Sunday, November 11, 2018

Reflections...of...Autumn


The seasons we observe in Mother Nature are used as a paradigm for the seasons of our hearts and souls. As we reflect on the physical realities we are brought to the understanding, that  behind all that we see is a far deeper reality.  In all reality is perfectly hidden, and perfectly revealed, "The Real." What we see only touches the surface. To see beyond that surface we have to have the x-ray eye of faith. As we reflect on the vast treasures bestowed upon us by the combined reflections, of the artist, poet, writer, composer, and mystic something happens. We, as the result of these gifts, receive an invitation, or maybe a challenge to see, feel, experience, and celebrate the hidden spiritual realities which up until now had remained hidden. The autumn season had had great wonder for me, this year Autumn has come with a twist. Twists do add that something, like a twist of lemon in a cocktail?  I have read about that!!!

             Autumn has come with that twist which adds a certain something.  I am now having to deal with the reality,  the challenge, of seeing and living this Autumn through the lenses of my personal Winter season. ( In the golfing parlance it is called, "playing the back nine" I just hope that when I am on the 18th green I will get a hint when lining up that "final putt.")  This is a whole new sacramental experience from which gifts will flow. Some will be welcomed, others will come as a challenge.  From each and every new experience I have been lead to believe something new will bubble up from within.  There will be a new understanding, a new little insight that was not there before. This/these insight(s) when accepted, and reverenced always results in change.

         I must wait for that bubbling up, which always happens.  This bubbling up is not on a timer, and so cannot be scheduled into the pattern of one's life.  Now I am being challenged to accept the reality, my Autumn has passed. I, also have to own the fact there was no celebration in its passing. One can, and does allow one's self to be so caught  up in "the doing of life" that the  richness behind "the being of life" is never really seen, known or reverenced. What a void that leaves.  A void that sooner or later has to be filled up.  It will be filled up with  a deeper sense of gentleness, kindness, empathy and compassion. These are mysteriously bestowed as the  result of healthy grieving.  On the other hand, the void can and will be filled up with all kinds of dysfunction when the healthy grieving process is not experienced.  Then we are angry, cynical, vindictive, just to name a few. The grieving process is not easy. However, it is essential for a healthy, whole, holy life. There are no short cuts.

                   Being in the process,  I came across the following, and it spoke to me of one aspect of Autumn:  "A moral character is attached to autumnal scenes; the leaves falling like our years, the flowers fading like our hours, the clouds fleeting like our illusions, the light diminishing like our intelligence, the sun growing colder like our affections, the rivers becoming frozen like our lives--all bear secret relations to our destinies." de Chateaubriand. Then here are some other reflections of the same reality:  "Delicious Autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive Autumns." George Eliot. "No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face."  The mystical poet, John Donne.  "Autumn...the year's loveliest smile." William Cullen Bryant. "I love Autumn, the one season of the year that God seemed to have put there just for the beauty of it." Lee Maynard. "Fall colors are funny. They're so bright, and intense and beautiful. It's like nature is trying to fill you up with color, to saturate you so you can stockpile it before winter turns everything muted and dreary." Siobhan Vivian, Same Difference.

                            As in all things in the spiritual life it is not about the either/or, it is about living in the tension of the both/and.  Living the autumn reality was and is definitely exciting. In Autumn one is invited, challenged to see the beauty there is dying.  Not a very popular reality to reflect on, but necessary. Here is a sacramental experience that happened some years ago. Yet, that event still presents ever new insights which color today's acting and living.  I was hiking Missoula as the leaves were turning. There was this trail I was on and on both sides the leaves were wonder-full shades of red, rusts and the other colors of Autumn. Then it hit me. Here I am traveling through, what was either dead or dying and I was feeling so alive. Alive, and caught up in wonder at the contradiction right there before my eyes. That slowed me down. I was not ready to rush on, as I was prone to do back then. Not so anymore.  ( When one walks WITH Mother Nature that happens.) That experience began an ongoing reflection on the terminal aspect that lies beneath all of its richness and vitality of life.  I/we have to face the uncomfortable fact, all life is terminal.  From the moment we are born we are dying.  In that dying we are called to live life, and live it to the fullest.  We are,  also told that we cannot live life fully or freely until we have made our peace with death.  In making our peace with death we are able to live life in a different way.  Autumn reminds us, and invites us to celebrate that mysterious reality of living, dying, only to be born anew.  Autumn has such great wisdom to impart.  A wisdom that will impact our lives and hence the lives of others.  These days, which are my days of winter.  I am finding that memories of Autumns past, are triggered by this autumn season.  Memories that bring warmth, soothing comfort, and a sense of well being. The same feeling one gets when one is close to a wonderful open fire all wrapped up in a warm blanket.  Autumn memories sure warm and repel the cold, cruel, harshness of winter.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Beloved


Here is a passage that Henri Nouwen wrote in his book, "The Life of The Beloved" page 36. This is our Beloved speaking to us:
                       "I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother's womb. I have carved you in the palm of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness, and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair of your head and guided your every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will satisfy all your thirst. I will not hide My face from you. You know me as your own and I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover and your spouse...even your child…wherever you are I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one."            
I encourage the slow reflective reading of this passage from Henri Nouwen. Why? Because within those words there is contained so much of what we seek, and yearn for. They convey to both you and me, who we are in the love of our Gracious, Prodigal and always surprising God. Pope Francis has said to us that our God Is a God Who surprises. Our God breaks into our lives, as scripture warns us, "at a time we least expect." I think you will agree that our God not only comes when we least expect, but in disguises that blow us away. God is the God of uncertainty, not certainty. What we all must accept is that we cannot box God into a neat package. A package that we construct with our finite minds. A lot of pride there. The Indefinable we decide to define. There is a warning that comes to us from Africa, "To define something, is to KILL it." Have we not borne the brunt of pain brought about by the narrowing of the understanding of The Incomprehensible. When efforts are made, as our Pope is doing, to broaden the horizons, there is war. We see that played out every day now. The Pope is slowly guiding us to a newer and a more inclusive understanding of God's love for all of His/Her creation. This means we have to change our old ideas, let them go, so that a newer and a fuller understanding may be ours. The Rabbi Jesus had real difficulty with the rigorists of His day, just as Pope Francis has today. The only way we can be the church Pope Francis envisions, is for us to embrace his vision. This vision of a church of mercy, a church of welcome, and hospitality for all, begins within the human heart of each one of us. The same human heart that beats within the breast of The God-man, beats within you and me. Jesus did not have one model of heart, and us a lesser model, a more vulnerable one. If that were so then, The Incarnation was a waste of time. The Prophet Jesus did not allow Himself to be boxed in, and fit into the expectations of others. Just in the same way our God, The God of Jesus Christ, refuses to be boxed in. Therein, lies the challenge of the spiritual journey. "We journey to Him we do not know, by a path we do not know."(St. John of The Cross.) Our journey is a journey into uncertainty, and into the certainty of God's unconditioned, unlimited, and unrestricted love as our Good Shepherd.

           That is why we need to connect ever and always with the fact that we are the beloved. Every day we are given 86,400 seconds to listen to The Voice that says to me "You are my beloved." Fr. Nouwen goes on to say:
               "Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear the voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper. I have been doing a lot of digging lately and I know that I am beginning to see a little stream bubbling up through the dry sand. I have to keep digging because that little stream comes from a huge reservoir beneath the desert of my life. The word "digging" might not be the best word, since it suggests hard and painful work that finally leads me to the place where I can quench my thirst. Perhaps all we need to do is to remove the dry sand that covers the well. There may be quite a pile of sand in our lives, but The One who desires to quench our thirst will help to remove it. All we really need is a great desire to find the water and drink from it."

          There goes that word "desire" again. According to the spiritual writers, to have the desire is all we need." We become what we desire. Remember what Thomas Merton wrote that if we have the desire to do what is right, and just, God's will, we will be led on the right road, though we may know nothing about it at the time. As long as God knows we do not have to worry, just trust in His love for us, not our love for Him. But we, at least, I do not trust easily. Where there has been abuse, and betrayal in our life experience, trust is a hard commodity to come by. There has to be, and has been, a great refrain, "I believe Lord help my disbelief/unbelief" "out of the depths I cry to You O Lord, Lord hear my cry." "O God come to my assistance.  God, make haste to help me." The response is not always immediate. The response will come. Many times the response just reinforces we have a God of surprises, and a weird sense of humor.
We must, moment to moment, call to consciousness the following; In His love we are one, ever and always. There is no moment that we are not present to His creative love. It is Not as we love ourselves, or the world loves us that we are loved in the depth of our being. We are all held in His compassionate love. Compassionate Love has been incarnated, revealed to us in His Son, Jesus Christ. He came to "suffer with us." To be compassion. Let us make compassionate living our great goal, the great defining desire of our lives. Then we will be led to the reality of the "law of graduality." It is only gradually, we are led to discover the reality hidden and revealed within each step of each hike. There is revealed The God of surprises Who is to be discovered as we make our hike through the mountains and the valleys of life. We now appreciate  in a new and different way the fresh water we drink from from the trickling streams, and hidden wells. The life giving properties of that water corresponds to the life giving water that springs up from within us. This fountain, Is The Fountain, the source of Eternal life. That has been my experience, and the experience of others with who  I have accompanied. Make this law of graduality the lens through which you always look at life. God Is loving you. This I do not want you even to think, or question. His creative love is molding you, forming you, ever so slowly, darn it, but ever so gently. Ever so slowly and ever so gently the living presence of the Risen Christ is revealed, in you and through you, always for others. The historical Jesus did not become the Risen Christ without first having to endure what you are suffering right now. So???

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Sin

 “At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin, and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our will. This point of nothingness and of ABSOLUTE POVERTY is the pure glory of God in us...It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in EVERYBODY, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely...I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.” These are the famous words of Thomas Merton which I first read as I was reading a book of Henri Nouwen's thoughts. They really startled me, and have been food for thought over the years. What great treasure lies, sometimes undiscovered, in our spiritual tradition. Thank God our Pope is leading us, as one writer has so aptly put it, down “dusty roads.” These so called “dusty roads” are leading us back so we can again be encouraged, and revitalized.
             Our Pope is brave enough to remind us of who we really are in “the unconditioned, unlimited, unrestricted love” of our Gracious Prodigal Father. He is not saying in which has not already been taught in theology class. Maybe because there has been a lack of healthy theology flowing from the pulpits, that we are not aware of whom we really are in the love of our Mother/Father God. How many sermons are given on how difficult it is to commit a mortal sin?  Those words “mortal sin” are thrown around like shamrocks on St. Patrick's Day. There is no teaching of what state of consciousness is required by church law for the committal of such a sin? It appears that grave matter, perfect knowledge, and full consent are not preached anymore. This leads to people confessing as mortal sin that which is venial sin. It results in Catholics living in unnecessary guilt, because they are not informed as to the true teaching of Catholic Morality. There is a constant struggle to bring penitents to a healthy understanding of what sin really is. This actually takes up a great deal of time in the celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation. When asked what sin really is, so very, very few can give a theologically correct answer. There is always the possibility you are told you do not know how to do your job, because one does not buy into their messed up theology. There can quiet a conversation!!! It at times leads to the confession of a root sin, which has never been really been dealt with. It was “glamorous” enough. Really!!!!  There is so much to be done in this field. That is why now we hear so many shocked gasps when the Pope is only teaching the REAL TRUE theology of the church. Some want to make excuses, “He really did not really mean that.” Let us be honest, the emphasis has not been on what is right with us, i.e. Merton’s  words above, so we are not geared, disposed to hear the good news. We are not disposed to readily accept the fact that we are ever and always the beloved of our gracious Father/Mother creator. That is why I love that quote; “God help me to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful.”
      As I reflect on my days in Dr.Lennon's Moral theology class I remember that the first thing that was pointed out was that mortal sin was as the result of the human action of a person. A human act was the result of a knowing mind and a consenting will. No one can judge the individual state of mind of another person. That is why a confessor is taught to listen to the person’s story. Any story has so many levels to it. That which we are conscious of and then there is the unconscious acting out. Any action can only be judged to be such a sin by the informed conscious of the individual. Not in the estimation of the confessor. The confessor can point out the gravity of the action. What sin it is, mortal or venial, lies in the existential, the here-and-now, and state of mind. Our action will reflect the relationship, as it is being lived out right now, between us and God. Sin has to do with the frame of mind of the person at the moment, not 5 seconds later, nor 5 minutes later, nor 5 years later. We must remember all the circumstances of the moment will have an effect on our freedom, and our ability to respond, and so, be responsible.
          Sin is the free, deliberate, conscious decision to knowingly reject God's love and choose that which is opposite. It has to be the deliberate, thought-full rejection of Goodness so as to choose a destructive evil. It is to say to God, consciously, “I am by this action rejecting your love, and the possibility of heaven, and choosing to go to hell, a place where Your love is not. I want to be separated from You, beginning here and now and for all eternity.” We must also keep in mind that of all the billions who have passed through this world the church has never taught that even one of those billions is in hell. There have been some bad “dudes” and "dudettes" on this space ship of ours and we teach no one is definitely in hell. Here is something I have said so often, I can now use it in a sermon without a note:  “God’s mercy is greater than our sins. There is an awareness of sin that does not lead to God but rather to self-preoccupation. Our temptation is to be so impressed by our sins and our failings, and so overwhelmed by our lack of generosity we get stuck in a paralyzing guilt. It is the guilt that says I am too sinful to deserve God's Mercy. It is the guilt that leads to introspection instead of directing our eyes to God. It is the guilt that has become an idol and therefore a form of pride” Henri Nouwen “A cry for Mercy.”
                  

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The...Long...and...Short...of...It


As you know, I love to compare our journey on "the spaceship earth" to a long, long hike. Each and every day is a “short walk" on the hopefully long journey we call life. We, who have emerged from the mist of The Eternal, are forever and always, in a reality, way beyond that which our limited vision, can see. We believe, the Eternal, the Mystery, the Indefinable, the Ineffable, is a Reality we will never understand, on this earthly journey. As a consequence we will ever and always be seeking, and searching for understanding. Understanding of who we are, and who that source of our being is.
We are in good company.  We need to remember, St. Francis had just these two very basic questions. "Who are you God, and who am I?"
St. Francis had that wonder-full simple faith which kept him grounded in those questions. I have, from my youngest years, admired St. Francis. I had even thought about becoming a Franciscan. In facing it myself I have to admit I love to complicate even the simplest things. So I have had to learn to simplify everything about my life. This is an ongoing difficult, pain-full moment-to-moment, daily struggle. Thank God I found, or was forced into hiking.  Almost from the beginning I became aware, a hike was just about hiking. It was not about putting one foot carefully in front of the other. There was more, much more to this seemingly simple exercise. (I was told many years ago that the more simpler a reality APPEARS to be, the more profound it really is i.e. God). Gradually I came to realize that on hikes some of the basic, essential questions of what it means to be a "spiritual being immersed in the human condition." What this word means has triggered so many thoughts, feelings and emotions.
We are all invited. Though many are not, and never would be, if I had anything to say about it. Which to my horror I have found out I do not. As a consequence I have many, many uninvited guests. Ever notice when you are in a place of quiet, in a deserted seemingly abandoned place, you have even more of these unwanted visitors. You can look and see that there is no one on the trail and you are, seemingly, on your own, but not really. You have many unwanted company crowding your mind, and demanding attention. They are unwanted because they bring to consciousness that which we much prefer was left buried. When this happens to me, I am forced to face my shadow side. This is the side, the part of me I want to live in denial of, the part of me I do not want to share with anyone. I am choosing to live in the hell of denial, choosing my state of denial brings NOTHING but pain, and destruction, for myself. Pain and destruction will also hurt a lot of those who share my life. I am going to have to deal with great upheavals, in my daily living.
Those parts of my reality I choose not to share, the shadow, have been described by some authors as "the past, the primitive, and the inferior." It can be the parts of me that I find "unacceptable, unknown, and not yet developed."  We all have this shadow side as, individuals, couples, families, parishes, diocese, nations, and the family of nations. On my hikes I am forced to face that which I would rather not face. Here, denial comes in very handy. Denial, I am sorry to say is just a stop gap measure. It does not do anything to help in the living into the solution. On the contrary, it just postpones the inevitable, which is pain and destruction. That which I choose to reject or am not ALLOWED to accept, as part of my reality, will REMAIN as part of my reality. This is going to happen whether I like it or not. It is not going anywhere, darn it! I can only embrace it, or as one book encourages, romance the shadow. We of ourselves are incapable of loving the shadow, that is where grace comes in especially particularly in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Yes!! That Sacrament is still being celebrated, though not as much, to the detriment of so many who are unfortunately, shadow controlled. The Creative Lover, The Holy Spirit, The Spirit of Wisdom, needs to be invited to bring about reconciliation. A reconciliation between which I would like to be, and the reality of which I am. Reconciliation is a PROCESS, not an event, I have found from sad experience. So I am forced, on a daily basis, to embrace the truth of what Thomas More has said, "The soul is never cured, it is cared for." If the soul is not cared for there is a horrible price to be paid. When the maintaining work, that is spiritual exercises, is not being done there is a price to be paid. The Spirit brings about a transformation, and we are delighted. When the ego takes overhand we get cocky, the spiritual exercises are neglected, and we assume the place of God occupied. The ego has removed the Real God, The Real Higher Power. So now we worship at the altar of pride. This always results in the old patens of behavior returning, and with a vengeance. Remember what The Prophet Jesus said “the last state, will be worse than the first."  It will be the same for me as soon as I stop the spiritual work, I am on the road to places I never, never in my wildest dreams, imagined ever existed. So I have to become more and more aware of what is bubbling up from the depths. Each moment is my encounter with where my life has come to and at this moment my life has peaked.
"By the grace of God I am who I am, and on the way to becoming a more authentic human being. Not becoming in any way perfect but I am growing in the acceptance of the fact that I am perfectly imperfect. The letting go of the ideal, and becoming reconciled with the reality is all through the Loving, Creative, Power of our Gracious Prodigal Father God. Grace has brought me to this moment, and grace will keep me safe, in this moment. After all, does not The Holy Spirit, The Spirit of Truth, say to you and I, “Now is the acceptable time now is the time of salvation.” Right here right now my salvation is being worked out, as I respond, not react to my present reality. In order to reach the end of a hike, I have to take a number of steps. I cannot just wish, or imagine that the hike is made. It takes action. It takes the healthy use of my free will. What an awe-full gift our Creator has entrusted to you and I. On my hikes I am challenged to face the question of how healthy is my use of this precious gift, in a way that other activities do not do. The truth will sometimes hurt, but the soothing oil of God's mercy-full love is always there for me to fall into.