Friday, May 31, 2013

Beauty Needed

I have said in an earlier entry that I was so impressed with Gregory Wolfe's book, Beauty Will Save the World, that I resolved to do what I can to put more beauty in our world.  As I wandered through this iris farm, it occurred to me that the owners were doing more than their part. The look on peoples' faces made it clear that they were being drawn out of themselves into something greater, whether or not they had a "God-concept."  I think that might be part of what Wolfe means when he says that beauty saves us, takes us out of ourselves into relationship.
For  the last day of May my calendar tells me, "Restore your world with color and beauty."
At the bottom of the page for May is this quote from John Muir: "Everyone needs beauty...places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."
The calendar comes from the creative sisters at Ministry of the Arts who are also doing more than their part to save the world with beauty.
Yesterday and today here have been beautiful, in the 80's, with grand blue skies and bright puffy clouds, and so clear you can see forever.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

One Heart in Love

Here's another of the iris farm's beauties.
Since this coming Sunday is the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ and since we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Vatican Council, I re-read the Council's document on the Liturgy yesterday and today.  The reform that for many Catholics was most prominent was changing the language of the Mass from Latin to English.
What stands out for me as I read the constitution is the emphasis on the Mass as building up the unity of the Church from our many members: "The liturgy in its turn inspires the faithful to become of one heart in love." (1:10)  The bishops called the Eucharist "a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity" (2:47)
Unity is created not only by all of us taking communion in the Body and Blood of Christ, but by praying and singing together.  "In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered above all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit." (1:14)
Our exterior participation is meant to be an expression of our interior desire to offer ourselves  to God in the dying and rising of Jesus. Active participation in  the Mass expresses and causes this union with Christ's sacrifice and unites us ever more closely to one another.  Active participation contributes to the common good in the Mass itself and helps us to contribute to the common good in the world beyond the church building.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Eucharistic Community

While visiting in Oregon, I went with relatives to an iris farm that displayed hundreds of varieties of bearded irises, and several other flowers.  We played hide and seek with the rain.  I did not have time to absorb all the beauty.  I found it difficult to choose one to accompany this blog.
Another experience of beauty was the parish community where we celebrated Pentecost Sunday.   We chose the church only because of its external beauty and historical presence.  I was astonished at what we found inside.  For starters, the pews had been rearranged so that several rows faced each other across the middle aisle, as in most monasteries.  This arrangement kept the focus on the community itself.  The pulpit was in the middle aisle close to the door and the altar was near the front.  An attractive baptismal pool with a fountain was between pulpit and altar.
The front cover of the bulletin welcomed a large variety of people and the liturgy created a strong sense of unity in that diversity.  The opening procession had about twenty young and old, gently waving white pennants with red flames on rods about ten feet high.  The church was full and everybody seemed to be praying the prayers and singing the hymns.  After a brief homily by the celebrant, a woman spoke very knowingly about the ideal place of women in the Church and our failure to reach that ideal. 
In Acts Luke describes the Pentecost experience of people of many languages understanding the disciples' preaching.   Each petition of the universal prayer was presented by people from many national backgrounds, first in the language of their origin and then in English.
The greeting of peace was given a little earlier than usual.  Lots of enthusiasm as parishioners left their places and greeted one another.  Before Communion a man walked slowly down the aisle, gently waving over one side and then the other a red pennant at the end of another very long rod.  This created a Spirit-filled hush over the congregation. 
The entire celebration lifted me up and made me newly aware of  the presence of the Spirit creating unity out of diversity.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Everything that is, is holy now.
         --John L'Heureux

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Drunk with the Spirit

In the Church of the Annunciation in Galilee.
I often have thought lately of the Holy Spirit as comforter, stressing Presence within me, deepening my relationship with God.  The Sequence for Pentecost is very much in this mood, with phrases like "welcome guest" and "sweet refreshment" and "melt the frozen, warm the chill."
The first reading for Pentecost is something else again.  Nothing gentle and comforting.  Acts 2:1-13 emphasizes powerful sound, tongues that look like flames, many languages.  This is a Spirit who pushes us out of our comfort zone and inspires us to risk being true to ourselves as individuals and as Church. 
It is easier to play it safe, never to leave the upper room, go along with what others expect of us.  It's easier to slide back into the old way of doing things.  It may not attract very many people to faith and to God, but it seems safer.
If we believe in the Holy Spirit and let the Spirit possess us, we will move boldly into tomorrow, thinking new thoughts, finding new ways to be Church.  We will open ourselves to the wild variety of the human race, like the disciples being understood in each person's native language.  The Holy Spirit is a bold guide who inspires us to risk looking like we "are drunk with new wine."

Friday, May 10, 2013

Beauty strange and common

This morning's gift from the Lake gods.  Before I went out for my walk I put on shoes that I didn't mind getting wet.  We have had soaking rains.  I left the road where I always walk and followed a familiar stream into an area where I have never walked.  The Lake is unusually high and has pushed up into this stream that usually flows in a lazy little trickle into the Lake.  The strangeness added to the beauty of the moment.
The night before last I was watching a movie that turned out to be just ok, but in one sad scene the main character's mood is lifted by a singer doing a powerful version of  "I am a poor wayfaring stranger."  In additions to the meaning and the melody, the quality of the voice struck some chord deep within me.  I found it so electrifying that I felt like I had been transported into a place I had never been before. 
This afternoon I wandered through a greenhouse full of a wild variety of new flowers.  I took a long time absorbing the colors and scents before I choose what I will buy for my yard.
I expected to be caught up in the beauty of the greenhouse, but the meandering stream and the arresting voice surprised me out of myself.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Vigor of the Spirit

Sunset last evening.
Today is the traditional feast of the Ascension.  In our diocese and in most of the world the feast is celebrated this coming Sunday.
The number forty in the Bible means a sufficient amount of time.  When Luke says in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles that the risen Jesus appeared to the Apostles "during forty days," Luke is telling us that Jesus spent an amount of time with them sufficient to help them understand "the Kingdom of God."  What makes it very clear that Luke does not intend for us to take "forty days" literally is that the very same Luke at the end of his Gospel has this final appearance of Jesus take place on the very day of the Resurrection.  It's easy not to notice this on Sunday because we read only the last eight verses of the Gospel.  The previous verses show the whole scene taking place on Easter.
Luke puts the Ascension both at the end of his Gospel and at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles to indicate that it is a pivotal action.  As Jesus, who has been the main character throughout the Gospel, leaves the scene, the Holy Spirit enters to be the main character in the Acts of the Apostles.  The Holy Spirit is someone just like Jesus who is a powerful substitute for Jesus.  The Spirit lives in the apostles and acts through them to spread the Gospel.
The same Holy Spirit lives in us today and continues to work in the world through the hearts of all who believe.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Keeping the Gospel Fresh

Early spring morning from my back door.
I said in the last entry that "paraclete" literally means "one called alongside."  In today's Gospel passage Jesus calls our attention to what is, perhaps, the most important function of the Holy Spirit, "The Paraclete...will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.(John 14:26)"  The Paraclete is called alongside us to keep the Gospel fresh.
The Paraclete is someone just like Jesus who is a powerful substitute for Jesus. This Holy Spirit is not only called alongside us, but lives within us and helps us to preserve the teachings of Jesus and to find ways to express them in modern terms.  The Paraclete gives us new insights into past revelation.  He guides Christians in every age to deal with entirely different issues in very different cultures.  This guidance is active in individual Church members as well as in Church leaders.
Putting our trust in the Paraclete enables all of us to work together to combine valid tradition with new insights.  In that way the Paraclete operating within all of us keeps the Gospel springtime fresh.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


This morning's early sun makes these budding leaves blaze like green flames.
I sat out in the sun today to use John 14:23-29 for prayer.  The title "Paraclete" got all my attention.  I got out Father Raymond Brown's 1970 commentary on John's Gospel and really spent a lot of time studying rather than praying.
He summarizes his extensive treatment this way: "It is our contention that John presents the Paraclete as the Holy Spirit in a special role, namely, as the personal presence of Jesus in the Christian while Jesus is with the Father."
The word "paraclete" comes from a Greek verb that basically means "to call alongside."  Brown says it can mean advocate or defense attorney.  In another sense an intercessor, a mediator, a spokesman.  The word can also mean a comforter or consoler, and still again a witness. 
Brown recommends keeping the title in English translations because no single translation captures the complexity of its meaning.  He sums up, "The Paraclete is a witness in defense of Jesus and a spokesman for him in the context of his trial by his enemies; the Paraclete is a consoler of the disciples for he takes Jesus' place among them; the Paraclete is a teacher and guide of the disciples and thus their helper."
Father Brown suggests that near the end of the first century when the Gospel of John was written his community felt that they were losing their connection with Jesus that was provided by eyewitnesses to his life and ministry.  In John 14:16 Jesus says that he will ask the Father to send "another Paraclete," implying that Jesus was also a "Paraclete."  The Christians of John's day, and of ours, are no further removed from  the ministry of Jesus than were the earlier Christians, for the Paraclete remains within us as "the personal presence of Jesus."

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Teilhard de Chardin

It's easy to forget that spring is as many colored as autumn.
On a three and a half hour drive by myself on Monday I listened to a retreat on DVD based on the writings of Teilhard de Chardin.  Now as I turn the calendar over to May, I find that today is his birthday (1881-1955.)  The retreat talks were the closest I've come to getting some grasp of his thought.
I have been curious about him since we had to sell his books "under the counter" in the seminary more than 50 years ago.  I found him very difficult to understand, but at the same time was sure that what he was saying was influencing my relationship with God.  Usually I have contented myself with quotes from him that don't begin to do justice to his thinking.  Some of them I have put on this blog.  I don't think that I've included the following which I used to have hung above my desk:
"Someday after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love.  Then for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire."
And another that is similar to my analogy of the Other World woven into and through this world:
"By means of all created things, without exception, the Divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us.  We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, when in fact we live steeped in its burning layers."