Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Shalom of God, incarnated for us, dead-enders...Part 2

A Rabbi from Texas has drawn the following distinctions between Shalom and peace:
One can dictate peace; shalom is a mutual agreement. Peace is a temporary pact; shalom is a permanent agreement. One can make a peace treaty: shalom is the condition of peace.
Peace can be negative, the absence of commotion: shalom is positive, the presence of serenity. Peace can be partial; shalom is whole. Peace can be piecemeal; shalom is complete.
So in that mercy-full greeting of shalom The Risen Christ wishes His followers everything that really matters. The following will add still more meaning to The Savior’s greeting.  Shalom also contains within it the following: "wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety and prosperity. It also carries with it the implication of permanence. When one reflects on all of that, and it will take a lifelong reflection just to scratch the surface, we now have a lifelong goal presented to us.  We are to see that in Jesus, The Christ is The Shalom of God, incarnate in human flesh. To be seen, touched, embraced and eventually become our spiritual food.  The more we encounter the Jesus of the Gospels,  the reality of Who He is will slowly and gently dawn on us. As we are drawn into reverencing the mystery of we have been chosen to be, we will be led into an ever new and evolving understanding of the presence of The Risen Christ in all of creation. To quote St. Francis  "There is nothing profane for him/her who knows how to see."   The lenses of Shalom provides us with a God sighting.  In every person place event action of our moment-to-moment daily journey is hidden, for us to discover, The Shalom of God. 

Is this not a whole new dimension to who we are, and Who we are called to be?   I go back to one of my favorite quotes, "O God help me to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is."  All the shalom you will ever need dwells within our depths.  It is not until we are stopped in our tracks, in the dead ends of our lives, does the reality of The Paschal Mystery become for us a lived experience. We, too will have to face our denials, our rejections, our scourgings, our crucifyings leading to our dead ends.  To hear  My Shalom is my gift to you, right here where you are at in the darkness of your dead end.  Heaven on earth!!!  

(To be continued)

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Shalom of God, incarnated for us, dead-enders

This second Sunday after Easter places before us a smorgasbord of spiritual realities to nourish, strengthen, console, and challenges us.  There is not one sermon, blog or book that can ever adequately convey all that is both "hidden and revealed" in this Gospel.  All I can do within the limitations of my vocabulary is present for further reflection some of the realities that have nourished, strengthened, consoled and challenged me.

Where does one begin?  In the beginning of the Gospel we are placed in a room with the followers of the now deceased Jesus of Nazareth.  They are a dispirited, fear-full bunch.  They are hiding away for fear that what happened to Jesus was waiting for them as well.  They must also have to face feelings of guilt and shame resulting from their lack of being a supportive presence for their Master.  What happened could not come as a surprise, Jesus, The Prophet and their teacher spent many hours preparing them for the terrifying events they witnessed and were invited to participate in.  From what the Gospels reveal to us most of those closest to Him were found wanting.  One was a betrayer, another a denier and the rest were scattered in fear.  There were only a few who stepped forward and presented themselves as supporters of The Crucified One.  Just His mother Mary, the beloved disciple, John, and a few more women who had the courage to stand by the cross and witnessed the death, of their Lord and Master.  They were in that place we all journey to again and again, the dead end.  Everything is lost.  There is no hope on the horizon to energize us.  We are existing not living.  Just hanging on with our fingernails.  When I reach that "dead end place," I remind myself of the words Rahner penned some time ago. God speaking to you and me, "I am the blind alleys of all your paths for when you no longer know how to go any further you have reached Me though you are not aware of it."   Is that not exactly what happened to the disciples and happens to us as well?  When they were at their lowest of low point of existence it was then The Risen Christ appears.

What was going through their minds? We can only guess. Let us place ourselves in their shoes or should I say, sandals?  Oh! Oh! look Who is here.  Where did He come from.  The doors are locked even bolted yet here He is.  Now we are in for it.  Were we not warned about what exactly was to happen.  He told us of His suffering and death, three times and still we were caught by surprise.  I wonder how Peter is feeling?  He said that he was prepared to die for his Master.  When the chips were down, he chickened out.  He even denied that he even knew Jesus, three times.  Poor guy, I am glad I am not in his sandals.  Okay let's take a deep breath and see what happens.  Listen He is speaking to us.  Let’s listen.

When the risen Christ speaks there are no "I told you so." "Peter do you remember I told you that you were going to deny Me? Was I right?"  There are no recriminations, no payback, no shaming, no guilt trip just the simple word, Shalom.  In that so called simple word The Risen Christ said everything.  Shalom just does not mean peace it is so, so much more.  There are layers upon layers of meaning to this Hebrew word. 

(To be continued)

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Paschal Mystery continued...

"After Jesus died what happened next?" is a favorite question for me to ask.  The inevitable answer, "He rose."  Resurrection did happen but not right away.  First He was buried.  He spent three days in the tomb.  It was only after those three days in the tomb that He was resurrected.  How many sermons ever mention those three days and how this reality is experienced in our lives again and again?  "Tomb time" that time we have to exist through as we journey through those early days of grieving a loss a death.  Death and loss comes to us in so many different ways.  There is the loss of a loved, beloved one. There is the tragic loss of a child.  There is the loss of a relationship, a spouse, a friend, a job.  There is the loss of a home, a community of faith, a place of worship.  There is the loss of friends, teammates, classmates, the list is endless.  Of course I cannot leave out beloved pets.  Years ago I read that in America we do not take enough time to grieve a loss. We want to move on and not choose to face the pain to our detriment.  We are too glib with easy answers like "she/he had a long life," "you can have more kids, you are young," "you have your whole life before you," etc. etc.  There is no compassion in those words.  They are efforts to give an easy fix to what it takes years to travel through.  I have read that it takes 3 to 5 years to recover from a death.  When Jesus was placed in the tomb His loved ones just sat and watched.  They had each other’s presence as support and comfort.  That is all we can do in moments we are faced with the challenging task of being a comforting presence.  All we can do is hug the person without any words being spoken.  You presence is enough.  It takes so much to sit and be still, when all you want to do is say something inane, crack a joke, anything to break that uncomfortable powerless feeling of being in the presence of death.  One never gets used to it.  Each encounter with death is a new experience to be reverenced as sacred time as Kairos time.  As far back as the Neanderthals, human beings had a ritual they used to deal with death.  That is going back a long, long way to see how death was seen as a necessary part of life and given due respect.

As restless goal orientated human beings we do not readily embrace liminal time or liminal space. We want to know right now what is next.  We know what was, now we are ready for what will be.   It does not work that way neither in the physical or the spiritual world.  When a seed is sewn in the darkness of the earth there is a process of disintegration before new life can burst forth.  "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies it remains just a grain of wheat." Now if it dies it produces a rich harvest.  We pray in the Preface for funeral masses, "Death is not an end death is a beginning."  It is the beginning of something new, and better. If it not better, then death wins and death cannot win.  This is not immediately apparent.  It takes time for our participation in The Resurrection to be revealed to us and eventually through us always for others. Each one of us has death-tomb-Resurrection-new life experience to share.  This is contemporary Resurrection Gospel you have been given to share.  In the sharing something mysterious happens.  The presence of The Resurrected Christ within you, reaches out to console The Suffering Christ whether lying sitting or standing right there is before you.  Each and every encounter with another is the encounter between Christ meeting Christ.  Each encounter with The Paschal Mystery adjusts in a very tiny way our spiritual lenses and so refines our ability to see as our Creator intended us to see. The loving compassion gifted to us through the crucible, that is The Paschal Mystery, softens our hearts just a little bit more so we see not as the world sees the poor, the homeless, the alien, the LGBTQ, the prisoner, the addict, the prostitute. 

Our lenses are tweaked again as we encounter and embrace the suffering Christ in all of His manifestations.  The Suffering Christ comes to meet us under so many disguises we have to be ever vigilant to meet, welcome and greet Him. We must, it is the demand imposed on us by our Baptism that we be a people of hospitality.  We are, there is no choice here to show, welcome and express the same hospitality that was modeled for us through Our Lord’s life’s mission and ministry.  So then the fruits of The Paschal Mystery are gradually applied to us as a space is readied for them by the emptying out of purgative experiences that life affords us. This season of Lent-Easter-Ascension-Pentecost reveals to us in vivid detail the dynamic action of The Creative Spirit as all things good and bad are brought into a wholeness, yes, a holiness.  There are three actions of the Spirit, they are purgation, illumination and union. Lent gives us the tools for purgation.  Prayer fasting and works of charity are designed to break us away from our selfishness and self-centeredness.  Fasting will forestall slugged-ness and sharpen our ability to see beyond what is seen.  Our reflection On the Suffering-death-burial-Resurrection leads to accept the sufferings of all is today’s suffering Christ.  Crucified again and again, "in the least of" our sisters and brothers. 

These are hard and harsh times, in our country, our church, our world.  The Paschal Mystery and the resiliency of nature allows Hope to "spring eternal" from within our depths.  It has been placed there as a supernatural gift to strengthen us when we encounter "the cords of death."  Each Spring here in Arizona, we await in expectation for the blooming of the wild flowers.  No matter how long or how harsh the Winter Season the blooms of Spring are a certainty.  That is the hope that is engendered in us through our constant immersion in Easter Mysteries and beyond.  Just as we experience Winter and Spring in kronos time, so too there is the guarantee of that same reality in Kairos time.  Kairos time, God’s time is perfectly hidden and revealed in kronos time as a consequence all time is one.

This year I have a new greeting. Instead of greeting people with "Happy Easter" I now wish them a" mysterious Easter."  Saying to someone have "mysterious Easter" is a way of inviting each one to stop and ask the question, "What does that guy mean, but inviting me to have a mysterious Easter." What is so mysterious about Easter?  Hopefully this will lead to a further examination of the Easter events.  As they enter the mystery then The Mystery living within is given the opportunity to work the miracle of creative, mercy-full love.  My wish for all who read this, is this, May The Risen Christ Who endured the harsh reality of that first Holy Week, reveal His presence to strengthen you as you enter again and again the realities He first endured.  May what you suffer, as a result of being a chosen one, not discourage you but convince you more and more, "death is not an end, death is a beginning of a new and better life.  A life that will take adjusting to through grace.  All the grace you need is already within you.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Paschal Mystery

"O God, You have heard the cry of my heart because it was You God, who cried out within me."    This is one of my favorite quotes from Thomas Merton.  How wonderfully consoling are those words.  WE never suffer alone.  We may and think so, but our reflective understanding of what it means to be baptized in into The Paschal Mystery reveals something entirely different.  It is a slow revelation.  Over many, many Lenten-Easter journeys there is a growth in the understand of mysterious presence of what is revealed to us through our sufferings and little deaths.  All of our pain and suffering is our personal living experience of what happened in Jerusalem so many years ago.  As I have said, quoting John O'Shea "Jesus’ story is our story today."  Let us reflect on some of the events that took place on the Friday, we call Good.

Jesus was betrayed by one of His own apostles.  Sold out for "30 pieces of silver."  After His capture and the disappearance of those closest to Him, He was led away to begin His journey into unbelievable pain and suffering.  One author has pointed out because Jesus being the perfect human being,  He was to suffer at a level beyond our understanding.  We read in the Gospel narratives how He was mocked and scourged by the Roman soldiers.  Today, the suffering Christ is again mocked and scourged and it is our daily experience.  When any one of us is mocked made fun of, embarrassed in any way, Christ continues to suffer.  When we turn our backs on those that are different than us and dehumanize, then Christ is suffering within those that are seen as beloved daughters/sons of their heavenly Creator God.  When we beat ourselves and reject our worthwhileness we take on the role of the Roman soldiers. We become today's scourgers. Whom do we scourge, The Christ within. WE the have the dual part to play, being the scourger and the one scourged.  When we reject and persecute the alien among us, we are punishing Christ's presence in the least of the brethren."  The Prophet Jesus in Matthew 25 has some very harsh words for those who turn their backs on the hungry, the thirsty, those who are naked, those away from their home and those in prison.  There are no ifs, ands, or buts in those challenging words.  There is wiggle room when it comes to Gospel imperatives.  Even 20 centuries after those words were spoken and how are the vulnerable ministered? There are many Gospel sayers, but so few Gospel livers.  It is so much easier to talk the walk than to walk the talk. Jesus walked His talk and what happened to him? The so called "good people," leaders of both church and state, conspired against Him.  They conspired and colluded to bring about His death.  The prophet Jesus threatened their power and that was a fatal mistake.  It has been the same all through the history.  Speak truth to power you are going to pay the price.  We repeat that sad history in our church and in our society.  We have the sad example of our beloved Pope Francis.  Because underlings do not buy into his vision of "a poor church for poor people" there is holy hell to pay.  He wants the clergy to go out and "get the smell of the sheep on their clothes."  Since we are The Catholic Church all are to be welcomed. This sounds good but in practice here is so much left undone.  So many of the sheep are badly neglected.  So, so many sheep look up and are not fed.  According to the prophets of old there is a stiff price to be paid for such neglect.  We are still caught up in the judging rather than the acceptance modeled for us in the mission and ministry of Him, whose presence are called to be living witnesses.  Msgr. Gene Maguire R.I.P. was the great model for me in my young days as an associate pastor.  He truly was a walking smiling presence of Gospel values, and challenged us to follow.  He taught us not by his words nut his everyday actions.  He was not a weekend clergy man or a sacristy priest.  Ever before Vatican II.   

Fr.Albert Braun O.F.M. R.I.P., who was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, had this radical solution to the challenges the church was facing. (War survivors have a very different view of reality.)    He advocated the bombing of all the rectories so the priests would be forced to live among and with the people.  A real immersion into the challenges people have to face is essential.  We priests, for the main part, have not a clue what it means to live in the real world.  Until this happens we will be preaching pious platitudes.  The result of this is that we do not reach the place where God encounters/meets His people, that place is their deepest reality.   

Fr. Rohr has described our encounter with the cross as we having to face the issues of failure rejection and nakedness.  We, as human beings recoil from and such encounters.  We will do all within our power to reject, mask and medicate these embarrassing manifestations of our humanity.  The moment-to-moment ever deepening, living out of The Paschal Mystery will provide with a new set of lenses.  We will not see them as liabilities but they open up for us. "The royal road of the cross leading to the Resurrection."  This is a "road less traveled." From our journey on this "road less traveled," there will be no diplomas to hang on the wall.  Our bank account will not suddenly shock us by its sudden jump to financial security.  Our journey into the Paschal Mystery is manifested in our insecurities not security.  ("Our journey of faith is a journey into uncertainty certainty.") The Paschal mystery is all about letting go surrendering to The Unknown.

On the torturous road to Calvary Jesus met two people.  First, He met Simon from Cyrene.  Simon was having a good day.  He was coming in from the country.  Any day you have a trip to the country is a good day.  He was going along minding his own business when suddenly his life changes.  He was taken and forced to carry the cross for the weakening Victim.  The plan was to crucify this man, Jesus and He was not allowed to die on the way. So Simon was forced into service.  In the stations of the cross, Veronica appears out of the crowd to minister to the suffering One.  There was something within her that moved her to step out and reach out.  Compassion can only the result of suffering transformed.  We do not know any details of Veronica’s life from the Bible, but it is fair to say she had encountered deep suffering. A suffering that did not harden her heart or make her cynical as is so often the case. On the contrary, Veronica was able to see beyond one condemned to a human being in need.  Where do you encounter Veronica and Simon on your daily experience of being, the suffering One.

When I was responsible for marriage preparation, I came upon this challenging exercise for the couple.  I would ask them to write out where they say the suffering Christ is in their intended partner.  So many of them could not.  They would give me bullet points.  No connected sentences.  The bells would go off in my head. I knew from my years in pastoral ministry that the perfectly imperfect reality is going to surface at some time. The family secrets of both families will have to be faced in all of their reality.  The family secret is going to be the lived experience of some generation.  So, in order to have a healthy relationship the emergence of Simon must be anticipated.  There will be pain and suffering in all relationships that needs to be accepted and a solution worked out.  How many character defects are hidden until they can be hidden no more? How often has alcoholic and drug addiction only surfaced after years of marriage? How long does the hidden issues of abuse take before they surface to disrupt daily living?  I was told by a great counselor that it takes 17 years for the issues related to sexual abuse to surface. The list can go on and on. We all are called to be Simon.  Then through the workings of grace, Simon turns into Veronica. Where before one is forced to minister to the Suffering One in the family now there is real desire to help with the healing necessary.  Is this not the story of so many who are active participants in healing ministries and medical vocations.  I have read some great accounts of children experiencing healing in a hospital that return to be doctors and nurses in that same hospital.  What are all the twelve step programs only one person who is in recovery reaching out to another suffering addict.  (Fr. Rohr describes The AA program as the essence of spirituality.  He says it is the great gift of America to the school of spirituality.) Nobody is Veronica in those tough days when living a sober life.  In time theirs is a great transformation.  There is a need to share the gift.  It is only by giving what one has does one keep what one has. "Whatever you keep you lose whatever you give away you keep."

Those in recovery have an up close encounter with the events on Calvary as do all who are faced with suffering desperation and loss. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus was able to pray to His Abba Father.  On Calvary that intimate assurance is gone. It has disappeared.  Jesus cries out "My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?" Where Jesus, Who became The Christ has gone we are to follow.  So Jerusalem and Calvary is our destiny.  The powerlessness of the cross is the threshold to something new and far greater.  It is ours. It is our stepping stone to The Resurrection.  But resurrection does not happen right away. (To be continued)