Saturday, February 26, 2011

Spring Training....Spiritual Training

It was cold and windy, for Arizona anyway, on Wednesday when I hiked Telegraph Pass. I was looking at how barren and harsh the desert was to view. I was also reminded of the beauty that is waiting to be revealed in this inhospitable place. Thanks to the great rains, we are going to have wonderful carpets of Spring flowers. On my way, I was surprised when I looked down, it is recommended to keep a steady eye on the trail, and low and behold there was this beautiful small yellow flower at the side of the trail. Yes, winter is here, but there before me was the promise of Spring. Just as there is the certainty of the flowers of Spring, we also in Arizona, have the certainty, at least for now, of Spring training. As Spring training begins, we ask the question, “can the ‘spiritual Spring training’, Lent, be far behind?”. As it was, so it will be again this year, and we hope forever and ever.

Over these many years, I have begun to see the two seasons dedicated to training. Baseball’s Spring training is all about getting back to the fundamentals, pitching, catching, hitting, running the bases. I see this year our Diamondbacks are working on an added dimension, attitude. A healthy team attitude, is built on the concept of unity and commitment. Without these two basics, a team has no future. (For us D-Back fans, let us hope there is a relief pitcher or two in the picture! We have had no "savior" of late.) The season of Lent is our spiritual Spring training. It happens every year. Each year, we too are asked to return to the fundamentals, prayer, fasting, and reaching out to those who are in need, the contemporary suffering Christ. He appears to us in the disguise of the poor, the needy, the sick, the homeless, THE IMMIGRANT, those who are in prison, persons we would choose to avoid, rather than reach out to them. Here is where we have to have an attitude adjustment, if we are going to make it on team Christ.

We are told there is no I, in team. Where egos run unchallenged there is chaos on that team. In Spring training it is the job of the manager, and the coaches, to lay out their way of how things are going to be during the coming season. The players on a healthy team, have either to, shape up or be shipped out. Those only interested in their stats, and their glory will have to be challenged to adjust their attitude. Our egos are sure hard to battle, for ourselves and others. Where the egos reign, rather than the vision of the manager, there will never be a healthy, and happy clubhouse. Managers and coaches on a baseball team have only so much time to work with a player, we who are on team Christ are worked on, our whole life long. The other blessing we have when belonging to His team, we will never be cut, or placed on waivers. We are not bound to this team by contract, we are part of a covenant. A contract ends, a covenant is everlasting, eternal. Just as egos get in the way of a successful baseball team, so too, our egos are constantly getting in the way of the good, orderly, direction, that comes from our Manager, through the coaching of the Holy Spirit. That is the reason for this season we call Lent.

Spring training takes place under ideal circumstances. We see the movement of teams, leaving old, tired, training centers, and taking up residence in those new state of the art facilities. In these facilities everything is laid on. It must be first class. Despite all those wonderful surroundings, during Spring training and afterword during the season players still get played out, they get burned out. Then they have to go through that horrible experience of being traded, or forced to retire. They have come to a dead end. Who looks forward to that? Well for us who are that different team, those dead ends, the great losses, the great disasters, in other the great deaths we are constantly faced with, are just the BEGINNING of a new way of living. All these experiences lead us to a gradual, deeper understanding of that wonder-full Preface prayer, 'Death is NOT an end death is a BEGINNING". That is where we are lead through the experience of temporal death, in an understanding of the mystery of Paschal death. Because it is a mystery, and one of our five supernatural mysteries at that, we must return to it again and again. Not very appetizing, is it? This will happen through our life experiences, when we are forced to confront this reality. On the other hand if we are very, very lucky it is this season of Lent in which makes us enter into, to delve deeper into a mystery we shall NEVER solve. "Life is not a problem to be solved, it is a mystery to be lived", now where have you heard that before?
As you know, I love what Meister Eckhart has written, that is the stuff I can understand, The following is entitled, “Led to the Desert"

Consider the divine spirit in the human soul.
This spirit is not easily satisfied.
It storms the firmament
and scales the heavens
trying to reach the Spirit that drives the heavens.
Because of this energy
everything in the world grows green,
and bursts into leaf.
But the spirit is never satisfied.
It presses on
deeper and deeper into the vortex
further and further into the whirlpool,
the primary source
in which the spirit has its origin.
The spirit seeks to be
broken through by God.
God leads this spirit
into a desert
into the wilderness and solitude of the divinity
where God is pure unity
and where God gushes up within Himself.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Difficult Challenge???????

This weekend's Liturgy opens innocently enough. We will / have prayed, “Almighty Father, faith in your word is the way to wisdom, and to ponder your divine plan is to grow in truth. Open our eyes to your deeds, our ears to your call, so that our every act may increase our sharing in the life you have offered to us".

This "word" we have to have faith in has the following to say us, "You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart.....Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your countryman. You shall love your neighbor as yourself". These words are from that first reading. We go on to the Gospel where these words are addressed to us by Jesus, "My command to you is: love your enemies, pray for your persecutors".

This is real heavy stuff, and so difficult to do. We have to face what we would like to do, and contrast that to what we are commanded to do as followers of Christ. There will be, for me there usually is, between what my ego wants and what the true self desires for me. There is that instant satisfaction, gratification that comes with putting someone in “their rightful place". Unfortunately that does not last too long. Our conscience starts to act up, and we get to be in an uncomfortable place. We have to face this challenge over and over again. Being Irish, this is one of the curses of belonging to our wonder-full race. I am sure you have heard of Irish Alzheimers , "You forget everything, but the grudges". At least we are honest about it. Honesty is the first step towards a healthy spirituality.

Instead of carrying the grudges, Jesus commands us to pray for that certain individual. How can I do this, you may ask, and not choke on my words? Well since it is the command of Jesus, why not use the words He has given us to pray? Here is a practice that DOES work. It has been road tested by so many people. For two weeks, yes 14 days, say one “Our Father” for that person. When you start you can even say, “I really do not mean this, but I am saying it anyway”. See what happens. God's ways are not our ways. As we go along they become more and more mysterious. This makes the command of Jesus a little easier to obey.

This life we are asked to pray for, and is offered to you and I, is a participation in the life of our God's only begotten, beloved Son. A life that described for us in the Gospels. I always recommend the Gospel of Mark for this purpose. There we meet a very human Jesus, and a still more human apostles, and disciples. When we struggle, as we always will, with following The Lord, they await us in the Gospel of Mark a great source of encouragement. Up to the very last moments, up to that last moment before The Risen Christ was to ascend, they still did not get it. In that state, Jesus Christ left His "not together" apostles, and returned to the Father. He left The Holy Spirit a great of work to be done. With the descent of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost, the challenge was met, and so it continues to the present day, to you and I. The ongoing formation of the baptized into the Body of Christ is a process we hinder, or facilitate with our God given freedom. What power the love of our God has bestowed, and blessed us with. The life that is offered is a life that Jesus Christ will live out His suffering, death, resurrection, ascension. It is the life God has chosen from a life of eternity to be the place where a New Spirit will descend to, and infuse Itself into. So, that the risen life of Christ may have a contemporary expression. This is the dignity we are called to. Great blessings always come at a great price, e.g. our freedom. Are we ready to accept this hidden challenge in this weekend's liturgy. Take heart we do not take on this challenge alone, we have this GUARANTEE from our God, “Whatever challenge you are asked to face, it is a challenge that both you, and I can meet, and accomplish”. You will never be tested beyond your strength. I will not allow that to happen. If you have any doubts about this, read what happened to Job, “So, when a challenge comes your way, it only comes at a time and in the place where you and I can meet it”.

