Monday, December 24, 2018

A Gift

We are in the midst of celebrating, "there is nothing profane for her/him who knows how to see." Because of the advent of The Word, into His own creation, the  whole meaning of creation is radically changed.  A dignity, previously hinted at, is now revealed, presented to us, in its mysterious wonder-full-ness. This cannot be achieved with natural sight, so we have been gifted and blessed with the gift of wonder. This gift of The Holy Spirit empowers us  to grow in awe-full awareness of the "grandeur of God," hidden and revealed in all that is in us and surrounds us. The Incarnation, God coming in flesh to pitch His tent among us, confers an inner, invisible dimension of mystery to all that is. "Everything that is, is to be adored" (St. Francis), and in that act of adoration, "new heavens and a new earth," is revealed to us. What a gift that is offered to you and me? A gift which is endless, in its benevolence, in its generosity, because its source is, Infinite Love.

                Just because we are offered a gift, that does not mean we have to accept it. If we accept a gift, it does not mean we have to put that gift to the use it was intended. A decision has to be made by the recipient, which is you and I. We have to decide whether to say "Yes" or "No." In the realm of the spiritual annunciating that "Yes" leads us in ways and to places previously unknown. That is why it is so much safer, and easier on the ego to say, "no." Now I can stay put, in the safety of the familiar. I am not opening myself up to any unnecessary risks. Everyday living is challenging enough. However, this is not living, it is existing. We are called to live life and live it to the fullest. Entering into the fullness of life DEMANDS that we take risks. It demands courage on our part to face the inherent challenge and danger "of living life on life's terms."

                Mary had no clue where her "Yes" was going to take her. We, being the contemporary Marys, do not know where our "yes" to the demands of the present, will lead us to.  All we have to do is read and reflect on the Gospels and there we have the outline of our lives. Living each moment, not just existing in each moment, fills in the details of our personal Gospel. While the outline is the same, the details, the actions will be different as we write our personal Gospel. Each and every action, person, place, event, are gathered into a unity and so become the gospel of, a contemporary Christmas.  We reflect on the Gospels; we are challenged to encounter Mary, Joseph, the angels, the shepherds, the Three Kings, Herod (Yep he must be encountered, if we are to be really real). Within us and the life we live, we will also encounter Judas, The Pharisees, The Scribes, Pontius Pilate, and all those unsavory characters depicted in the events of The Passion.  ALL, yes all, will have to encountered and eventually embraced with a mercy-full, healing, soothing, comforting love.  We are challenged to love the way our Gracious and Prodigal Father-God does.  This sounds impossible, way beyond anything we can do, and so it is. It was apparently impossible for a virgin to conceive, and old woman to also conceive, but it happened. How?  "With God all things are possible," whereas "by ourselves we can do nothing, but we can do all things in Him who strengthens us." The scriptures tell us that our God "lavishes His love" upon us. I like that word "lavish."  There is nothing small, mean, or tightfisted about lavish.  The God of lavishness does not impart the minimum on us, His beloved. On the contrary, because we are the beloved, and ever will be, He fills up our cup, not just to the brim, but to the point of brimming over.  There is nothing small about God.  If my God is small, then that is the result of the smallness of my mind. Big hearted people seem to communicate a larger than life God, as so indeed He/She is.

                Left to our unenlightened, natural hearts, souls, and minds the great deep, mysterious reality of who we are and that which lies deep within, will not come to consciousness. It will remain dormant, unawakened in the unconscious. There it will remain, like all buried treasure waiting to be discovered. Yes, it waits, there  in the darkness of the humus, in the darkness of the earth.  This treasure can only be discovered, through the action of digging, going deep, under the guidance of The Holy Spirit. We are therefore called to journey within into the earthiness of who we are, seeing through the x-ray  eye of faith. This is a long journey.  A journey that will only end at our deaths.  On this journey we will encounter death many, many times, as it were, rehearsals for the final encounter.

