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.