Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Wounded....Shepherd, Part I

We are in Easter Time, Paschal Time, and will be for some time to come. We are being immersed ever deeper into The Mystery of the wonder-full, awe-full events that took place 2,000 years ago. As we are drawn into the mystery of the Gospel narratives, we are led to the following understanding. The events we read about, though occuring many years ago, are be lived out by you and I, today. As it was with the historical Jesus, Who became The Risen Christ, so it is with us who bear the name Christian. To help us with this mystery, we must grasp, understand the following; in the spiritual life there no time, there is no space. God, in spite of our greatest efforts, cannot be controlled, defined, or confined, to anything we may feel, think or say. We can and do, pay lip service to the fact that "God's ways are not our ways , and His thoughts are not our thoughts". Let's be very honest here, when it comes down to the real nitty, gritty, we want it our way. How often is God told to hit the road in time of pain-full struggle? When things do not happen the way we expect them to happen, there is a serious, volcanic spiritual eruption. A lot of people in our lives are effected, not for the good, when we do not get our way and our expectations are not met. I have to keep before me, it is right in front of me as I do the dishes, "Expectations are planned resentments". I am not always happy to be reminded of that reality. Even though I repeat it again, and again, I still am blindsided. Joe then, is not a very happy camper. The only thing that I can say is, I am now more ready to laugh at myself than I have ever been. I love the following; "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans". I have kept God in great humor over these many years. The Gospel narratives reveal to us how "anxious, shocked, distressed and distraught” the followers of Jesus were, on that first Easter morning. On Friday, their world, as they understood it, had been turned upside down. He, Whom they had followed, and had great expectations of, was not only dead, but His body was not in the tomb. Then, they are told He has risen from the dead, and has even appeared to some the people they knew. What was this all about? It is too much to grasp, to understand. They are afraid confused, bothered, and bewildered. They seem to be, "sheep without a shepherd". With the death of Jesus who is there now to feed, nourish, guide, and direct them? They are now faced with the feelings of being lost and so alone. As it was with those early followers of Jesus, so it with us today, when we are forced, by life, to encounter death, loss. When they are at their lowest, The Risen Christ appears. Even though He is risen, He has His wounds to show them. The Risen one carries the wounds of His crucifixion. We must always keep that reality ever before us. The Risen one is also The Wounded one. So too with each one of us. When we are wounded, not if we are wounded, and in time experience healing and new life, (our personal death, and resurrection) we must always remember the soul in NEVER cured, it is cared for. When we stop doing the caring, then we will revert back into the experience of the crucifixion. We can compound our mistake, by looking for some poor scapegoat to blame. When we get into the 'blaming game" we are on a slippery slope leading to even more serious pain and sorrow. Now we are going to alienate others, when it is the strength of others, the community, we need. We as human beings will belong to the community of "wounded-wounders”, or belong to the community of wounded-healers". That is a prerequisite for belonging to a Christian community, which is a community of wounded-healers. We are following in the footsteps of our Wounded Good Shepherd. As we immerse ourselves in the Gospel accounts of that First Day of a new creation, what a shepherd He shows Himself to be. He is out and about offering reassurance to those who were disturbed, disillusioned and disheartened. He was seeking out and searching out those who seemed to be the most lost. We have the example of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He was seeking out Mary in The Garden. Then there was Thomas. He was the disbelieving, unbelieving one, not the doubting one. I believe that in calling him, "doubting Thomas" we give doubting a bad name. Thomas was in real bad shape. He was not with the community. He choose to grieve alone, in private he was doing his grieving. How destructive that was and as it was so it is for us today. Even though we want to grieve alone, it is destructive. Look how unfeeling he had become. Look what he wanted to do to Jesus? Read again what he demanded happen in order for him to believe in the Risen Christ. Was that the request of a compassionate follower or who was in the throes of grieving a loss? With the help of Megan McKenna we will delve deeper in the suffering Thomas, and his presence within you and I today.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Is This Too Good to Be Really True?

