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.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Mystic or nothing


Last evening's sunset.  It's hard to see that and not be a mystic.
I have used a quote before from Karl Rahner about being a mystic, but yesterday I came across a more complete version of it: The devout Christian of the future will either be a "mystic," one who has "experienced" something, or he will cease to be anything at all.
Someone asked me recently what a mystic was.  I immediately replied, "Someone who has a direct experience of God."  Even though that was a spur of the moment description, I think it is accurate.  The experience can be prompted by something like last evening's sunset, or it may simply be a kind of intuition of God's presence that seems to come out of nowhere.
I think most people have these experiences or intuitions, even those who may not have a name to put to them.  But knowing what they are when they happen can encourage us to be more alert to their happening again.  Regular contemplative prayer can sharpen our senses and our intuition so that, when God arrives, we recognize the Divine and are moved to love.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

For All Peoples

Even though Jesus says that he was "sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt.15:24)" he makes an exception and heals the daughter of a non-Jewish woman.  Jesus is a Jew and understands that his mission is to his fellow Jews, God's Chosen People.  In this passage Matthew shows that the God of Israel is approached by non-Jews through Jesus the Jew.
Commenting on this passage, Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., says, "If one wishes to be true to the biblical witness, it is necessary to present clearly what the Scriptures say about the chosenness of Israel and how Christians share in it through Jesus.  The God of Jesus is the God of Israel.  Gentiles call upon and experience this God through Jesus as representative of the Jewish people.  The roots of Christianity are Jewish.  Gentile Christians have been grafted onto the olive tree (see Romans 11:17, 24)."
If we could understand and accept what Harrington is saying, it would go a long way in improving our relationship with our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Racial Prejudice

Matthew 15:21-28 has perhaps the most unlikely words of Jesus in the entire New Testament.  Later in the week I'd like to share with you what some scripture scholars write about its meaning, but in this post let me tell you what my own imagination has come up with.  I have found no scholar that even mentions anything like this.
Jesus has fed 5,000 and walked on the water and debated.  As a full human being, as well as God, he needs some time off.  He decides to go to the beach to relax.  "Downeeocean," as we say in Baltimore.  This vacation takes him into non-Jewish territory.
A pagan woman comes to him and asks him to heal her daughter.  Jesus says, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel....It is not right to take the food of children and throw it to the dogs."  Again as a full human being, Jesus is feeling prejudice toward this non-Jew. 
Racial prejudice is a feeling.  When we act on the feeling we are in the realm of morality.  Racial discrimination is wrong.  Jesus rises above his feeling of prejudice to heal the woman's daughter.
Jesus within us can help us to rise above whatever feelings of prejudice we may have to treat every human being with justice and love.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Sacred Silence

Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia.  For many years I went hiking here two or three times a summer.  There was a cliff called Lion's Head that we often looked for, but could never find.
One day by myself I was determined to find it.  I hiked up this steep and rocky trail and was about to give up, when down the trail comes a forest ranger (I have seen only two in all my years hiking there.)  I asked about Lion's Head and he told  me to keep going and told me where to leave the trail.
As I left the trail and continued on a nearly pathless area, I came into a grove of pine trees.  The silence was overwhelming.  Pine needles on the ground, piled about three inches thick, multiplied the silence.  The feeling of God's presence pressed in on me.  I was content to just wander around in this sacred grove.
I saw a half-hidden opening in the bushes surrounding the grove.  I made my way through and found myself on a magnificent cliff, looking down into Red Creek Canyon and across to the other hillside. The fabled Lion's Head.   A different kind of silence reigned here, one that lifted my heart and expanded into God's presence.  I sat on the cliff for about an hour lost in the silence.
This silence was more than a dozen years ago and is still vivid in my memory.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Love Comes in Silence


Silent mornings on the Lake.  Silent winter nights.  Last night I walked outside before going up to bed. Total silence!   I wrote recently about God coming in beauty and in goodness and evolution.  Today I've been reflecting on Love coming in silence.
This morning I used 1 Kings 19:8-13 for prayer.  The Holy One comes to the prophet Elijah in "the sound of sheer silence."  Trying to get away from his enemies, Elijah has walked for forty days and forty nights to the mountain of Horeb (Sinai) where long before Love came to Moses in the Burning Bush.  Elijah hides in a cave.  God tells him to stand at the entrance of the cave.  Love does not come in spectacular ways as to Moses, but in "the sound of sheer silence."
This story encourages me as I wait in silence for Love to come to me in centering prayer.  I can't do anything to make God show Godself, but I can quiet my body and mind in readiness.  We live in a world of sound.  Often Love comes to us in some of those sounds, but God's first language is silence.

Friday, August 1, 2014

I AM Love

A little more beauty is added to the world by these flowers that a neighbor has sowed around a tree trunk.  In this way we co-create the universe.  And by passing the picture on to you, I join in the co-creation.
I have started reading a new book, From Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe, edited by Elia Delio.  In the second chapter Kathleen Duffy, SSJ, presents, "Sophia," her version of a long poem by Teilhard de Chardin.  It seemed to extend yesterday's post about nothing separating us from God's love and moved me into a mellow evening of prayerful reflection on evolution's contribution to my relationship with God.  In a brief segment Sophia/God says,
"I am the principle of union, the soul of the world.  Especially within the human family, I stir up passionate desire for the more--for dedication to scientific discovery, for the creation of beauty, for compassion toward those in need.  My love is like a tremendous vital current running through the cosmic landscape.  I am love, a wild and daring cosmic love--as strong as the sexual force between lovers, as tender as the nurturing love of a parent."