Friday, August 29, 2014

New Things

Labor Day is not just the popular end of summer.  It is a day to reflect on the rights of workers.  The Industrial Revolution brought crowds of people into the cities to work in factories for shamefully low wages.  In the 16th century only a fifth of the population was poor.  In the 19th century a third of the population was poor.
In the United States in the second half of the 19th century workers organized as the Knights of Labor.  The president, Terence Powderly, and two-thirds of the organization were Catholic. In September, 1882, in New York City, they organized the first Labor Day parade.  Cardinal Gibbons, the Archbishop of Baltimore, made a special trip to Rome in 1886 to convince the pope that the Knights of Labor was a worthy organization, deserving Church support.
In 1891 Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Rerum Novarum (literally new things) on the condition of labor.  Among many "new things," he declared that workers had a right to a living wage and also that workers had the right to organize into unions.  Other popes repeated and broadened Leo's support of organized labor: Pius XI, John XXIII, and Paul VI.  It has become an essential part of Catholic moral theology.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Beauty Ever Ancient and Ever New

Today is the feast of St. Augustine, a fourth century bishop with a deep interior life.  Here is a quote from his Confessions that always stirs me deeply: "Late have I loved you, Beauty ever ancient and ever new, late have I loved you.  You see, you were within me and I was in the external world, looking for you there....You called, you shouted, you shattered my deafness; you shone with dazzling light and dispelled my blindness; you were fragrant and I breathed in deeply and now I am breathless with longing for you.  I tasted you and now I hunger and thirst for you; you touched me and now I burn with desire for the peace that is yours."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wild Side

Monday morning as I was returning from my usual walk I saw a black bear ambling along behind a house about 20 yards from where I was walking.  I think it was a young one, about four feet tall on all four legs.  Sorry I didn't get a picture.  I did pull my camera out of my pocket and paused.  But I realized how stupid I was being and hurried home.
Tuesday morning I was wandering up a country lane in another part of the county when a big buck came crashing out of the woods on my left and went leaping across the road into another woods.  It was only about a yard in front of me.  I know it had antlers but I was too startled to count.  I am used to seeing the does and young ones alongside the road as I drive, but I have never seen that big a deer, nor any deer up that close.
I sometimes write here about the peace and quiet of walking in my neighborhood and in the woods.  Nothing worthwhile comes without risk.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Your Cross

Immediately after Jesus has told Peter that he is the rock on which he will build his church, Jesus is calling Rock "a stumbling block. (Matthew 16:21-28)"  Peter's notion of a messiah is all glory.  So when Jesus predicts that he himself will suffer and die before coming into glory, Peter tells him that he shouldn't think of such things.  Jesus insists that he will be a suffering Messiah.
Like Peter, we don't want to think that that there is no glory without the cross.  But Jesus assures us that, if we are serious about being a follower of his, then we must follow him through suffering and death to risen life.
Jesus is calling us to take up our cross, not his.  Each of us sooner or later has their own cross to carry.  We don't have to invent one or search for one.  The cross intended for each of us comes our way.  Most of us can remember many hard times in our lives. 
I had hoped that once I retired I had come through the cross to glory!  But there has been still much pain and worry to deal with.  I do have a calm, peaceful life, and sometimes I wonder where's the cross.  Meditating on this passage this morning, it occurred to me that maybe I've been carrying my cross for so long that I no longer notice it.  I also found myself thinking that part of my cross now is my empathy for those I love who have problems and worries and illnesses.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Blessed Seduction

Jeremiah 20:7-9 has had a strong appeal for me since I first read The New Jerusalem Bible's translation many years ago.  "Duped," "deceived," "enticed," are translations that I have seen for the Jewish verb used in verse 7.  Here's what New Jerusalem does with it: "You have seduced me, Yahweh, and I have let myself be seduced."  The Jewish Study Bible points out places in the Scriptures where the verb is used to describe a man's seduction of a woman and a woman's seduction of a man.
Pope Francis suggests that, when we find a Bible passage that appeals to us, we ask ourselves what it is about the passage that attracts us.  This one appeals to me because I see my relationship with God as a love affair.  As I meditate on God as Love who knows me and loves me, I think back to my earliest years when I was attracted to God and to the things of religion.  Through the years after that in my teens and twenties, God continued to attract me in ways that I can describe as seduction.  I know full well that I made a clear decision to let myself be seduced by God.  Jeremiah goes on to say "You have overpowered me: you were the stronger."
I never suffered as Jeremiah did for what God expected him to preach, but I was criticized for demonstrating against racial discrimination and the Vietnam War and, more recently, for taking moral positions that were unpopular.  Jeremiah says, "I would say to myself, 'I will not think about him, I will not speak in his name anymore,' but there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones.   The effort to restrain it wearied me.  I could resist."
Letting ourselves be seduced by God's overwhelming love for us does bring us bliss, but it also brings us pain.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Not a Crushing Rock

By calling himself the Bishop of Rome and by the modest style of his leadership, Francis neither exaggerates his authority nor minimizes it, bringing it more in line with that of the "Rock" on whom Jesus said he would build his Church.

Friday, August 22, 2014

On This Rock

"You are Rock and on this rock I will build my church," declares Jesus to Peter in Matthew 16:18.  Before this incident "rock" was never used by anyone as a name.  Jesus is affirming Simon's leadership by giving him a title.  By the time Matthew's Gospel was written Peter would have moved to Rome and would have been martyred there.  Though  there is nothing in the New Testament to indicate that Peter's leadership was passed on to a successor, it is significant that 15-20 years after his martyrdom Matthew and his community remember and record these words of Jesus.
Peter would not have been bishop of Rome in the way that we understand "bishop," but he may well have been the leader of one of the several Christian communities in that city.  Because Rome was the center of the Empire as well as the city where Peter and Paul had been martyred, the leader of the church there gradually over the next few centuries became acknowledged as leader by Christians in other places.
It is because he is bishop of Rome that the Pope is the leader of the Church.  By retiring from the office of bishop of Rome, Benedict helped us to see that the papacy was an office, not a personal privilege.  Pope Francis underlined this understanding of the position in the brief speech he made on the evening of his election.   He began, "You all know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome."  Four times he referred to himself as bishop, never using the title "pope."  He even referred to his predecessor as "Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI."  Many of us took this to mean that Francis intended to treat other bishops with the respect that is owed them as successors of the Apostles.