Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Commenting on the horror that was experienced at Newtown, CT was not on the top of my “to do” list in these days before Christmas. However, as I continued to pray over this and have made my own way through this Advent season it seems that something ought to be said if only for the sake of sharing and putting things into perspective. Of course, perspective can be a difficult thing. It tends to be so dependent on where we are individually and can too often be intrusive especially upon another’s grief or fears. However, there is a Gospel, that is – a good news which saves, which wants to be received.
First of all, it must be said that my heart and tears go out to the parents of these children and their families, as well as the families of the adults who were so senselessly murdered. I cannot imagine the loss of a child much less the violent loss of a child. The closest I can come is those times I have shared with families who have had to bury their children – ages 1 week, and 5, 8 and 15 years old. They have been in my thoughts and prayers even as I have sought to ensure that our own children are feeling safe and that all due diligence is being observed in the operation of our school.
There are a number of thoughts that have crossed my mind over the past week. As I’ve read the papers, like many I have watched for some explanation of WHY this happened. As of yet there seems to be no explanation. Nor do there seem to be any easy answers as to how it could have been prevented. I’m not going to waste space here enumerating or debating the many issues that are already being batted about. The bottom line is evil exists and the innocent will suffer, even so close to Christmas. What we need to remember is that the existence and working of evil is NOT a part of God’s plan for us. As to why evil is permitted, that is a question for later.
In the context of this Christmas season which is very nearly upon us we need to remember that the reason Christ came was to bring the good news of God’s love and care for us, a love that includes the sacrifice of his only begotten Son so that we might have eternal life. As Ross Douthat, a columnist for the New York Times has observed, “the only thing that my religious tradition (devout Roman Catholic) has to offer to the bereaved of Newtown today – besides an appropriately respectful witness to their awful sorrow – is a version of that story, and the realism about suffering that it contains. That realism may be hard to see at Christmastime, when the sentimental side of faith owns the cultural stage. But the Christmas story isn’t just the manger and the shepherds and the baby Jesus, meek and mild. The rage of Herod is there as well, and the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem, and the myrrh that prepares bodies for the grave. The cross looms behind the stable – the shadow of violence, agony and death.” The full column is well worth reading.
Benedict XVI expressed his heartfelt grief and assured his closeness in prayer to the victims, their families and all those affected by this shocking event. "In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy he asks God our Father to console all those who mourn and to sustain the entire community with the spiritual strength which triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love".
As for me, while mourning the senseless slaughter of this day’s innocents I will not focus on the evil which used the muddled mind of a young man to visit itself upon the people of Newtown. I will focus on the modern martyrs like the young, 27 year old teacher who hid her children in the cupboards and closets of her classroom and then faced their would be killer, sacrificing her life that they might live. God’s grace was at work even in the midst of evil and his light shown in her who, like his own Son, chose to die in order to give others a chance at life. No greater love is there than this….
Pray well and remember who you are,
Monday, December 10, 2012
This week our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, again poses a very important question. “How can we talk about God in our time?” What he is asking is how can we talk about God in such a way that we open hearts to his saving truth in our modern day hearts, which he observes are all too often closed to God, and our minds, which he observes are too often distracted by the immediacy and attractions of the world in which we live. This is not something new that we do! Jesus himself did it when He asked “With what can we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?” It is, in fact, something that must be done constantly and ever anew because the people to whom we are sent as evangelists of the Gospel are always going to be different – we ourselves are different from our grandparents, our parents, even ourselves as we continue to march through time. Did you ever wonder why there are four gospels in the Bible?
So, getting back to the question at hand… In his catechesis our Holy Father delves into the reality of God and his interest and action in human affairs. He brings out from the Gospels how Jesus was concerned about every aspect of human life and every condition of the people with whom He was confronted in his time of human existence on earth. He shows through the wide variety of parables and analogies that Jesus Christ uses that we must be constantly alert to the condition of those to whom we are giving witness by our words and by our very lives so that our words and actions may speak ever more eloquently to the truth of God’s presence and action among us.
It is critically important that we recognize, first in our own lives and then in our resulting witness, that God is not a distant hypothesis concerning the world’s origins, a philosophical or moral system, or some mathematical intelligence far from us. In other words, God is more than a clockmaker, nor does He watch us “from a distance” (UGH! I’m sorry Bette Midler, but that was a terrible song!). Through the mystery of the Incarnation, Christ’s presence among us, we come to know that God is a person, or more accurately a community of persons, who desires a very personal and loving relationship with us. This means that, in our life of faith, and especially as we seek to communicate this faith to those around us the spotlight is not on us! The spotlight must be squarely on God and his action in our lives, the relationship into which He has invited us and which becomes our primary identity and the driving force in our lives.
Our Holy Father points to St. Paul in making this point. He reminds us of how St. Paul sought always to point the spotlight clearly on Jesus Christ. St. Paul was very clear that he was not bringing to the people to whom he had been sent a new philosophy or new religious or cultural movement. He sought only “to preach Christ, and Him crucified.”
