Sunday, June 27, 2010

Up the Mountain...

On Wednesday morning, as is my custom, I turned to the sports page. An article caught my eye. It was written as the result of the reporter having joined John Lott, the Phoenix Cardinals strength coach and his charges on a morning encounter with Camelback Mountain. There was something about that article that resonated with me. Well, I finished breakfast and went about my day. Wednesday is the day I make every effort to get serious about what is to go in to this effort. There were some thoughts swimming around in my head, yes there is a great deal of space in there. As usual when one looks at something long enough, there appears, out of where I do not know, an insight into the reality behind the reality. One could say, the spiritual meaning.
As the day went on, it became clear of the connection between what John Lott is aiming for with the Phoenix Cardinals, and the deeper meaning of our hike, which to my way of thinking, is the spiritual journey.

John’s vision for that journey up and down Camelback is a way to instill not only strength and endurance, but perseverance, as well. All of those qualities are necessary for a football team. These qualities are essential in the fourth quarter, when a vital stop has to be made, or a winning drive is demanded of he players. Then the memories of those moments when the desire of the limited body is crying out "QUIT", but a higher power, John Lott, would not allow that to happen.

So as on the mountain, so on the field, the player, gathers himself together, sucks it up. In this moment, of great struggle with human limitations, he somehow gathers a strength from that special place all where athletes want to go to. Something clicks, for him, which spreads to others. There is that voice which says, all those moments of painful struggle, in June, have prepared me for this. The ball is snapped, bodies and will collide, and the result is , not about winning or losing, it is about the honest and best effort. Those moments will forever be there in the athletes unconscious. At a later date in time when the best efforts, of an authentic human being is demanded then, this athlete, knows he has what it takes. He knows what it means to be in the "zone". In the language of the spiritual life, we call that serenity.

We do not have an opportunity, well at least most of us, to meet the challenge of Camelback every day. We are, however, presented with challenges far greater than what can be encountered there. We have to face loss of health and energy, personally or we are asked to journey with a loved one who today meets that challenge. The added burden of lack of employment, and health insurance adds to the anxiety and pain. The uncertainty in relationships, the pain of loss and betrayal, leaves so many human beings, to lead a life of victimhood, rather than the life of a survivor. Living life as a victim, is a life of pure hell. (My definition of hell: a place where there is no love.) There seems to be no hope, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. There is however that still, quiet voice that struggles from the depths to whisper, this is Not my lot in life. I have been called from all of eternity to live a life of freedom, not fear. I will be a survivor. In this encounter, the truth has been spoken. The lie has been named. Light has appeared out of the darkness. We have just experienced on a deeper level the journey of Jesus, which St. Luke introduces to us today. We are told "Jesus firmly resolved to proceed toward Jerusalem". Here is what Carroll Stuhlmueller has written: Luke's "journey narrative" is ..a symbolic way, a literary device, to combine several journeys, Jesus and OUR OWN, through the mystery of death- resurrection...The events in Jesus' ministry become the way by which we follow as disciples. ... Luke, therefore, wants to jar us into the realization that this is OUR journey, so that the passion and resurrection of Jesus becomes a living, transforming reality within us.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Daddyhood...Fatherhood...A Sacrament.

I, know this will come as a great shock to many of you, I got into some trouble when I was a kid. Maybe, I got into A LOT of trouble when was a kid? Maybe, I STILL get into trouble, after all, a leopard does not change it's spots, right? Well, one day, of many, I got into trouble. This was relayed to my Dad by the family historian, my mother. Well I received my punishment and was not in a very happy mood. A few hours later I met Dad, and he reminded me that Castletownroche was playing in the Cahirmee Tournament that evening. Did I have to be reminded that the Pope, was Catholic? What he said next has stayed with me over the all years, he told me that he and I were going to the match. Was I surprised? No….I was shocked! My Dad had that great father energy, he challenged me on my mistakes, but, he was gentle, when it mattered.

God...Father... Abba... Daddy..are are all very simple words we use to describe the Incomprehensible, the Ineffable, the Infinite. William Wadsworth wrote "Father to God Himself we cannot give a holier name”. It was that familiar, and intimate word ,"ABBA, that Jesus The Christ choose to describe Him with whom He had such a strengthening, and nourishing relationship. It was this Abba with whom He chose to spend countless days and hours with. It was to purify the knowledge, and relationship that He spent 40 days in a desert experience. It was with this Abba He spent many nights away from those He ministered to, and those whom He was in the process of forming. It was to quiet places He went, when He had to face great decisions. It was in the silence of mountains He lost Himself, so as to find the wisdom, strength, and spiritual nourishment which would give direction to His journey within the human condition. We read how as He returned from this alone time with, The Alone, there was a greater sense of conviction and urgency. There was a deeper commitment to His mission and ministry. He had to allow Himself, as we do, to be gently guided into and ever deepening understanding of what it meant to be The Beloved Son, of Him, whom He had the courage to call, Abba. We have to remember that in the historical time in which Jesus lived, His fellow Jews would not so much as mouth the word God. Now here we have this radical who wants to call the God whose name we cannot speak, His Abba. No wonder they wanted to kill Him.

I have often reflected on the relationship between Jesus and Joseph. What was the dynamic that enabled, that allowed Jesus to make the connection between His understanding of His God and that of the human person He called, father. What did He experience with Joseph that moved Him to realize, this is what I have with my God. What was the feeling when He first spoke openly of what was HIS DEEP AND INTIMATE feelings. He from the way He spoke forever changed the dynamic between His Abba, and us, His fellow human beings? On one side. we have the infinite, on the other side we have the finite, and the word to be the bridge to the gap is, Daddy. In that simple, little word, the divine is perfectly hidden and revealed.

What a great challenge lies on the shoulders of those who wear the mantle of, Dad. Any one of the male gender can become a father, many times this is unfortunately true, but it takes a special person to become a Dad. A Dad, is a sacrament. Yes, each and every Dad is an ever new revelation of our heavenly Abba. What we have in our relationship with our Dads, is what we are going to have with our Infinite Heavenly father. Daddyhood, fatherhood, always human. always frail, is the instrument our God has chosen, and continues to choose, to reveal to you and I, the mystery of who we are in His love. As we are growing in the experience of being the beloved of our dads ,so we can come to believe we are also the beloved of our Heavenly father.

Where such a relationship is not our experience, we must allow ourselves to grieve for what is not there, for what is missing. Then, when we have done the feeling process, (feel experience, express, and only then, let go) we ask our God to fill up the emptiness. This has to be repeated, again and again. NOTHING is done in the spiritual life, once and forever. This is a lesson we must learn. Some of us have to learn the hard way, of continuous pain and turmoil. When we are faithful to the process, then blessing do appear. The choice is ours.

The following is a country song, that can comfort and console.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Compassion.....Receiving to Give

This week, on Tuesday the 8th, I was lucky enough to celebrate 47 years, in this life I have been living, since I was 23. As I get to different milestones I find myself, like most people, reflecting on what has happened, and what is happening right now. You may well ask the question, "How about the future?". Well, at least for me, the struggle of the present, when your get up and go, has got up and gone, is more than enough challenge for me. When you get old, there is a hidden blessing, because the energy is not there any more, I now have made surviving the present moment my top priority. "Just this moment Lord, just this moment", is the measure of my prayer.

It is great to have no big plans on the horizon, just today, just this moment, is challenge enough for me. I find there is wonderful freedom in that mindset. Not much fodder for the ego, as a matter of fact there is no food for the ego. That does make the ego a very unhappy camper. When the ego is unhappy there is trouble on the horizon. In the meantime there is rest, peace, an appreciation of quiet, and an occasional sense of serenity. Maturing has its blessings. Do not get me wrong, I still have moments of anger, (I do not have to tell you that), wild dreams for the future, grandiosity, just to name a few. A real good dose of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, acts to blow those thoughts and plans to you know where. I have made the following words, of a Gaelic song, more my own each day:

"The cares of tomorrow must wait till this day is done." ''

So serious change has become an obvious reality for me.

