Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thoughts on justice

The Equalizer by John Fischer
"Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen.
    He is my Beloved, who pleases me.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not fight or shout
    or raise his voice in public.
He will not crush the weakest reed
    or put out a flickering candle.
    Finally he will cause justice to be victorious.
And his name will be the hope
    of all the world."  Matthew 11:18-21  (Isaiah 42:1-4)

These are not red letters, but they are words about Jesus, describing His character and His mission. They are words from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah recalled by Matthew in his gospel. They present the gentleness of Jesus - something we rarely see or talk about. It's a prophetic observation about what the Messiah will be like. Had the Jewish leaders been more aware of prophesies like this about the Messiah instead of who and what they wanted Him to be, they would have recognized Jesus immediately.

This prophesy describes someone who is gentle and unassuming. He doesn't fight. He doesn't shout or even raise His voice in public. People will come to Him and hang on His every word. They will have to listen very carefully because He's not going to have the benefit of a sound system. He wasn't an electric personalty. He wasn't flashy. He would not have had His own TV show.

And here is the beautiful part: "He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle." He will pick up on the slightest move by any one of us in His direction. He doesn't ask for a lot. Do you already feel bruised and broken? He will not break you. He is sensitive to your vulnerability. And is your faith only a flickering candle? He will not blow out the candle of your heart. He will cup it with His hand. He will protect it from the wind so it has a chance to burn brighter and stronger.

And He was all about justice. Twice this prophesy speaks about justice. It says He will proclaim justice, and He will cause it to be victorious. Justice will prevail in the end. Jesus will see to it.

Jesus' idea of justice was to equalize the unfair power structure in society that rewards the rich and the powerful and treads on the weak, and the poor. Jesus was and is, and will always be, the champion of the weak and the poor. 

This is why Christianity and politics are such a bad mix. They do not belong together. Politics rewards the powerful, the wealthy and the influential; Jesus equalizes those things. Jesus is for the little people - the forgotten, the outcast - the people society tramples. The bruised reeds and the flickering candles are the ones Jesus champions. Who is that flickering candle? Is that you? 

My friend, Arnold, is a weak reed, bruised and confined to bed, and yet as he nears the end of his life, he is a flickering candle growing stronger. You could say that his whole life has been a process of personal equalization. For years, he played to the powerful in media and in politics, but not to God. Now, there is a justice that has taken hold in his life. He understands that it is "not by might nor by power but by His spirit," says the Lord, and in his weakness, he has found a flickering candle in his heart that will burn on and on. Indeed, it will never go out.

Bright sun tanned His weathered face
Dusty were the roads He traced
Spreading news of love and grace
Binding the broken heart
Soothing the sorrow-torn face
             - from the song "Born to Die" by John Fischer

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Thoughts on summer

For many people, summer has a lot of different parameters as far as when it begins and when it ends. For children, summer begins when school lets out for the year.  When I was a kid, that meant sometime in June, but now it means late May.  This past school year, my children were done for the year on May 23rd!  For people who work for a living, Memorial Day weekend kind of marks the beginning of summer, a time when the temperatures are warmer and the local swimming pools open up.  Of course, if you go by the calendar, the official beginning of summer is on June 21st with the summer solstice.  If the weather doesn't cooperate, most anyone else will have to admit that by July 4th, Independence Day weekend, we are definitely into summer.  For a few, summer doesn't begin until you take your vacation from work and go on a trip out of town. 

People who have children in school will most likely agree that what we think of as summer, the time off between when school ends and when it begins, has definitely moved from a Memorial Day to Labor Day time period to a late May to early to mid August time period as schools nation wide have adjusted their schedules over the last 20 years or so.  For many folks, once the calendar flips over to August, vacations are over and you are buying back to school supplies and thinking about school starting again.  But really, summer is only about half over because it doesn't really end until Sept 21st. So when is summer to you?  I guess it really doesn't matter, unless you make calendars.  Enjoy the warm weather and time off of work.  Slow down and enjoy the enjoyment!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Thoughts on Memorial Day

"Prayer of Remembrance"

Holy One, on this day of remembrance we say aloud their names again: the names of those who died this year. Died--the word is jarring. So jarring that we hardly use the word, substituting euphemisms that are a bit more vague.

Sometimes people say "lost" when what they mean is dead: "We lost so-and-so this year."
But people who die are not lost. They are not misplaced. We did not just lose sight of them, nor did they wander off. They died, and it is as final as the word sounds.

