Thursday, October 22, 2015

All Saints reflection . . .

Photo by Doris Klein, CSA
During World War II a German widow hid Jewish refugees in her home.   As her friends discovered the situation, they became extremely alarmed.
“You are risking your own well-being,” they told her. 
I know that,” she said.
“Then why,” they demanded, “do you persist in this foolishness?”
Her answer was stark and to the point.
“I am doing it,” she said, “because the time is now and I am here.”

Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints - those known and unknown women and men, and even children - who are called holy because their lives manifested the very holiness of God.  And we do this today because the time is now and we are here.

These women and men are those who form “the great multitude of which no one can count, from every nation, race, people and tongue.”
In the early Christian Church the first saints were martyrs, virgins, hermits, and monks who were declared holy by popular acclaim.  Since the 16th century, when the modern saint-making process began, canonization was in the control of the popes and became a judicial process complete with evidence and cross-examination. 

The person had to pass through a scrutiny of investigations and many proofs of miracles.   Once proven, then an elaborate ceremony of canonization occurred.  A feast day assigned, a Church and shrines were dedicated to the saint. 

The person would be declared patron saint of a country, a diocese or other religious institutions.  Statues and images would be struck, along with public prayers, relics venerated and possibly a Mass would be composed in the Saint’s honor.

In the times from these early centuries until now, those declared saints have contributed to God’s reign as artists, authors, founders/foundresses of religious orders, monks, martyrs, missionaries and mystics, bishops, popes, poets, peasants, and prophets, women and men religious, kings, queens, historians, and hermits, wives, husbands, reformers, scientists, theologians, teachers, virgins, children, widows, carpenters, shepherdesses and a thousand more paths in which these holy ones gave themselves as self gift.

They lived in times of turmoil and times of tranquility; they endured persecutions, wars, church councils, crusades, The Inquisition, the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, the Black Death, enemy occupation of their countries, and struggled with unjust government, church, and social systems. 

We may tend today to think of Saints as holy and pious people, sometimes irrelevant to our experience and often shown in pictures with halos above their heads with ecstatic gazes or surrounded by angels or holding a symbol particular to their story. 

But today – saints are men and women like us who live ordinary lives and struggle with the ordinary and extraordinary problems of life. What makes them saints is their clear and unwavering focus on God and God’s people.  And so we may ask, who are the holy ones for us today?  And what does holiness look like in our time and place?
Are we not all called to holiness by our very Baptism?
The time is now and we are here.

It can be said that holiness is conditioned by socio-cultural and religious factors. In the early centuries, the martyr paradigm certainly was a manifestation of God’s holiness.  

As one author remarks:  “For centuries the church has presented the human community with role models of greatness. We call them saints when what we really often mean to say is 'icon,' 'star,' 'hero,' ones so possessed by an internal vision of divine goodness that they give us a glimpse of the face of God in the center of the human. They give us
 a taste of the possibilities of greatness in  ourselves."
— Joan D. Chittister in A Passion for Life

And so in our age, when there is renewed awareness of the suffering of innocent people through human trafficking, or through the exploitation of third world countries, or through the tragic systematic death of peoples by means of torture, famine, and genocide, then we can be sure that the saints will be those whose lives are spent working tirelessly to alleviate the suffering. Because the time is now and they are here.

In an age when Christians are often confronted to choose between life and death for the sake of the Gospel, the saints will boldly choose life through the cost of death.  Because  the time is now and they are here.

In an age when there is a clash between human dignity of all and the restrictive power of a few over all, the saints will name the injustice and call it social sin. 
Because the time is now and they are here.

In an age when there is an ecclesial restriction of gifts of the Spirit to some groups but not to others, the saints will witness to the freedom of the Spirit to give gifts as the Spirit chooses, regardless of restrictive laws about use of the gifts. Because the time is now and they are here.

