Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

SOMETHING DIFFERENT


Recently, I finished the Didymus column for the Feast of Christ the King.  It will be posted prior to November 21, the date of the feast this year.  For many years now, when I would put the final period on that column I would pause and reflect about what I was doing and hoping to accomplish through this medium.  And I did that again this time.  I would like to share the results of that reflection with you even as I consider adding a new arm to this venture.

Reflecting on the Liturgical year as we do with these Didymus reflections I envision being a journey that we make together.  This year that journey is made primarily with Luke’s Gospel.  I have long thought it my privilege to share reflections for most of the Sundays of the year with those who honor me by reading this column.  Now I pause and reflect on the process.

Every time we journey through the Church’s year, we journey with Christ to be confronted by his proclamation of God’s love for us and of God’s desire that we respond to Jesus by conforming our lives to his.  Obviously that journey will entail dying with Jesus in order to rise more fully with him.

Strange, isn’t it, that having completed the cycle there is no invitation to think our journey is over?  The next week will be another First Sunday of Advent and we will start another cycle, next year with Matthew’s Gospel.  Once again the goal will be to confront God’s people with the Good News, so that they, we, might experience a call to conversion and finally come to let Christ be all and all in their lives.  Or, rather, in our lives.

I have been asked often enough how I make the decisions I do for the columns I write.  For better or for worse, I believe that we encounter Christ, are confronted by his Gospel call, and experience him in ordinary human events.  Gospel readings remind me of life’s moments I have shared with people.  Of course I disguise them, alter the happenings to protect confidentiality.  In writing, my hope is that my readers will find a lived experience with common elements in their own lives that will allow the Lord to speak to them today.  I do believe that God speaks most eloquently in the ordinary and hidden moments of lives.

From time to time I have been asked about the Didymus letters.  Many times the question comes, “Who is Didymus?”  Am I Didymus?  In John’s Gospel, the name of Thomas, the Apostle, is translated, “Didymus.”  And Didymus means, “twin.”  Since John does not say whose twin Thomas is, I have speculated and wondered if he is not our twin.  It always seems to me that his questioning attitude in the Gospel and his declarations of doubt and faith so clearly parallel mine, and by application, perhaps those of many others.  Hence, Didymus has become a device through which I can speculate in dialog with Jesus today and even wonder about how Jesus would respond today.

I never know how well I succeed.  Sometimes the questions remain at the end of the column.  But if the reader joins in personal reflection and plumbs the depths of his/her experience of Jesus to come up with a conclusion, then, thanks be to God.  Am I Didymus?  Sometimes.  And sometimes not.

To readers who have taken the time to write to share personal responses to columns through sharing sometimes painful and emotionally laden moments in their own faith journeys, I simply say thank you for reading me and trusting me with your memories.  And when you tell me that your own faith journey has been encouraged by something I have written, I am grateful beyond my powers to express.  Such sharing becomes the motivation for continuing this venture.

Now, for the “Something Different.”  With this column I shall begin to post twice a week, midweek and the usual Friday.  The Liturgical Year will not govern the midweek column, rather, it will be simply a reflection on whatever is occupying my mind and governing my musings.  Of course I pray that the Spirit will direct.  I shall continue to pray that that will be so and that these columns will speak to your heart and maybe even inspire.

Finally, I have to confess that somehow, from time to time, I offend through an example or one of Didymus’s musings.  I am sorry if I offend.  That is never my intention.  But if the pain that causes anger could also cause the pain of recognition and the desire to change and/or to grow, then, again, thanks be to God.  Whenever or however that happens and we yield to converting grace, then we have to die to something in order to rise more fully in Christ and experience Christ’s reign in our lives, which is what we celebrate on the Feast of Christ the King.

We’re not there yet, as far as reading this column in this space is concerned.  But I finished the piece and it gave rise to these musings that I share with you today.  And those reflections prompt me to add this new bar to the venture.  We’ll see how it goes.

In the mean time, thank you for reading.  See you next time.

Didymus

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The Sermon on the Mount: The Lord’s Prayer

“When you pray, say ‘Our Father.’”  With these words in the middle of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs those being formed as disciples how they are to pray.  This follows upon examples of how not to pray.  Disciples are not to babble in prayer or to go on and on as hypocrites and those seeking recognition do.  They are to pray in secret, in the privacy of their own chambers.  And they are to pray with confidence.