But that is, of course, why we don't say, "they died." When people die, they do not just disappear and we continue on. There is no such thing "as out of sight, out of mind." There is no switch to flip to turn off our feelings. The person may not be lost, but we are at a loss: for words; for normalcy; for what was, and what could have been. And grief is such an unwieldy thing: we are fine one minute, years even, and then the deep sadness comes, seemingly out of nowhere.

That's the thing about people who are loved: their memories keep. They're never too far away. They come to us in a song lyric or a line of movie dialogue or on a long walk. What was it that they always said? Oh, that's right. And they always had to have it a certain way. So maybe we'll do it that way, and laugh a little, in memoriam.

Be with us, Holy One, as we grieve over the empty chairs at the table. We'll light a candle and say an extra prayer, and we trust with sure and certain hope that You had them before we let them go.


Remembering the Fallen

On this Memorial Day, we remember those who serve faithfully, and those who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve what they believed. God bless them all, and give us the strength and courage to stand as tall as they did.

A Prayer for Deployed Soldiers

Heavenly Father,
inspire those who are overseas for the cause of peace.Send your Son, Jesus Christ, as the Prince of Peace.
Bless the men and women of our military
who respond to the needs of peacekeeping.
Keep them safe from harm.
Let them be models of discipline and courage,
and bring them home safely to their loved ones.
We ask this in your name.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Thoughts on the Blessed One

Jesus says: "Blessed are the poor, the gentle, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for uprightness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness" (Matthew 5:3-10). These words offer us a self-portrait of Jesus. Jesus is the Blessed One. And the face of the Blessed One shows poverty, gentleness, grief, hunger, and thirst for uprightness, mercy, purity of heart, a desire to make peace, and the signs of persecution.

The whole message of the Gospel is this: Become like Jesus. We have his self-portrait. When we keep that in front of our eyes, we will soon learn what it means to follow Jesus and become like him.
Henri Nouwen 
 Henri Nouwen

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Thoughts on the Holy Spirit

Come, Hidden Holy Spirit

We all bless ourselves “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And most of us are pretty clear about God and Jesus. But what about the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit can often feel like the “hidden” part of the Trinity. So let’s enter into an understanding of it in the same way that we enter the life of the Church: through a consideration of baptism.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

The Catholic sacrament of Baptism brings a person—usually a child or even a baby—into the life of the Church. Baptism is so important that it’s the only sacrament the Church permits lay people to perform in an emergency! And while it’s at Pentecost that we celebrate the Holy Spirit descending as a dove and bringing life to the new Church, it’s perhaps in baptism that we see and refer to the Holy Spirit most fully.

We know something about the way Baptism was administered in the early days from a fourth-century church order. Then, Baptism was only available after years of formation, years of having candidates’ motives and lives scrutinized, years of hearing the word of God read, years of being dismissed with prayer before the faithful went on to celebrate the Eucharist. Baptism was a serious endeavor.

In the darkness that preceded the dawn of Easter, candidates were taken naked into the water of the baptistery and there plunged under it three times, pledging their belief in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When all the new Christians were baptized, the bishop then affirmed and sealed their baptism after prayer, for all the faithful to see, with an authoritative gesture: laying his hand on each head, signing each oily forehead once again in the form of a cross, while declaring, “The servant of God is sealed with the Holy Spirit.” To which all replied in a thunderous “Amen!”

The servant of God is sealed with the Holy Spirit.

It couldn’t be clearer, could it, that Christians of the fourth century had a special, a unique relationship with the Holy Spirit? And yet for most of us, the Spirit remains the most mysterious part of the Holy Trinity. That may be in part because we don’t spend enough time with the Holy Spirit in prayer; we naturally turn to God the Father, as we can relate best to him.

But if we started to pray to—and with—the Holy Spirit, we too might recover that sense of having been sealed. Of belonging.