There is so much more that our Holy Father has to say, more than fits into this small space. However, I’d like to highlight this last thing. The most effective place for communicating who God is and how He acts in our life is within the FAMILY. Pope Benedict reminds us again that the Church needs parents to “rediscover their mission, assuming responsibility in educating, in opening the consciences of their little ones to love of God as a fundamental service to their life and in being the first catechists and teachers of the faith for their children.” Children need to understand that their faith is not a burden but rather a source of profound joy. Children need to see in the lives of their parents the Easter Joy that “does not stay silent or conceal the realities of pain, of suffering, of effort, of difficulty of incomprehension and of death itself, but that can offer criteria for interpreting all things in the perspective of Christian hope.” Parents need to communicate in their daily lives, and especially their family life, the singular joy that faith in Jesus Christ brings into their lives.
So much to digest and so little space in which to digest it! Just remember this: Our faith is not merely a club to which we belong or a system of beliefs by which we sort of live. Our faith is a real and personal relationship with the living God who loves us and claims us as his very children and invites us to be a part of his family in Jesus Christ. How cool is that???
Remember who you are!
Boo! Are you frightened? Surprised? No? Well, that’s ok. It wasn’t really intended to scare you, just like the readings of the past four weeks aren’t really intended to scare anyone. These readings were intended to reveal or uncover the truth about those “Last Things” that we must all face – death, judgment, heaven and hell. And what is the Truth that has been uncovered? Jesus Christ is King and Lord of the Universe! And now we wait because He WILL come. When will He come? Probably not December 23rd (remember last year’s excitement over the Mayan calendar?). But HE WILL COME and is in fact coming! And that is what we are about for the next few weeks.
In the early Church there was a very real expectation that Christ would come in glory very, very soon. And, it was supposed, that when He came it would be at about this time of the year – a time of darkness on the earth in which the heavens portend chaos and tribulation. Then, as it became apparent that there would be no Second Coming that year, the people of times past turned in that last week to preparing for the celebration of Christ’s first coming.
For us, this is no less important a time of preparation. It is a real gift to us that each year we have this opportunity, having heard and pondered the readings of the last four weeks, to better prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ in Glory. The fact is, none of us will probably see Christ coming on the clouds literally. However, we WILL all see Christ coming for us at the end of our lives here on earth. The question remains, “when He comes will He come as a welcome and anticipated guest or as a thief in the night?” The question is an important one and will only be answered by our own actions and preparation.
The wisdom of God is so wondrous! He sends his only begotten Son into the world as an infant and thus gives us the perfect template for how we are to prepare for his coming again. I don’t mean that we should be looking for Him to come as a baby. That has already happened! But our preparation should be as a family awaiting the coming of a baby – ready to welcome that child into our home, a wonderful example that we see played out in our community all the time. That means preparing a place for the child in our home. A room must be set aside and prepared. Our home must be made “baby proof” – that is, anything that would be dangerous or even unhelpful in the welcoming of baby must be set aside.
We would consider the family that just goes about their usual activities as if no baby is on the way to be, at best, rather foolish and, at worst, terribly irresponsible. We could imagine the shock and surprise of that family when a woman all of a sudden finds herself unable to shake this feeling that something is wrong and then out comes baby, throwing the entire family into chaos, confusion, and even distress. We might even be rather sad for them that they were caught unawares and have been thrown into such distress. However, it need not be so with us!
We have been given ample warning, we who have taken care to see the signs just as a woman who first notices her monthly time has not come and begins to more clearly understand the other signals her body has been sending. Now it is only for us, as for her, to do something about it.
I encourage all to give yourselves the “gift” of truly and faithfully observing this season of Advent. I know that it is so easy to get caught up in the cultural observance of this time of year. However, let us rise above the chaos and following let-down experienced by so many at this time of year by using this time, as God intended it, to be truly prepared to welcome Christ as an anticipated and honored guest (whose intention is to stay for a very long while – just like that baby!). In this Year of Faith, we are reminded in a particular way that there is a real and wonderful reason for this season. Let it not pass unattended. Let us not be found unaware and unprepared at the coming of the Lord – for He does come!
Remember who you are!
As our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, continues his catechesis in this Year of Faith he continues and deepens his reflection on man’s deep down desire for God. He begins by reminding us that it is God who takes the initiative in enlightening and guiding us and thus revealing Himself to us. However, He also respects our free-will and thus He invites us into the intimacy of a relationship with Him. Pope Benedict quotes St. Augustine, as he will several times throughout this catechesis: “it is not we who seek or possess the Truth, but the Truth that seeks us out and posses us.”
Pope Benedict next recognizes that while there are paths within the human heart, signs that lead to God, there are also many road blocks. The first of these is the allurements of the world. He assures us that regardless of these God ceaselessly looks for us because of His love for us. He tells us that ‘this is a certainty that must accompany us each and every day, even if certain widespread mentalities make it increasingly difficult for the Church and the Christian to communicate the joy of the Gospel…and lead all to an encounter with Jesus, the one Savior of the world.”
