Archive for the ‘Letters to Jesus’ Category

THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A – January 22, 2017

 

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 8:23-9:3
A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 4:12-23

 

Dear Jesus,

Something is happening in the Church that causes me great distress.  There is nothing that I can do about it, but I thought I would write and put my sorrow before you.  Sometimes you get back to me with a response.  That would be most welcome now.  Other times silence ensues.  Then I must pray over my concern and learn to live with it, knowing that ultimately you will heal what is perceived to be a wound; you will unite what seems to be intractable division.

How many years have I been walking with you in faith and gathering with you at the Table?  You know that I was never the same after that first encounter.  Nothing that antedated our meeting had the same value or importance.  My journey with you has been fraught with questions that always seek greater understanding.  That is the way with faith, isn’t it?

I noticed in this Sunday’s reading from 1 Corinthians that Paul chastises his readers for the divisions that they seem to be fostering in the Corinthian community.  Some are boasting because they belong to different teachers – Paul, Apollos, Peter and Christ.  Each sect seeks to lord it over the others as being inferior.  Finally, Paul cries out:  Is Christ divided?  He is scandalized by their attitude.

Nowhere is that unity of the whole church more clearly proclaimed than in the celebration of the Eucharist.  Things are changing.  In increasing evidence there are two rites – one Ordinary and one Extraordinary – but two nonetheless.  The Ordinary is the Celebration of the Liturgy according to the Missal of Paul VI promulgated in 1970.  The Extraordinary comes from the official document Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI that authorizes wider use of the Latin Mass composed before Vatican II and contained in the 1962 Roman Missal of St. John XXIII.

This division between rites seems to foster two rather startlingly different ecclesiologies.  I am old enough to remember when the 1962 Rite was the only rite.  Said in Latin, the priest had his back to the people – were the people called the Assembly in those days? – and the people on their knees followed along in their missals, which offered translation.  Or, the people could read their own devotions or pray the rosary, depending on what moved them.  Bells rang to call the people to attention for the words of institution.  Then, after the exposition of the Bread and Wine above the priest’s head and they adored, they could go back to their devotions.

When Communion time came, it was not unheard of that the priest was the only one to receive the Bread.  He was the only one to drink from the Cup.  The later in the morning the mass time, the few the number of communicants.  The emphasis seemed to be on the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into your body and blood at the hands of the priest.  The people, on their knees, were there to adore.  While the readings were in English, they were limited to two each Sunday – one from St. Paul and one from one of the Gospels.  The Hebrew Scriptures were seldom proclaimed.  We have three cycles of Sunday readings today.  Then there was one.  Much of the Scriptures were never read in the course of the Sundays of the year.

There is nostalgia among some for that essentially Tridentine Liturgy.  Nostalgia for the Latin.  Nostalgia for the silence and the reverence perceived in the Assembly’s posture of adoration on their knees.  Even some priests find joy in celebrating this rite because there are fewer distractions when their backs are to the people.   They have less of a compulsion to perform.  Alas, how can there be nostalgia for something that one has never experienced but only read about?

Am I mistaken in thinking that the Second Vatican Council called for the full, active, and conscious participation of the Assembly?  Am I not incorrect in thinking that the Assembly is called to exercise the Priesthood of the Baptized as co-celebrants of the Liturgy?  In no way is the assembly to be passive adorers, much less spectators.

We stand about the Table of the Bread in testimony to your Resurrection and, as the Baptized, to our participation in the Resurrection.  We stand in recognition of your presence in the transformed bread and wine and in the transformed Assembly.  We stand to testify to our intention to receive the Bread and to drink from the Cup.  Kneeling was the sign that that would not be the case.  Those kneeling would not receive.  We engage in dialogue with the priest-presider and are of one mind and heart with him in the offering of the Eucharistic Prayer.  There is no place for private devotions here.  (In fact, I wonder if an argument could be made that if one were to engage in private devotions throughout the Mass s/he would have missed Mass.)  We stand in unison in the Communion Process acknowledging our common union with you, augmented through our reception of the one Bread and drinking from the one Cup.  It is, after all, a following of your instruction quoted in the Institution Narrative.