Deepen your devotion to the Holy Spirit with the spiritual classic on the Holy Spirit: The Sanctifier. In The Sanctifier, one of the most fascinating books on the Holy Spirit ever written, Archbishop Martinez reveals the secret of holiness. Step by step, he will guide you to understand the gentle ways in which the Spirit acts in your life. The author explains how the Spirit is present to us and leads us to the Father and the Son, especially through the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. He then focuses on the seven gifts, which make us attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Along with the gifts, we discover the consoling fruits of the Spirit, such as joy, peace, and patience. Finally, Martinez crowns his work with a masterful explanation of the beatitudes, the summit of the Christian life.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Thoughts on Our Lady of Fatima

Our Lady of Fatima

Saint of the Day for May 13

The Story of Our Lady of Fatima

Between May 13 and October 13, 1917, three Portuguese children–Francisco and Jacinta Marto and their cousin Lucia dos Santos–received apparitions of Our Lady at Cova da Iria near Fatima, a city 110 miles north of Lisbon. Mary asked the children to pray the rosary for world peace, for the end of World War I, for sinners, and for the conversion of Russia.

Mary gave the children three secrets. Following the deaths of Francisco and Jacinta in 1919 and 1920 respectively, Lucia revealed the first secret in 1927. It concerned devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The second secret was a vision of hell. When Lucia grew up she became a Carmelite nun and died in 2005 at the age of 97.

Pope John Paul II directed the Holy See’s Secretary of State to reveal the third secret in 2000; it spoke of a “bishop in white” who was shot by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows into him. Many people linked this vision to the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981.

The feast of Our Lady of Fatima was approved by the local bishop in 1930; it was added to the Church’s worldwide calendar in 2002.

The message of Fatima is simple: Pray. Unfortunately, some people—not Sister Lucia—have distorted these revelations, making them into an apocalyptic event for which they are now the only reliable interpreters. They have, for example, claimed that Mary’s request that the world be consecrated to her has been ignored. Sister Lucia agreed that Pope John Paul II’s public consecration in St. Peter’s Square on March 25, 1984, fulfilled Mary’s request. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith prepared a June 26, 2000, document explaining the “third secret.”

Mary is perfectly honored when people generously imitate her response “Let it be done to me as you say” (Luke 1:38). Mary can never be seen as a rival to Jesus or to the Church’s teaching authority, as exercised by the college of bishops united with the bishop of Rome.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Thoughts on Mary

“Mary treasured all these things and pondered on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19).

by Sr. Anne Flanagan, FSP

For several years now I have been curating a blog called “The Angelus Project”. Every week it presents a different image of the Annunciation as a way of encouraging people to pray the Angelus (though now that we are in the Easter season, that prayer yields pride of place to the Regina Coeli). The process of selecting and posting these weekly images from so many different eras and cultures has taught me a lot about art. Eastern icons, for example, feature Mary at a throne, her hands occupied with spinning crimson yarn (to be used in weaving the veil of the Temple, a symbol for the “weaving” of the flesh of Christ in her womb). In much of western art, while Mary's yarn work may be nearby (as in Simon Bening's illuminated manuscript), Mary herself is typically depicted with a book: she is literally pondering the Word of God which is about to take on human flesh in her.

Luke tells us that this was pretty typical of Mary, even if she didn't always have a book in hand. After the arrival of the shepherds at the manger of her newborn Son, “Mary treasured all these things and pondered on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). Following the anxious search for twelve-year-old Jesus in Jerusalem, she “treasured in her heart” the experience of finding him and witnessing his mature obedience once home at Nazareth (cf. Lk 2:51). Her Magnificat is a poetic reading of the history of Israel, with promise after promise from God celebrated as already fulfilled (when the Messiah had not yet even been born!).

Mary recognized God speaking not only through the Scriptures, but in the happenings in and around her life. She knew that in some mysterious way, every circumstance, every event willed or permitted by God, is a “word” of God which invites the response, “Be it done to me.”

It is the same for us.

Once an enthusiastic woman in the crowd called out to Jesus, “Blest is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” His reply still startles us today, “Rather, blest are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (cf. Lk 11:28). Of course, that is precisely what Luke went out of his way to show us Mary doing, but now it extends outward: we can be blest, too, by becoming like Mary in our relationship with the Word of God. The gospel of Matthew says the same thing in an even more pointed way: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is brother and sister and mother to me” (Mt 12:50). By hearing and doing the will of the Heavenly Father, we bring forth Jesus into the world, making him present in a new and unique incarnation.

“Blest are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (cf. Lk 11:28) is meant for every day.

