Archive for May, 2018|Monthly archive page

THE MOST HOLY TRINITY – B – May 27, 2018

A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40
A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans 8:14-17
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 28:16-20

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is important that every Sunday we assemble to celebrate Eucharist.  That is basic to the faith cycle in which we live.  We are refreshed following the week’s labor we have just completed, and are strengthened to face the week that begins.  Sunday is the Lord’s Day, we say.  Every Sunday celebrates that first day of the week when the tomb was found to be empty.  We rejoice in that evening of the first day when the Risen One appeared in the midst of the disciples and said, Shalom, Peace, and breathed the Spirit into them.  Remember.  Celebrate.  Believe.

This Sunday is dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity.  We celebrate the community that is our God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, the community that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This Sunday brings the time for completing the Easter Duty to a close.  You may wonder, having never heard of that duty.  In a nutshell, the faithful had from Ash Wednesday to this Sunday to get to Confession if they were in serious sin, and to receive Holy Communion in that span of time.  If they did not, another sin was added to their tally.

It is hard to recall those days when the majority of the faithful did not receive Holy Communion very often, and had to be ordered, so to speak, to do so at least once a year.  Of course in those days the period of fasting before reception was from midnight the night before.  Some could last without a sip of water until the 8AM mass.  But any later and fainting from hunger was a real possibility.  Add to that the emphasis on unworthiness to receive, and the urging to adore from afar, and you can see how it came to be that frequently the only communicant at the Sunday Mass was the priest.  Everyone else made a Spiritual Communion, i.e., received Communion by desire.  Hence, the Easter Duty.

Thanks be to God, that reluctance to receive is a distant memory.  The majority of the faithful receive regularly, not out of obligation, but as a logical consummation of the celebration.  They share the One Bread and the One Cup with all those with whom they have assembled as co-celebrants with the presider on this Sunday.  It is Holy Communion, the holy common union with each other and with Christ.  Communion.  Community.  Amazing.  That is what our God is about.

As was the case in those earlier days, the emphasis on God’s transcendence can make God seem unapproachable, distant, on the other side of the chasm, or far above us in the remoteness of Heaven.  God is transcendent; but so, too, is God immanent.  God is with us, drawing us into community with God in a relationship that is initiated by God and empowered by God.  Remember, in Hebrew Scripture, God pled with the people, Let me be your God and you will be my people.  Think of it.  God begs for the favor.  Our God is an awesome God who seeks to serve and dwell among us and in us in community.

Moses, in the first reading, challenges the people to remember how God has acted in their lives, calling them out of slavery into the desert freedom where, in the midst of amazing signs and wonders, signs of fire, thunder, earthquakes, and manna and water, God claimed them as God’s own and formed them into a community, a people peculiarly God’s own.  Did anything so great ever happen before?  Was it ever heard of?  Moses urges the people to remember and give their hearts to God, as they live in the covenanted relationship with each other and with God.  

Practically, what does that mean?  Live as god’s people.  Keep the commandments, those governances of living that will mark the people’s relationships with each other and with God.  By this manner of living the nations will the people are God’s own.

There is more for us.  Who could have dreamed or imagined what Paul tells us in the second reading?  We stand in awe of our Triune God who is a community of love.  That love is so intense that it spills over and rushes into creation.  Remember Genesis’ words?  On the sixth day, having proclaimed that all that had been created thus far is good, God said, Let us make human kind in our own image.  Male and female God created them.  Then sin entered the world.

Paul tells us that the rift in relationship remained.  The chasm that separated God and humans introduced by sin lasted until God sent the Word to take on flesh in the Incarnation, bridging the chasm and removing the separation forever.  The human and Divine become inextricably commingled.  Paul spells out the relationship for us: Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God…you did not receive a spirit of slavery…but a Spirit of adoption!  In the Spirit we cry, Abba, Father!  The word Abba, by the way, is interesting to ponder.  It is not the formal word we translate as father.  The more accurate translation would be papa, or daddy.  The intimacy between child and parent is implied.  In other words, Paul is telling us that we have the same relationship with the Father, as does Christ.  That is what our Baptism accomplishes.  That is what happens when we put on Christ.  The first-born is the heir to the fortune.  That is Christ.  The baptized are co-heirs with Christ.  The Kingdom is ours if we are faithful to the end as Christ was.  At the end, Christ died on the Cross and the world saw failure and ultimate destruction.  Resurrection altered that and defeated Death forever.  We will be glorified with Christ.  Remember that the next time you mourn a loved one.  Let the promise give you courage and strength to go on.

Someone said in some forgotten context: Just think of it.  When Good looks at you, God see Christ and loves you with the same love God has for Christ.  What Paul says makes those words no exaggeration, but a statement of the truth we are called to believe.  Our end is to live forever in the community that is God and to live in that Love for all eternity.

Ah, but there is a catch.  You know by now that God’s gifts, those breathed into us by the Spirit, the gift that conforms us to Christ; those gifts are not to be horded.  Think of the unfortunate steward who was given the one talent and then buried it, lest he risk losing it in a misadventure.  That parable says that is not a good idea before God.  The gift is to be shared and, it would seem, God help us if we do not.  So we risk and fail.  It seems that what is expected is to risk and leave the rest to God.  That is what the parable implies.

So, in the gospel we meet Jesus in the Ascension moment.  We gather in Galilee on the mountain in awe, even as we might be burdened with doubt.  That means simply that we do not see clearly yet.  There is something more for the Spirit to accomplish in and through us.  It is in that Spirit that Jesus sends the fearful and doubting disciples to the entire world to tell all people the Good News, and to draw them into relationship.  From where will come their message?  Baptize 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.  All?  Yes.  And that all can be neatly summed up.  Teach them to love.  It is all about love.  Love one another as I have loved you.  By this will all know that you are my disciples.  Of course we all know that there is nothing that makes us more vulnerable than love, nothing that is more demanding than love.

Ponder Pope Francis.  Listen to his urgings as he calls for a poorer church serving the needs of the poor.  The Bishop of Rome pleads with us to love really and practically the way Jesus did.  Love all and every one without exception, especially the poor who we hold in primacy of place.  All are members of one family of God, sisters and brothers in the Lord.

So, we return to Eucharist, to why we need every week to begin and end with Eucharist.  The Eucharist is the source and summit of all we do in Christ.  That is what the Second Vatican Council taught us.  When we ponder the Mystery and begin to comprehend the implications, then we begin to understand and to live I n hope as we remember Jesus’ words, I am with you always, until the end of the age.  No room for fear or doubt here.  The Kingdom has begun.  We share in the reign.

Sincerely yours in the Risen Christ,

Didymus

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THE FEAST OF PENTECOST – B – May 20, 2018

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11
A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 20:19-23

Dear Reader,

Much of what passes for religious art does nothing for me.  That may well be because the piety depicted is often a type with which I cannot identify.  Invariably the saints are dower and epicene.  They are untouchable, ethereal and into way part of the world I inhabit.  Insipid is a word that comes to mind.  I do not mean to be irreverent or disrespectful.  I am not an iconoclast.  Religious art ought to me much more.  The struggle of those on The Way ought to be depicted in such a way that their courageous character might emerge and inspire.

I visit churches to look at the art.  I want to encounter representations of people whose humanity I share.  Granted the windows, statues, and paintings represent those already in glory.  But I want to be encouraged by them as they were in this world.  I want to see their fragility, and to see examples of those who came to understand with Paul that I can do all things in him who strengthens me.  And, apart from you I can do nothing.  Jesus Christ and the Spirit he breathed on the disciples are the only explanation for the success of those who walked in the trenches and engaged in the struggle. 

I think of a wood-carved statue of Monica, Augustine’s mother that I had the privilege to stand before and ponder.  The woman stood, head uncovered, staff in hand.  She faced into the wind that tugged at her hair and garments.  She stood undaunted and defiant.  Valiant is the word that comes to mind.

Years ago I visited the shrine to the Ugandan Martyrs.  Charles Lwanga and 21 of his companions in faith were tortured and burned to death for their faith.  Some were catechumens, not yet baptized.  It is declared that each of them went to his death singing Christ’s praises, eager to see him in Paradise.  Not one of them cried out in anguish.  A circular chapel over the place of execution has 21 stained-glass windows, one dedicated to each martyr.  It is impossible not to be moved, and not to have your faith strengthened by the Martyrs’ witness.

What occasions these thoughts on this day of Pentecost is the stained-glass window in a church I visited recently.  It is supposed to represent the Feast we celebrate.  I gazed at the window and thought of the words in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles: 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.  The placid group in perfectly flowing robes seemed all too tranquil, free of agitation and disturbance and unlike what would be the reaction of anyone caught in such a storm.  Remember, at that time, they were lock in that room for fear that their faith in the Risen One might result in their joining him in crucifixion.  

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/her hands to his/her ears against the noise?  I don’t know about you, but I cannot imagine sitting calmly while fire descended and began to dance over my head.  This hadn’t happened before.  The group did not know what all of this meant, or how they would be transformed in the moment.  They did not know what Jesus had meant when he said, behold, I make all things new.  Where is their terror as the world turns upside down and they come to realize that they will never be the same again?

I am reminded of the words of a theologian who remarked that she was surprised that safety equipment was not distributed to people as they came into the church for worship.  Don’t they have any idea what they could be in for?  Her question: What if it were to happen this time?  What if we, the assembled, 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 shakes and the heavens open and all creation pays heed to the voice calling the one by name, declaring her/him to be My Beloved One?  That is what the Voice said of Jesus in the Jordan.

Wouldn’t we need seatbelts and life jackets if the Word washed over us and, broken upended, entered and transformed us?  Wouldn’t we have to hang on for our dear lives if, as hands are raised over us and the elements of bread and wind on the altar, if when the Spirit is invoked, like the bread and the wine, our very substance yielded to be transformed into the sacramental presence of Christ?  And 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.  This is the birthday of the Church.  Shouldn’t we experience the pangs, the labor pains, as this new creation is brought forth?  I wish 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.  We do not need to be lulled by romantic piety.  

It seems impossible to identify with those who walked The Way before us if they are so stoic.  I want our art and our rituals to make us realize the wonder of the call and the impossibility of responding without our yielding to and being empowered by the Spirit.  Then we could stand in awe as possibilities dawned on us.  Imagine what would happen if, as did that gathering on the first Pentecost, we threw open the doors 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.

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

Sincerely yours in Christ and in the Spirit,

Didymus 

FEAST OF THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD – B – May 13, 2018

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23
(Or, a reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 1:17-23)
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 16:15-20

Dear Jesus,

I have struggled with what I want to write to you on this feast of your Ascension.  Please do not misunderstand me.  That sounds foolish even as I write it.  No one knows and understands me better than you who have my heart and my love.  Still, sometimes, since I don’t often hear a direct response from you, I wonder if you are perturbed by what I search for.  My desire is to be with you on The Way.  My heart burns within sometimes as I ponder your word.  I sit in silence under it and contemplate in the silence.  My trouble has to do with the interpretation of the Mystery.  Your Ascension is Mystery.  The more literal we take the word, it seems to me the farther we are from the truth you came to reveal.  

My problem is not with the idea of the Ascension.  I believe in your returning to the Father and your inheriting the Kingdom that results from your Paschal journey.  It is your being “taken up into heaven” that makes me wonder.  The time for your disciples to be able to see your physical and risen body had to come to an end.  Does that mean you have to rise up and away to take a remote seat at the right hand of God?  It is true that some want a distant, transcendent and remote Lord to bow before and adore.  What does that do to the immanent presence that you promised would last as long as time does.  When you took on flesh and united human with divine, wasn’t that a forever thing?  You gave new meaning to our having been made in God’s image and likeness, in the words of Genesis.  You died and rose and took away our sins.  You brought salvation to us who love and wait for you.

Am I wrong to believe that the intimacy you initiated remains?  Isn’t that why the definitive sign of your presence in the community that is your body is the love that abounds?  That love is to be imitative, love that imitates the love you poured out on us to the point of shedding the last drop of your blood.  Isn’t that why the Assembly’s action that is the source and summit of all that is done in your name is their coming together to gather at the Table of the Word to be nourished and transformed by the Word, and to gather at the Table of the Eucharist, there to give thanks to God and renew your dying and rising?  And after the Assembly has shared the meal, are we not to be sent out to be your presence to those who live in your passion?  We are to recognize you in the poor, the disenfranchised, those suffering from the ravages of war and disease.  

When the Assembly has eaten the Bread and drunk from the Cup, why is not that Presence proclaimed and given primacy of honor, rather than the Remnants that are transported to the tabernacle or place in a monstrance?  For centuries the Blessed Sacrament was reserved so that it could be taken to the sick and homebound to unite them with the Eucharistic celebration they could not attend.

Sometimes I fear that I go too far.  You know that I believe in your abiding sacramental presence in the Eucharist.  But I also believe that the primary purpose of the Assembly’s coming together is not to adore your sacramental presence in the tabernacle but to celebrate Eucharist.  There can be comfort and challenge in praying in that Eucharistic Presence.  But those devotions grew out of a time when your faithful ones did not have access to the Table and did not often share in the meal.  They adored from afar and communed spiritually.

I am more comforted and challenged by the Meal and the ongoing transformation that results, my own in the midst of those being transformed with me.  We rejoice because you are present in the Word.  You are present in the Eucharist.  You are present in the Assembly.  Now the Assembly is the Body of Christ because of your presence in the Assembly.  I am comforted by your presence.  I am challenged by your directive to do this in my memory.  If we break the Bread and share the Cup, that is, if we do Eucharist, we must be bread broken and cup poured out, so that others recognize your abiding presence and are comforted and strengthened by your love.

I wish your Ascension were not vertical.  Does that make sense?  Does it have to be so distancing.  You came down from heaven.  You are taken up to heaven.  We can conclude that we abide down here far from you up there.  I prefer to see your Ascension to be more horizontal, that is, to be catching us all up in the journey that is bringing the human family into the Kingdom that is dawning.  It is all present tense.  The immanence remains, as does in perfect tension, the transcendence.  It is Mystery that resists being able to be concretized.  The more we think we get it, the farther we are from the reality.  The Mystery cannot be defined, limited, or concretized any more than God can be.

Pope Francis challenges the Church to recognize you in those suffering from poverty, famine, disease and war.  You are present in those children gagging and choking from being gassed.  You are present in those emaciated ones, malnourished and starving.  You are present in the woman begging by the side of the road.  You are present in the one being executed.  When we recognize you there and love you there, we become a poorer church serving the needs of the poor, that is, serving your needs that Francis yearns to see.  Please, Lord, may it happen.

This Sunday we celebrate your Ascension.  I live in the desert now.  Spring comes there, too.  Cacti with spines and thorns burst into bloom and their flowers fill the air with sweet fragrance.  I sat near one last night and breathed in the perfume.  A mourning dove, perched on a roof nearby, sang her sad song to anyone who would listen.  By morning the bloom and withered and the dove had flown away.  And I remembered.

Sincerely,

Didymus