Am I making sense?  Or are you thinking that I am daft?  Am I wrong when I think there are two different ecclessiologies being exercised here?  Am I being stubborn when I think that I cannot go back to the former way?  I loved the Gregorian chant of the old days.  I loved the ritual of my youth.  It was difficult and even awkward to adapt to the new.  But once the theology of the call to renewal was grasped and the transforming effects on the Assembly were perceived, there was no going back for me.  The priest now empowered the Assembly and did not just preside over them.  The Presider and the Assembly co-celebrated.

I didn’t shake the dust from my feet as I left, but I left the parish church near when I live knowing I could never return.  I had to find a parish that celebrated according to the mind of Vatican Council II.  What sent me over the edge?  The pastor announced that he was discontinuing granting the Assembly access to the Cup.  Among the reasons, none of which seemed compelling to me, was his concern that with so many Lay Ministers of the Cup the people might lose sight of the priest and miss his importance.  It seemed clear that his perception was that too much power has been given to the people.  It is time for the ordained priest to take that back and return the people to their proper place.

I travel a distance to Liturgy now.  The parish is poorer than the one closer at hand.  The disabled and the aged are much more in evidence here.  Some of the disabled and developmentally challenged engage in Liturgical Ministry as greeters, ushers, lectors and Eucharistic Ministers.  The choir isn’t as polished sounding as the one in the more posh surroundings.  But joy abounds because it is clear you have called us to be transformed by the Eucharist that we celebrate in order that we might be sent to be the continuation of your presence in the market place until all, especially the poor, have eaten and drunk and now know that they are the beloved and have primacy of place in the kingdom of the One who sent you to live among us.  It is curious how poverty enhances that proclamation.

I hear Paul asking again: Is Christ divided?  I am afraid that is my perception now.  It makes me sad, but all the more resolved not to go back but to enter into the reformed Liturgy and continue to be challenged to do this in your memory.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT – A – December 18, 2016

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 7:10-14

A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 1:1-7

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 1:18-24

 

Dear Jesus,

What is Advent, the experience, supposed to be about? Are not these days meant to foster a spirit of pregnant longing for and eager expectation of God’s definitive action among human kind?  Perhaps because these times are difficult for many, people will not allow themselves to enter into the darkness so that they can yearn for the light.  Hopelessness enmeshes.  Once we become entangled in it and stand on the brink of despair, it is difficult to look up and believe that there is reason to hope.  When wars rage and death counts are told, especially the slaughter of children, how do we believe there will be peace?

Is it any wonder that Ahaz dared not ask God for a sign, even though God longed to give that sign to comfort his with a reminder of God’s love and fidelity?  The enemy surrounded Ahaz and threatened his kingdom.  That was the tangible reality for him.  What could god possibly do to alter that reality?

You must notice that in these days people are attuned to expecting instant gratification.  Why should material satisfaction be put off when it can be had now?  Many people do not diet and exercise to maintain the appearance of physical fitness; they have liposuction and plastic surgery to do that.  I remember the era when young couples began their married life in a rental and looked forward to the time when they would be able to make a down payment on a starter home.  Today, for the endowed, those starter homes have a three-car garage and a swimming pool.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that some do not have the emotional energy for Advent.  Living in hope doesn’t resonate with them.  I want it and I want it now.

What I said above reflects one side of the chasm in our land.  On the other are the desperate, those locked in poverty, scarcely able to feed the children, much less keep a roof over their heads.  The violence in the streets, the drive-by shootings, the domestic violence, you must hear the anguish of the many crying out to heaven for vengeance.  Or is that a plea for deliverance?  Perhaps these are the ones who like Ahaz will find it difficult to believe there will be peace.

Instead of starkness and the four-week experience of darkness and longing for a great dawn with light’s return, well before the Advent Season even begins, the signs of Christmas, its lights and carols, are everywhere.  It wasn’t that long go that people waited for Thanksgiving before the lights went up and the carols began.  Now we are lucky if Halloween is over before it all begins.  No wonder that by the time the Day arrives all the trappings look tired.  Who in the world could stand The Twelve Days of Christmas?  By the second day of Christmas not a sign of the feast remains, except in church, of course.

