Monday, October 31, 2016

The abandonment of ego

Today we pick up reading the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians with chapter 2. There St. Paul puts forward what may well be the most difficult challenge in living the Christian life. Each of us is to avoid all selfishness or the search for what he calls empty praise. And we are always supposed to act not looking toward our own interests but the interest of others.

The surrender of self and self interest is a constant struggle for all of us. Two places where we can easily see it are when we drive and even more when we are on the phone and put on hold. In those moments how many of us can hear St. Paul's admonition to think of others as more important than yourself?

The Church provides us a place to practice selflessness in her liturgy. In liturgical prayer we are called to abandon ourselves to the prayer of the Church. The presider is called on to use not their own words or gestures but those of the Church. Every aspect of the liturgy (words, postures, vessels, vestments) belongs to the Church and not to any individual or community. Even the homily is not about whatever the priest or deacon chooses but is limited to those topics listed in the General Instruction.

To celebrate the liturgy in this selfless way requires tremendous discipline. All of us at times feel the urge to deviate. Those on the right want to import from previous forms of liturgy. Those on the left want to be creative. Both are manifestations of the same ego that says, "I know better."We practice selflessness in liturgical prayer in the hope that it will help us to live it in our daily lives.

Every time we walk through the doors of a Church we should remind ourselves that this is the time and place that I surrender myself. And when we hear that interior voice rising up to criticize (the deacon, the lector, the musician, the priest), we should recognize it as ego, name it and return to a spirit of prayer. If we look closely we will find that our greatest distraction do not come from the outside but from our self.

Monday, October 24, 2016

November 9th

More and more I find myself worried about, November 9th, the day after the election. Regardless of who wins, we are still going to have to come together as a country and function. We know as St. Luke tells us "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more." And we have undoubtedly been entrusted with much more.

In today's reading from Ephesians, St. Paul tells us how to act toward one another.

Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

In the Greek, the three words kind, compassionate, and forgiving are side by side.

The word kind can also be translated as well-mannered. I feel like an old man when I have to say things like this, but it seems that we have all but given up on the concept of manners. We somehow fell into the erroneous belief that we have a right to express our feelings in all times and places. One of things that separates adults from children is the ability to monitor and judge the feeling that rise up in us and know which are worthy of expression and which are not, how to be be considerate of others.

The word St. Paul uses for compassionate can also be translated as tender-hearted. To some in our culture that sounds unmanly. But look at the alternative, hard-hearted. There is no middle space. We are one or the other. Which will you be?

Most important is the last word, forgiving. St. Paul tells us that we must be forgiving of one another as God has forgiven us in Christ. And if we look at the whole New Testament, we are told repeatedly that we will be judged as we judge, and forgiven as we forgive.

This year offers us as Christians an opportunity to stand out from the crowds and witness to our faith. While others around us yell insults, we can show that we are followers of Christ by being kind,compassionate, and forgiving.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Infants or Adults

In today's section from St. Paul he uses the metaphor of the human maturation process to describe the journey to "living the truth in love" which all Christians should do. It is what marks the adult, and separates the adult from the infant.

The infant is "tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming."

As Catholics we believe that the teaching of the Church is true. In particular, we believe that the part of Church teaching called the Deposit of Faith was revealed by God. We are called to proclaim that truth in our words and actions. We must live that truth. The hardest part sometimes is that as St. Paul tells us we must live truth in love (agape).

Looking around it seems that lots of us are behaving like infants, allowing ourselves to be tossed by the waves, and swept around by the wind. And even among those who are trying to live the truth of the faith, very few seem to be living it in love.

We show our true Christianity not in how we treat our friends but in how we behave towards those with whom we disagree. Right now we have an incredible opportunity to witness to the power of God's grace at work in us. Surrounded by acrimony and without surrendering one iota of our faith, each has the opportunity to be an example by living the truth in love. It will not be easy but we can do it.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Being One

Today St. Paul opens the 4th chapter of his Letter to the Ephesians with a call for unity. Worth special attention are three characteristics that seem to be the building blocks for that unity: humility, gentleness, and patience. Do we even value these as virtues at all any more, particularly the first two?

It seems to me that this may be where we as Christians are called to be truly counter-cultural. After all, the phrase "humble American" is rarely heard. Even the phrase "American exceptionalism" seems hard to reconcile with the virtue of humility.

Gentleness may even be a less sought after virtue than humility. It may be that the great enemy of the virtue of gentleness is fear. We look at the world around us and we are afraid. Our minds say things like, "While we are being gentle, the terrorists will take over the world." We confuse gentleness and weakness. Gentleness is a calm, deliberate way of being. It is a manifestation of an interior peace.

In the 21st century patience may be the one we are most aware of lacking. Five minutes on hold or in a line and we all begin to loose it.

Humility, Gentleness, and Patience — these are all natural virtues which we can develop. But first we must want them. And that may be the real problem.

In my conscience, the place where I am alone with God,

Do I want to be humble?
Do I want to be gentle?
Do I want to be patient?

Then pray for them, not once but every day, Pray for humility, gentleness, and patience. Look around you for good examples you can emulate. And like any virtue, it requires practice and constant self-monitoring.

The only thing stopping us from do what St. Paul commands us to do is ourselves.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hope for us all

It is easy for us to look myopically at the present American political struggle and forget that world of which we are a part is much more than the presidential election of our little country. As Christians we must constantly remind ourselves that we believe that by virtue of baptism we are part of reality that transcends politics and nations. We are part of a reality that transcends time.

In today's first reading from the third chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians we hear a prayer that concludes:

Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

We are fools if we place even a single drop of our hope in Hillary, Donald or any human being. As Christians, when we utter the word hope, it should be in reference to God and God alone. We hope in God the Father. We hope in God the Son. We hope in God the Holy Spirit.

St. Paul undoubtedly understood this, when he describes God as the one who is able to accomplish far more than ALL we ask or even imagine. Imagine the best world you can possibly imagine. And God can accomplish it all "through the power that is at work in us", the Holy Spirit.

Like faith and charity we believe that hope is, not something we manufacture, but a gift from God. Join me in praying for an outpouring of the virtue of hope on all, but especially all the people of our nation. And may we keep our minds and hearts centered on and anchored to God.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

St. Francis

Sadly today in many places St. Francis, whose feast day it is, will be reduced to a blessing of animals. Perhaps it's because the rest of his story and message is less comfortable for us. He renounced a life of war and wealth and embraced simplicity, poverty, and care for those who were most in the margins of the society of his day.

We live in a society that is all about the individual. Some believe they have a right to accumulate as much as they can as long as they don't break the law. The sense of duty to the larger whole of society and particularly the poor is disappearing.

As one who lives in Virginia I am reminded of the original meaning of the word commonwealth. It is a term dating back to the 15th century that denotes not a focus on the individual but on the collective, the public welfare or general good of the group as a whole.

St. Francis reminds all of us who call ourselves Christians of the moral obligation that we have toward the poor, not just in Haiti or Africa, but right here in our own neighborhoods. Perhaps today's feast calls us to rise above debates of tax returns and emails, and see our brothers and sisters in need.