So many of us have a great difficulty in letting the past go. We hold a grudge against ourselves and it is called resentment. This weekend's Psalm is wonderful. It is Psalm 103, and it has these so consoling words,"As far as the East is from the West, so far does He place our sins behind us". Hope this will encourage you to not read, but pray the whole psalm.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Where is the Scribe and Pharisee......Within?

It is time to take another look at the chart at the beginning of the blog. The heading reads, "The Battlefield of The Soul". When we read down, the words we read are, "My Free Will". This free will, we are always reminded, is a gift freely given to us by God. This free will will never be interfered with. At times we wish we did not have it. Then there would be no chance of us making mistakes, we could say to God "you do everything, I will be just along for the ride. I expect it is going to be a good one because it is all up to you". To do this is to surrender our free will. To surrender our free will under any circumstances is a sin. Our free will is that which makes us human. When we do not act as healthy human beings we revert back to acting like animals. Our God given ability of being able to think and act make us rational animals. God will not take our free will away. We are not puppets. So each and every moment, of each and every day, we have to make a choice. That choice is made either consciously, or subconsciously. We read in the Scriptures, before us is presented life and death, good and evil. Whatever we choose will be given to us. So in every moment we are going to life-givers or death-dealers. We are going to choose between a life lived as the beloved. When we choose that life to live, we live a life that is permeated with the light, life, and love of God. When we deny ourselves that gift, we are choosing to live a life lived in guilt, fear, and shame. One way of living is a life lived in the freedom our gracious God has chosen for us. To choose to live a life locked in the prison of guilt, fear, and shame is the life of a victim, not that of the beloved.

Thank God, our God is a just God. Again in the scriptures this God "understands man and woman's every deed". We often hear it be said of a judge in our courts, "He really takes into account all sides of an issue". Not all judges are like that. Some work out of a personal agenda. Then there is injustice. Our God understands us better than we understand ourselves. He loves us more than we ever can imagine, or hope for. He looks at us through the eyes of infinite mercy and compassion. Jesus had a real problem with those who were rigid, and inflexible. Jesus called this group the Scribes and Pharisees, a bunch of hypocrites. Jesus here was not being a " nice guy', He was being an honest person, much to the chagrin of the latter group. The Scribes and Pharisees we caught up in religiosity, while Jesus was revealing how hard and difficult it is for the self righteous to get to the Kingdom. The Kingdom is for the poor, broken, the sinner, a concept the Scribes and Pharisees were either unwilling or incapable of accepting. Now here is the nasty part, the Scribes and Pharisees are alive and well, and have taken up residence within you and I. When we are lured into the lie that we must earn, deserve, or qualify for our God's love we have joined the above group. When we compare ourselves to others so as we relish the feeling of being better than, guess who is in charge at that time?

Jesus did not come and assume a perfect humanity. His humanity IS the same humanity you and I share, no different. He continues to use that same imperfect humanity of today, to carry on His mission and His ministry. Our spiritual journey is that conscious effort, on our part, to acknowledge while we are beaten, bruised,and beaten, just like Him somehow our God has chosen this way to reveal His presence to and to the world. This is the "WISDOM Of GOD" that makes no sense to this world, as it made no sense to the Scribes and Pharisees. It is our calling to struggle the day to day living while all the while the mystery of grace is bringing about the Kingdom, using our mistakes and blunders as the main instruments of its creation. It is NOT for us to analyze how it happens, it is up to you and I, to allow the grace to flow. Please enjoy, and above all please celebrate the hike.

Fr. Adrian van Kaam, C.S.Sp. wrote;
"The Lord wants to incarnate Himself in the world through persons involved there as fully human beings."