When I was a child, Christmas began in our home the way it did in church – on Christmas morning.  After my siblings and I were tucked in bed, our parents put up a tree, a live, evergreen tree, and decorated it with tinsel and lights.  They placed wrapped presents under the tree, at least one for each of us.  Early Christmas morning we came down the stairs, rubbing sleep from our eyes, to be dazzled by the lights, the presents, and the wood fire on the hearth.  We were told that each gift was a reminder of God’s great gift of Love, born this day in Bethlehem.  We knew right from the start that this celebration was all about you and the peace and love you bring.

I must experience Advent’s darkness and not fear it.  I need to experience silence and not dread it.  How else will I know Advent’s longing and hope for fulfillment?  In that darkness and silence my defenses will come down and the events of these days will be able to enter my consciousness where I can contemplate them.  I will look at the horror of war and be confronted by the bodies and hear the wailing of the children rescued from the rubble.  Vulnerable, I will identify with those people that otherwise I might be tempted to ignore.  My brothers and sisters are poor and disenfranchised.  They are people of other races than my own. They are of a different gender from mine, but we are family.  I hear you tell me that the same is true of Jews and Muslims, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders.  And those in prison.  God loves all and unites us all in you, our hope.

If you fill me with the Spirit, I will see that it is unconscionable the portion of the world’s wealth and goods held by and consumed by the elite.  It shouldn’t all be about profit for profit’s sake.  In the Spirit I will see clearly the plight and hears the cries that the cacophonous din that regularly surround me and seeks to lure me and might otherwise prevent me from noticing.

Advent is a time for silence.  In the silence I might recognize that these horrors in the evening news are, in the reality that faith brings, aspects of your passion.  And if I allow myself to be brought to the foot of the cross, dare I ask myself about my participation in the crucifixion?  But that is the stuff of conversion, what St. Paul wants us to remember in today’s first reading.

It occurs to me that Christmas celebrates Incarnation – God’s taking on human flesh and sealing the union between the human and the divine forever.  It is the celebration of God’s love for human kind, indeed for all of creation and so is an invitation to all to live in love and so find hope.  Your gospel does not end in death.  Neither will our story.  As horrible as aspects of the contemporary story might be, the vision that dawns with Christmas is not overcome by evil.  Love conquers.  God is faithful and will raise us up.

Ahaz was challenged to ask for a sign that would give him reason not to yield to despair.  He could not do that.  But God gave the sign anyway – a child who would be called Immanuel – God with us.  In Christmas we recognize that sign, God with us, in you.  I wonder if we listen will we hear you challenge us to be that sign, God with us, today, in the community, and so help the human family live in hope because of the love that surrounds us.

The story doesn’t end in defeat.  It can’t.  God won’t let it.  Isn’t that the Good News you proclaim?

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT – A – DECEMBER 11, 2016

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 35:1-6A, 10

A reading from the Letter of James 5:7-10

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 11:2-22

Dear Jesus,

Were you a disappointment to John the Baptist?  He seems to have had expectations of a different kind of Messiah from the one you proved to be.  Given his temperament and the rage that churned just beneath the surface, did he look for stronger actions from you?  In last Sunday’s Gospel, John voiced his confidence that the one coming after him, the one whose sandals he was not worthy to carry, would set things right in a winnowing action that would separate wheat from chaff, gathering the wheat into barns and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire.  The imagery is fine for harvest time.  But when wheat and chaff are in actuality classes of people, John’s eagerly awaited scene becomes terrifying.

Having given his all in response to his vocation to be the messenger going ahead of you to prepare the way before you, and confident that his vocation came from God, he had every right to expect that he would live to see the realization of the Kingdom of heaven in the coming wrath.  Unless he had no ego at all, he must have suffered a temptation to claim for himself the crowds that came to him.  Many thought he was the Messiah and would have accepted him as such.  Was it increasingly difficult for him to say I am not as his charisma drew more and more to gather around him, listen to his message, hear his call to repent, and submit to his baptism?  Did that temptation grow, as more and more you did not conform to his expectations?  Where was the wind?  When would the winnowing begin?  When would he witness the humiliation of those not following God’s law as he thought they should – the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Romans?  Was he scandalized when he heard that you were being denounced because you welcome sinners and eat with them?

