Archive for May, 2015|Monthly archive page

THE FEAST OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY – May 31, 2015

 

A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans 8:14-17

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 28:16-2

What is Moses trying to get the people to see in today’s first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy?  The hearer might not understand that Moses is speaking to a people that have been journeying with him through the desert for 40 years and they are finally nearing their destination, the Promised Land.  But these with him are not the ones that had experienced slavery and the subsequent liberation when Moses led the people out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and into the freedom of the desert.  They had not seen the Waters part and then descend on the Egyptians pursuing them.  They were not there when the Lord accomplished all the wonderful deeds that spoke of their being the chosen people.

During that time, people believed in many gods.  Moses speaks of monotheism, of the one God, Yahweh, their God, before whom there should be no others.  The people following Moses were born after the deliverance.  Now they must be reminded that they are to live in such a way that their lives speak of their relationship with the Lord.  They must keep the Commandments of the Law that Moses received from God on the Mountain.   And if they do, foreigners will marvel because no other people have a relationship with their gods as this people have with Yahweh.  (We hear Jesus saying to the disciples: By this will all people know that you are my disciples, if you keep my commandments.  What is the commandment?  Love one anther as I have loved you.)

We celebrate The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity this weekend.  At first, it might seem like a strange Feast since we do this every Sunday and everything we do as believers centers in our shared life in the Trinity.  Be that as it may, the Readings this Sunday remind us of the basics of our faith and give us an opportunity to focus on the Mystery and remember.

What ought we to hear?  First, we ought to hear that this faith of ours is a result of God’s reaching out and embracing us.  God has pled with us to let God be our god so that we can be God’s people.  This didn’t happen because of anything we did or did not do.  This is not something that we earned.  This is grace, pure and simple.  That is important to remember lest there be a temptation to get swelled headed because we believe.  Paul took care of that temptation once and for all when he challenged Christians to remember that no one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit.  That is another way of saying that God empowers everything we do and everything we believe as followers of Jesus Christ.  If we believe that Jesus is Lord it is because the Spirit breathed that belief into us.

We celebrate Trinity Sunday today.  Not all people who believe in God believe in the Triune God.  Our celebration of this feast reminds us of some particular implications of our belief.  All the implications are relational.  If we believe in God as Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, then we believe that God calls us to enter into and live in that community of Love we call God.  In our Baptism we are given a new life.  We have died to the old self.  We are given a new identity.  We are united with Jesus.  The result is that we are the beloved of God and share in God’s life.  You received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, “Abba, Father!”   Then, as Paul reminds us, we are children of God and joint heirs with Christ.  That is amazing!  And all we have to do is suffer with Christ in order to be glorified with him.

Relationship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is not the only implication of God’s reaching into our lives.  Our rebirth in Christ results in a relationship with each other.  Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  At the least that means we are brothers and sisters in Christ.  But it goes beyond that relationship of family.  We are one in Christ.  United in the one God, we are united with each other.

When we gather for Eucharist, we should stand in awe at the Presence, the Body and Blood of Christ in Bread and Wine.  We ought not to forget another presence because the Assembly is the Body Christ gathered to celebrate Eucharist, giving thanks to God through the renewing of the dying and rising of Christ.  Paul, in another passage, in writing to the Corinthians, reminds us that the body thought many in parts is one body.  Division in the community we call Church is a scandal that denies that unity.  Shunning individuals, even sinners in the community, is a scandal.  Unless the proclamation that goes out from us gathered in worship is All are welcome here, we are not living the reality.  This faith life is not something we hoard.  It is something we live to share.

Remember Eleanor of Aquitaine’s famous line in The Lion in Winter?  At a moment of obvious tension and anger between Eleanor and her husband, Henry, she says: Every family has its ups and downs.  But ups and downs not withstanding, the family remains.  If we believe that we are journeying together on the Way, then we must support and encourage each other along the way.  There is no judging worthiness or declarations of unworthiness.  No one can deny another’s worthiness to come to the table.  The example we live in love is the call to conversion should someone need to mend his/her life and ways.  But it is the person who determines the rightness of approaching the table.  And contrary to Thomas Wolfe’s title, You Can’t Go Home Again, return and reconciliation must always be possibilities and causes for great rejoicing.

In the end, it is about love.  God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  That’s what Jesus proclaims to us this Sunday.  We are sent to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always until the end of the age.

