Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Shower of Mercy....Choose the Drops.

"The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. Upon the plain beneath." So wrote The Bard of Avon many centuries ago. I like his image of mercy as shower of "gentle rain". That is what we need. We do not want that heavy, heavy rain that accompanies a thunderstorm. There is no gentleness in that shower. Because mercy of its essence is gentle, the shower we associate mercy must be gentle. How about a gentle mist, that falls so gentle that we are not aware of what has happened, or is happening until we become aware our clothes are damp? How gentle the morning dew? Nothing is disturbed by it, yet what a transformation is brought about by its presence? Now let the light shine on those gentle dew drops and a new wonder-full new world is revealed. This only happens when we take the time to seek and see.

Why is this seeking and searching so important? Well for starters, 75% of the Parables of our Great Teacher were about mercy and compassion. Have you noticed how often that word mercy now appears in the new Eucharistic prayer? Now that Greek word for mercy, elison, is now more present to us, it requires us to look beyond the English to the original language from which this word sprung. Mercy, we will discover to our surprise and consolation, points us to the following. We are directed to thoughts of an oil, that brings to us comfort. It is an oil which soothes pain and relieves distress. It is a dynamic gentle force that comes to us as gift, it is free and brings about freedom from within. There never a question of worthiness and this mercy asks nothing in return. If it did, it would not be a gift. This gift is way beyond our understanding. Why? We have nothing in our lived experience that can replicate, duplicate this reality. A reality that makes it's dwelling within us. Grand-parents, at times, can come close. They can only point to the possibility, however. As mercy-full and loving, our grand-parents are only fingers pointing us in the direction of the infinite mercy of our gracious Father-God.

This is a reality, because it is infinite, that cannot be "strained". We can however strain the reality and the following will surface. Behind and within we will also find the following, compassion, caring, attentiveness, fairness, tolerance, sensitivity, kindness, gentleness and responsiveness without judgment or complaint, (the Good Samaritan). We can say these are just some of the qualities of the mercy that is showered down upon us from heaven. Each and every one of us are in the need of some, or all, of these many qualities of grace, on a daily basis. Why? We are spiritual beings having a human experience. Because we are enfleshed in a humanity, that is not fully transformed, we are going to face feelings of upset, discontent, fear, worry, etc. etc. It is then we need to imagine being out in the rain, or under the shower, and what we feel in not drops of water but drops of whatever aspect of eleos, mercy, we are in most need of at that very moment. As has been suggested before whenever you take a shower, or you are caught in a shower, see it as God showering some aspect of His mercy you are in most need of right now. Here is a suggestion, make a list of all that mercy, eleos, means. Place it on the mirror in your bathroom. When you go for a shower check the tenderizing, transforming, gift you need. Make a conscious effort to own the need and claim the particular gift. Then this is what will be showered down upon you, enlivening the merciful Presence which is already within you.

An English mystic has written the following about God, “He abides patiently, He forgives easily, He understands mercifully and He, get this, forgets utterly." Now how many of us have been raised immersed, in the reality of that God? The God so many have known is the very opposite and hence a false god. One that must be not only denied, but out and out rejected. This idol must be destroyed by us, or we will be destroyed ourselves. It not easy to get rid of false gods. They have taken up a dwelling, created by us, and are easily evicted. This is where prayer and fasting comes in.

We have made it so easy to go to Hell and so difficult to go to Heaven. [If we choose to go to Hell, we will not be sent to Hell, we will have to fight every step of the way to the gates of Hell.] We must keep in mind the reality of who we are, we are the chosen, the beloved, we are ever and always "overshadowed by His love”. When we are not actively claiming who we are in God's love, beloved, we are then living a lie. We find ourselves treating ourselves not as human beings, but as human doers. The “doing” must be perfect, or else there is no vestige of lasting happiness or any semblance of satisfaction. Then the second guessing begins and the persecution, the beating up of one’s self follows. During His Sacred Passion Jesus was flogged. He was flogged by those who were just doing their job, the soldiers. The soldiers, innocent. They were following orders. Here is a question to reflect on until next week, in whose body is Jesus being flogged today, right now? Who is doing the flogging? What are the present days whips by which the contemporary Christ is flogged?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Depths of Mercy....Leads Us to....

Saturday is, need I tell you, St.Patrick's Day. Sunday, when we surface, will be Laetare Sunday. Two days, these two days, are given over to celebration, during the Season of Lent. Laetare means, to celebrate. The first is a choice, the second is a necessity. We have been on a hard and difficult journey into the desert of our lives. There we have had to again encounter our demons, our shadow side. This is not easy. Neither was it for Jesus. As He was confronted with the Diabolos, the divider, He was also provided with the "ministering of angels". We, too, have to face the great Divider, the great Prosecutor. His relentless efforts are directed towards the goal of getting us to reject who we are and as a result settle for less. Jesus was tempted to deny His Humanity and so become irrelevant. His temptation was to flaunt His divinity, at the price of His humanity. This would have placed Him outside the human experience. The Incarnation, His coming as the enfleshment of God, would have been a waste of time. “He became like unto us in all things, except sin" and He sacrificed His life for us sinners. We are tempted to deny our humanity, our sinfulness, our need for God and claim that we ourselves are God. When we claim we are by our nature self-sufficient and can live our lives independent of everyone and everything we are listening to the voice of the Deceiver. We buy into the false message the lie, are so are cut off, divided from The Source of all our strength.

We have heard that old adage and it is so true here, "Divide and destroy". We have a choice to make. We make this choice each and every moment of each and every day. There is never a moment this drama in not being acted out in our lives. There is no respite in this spiritual war being waged in the depths of our souls. Here is the choice, are we going to listen to the voices of division, deceit, and prosecution, or are we going to listen to the voice that calls out, unceasingly, to each one of us “You are my beloved daughter/son, In each one of us He IS well pleased?". How often do we take the time out just to reflect on and celebrate in some way this, our deepest reality. Our God is ever and always pleased with us, not because we are good, but because He is the essence of goodness and we are His beloved. It is essential we have some presence, male or female, who mirrors that reality. If that is not our experience then it will be more difficult for us to believe that reality and live out our lives accordingly. That difficulty is sometimes overcome by grace.
Another way of understanding grace is , "God's love in action". Our God has this fundamental commitment to us sinners. We call that mercy. At mass we hear those Greek words, sung repeatedly, Kyrie Eleison, what are we doing? We are crying out to experience the mercy of God. What does this word mercy mean?

The word in English is the translation of the Greek word eleos. This word has the same ultimate root as the old Greek word for oil, or precisely, olive oil; a substance which was used extensively as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. The oil was poured into the wound and gently massaged in, thus soothing, comforting and making whole the wounded part. The Hebrew word which is also translated as eleos and mercy is hesed, and means steadfast love. The Greek words for " Lord have mercy", are Kyrie Elison- that is to say, "Lord sooth me, comfort me, take away my pain, show me Your steadfast love." Thus the mercy does not refer so much to justice and acquittal-a very western interpretation-but to the infinite loving- kindness of God, and His compassion for His suffering children! It is in this sense that we pray "Lord have mercy" with great frequency...."

Does not the above, provide, both you and I, a real profound reason to celebrate. We have been endowed with that certain something, grace, that brings to to be able to call out to our gracious God, I am in such a desperate need for your soothing, comforting love. This can be our prayer; I have listened to that other voice and it deceived me into thing you were so awe-ful I would never be able to earn or deserve your love again. I bought the lie, that my sin was too heinous in your sight, that I could not believe you would have understanding and compassion for one such as me. I felt I was not good enough for you. You want all of us to be as perfect as Your Son was. Even though He was like us He never sinned. That shame has led me to places where I made every effort to Hide from you. For you there is no dark place for me to hide. All is light for you. In the end Your light overcame the prison of darkness and I was able to once more walk in and bask in the rays of Your love. I am now free to enjoy, again, Your loving presence. The road has been long and rocky.

The desert has been harsh, barren and threatening. You have used my tears so that desert now, blooms and blossoms, with the beauty of new life and new understanding. Out of the desert one emerges with a new freedom. A freedom that comes with a deeper understanding of Your soothing, comforting love? Lord I now see, it was good to go into the wasteland and come to know You are you really are, not Who I thought you to be. You have lead me to a greater freedom and in that freedom I choose to celebrate.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Treasure To Be....Protected....Preserved....Defended

In the early days, I was never trilled to have to preach on Transfiguration Sunday. I was not able to connect with the Gospel episode. The sermon was often more of a "head trip" than a "heart trip". Over the many years, as Incarnational Theology became more of a reality for me, layers of meaning began to open up.

For starters, the message of this Sunday was an influence on the second station of The Cross at St. Andrew The Apostle. When one looks closely at that station you will see a great something in the face of that mature woman. The reason for this is to offer encouragement to the station follower. The stations are offered as a way to connect the suffering story of Jesus, The God-man, with our story of daily suffering. They are one and the same. Just as the sufferings of Jesus led to new life, and a new wisdom. A wisdom not easily grasped. None the less, this wisdom is offered to us and becomes ours over time, as we bring our sufferings to all our prayer practices. In that second station one sees a wisdom there, written by the lines on time on that woman's face. What she has suffered over the years gives has given her that something that draws and attracts us to her. Look at her eyes. They are eyes full of hope. Her eyes convey that necessary message of hope. That is the message of this station.
You do not pass by that station very easily. Our sufferings, seen as the sufferings of Jesus Christ today, are then the pathway to a new wisdom. This path leads us to not just a new understanding and a new way of just existing, but a new way of living. As we are in the early stage of our Lentenintensity we too are in great need of encouragement. We are in deep need of hope. We are in the need of that act of humility which allows us to accept the limitations of our humanity, so as to surrender into the waiting arms of a mercy-full and compassionate God. So easily desired, so difficult to allow to happen.

As that "Wisdom Mother" of the second station, offers us so much, so too, the scene painted in the Gospel. Jesus has announced He was going to suffer and die. Peter reacted, as he so often did, not in a good way. He had to be put in his place. (I love Peter. He must have been an Irishman!!! He was always speaking and acting before he thought.) Jesus wanted to strengthen the Apostles for all that was going to happen. He wanted to teach them that His suffering and death was not to be an end. He would have life after death. Did they get the message? No, we too find it difficult to accept that each death is not the end, but the beginning of a new way of living. We will become “better or bitter” in so far as we accept or deny that reality. We are always going through the grieving process. There are always deaths to face. Some small, some shattering, all are pain-full. Over the years we find out the greater the loss the greater the resulting "gift". A gift that is always slowly unwrapped within the life we lead. Just as death is a certainty in this life so also is resurrection, transformation and transfiguration.

In The Transfiguration, the divinity shone through the humanity of Jesus. That which shone through Our Brother, is also within us, His adopted sisters and brothers. What He had by nature we posses because of grace. This reality, this mysterious, cannot be denied. The denial by ourselves or another either through violent word or action, does not negate the reality. We all have this mysterious gift. "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 own mind or the brutalities of our own will.” “This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty IS THE PURE GLORY OF GOD WITHIN US. It is so to speak His name written within 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.” So wrote Thomas Merton in a letter to Henri Nouwen. No wonder Merton said, ' Be who you already are" and that will be enough. Easier said than done.

We are in a constant battle to preserve and sometimes defend our innate dignity from those who have this sick desire to put us down and trigger feelings of not being good enough. The weapon of choice of these individuals is toxic shame. A spiritual death awaits those who are victimized by this weapon of spiritual death. Toxic shame and a healthy spirituality are mutually exclusive. How often do we hear politicians say to an opponent “SHAME on you", or worse still a parent to a child, "I am ashamed of you"? We must never tolerate words like dumb, stupid, shut up and a word that has hit the news - slut. These words are shaming words and are never justified in being used. Shame was a weapon used in an effort to negate the truth spoken. We must always reverence the truth of another in the same way as we want our truth to be listen to and respected. That is when dialogue becomes a reality and bridges are built. When I want to shame you, I deny your truth and have no willingness to listen to a different way of seeing and thinking. How sad it is for our little ones to be so exposed to such spiritual and sexual violence. There is something else to be considered when a person is shamed it takes a long process for that person to get over the wounding. Yes, in each shaming action a wound is inflicted. Spiritual and psychological wounds are not, and I repeat - NOT, healed over night. It takes a long process of recovery. Shame is so readily handed out. We saw that with the priest who refused The Eucharist to a daughter at her mother's funeral. We also have been exposed to the shaming on the airwaves. These events will disappear from the public eye. The hell of living in toxic shame is not so easily exorcised. That last word was consciously chosen.

In ending, I pray that each of you will take the time to become more aware, more conscious and more accepting of that brilliant diamond deep within. You MUST ask God for His strengthening love to make this happen. Why God? If you have been shamed and who has not? Those who have been shamed in any way you do not possess the belief that within them is the necessary strength. That is the lie we are asked to believe in. I am sorry to say, your strength has been destroyed by the shaming act. Be not afraid, with God all things are possible, with Him there is nothing impossible. Slowly, by healthy actions, self worth is recovered. Recovery is a process. It is the result of many, many healthy actions. But, it does happen when desired. Then, in time, that same light which shone so brightly through the humanity will again permeate your heart, soul and mind. You will become more and more of a testament that evil does not win.

God Is The Lord of life. You now realize your anger has been given to defend your boundaries. This realization is LIFE CHANGING. The life you are now living is way beyond your imagination. By grace, you have "become a new creation and have clothed yourself in Christ", the risen One. There is more of a conscious aware that something is so very new and different. As it was with Him, so it is now with you, and will be forever and ever.