Besides being a prayer to be prayed, the Lord’s Prayer is an outline of attitudes disciples, we are to bring to prayer.  These are the ideas that should occupy our minds and should serve to focus the outpouring of self that prayer entails.  We will get there soon, but notice from the top what a small part petition ought to play in prayer.  That underscores what Jesus told us before, that the Father knows our needs before we ask.  And as Father, God’s disposition is to grant what we need.

One of the saints is said to have commented that when she meditated on The Lord’s Prayer, she could never get beyond the first two words.  I think if we fully grasped the implications of those words, we might not be able to get any farther either.  Having been told that we should pray in the privacy of our own room, shouldn’t we be surprised that the first word of our prayer is “Our?”  I am not being told to pray to “my” Father.  If we pray as Jesus wants us to, we have to be aware of others and our relationship to each other.  The whole human family is made up of brothers and sisters.  We are being moved out of our private-prayer mode and into one of communal prayer.  Our spirituality is communal.  That is a natural consequence of being invited to enter into and become part of the Body of Christ that is the Church.

In Liturgy, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, it is just before the Communion Procession begins.  Many parishes have adopted the practice of having the assembly link hands, forming a living chain throughout the worship space as the Lord’s Prayer is prayed.  I’d rather that we stood in the “orans” position, i.e., with our hands open and elevated.  At the same time I recognize that the joining of hands may well help people to experience the unity with others that is about to be realized in the common union that will be theirs in Christ through the Eucharist they receive.  “One Bread/ One Body.”

If we pray “Our Father.” then we have to allow ourselves to be purged of selfish attitudes that might tempt us into elitism or isolation.  And we might have to change our understanding of God.  Think of the great theophanies in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Whether it is Moses’ first encounter with God at the burning bush, or Moses’ meeting God on Sinai’s height enshrouded with clouds accompanied by thunder and lightning, it is the God of splendid majesty who speaks.  “Do not come near; take off your shoes for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”  Moses bows to the ground convinced that no one can look on the face of God and live.  A vastness separates God and humankind.

Those images remain part of our theological experience even as Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father.”  It isn’t that we need to conclude that God is masculine.  Nor is God feminine, for that matter.  God is genderless.  The prayer teaches us our relationship to God, that our relationship is filial.  God looks on us as sons and daughters.  We can approach God with the confidence that a child would have in approaching a beloved parent.  Do you remember the parable of the Prodigal Son?  Jesus told us that parable so that we might gain an insight into God’s attitude toward those created in the image and likeness of God.  Even if we wander away and commit sin, God is ever on the watch longing for our return, longing to embrace us, bathe us, dress us as royalty and have a banquet for us.  God is the seeker, the redeemer, and the sanctifier.  All we have to do is be still and let God be God.  That should be our experience each time we come to the banquet that is the Eucharist.

“Hallowed be thy name.”  This is still the transcendent God of power and majesty.  We look to God with reverence and awe, never losing sight of God’s glory.  If we use God’s name it is with reverence and awe.  Profaning God’s name is never acceptable.  It is this God who draws near inviting us to live in union with God through Jesus, the Son who took on our flesh to become one with us.  Perhaps there is an indication here of the reverence we ought to have for each other, too.  Just a thought.

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  What we pray for here is that God may reign in the human heart.  That happens when human beings are reconciled.  When wars cease.  When justice governs human affairs.  That is how the Messianic kingdom was described.  Those were the realities that our Jewish brothers and sisters expected to be realized when the Messiah came.  It was precisely because wars and injustices continued, because no Messianic Age seemed to dawn, that many could not accept Jesus as the Christ.  Jesus said that the kingdom is in our midst and not a long way away.  One day it will come about and heal all the world’s wounds and ills.  In the mean time, the kingdom reigns in individual hearts and in the community assembled about the Table.  The actions of those sent forth from the Eucharist continue that healing and reconciling presence hastening the day of its full revelation.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”  We believe that God is the source of all that is good.  As children of God we can go before God and ask for all those gifts, physical and spiritual, we need to live.  That is what is contained in the phrase, “daily bread.”  We’re not praying to win the lottery or any other gifts of splendor, much less power or worldly glory.  We pray for the essentials and not for excesses.  Jesus told us, remember, that poverty is part of the disciples’ call.  That is why we continuously have to examine our consciences to determine where our treasure is, because it is there that our hearts will be centered.  Our hunger for God is the one we pray will be satisfied.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  It amazes me how easily people pray that sentence.  I always have to ask myself how good am I at forgiving?  When I forgive do I forget the offense?  Do I say that I forgive, but God help the offender the next time it happens?  Or, do I say that God may forgive, but I cannot.  If those are my attitudes, it would seem that I am saying that I want God to have those attitudes when God considers whether or not to forgive me.  That makes me shudder.

So, here it is that I must cry out to God for help because I believe that it is only with God’s grace that I can forgive the way God wants me to forgive.  And when I yield to that grace and forgive the offender, then I can be confident that God’s mercy will be mine as well.  “Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.”  That is the standard set for us.  Again we are reminded that it is not easy to be a Christian and why it was that Jesus often challenged seekers to consider the demands before they committed themselves to following along the Way.  Some went away sad.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  Here we are asking God to be with us to strengthen us all along the way.  The human condition is fraught with trials and difficulties.  We know successes, but we also experience failures.  We know health, but we may also experience sickness.  We can be fooled into thinking that God is in the positives and that the negatives are signs that God has abandoned us.  We pray that God will strengthen us to be faithful every day and in every way so that evil will never dominate and be our final end.  Evil and darkness threatened to envelop Jesus on the cross.  He prayed: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”  His prayer was not found wanting.  And the Resurrection followed.

In the end, I wonder if the Lord’s Prayer is primarily a prayer.  Or, rather, is it Jesus giving us an outline of the attitudes we should bring to prayer?  When these are the foci for our prayer, we imitate Jesus and seek to do what Jesus did, to do always the will of the One who sent him.  Those values open us to the grace of the Spirit and conform our wills to Jesus’.  And we walk in his ways – toward the kingdom that is coming.

THE TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C


Amos 6:1a, 4-7

1 Timothy 6:11-16

Luke 16:19-31

It surprises me always that people don’t get upset, even angry, as some of Jesus’ parables are proclaimed.  This Sunday’s is a case in point.  Perhaps we instinctively protect ourselves by adapting the text so that it is not nearly as confrontational as the naked text would seem to be.  Chances are the first audience for this parable, the Pharisees, heard it the way Jesus told it, without those defense mechanisms in place, and the story became a punch to the gut.  No wonder they became so angry with Jesus that they wanted to see him dead.  If we are tempted to breathe a sigh of relief because someone else is the focus of the telling, banish the thought.  What challenges the Pharisees is meant to challenge the rest who are listening, the crowds and the disciples.  It is okay to feel upset, even angry as you listen to the gospel today.  That anger could well be a grace prompting a change so that we will more closely conform to people whose lives are rooted in the Gospel, people who seriously want to imitate Jesus as we walk with him on the Way.

The first reading from the Prophet Amos sets aim for the complacent in Zion. Complacency is an interesting word.  My dictionary defines it as self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies. Amos addresses those among God’s chosen people who have made it, as we would say today.  They are the successful ones who are able to partake in the best that life can offer – the finest meats and wines and the best furnishings that money can by.  They are arty and pretentious.  There is nothing particularly sinful about what they are doing.  They might even have been thanking God all the while for the good fortune that is theirs.  We might not catch that some of what they feast upon ought really be given to God in temple sacrifice.  Aside from that dereliction, there isn’t anything blatantly sinful in what they are doing.  So, to what is Amos trying to awaken the complacent in Zion?

Remember the two great commandments in the Law?  Love God with your entire being.  Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Jesus linked the two commandments and made them one, making it impossible to fulfill the one without fulfilling the other.  That seems to be what Amos is getting at here.  This people with all their indulgence in lavishness are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph! Here, Joseph means all of the people, especially the poor, the widows and the orphans who are supposed to be the objects of their special care.  The rich, in effect, separate the love of God from the love of neighbor.  What Amos seems to be saying also is that the self-indulgence by the rich is bringing about the collapse of the nation.  The warning: the rich will be the first to be led off in exile when the nation succumbs.  If they’re the first, that means they will be enslaved even before their poor counterparts are led away.  It has been maintained that historically the nation was strongest when the people were most zealous in living the Law as God’s people.  The nation weakened when the people became fascinated by the gods of the gentiles and did not follow the Law.  They became complacent and were unaware of actual dangers and deficiencies.