We must not be stingy with God’s grace that washes over us in the same abundance, as does Christ’s blood in which we are redeemed.  If we recognize that and experience profound awe and gratitude, then the Eucharist we celebrate as the source and summit of all we do as believers ought to empower us to live our Baptismal Priesthood in such a way that it translates into lives of loving service, loving each other as Christ has loved us.  That is what the Greeting of Peace, or the Kiss of Peace as it was first called, is meant to express before we enter into the Communion Process.  Remember that we are called to suffer with Christ so that we may be glorified with him.  We do that when we pour ourselves out in loving service the way Christ did.  That’s all we have to do.  Christ will take care of the rest.

Is there anyone you have left out of the circle, anyone with whom you are content not to be speaking?  Is there anyone you deem unworthy of approaching the Table?  Live what we celebrate this weekend and reach out.  Who knows, maybe there is someone who feels estranged from you who will want to reach out and welcome you back home again.

Brothers and sisters, that is what Pope Francis is trying to get the church to recognize in his call for a poorer church serving the needs of the poor.  For Christians, it’s all about love.

Sincerely,

Didymus

 A JOURNEY REMEMBERED

Many memories alter when filtered through retrospect.  When you finish a trek it was not nearly as daunting as it seemed at the outset.  How many have said that if they had known what was entailed in something they probably wouldn’t have taken the first step?  But when they reached the summit and looked back, all they saw was the grace of the moment and the wonder before them.  That experience triples when one survives something that came close to destroying.

Those and similar thoughts have been circulating in my brain lately as I celebrate the 50th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.  Memories surface in the course of my prayer.  Of late the experience has been akin to a long, dark night of the soul that was steeped in wondering if there would ever be a dawn.  The possibility of such barrenness never occurred to me in the days of my youth.  I was dauntless then, even invincible in those halcyon days of first fervor.  There were thrilling, albeit, humbling successes that served to convince me that I was on the right path.  This is what the Lord wanted me to do.  I had a hand in the reformation of communities and the rebuilding of church buildings that came to mirror the vision that had emerged from the Second Vatican Council – at least as I understood the proclamations of the Council.

I was firmly convinced that my ministry was not about exercising power, but it was about empowering the Priesthood of the Baptized, encouraging lay participation in the sacramental and Liturgical celebrations.  They were to share in the outreach ministry of the church, too.

I spent years in the classroom and thrilled as I witnessed emerging faith in young people as they wondered if the Gospel applied to them.  It was my privilege to spend years in journalism where my love for the written word gave me an opportunity to announce the Good News from the printed page.

There was the thrill of Eucharistic Assemblies and the opportunities to preside and preach.  That ministry was ever new.  Each time a celebration began it was as if it were the first time.  Together with those gathered, we broke open the Word to be transformed by it.  We gave thanks to God and prayed over bread and wine as the elements of the sacrifice and the Assembly became animated by the Spirit and transformed into the Body of Christ.  Time after time we were sent forth to be broken, distributed, and poured out in imitation of the One who initiated our faith by his invitation to Do this in my memory, and to Come, follow me.

Two things conspired to hurl me into the darkness.  I believed I was invincible and therefore was able to serve 24-7, as we say.  There was always plenty to do.  I liked being busy.  But I did not pay attention to the alarms that were going off inside me urging rest and relaxation.  Naively I thought there would always be time for rest tomorrow.

I felt the call to minister to the wounded physically and psychologically.  I remember the young man who sought shelter on the parish grounds.  I discovered him sitting on the ledge of the Baptismal Font.  He wept.  He was homeless.  He wondered if he could stay with us.  So, he took up refuge in a shed on the premises and became familiar to many of the parishioners.  He did not dress as most of the parishioners dressed, nor did he wash as frequently.  But he became one of us until one night he disappeared.  Months later a call came from Canada.  He thanked the people of the parish and me for welcoming him and giving him time to heal.  He said he would never forget.  And he would pray for us.

There were others with psychological burdens.  Borderline personalities.  Schizophrenics.  Narcissists.  The delusional.  They were all God’s children with Christ suffering within them.

Then came betrayal.  In the beginning I thought I was in a nightmare from which I would awaken.  There was no awaking, but rather a succession of ever deepening nights with dimming hope until it was over – my ministry and the life I had been living for over forty years.  So began the dark night of the soul and my constant prayer for relief and restoration.  All I heard was silence.