The thought of change is now, ever before me. Change, has to do with loss, and gain. That which has been lost, can be more easily seen, and felt. All I have to do is look in the mirror, say two Masses in a row, eat after 5 o clock, and I will become well aware that there has been loss. What has been given, is much harder to decipher. That which has been given, to replace that which has been lost, is not seen in a mirror . It appears in moments of reflection. It appears as we reflect on the wonder-full ordinary moments, of our not so ordinary life. As you well know, there is no ordinary life. There is always the divine, the sacred, wanting to break through so as to say to you and I, you are God's story, right now. Your life right now is the only bible some people will ever get to read. How scary is that? That is how much confidence God places in each human being. He must know something we have yet to discover. This brings me to the idea behind this blog. (Took a long time to get to the point, you may well point out, and rightly so.)

I was reflecting on this question, "What is the one word that has become a life changing word, over the last 47 years?” That word has to be, COMPASSION. The last 47 years has seen me be ordained at the tail end of one understanding of church, and the appearance, under the guidance of The Holy Spirit, of a new and more challenging reality. I had to live, no, scratch that, I had to survive, through that liminal time, where one reality was replaced with another. It was a time of upheaval. For those who lived through the 60s and 70s, you know what I am speaking about….

You had the Vietnam Nam war, the appearance of the drug culture, everything was being questioned, and to top it off you were not going to live past, 30. That was a blessing, because “there was nobody over 30, that could be trusted”. There was radical change taking place, both inside and outside the church. Was it easy? Of course not!

We went from the objective, to the subjective. The story of each person was the story of God, and so demanded reverence. There were no longer any glib answers from some book. Each person had to be listened to, with compassion.

Where did that compassion come from? I was on the receiving end of the compassion of many individuals, both inside and outside the church community. There were compassionate people who afforded me a place to bring my weary and sometimes broken being, and rest awhile. They were not there to fix me, they were there to listen to me, and where necessary suffer with me, this is the true meaning of compassion. I was then able to move on, and in some cases struggle on, renewed in spirit. Looking back I can tell you from experience, there is no place to compare to that sanctuary where you can freely express your anxiety and fears, reveal who you really are, and not be judged, or condemned. That was the sacred place to bring the harsh judgments, the unrealized, impossible, broken dreams, and be received with tender care, no judgment, and a life giving love. The black and white life took on, many shaded of gray. I now look back and can see the truth in those words, "Life is not a problem to be solved, it is a mystery to be lived'.

I am being led, to believe because of my own life's story, that to live the life our God wants us to live, we must immerse ourselves in the mystery of compassion. My list of compassionate fellow travelers is, a long list, and is being added to all the time. The older you get, the more compassion one needs to receive. The blessing that comes with that, is that now you have more compassion to share. We all need the compassion, to become the person our God intends us to be. In our moments of pain, we do not want glib answers, we want the presence of a real human, being present to us and with us. A person that says to us, "I do not have any answers but I am here for you. Is the okay?”.

That is everything, a human being can ever need. So then to realize our God's dream for us, The Aisling of God, as spiritual beings having a human experience, we need, no, we demand a great deal of compassion.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Silent Nourishment...

I first heard this story a number of years ago. It was always a little distant in my mind, and because of that I never wanted to tell it. I came across a written version, so now I can recall the following to you:

A church goer, a seemingly reluctant one at that, wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. "I've gone for 30 years now" he wrote, "and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me. I can't remember a single one of them. So, I think I am wasting my time and the pastors are wasting their time by giving sermons at all." This started a real controversy in the "Letters to the Editor" column, much to the delight of the editor. It went on for weeks, until someone wrote the clincher: "I've have been married for 30 years now..In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I know this…..They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me those meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today."