In an  age when discrimination, elitism and oppression operates in society, in the government and in our Church, the saints will again proclaim the reign of God and be “voice and heart, call and sign of the God whose design for this world is justice and mercy for all.” Because the time is now and they are here.

“Because the nature of sainthood is an incarnational reality, the shape and form of holiness may change from age to age and culture to culture.” But the Spirit of the Holy will continue to call people like all of us who are present and those beyond our faith community –
to witness to the freedom of the Spirit;
to run, to risk and wonder at our daring;
to boldly choose life through the cost of death; to confront the oppressors and marvel at our courage; and work tirelessly for the people of God as we proclaim God’s reign. 
For it is God’s caring we witness and
God’s love we share
because the time is now and we are here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"What do you want me to do for you?"

Jake and Neytiri in Avatar
“I see you,” Jake says to the tall, blue-skinned, native woman, Neytiri, in the futuristic, sci-fi epic movie Avatar. The greeting implies a connection beyond seeing with only the eyes.

The phrase “I see you” is used throughout the film to communicate a deep respect for the whole being. Not only does Jake learn to truly see Neytiri, but he also learns that deep-seeing leads to revering the interconnectedness in all of life. (Liz Budd Ellmann, Mdiv)

Jake, a former Marine, now wheelchair bound, enters into the “Avatar” project and has to choose between following the orders of his commanders to destroy a sacred forest where the Tree of Souls exists in the distant world of Pandora or not. This is a holy place where the Na’vi people connect with their ancestors. In a moment of inner awareness and compassion, he visits the Tree of Souls and desires wisdom to discover his true self . . . he is welcomed and seen for who he truly is . . . a “warrior” of truth, mercy, and hope!

I suppose you are wondering what this introduction has to do with the story of Blind Bartimaeus in our Sunday Gospel? There are a cast of characters in this story, some desiring to see, others desiring to be seen. However, it is Jesus who truly sees with a laser-like vision  a “deep respect for the whole being” of all whom he meets on his journey toward Jerusalem.

Jesus is surrounded by his disciples, and some “groupies” who act as security guards. Possibly some consider themselves the “in-group”.  Or some may have been healed or forgiven by Jesus. And yet, there are those in the crowd who see what they want to see and sort out who Jesus should see. They seem to be in charge of “crowd control” and they tell Bartimaeus to keep quiet. Could it be that they are “blind” as well?

Now Bartimaeus has a prime “box seat” right at the edge of the city where many people pass by. A strategic position for someone who needs alms, food, or any other small treasures that will sustain his life for one more day. His hearing is keen and he becomes aware that Jesus of Nazareth is here. Possibly he has heard of this man of miracles. He shouts to Jesus desiring mercy and compassion. He seems to “see” with his eager spirit and anxious heart. He doesn’t give up and calls to Jesus again . . . and this time Jesus stops and asks the crowd to bring Bartimaeus to him. Upon Jesus’ request, this crowd immediately has their eyes opened as well as their minds and hearts. Could it be that now they, too, truly see Bartimaeus with a deep respect for his whole being?

It is said that he threw off his cloak and sprang up. This has to be pure God energy. Who of us can sit for hours and all of a sudden throw off our “securities” and spring up to our feet to stand tall in our very selves?  Having abandoned all his possessions, he now stands before Jesus in his nakedness and vulnerability. Jesus truly sees him with a deep respect and honors him by asking him what he desires. The beggar responds, “I want to see.”  According to some commentaries, the Greek translation has “to look up” as the response.  In other words, Bartimaeus desires to look up and all around him so that he no longer needs to be limited to a certain space, or way of living, or be a recipient of ridicule, or not be seen for who he truly is.

Just another aside, I couldn’t help but think of Pope Francis making his way through the crowds of Cuba, Washington, D.C., New York, and Philadelphia.  He stopped often because he saw so many “Bartimeaus” like people reaching out to be touched, heard, prayed over, and seen!

So what is the Good News for us as we prepare for this Sunday’s Gospel?

Let us look up and all around us to see with a deep respect all those whom we may unconsciously pass by. Let us respond to them saying: “I see you.” And may we grow in our learning “that deep-seeing leads to revering the interconnectedness in all of life.”

Let us ask God to truly see us, and give us sight to where we most need healing, forgiveness, and unconditional loving kindness. 

Let us be open to stand tall in God’s grace as we hear the words of invitation, “What do you want me to do for you?” . . . because God says, “I see you.”

Something opens our wings.
Something makes boredom and hurt disappear.
Someone fills the cup in front of us:
We taste only sacredness.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Cup of Discipleship

Mark 10: 35-45
The Highest Places of Honor

Dan Berrigan once remarked, “If you want to be Christian, you better look good on wood.”

In Mark’s Gospel, we are met with the challenge that if you want to be a disciple be ready to have your life turned upside down and inside out, and upside out and inside down! 

 “Discipling” is not an easy process.  It means facing toward Jerusalem with Jesus and letting him be in the lead. 

In today’s (Sunday)  Gospel we meet James and John, also known as the “Sons of Thunder” or affectionately known as the favored sons of Mr. and Mrs. Zebedee.  These men can be described as enthusiastic, eager, zealous, ambitious, future planners, and they have a strong desire to follow Jesus.  But Jesus finds this time a teachable moment.  He says that “discipling” is not about being first, but it’s about being last.  It’s not about having many possessions, but it’s about letting ourselves be possessed by God. It’s not about having positions of power, authority, and honor.  But it’s about putting on an apron and bending down to wash the feet of another.  And in summary, it’s all about drinking of the cup of suffering.

In my kitchen at home, I have a cupboard with cups of many sizes, textures, shapes, and colors. The cups of our experiences in life are of varied sizes, textures, colors, and shapes as well.  So in reflecting further on this Gospel, I invite us to call to mind the many "cups" that we are presented with throughout our lives.

There are cups of compassion, forgiveness, thanksgiving, and blessing.  Can we drink of these cups that are filled with the joyful and sorrowful mysteries that are part of our faith journey?

There are cups of discernment, joy, laughter, friendship, decisions, choices, and beliefs.  Can we drink of these cups knowing that oftentimes we need the gentle support and understanding of another?

Yet, there are more cups that we encounter again and again throughout our short life’s journey:
• The cup of transition . . .
• The cup of walking in mystery
• The cup of embracing our limitations
• The cup of letting go
• The cup of “what will tomorrow unfold”
• The cup of transformation
• The cup of surrender

Henri Nouwen in his book, “Can You Drink This Cup?” suggests three movements, or gestures as to how we might drink from these cups. 

  • The first movement is to HOLD the cup; to welcome it and all its contents into your life.
  • The second movement is to LIFT the cup; to claim all that it holds – the joys, sorrows, surprises, and challenges of our lives. 
  • And the third movement is to DRINK WITH GRATITUDE.  To sip gently as if its contents were a precious liquid.
So what is the Good News for us this week?
Let us be aware of the many cups that are presented to us this week.
Can we hold any cup that is presented us and welcome it?
Can we lift the cup that is presented us and claim its gifts, challenges,  and mysteries?
And can we drink deeply with gratitude of the cups presented us through the happenings of our lives this week?
Jesus asked, “Are you sure you are capable of drinking the cup that I shall drink?”  And the disciples replied, “Sure, why not!”

Artist Unknown

Monday, October 12, 2015

Leaf mutterings. . .

A blade of grass  . . .

Said a blade of grass to an autumn leaf, “You make such a noise falling! You scatter all my winter dreams.”

Said the leaf indignant, “Low-born and low-dwelling! Songless, peevish thing! You live not in the upper air and you cannot tell the sound of singing.”

Then the autumn leaf lay down upon the earth and slept. And when spring came she waked again — and she was a blade of grass.

