously in both parishes, I chose to post it here where all can receive the news at the same time. And I am announcing it now, since last night I had a stranger who already knew ask me about it. News travels quickly in Richmond.
I will not pretend that this is not painful. Almost half of my priesthood has been connected with St. John's; and St. Patrick's and Church Hill are in the truest sense of the word "my home." I have lived here longer than I have lived anywhere since my parents' house. But we are ordained to serve the Church and not ourselves. I go where God calls me.
The parishes of St. John and St. Patrick will continue as a cluster. The new pastor will be assigned as full-time pastor for the cluster. Fr. Frank will continue as parochial vicar. It has been, to say the least, a challenge to do what in the past would have been the job of three priests and it will be a true blessing for the parishes to have a full-time pastor. The greatest gift you can give me will be to show him the same love and support that I have felt throughout the years. Receive him with open minds and hearts. The Bishop will be making the assignment of the new pastor soon.
As I said at the beginning none of us likes change. With change there is always uncertainty. But there are also new possibilities. Let us pray that God will pour out his Holy Spirit on parishes of St. John and St. Patrick's, and renew within them the fire of his love and wisdom.
And am rarely without words. But I can find no words that can appropriately express my gratitude for having had the opportunity to be a part of these two incredible parish families.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
We have become partners of Christ if only we hold the beginning of the reality firm until the end.
The word translated here as reality is a word that sits at the very heart of the Christian faith, hypostasis. I actual saw one translation of the Bible that reduced it to "confidence", but it is far more than that.
It's most literal meaning would be underpinning or foundation, that on which everything else is built. It is the true reality, the substance of a thing, what you get to when you move beyond the surface or appearance.
The new translation of the creed speaks of Son as being consubstantial with the Father, and much has been made over the deciding to use an uncommon word. I would suggest that perhaps we need to us an uncommon word to describe an uncommon reality. Why should we dumb down the Christian faith. Instead, let's educate our people.
Understanding the hypostasis, the person, of Jesus Christ is the very foundation of what it means to be Christian and in a very real sense we will never understand him completely in this life. But we should never stop trying.
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
The Letter opens by explaining the fundamental distinction between the Old and the New Testament, a distinction that we can often overlook. One of the worst mistakes we can make is to read the Bible as if it were all equal, picking out verses from Old and New that tell us what we want to here.
The Letter to the. Hebrews explains that what we have in the Old Testament is God revealing himself
In partial and various ways
In Greek these are the first words of verse one.
On the other hand, Jesus is the
Refulgence of God's Glory, the very image
In the Old Testament we see lots of little glimpses, in the New the fullness of God is revealed. Jesus is
heir of all things and through whom he created the universe,
We should recognize the words that are in our creed.
With this distinction in mind, as Christians, we read the Old Testament always through the lens of the New. The New is foreshadowed in the Old, the Old is fulfilled in the New. God did not change but with the incarnation of God our capacity to truly understand God was radically transformed.
Sunday, January 11, 2015
It may seem strange to some people that we have jumped three decades from Jesus's birth to his baptism, but this is a reminder that for us what matters is God's time. It is all part of God's plan.
As a matter of fact if you look closely you will see that Christmas, Baptism of the Lord, and Jesus's first miracle are all linked.
At Christmas we celebrate the miracle of birth, God incarnate. Today we celebrate the gift of the sacrament of Baptism, rebirth. Here it is worth stopping to recall that Jesus's baptism was radically different from our own. In our baptism we are transformed, not simply forgiven for our sins but reborn. If anyone asks you are you a born again Christian, the answer is yes.
At the Jordan, the opposite happened the water didn't change Jesus, Jesus changed the water. He gave to ordinary water the power to become the instrument of God's grace. From that moment on any person with the intention to baptize could take water and with the invocation of the Trinity (as instructed in Matthew's gospel) could give a person a new life, an eternal life.
Baptism is the only sacrament which any person can validly celebrate.
To drive home the point that Jesus changed the water not the other way around, he then goes to Cana and at a wedding feast visibly transformed water into wine. His first miracle not only established marriage as a sacrament but explains more fully what happens in the first sacrament. He doesn't just throw a little bleach in the water to purify it, he radically transforms it. He makes it something new.
Our prayer over the white garment in baptism says it clearly:
You have become a new creation,
You have clothed yourself in Christ.
See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity....
Birth to rebirth, water to wine
Rebirth and total transformation
Today as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord let us walk through this day reflecting on this new life we have been given, on the last day of Christmas, the ultimate Christmas present.
Friday, January 9, 2015
For we walk by faith and not by sight.
In fact, even the most avowed atheist walks by faith. A simple statement like "The earth revolves around the sun" is for most people a faith statement. We believe it to be true based on the testimony of someone we trust. Education is mostly a faith exercise. We only test and observe for ourselves a sliver of what we learn. We need faith not just in religious matters but in all of life. Faith is a product of trust and without trust their can be no relationships. Without relationships life ceases to be truly human.
For this reason, cynicism may well be the most dangerous disease in our society. Many people think of doubt as the opposite of faith. But doubt in moderation can be a positive force. It can urge us forward, cause us to question, explore, and achieve an ever deeper understanding.
Cynicism on the other hand serves no positive purpose. It poisons everything it touches and prevents us from knowing anything or anyone. It closes our hearts and our minds. It leaves a person both ignorant and alone in the world.
As Christians we must be constantly on the lookout. The line between healthy doubt and cynicism can be hard to discern and we can cross it without even noticing. Our starting point, our default should always be one of faith. I will believe others until I have a legitimate basis for doubt. If we start from the other side constantly demanding proof, we are setting ourselves up to surely fall into the pit of cynicism.
How can we love if we do not trust? Let us look into our hearts today and remove any cynicism that may have taken root.
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Because Christ gave his life for us on the cross we are free from slavery to sin, and the answer to the question who are we is, we are children of God. We have been reborn. And as St. John tells us
whoever is begotten of God conquers the world.
Note that he does not say "will conquer" in the future, but "conquers", present tense, the world.
To say we love God is not merely a statement about affect or emotion. It is a statement about action.
For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments.
And here he is not just talking about the ten, but all the things that we are commanded in the New Testament to do.
To say as a statement of fact "We are all sinner" is to deny the power of God's grace and surrender to the world. The more accurate and honest statement for the Christian is
I am a child of God who chooses to sin.
Today's first reading reminds us that God has already given us the victory,
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
Again you should note that this is written in the present tense or it can be translated in the past, "the victory that has conquered the world." In either case the victory is not something in the distant future accessible only in the next life. Through faith we can embrace the victory now and live as children of God, and choose with the help of God's grace to keep his commandments.
On this 8th day of 2015 let us embrace the promise, embrace the victory, keep his commandments, and proclaim ourselves to be born again children of the Father.
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
constants et perpetua voluntas ius suum cuique tribuendi.
The constant and perpetual will to render to each his due.
What then is the purpose of punishment?
If you look at the definition of justice it ends with the word tribuendi, to render or to give. Punishment is about retribution. Retribution is a word that has gotten a bad rap. It means simply to give back.
Exodus 21:24 - eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot
It sounds harsh but it was actually intended to set the limit, drawing the line between retribution and vengeance. In retribution you require no more of a person than what was taken. If a person stole your horse you were entitled to a horse. You were not entitled to kill them. Retribution is about restoration. To exact more than was taken is not retribution but vengeance.
The second purpose of punishment is the conversion of the offender. Our English language understands this. In the old day here would you go to do your penance?— a penitentiary. Unlike our modern facilities, they were often associated with monasteries intended to be places of prayer and conversion not containment for its own sake.
In a just system, the second purpose of punishment is to cause a change of heart in the offender so that the offense will not be repeated. In the Church we refer to them a medicinal penalties. We see even the worst criminal as a human being in need of healing.
Restoration and transformation/healing these are the purposes of punishment in a truly just, justice system.
In our American system we grant certain judges lifetime appointments to insulate them from the mob that cries out for vengeance, so that they may render true justice.
In a few hours Judge James Spencer will hand down the sentence in the case of former governor Bob McDonnell. It is my hope and prayer that Judge Spencer will rise above the clamor and show the world true justice. And perhaps even justice tempered with mercy.
Monday, January 5, 2015
I loved those movies like Omen and Damien as much as anyone but we should not confuse them with the Bible. How many of us would be shocked to discover that the words rapture and antichrist appear nowhere in the Book of Revelation. Yes, I just said it the whole premise of the Left Behind series is not in the Book of Revelation. It's made up from playing Bible collage. You take a verse from here and a verse from there and assemble the picture you want.
The word antichrist appears only four times in the Bible and all four are in the First and Second Letter of John which we have been reading where he makes it clear that the antichrist is a person, one who denies Christ, the person who tries to convince others that Jesus is not the Messiah, the Son of the Trinity. The antichrist is not some supernatural being who will be born like Jesus to mark the end of the world.
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:18-23).
The real meaning is not half as exciting as the movies or the books. If you want a real look at the truth contained in the Book of Revelation try Dr. Scott Hahn's The Lamb's Supper. Actual theology beats fiction any time.
Sunday, January 4, 2015
Have you ever noticed that when we hear our voice recorded most of us do not like the way it sounds? It sounds strange. We think, "I don't sound like that." The reason is anatomical. Others hear us from the outside. They hear the sound that comes out of our mouth. What we hear is that sound altered by the resonance inside our heads. We can't hear ourselves the way others do, except in a recording. We think we know the sound of our own voice but we don't.
As a tribunal judge dealing with marriage cases for 14 years, I always say there are three versions of every marriage: his version, her version, and what actually happened. It's not that we intentionally lie. We simply cannot see ourselves objectively. We cannot get outside ourselves.
We need others. We need outsiders, people who can see us from a different perspective. On the one hand we will all say,"Nobody's perfect" but the moment some starts to critique us we get our back up. And the closer they are to the truth the more defensive we become. We do this both as as individuals and as a country. Let someone from outside our family, ethnic group, state or country critique us and watch how we react.
The Israelites looked up that night and saw the same old sky they always saw. The Persian astrologers looked up and saw something else. They spotted the one odd star and followed it. The foreigners could see what the locals could not.
As we begin this new year, hopefully we all recognize that as individual and communities, there is always room for improvement. Improvement requires change. Change requires critique.
It is easy for us in our modern age to only listen to the voices that agree with us. Cable TV, satellite radio, and the Internet give us the ability to so customize input that we only hear what we like, the voices that reaffirm what we already believe.
The magi remind us that the foreigner, the outsider can often see what we do not. As we begin this new year, let us open our minds and hearts. Let us truly listen to others, and then prayerfully discern. The Holy Spirit is referred to as the spirit of truth. The Sprit will help us to separate the wheat from the chaff. We need to accept I input from the whole range of sources and discern in prayer. Conversion is a continuous lifelong process. We always need to change.
Saturday, January 3, 2015
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
But why do we not know us? That's the real question. Oh yes, in a superficial way we know that we are God's children. Some well intended people will say, "We are all God's children." But the minute you say that every person is a "child of God" then you have just robbed the phrase of all meaning. It's like our tendency to give every child a prize.
No, when St. John speaks of τέκνα θεού (children of God) he does not simply mean human being. For John there is a bright line that separates the world (kosmos) from the children of God.
Our fundamental human dignity comes from being created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis). Everyone has that dignity from the moment they are conceived.
Sperm+egg+soul=human with inviolable dignity.
But that human being is not a child of God.