When John, from prison, sent his disciples to you to ask, Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another, was he hoping for a clear declaration in the affirmative from you with word accompanying signs to confirm your Messiahship, signs like those he longed for?  Instead you talked about the poor having the good news proclaimed to them, even as you pled with him not to be scandalized by you and your works.

I have always heard that when John’s disciples returned to him with your message that he was relieved.  He could then go calmly to his own beheading.  But I wonder.  Faith walks often do not have that crystal clarity that we would like.  Darkness sometimes does not lift.  John may have had to go to his death hoping against hope.  You did herald his greatness, but immediately added that the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.  Was that because as John stretched his neck over the block and hoped that the breeze would stir and the winnowing would begin, he trusted and so entered the Kingdom?

Prepare, Ye, the way of the Lord!  Those words make up a major theme of the Advent Season.  That is what John the Baptist did.  The task is not over yet.  You expect us, the Church, to continue to labor in that arena, making everything we do part of that preparing.  In actuality, looking back on the history of the Church, there is ample evidence that from age to age the kind of preparing that occurred was closer to John’s way of thinking than your own.  How many people went to the stake because they belonged to a different tradition?  The Crusades were fought to rescue the holy places from the infidels.  Many were slain in the process.  There has been no shortage of attempts to force people to faith, compelling them by the sword.  Were those so afflicted supposed to recognize the vengeful God whose wrath John longed to see?

Today, are you not urging us to try a way that is reflective of your own?  Prepare, Ye, the way of the Lord!  Are you asking us to do what you did and not count the cost?  Some still would have the lines of demarcation drawn.  Some want the splendor of the Church to be her attraction.  Some want the sinner condemned and access to the Table tightly governed.  Yours is a gentler voice urging us to love and to imitate you in humble service.  If we do that, will we not be living in the Kingdom of Heaven because you reign in our hearts?

You welcomed sinners and ate with them.  We have to do the same.  You told John’s disciples to report what they saw and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.  When the baptized exercise their priesthood in ministry to the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf and the dead – to those in society who are insignificant and even outcast and without hope, isn’t it then that the kingdom dawns?  Those who are touched, embraced, and lifted up will know you in that encounter and know that they are loved by the God who sent you.

That ministry cannot have strings attached.  It cannot be a conditional ministry exercised only on those who meet a criterion others set.  You call us to a ministry that is unconditional, universal, and therefore reflective of the way God loves.  That is what Pope Francis urges on the Church, humble service, imitative of our God who serves.  St. Francis kissed the leper as he recognized you in the leper.  In that moment he knew conversion, that there could be no outcasts of society.  The kiss drew the leper to you.  So will others be drawn to the Catholic Christian way, if they experience that same compassionate love.  They will be drawn to gather around your table and celebrate Eucharist with you, and give thanks to God who touched them.  They will share the meal that is your Body and Blood, so that they can become more and more what they eat and drink and so be more able to go out and continue doing what you do with the others with whom they have gathered and prayed and celebrated.

Others will walk different paths to the same God, following other traditions that speak clearly to them of God’s call.  You do not want that to be a cause of consternation, do you?  Wouldn’t you rather that we rejoice and find new ways of relating with all these sisters and brothers that, via whatever path they trod, are on the way to the Kingdom?

More than a few gasped and ground their teeth when Pope Francis said he thought God loved even atheists.

In the end, you want us to accept that we were created in love.  God’s love sustains us.  We will live in that love for all eternity.  It is all about love.

John the Baptist may have been disappointed that your Messiahship was different from what he expected.  Help us in this age and in this Church to rejoice that we have been called to do it your way.  Help us to be restless in our attempts to proclaim the dignity and worth of the poor as the Church exercises a fundamental option for the poor.

Help us prepare the way of the Lord.

Sincerely, Didymus