In the gospel, Jesus tells a story about a rich man who feasted sumptuously every day.  The man probably is unaware of the physical hazards from that kind of habitual diet.  Remember, these were the days when full-figures and masculine girth were signs of material success.  It will become apparent that he was also blind to the moral deficiencies of his lifestyle.  Most often, when people hear this parable they assume all kinds of evils in the man’s life.  He must be thoroughly corrupt, judging by where the man goes after his death.  Read that in, if you will, but there is nothing in the text that would indicate licentiousness.  The only voiced evil in the man’s life is the fact that he ignored Lazarus, the beggar at the rich man’s doorpost.

The scene shifts to the netherworld – Hades, Sheol, or hell in our parlance.  What a difference in perspective comes to us.  Lazarus has died and now is embraced by Abraham (the God-figure).  The rich man also has died and, from his place in torment, can see the transformed Lazarus.  Abraham informs him that he is where he is as a consequence of the life of luxury he lived while Lazarus lived in want.  That may be, but even so, notice that the rich man has maintained his attitude of superiority over Lazarus and so asks Father Abraham to have Lazarus tend to the rich man’s needs.  He wants Lazarus to do his bidding and bring him a sip of water to slake his thirst.  Not possible.  The rich man doesn’t realize how deep and wide is the chasm that separates the two worlds or how permanent is his present situation.

Finally there is the only indication that the man is aware of anyone else in his universe as he asks that Lazarus be sent to the man’s brothers to warn them to change their lives lest they suffer the same fate.  But Father Abraham reminds Dives, as the rich man is often called, that they have Moses’ and the prophets’ teachings that should serve as warnings.  Let them listen to Moses and the prophets and respond.  Dives says the brothers may be ignoring all the teachings up to this point in their lives, but they will listen if Lazarus from among the dead goes to them.

If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead. And so the parable ends.  Luke’s Gospel was written in light of Jesus’ resurrection.  In effect, Dives’ request of Father Abraham is granted when Jesus triumphs over death and rises to new life.  Someone from among the dead has risen and returned to call people to live a new and different kind of life, a life of justice, love, and peace.  Will Dives’ brothers listen?  Will they respond?  Will people in every age listen and respond?  Will we?

Sunday after Sunday, we come together to listen to Moses and the prophets and to the Gospel in our Liturgy of the Word.  The readings are meant to confront us, even unsettle us.  They are meant to warn us.  Our starving spirits are nourished at the Table of the Word.  As uncomfortable as we might be made by what we hear, we are meant to take the Word to heart and be transformed by it as we are shown time after time that we are to love God with our entire beings and, our neighbor as ourselves.  There must be more than a notional response.  If Dives had been asked about Amos, or Moses, or any of the prophets, he probably would have said that he accepted their teachings.  But the teachings did not change his heart.  He could love God with all sincerity and ignore the beggar at his doorpost.  We listen to Jesus who has come back from the grave.  He commands us to love God and to love one another as I have loved you. That love must be practical or it isn’t love at all.

I just read a statement by a fairly well known Catholic writer announcing that she was giving up being a Christian.  She gave as her reasons what we would call the sins of the Church, the way the Church is perceived in these times.  Judgmental.  Condemning.  Divisive.  Clerical.  Sexist.  Her words.  It is true that what the woman says is simplistic and un-nuanced.  But it is also apparent that she is not turning her back on Christ, but on the Church as she hears the Church’s message to be today.

John Paul II said that the Church must exercise a fundamental option for the poor.  That means that the poor must be given primacy of place – practically.  Decisions that are made must work toward justice for the poor and seek a more equitable distribution of the world’s goods.  The chasm that separates the wealthy nations from the developing nations must be narrowed.  Differences that separate ought not be the primary theme of ecclesial declarations, but rather, what unites us in God ought to be the proclamation.  When the strangers, rich or poor, regardless of race or creed, male or female, when the strangers come among us the first thing they should experience is God’s love that embraces all, that wills the salvation of all.

So, once again we will go from the Table of the Word to the Table of the Eucharist.  We will give thanks to God as we renew Jesus’ dying and rising in the Bread that is broken and the Cup that is poured out.  Once again we will take Jesus promise to heart that whenever we do this, Christ is present.  We are transformed just as are the bread and wine.  And believing the One who has came back to us from among the dead, we are sent to live that reality that is Christ until he comes in glory.

Sincerely,

Didymus