And when it was autumn and her winter sleep was upon her, and above her through all the air the leaves were falling, she muttered to herself, “O these autumn leaves! They make such a noise! They scatter all my winter dreams.”

K.Gibran – The Madman Chapter 30

Praying Autumn . . .

Autumn -- A Prayer of Acceptance

Eternal One who circles the seasons with ease, teach me about Earth’s natural cycle of turning from one season to another. Remind me often of how she opens herself to the dying and rising rotations, the coming and going of each of the four seasons. Open me today to the teachings of the season of autumn.

When I accept only the beautiful and reject the tattered, torn parts of who I am, when I treat things that are falling apart as my enemies,
walk me among the dying leaves; let them tell me about their power to energize Earth’s soil by their decomposition and their formation of enriching humus.

When I fear the loss of my youthfulness and refuse to accept the reality of aging,
turn my face to the brilliant colors of autumn trees; open my spirit to the mellow resonance of autumn sunsets and the beauty of the changing land.

When I refuse to wait with the mystery of the unknown; when I struggle to keep control rather than to let life evolve,
wrap me in the darkening days of autumn and encourage me to wait patiently for clarity and vision as I live with uncertainty and insecurity.

When I grow tired of using my own harvest of gifts to benefit others,
take me to the autumn fields where Earth shares the bounty of summer and allows her lands to surrender their abundance.

When I resist efforts to warm a relationship that has been damaged by my coldness,
let me feel the first hard freeze of autumn’s breath and see the death it brings to greening, growing things.

When I neglect to care for myself and become totally absorbed in life’s hurried pace,
give me courage to slow down as I see how Earth slows down and allows her soil to rest in silent, fallow space.

When I fight the changes of unwanted, unsought events and struggle to keep things just as they are instead of letting go,
place me on the wings of traveling birds flying south, willing to leave their nests of comfort as they journey to another destination.

When I fail to say “thank you” and see only what is not, instead of what is,
lead me to gather all the big and little aspects of my life that have blessed me with comfort, hope, love, inner healing, strength, and courage.

Maker of the Seasons, thank you for all that autumn teaches me. Change my focus so that I see not only what I am leaving behind, but also the harvest and the plenitude that my life holds. May my heart grow freer and my life more peaceful as I resonate with, and respond to, the many teachings this season offers to me.

The Circle of Life: The Heart’s Journey Through the Seasons
Joyce Rupp & Macrina Wiederkehr
Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2005

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Teresa ~ A Mega~Flower!

On October 15, the feast of St. Teresa of Avila will be observed in certain Catholic-Christian and Carmelite circles.  As Theresa of Lisieux referred to herself as the “little flower of Jesus," I suppose Teresa of Avila could be considered the “Big Flower” or “Mega-Flower” of Jesus!   She was a giant at the time she lived in the 16th century and her presence and force is still with us today!

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) “is one of the most beloved spiritual figures in history . . . she is known around the world as a great mystic, saint, reformer” and the first woman to be named Doctor of the Church!!  After a special vision, she was moved to reform the Carmelite order. She founded the community known as the Discalced (shoeless) Carmelites in Avila.  “The sisters wore hemp sandals, but their name referred to the strict poverty that was a feature of Teresa’s reform.”

She was the foundress of 17 Carmel convents, the author of four books, and considered one of the outstanding religious teachers of Christian prayer.  She was known to have a charismatic personality, along with wisdom and courage that was deeply rooted in a special love relationship with God.

Throughout her life, she suffered from migraine headaches, and other physical ailments, and experienced dryness in prayer for much of her life. However, it is also written that Teresa had the privilege of hearing God speak to her. She also began to see visions and Jesuit and Dominican priests came to see if this was true. They were convinced and declared that the visions were holy and authentic. 

