Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Another........Spring...... To.... Be.. ???

The last six months have been some of the best months of my life. Ever since Pope Francis was elected there has been such a wonder-full change. When things were, as an old friend would say, "not looking good," along comes The Holy spirit and blesses us. That Holy Spirit sure has a way of getting things done. As the result of these " workings," I have been blessed to be "bookended" by two great Popes. I was ordained into the church that was led into the new Spring which sprung from the reforms of The Second Vatican Council. This council was called into session by then Pope, and soon to be Saint John The Twenty Third. Pope John was elected just to be a caretaker Pope. To keep the church going until a certain cardinal would be old enough. The Holy Spirit had other plans. The result was truly earth shattering, or more to the point "church-shattering." Those early years were amazing. There was springing up of ministry, upon ministry to meet the challenges that came about with the empowerment of the laity. It was no longer father's church, parish, pastoral council etc. it was the people's. Then words like collaboration, inter-dependance, team building, shared responsibility, accountability,  job description, evaluation, paper trail, etc., became part and parcel of our vocabulary. Unfortunately that did not last very long.

Change is unsettling, and triggers a  great deal of fear. Fear, as we know is the opposite of faith. Does not that leave a great question to be asked, and answered with time??? Let us be honest about what happened. Honesty frees us to live in the truth. The truth will set us free, but not before it tees us off. Anger brought to faith-full prayer is the way to compassion. For those of us who have trudged the road, it was sad to see, and even harder to bear, the pendulum swings backwards. As a result, "The good old days" eventually became the present day reality. We had to endure so much of what was the vision of Vatican II, it was regulated to the back burner, and the power was turned off.  There the reforms sat alive, but dormant. That was our sad reality for decades."Man proposes, but God disposes," right? That "dormant" stage was not to be a lasting reality. God's great sense of humor, and mysterious timing has been again  revealed through the workings of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that blessed our Faith with John the Twenty Third has now gifted us with Pope Francis.  It is by no means a stretch of the imagination to say that another Spring Season has been bestowed upon us. We are on that dusty road, a road that has not been travelled for many years, which is leading us to regain the true vision of who we really are. We are being reminded of the fundamental fact that we all, humankind, are the beloved of our Gracious Mother/Father God. We are loved as we were loved in the eternal womb. Nothing changes, or can change that so simple a reality. We are loved as we are by a God Who does not or better still, CANNOT change Her/His love for us. It is only when our lenses are tweaked do we lose focus on who we are in the love of our  Infinite Lover. Since we are loved with an infinite love we will never, in this life ever have even the remotest idea of what it means to be loved by The Infinite Spirit of Love. What we can ever imagine that to be, will not even be close. Dream, and dream big, of what it means to be loved without condition, restriction, or reservation, sad to say we will not be close. Is it not sad that we settle for limited, restricted, and conditioned, as the way we are loved by our Eternal Lover. That it's right we have been loved from eternity by this Love. A love we are told we must claim again, and again, every moment of our lives. This must be a real commitment on our part, so the commitment of our Beloved may be reverenced, and celebrated. We cannot earn, deserve, or qualify for this, it is a pure unadulterated gift. It is so great that we are inclined to not only question the extent of this love, there are those who question its very reality. It is just plain too good. As one author wrote, "If it is too good then it is God."  Why is it that we are more ready to accept the negative without question, but question the positive???

That  reinforcement of Pope Francis of lovability of each individual, no matter what, brings us back to a simple truth. This simple truth, our Pope wants us "keep simple," not complicate it. That is ego at work. We must remind ourselves, again and again, we are the beloved.  We are loved just the way we are. Is this easy? No way. It is a moment to moment struggle, especially when we are alone, on our own. When one spends time alone it's more like doing hard time. When alone we have to face again and again our issues of "negativity, addiction, fear, and control" (Rohr). From my own experience it does not get any easier. As I spend time away from the distractions of the world, I have mistakenly so imagined it would get easier. On the contrary for me it getting more and more challenging. When I get to the point of where I think I cannot be surprised any more, I am surprised, big time.

The journey into the depths of our broken humanity really leaves one broken, bruised, beaten, just like Someone else. The One we call, The Crucified One. Through the experience of each and every crucifixion we are lead into an ever deepening encounter with The Crucified One within. As a result, the Resurrection becomes an ever deepening reality as well. All this is summed up in "no pain, no gain."  So listening to the 
Pope speak about his limitation has given me permission to grow in honesty with my sinfulness. Knowing it is only through the acceptance of my screwed-up-ness that I can have a vital relationship with The God "of mercy and compassion." In this way, I am brought to deep understanding of The Living Father-God that Jesus, The Christ spoke about  in 75% of  parables. So now my life becomes a parable. Parables do not answer questions, they draw one deeper into The Question.
The following is something I wished I had read so many years ago. Then I have to remind myself of the adage, "When the student is ready, the master  appears." This is what one of my "masters," Henri Nouwen, has written. "As soon as we are alone...inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again.

Entering a 
private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings and impulsive desires.  On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distractions, we often find that our inner distractions manifest themselves in full force. We, (I am so guilty here) often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. This makes the discipline of solitude
all the more important." Not any easier, but......"more important." This I have to accept, not like!!!

Thursday, October 24, 2013


 “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 mind or the brutalities of our will. This point of nothingness and of ABSOLUTE POVERTY is the pure glory of God in us...It is like 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...I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.” These are the famous words of Thomas Merton which I first read as I was reading a book of Henri Nouwen's thoughts. They really startled me, and have been food for thought over the years. What great treasure lies, sometimes undiscovered, in our spiritual tradition. Thank God our Pope is leading us, as one writer has so aptly put it, down “dusty roads.” These so called “dusty roads” are leading us back so we can again be encouraged, and revitalized.

             Our Pope is not saying anything that is really new. All he is brave enough to do is to remind us of who we really are in “the unconditioned, unlimited, unrestricted love” of our Gracious Prodigal Father. He is not saying in which has not already been taught in theology class. Maybe because there has been a lack of healthy theology flowing from the pulpits, that we are not aware of whom we really are in the love of our Mother/Father God. How many sermons are given on how difficult it is to commit a mortal sin?  Those words “mortal sin” are thrown around like shamrocks on St. Patrick's Day. There is no teaching of what state of consciousness is required by church law for the committal of such a sin? It appears that grave matter, perfect knowledge, and full consent are not preached anymore. This leads to people confessing as mortal sin that which is venial sin. It results in Catholics living in unnecessary guilt, because they are not informed as to the true teaching of Catholic Morality. There is a constant struggle to bring penitents to a healthy understanding of what sin really is. This actually takes up a great deal of time in the celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation. When asked what sin really is, so very, very few can give a theologically correct answer. There is always the possibility you are told you do not know how to do your job, because one does not buy into their messed up theology. There can quiet a conversation!!! It at times leads to the confession of a root sin, which has never been really been dealt with. It was “glamorous” enough. Really!!!!  There is so much to be done in this field. That is why now we hear so many shocked gasps when the Pope is only teaching the REAL TRUE theology of the church. Some want to make excuses, “He really did not really mean that.” Let us be honest, the emphasis has not been on what is right with us, i.e. Merton’s  words above, so we are not geared, disposed to hear the good news. We are not disposed to readily accept the fact that we are ever and always the beloved of our gracious Father/Mother creator. That is why I love that quote; “God help me to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful.”

      As I reflect on my days in Dr.Lennon's Moral theology class I remember that the first thing that was pointed out was that mortal sin was as the result of the human action of a person. A human act was the result of a knowing mind and a consenting will. No one can judge the individual state of mind of another person. That is why a confessor is taught to listen to the person’s story. Any story has so many levels to it. That which we are conscious of and then there is the unconscious acting out. Any action can only be judged to be such a sin by the informed conscious of the individual. Not in the estimation of the confessor. The confessor can point out the gravity of the action. What sin it is, mortal or venial, lies in the existential, the here-and-now, and state of mind. Our action will reflect the relationship, as it is being lived out right now, between us and God. Sin has to do with the frame of mind of the person at the moment, not 5 seconds later, nor 5 minutes later, nor 5 years later. We must remember all the circumstances of the moment will have an effect on our freedom, and our ability to respond, and so, be responsible.

          Sin is the free, deliberate, conscious decision to knowingly reject God's love and choose that which is opposite. It has to be the deliberate, thought-full rejection of Goodness so as to choose a destructive evil. It is to say to God, consciously, “I am by this action rejecting your love, and the possibility of heaven, and choosing to go to hell, a place where Your love is not. I want to be separated from You, beginning here and now and for all eternity.” We must also keep in mind that of all the billions who have passed through this world the church has never taught that even one of those billions is in hell. There have been some bad “dudes” and "dudettes" on this space ship of ours and we teach no one is definitely in hell. Here is something I have said so often, I can now use it in a sermon without a note:  “God’s mercy is greater than our sins. There is an awareness of sin that does not lead to God but rather to self-preoccupation. Our temptation is to be so impressed by our sins and our failings, and so overwhelmed by our lack of generosity 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 the guilt that has become an idol and therefore a form of pride” Henri Nouwen “A cry for Mercy.”

