Thursday, December 4, 2014
Have a good time! Not a wish that many would expect from God or from religion. I'm reading a presentation of the Catholic faith that complains about how dreary we have made religion seem. Advent is a perfect time to celebrate the pleasure and happiness that God wants for us. The story of Jesus is named "Gospel," "Good News." Twice in one verse of Sunday's first reading from Isaiah the prophet announces "glad tidings." The angel that appears to the shepherds at Bethlehem says, "I bring you good news of great joy." In the name of God, let's have a good time!
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Why is the absolute failure of the disciples good news? ("Gospel" and "Good News" translate the same Greek word.) The great Scripture scholar, Father Raymond Brown, says, "The mystery of Mark's Gospel is that God succeeds and accomplishes his purpose amidst human failure." Throughout Mark's story about Jesus, his disciples just don't get it, yet Jesus does what he came to do because he loves them and us.
It is truly Good News that God doesn't count on us. Too often we see "Gospel" as requiring a lot of effort on our part. It's Good News because it doesn't set limits to our lives; it expands them. Jesus is the one who does the work. The Gospel is not about being good or bad. It's about being loved.
(Click on the picture to count just a small number of the geese that arrived.)
Sunday, November 30, 2014
We human beings cannot live without hope. Unlike other animals we are blessed - or cursed - with the ability to think about the future and to take action to shape that future.
As the days grow shorter and darkness grows,
we hope that the sun will not abandon us.
As we work with Francis to build a Church for all,
we hope that people and priests, bishops and pope
will work together.
As we wait in Advent for the Coming of Christ,
we hope that he will lead our world into new life.
Friday, November 28, 2014
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
We've had about 8 inches of snow today. Hard to choose among this morning's scenes.
In Terrence Malick's mystic movie, To the Wonder, the last words on the screen are "Love who loves us, thank You." Not a better prayer for this holiday.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Jesus tells us that the mercy we show to those who need us is really shown to himself. He is not speaking figuratively. As we grow in our awareness that Jesus is really living in us and loving us, we can't help but grow in awareness that he is living in everyone else. He says that his real presence in those in need is the motivation to show mercy to them. This doesn't take effort. The love of Jesus living in us flows out to the need of Jesus living in them. All we do is surrender to that flow.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Near the end of Matthew's Gospel Jesus lists the actions on which we will be judged. He lifted them right out of the Baltimore Catechism's "Corporal Works of Mercy"!! Show care for the hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, sick. Jesus changed the catechism's "homeless" to "stranger" or "alien." And he left out the "dead."
"Mercy" is the name of the whole list. It's also the byword of Francis' papacy. If we want to know where he is leading the Church, it is toward mercy. It's also, Jesus says, the basis on which we will be judged.
Sunday, November 16, 2014
A wonderful article in America about the shared vision of Rabbi Heschel and Pope Francis quotes the Rabbi, "It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion--its message becomes meaningless."
Saturday, November 15, 2014
More of yesterday's swans. Looking back two years ago, I find that there were 53 swans on the lake around Thanksgiving that year. Not such a rare event after all. So much for my memory. They did stay longer this time and I got much better pictures.
As such Beauty God initiates encounter.
Friday, November 14, 2014
When I got up this morning there were 72 swans huddled together on the lake in front of me. A rare sight for us here. I heard them in the middle of the night. Maybe they were forced down by the snow. Any port in a storm.
I spent almost an hour watching them and taking pictures. Their beauty was magnified by the white snow along the shore. And there was still snow falling. I was completely caught up in Wonder. Just by luck I caught them taking off. Of the 65 pictures I took this was not the clearest, but it's my favorite.
I am deeply grateful to God for letting me live in such a marvelous place.
(Please click on picture to enlarge it)
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
These small buffleheads stop by here every fall and spring, often in flocks of a hundred or more. After almost a hundred years this man-made lake has become a reliable rest stop for migrating birds. It always gets me singing:
Across the morning sky all the birds are leaving
Ah, how can they know it's time for them to go.
But I will still be here; I have not thought of leaving
I do not count the time.
Who knows where the time goes?
(Clicking on the picture enlarges it)
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
What a thought provoking combination- today's feast and today's "holiday." Martin lived in the 4th century. His father was a pagan army officer. Martin was inducted into the army at age 15. In his early 20's he came across a poorly dressed beggar in the freezing cold. Martin cut his cloak in half and gave half to the beggar. That night he had a vision of Christ clad in his half cloak. He became a Christian and refused to fight. He was discharged soon after.
What would happen if every soldier recognized God in "the enemy?"
Monday, November 10, 2014
In Jesus' parable of the talents the last thing that the master says to the two servants who used their talents well is "Enter into the joy of your master," This gives the parable an end time meaning. Jesus wants us to use our talents to the full so that when death comes we may be ready to pass into Joy.
Saturday, November 8, 2014
Today is Dorothy Day's birthday. I think she may be my favorite American of the 20th Century. She said, "Why was so much done in remedying the evil instead of avoiding it in the first place.... Where were the saints to try to change the social order, not just to minister to the slaves, but to do away with slavery."
Friday, November 7, 2014
A bright spot in an otherwise yucky day. This cactus sits out in full sun all summer. The day after I bring it in tiny buds begin. I put it in a corner with lots of light. The buds develop. This is what it looks like this morning. Beauty will save the world.
Thursday, November 6, 2014
This is the Western Wall, all that remains of the temple in Jerusalem.
When Jesus drove the moneychangers and animals out of the temple, he made a serious challenge to the way Passover was celebrated in the temple. It was the way it was done. As we are reflecting on the community of believers as the temple of God, perhaps we can see the recent synod as a challenge from Jesus about "the way we do things." in that temple.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
A river flows from the temple and becomes progressively deeper and wider, bringing growth along its banks and life to the Dead Sea (Ezekiel 47.) The temple itself doesn't grow. If, as St. Paul says, the community of believers is the temple, we exist to bring life and growth to those beyond our walls.
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
When we celebrate the anniversary of a church, we are celebrating the community of believers who are the Church. In his 1st Letter to the Corinthians St. Paul says, "The temple of God is holy, and you are that temple." Our mission as the community of those who believe in Jesus is shine so brightly with God's presence that the whole world is attracted to God.
Monday, November 3, 2014
Yesterday morning's light snow found the geraniums at my back door in full and abundant bloom on the first day of November. This is the latest I've had outdoor plants blooming. We had only two light frosts so far. Heavy sleet Saturday night. Life and beauty triumph.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
In the early 70's I was offered a parish in Colorado if I would join a diocese there. I took some time to think about it and finally said, "No." All of my family connections were in Maryland. I had some long friendships with some Baltimore priests. In addition, I found that I placed a high value on the roots of the Baltimore diocese in democracy and freedom.
John Carroll, the first bishop, whose brother Charles signed the Declaration of Independence, was understandably convinced of the importance of democracy and freedom of religion. Church leadership in Rome had no appreciation of those values and often tried to repress them, even at one point condemning "Americanism."
Finally at the Second Vatican Council a Maryland Jesuit, John Courtney Murray crafted the Declaration on Religious Freedom, which Baltimore's Cardinal Lawrence Shehan convincingly presented to the bishops gathered from all over the world. It passed 1,997 to 224. The roots sowed in our beginnings continue to flourish.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
On December 29, 1833, the fourth bishop of Baltimore, James Whitfield, dedicated to St. Ignatius a second church at Arnold's Settlement (now Mount Savage) in the western mountains of Maryland. (These are in West Virginia along the new Route 48)
The historian doesn't say when the first church was built, but in an 1817 list of missions in the diocese Arnold's Settlement and Cumberland are the only places mentioned in Western Maryland.
Archibald and Fanny Arnold were my great-great-great-great grandparents. It is a source of pride and encouragement for me to know that some of my ancestors were among the earliest Catholics in the far western part of the oldest diocese in the United States. I am also impressed that the bishop traveled that far by horse or coach.
(Click on picture to enlarge it)
Sunday, October 26, 2014
I'm reading the history of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Thomas W. Spalding's The Premier See, as we prepare to celebrate our 225th anniversary. Not much humor in any history but in chapter one on John Carroll, the first bishop, the author writes about a very ambitious lottery to raise money to build a cathedral: "Fifteen percent of the proceeds, or $30,000, would go to the building of the cathedral, the rest to prizes. No one seemed the least amazed when the bishop himself won first prize. This $20,000 award, of course, was turned over to the building fund."
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Jesus says that the greatest commandments are love God and love your neighbor. He concludes by saying "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." In his day the phrase "the Law and the Prophets" referred to all of the official Jewish holy books. (The official list of holy books did not yet contain what we call the Wisdom books.) What God wills is love. Every other command and obligation must be judged by asking ourselves if this is the most loving thing to do.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
Jesus almost shrugs off the question about paying taxes to Rome and says, in effect, "Let me tell you what really matters. You are stamped with the image of God. Are you giving yourselves back to God?"
Christianity has gotten off track by linking religion almost exclusively to moral behavior. It is certainly important that we behave ourselves. But it is nowhere near as important as growing in our faith conviction that our God loves us and desperately wants us to love him.
The Gospel of Jesus is not about being good or bad.