                This journey is no quiet stroll in the park, on the contrary.  If Yeats is to be believed, and others concur, "it takes reckless courage to journey into the depths of who we are as human beings." Let us not be caught up in fear about this perilous journey.  There will always be a tiny point of light there to guide us on our way.  We all have our own personal star guiding us to our own personal Bethlehem. As we come to discover The Christ Child within, our lives are radically changed.  We will now journey by new roads, and traverse landscapes hitherto the unknown.  As we journey with new insights, as it were, with this new lenses, we will lead to encounter never before realities. New vistas will open up before us. These vistas will be full of mystery, awe, and wonder.  We will find ourselves lost in the awe-full-ness of  breathless silence.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Beauty in Growth

"On that day, a shoot shall spout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord. Not by appearance shall he judge nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the Lord's afflicted." These words from Isaiah Chapter 11 were a message of hope for a people broken, bruised, battered, and afflicted. They, the chosen ones, were far from looking like being "chosen." They could even say "If this is what it means to be Your chosen, please do not do me any favors." Being the chosen of God has NEVER meant, nor does it do so today, that somehow life is going to be easy, if you are one of the chosen. I was going to say a walk in the sunshine, but then the chosen people did have a long walk in the desert where the sun does hang out a lot. It lasted forty years. It was not an easy stroll; rather it turned out to be a long slog. (Kind of like our lives at times?) The account of that journey is a great source of comfort, encouragement, and wisdom for us as today as we make our journey as individuals, as families, and as a community of faith. It is so reassuring to know that no matter how far off, and to where "The Chosen" strayed, God as it were, strayed with them. They acted as if He was not present for them, but that was their illusion. Over a period of time they were guided back to the right way and right relationship, and not always with their willingness intact.

        God does not need us to be perfect, in any way, for Him to accomplish His mysterious work.  He does His best work when we get to that place, in our desert journey, where we are forced to accept the fact that we are, ever will be perfectly imperfect. We will NOT get away with just mouthing the words. This acceptance of our innate imperfection has to be pain-fully drawn from the depths of who we are. This is the beginning of our faint, and often frightened "Yes" to our stump/stumps. The most convoluted "Yes," on our part is enough for the miracle of His grace to become operative in us. We are now becoming aware of our stumpy-ness. How many stumps we are faced with will be in direct proportion to our honesty. WE must also keep in mind this wonder-full reality, the more stumps we own the more blossoms and fruits our garden eventually will produce. Is it not great to see a root slowly produce its unique, wonder-full harvest? The place where once, to the naked eye, there was nothing of any value to be seen, now everything has changed. There is beauty, to enliven and delight us. There is nourishment for body, soul, and spirit. An abundance of life springs from those stumps. It is The Lord who has done, and will do that which to the human eye seems impossible.  A caveat, a warning, all that is now and has been bestowed on us is not for ourselves. Pope Francis keeps that hard, and for some, a very disturbing reality constantly before us. He is not too popular with some individuals who are not familiar with Catholic Social Doctrine. The Pope is NOT saying anything new. What has been said in the past has either been forgotten or was, at the time, ignored. WE are in constant need of being reminded of who we are, a chosen people whose origin is the womb of our Creator’s infinite love. Love is our origin and it is also the reason for our existence. We are to be DISTRIBUTORS of the gifts we have been entrusted to our care. We are not going to take anything with us. "There is no U-haul behind a hearse" (Graham) All is given, to be given away." All that we keep, we lose, and all that we give away, we keep. "I do not have to tell you what that is!”

              Honesty with who I really am is not easy. Thank God we are told that we grow into being honest. My journey into honesty began, the day I was able to own my dishonesty about being honest. My honesty was a little stump, so my ability to grow spiritually was frustrated. Honesty is a prerequisite for growth. The presence of The Truth is essential for us to grow into our real truth. Our real truth the true self, is the person who God created and keeps in existence. When I am living a lie there is no God connection, hence we wander and wander as did The Chosen of long ago. It took a long time to grow into a willingness to be honest. "Once we admit we are honest about dishonesty, we are being, wait for it, being honest." This is a great paradox, meant to stretch us, as do all paradoxes. Ouch!!! I am at times willing to forego this stretching. I tell God “enough is enough” I am willing to stop, but somehow God chooses to ignore this willingness. Like a parent ignoring a child's unreasonable request!!! So the question has to be asked, will this stretching never end? The answer, I am sad to say is, "as long as I am alive, I am and will be stretched." We know that stretching is essential for good health. We are encouraged to stretch for at least five minutes each morning. Whatever is healthy for us physically of necessity is essential for our spiritual health and growth.