I love children's Liturgies. The unexpected must always be expected. They, not like other liturgies, have a certain innate messiness that is always to be accepted and embraced. That has always been my mindset as I began the celebration of "the little darlings" Masses. If I had any other thoughts then I was in a bad place, and the celebration was not as nourishing. There was a certain rigidity present that somehow took away from the celebration. I had to have a certain mindset to really be able to celebrate with the kids.

I have always made a point of asking the children if they had any questions for me. There is always a great risk involved here. You cannot, and I mean cannot, program those questions. That is why it can be scary. You see kids are honest. I have found out that the younger the child, the deeper the question, and the more honest it is. Recently, I had the school mass at St. John Bosco. After my "FEW" word I said the usual, "any questions for me today?" One little fellow came up with this brilliant question; “How come God gives us chance after chance, and our parents do not?" Boy does he have the Mercy, and Compassion of God, down real pat. How many of us have that mind set? I am sad to say from my experience not too many. As a result, we live our lives in the prisons of guilt, fear, and shame. We live there by choice, not because of anything God has said or done. We spend our whole lives wishing to live in the freedom that is God's merciful, dream, Ashling, for us. When it is offered to us we fight the gift. Why? The gift will force us to live in a new way. We have become so comfortable living in crap, we are afraid to let go of the familiar and embrace this new way of real living. What we thought was "life", was really the work of illusion, and hence was not life affirming. How dearly we hang onto the illusions, and never get to embrace reality, hence never knowing the reality of God. God can only be found in the deepest reality.

This weekend is Divine Mercy weekend. To build on what was written a few weeks ago, we can say this is a further journey into how to enjoy “the shower” of the oil of God's mercy. (I wonder how many have taken the advice given?). Now it is going to get better. That is the mind set we have to have when dealing with God. No matter how He has blessed us, there are better things awaiting us. What is awaiting us, an ever deepening share in His Resurrected life. But, beware that ever deepening participation in His Risen life will only come as a result of an ever deepening emersion into His suffering and passion. That is a great source of, not happiness, but joy. Whatever we suffer we have that innate joy in knowing this IS our personal participation in The Paschal Mystery. Like all spiritual mysteries they cannot be solved only reverenced, and celebrated. In the celebration of The Paschal Mystery, which is the mass, the feelings of joy are intensified. All suffering, all death, is the threshold we must pass through so as to reach our destiny. We all have to make the difficult choice as to whether we want the security of power, and control, or the freedom to travel the journey into uncertainty? This latter is the journey of faith.

This week we get to add the qualities of Shalom, which Peace, to our reservoir from which all our showers of grace originate. Just like the word mercy has layer upon layer of meaning, so does Shalom. To translate this word by using just peace, is to sell it and so ourselves very, very short. To wish a person Shalom. is to wish them, completeness, contentment, wholeness, a sense of well being, and harmony. It also carries with it the following, tranquility, fullness, rest, absence of agitation or discord. Shalom also means to be complete, perfect and full. Wow!!, what depth of meaning goes with that word. Is it then any wonder that infinite God has to be the origin and the source of such gifts. Now when we add all of what is offered this week, to the blessings of mercy, we are really blessed. We do not have to earn, deserve, or qualify for the infinite Marcy-full, Shalom of our gracious God. All we have to do is accept the gift offered, and so be caught up in the passionate embrace of our Prodigal God, and lover. If this was so easy and common I wonder why Henri Nouwen wrote the following;

“God's mercy is greater than our sins. there is an awareness of sin that does not lead to God but to self-pre-occupation. Our temptation is to be so impressed be our by our sins and failings, and so overwhelmed by our lack of generosity that 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 a guilt that has become an idol and therefore a form of pride....The question is: Are we like Judas, who was so overcome by his sin that he could not believe in God's mercy any longer and hanged himself, or we like Peter who returned to the Lord with repentance and cried bitterly for his sins."

