Tuesday, August 28, 2012
As I approach my 50th year in the priesthood, I have been reflecting on the passage of the years. They have gone so fast. They have been years with pain and sorrow, happiness and tears. There has been success and failures. There have so many deaths, followed by surprising resurrections. This was the life promised to me in my Baptism and proclaimed in every mass I celebrated. In the glow and excitement of ordination, I was blissfully unaware of this foundational truth. I was in for a rude awakening. I was awakened to the Paschal struggle that was such a great part of the life of the disadvantaged. It has taken many, many years of struggle, in this vale of tears to come to grow into an understanding of my personal participation in The Paschal Mystery. What wonder-full gifts are revealed to us in the hindsight of reflection. I came, as the Irish say, with the oil fresh on my hands. In my ignorance, I thought I had all the answers. Just ask me the question. I came equipped with a little green book which was to be consulted in the event a pastoral solution was needed. You could rightly say, I had knowledge, but wisdom, was seriously lacking. I do shudder at the “stuff" I was giving out. I had to learn, in the hard school of experience, a person does not grow in wisdom just from reading a book. Wisdom is not about knowledge. One can be very educated and have NO wisdom. Wisdom comes from the difficult STRUGGLE of applying one’s faith to the question arising from a lived human situation. I had to learn over and over, how to live with the question, so as to live into the answer. (Thank you Henri Nouwen.) I have not been a quick study. We Irish are known to be obstinate, and so the process is still in place. It is a pain-full process. A process that will never end. It is only temporal death that will end the learning process. With death will come the fullness of all knowledge as we will be absorbed back into Him, Who is Knowledge. I came to America to live in the challenging 60’s. Change was happening in both church and society. I had to live out the early days of the priesthood in the midst of great change. My training was in the thought and practice of pre-Vatican 2. Then, everything changed. The fundamentals remained the same and have remained the same over the centuries. What changed was the understanding of those fundamentals in the light, new knowledge coming from the sciences. As theology is, the science of the knowledge of God, so whatever is true in other sciences must be applicable to theology. From the consummated union of the sciences came a "brave new world" and a dynamic new and vital church. I am so sad to see the efforts made to retreat back to the pre-Vatican 2 way. We are losing the vitality which brought so much to the church. Each person was so formed and educated that they were able to embrace with enthusiasm this great statement, "the people are the church”. Each person has the dignity, realized or not, that they share in the threefold mission of Jesus Christ, as priest, prophet, and king. This is each person’s dignity as the result of the anointing with the oil of chrism at baptism. It is well to reflect on the fact that the same oil of chrism that each Catholic Christian is anointed with, is the SAME chrism used in the ordination of a priest. In the early church it took hours to baptize a new Christian, and way shorter to ordain. The excitement of Catholics was something to witness as they began to assume their rightful place in the workings of the church. What expertise, insight and knowledge they were able to bring to enhance and enliven the church. I have been and always will be, amazed at the time and energy American Catholics bestow on their church. It is the same both in rich and so called “poor” parishes. I have been an associate pastor and pastor in both. Once “the people of God” come to the awareness and acceptance of this fact, it is not Father's parish, it is theirs’, then watch out. I firmly believe in “bottom up” approach to leadership. We are to reverence the presence of The Spirit, in each and every person. We must empower each person to speak that person's truth and see that person as a manifestation of the presence of God. Some of what can and will be said to us will be challenging. I love when that prayer, "Voices that Challenge" is sung in the Liturgy. I wonder how many as they sing those words say to themselves "this IS about Me". Those presences that were a source of challenge to my way of thinking and the parishes way of acting, I referred to them as the prophetic voices. Voices necessary for the well being of the church and society. Let us thank the good God who places prophets in our lives to challenge our thoughts and behaviors. We need present day prophets who will shatter our comfort zones and with this shattering will come new knowledge, and, a new awareness. We will be led to places never dreamed of where we will begin to live in "a new freedom and a new happiness”. As with the prophets of old, today's prophets will led us to see, “new heavens and a new earth". The past is past. It is in the living in the present moment, The moment of Presence, that we will allow, (think about that word, allow,) God to do what God does best, "Behold I make all things, new”.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
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 from my Face Book, "home page" 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 so many in so many ways. Whatever resources, if any, 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 the gospel narrative of a few weeks ago. Jesus sees the large crowd. He has a very caring response as He views the many, 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 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. We do have a pretty neat family, come to think of it. 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 on 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 real slow in coming to an understanding 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 boys’, 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 so simple action so often triggers what for us can be mind boggling. When life becomes so overwhelming, it may be necessary to withdraw to a “deserted place" for some alone 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, 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 49 years (as a priest), so many ministries begin with a “simple” thought, idea and empowered by the Hoy 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
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
"Just to be is a blessing, just to be is holy" wrote Abraham Heschel. I find it so hard and difficult to just, be. I am more comfortable in "the doings of “life", " in the happenings of life". I have to really work on allowing life to be what it is right now. I have to work on not looking beyond the present, so as to enjoy all that is being given to me in the "right now". I have to work on developing a greater reverence for “the sacrament of the present moment". It is so much easier for me to be scheming and planning. (Feeding the ego. Does it ever die?) Nature has helped to slow me down and that has happened in more ways than one. The energy is not there. I do not have that old, or should I say that younger, "get up and go". That has plain disappeared and is nowhere to be found. The other way is that nature has a way of just stopping me in my tracks and all I have to say is "WOW". I am brought to that place of, wonder. A sacred place. A sacred space. Why? From that place of wonder, all prayer, all philosophy, all theology finds its origin. As I have said before, my Dad is the one who opened my eyes to see the beauty that is nature. He taught me how to be aware of the possibility that in each new place there is a gift to be discovered. My Dad really enjoyed introducing family and friends to places that were a source of awe and wonder. Over the years, I have begun to allow the place, space and moment to speak its truth. Sometimes it is wonder-full. Other times it is awe-full. Then other times it is a place of pain, suffering, confusion, delusion, fear, powerlessness, and disease. These were in my father's life. He was a silent sufferer. He was a man of great prayer. The depth of which I was not privy to until after his sudden death. His heart attack was a blessing, as it saved him from the ravages of brain cancer. He was blessed with a quiet death. He just slipped away before anyone was aware of it. Now, as I become more aware of the life he lived, I am ever more grateful for the sacrament of his life. I have learned over the years that pain, suffering and prayer go together. Suffering not brought to prayer is just plain destructive. Pain by its self has no redeeming value. Pain brought to prayer opens us up to a new way of seeing, acting and believing. Over these many years, I have made, well let me get honest here, I have been forced to make, Thomas Merton's , "Prayer of Surrender" part and parcel of the prayer life I have been given. I do not know how often all I have been able to say are the following consoling, strengthening, words: "God I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead, nor do I really know myself." I am consoled with the knowledge that Merton wrote these words at a time he was looked on as the one with all the answers. It must have come as a great surprise to those who looked on Merton as a great spiritual guide and writer. In todays language, he appeared to have things really wired. These honest words tell a different story. Thank you Thomas Merton for your great honesty. Your honesty frees us to be honest with who we are and where we are at, at each and every moment of our lives. We are liberated to be who we really are, not who we are expected to be, or think we should be. This IS the gift the spiritual journey bestows on us. With Merton's words this week, combined with the wisdom of Rahner a few weeks ago, “I am the blind alleys of all your paths…", we are presented with a great freedom. A freedom that has ALWAYS been there, but for one reason or another it has not been present in our everyday consciousness. For it to become an essential part of that consciousness we have a job of work to do. Yes, the spiritual journey does involve a great deal of work. It is our life long job, but it is a different type of job. When we work at a job we see results. We are conditioned to see results. If the boss does not see results, we are in trouble. That is a challenge, unfortunately, that flows over into the church, and has to be faced. There are times that financial, and other resources, must be placed at the disposal of ministries that will add nothing to the borrow line of the parish or diocese. These expenditures are DEMANDED of parish, diocese, and universal church so that those who are an authentic presence of the Gospel message may have the resources to be who they have been called to be. They will be empowered to break the ground. In time, others will come to sew the seed. At some future date, others will reap the harvest. Is it not great that God's time is not our time. Yet so annoying???? Results. Results. Results. What a curse that word is. So many are obsessed with results. Their identity as a person is based on results and rewards. Results are a blessing in one reality and a curse in the reality that REALLY counts. In the real and lasting world it is not what we see, it is what we do not see that really matters. When we journey into the spiritual realm, here too, we are asked to do a job of work. Then, everything changes, to our ego's borrow. In the realm of the spirit there is a constant war being waged and air is all about wages, results and rewards. As we work in the spiritual realm, The Kingdom of God, we are asked to settle for, not being able to see the results. What is happening is none of our business. It is God's . We cannot understand His workings, so we have to be content to do the work we can do. We can do this work, with the help of grace, but we do not like the work. Mistake. The true self sees this as essential, the false self (ego) sees it as absurd. The ego wants no part of the work of The Realm. It will fight it tooth and nail. It ,the egocentric ego, sees this as a battle for survival. The ego has an ally, the ally's name is, pick the one that is fighting, threatening your belief in your belovedness right now. Take your pick of the following names, "the deceiver", “the divider”, "the prosecutor", “the devil”, “satan”, these are all different names for the same reality. Each name, will reveal one aspect of the power that is going to fight you all the way until you enter the safety of The Eternal Kingdom. This work has a name, and it is called, "The Work Of Letting GO". We hear it said “I really struggled at work at first”. Then. over time I found it easier. The work, the job of "letting go" is a daily struggle, and even with age it does not get any easier. As Baretta would say, "You can take that to the bank".