Monday, October 14, 2013


"Mercy within Mercy within Mercy" these are the words of Pope Francis telling  me he is familiar with the work, and words of Thomas Merton. As you may well know I just love the wisdom of Thomas Merton. It was a number of years ago I  was real lucky to read his book, "Love and Living." It was a real grace-full experience, actually it could be called an encounter, because of the continued change that has been part of my life since. There is a wonder-full chapter in that book entitled, "Climate of Mercy." The reading of, and then further reflection of what that chapter had to offer effected me. It resulted in me being opened up, unfortunately very slowly, to a new understanding of the mercy of our Gracious Prodigal Father. As a matter of fact, I made it a point to make that available to many, many others over the years.

It was in there I read the words of an English Mystic describing the mercy - full God as, The One who "Abides patiently, He forgives easily, He understands mercifully, He forgets utterly." That was a new, exciting, freeing, enlightening, and enlivening understanding of God, and the way He sees me. I was formed in the very opposite understanding so this is what I was seeking and searching for, for so long. (I really believe now, that saying, "When the student is ready, the master appears.")I also read the following later in that same chapter; "The mercy of God shows the sinner to himself, no longer as essentially opposed to truth but as reconcilable with it." I later learned that reconciliation is a process, and a slow process at that. It happens, through the mystery of grace, as one falls more and more deeper into the bath, filled to the brim, with the soothing, healing, comforting oil of the mercy of God. We will do anything to avoid this "fall." We will go to terrible extremes, and cause tremendous havoc before we ultimately fall into the compassionate, loving, reconciling embrace of our Prodigal Father. Merton goes on to write: "Mercy heals in every way. It heals bodies, spirits, society, and history. It is the only force that can truly heal and save...Mercy heals the root of life by curing our existence of self-devouring despair which projects its own evil upon the other as a demand and accusation. We are enabled by God's gift to become merciful, we are given the power to understand mercifully, to accept and

to pardon the evil in others, not as a fruit of some Godlike magnanimity rooted in our own justice, but first of all as the fruit of self-knowledge which is liberated from the need to project its own evil upon the other" "To receive mercy and to give it is, then, to participate in the of the new creation and of redemption."

Last week that word "hesed" appeared in a quote as the Hebrew for the Greek "eleos" which is mercy in English. Merton spells it as "chesed." He describes chesed in the following quote from, "Seasons of Celebration:"  The chesed of God is a gratuitous mercy that considers no fitness, no worthiness and no return. It is the way the Lord looks upon the guilty and with His look makes them at once innocent. This look seems to some to be anger because they fly from it. But if they face it, they see that it is love and that they are innocent.(Their flight and their confusion of their own fear make them guilty in their own eyes.) The chesed of God is truth. It is infallible strength. It is the love the seeks and chooses His chosen, and binds them to Himself.  It is the love by which He is married to mankind, so that, if humanity is faithless to Him, it must still always have fidelity to which to return to: that is His own fidelity. He has become inseparable from man in the chesed which we call "Incarnation," and "Cross," and "Resurrection." He has also given chesed in the Person of His Spirit. The Paraclete is the full, inexpressible mystery of chesed. So that in the depths of our own being there is an inexhaustible spring of mercy and love. Our own being has become love. Our own self has become God's love for us, and it is full of Christ, of chesed. But we must face and accept ourselves and others as chesed."I guess that is why said "Be who you already are."

As we look further into the understanding of mercy we can see where our Pope Francis is coming from. It is up to each one of us, as the church of the poor for the poor, to get into touch with that chesed within. There will be a great connection with the journey into our own poverty, and the healing, soothing, and comforting we will experience. Because "the people are the church," so then wherever we are, there is the church. Is not this is a huge dignity and responsibility? We have to face this question, what is the quality of mercy that we are offering to those who are so desperately seeking, and searching for. This seeking and searching is so often in the unconscious and needs to be loved into to consciousness. We also have to face the fact that that the quality we bestow on ourselves will  be that which we can sincerely offer to another. As we make Merton's understanding of mercy, chesed a deepening reality there will be people paced in our lives for a reason. The reason for their presence is that we impart to them the gifts of empathy, understanding, and compassion that are now ours. Gifts that have appeared not through any success of ours but because of our many failures, and failings. I sometimes see God's mercy as a great giant hot tub into which I can lower that part or parts that need to experience soothing, comfort and healing. This hot tub is always open for you and for me.