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, let us bring that part of ourselves that we hate, condemn, punish, ostracize, scourge, crucify, and allow the healing oil of our Prodigal God flow upon the broken, bruised, beaten, and betrayed parts of who we are. We must allow, yes allow, the healing, the inner tranquility, the contentment to happen to us. That is which our Gracious God has accomplished and is accomplishing in lives of so many . It is a reality we can choose to celebrate, within us. When, and if the choice is made by you and I, to paraphrase Karl Rahner, the following will happen: “God will take hold of the most hidden depths of our souls, the innermost center of our being, He will transform and glorify it. He will make it holy, the dwelling place of the divine." I read the following, and it is beginning to make sense "You cannot have true peace, without first facing life." That will be the life we are really living, not some illusion the ego has created, and is creating. We must “go deep" because, "the surface will not tell you what the deep water knows ". We will be lead through the rough storms to rest in still waters. There we can find our rest, and our contentment in the welcoming, passionate embrace of Mercy-full Shalom.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Making The Passion....Personal...Then....On To Mass

As we leave our houses, or homes, to drive or walk to church, we each will have our own thoughts, feelings and emotions. They are uniquely ours, one of a kind. Yet, because we "are spiritual beings having a human experience", there is a great deal we have in common. First, we all share the same place of origin, the infinite love of our Gracious God. It is our blessing to have such an origin, yet it is also a great curse. There is nothing in this life that will satisfy us. "You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and we will never rest until we rest in You." There will then be restlessness within each one of us. There we will always have that deep feeling that there is something missing. Nothing that we can buy, achieve, or accomplish will bring us anything like lasting happiness. We have to grow in the acceptance that in every success, is already sewn the seeds of failure, and disillusion. From our journey into the Paschal Mystery we are also exposed to, and confronted with this truth, "within every so called death, failure and loss is sewn the seeds of new life”. Because of the sufferings and death of Jesus, who became the Christ because of what He endured, we too, His now reality, will share the same experience. Jesus, The Christ of God, continues to live out the reality of His Paschal Mystery within the DAILY living of each one of us. That, every moment, daily living out of The paschal Mystery is what we all bring to each and every Eucharistic celebration, we are privileged to celebrate. If there is no conscious connection between our daily living, and the Eucharistic celebration, then we end up with, “liturgy without soul". To my way of thinking there is too much of that happening in our church, and as result so many can take or leave The Mass. Liturgy, is "the work of the people', and as such, God will provide, each and every one of us, the necessary grace for us to have a grace-filled celebration. A celebration that will always be old and new. Never, never, the same. As we bring the evolving newness of a life, that is constantly being renewed, so our liturgical celebrations “life filled”. We will be looking forward to discovering anew the to-day celebration of our unique participation of Jesus's suffering, death, burial, Resurrection, Ascension, and His sending of a new Spirit for the new life that His followers were then living. As it was then, so it is with us now, and ever shall be until we all return to our original place of Blessings. A place we never forget, keep looking for, but can never find it in our present reality, as spiritual beings, having a human experience. This begs the question, then what is left for us to do?

For the past many, many years as I leave my car and walk through the parking lot, with fellow parishioners, the following questions have surfaced. Why are these individuals, and families coming to Mass? What are they looking for that will make their sometimes troubled lives less stress-full, and more meaning-full? Where have they encountered the suffering Christ, and were not aware of His existence widen, disguised, within the flawed humanity of themselves, and those who have shared their week? Where has The Risen Christ appeared within the reality of their daily living to give hope and encouragement? The Risen Christ always dwells within the reality of daily life. Has His appearance come in at a time, or in a place where they were surprised, or even shocked? The Risen Christ, as well as the suffering Jesus has many, many disguises. We must be alert, "The Son of Man comes at a time we least expect", and He does not come where we expect Him to appear. I wish He was more predictable, and would appear on command. There goes my need to control and not have to deal with another aspect of my powerlessness. Will this ever come to and end, is a constant question of mine? The constant answer is a definite “NO, not in this life. Life is not a problem to be solved, it is a mystery to be lived", experienced and celebrated within our daily living, and the Eucharistic celebration. To make that connection more real, the following has been put in place for this year's Mass in the tent.

I asked those who are going to celebrate in the tent to give me, in one or two words, what are they struggling with and need to connect with during this year's Easter Celebration. I want each person to know their suffering, is not their suffering alone. We are NEVER alone. We may think it, feel it, even be overwhelmed with loneliness, yet we are never alone. This is a further manifestation of our spirit dwelling within a humanity that is in the process of being transformed. (Keep in mind, process takes time, and cannot be rushed.) These are our Gethsename moments already experienced with Jesus in The Garden of Olives. The work of salvation IS being accomplished in, and through these awe-full, repulsive, moments of real life. There are those who are experiencing the scourging at the pillar. They are, as Jesus was, the continuation of The Incarnation. They are not always physically flogged, although that is the reality of some, they are whipped with words and action meant to destroy any vestige of humanity. Words are such weapons in the arsenal of so the many who take the place of the Roman soldiers in the lives of so many. Verbal abuse, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse are today’s whips lashing the already suffering body. Now this is where this gets tough. We ourselves do the whipping. We ourselves do the scourging? Why? We have these unrealistic expectations that are impossible to achieve, perfectionism is the lash of choice for so many. This whip is passed down from generation to generation. Some generation must put a stop to this ongoing scourging of The Body of Christ. How many are victims of the court system? Where so often it is money and powerful connections are what decides the outcome. That is why it is pointed out to be a court of law, not justice. How many unfortunate women, and their, vulnerable children are beaten, bruised, and betrayed by that which is supposed to bring them justice. It is so sad when “might is right” to the detriment of so many. Under these cruel circumstances, The Scourging at the Pillar will continue. The pain, the anger, the frustration, has to be brought to prayer, so that The same Power who raised Jesus from the dead, will bring about new life when there is only apparent, death and destruction. When all seemed lost in the life of Jesus, it is then the Resurrection happened. As it was, so it is, and ever shall be. “I believe, help my disbelief.”

These are some of the realities being brought to Easter Mass. No sugar coating, no minimizing is allowed, or else nothing happens. We must embrace the words of The Abandoned One, The Beloved One, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”. There the historical Jesus began His journey into being The Christ of God. After the death, there was the tomb time. There is great difficulty in waiting. It is the most difficult of all reality. Something, someone, had died, a loss has happened and we are waiting for the new life. Just Jesus was risen, then we are assured that same Spirit of Creative love in now bringing a new life for us to live. For our part, we must own the ending and ask for the new Spirit for this new life we are given to live. Because many of these new realities are forced upon us, we do not have to like it. We do have to ask for the gift of acceptance. Acceptance is not an instant happening. Acceptance is a process. A process under the loving, merciful direction of The Holy Spirit. We will forever and always be given what we need, not what we want. God our gracious Father knows our deepest needs and responds to our deepest call out to Him. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord...make haste to help me." The prayer that must be ours as we journey on the road that leads beyond suffering, and death to the new transformed life, of The Resurrection.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Our Personal....Garden of Olives....Gethsaname

This week I had the privilege of celebrating the life of a long time parishioner. The funeral liturgy calls for reflection, appreciation and thanksgiving. As we encounter death, we are confronted with what is of real and lasting value. Death, like no other reality, challenges us to take an honest look at the authenticity of our own life. Death challenges us, forces us to us to be gut honest and so face our deepest reality. Because of this, each and every encounter with death leaves us changed. The change may not appear to be earth shattering, but never the less, changed has happened. Death forces us to do that what we much prefer not to do. We do not want to look deep within and face what is revealed. As one person wrote,"human beings can only stand so much reality ". " A life not reflected has no meaning", 'Life not reflected on, is as useless as buried treasure", are two more of my favorite sayings. Then there is what the Irish poet W.B. Yeats wrote,"It takes reckless courage to journey into the depths of who we really are." We have to ask then, for that courageous honesty which will allow us to journey beyond our fears into an ever deepening intimacy with our Beloved. Intimacy comes from the two Latin words “in timor", which means into fear. There is no intimacy unless fear is faced honestly. We cannot face fear alone, it will chew us up. What we need is faith. Remember “Fear knocked on the door, faith answered”, “There was no one there". We need examples of people, who had to face their fears. Some were able to journey through their deepest anxiety. Others were not. All on reflection, have a wisdom to impart .