To listen for the Word of God in daily life: in duties, big and small; in opportunities to reach out or to listen; when challenged to interpret something familiar in an entirely new way. This is to hear the Word of God and keep it.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Thoughts on responsibility

As the story goes, The Times once sent out an inquiry to famous authors asking the question “What’s wrong with the world today?” to which author G.K. Chesterton replied:

“Dear Sir,
I am.
Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”

Although there is no proof of this since neither letter has been found, The American Chesterton Society comments, “This story has been repeated so often about Chesterton that we suspect it is true.”

Regardless of its authenticity, the sentiment is right on, and pretty much captures the most humble, simple answer to a complicated question and complicated world. I also think it captures, in essence, the right attitude by which we attack social problems that appear insurmountable and firmly rooted in systems that will not change overnight. The only thing you can do is accept responsibility for any and every way you have ever said something, done something or failed to do something about a certain problem, and begin the process of change by changing yourself.

Take racism, for instance. None of us is going to be able to stop racism, but we can take responsibility for any way we have contributed to it, whether by sins of commission or omission, and we can dedicate ourselves to changing our attitudes and living in an open and dignified way, giving honor to all races, all religions (and none) and all ethnic groups — in other words, all human beings. Judgment stops here; and change starts here.

This isn’t to say we stop the process of identifying and eradicating the causes of the many systemic problems facing our society and nation — to be sure, this is a large part of the purpose of education (research) and government — but it is a way of stopping personal finger-pointing and prideful aloofness. Any problem we are trying to address must begin with an admission of our own contribution to it. We are all guilty of sin; we have all done something to contribute to the mess the world is in, even if this means only that we have done nothing to change it.

John Fischer

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Thoughts on the Golden Rule

Looking for hope in a hopeless world
Trying to find love in these hateful times
Try to stay strong but my mind is weak
Looking for hope in a hopeless world 

Churches are full, but the prayers are not heard
Saturday's child don't want to to go to Sunday school
Whatever happened to the golden rule
It takes hope in a hopeless world
From the song, "Hope in a Hopeless World," by Widespread Panic

"Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:12

Don't you love it when a secular rock band nails us with a prophetic message that hits the target? "Churches are full, but the prayers are not heard," harkens to the prophets in the Old Testament who warned the Jews about bringing burnt offerings when their hearts were far from God. This song charted at #13 in 1997 - twenty years ago - and already, in the success of larger churches packed with rock and roll worshipers, there was a noticeable disconnect - an absence of the kind of behavior from Christians that Jesus championed in the red letters. In fact, the "Golden Rule" is probably one of the most widely known, least followed, examples of the red letters even unbelievers know about.  

Jesus called this "the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets." Don't you think that would make this extremely important? It's very much the same as "love your neighbor as yourself." That little "as yourself" is the simple measuring stick of the rule. You don't have to know all the law and the prophets, you only need to know how you would want to be treated. Unsure of what to do around the homeless? What would you want if you were homeless? This is what it means to empathize with someone - to climb into their shoes. 

If you were hungry with no money in the bank, would you want someone to drop off a bag of cheap canned goods they would never have on their own shelves? When Marti headed up dinners at the women's shelter, she laid out five course meals - dinners you would have if you had guests in your own home. If you had an attraction to the same sex, and you weren't sure how that happened, would you wanted to be treated like a leper? If you were a single mother attending church for the first time, would you want to endure looks like "Welcome to our church. (Just stay away from my husband.)"

I talked to a laicized Catholic priest last night who told me a story of bringing breakfast to a homeless man and sitting down and eating with him. He and this man are good friends now.

"Trying to find love in these hateful times," identifies the problem. These are hateful times and examples of love are few and far between. I don't think someone would say this if the millions of proclaimed Christians in this country were treating their neighbors as they would themselves. We have a job to do, people, and it's all in the red letters.

John Fischer

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Thoughts on abundances

God is a god of abundance, not a god of scarcity. Jesus reveals to us God's abundance when he offers so much bread to the people that there are twelve large baskets with leftover scraps (see John 6:5-15), and when he makes his disciples catch so many fish that their boat nearly sinks (Luke 5:1-7). God doesn't give us just enough. God gives us more than enough: more bread and fish than we can eat, more love than we dared to ask for.

God is a generous giver, but we can only see and enjoy God's generosity when we love God with all of our hearts, minds, and strength. As long as we say, "I will love you, God, but first show me your generosity," we will remain distant from God and unable to experience what God truly wants to give us, which is life and life in abundance.

Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen