Monthly Archives: June, 2015

Thomas Merton: A letter to a Young Activist

This letter speaks such truth and may be a comfort to those of you out there that feel your voice is too small to make a difference. It is serving Christ that is the true work of bringing forth God’s kingdom.

Ponderings

Below, you’ll find a short letter Thomas Merton wrote to a young activist. I think it says a lot, not just about work in advocacy and activism, but also idealism and the hopes many of us try to live out (as hard as that may be sometimes), for a better world.   Thomas Merton speaks with a timeless, prophetic voice, one that inspires and comforts me.  I share this letter he wrote hoping that you too will feel his words in your heart.

Letter To a Young Activist     

“Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this…

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13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

**A reading from the Book of Wisdom (1: 13-15; 2: 23-24)**

The Book of Wisdom is known only in Greek; it may be the last book written in the Old Testament or Hebrew scriptures.  It seems to draw on the philosophical material of Philo of Alexandria and some other Jewish writers who lived in this very sophisticated, Greek (Hellenistic) city in the 1st century before Jesus. This is one of the books that are part of the ‘apocryphal’ books not included by Martin Luther when he ‘revised’ the Christian Bible. (Birmingham, Word & Worship Workbook Yr. B, 546)

This passage echoes the Eucharistic Prayer 3 in the Catholic tradition.  It ends, “Therefore we hope to enjoy forever the fullness of your glory through Christ our Lord through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.”  All good things are from God.  God wants good for us.  It is not only death of our living that is spoken about in this reading but the death of a good idea, the death of a hope for something, the death that can be found in negativity.  How might you find LIFE, goodness, wholesomeness, God’s own nature in you?

In Pope Francis’ Encyclical “Laudato Si’”, he says, “The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement,” (#5).  How might we appreciate and protect all of creation so that it is seen as this gift that God intended?

**A reading from the 2nd Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (8:7: 9, 13-15)**

The Jerusalem Church was struggling at this time in severe poverty. Paul had promised after his meeting with the apostolic leadership in Jerusalem (in probably the year 49 AD) to try to collect money for those in need. This passage shows some of his efforts. For Paul, this collection was a matter of great importance. He urged generosity for he wanted to promote the unity of the church, and to overcome the barrier between Jewish and Greek Christians.   (J Dwyer, Church History, 43-44)

Generous people are primarily grateful people – people who know that ‘what they have’ is gift. We are creatures; we did not create ourselves. While we are responsible for how we use our gifts and talents, we are in the end never ‘self-made’ women or men. Thus, we are called to live with generosity. We must be people with open hands and hearts – not clinging to our wealth, but using whatever we have for the good of our families and others. This is what Paul it talking about here. In Jesus the Word of God ‘gave up’ the richness of divinity to embrace the poverty of human life, creaturehood. By so doing, Jesus showed us what God is like and what we are to be like, created as we are in the image of this God. (Exploring the Sunday Readings, July, 2000)

The passage references Exodus 16:18:  But when they measured it [the manna] out by the omer, he who had gathered a large amount did not have too much, and he who had gathered a small amount did not have too little.  They so gathered that everyone had enough to eat.  Do we think this way?

**A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark (5: 21-43)**

From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle B, 104-105:

In Jesus’ day professional physicians hesitated to actually treat anyone (for they were held responsible with their own life if the treatment did not work). They preferred to just discuss illness in a rather philosophical way. Faith healers were far more common, and it seemed that Jesus was identified by people as one of these. It is hard to ‘get at’ the real history of these ‘cures’ for we have no factual evidence of any of these diseases since no one knew about germs or viruses etc. “But in the same terms, Jesus definitely healed all who wanted to be healed. Healing is the restoration of meaning to people’s lives no matter what their physical condition might be. Curing may be very rare, but [for those who reach out to Jesus] healing takes place infallibly, 100% of the time.” Because of Jesus this woman is welcomed into community, even though she violated the purity codes, and so did Jesus. The ‘other daughter’ is then restored by Jesus to her rightful place in community which is signified when Jesus commanded that she be given something to eat.

From Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 551:

The number 12 is of great significance; it pulls the two stories together. Jesus not only restores the older ‘daughter’ to fullness of life after 12 years, but he takes the hand of the 12-year-old and raises her up to new life. She ‘was asleep’ but is then restored. Perhaps she represents the 12 tribes of Israel. Mark’s Jesus believes he is presiding at the collapse of the social order determined by Jairus’ Judaism. The 12-year-old daughter of privilege is dead.  The outcast woman violates the purity codes and reaches out to Jesus. She sought fullness of life. Jesus responded to her need. Israel must also embrace the reign and power of God in their midst. The walls of social and religious status must be torn down.  Jesus can raise up what is lost. He gives life to the little girl prefiguring the salvation that Christ will offer through his own death and resurrection.

Jesus does not appear to have a plan but is simply and clearly available to the people.  Notice how Jesus follows Jairus.  Here Jesus is exemplifying what he talks about so often:  the leader must become the follower.  There must be no clinging to status nor lording it over others.  But then we are interrupted.  A woman, who had nowhere left to go.  But she had heard about Jesus, and she listened and understood.  She would have been socially “dead” (see 1st reading!) being isolated from everyone, since she was considered unclean.  Her faith was strong enough that she spoke up, against her fears, and didn’t fall into the trap of considering herself as good as dead.  And what does Jesus call her?  Daughter!  She is no longer an unknown woman, but family.  Jesus was committed to doing holy things, making things and people holy.  He felt that flow come out of him (Do we?).  The story hurries on (That’s Mark for you!) and now Jesus is leading Jairus.  Jesus uses the local dialect to raise his daughter from the dead.  The story ends with Jesus involving the family and community in her rehabilitation by getting her something to eat.  We all need to bring about the kingdom.  (From A. Gittins’ Encountering Jesus, p. 23-30)

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1st Reading: Job 38: 1, 8-11

This ‘parable-story’ is told to challenge the more prevalent beliefs of the day that ‘blessings’ and ‘prosperity’ were signs of God’s favor and one’s own goodness. Instead, it tells us a story of a good person who suffers unspeakable things while all around him believe that Job is responsible for his own misfortune. Job was a wealthy and righteous landowner with a large family; then numerous and horrendous misfortunes raged against him. But Job does question God as to why he is allowing such suffering to happen. His cry and protest becomes his prayer. Today’s reading is part of the ‘reply’. It is designed to also prepare us to hear the gospel story.

Also, just think about the wonderful imagery that is given here as God tells us about creation – how God sees God’s self as a mother giving birth. He tells Job that the sea came bursting forth from God’s own womb! God speaks with maternal care to a man in despair about how he took the clouds and wove them into swaddling clothes for the baby ocean. How he had to teach, discipline, his new creation to stay within its limits and to obey God’s voice, to still proud waves. This story and the gospel urge us to trust God – and thus to trust to Jesus – believing that God’s love is always surrounding us – is actually right in our ‘boat.’ Why is this so important to God – to Jesus?   Because faith and trust are like openings that allow God’s love to enter us. When pain and sorrow find us in life, they can stretch us, making room for a deeper relationship with God – with Jesus.

(Fr. John Foley, S.J., “Spirituality of the Readings,” http://liturgy.slu/edu )

The Gospel: Mark 4:35-41

Jesus chides the disciples in their fear and panic much like God chides Job for questioning God’s mysterious and powerful love. We, too, often find ourselves complaining and fearing our own storms and sicknesses and deaths. So how does faith help us? Our faith in Jesus does not guarantee that we will not go under. It is not a magic wand to wave at all difficulties. Our faith is promise that, even if we nearly drown, Jesus will be with us. All our storms can be transformed by the abiding presence of his love. This love will and can cast out all fear. That is how in Christ we become a new creation – a creation that can find safety in God’s love.

(John Kavanaugh, S. J., “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy.slu/edu

Summer Reflections, 2006, p.17 & 18:

The boat has long been recognized as a symbol of the church. Its task is to help people chart their way through the sea of life. [The sea was also a symbol of chaos and evil; note that Jesus uses the same words to calm the sea as he uses when he expels demons.] As Jesus slept, it appeared to the disciples that he was unconcerned about their plight. Is not being tossed about in the turbulence of life as the trials, problems of the world swirl about us like being tossed about in violent waters? It was not much different for the disciples in their chaotic world of the 1st century: hardship, rejection, persecution, misunderstanding, poverty, oppression, destruction, etc. Jesus’ saving power was and is with his disciples. We must depend on his Spirit. He promises that his Spirit will fill our sails in the midst of our trials and tribulations bringing us to a safe harbor.

Jesus tells the sea to be quiet. Be still.  Richard Foster challenges us, “Don’t you feel a tug, a yearning to sink down into the silence and solitude of God?  Don’t you long for something more?  Doesn’t every breath crave a deeper, fuller exposure to his Presence?  It is the discipline of silence that will open the door.  You are welcome to come in and listen to God’s speech in his wondrous, terrible, gentle, loving, all-embracing silence,” (Celebration of Discipline, p. 109).

Catherine of Siena wrote, “God is a bright ocean that distills and reveals hidden truths so that my soul has a better understanding of how to trust Love, and this water is a mirror in which You, Eternal Trinity, give me knowledge.”  Using these images of the sea, what waves are stirred in you?  How do we shake loose from thinking we know better and to trust God with the tides of our lives?  What does it feel like to not be able to control the waves?  How can we help one another weather the storms?

2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 5: 14-17

Paul is utterly convinced that Christ’s life in us changes everything so much that Christ’s love actually impels us to live no longer for ourselves but for Christ.  Paul is trying to point out that because we are one with Christ, death can harm us no more than it can harm Christ.  Note, Paul didn’t say we won’t suffer and eventually die, but suffering takes on a new meaning.  We are part of a new creation in Christ.  (Taken from NCR’s “The Word Scripted for Life” by Sr. Mary McGlone, p. 29)

What a perfect time to consider how we are part of God’s creation with Pope Francis’s encyclical coming out this week!  Sr. Elizabeth Johnson has thoughts on Creator Spirit in Quest for the Living God:

Attending to the idea of the Creator Spirit brings to the fore the belief that the presence and activity of God pervade the world and that therefore the natural world is the dwelling place of God.  This divine presence is continuous, cruciform and abides in the mode of promise.  Creator Spirit dwells in compassionate solidarity with every living being that suffers, from the dinosaurs wiped out by an asteroid to the baby impala eaten by a lioness.  Not a sparrow falls to the ground without eliciting a knowing suffering in the heart of God.  Yet the scientific account of the expanding cosmos and of the evolution of life on this planet makes it clear that the universe, rather than being a settled phenomenon, can be described today only in terms of an open-ended adventure (pp. 187-190).

The Gift of Time

Father Bob’s last Sunday homily…

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11th Sunday in Ordinary Time B

The most boring parable in all the Gospels has a lot to teach us.  Let’s face it.  Not a lot happens in the parable of the seed.  The kingdom of God is like a man who scatters seeds.  Then he pretty much goes to bed and wakes up, goes to bed and wakes up.  And then the seed sprouts and grows.  “He knows not how.”  It grows because “of its own accord the land yields fruit.”   It grows because that is what occurs when soil and seed and time come together.

I wish I were like that carefree sower of seeds.  Oh I do sow as many seeds as possible.   But rather than letting it grow of its own accord, I wake up, stand over where the seed was planted and complain that nothing has happened yet.  I curse my luck, I try…

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11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Let us prayerfully reflect on this poem by Joyce Kilmer:

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

 

What do you find meaningful – helpful—insightful when it comes to trees?  Have you ever had a favorite tree? Forest?

1st Reading – Ezekiel 17:22-24

Ezekiel’s allegory of the cedar tree is one source for the imagery of the mustard bush in the gospel reading. The cedar stands for the restoration of the Davidic monarchy after the exile. The shoot or twig (see Isaiah 11:1) refers to a descendant of Jehoiachin, the last Davidic king before the exile. The beasts and birds represent the nations of the earth. This indicates that the prophecy expects the kingdom after the return from exile to be more than just the mere restoration of the status quo before the exile; in fact, it is to be the realization of the messianic kingdom. It is therefore legitimate to say that this prophecy finds its ultimate fulfillment in the kingdom of Christ, of which the church on earth is a foretaste. (Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu/11OrdB061712/theword_indepth.html )

The cedar forests of Lebanon enjoy the unique distinction as the oldest documented forests in history.  The cedars made a special contribution to the development of the Phoenician civilization by providing the timbers with which they developed their famous sea-going merchant boats -thus becoming one of the first, if not the first, major sea-going trading nation in the world.  The Phoenicians transported the cedar to Egypt, until Egypt conquered Lebanon and gained direct access to the forests, which were highly prized for building temples and boats.  Later the Babylonians took a similar interest in the cedars and obtained them for use in building the fabled city of Babylon.  The expansion of the Roman Empire into Syria and Lebanon had a detrimental effect on the cedars until the Emperor Hadrian installed markers around the boundary of the remaining forests and declared them as Imperial Domain.  In modern day Lebanon, the legendary cedar is still revered and remains prominent in the minds of all Lebanese. The cedar is featured on the national flag, the national airline, Government logos, the Lebanese currency and innumerable commercial logos. (http://www.shoufcedar.org/)

2nd Reading – 2 Corinthians 5:6-10

For all his yearning for the life to come, Paul does not despise this life.  He is, he says, in good heart.  The reason is that even here and now we possess the Holy Spirit of God, the first installment of the life to come.  It is given to the Christian to be citizen of two worlds; and the result is, not that he despises this world, but that he finds it clad with a sheen of glory which is the reflection of the greater glory to come  (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 205-6).  Isn’t this hopeful?  But then Paul lowers the boom!  He brings up the judgment that will come.  But what he is saying is life is in the decisions we make.  Right now.  We must live in the present, but with a foot in the future, knowing we are accountable for our actions.  What we do makes up who we are, and affects others around us.  Does this stir something up in you?

The Gospel – Mark 4: 26-34

From John Kavanaugh, S.J. — Life is slow and subtle. Love takes time to show and grow. In life, little acts count. In fact, that is what a life is all about, a long parade of moments deceptively inconsequential. Children grow before our eyes. But they age imperceptibly. We recognize growth only after it has happened. The full truth of the child is seen after the child is no more. Life, like faith and love, resists most measurement. As it develops, it is rarely noticed. We seem not to do these things by sight. Our changings are unmarked as they happen.

This is why, perhaps, a daily examination of our awareness can be so life-enhancing. Examination applies the lens of believing to the blur of the daily grind. It is to notice in faith. It is to pay attention lovingly, gratefully. Like sowers, we scatter our activities, our tiny acts of faith, flung out far and extravagantly, some taken by the wind, all landing somewhere. We sleep our nights and do our days, and the growth takes place. We may not even be conscious of the flowering.  But journey outward is not the only way to understand the present. In a journal, we move inward. We penetrate the present with conscious faith and love. We remember our destiny in Christ so that it might inform each present moment and quicken it with slumbering life. The import of life’s every day, as St. Paul suggests, is revealed “at the tribunal of Christ.”  (http://liturgy.slu.edu/11OrdB061712/theword_encountered.html  )

We are small. The movements of the Spirit in us are so modest as to be nearly disregarded. Yet if we are patient, if we watch for growth within us, in winter snow and in spring rain, the Spirit gradually will surge up and will let us together yield much fruit. It is a miracle of growth in plants and trees, but even more in goodness and grace that is God’s kingdom in you.    (http://liturgy.slu.edu/11OrdB061712/reflections_foley.html )

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, cycle B

1st Reading: Exodus 24: 3-8

Why was it necessary to ratify a covenant in blood?  The fact that the covenant was sealed in blood indicated not only that is was an agreement to follow the Law, it was also an agreement to allow it to be the center of life – it was an agreement to share life.  Recall that blood was a sign of life force – life was believed to reside in the blood.  The people were willing to enter into covenant, an intimate blinding relationship, with Yahweh.  The blood ritual only took place once.  It would not be repeated again until the blood sacrifice of Jesus.

What rings true for you in this reading, since we don’t go around throwing blood?  It does show great commitment to try and follow God’s will.  But there is no way to absolutely know what God’s will is for us.  As we pray and discern, we try to figure it out.  It does please God that we try to be in relationship with God.  Participating in Eucharist-remembering the blood sacrifice of Christ-is one way we are able to do this.  How do you decipher God’s will?  Does Eucharist help you feel closer to God?

2nd Reading: Hebrews 9: 11-15

Thoughts from Prof. Dr. Joseph Ratzinger’s Theology of the Cross from his book: Einfuhrung in das Christentum (Introduction to Christianity):

In many devotional books we encounter the idea that Christian faith in the cross is belief in a God whose unforgiving justice demands a human sacrifice – the sacrifice of his own son. This somber and angry God contradicts the Good News of God’s love and makes it unbelievable. Many people picture things this way, but it is false. In the Bible, the cross is not part of a picture of violated rights; the cross is far more the expression of a life which is a ‘being for others.’

This is an appalling picture of God, as one who demanded the slaughter of his own son in order to assuage his anger. Such a concept of God has nothing to do with the New Testament. The New Testament does not say that human beings reconcile God; it says that God reconciles us.

The fact that we are saved ‘through his blood’ (Hebrew 9:12) does not mean that his death is an objective sacrifice . . . In world religions, the notion which dominates is that of the human being making restitution to God in order to win God‘s favor. But in the New Testament the picture is the exact opposite. It is not the human being who goes to God, to bring him a compensatory gift or sacrifice; rather, it is God who comes to human beings with a gift to give us. The cross is not the act of offering satisfaction to an angry God. Rather, it is the expression of the boundless love of God, who undergoes humiliation in order to save us.

Christian worship is not the act of giving something to God; rather, it is the act of allowing ourselves to receive God’s gift, and to let God do this for us.

In traditional reflections on the passion, the question turns up again and again: what is the relationship between pain and sacrifice? And it was often assumed that the intensity of Jesus’ pain gave it salvific value. But how could God take pleasure in human pain, or find in it the reconciling act which must be offered to him? If this picture were true, then it would be Jesus’ executioners who make the sacrificial offering . . . but in Jesus God’s creative mercy makes the sinful human being belong to him, giving life to the dead.   **Joseph Ratzinger is Pope Benedict XVI.

The Gospel: Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26

From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu:

In Jesus’ culture grain, oil, and wine were the staples, with grain and its products – especially bread – being most important. Bread provided about ½ the caloric intake for the ancient Mediterranean world, with wheat being considered superior to barley and sorghum, the food of the poor.

Another point from John Pilch:  Drawing water and carrying it was a woman’s task in Jesus’ culture. Any man present at a well would be a challenge to the honor of all the fathers, brothers, and husbands in that village. If a man did carry water it was in a skin not a jar. This man carrying a water jar was certainly a cultural anomaly: easy to spot.

From Celebration, June 1998:

Eucharist is about a remembering (anamnesis) that does not simply call to mind the past events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  The Eucharist makes present here and now, within the gathered assembly of believers, the reality of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. Each Eucharist is a “living remembrance of Jesus’ act of love.” By our participation (offering our ‘hungry’ selves, hearkening to God’s Word, and then eating and drinking) in the Eucharist, believers proclaim and are integrated into that death and are given a taste of the resurrected life to come.

At Eucharist we say that we “proclaim the death of the Lord” . . .

What does this mean?  The Eucharist is always about the paschal mystery – about a dying and a rising. We, like Jesus, must become a body for others. Giving of ourselves is a type of death – but out of it comes new life for our selves and for others. The gift of Jesus’ very self demands a response from us; it demands a response that is our selves. (It is also good to reflect how sharing from both the bread and wine – the body and the blood of Christ – is a much fuller celebration of Eucharist. The body is the real self of the Risen Christ and the blood is the life force of this Risen Christ– “We eat his Body and drink his Blood as sign that, nourished by him, we are now able to lay down our own bodies [our very selves] and pour out our own blood [our life force] so that salvation [fullness of life] comes to others.” (Living Liturgy, 2004, 150-152)

In Jesus, God has come to be with us where we are. To proclaim the death of the Lord is to find in his death a new definition of ourselves – a new understanding of the meaning of success and failure, of the meaning of life and death, of what it means to be a human person . . . the Eucharist is the call which frees each of us from the false self, the most tyrannical master of all . . . At Eucharist we become gifts of God to be enjoyed and put at the service of the neighbor. We are freed from the radical insecurity and false pride that is at the heart of all evil. We are freed to be realistic and intelligent about how we use the gifts God has given us while recognizing that our true call is to find life by giving it away . . . (John Dwyer, The Sacraments, “Chapter Eight: the Eucharist” p.129-130)

The Hebrew word for the Greek anamnesis is zikkaron, meaning a sacrificial term that brings the offerer into remembrance before God, or brings God into favorable remembrance with the offerer.  When Jesus took the bread and wine and offered it, he was identifying with the Israelites and their covenant.  He was being a good Jew.  He was making a new covenant, saying, “I am united with my ancestors.  This is now me.  I am Passover.”  So now the Church identifies herself with Christ.  We are Christ to the world.  Now it’s our turn to be united in covenant with God and give of ourselves.  Like the Israelites, it will move us from captivity to freedom, from sin to repentance  (taken from Fr. Vosko lecture).