Jesus, was totally human, as well as totally divine. We can make the mistake of placing so much emphasis on His divinity, we lose sight of how authentically human he was. St. Paul, "He was like unto us in all things, except sin". The depths of His humanity is revealed, to us, the many excruciating moments of His Passion. The Garden of Olives, (Gethsename ) is not just a place within a city. It is a reality to be discovered and embraced within each one of us. All that has been written in the Gospels about the events in the garden, I suggest, is not given for our edification, but to be a source of encouragement. Encouragement for us when we have to endure our own Garden moments. We have had them, are having and will have them until our final agony, death. Jesus, as a rabbi, was familiar with what The Suffering Servant of Isaiah, was to endure. He asks His Father to let the cup of suffering pass from Him. Then we have His faith response to upcoming passion, "not my will but Your will be done". Does this finish the suffering? Luke in his Gospel points out that Jesus broke into a sweat of blood. Each and every one of us CAN sweat blood. This happens at the very pinnacle of anxiety. (Google “sweat of blood"). Many people make Holy Hours. It is what we can do to show solidarity with Jesus in His hour of agony. I came across the following, written by Karl Rahner.

"You want to continue your sufferings in me for my own salvation and that of the whole world, and for the glory of Your Father. By my suffering and agony, You want to fill up what is wanting in Your sufferings for Your body, which is the Church. And so, I shall receive in my life again and again a share in Your agony in the Garden of Olives, a very small share, but nevertheless a real one. My "holy hours", those hours when I honor Your agony in the Garden of Olives, will be made in the truest sense NOT during the peaceful hours of these pious devotions here in church. My real "holy hours” are those hours when sufferings of body and soul come to overwhelm me. Those hours when God hands me the chalice of suffering. Those hours when I weep for my sins. Those hours when I call out to You Father, O Jesus, and do not seem to be heard. Those hours when faith becomes agonizingly difficult, hope seems to give way to despair, and love seems to have died in my heart. They are the real "holy hours” in my life, those hours when Your grace working in my heart draws me mysteriously into Your agony in the garden. When those hours come upon me O Lord, have mercy on me. When Your agony in the Garden of Olives overshadows my life, stand by my side. Give me the grace to realize that those holy hours of Yours are a grace, that they are hours of Your life, of your agony in the Garden of Olives......Give me then the grace to say "yes, yes" to even the most bitter hours, "yeah" to everything that happens in those hours. Even if my lips stammer out words of prayer which ring as lies in my lifeless heart.....You have taken hold of the most hidden depths of our soul, the innermost center of our being. You have transformed and glorified it; You have made it holy and divine"

The depths of meaning of these words will not come to us by just reading them just once or twice. We will have to read and reflect on them again and again. Especially in time of fear, anxiety, deep concern and moments of absolute powerlessness. Times and place we visit many, many times in our lives. For some, it is sporadic, for others it is a life-long reality. Through it all, we will never suffer alone. Our Suffering Good Shepherd, who first suffered all, is now suffering in us, through us and in us. As we suffer through our Gethsename moments we must keep before us, this is the mysterious road that leads to the certainty of the Resurrection and new life.

May you use these days of the Week we call Holy, to embrace all that abhors, disgusts and frightens you. Bring all to the loving, merciful, healing, soothing, pain relieving, love of gracious Father God. This is the place where Easter 2012 will be celebrated.