                 This season of Advent is intended to sharpen our lenses. Advent is meant to provide new insights into old truths. Truths that have shrunk into unattractive and somewhat meaningless stumps. God will take flesh anew, as He does within each and in every moment of our daily living. The Angels will sing a familiar word that our Pope has given new meaning to. We are again to encounter the shepherds, the outcast within, sent to see and then become broadcasters, proclaimers of "The Good News of The Gospel." To proclaim the Reality which they saw, and then CAME to believe in. WE are asked to discover again, but in a new way, all those we encounter in the Gospel narratives. These are not places and events in a book; they are living realities within the depths of who we are. They are there, resting in the patient expectation of being discovered. Some WILL appear as unattractive realities, but exposed to the transfiguring power of grace they reveal a beauty that is incomprehensible to the mind, but known to the spirit. There are no words to describe the happening mystery. Words are useless, what we can offer is reverential silence. It appears to be nothing. It is everything our true self wants, desires.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Tis the Season...Surprise

This year we have already been blessed and gifted with a surprise gift. This gift has appeared before the official, giving season. This gift is intended to enrich us individually, and collectively. The gift is the gift of a wish, "a dream." It comes to us from our Pastor-in chief, Pope Francis. In his writing of "The Joy of The Gospel," he has spelled out in pretty much real detail his dream for our Catholic Christian Church, CCC. (To get the full text of what the pope has written just Google ,Pope Francis, "The Joy of The Gospel") I encourage you, no, I beg you to gift yourself with his power-full words. These words are meant to be drawn into the depths of who we are, where they will transform us. This will happen when we take the risk of saying "Yes." Yes to the challenging truth, which will lead us into ways ,and places unknown. "I believe, The journey of faith is of its essence a journey into the unknown. On this mysterious journey we have been given Mary as our model. Her "Yes," her "Fia," is always pointed out as the reality to be  followed. She did not know where her "Yes" was going to take her, neither do we. All we know is that we will never be alone. We will never be forsaken. We may feel alone, and/or forsaken, but deep within we never are. We cannot be, otherwise the scriptures lie, and God has reneged on His promise "to be with us always." "I believe Lord, help my unbelief/disbelief. This is also Merton's great prayer; "Lord God I have no idea where I am going, I do not see the road ahead of me..." If you do not know the rest, Google what is here and ???
Pope Francis has outlined a wonder-full, exciting, and challenging vision. It is, however, up to each one of us to take that vision within and respond according to the gifts that have already been bestowed up us by the Holy Spirit, (St.Paul)  Special gifts that have been set in place are within us so we will be able, if we so choose, to respond to the Pope's challenge to be  a "church of the poor, for the poor." The gifts of The Spirit are to used to grow  worldly riches. On the contrary, we are warned all the gifts given are NOT for ourselves, but for the building up of the common good. (Paul) What a challenging, some would use the word radical, vision our Pope has for us. In one way there is nothing new in what Pope Francis is saying. While in another way he is leading us to a new and more radical understanding of what it means to be a Catholic Christian Church, rooted in Gospel values. This "radical living' has not been, nor will it ever be easy.
On the contrary, the certainty of death always awaits those who live the Gospel message. This "death" will come in many different ways, but it will come. Are we to be surprised?  Of course not. We are, after all, followers of the historical Jesus. This is He, Who because of the nature of His mission and ministry, Jesus, the enfleshment of  God was conspired against and killed. The Rabbi Jesus challenged the leaders of His own religion to change. They never got to the place where they were able to connect the voice of The Prophet Jesus, with the voice of God. They were not able to believe that "this Jesus of Nazareth, the local carpenter, and the God they believed in, were one. These outwardly good people when their security was threatened, conspired with the secular powers to condemn Him to death. Not just any death but the worst possible death, crucifixion. From this we learn that it does not pay to challenge the status quo. Those with vested interest will defend their "kingdoms" by all means at their disposal.  All one has to do is read the accounts of the opposition to what the Pope intends to do. As it was then, so it is now, and ever shall be until the end of time.
 Thank God our Pope is moving inexorable forward. He is not backing down from his vision that our Catholic Church, must be a poor church, for the poor. We poor, we come in many shapes, sizes and  disguises. We are catholic in our colors, black, white, yellow, brown, red, and all their many hues. We all belong to the great family of humankind. We all spring from the same Womb, so where does the fracturing come from? There is no division, only Oneness  in The Spirit we sprang. That original spiritual unity ,must be reclaimed. We are encouraged to claim  the fact that we are the beloved again and again, as often as we remember to do so. (Nouwen) We all share the common desire, and need for acceptance and love. The Pope is pointing us in the direction of The Mercy-full, Prodigal love that is ever and always being offered to us. After all, we are the beloved, of The Beloved Lover. Love is always being offered to us, and as a result new life is being offered to us. However, we have to claim for ourselves, our church, and all of creation this ever "newness" in which Pope Francis is so fond. With him there is always a newness to our life. It is never "the same old same old."  How exciting!!! We are loved as we are, so we can become the actual dream our God has of us.
Where love is, there is also the creative work of God. You cannot have one without the other. So no matter how broken and hopeless we may see things there is a deeper reality that has to be recognized, and reverenced. The medicine of God's mercy-full love is ALWAYS at work, whether we know it or not. We do not know how medicines work, but we will and others will see the results. Most medicines work in that inner darkness, and so it is with grace. We do not know how it works, but we see and experience its transforming power. When all seems to be lost, and we are at a dead end, ready to give up a glimmer of light, (this takes many forms) breaks into our lives. Where there is light; there is growth, so it is with us. Where we only saw an ending, now there is a beginning of something new, which could  never be imagined.
It seems our Pope wants us to discover, and be prepared for, The God Of Surprises. We must become a people accustomed to His/Her surprise visits. I've read a published report of the Pope's  disguised visits to the poor and the homeless of Rome. He goes out dressed like a regular priest to minister to the poor, and the homeless in his own backyard. What a surprise for those women and men to have The Pope minister to them in their moments of need. Of course this is nothing new for him. This was his practice back in Argentina. I guess the greatest surprise of all was The All Power-full God coming to us disguised as a vulnerable human baby. What a surprise awaits us, each time to delve in with new lenses into the mystery of The Incarnation. So this Advent season we are again journeying, for the first time as we are right now, with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. We are again given this Advent Season to prepare our Bethlehem, for the arrival of their, and our Mysterious Surprise. The Christ Child came as a surprise to  them, as it always is for us. The revelation of God never appears where we expect it to happen, or how we want it to happen. The Incarnation in Bethlehem was the fulfillment of a promise made many eons ago. This promise, at times, looked like it would not, or could not be fulfilled, but with God all things are possible. God's ways are not our ways, nor are our ways God's way.  