"My daily environment should not be looked upon as the Divine but a possibility of entrance into the Divine. Every new enterprise, reading, or encounter may reveal to me another aspect of God's presence. I should never identify one task, place, or assignment with God Himself or dub this the only road to God. In that case, I might suffer from religious fetichism, which means that I isolate one specific person or place and tell myself that this is the only road to God for me. If I do so, I may be danger of closing myself off from the rest of reality and remaining fixated on one or more parts of my total situation. In such estrangement from reality, both my daily and spiritual life may become FICTION."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Religiosity.......Real Spirituality

There are, and were, great challenges afforded to us in this weekend's scriptures. It is the job of the scripture readings to deepen our understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. That challenge comes from The Table of The Word. The strength to face the challenge, comes from The Table of The Eucharist. The two Tables compliment each another. We need to have both to lead a truly Christian life, and lead an authentic spiritual life. In the first reading from Isiah, we are exhorted, we are encouraged to do the following. The prophet, speaking the word of God, counsels us to: " Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own". Now if that is not enough, he goes on to speak the following, as the mouthpiece of God, "Remove from your midst, oppression, false accusation and malicious speech”. We may well say, "this is hard work”, and we are right. The spiritual journey, the spiritual hike, IS a hard and difficult task. That is why we can never journey alone. Alone we will be destroyed.

The spiritual journey is a difficult ego busting journey. We are led on a journey into who we really are, as authentic human beings. We are led to that place where we have to face, honestly, who we are in our limitedness, and our brokenness. Until we accept that place where we have nothing to rely on, or any resource to fall back on, we will be living in the world of fantasy. We will have our existence in the fantasy world of religiosity. To blast us out of that cozy place, we will have to face some shattering event that rocks us to the core of our being, the old trite answers do not work ant more. We now have new questions, for which new answers must be found. We get that place, which in the words of Karl Rahner, is a blind alley. This so called "blind alley" is not really what it appears to be, but is in reality a new deeper, and quite different understanding of God. A new understanding coming in a way that we least expect, or would plan on, given the choice.

I have found the following words of Fr. Adrian van Kaam, C.S.Sp to be both consoling, comforting, and challenging. These words are from his book, On Being Involved,
“Religion and life are not separated. My daily task and it's religious meaning, my worldly and religious commitments sustain one another. I can encounter God in the realities of daily life and face all events in. ("In Him we live and move and have our being")...Commitment to God which excludes a commitment to the world will lead to a FALSE RELIGIOSITY. In a make-believe religious commitment spirituality may degenerate into an egotistic search for sentiments and fantasies. A split spiritual of religious sentiment and imagination can be maintained only when I withdraw emotionally from my commitments. I tell myself foolishly that as soon I get involved in my study and in the people for whom I care, then I have to leave behind that sweet world of religious dreams and sentiments in which I want to indulge.

"If, with God's grace, I find the courage to give up this self-centered world of religious sentiment, I may be able to develop a true spiritual life. I may find God where He is: in the needy people around me, in the difficult hours of exhausting study, in the collaboration with humankind for the building of a better world. I find Him in the asceticism of the laboratory where I dedicate myself, together with my brother and sisters of the human race, to discovery of the concrete scientific aspects of the truth of His creation."

"Present to God, in struggling and suffering humanity, I may grow to a spiritual life which replaces that fantasy life that I previously called "spiritual". The main difference between my own imaginary life and that of other withdrawn people was that my fantasies were religious while theirs may have been aesthetic or sensuous. We rejected the challenge of God's reality and sought refuge in the shelter of pleasant feelings and imaginations." We will then find ourselves visiting "the land of tears and the land of fear." Again and again we will shed our tears. Physical tears, and emotional tears. We must then always keep before our mind’s eye the wonder-full words of this week’s opening prayer we prayed to our Gracious Father that in His mercy and love He allows no tear to go unheeded. There are no Kleenex moments with God. The is nothing not connected with the whole. There are no garbage can in The Kingdom. All of our tears are taken by God, when offered, and re-returned to us as pearls of wisdom. Not for ourselves, religiosity, but for the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoner, the homeless, the immigrant, or whichever is the "least of the brethren" you will encounter in your daily living. St. Paul reminds us as well, " What we have been given is NOT for ourselves, but for the building up of the common good." This can only be, a WE JOB.