It's about being loved.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Yesterday was the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, a great mystic and teacher of prayer. I think of a mystic as someone who has a direct relationship with God, without much of an intermediary. One analogy Teresa uses to help us understand this is to compare two troughs. One is filled with water that comes from far away through many aqueducts with much effort. The other is filled from a spring right by the trough without any noise or anything artificial. The spring is abundant and the water overflows once the trough is filled, forming a large stream. Water is always flowing from this spring.
God, like the source of this water, is welling up within us. Since God desires to do so, God produces this delight with the greatest peace and quiet and sweetness in the deepest part of ourselves.
(Click on picture to enlarge it.)
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Yesterday was the birthday of E. E. Cummings, one of my favorite poets. Of his hundreds of poems here is one of my favorites:
who are you, little I
(five or six years old)
peering from some high
window, at the gold
of november sunset
(and feeling that if day
has to become night
this is a beautiful way)
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
"Whose image," Jesus asks, "is on the Roman coin with which the tax is paid?" Tiberius Caesar's. "Give back to Caesar what belongs to him." "Where do we find God's image?" On humankind, indeed on all of creation. "Then give yourself and everything else back to God."
Not a formula for separation of church and state. Everything belongs to God.
Monday, October 13, 2014
Thursday, October 9, 2014
The present moment is the incarnation of the infinity of God. Something going on and on without ending is not only impossible for my finite mind to grasp but scares me a little. The present moment, however, I can deal with. We certainly remember the past and plan for the future, but I want to give most of my attention to the present. That's where I meet God.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
"I can do all things in You who strengthen me," has been for thirty years one of several brief prayers that I say out loud as soon as I get out of bed in the morning. It comes from the ending of St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians. Paul is not bragging that he can do all things. He is saying that whatever comes his way he can deal with because he lives in Christ and Christ lives in him.
Monday, October 6, 2014
Saturday, October 4, 2014
God's very self is the source of our peace.
A kind of unreal religion says, "Fear not, trust in God, and God will see that none of these things you fear will happen to you."
Real religion says, "Fear not, the things that you fear are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of."
No matter what pain or grief or trouble threatens us it cannot touch us in the deepest part of who we are which is overflowing with the God of peace.
Monday, September 29, 2014
Friday, September 26, 2014
Thursday, September 25, 2014
The colorful leaves promise that change is possible. In the parable that Jesus tells about two sons (Matthew 21:28-29) one son refuses to obey his father. But then he changes his mind and does what the father wants. We may feel chained by a habit of sin or stuck in our growing relationship with God. The words of Jesus assure us that we can change and grow.
The prophet Ezekiel says that we don't have to let what's happened in our own past or in our family's past control our lives. We can always choose a new way. He promises, "Since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he will surely live." (18:28)
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Time for changing.
Commonweal is my favorite magazine. It's put out by Catholic laypeople. I started reading it in the library when I was in high school seminary because I liked the movie reviewer, Philip Hartung. Gradually I began reading more articles and found that it reflected and influenced my liberal bent.
The word "commonweal" is an old word meaning "the general welfare" or "the common good." In chapter 2 of St. Paul's letter to the Philippians he is encouraging them to be of one mind. He says, "Let each of you look, not to your own interests, but to the interest of others." The common good is not a popular concept in our culture and politics these days. Self-centered, self-seeking, selfish are more accurate descriptions of the popular mind.
Jesus is a man for others. He lives in us and can help us to live for others, for the common good.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Having grown up in the mountains, I'm always a little uncomfortable with flat land. Last week I went to a "convocation" with a lot of priests on the banks of the Choptank River. I found the flatness attractive for a while. (Clicking on picture enlarges it)
One of the presentations at the meeting that interested me was about the effectiveness of using beauty to attract people to Jesus and his Gospel. Beauty opens our hearts in a way that a reasoned presentation does not. I know I felt drawn into God by the natural beauty of the area.
Friday, September 12, 2014
This great blue heron stood in one spot on my dock this morning for over an hour. I took 20 pictures before I got this beautiful shot.
The 2nd reading for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Philippians 2:5-11) makes the feast more about the Exaltation than about the Cross. In humility the Son empties himself to become one of us and in obedience he goes to the Cross. The Father rewards the Son's humility and obedience by lifting him high and giving him "the name above all names."
That name is "Yahweh," the sacred name that God revealed to Moses. Since Jews do not pronounce that name out loud, they would substitute some other word. The most common substitution was "Lord." When Paul says at the end of the passage, then, that "Jesus Christ is Lord" he means the he is God.
St. Athanasius in the fourth century summed up the Mystery in this bold statement, "God became man so that man might become God."
Thursday, September 11, 2014
This is one of the two pools in the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. The water cascades 30 feet down each of the pools' walls and flows into the void in the middle. The whole is a powerful work of art that draws to itself all the mourning and loss and anger of that terrible day.
As I walked this morning my thoughts were of forgiveness. Faced with such deliberate terror, what do I do as a follower of Jesus, who never refuses to forgive me and who tells me to forgive seventy times seven.
First of all I want to be careful to distinguish the relatively small group of Islamic terrorists from the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, some of whom were killed in the Trade Centers, along with people from 90 countries.
Then how do I bring myself to forgive the militant minority. I could try to comprehend how they think that murder is something God wants them to do. I could try to see our country through their eyes. I try to make a distinction between what is inexcusable and what is unforgiveable. What seems the best way for me to go, however, is simply to let the unearned love of Jesus flow from my heart into them. My own heart is not big enough, but the mercy of Jesus never runs out.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Today's the birthday of Mary Oliver, a poet whom I like. Someone recommended her to me about two years ago and I bought a slim volume of her poems titled Evidence.
She had me with the very first poem "Yellow:"
"There is the heaven we enter
through institutional grace
and there are yellow finches bathing and singing
in the lowly puddle."
This brief poem promised that Mary Oliver was a poet after my own heart, one who finds God in the world around her. In "It Was Early," after describing meeting mice and mink and pines, she writes:
"Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed."
Her poetry itself opens my eyes to the Divine in simple things. I envy her ability to express it so simply. Since it's her birthday, I'll include the last two lines from "Halleluiah:"
"Halleluiah, I'm sixty now, and even a little more,
and some days I feel I have wings."
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Coming up this weekend is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. St. Helen encouraged her son, the Emperor Constantine to build some churches and shrines in Jerusalem on the site of the Crucifixion and burial of Jesus. They were dedicated in 335 AD.
There are many conflicting stories about how the true Cross was found. One that I heard as a child very much impressed me. During the excavation for the building of the churches, St. Helen found three crosses in a cistern. To determine which was the Cross on which Jesus died, she had a Jerusalem woman who was dying brought to the site and laid on the crosses. When she was laid on the third cross, she recovered her health.
In Butler's Lives of the Saints, after recounting a number of legends, the author says that probably the Holy Cross with the title (that Pilate had put above Jesus' head) was found during the excavations. The author adds, "What is certain in the whole matter is that from the middle of the fourth century reputed relics of the true cross were spread through the world."
What the feast celebrates is, not only Jesus being lifted up on the cross, but God raising Jesus into glory.
Monday, September 8, 2014
I just spent some time in prayer with the image of Jesus' being lifted up on the Cross (John 3:13-17.) Another image came to me of the Father's long arms reaching out of the mists of the Other World to lift up the broken, crucified body of his Son and hold him close in God's loving embrace. I saw a father lifting his crying son out of his crib and hugging him. I imaged the Father's long arms reaching out from the Other World and lifting the broken body of the whole human race into his wide embrace. I felt myself lifted too and simply surrendered.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
All summer I have been plagued by geese. I've spent many hours picking up their droppings. I often asked myself and others, "What are they good for?" This picture shows that one thing that they are good for is beauty. Beauty, too, in their gliding effortlessly along the lake. (Clicking on the picture enlarges it.)
Romans 13:8-10 has proved a rich passage for meditation. St. Paul, as a Jewish Pharisee, believed that strict obedience to the Law would win him God's love. That was what religion was about. Growing up Catholic in the forties I thought, too, that religion was obeying rules and regulations.
Perhaps it was as much a relief to St. Paul as it was to me to find out that that's not it.
In this passage St. Paul says, "The one who loves another has fulfilled the law." He says that all the commandments can be summed up in one, "Love your neighbor as yourself." All of his Letters express his conviction that God's love is unearned. God first loves us. We love God back. We pass on to others the same unearned love, no matter who they are, no matter what they've done.
The religious problem, then, is not that we don't know how to behave; the religious problem is that we don't believe how much we are loved.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
For most of my meditations on Scripture for the past several years I have been using The New Interpreter's Study Bible, published by Abingdon. It uses the New Revised Standard Version translation popular with many Scripture scholars. The introductions and footnotes for each book are done by different scholars, Protestant, Catholic, or Jew.
Warren Carter writes the introduction for Matthew's Gospel and I presume the footnotes as well. In a footnote for 18:17 he interprets the verse in a way different from any I've seen and in a way that I find appealing: "Treating someone 'as a Gentile and a tax collector' is often interpreted as exclusion and shunning. But in the Gospel they are objects of mission. Disciples are to include them in the assembly." To treat them "as a Gentile or a tax collector" would then mean, I suppose, to start over with them as if they were new converts.
I think his opinion is also supported when we read the passage in context. It is preceded by the parable of the Lost Sheep in which the shepherd rejoices more over the one sheep that he finds than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. It is followed by Jesus' telling Peter to forgive seventy-seven times anyone who sins against him.
Perhaps Jesus wants us never to give up on anyone.
Friday, August 29, 2014
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
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."