What a great story. A story that is so, true. We can get so caught up in the results we can see, we lose sight of the fact that, that which is most important, is a reality we CANNOT see. To desire to see the tangible results, is fueled by the ego, the false self. The world we live in wants, results! These results, if they are to be of value, and most importantly, to have a value placed on them, must be seen. On the other hand, the spiritual journey is all about The Unseen, The Unknown, and The Incomprehensible. The scripture reminds us, "that which is seen is transitory, that which is unseen lasts forever." So it is with a world of grace. So it is with the journey we call, spiritual. Because it is, spiritual, it cannot be seen or measured, much to our disappointment. What is happening, is God's business, not ours. All we have to do, to cooperate, is allow it to happen. That is our part to play. You could say we are at our best, when we are, get this, *doing nothing. We are just being who we really are, and our God is working the miracle of His grace, within that reality. The slow process of molding is taking place in each and every moment of the life we live. God uses the life we live to mold the life of His son, Jesus Christ. We become the body of Christ. This becoming is a ever deliberate, slow, painful process. It does, however, allow us to experience a joy and a freedom that is beyond human words to explain or express.

This weekend is we celebrate the feast of The Body of Christ, Corpus Christi.

This is who we are and who we have been called to be, from all of eternity, The Body Of Christ. A body that has to be taken, blessed, broken , and given. As it happened to Him in whose footsteps, we follow, so it will happen to you and I. That is our destiny and our vocation, as Catholic Christians. We are a people to be taken, placed aside, consecrated [baptism], for the express purpose of being the contemporary presence, of Jesus Christ. As He had to be broken and beaten, crucified and killed, to become the Christ, so we too, in order to become Christians, have follow the same self-process. (You and I follow the same pattern.) We will not experience all that it is described in the Scriptures, that description is an allegory for what has happened, and is happening to us. It is, however, a source of hope for you and I.

So then, each time when we receive, The Body of the crucified One, we are strengthened to face the everyday crucifixion which is part and parcel of the human experience we have as spiritual beings. Spiritual beings who have been taken from, sent forth from, The Divine Presence. For what purpose? To be consecrated for the continuation of the One that was crucified and killed. But, for Him and for us, crucifiction is not the end, because He rose to a new life, so it will be for you and I. As we receive The Body of Christ, Eucharist, we are being drawn ever deeper into His risen life as we participate on an ever-deepening journey into His suffering and death. It can be summed up in the following familiar phrase "No Good Friday, no, Easter Sunday.

What is the struggle, or where is the struggle, you and I, can claim as our present day participation in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ?
Where have we come to, the end of our strength? What are the circumstances we are facing which leads us to cry out, "I, cannot move any further, I cannot go on another inch.?” This is the place of our Eucharist. This is the place where we are been broken and have almost given up, notice the word, almost. It is in this place we are now ready to receive the strength and nourishment, that is way beyond us. It is in and through the offering [Eucharist] of what we do not have, that we receive all that we need. It is in the offering, we make room for the grace we need. It is in that deepening surrender we are offering ourselves for the ongoing gradual molding of ourselves into Him, whom we have receive, and are called to be, The Body of Christ.

This is a great mystery, being, and receiving, The Body of Christ. It is only by immersing ourselves into the mystery, again, again, and again, that we allow this miracle to happen. As the husband in the above story was nourished by meals he cannot remember, so we too, have been nourished (and will be nourished) in celebrations that have faded from our memory (and will fade from our memory). Yet, there is that guarantee, that in each Eucharist we receive the necessary light, life and love of God. This light, life and love then be communicated to us in and through the Liturgy we participate in. Just like when we sit at a table to eat a meal, it works when we show up, participate to the extent that we are capable of and the nourishing happens. So it has been and always will be with us and for us as The Body of Christ.