In accounts of her life, it is said that when she would move into a prayerful ecstasy, there were always a couple of sisters that were appointed to hold onto the hem of her habit so that as she was lifted up in prayerful rapture, she wouldn't injure herself.

There also is the great story told of her on her travels where she encountered all the hazards of donkey carts which was one of the means of transportation of her time.  “One time her cart overturned, throwing her into a muddy river.  When she complained to God about this ordeal, she heard a voice from within her say, ‘This is how I treat my friends.’ “Yes, my Lord,” she answered, “and that is why you have so few of them.”

Prayers of Teresa:

Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

+  + +
May today there be peace within.  May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.  May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.  May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.  May you be content knowing you are a child of God.  Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise, and love.  It is there for each and every one of us.

+ + +
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Flame of Courage. . .

Photo compliments of Doris Klein, CSA
For Courage by John O’Donohue

When the light around you lessens, and your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn cold as a stone inside,
When you find yourself bereft of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly leaned on has fallen,
When one voice commands your whole heart, and it is raven dark,
Steady yourself and see that it is your own thinking that darkens your world,
Search and you will find a diamond-thought of light,
Know that you are not alone and that this darkness has purpose; gradually it will school your eyes
To find the one gift your life requires, hidden within this night-corner.

Invoke the learning of every suffering you have suffered.
Close your eyes. Gather all the kindling about your heart to create one spark,
That is all you need to nourish the flame that will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.

A new confidence will come alive, to urge you toward higher ground
Where your imagination will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Tomorrow and tomorrow. . .

Reflect on Tomorrow

Dear God, today as I reflect on what’s ahead for me I ask for your guidance to make decisions that bring me closer to you. Help me to know your voice and believe in the power of your gifts in me. I trust that you will lead me amidst the uncertainties of life. Give me the courage to follow you today as you lead me to tomorrow. Amen.              

Gratitude. . .

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough, and more.
It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity....
It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events.
Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.
 (Melodie Beattie)

God is present in it all . . .

God is there in these moments of rest and can give us in a single instant exactly what we need. 
Then the rest of the day can take its course, under the same effort and strain, perhaps, but in peace. 
And when night comes, and you look back over the day and see how fragmentary everything has been, and how much you planned that has gone undone. . . just take everything exactly as it is, put it in God’s hands and leave it with God. 
Then you will be able to rest in God ~ really rest ~ and start the next day as a new life.

St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross (Edith Stein)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Too Muching!

Weeping Jesus ~ Oklahoma City

Lucero Alcaraz, 19; Treven Taylor Anspach, 20; Rebecka Ann Carnes, 18
Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, 59; Lucas Eibel, 18; Jason Dale Johnson, 34;
Lawrence Levine, 67; Sarena Dawn Moore, 44; Quinn Glen Cooper, 18

Sometimes, Lord,
it just seems to be too much:
    too much violence, too much fear;
    too much of demands and problems;
    too much of broken dreams and broken lives;
    too much of war and slums and dying;
    too much of greed and squishy fatness
        and the sounds of people
            devouring each other
                and the earth;
too much of stale routines and quarrels,
    unpaid bills and dead ends;
too much of words lobbed in to explode
    and leaving shredded hearts and lacerated souls;
too much turned-away backs and yellow silence,
    red rage and bitter taste of ashes in my mouth
Sometimes the very air seems scorched
    by threats and rejection and decay
        until there is nothing
        but to inhale pain
            and exhale confusion.
Too much of darkness, Lord,          
    too much of cruelty
        and selfishness
            and indifference…
Too much, Lord,
    too much,
        too bloody,
                brain-washing much.
 Or is it too little,
    too little of compassion,
    too little of courage,
        of daring,
        of persistence,
        of sacrifice;
    too little of music
        and laughter
            and celebration?
O God,
make of me some nourishment
    for these starved times,
        some food for my brothers and sisters
    who are hungry for gladness and hope,
        that, being bread for them,
    I may also be fed
        And be full.

Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace