Sunday, October 5, 2014
Another birthday has come and gone. I am now looked upon as an old-old, that is according to an article I just read. To use John Denver's words "I have become what I never thought I would be." It is so appropriate those words are from "Some days are diamond, some days are stone," which describes perfectly the reality of my life. It is not either/or, but/and. On reflection, there was a time I did not see life beyond the 30's, because, anyone over thirty was not to be trusted. So Joe, "you have come a long ways baby." Now the obvious question is, "What now"? How is life different, and what are the challenges to be faced? How prepared am I to become aware of, and accepting of, the gifts that come with the aging process? Aging is not all about loss. There are gifts to be recognized and accepted, celebrated, and shared. What are the responsibilities I have to those who have yet "to trudge the road of happy destiny"? So the truth of the matter is that as one gets older one loses, and one gains. The physical prowess slowly ebbs away. I cannot do now the hikes I was able to do. I found out, this week, that what was once seen as an easy, level hike, is now a slow ascending climb. It was once, so easy, I had the impression it was a level trail, now I see that reality in a different light? I cannot change the topography, so Joe has to accept, and adjust to this new reality. The revelations of the limitations of my humanity is more and more part of my daily living. Yes, while reflecting on this journey, this hike, through life one sees so much disappear, caught up in a Paschal Death. This means, thanks to the mercy of a gracious God, where loss, death is a reality, there appears a new, and a more spiritual understanding of the real realities of life. In Paschal death, death is not the end but a beginning of a new way of living. We become, no, that is not right, why? I have, just now, forgotten the words "of ourselves we can do nothing, but we can do all things in Him Who strengthens us." I must remember, and daily renew my belief in the creative power of The Higher Power. The power, the miracle of Grace strengthens us ever anew. We are ever new because of what we lose, or surrender, whether forced or of our own volition. The whole spiritual journey is all about letting go, surrendering. How I detest those words, surrender, let go. I, my egocentric ego, wants control, and is not a happy camper when it has to surrender, let go. Learning to let go is a process. It is made just a little easier sometimes, when we are faced with a lack of energy."The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak," and weakening. There is now a greater reliance on a gracious God Who never leaves us. That Power of creative is ever active, often in ways we will never understand. We do not need to understand, just accept, and have gratitude. Where there is gratitude there cannot coexist resentment, and bitterness. When we surrender to those latter feelings then the way out, to serenity, is gratitude. This does work.Neither the physical world, or the spiritual world can tolerate a vacuum. Something must fill the space created by loss, and that is ALL LOSSES. There are no exceptions to this rule. The loss, that creates this vacuum, may be the death of a pet gold fish, or a child, a beloved, a friend, a lost job, a lost school, a lost parish etc. etc., the list is endless. Into the vacuum created ,must be welcomed The Creative Spirit. Why is that necessary? It is necessary, no, essential so that the miracle of new life may be revealed in us, to us, and through us, to others. The miracle of new birth may happen within us but it is NOT for us alone. It cannot, must not stop with us. That is for our benefit and others. "The gifts we have been giver are NOT for ourselves but for the building up of the common good"(Paul). That is the opposite of "What is yours is mine, and what is mine is my own." There lies the cause of so much unhappiness, war, and mayhem. This is true of our own lives, our family's life, and is being revealed to us in the struggle between nations. We must always be reminded that the line between war and peace runs through the middle of the human heart. Yours and mine. War begins with me, peace is a gift to be chosen and it lies deep with.
We are part of a greater picture, a greater story. Life is not about me, I belong to a greater reality. My story is part of a greater story. Our story is the continuation of the story first begun many million and billions years ago. The story of creation is about 14 billion years old. The story of our world is now about 4.5 billion years in it's telling. What is so awe-full, so wonder-full each person adds a unique flavor to its telling. Each and every thought, each and every actions adds a new word, a new sentence, to the ongoing mysterious story of God both hidden and revealed in the history of creation. We will be "life givers or, death dealers," dependent on the everyday actions of our every day life. This gives each action, each event a value that must come to appreciate, and reverence. This is a process that happens when life is lived, and lived to the fullest. For this we have been called. For this mysterious journey we have been chosen. For this we have been taken and set apart, as the beloved. You the beloved. In so far as we claim and live that reality will we live our lives in union with, The Beloved. The Beloved has loved you and me from eternity. A reality we must claim each and every moment, of each and every day. In this claiming we not only come to believe we are the beloved but we begin to live our lives reflecting that reality.
Here is what 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.
There is so much love, tenderness, mystery, hidden in these words. They cannot be rushed through, as one may do with a novel. This is food for the depths. So read slowly. Maybe a word at a time. A part of a sentence at a time. Let it seep into the depths of our consciousness and there awaken........
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Life can be challenging at times. Then there are those moments when the challenges appear to be just too much for us. That is when we get into fear and the panic button is pressed. I see that most of the kids are now back in school. Vacation time is now a distant memory and the everyday grind has begun to grind on the nerves of so many. The everyday grind challenges us in so many ways. Whatever resources that were built up are now being depleted and fast. We are faced with the question, how am I going to survive and keep my sanity, with all that I have to do? When is there going to be time for me, so I can have some time to breathe and have a chance to recharge the battery? On top of that, I hear announcements asking for volunteers for the many ministries that are so necessary for the well-being of others? You are being asked to be good stewards of your time, talent and resources. It is tiring just to think about all that has to be done. I am getting tired just writing this out!
It is good for us to recall this gospel narrative. Jesus sees the large crowd. He has a very caring response as He views the many, who are coming out to see and hear Him. He asks the question "where can WE buy enough food for them to eat?” He is assuming the responsibility of finding something for them to eat. Again, the caring God-Man is revealed to us. As Jesus is, so is His Father and our Father. Such is the God that is revealed to us through the humanity of His Son and our Brother. Come to think of it, we do have a pretty neat family. It is essential for us to take the time to think, to reflect, to meditate, on the challenges of the mission of Jesus. Where this does not happen, we will be under the illusion that just because Jesus, was The Beloved, The Son of God, He somehow got an easy ride. Everything was laid out for Him by His father. When we read the gospels carefully and reflectively we will come to see it was the very opposite.
The Gospel of Mark is a great gospel to read. The whole gospel story is about being messy. Not getting the message The Great Teacher wanted to impart, the disciples are hard of hearing and really slow in coming to an understanding on what Jesus was teaching them by word and example. They never truly "GET" the message. We are so lucky to have such a Gospel, and all the people, places and events that inhabit its pages. In John's account of the gospel event we see there is a problem, Jesus wants to feed the people, Philip has been chosen to meet this challenge. He is overwhelmed by it. He is stuck. Then, out of the blue there is a ray of hope. "There is a kid here who has food." "Wow that is great!" Yeah, but it is only five barley loaves and two fish." "Not good." Yet, it is good enough for Jesus. That human act of generosity on the part of the young boy was the catalyst for The Miracle of The Loaves and Fishes. I wonder what was going through the mind of that boy as he heard the adults discussing the challenge. He did not have "two hundred days wages," all he had was the five barley loaves and two fish. To his mind, it was a BEGINNING. "This is what I can do," he must have said to himself. So, the offer was made. What appeared to be an action of little value, turned out to have a tremendous impact on so many. The boy's so-called little offering, built on by divine power did what otherwise appeared impossible.
What can we learn from this? We do what little we can and then allow God to be God. No matter what the challenge, there is always something we can do. At times, it may be to just surrender our powerlessness to God. That is such a simple action it often triggers for us something that can be mind boggling. When life becomes so overwhelming, it may be necessary to withdraw to a "deserted place" for some alone time with, “the alone time." Not a great deal of time, just your "five loaves and two fish worth." Where there are the great challenges to be met, just realize that your presence, not words, that will be used by God to be the reality through which His Presence is channeled to the person in need. Many times, the "less" of us, makes way for the "more" of God. That "young boy" in John's Gospel is nameless. We are told by those who know that whenever a person or persons are not named, we are to place our names there. So, from now on, when the challenges appear, it is not about us coming up with the brilliant, earth changing solutions. Let us be imitators of that boy. Let us make a living presence in our daily living. Let him be the inspiration we need in time of stagnation. Let his courage be that which will strengthen us in times of fear.
When we are faced with all the messiness of our lives, let us reach out, outside of ourselves, to those in deeper need. Let us offer our little offering and then let God do the rest. No matter how brilliant our ideas, unless there is the guidance of the Creative Power all these great ideas come to naught. I have seen, over these many years (as a priest), so many ministries begin with a "simple" thought, idea and are empowered by the Holy Spirit, ended up being the source "of food" for so many. "It is better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness." The Christophers.
Saturday, August 9, 2014
Summertime is a time for relaxation and reading. We need books for travel, for the beach, and for the quiet times. I am most grate-full to be back where I can enjoy reading again. Some gifts can only be appreciated when they are no longer part and parcel of our daily lives. Are not some of the most important gifts taken for granted by us? I am back rereading Henri Nouwen's great classic, "Life of The Beloved." I recently picked up another of his books, which he co-authored, "Compassion." ( Thank God for thrift stores.) It was only when I got into reading both that the thought struck me, they are so complimentary, without compassion we have no chance to live the life of being the beloved. In "Life of The Beloved, "Henri lays out before us on how ESSENTIAL it is for us, not only to know but to embrace this reality. We are, and ever shall be Our Father's beloved daughters/sons. He points out the fact it is not enough to be the beloved, we have to actively claim the dignity of being the beloved. He points out the fact that we must claim our belovedness again, and again. Each and every moment of every day this is our essential task. Let us not fool ourselves, this is hard work. The spiritual life IS hard work. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Why is it such a struggle for us humans? Simply put, the spiritual journey is a journey into "subtraction not addition"(Rohr) , and this offends the ego, big time!!!To be honest, I have never liked that reality especially when I was younger. How could one be successful if one was not accumulating? When you were an assistant pastor, you were waiting to assume the mantle and power that came with being a pastor. Not just being a pastor but a pastor of a big wealthy parish. What an illusion that turned out to be. The Second Vatican helped to destroy that illusion, with the advent of, servant leadership. The illusion is still alive and well. Thank God Pope Francis is renewing that call. He calls for a new way of serving the poorest of the poor. It is in the service of those whom our God has a fundamental option towards, that we will be challenged to see in them their essential belovedness, the same belovedness that is ours, in our depths. So then it stands to reason that we will have to journey into the depths of all aspects of poverty. Our own FIRST, then the poverty of others. We will be drawn into an ever deepening understanding of what poverty really means. With this gradual understanding, we will come to an acceptance of the universal community, and unity of all. When we do not accept this unity and community in poverty and belovedness, we will be suckered into accumulating "power, property, and prestige" only to find out that this NOT the way to a happy, full life. It is just an illusion, and when followed leads to death. We meet so many of these wailing dead on life's journey. Even though they are many, they are not who they think they are. They are so much more. Right now they do not believe it. There has to be a lot of "letting go" of their precious illusions, the product of the false self. So as to journey through the "subtraction," the emptying out into the true self. The Presence of God within. This is the pearl of great price which does not come on the cheap. A great deal of hard work and sacrifice is demanded.
It is one of the blessings of getting old that the "get up and go, has got up and gone. "One is forced to face the limitations of what it means to be human. So much of what was looked on as important has fallen by the wayside. So much has disappeared and all that is left is the memories. Since I have been blessed with the great desire to read, and so I was in one way prepared for what I was to face, but I was not prepared for the toll it was going to have on my Irish ego. I had read "the greater the ego, the greater the crucifixion," but that was for others not for me, right? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. What a journey it has been to accept the fact that the peace Our Gracious God has in store for us is not "the peace" the world thinks is peace. We are in constant need of lens adjustment. God's ways are not, the non transformed ways of the the world. God's ways, however, are lives lived in union with The Transformed One, Jesus The Christ of God. The transformation necessary happens to us, uniquely through grace, as we follow in the footsteps of The Beloved One. These are not easy steps to follow.
Being The Beloved did not guarantee an easy, carefree life. On the contrary, even though He was The Beloved, He emptied Himself of His power-full divinity, so as to be immersed completely in the human experience. Like all of us He too was betrayed, lied about, bruised, beaten and abandoned. He did this so as to model for us what the human expression of our All Power-full God looks like. We must not just look at the events in the life of The Historical Jesus, and ask why, we must go deeper and ask the question how am I living out these same moments and events right now? What is the connection between my daily encounter with suffering, and the suffering Of The Beloved Son? As Jesus, who through His Paschal sufferings, became The Christ of God, so too, we are immersed in, and connected with the same human condition. And we become today's revelation of Jesus, The Christ as we embrace His model of compassion, and Belovedness. This revelation of God was ridiculed and rejected so we, too must not be surprised when we do not find easy acceptance, even within ourselves. I must have compassion with my own human faults and failings. I have to ask for the grace to be able to "journey with" them, so as to understand compassion. AS you know the deepest meaning of the word compassion is "to journey with." To journey with someone in pain, and not have a desire to change that person is one of life's great challenges. That is why God, in compassion for us left the heavenly throne so as "to be with us," Emmanuel, and "journey with us" so in a fellow human all that we need is revealed through our reflection on His daily living.
"In the midst of this painful reality, we have to dare to reclaim the truth that we are God's chosen ones, even when our world does not choose us. AS long as we allow our parents, siblings, teachers, friends, and lovers to determine whether we are chosen or not, we are caught in the net of a suffocating world that accepts or rejects us according to its own agenda of effectiveness and control. Often this reclaiming is an arduous task, a lifelong work because the world persists in its efforts to pull us into the darkness of self-doubt, low esteem, self-rejection and depression. And this is because it as insecure, fearful, self-deprecating people that we can most easily be used and manipulated by the powers surrounding us. The great spiritual battle begins,--and never ends--with the reclaiming of our closeness.
LONG BEFORE ANY HUMAN BEING SAW US,WE ARE SEEN BY GOD'S LOVING EYES.LONG BEFORE ANYONE HEARD US CRY OR LAUGH,WE ARE HEARD BY OUR GOD WHO IS ALL EARS FOR US.LONG BEFORE ANY PERSON SPOKE TO US IN THIS WORLD, WE ARE SPOKEN TO BY THE VOICE OF ETERNAL LOVE. OUR PRECIOUSNESS, UNIQUENESS, AND INDIVIDUALITY ARE NOT GIVEN TO US THOSE WE MEET IN CLOCK TIME---OUR BRIEF CHRONOLOGICAL EXISTENCE-----BUT BY THE ONE WHO HAS CHOSEN US WITH AN EVERLASTING LOVE, A LOVE THAT EXISTED FROM ALL ETERNITY AND WILL LAST THROUGH ALL OF ETERNITY.-----WHEN LOVE CHOOSES,IT CHOOSES WITH A PERFECT SENSITIVITY FOR THE UNIQUE BEAUTY OF THE CHOSEN ONE, AND IT CHOOSES WITHOUT MAKING ANYONE ELSE FEEL EXCLUDED." ( "LIFE OF THE BELOVED ")
These are words that must not just be read, but reflected on, chewed on so as to be blessed with the recognition of your essential goodness, blessedness, and giftedness. Yes! We are more that we could ever imagine. Do not sell yourself short. Do not, even when tempted, deny that from eternity you have been and are loved with an Eternal love. We are all in the same boat, and it is Not the Titanic.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
As this is being written, I am so very conscious of the violence, pain, suffering, abuse, that is being endured by millions of our fellow human beings. Would it be better if I had written, "by our brothers and sisters"? After all we are all children of the same Father, are we not? We do not pray, my father, we pray rather Our Father. We have to keep before us, even when it causes discomfort to bubble up, we are all brothers and sisters. There are no exceptions. We cannot choose who belongs to the Family of our Creator God, and who does not. From the streets of Chicago, to the cauldron at the borders of Arizona, to the harsh and heartless deserts of Iraq, Iran, and Syria, Palestine, there is a great bloody reenactment of Calvary, and the Crucifixion. These above mentioned are just a few of the places where The Crucifixion is reenacted in the same bloody manner. This Crucifixion is revealed to us, through the events of each and every moment of every day. So many are entering their own personal version of hell on earth, a hell so awe-full for us to contemplate.
So as a defense, we shut tight our eyes to the horrific images that appear in the many sources of communication. We can, and do offer deaf ears to the pain-full screams of those who are the contemporary Suffering Christ. Yes we can, and do have hardened hearts, and closed or blinded eyes, and minds. The awe-full result is that those suffering will continue to endure their pain in loneliness and isolation. How can we ever leave our place of so called comfort and security to embrace the pain and suffering of our sisters and brothers? Where am I going to get in touch with that which will empower, enable us, to "to be Him, Whom we have been called to be," and reach out in meaning-full, transforming service. How can we expand our narrow view of what it means to be a "Contemporary Christian?" A Christian who will go beyond the confining limits of religiosity, and instead be a living example of the universal love of our Gracious Creator God? In other words, when are we going to stop being sheep, and instead become shepherds? Shepherds that will continue the universal outreach of The Good Shepherd. A sheep does not become a shepherd without radical transformation. Radical transformation is not something the ego will choose. There is too much to let go of. Becoming the living presence of The Good Shepherd demands that we let go of everything, and enter the place of abject poverty and powerlessness. This was modeled for us on Calvary, and we are called to enter into the same reality. This does not happen in a vacuum. Grace is operative in each step we take. The Crucified Shepherd now journeys with us, and in us, and continues to live through us. The same Spirit that was with The Historical Jesus on His transformation to be The Risen and living Christ is the same Spirit that brings about our transformation.
We are told it all begins with our journey into our inner being. There will be those who will recoil from journeying within the depths of who we are. Solitude is a necessary prerequisite for this great adventure. But solitude like all blessings brings with it great pain. Here is what Thomas Mann wrote:
"Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous- to poetry. But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit. the absurd."
In solitude we are asked, forced to meet, and embrace all of the pain, all of the suffering, all the isolation, all the loneliness, all the powerlessness that another can experience. In other words, I meet my sister/brother in the depths of who I am discovering myself to be. That is why the journey into the depths of being an authentic human being is not readily embraced. For me it seemed to begin without I being aware of it. It was not until I was led to the blessings of solitude that I began to get just an inkling of what I needed to learn most. It has been a long, long process. It is not false self enhancing, it is about the false self destruction. The false self, the self of my creation, does not die easily. This process has been going on for some time. When will it end? only end with my final breath. So I do not know when my journey will end. Today, tomorrow, next week, next month ??? All I know is that it will happen.
Getting away from the noise and busyness of life is both a blessing and a curse. As long as I am busy I do not have to listen to, or pay attention to all that bubbles up from within. So much of what bubbles up does not lead to peace serenity or peace of mind. What bubbles up results in disquiet and discomfort. It is great to know this is not just my experience alone. It is shared by all who are exposed to silence and solitude. It was with great relief that I read, many years ago what Fr. Rohr wrote in his book, everything belongs that when we enter solitude we have to face our personal issues of addiction, negativity, fear, and control. Each time one enters solitude these issues, for me, are always there. I must also admit that it does not get any easier to face the above issues. My shadow comes to the foreground and must be embraced and become reconciled with. If the my shadow is not embraced, made friends with, then I will project the guilt, anger, and resentment to some unfortunate I meet. All war has its origin within the depths of the human heart. When I am responding out of fear and anger that is my false self. No matter how I dress it up prejudice, bigotry, rash judgment, all begin with me and how I deal with my shadow. The only answer is that I grow in the understanding and acceptance of reconciliation. Reconciliation is a process darn it!!! I have found, and do find great difficulty with this process. I want reconciliation and acceptance, and I want it now. I want everything to be perfect, so I can a life free of stress and discomfort. This is not going to happen much to the disgust of my ego centered ego, the false self. If there is going to be peace and harmony in our time it has to begin with each one's journey into the depths. Nothing will happen until we make that journey. If we do not choose to make it, then life will force us to make it.
"Lord make me an instrument of Your peace" but first lead me to that place of peace where You dwell in a Love Community of Father, Son and Spirit. Gift me with the grace to love all that I fear and detest. Strengthen my faith that it is in those places I recoil from Your Compassionate Love, and mercy will be revealed. Give me then, the courage to carry this gospel to those who have not heard it, and if they have have found it difficult to believe. It is so hard at times to really believe in Your Infinite mercy-full love. "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." Why have you not made it so? I guess the journey continues!!!