For St. John a child of God is a human being who has been radically transformed by God's grace. With the birth of Jesus we have the ultimate step in human evolution. To use a metaphor we might understand, think of a child of God as a new species. The Child of God is more different than Homo Sapiens is from his ancestor Homo Erectus.
The child of God is a new being. The problem is that from the outside the child of God looks like your ordinary human being. And because we rarely tap our potential the children of God often behave like ordinary human beings.
St. John says that the reason the world cannot tell us apart is that they do not know Christ. And perhaps this is the same reason that we who are children of God can tell ourselves apart from the rest of the world. We do not know Christ well enough. We do not grasp how radically the incarnation changed the world.
In America we worship equality. But Christianity is precisely about not being equal, not being like everyone else. If we choose to be like everyone else then Christ died for nothing, the birth of Christ was meaningless.
We read the letters of John in this Christmas season to remind of who we are, who we have become by God grace. Only when we embrace our true identity as children of God will we tap into the power of Holy Spirit dwelling in us. We are meant to do great things if we would only believe. As Jesus tells us in John's gospel,
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.
That's what it means to be children of God.
Friday, January 2, 2015
On this ninth day of Christmas, St. John in Chapter 2 of his first letter is trying to teach us STAY. Like the dog, we can tend to react impulsively to outside stimuli, harming ourselves and others.
The verb St. John uses meno refers to remaining in a physical place, a state, or a relationship to something/someone else. He commands us
Remain in him. "Him" refers to both the Son and the Father (Verses 24 and 26). Choose whichever person of the trinity you wish, they are all God. If you prefer the translation, abide because you think it sounds more biblical that's fine too.
Personally I think the dog command is what is needed, STAY! -one syllable, sharp, clear.
The next time someone says something or does something that pushes your buttons, the first thing you should hear in your head is that voice of your conscience giving the calm but firm command STAY. Before you bark or jump at someone, stay.
It is also good for us to simply pause several times during the course of the day and in a quiet meditative way to practice staying. Close your eyes, breathe slowly, and stay. We practice in times of calm so that in the time of startle our trained response is to stay.
When we first wake up in the morning and when we are drifting off to sleep at night we should train ourselves to hear the voice of John calling us to remain in him.
As we begin to pay attention, we are amazed at how many times during the course of a single day we need to remind ourselves to stay.
Thursday, January 1, 2015
The Jewish law held that on the eighth day each male child was to be circumcised, and on that day they were given their name. This commandment is given to Abraham in Genesis and reiterated in the Book of Leviticus. Our Christian practice of baptizing the child "as soon as possible after their brith" and beginning with the question, what name have you given this child?, is the reflection of the Old Covenant in the New.
Similarly, while our Jewish brothers and sisters keep the seventh day as the sabbath. Christians keep the eighth day. Yes, going all the way back into the writings of the early fathers of the Church, Sunday was described not as the first day, but the eighth day. The eight day represented the beginning of a new creation, the beginning of the Kingdom of God, seeing time not as human time (seven days), but God's time, the eighth day.
With the birth of Christ the universe was transformed. On the eighth day, he was named Jesus, as the angel had foretold. God had entered time and space and forever transformed it by his presence.
On this, the eighth day of Christmas, the first day of 2015 on our secular calendar, may we allow it to be an eighth day, a time of new beginning. In many English speaking churches today they will assured sing "Let there be peace on earth." This classic is correct in its final words "and let it begin with me."
Peace must begin each individual heart. It begins with
- a decision about where we will focus our attention, on the good or on the bad,
- a decision about how we will see the world and each other, as brothers and sisters, or competing camps.
- a decision about whether we will forgive or not.
We have the God given freedom to chose. And by those choices we define ourselves.
Perhaps like many New Years resolution this one may collapse rather quickly. But even then we can always start over. We are always free to choose to
let the peace of Christ rule in [our] hearts. (Col. 3:15)
Many people around me have said how they pray that 2015 will be better than 2014. We can guarantee that it is better by changing ourselves and allowing God to change us. The circumstances around us may be better or worse. But we can always chose to be better.