Sunday, December 2, 2018

A New Beginning

Advent 2018, never before, never again, has come to us, here and now, with an eternal newness. A newness that always challenges us to put on a new set of lenses so we will have the faith and courage to let go of the certainty and the security of the past. For what purpose? So we can free ourselves to be lost in The Mystery that is "ever ancient and ever new." A mystery we are celebrating, anew, this Advent season, but the question has to be asked are we ready for the newness? There is an eternal newness to our living God. As we participate in this newness there must be a newness that is revealed in us and through us, for others. What we are given is never for ourselves. (St. Paul) This newness is presented in the every ordinary, yet, ever new moment, we are given to live. It is in the living of each moment that the living God, of Jesus the Christ comes to us and through us to all of creation. This is The Great Advent which is forever happening, in the sacrament of eternal now. The coming, this advent of God which is a moment to moment reality, is the mystery we spend four weeks reflecting on each and every year. The purpose of this reflective time is to a deeper our faith in the newness of our God. Because of the newness of our God there must be a newness within each one of us, since in Him/Her "we live and move and have our being." How exciting, how challenging that reality is??? Are we ready to embrace the challenge, of leaving behind comfort and certainty so as to journey into the great unknown of faith?

                                  “We are driven blindly along a path we have never seen or heard of, unable to venture any other. Divine action never follows the same course; it always traces out new paths. Those whom it leads NEVER know where they are going; they will not find the way through or by their own searching. Divine action for ever opens the way which we are compelled to take." J-P De Caussade. My ego wants no part of this insecurity and uncertainty. My ego wants the security of certainty, and when that certainty disappears, which it will; there is serious fear-filled panic. On the other hand, my spirit wants to fly free into the unknown. To be blown this way and that way by the breath of The Creative Spirit of Love. The Holy Spirit is the creative power of our God, creating and recreating us ever anew. The Creator God is forever molding us and shaping us into the person we are meant to be, not the person we want, or wish to be. The Model we are modeled after is coming to dwell among us. He is coming to be enfleshed within our flesh, which is The Mystery of the Incarnation. Through this mystery we are provided with a living, and so an ever evolving model to follow. We cannot enter a newness of life being modeled after some dead inanimate object. When we make this error we pay a terrible price. Our Eternal, Living God comes to live among us so as to lead us to live lives way beyond anything our imagination could ever imagine. Lives that are only possible through the action of Grace. Grace, we know, is the love of God in action. That action is always within the reality of the here and now. Once we go outside the reality of the here and now God cannot reach us. We are not disposing ourselves for the only encounter that really matters. For that we are responsible, the gift of free will can be such a blessing, but it also can be such a curse. All gifts follow the same pattern.

                     This Spirit, then, blows where It wills, and in the way of its own choosing. Darn it. This Spirit cannot be programmed to fit our little narrow agenda. This requires of us a constant state of awareness and alertness to the battle that, of necessity, will, and does, ensue. It is happening right now in the depths of who we are. It is a moment to moment struggle which results in the old passes away, to give way to the birthing of the new. This too, in time, will lead to a newness which we must make room for. So, in every life is sown the seeds of death, in every death there is in potency, the reality of new life. This new life will be nourished into the fullness of life through the miracle of grace, not by anything we may say or do. I am beginning to appreciate more and more the words of St. John of The Cross, “We journey to Him we do not know, a path we do not know.” Our journey, in faith, is then a journey into the darkness of insecurity, and uncertainty. A journey that somehow is guided and guarded by a power beyond our understanding and comprehension. A book, I find both challenging, and unsettling, is 'The Sacrament of the Present Moment" by Jean-Pierre De Caussade. Writing about this journey into the darkness of faith he has this to say “Those who find themselves this way are often afraid, like the prophet, to follow it afraid of running into danger when walking through that darkness. Have no fear faithful souls! That is where your path lies, the way along which your God is guiding you. THERE IS NOTHING SAFER OR SURER THAN THE DARK NIGHT OF FAITH. Following in any way when faith is so obscure and darkness obliterates everything and the path can no longer be discerned, for a path cannot be lost which does not exist. But the soul cries out: "Every moment I seem to be falling down a precipice. I know I am surrendering myself to God that I can achieve nothing unless I cease to act on the strength of my own virtue.....I cannot see that it is guiding me in the right direction, but I cannot prevent myself from believing that it is"...The state of pure faith is the state of pure suffering. All is dark, all is pain.... The more pitfalls there are, the more darkness, danger, mortification, dryness, fear, privation, trouble, anguish, despair, persecution, suffering, and desolation there is on our way, the more our faith and trust will be strengthened...We will forget the way and all its twists and turns, we will forget ourselves and totally surrender to the wisdom, the mercy, and the power of our guide.

                           This Guide is coming to us, disguised as a helpless, vulnerable baby. We are on an endless searching journey. A mysterious journey that will take us beyond that which is seen into the realm of mystery and the unseen. This Advent let us look beyond the familiar so as to get in touch with the great unseen. This unseen is our deepest and most sacred reality. Let us take the familiar characters of the Gospel story, and see where each makes a dwelling place within us. As you place the figures of your crib scene, search your inner space for the place where they are now dwelling. They are patiently waiting, and have been waiting in your depths, so as to be discovered and become living realities. In this way you as individual, couples, families, will have the lived experience of what it means to be, the living continuation of The Mystery of The Incarnation.