Years of wandering in the desert followed.  Another image that seemed apt was that of floundering on the shoals with waves relentlessly pounding.  I thought, surely this can’t go on forever.  Surely there will be justice and restoration.  But there was silence.

In the midst of that dark night I said goodbye to the land I knew and the people I loved and moved to a new land and began to live among a new people.  A different me emerged.  A few came to know my past, but for most I was an unknown quantity.  I struggled with the faith community that was nearest my residence.  To go into that Assembly was to experience a time warp.  It was as though the clock had been rolled back.  Nothing of the Council seemed to be in evidence.  A few times I endured the Liturgy, grinding my teeth and wishing I could do something, anything to awaken the reception of the Spirit that I knew was present.  When the Assembly was told that there would no longer be Communion from the Cup because with so many Extraordinary Ministers of the Cup, the people might lose sight of the priest, I knew that I could not return there.

So began a search for a faith community with which I could identify, a gathering where I could recognize those values by which I had lived and ministered, a place where all the Baptized were seen to be members of the Body of Christ, called to full, active, and conscious participation in the actions of the church.  Finally that happened.  In time I felt at home.  I felt that I belonged there.  This new and different person had emerged and been accepted.

A new ministry sought me out.  I was asked to administer Spiritual care to Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers, and to exercise a bereavement ministry for the survivors when their loved ones passed.  Grief does not always wait for physical death.  I chair a Grief Before Loss group.  The suffering of the patients and the faithful witness of the caregivers humble and inspire me.  It is a privilege to try to ebb the tide of the numbers of caregivers that precede their loved ones in death.

The same is true of the experience of working with those suffering from Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers.  What becomes patently clear is, we are all vulnerable.  The Gospel obliges us to recognize and support the church’s call to recognition of the primacy of the poor and broken among us.  The Social Gospel of the Church demands we recognize our responsibility to meet the needs of the poor and the vulnerable, to work for justice in their behalf, and not rest until their basic needs are met.

There you have it, where I am today.  The trek has been humbling.  There were times when I thought the weight would break me.  More than a few times I wondered what the point was of getting out of bed to begin another day.  Everything with which I was familiar had been stripped away.  I can’t say I was like St. Francis and did this voluntarily.  For me it was more like Jesus at the scourging.  His garments were stripped from him.  He bent his back to those who would beat him.  I don’t mean this to sound like a pity party, but my perception of the Passion and Death has been forever altered.

Near the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus confronts Peter.  It becomes a moment of healing and reconciliation.  Remember, Peter betrayed Jesus when he swore that he did not know Jesus.  Now, three times Jesus asks Peter, Do you love me?   When Peter three times avows that he does love Jesus, the risen Christ speaks the words that now comfort me and give meaning to my experience.

I tell you solemnly, as a young man you fastened your belt and went about as you pleased; but when you are older you will stretch out your hands, and another will tie you fast and carry you off against your will.

I doubt Peter understood what Jesus was talking about that night on the shore of the lake as Peter savored the fish the Risen One had prepared following Peter’s fruitless night of fishing.  He would understand in time.  That would become the grace that would sustain him to the end.

I had long been taught that discipleship meant taking up a cross every day and following Jesus.  Discipleship is a call to service and vulnerability.  Discipleship ultimately could involve more than carrying the cross.  It could involve imitating Christ in crucifixion.  You will stretch out your hands and another will tie you fast and carry you off against your will. But it will not end there.

A few mornings ago I awoke in the realization that everything had changed.  Nothing of the former life had been restored.  But with a sudden breath I knew that I was free and at peace.  The shackles fell off and, figuratively speaking, I leapt for joy.  The dark night ended and I found the grace to forgive and let go.  And the grace to love again, followed.  They laid Jesus in the tomb, rolled the stone across the entrance and went away sad.  For a time I had felt lock in despair and in a perpetual darkness akin to death.  I had forgotten the promise.

Then came the dawn, an Easter moment that made all things new again.  I am free in the One who died for my sins and rose that I might live in him.  I do not wish my journey on anyone.  But I have come to realize that something transformative happens when we are stripped of all we think we are and experience what it means to be bereft.  We have to die before we can rise.  Only then can we understand what it means to live in the freedom of the children of God that is ours in Christ and know that God loves us.  That is the experience I pray will be yours, to know that you are loved by God who sees you as forgiven, identified with Christ, and meant to be the continuation of Christ’s presence through loving service.  Know that in Christ you will be loved for all eternity.

And that will only be the beginning.

Sincerely,

Didymus

PENTECOST SUNDAY – May 24, 2015

 

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11

A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13

Or

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians 5:16-25

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 20:19-23

Or

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 15:26-27, 16:12-15

 

A lot of so-called religious art fails to inspire me. Perhaps that is because a type of piety is depicted often that I cannot identify with. The images of the saints render them as dower, epicene and effeminate. Untouchable and ethereal, in no way are they part of the world I inhabit. Insipid is a word that comes to mind. I don’t mean to be irreverent. Forgive me if this comes across as disrespectful. I am not an iconoclast. It is just that for me religious art ought to be so much more and ought to depict the struggle of those on The Way in such a way that their courageous character might emerge and inspire. I had the privilege to stand before a wood-carved statue of Monica, Augustine’s mother and ponder. The woman stood, head uncovered, staff in hand and faced into the wind that tugged at her hair and garments. She stood undaunted. The word valiant comes to mind.

If art is to inspire, our shared humanity ought to be represented. Granted those represented have gone to glory. Art encourages if we recognize the saints’ fragility and see examples of those who came to understand with Paul that I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me. And, apart from you I can do nothing. Christ is the only explanation for the success of those who walked in the trenches and engaged in the struggle – Christ, and the Spirit.

You have seen stained glass windows or oil paintings that are supposed to invite us to enter into the Pentecost moment. Think of the words in today’s first reading: And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, (a hurricane, perhaps) and it filled the entire house in which they were…and there appeared tongues of fire. Pentecost art often depicts a placid group in perfectly pleated and flowing robe, all too tranquil and free of agitation and disturbance. Imagine people caught in such a storm as Acts describes. Wouldn’t their clothes be ruffled by the wind? Wouldn’t fright register on a face or two? Wouldn’t at least one hold his hands to his ears against the noise? Would they all sit so calmly while the fire descended over them?

This moment is something new. Its significance would dawn as quickly as the blast of wind, understood in their transformation. Just as fire in the night over the tent signified the presence of God, the disciples in that upper room experienced the Divine indwelling the Spirit empowers. Then they would understand the Lord’s words: behold I make all things new. Their world, as it were, turns upside down and they come to realize that they will never be the same again.

One renowned spiritual writer remarked that she was surprised that safety equipment wasn’t distributed to people as they came into the church for Liturgy. Do they have any idea what they could be in for? Her question: What if it were to happen this time? What if we, the Assembly, were to see clearly what we believe happens when we baptize? How could we calmly watch as one of our beloved descends into this pool of abundant water that is both womb and tomb? Wouldn’t we tremble as the earth quakes and the heavens open as all creation pays heed to the Voice calling the one by name and declaring him or her to be My Beloved One? That’s what the Voice said of Jesus as he was baptized in the Jordan and the Spirit descended upon him.

Wouldn’t we need seatbelts and lifejackets if the Word washed over us and, broken open in the preaching, entered and transformed us? Wouldn’t we have to hang on for our dear lives if, as hands are raised over us and over the elements on the altar, if when the Spirit is invoked, like the bread and wine, our very substance yielded to be transformed into the continuing presence of Christ. What about our having to be broken and distributed to be Christ’s loving presence in the world? This action that is Eucharist demands all this of those who take and eat.

We celebrate Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit, the birthday of the Church. Should we experience the pangs, the labor pains, as this new creation is brought forth? Would that our icons and our Liturgical celebrations confronted us, shook us to the core, and called us to that new life that Christ’s dying and rising began. Much better that than being lulled into dreamland by romantic platitudes that have nothing to do with our times and our world. It is impossible to understand those who emerged from the first Pentecost event if they remain stoic.

My prayer is that our art and our rituals make us realize the wonder of the call and the impossibility of responding unless we yield and are empowered by the Spirit. Then we would stand in awe as possibilities dawned on us. Imagine what would happen if, as did that gathering in the upper room, we threw open the doors and windows and filled with Christ’s love and animated by the Spirit we rushed into the public square and spoke heart to heart to those we met there. How? Through acts of love by a poorer church serving the needs of the poor.

Of course we might have to pour out our lives to convince them. But isn’t that what Pentecost is all about?

Sincerely,

Didymus