Our Holy Father next recognizes that there are a number of obstacles to finding God. He identifies a number of forms of atheism coming from many different avenues of thought and experience. However, he singles out a particular form which is particularly troubling in those societies wherein the faith was at one time well rooted and a driving force within society. He calls this form of atheism “practical atheism”. By this he means a situation whereby people do “not deny the truths of faith or religious rituals, but simply considers them irrelevant to everyday existence….” He goes on to observe that “people believe in God in a superficial way, but live ‘as if God did not exists’”. He points out that “by obscuring reference to God (in our everyday lives), the ethical horizon is also obscured, to make room for relativism and an ambiguous conception of freedom, which instead of being liberating ends up binding man to idols.”
Pope Benedict connects these “idols” to those experienced by Christ in His temptation in the wilderness. It is necessary that, like Christ, we look beyond ourselves and, in placing God at the center of our lives find ourselves in right relationship with Him and with all of creation. In quoting the Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et Spes (19) he reminds that our human dignity is found precisely in our communion with God. He sums up the antidote to these idols in three words: the world, man, and faith.
First of all he reminds us of the teaching of St. Augustine that it is precisely in the beauty of the created world that we begin to perceive the beauty of Him who made them and Who, unlike creation, is possessed of an eternal beauty unlike the passing beauty of the created world. Pope Benedict also quotes Albert Einstein who said that the laws of nature “reveal such a superior reason that all reational thought and human law is but a very insignificant reflection by comparison”.
Second, we can recognize the call of God in our very heart. Unfortunately, we live in the midst of noise and distraction. Thus, in order to allow the voice of God to be heard we need to develop the ability to stop and take a deep and honest look within.
Finally, faith is identified as “an encounter with God who speaks and acts in history and which converts our daily life, transforming our mentality, system of values, choices and actions. It is not illusion, escapism, a comfortable shelter, sentimentality, but involvement in every aspect of life….” Thus, we need to make room in our hearts and our lives for God to reveal Himself to us.
I hope that we will all take these words to heart. The New Evangelization of our society is dependant on Christians themselves living our lives in, with, through, and for God. In so doing, not only will we experience a renewal of grace in our own lives, but we will become even more effective witnesses to God’s presence and activity in His creation.
Remember who you are and pray well!
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
In his third catechesis for the Year of Faith our Holy Father, Pope Benedict reflects on how the desire for God is written into every human heart. This is a wonderful and timely message for us today although, as he himself recognizes, modern man, and especially we in the western world, are too often forgetful of this truth to the point of being unaware even that there is a hole in our hearts waiting to be filled by God. Our Holy Father reflects on the fact that this desire is “mysterious”, that is, it has been built into our very nature and yet we too often cannot pin it down to recognize what it is, or from where it has come.
Pope Benedict quotes St. Augustine of Hippo when he says that “my heart is restless until it rests in you, O Lord.” If we know of St. Augustine’s life we can see that it is a sterling example of how one can look in so many places, achieve so much in life, and still not find true peace and satisfaction. This same Truth is reflected in the Old Testament book of Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) wherein the “king” attempts to find satisfaction in learning/wisdom, in physical pleasure, and in absolute power. Finally he recognizes that no one can contend with God. I even recall a Beatles song about a man who had everything and yet committed suicide because of this enduring emptiness.
Of course, I don’t think one has to look any farther than the average child up to about the sixth grade to see that there is indeed a desire for God planted in the human heart. As I have experienced our children over my adult years I have far more often than not been able to stir in them this desire to know more about God. I have experienced in my own ministry and have heard in the stories of others how our children get so excited when we tell them stories of God and of the saints. This experience convinces me that there is indeed a desire for God planted deep within the human heart.
Our Holy Father continues then to examine the reasons why this longing is so often pushed aside or explained away in our contemporary society – especially in the west. He recognizes that, “[F]or large sectors of society He is no longer desired, expected, but rather a reality that leaves some indifferent and not even worth wasting one’s breath over.” But then he goes on to examine those little clues, those very human experiences which open our hearts to the divine, to that which is outside ourselves. He begins, very naturally with marriage and family life.
He goes on to express a need for teaching ourselves and our children to have an “authentic taste for the joys of life”. In this, he means those things which produce a “lasting satisfaction” in the heart and soul.
He recognizes in particular a need to re-acquire a taste for those joys which are found in “family, friendship, solidarity with those who suffer, renouncing of oneself to serve others, love for knowledge, for art, for the beauty of nature”. He says that “this means exercising the inner taste and producing effective antibodies against today’s widespread trivialization and banalization. Adults also need to rediscover these joys, to desire authentic realities, purifying themselves of the mediocrity….” He goes on to say that we must never “settle” for what has been achieved. We must rather strive higher for the deeper good which will then reveal more and more to us that which is ultimately Good, True, and Beautiful.
Pope Benedict recognizes that there are turns in the road of our human experience. However, there is always also a way back to God who awaits us. He also reminds us that we are not alone on this journey but that we are pilgrims on the way with “our brethren, our fellow travelers, even those who do not believe, those who are seeking.” And he closes with the prayer that “in this year of faith, …God may show His face to all who seek Him with a sincere heart.”
I can only say “AMEN!”
Remember who you are and pray well!