Monday, November 7, 2016

Autumn...Reflections



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 this year for me is different, it 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 of 2016.  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.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Mercy




 “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 not saying anything that is really new. All he is brave enough to do is 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.”


Monday, September 19, 2016

Awaken...



Another birthday approaches. I am 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 way 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........

Monday, August 22, 2016

A...Flame...From...A...Spark



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.