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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Seventh Sunday of Easter

May 24, 2009

How is your novena, your nine days of intensified prayer going? Persevere in prayer as Pentecost is nearing. I feel like I have had a spiritual make-over yesterday as I saw my own spiritual director, visited my mom, and then visited a cloistered Cistercian Trappist monk at St. Joseph’s Abbey.

The first reading for today’s Mass tells us the story of the God-guided election of the one who would replace Judas among the Twelve after he had turned away from Jesus. Matthias was the one elected for the service of witnessing to the Resurrection of the Lord. The community must have still been struggling with sting of having one of their own betray Jesus. They gather and deliberate about whom to choose to complete the full number of disciples. Notice the number of times that the early church comes together to pray as a community about their complex circumstances. They realize that they did not have the answer and they seek to discover God’s will. They learn to trust God’s care for them. It strikes me that they must have some enlightening conversations and some heated discussions. I hope we can rekindle the art of conversation and prayer that existed in the early church. The complex needs of our world might benefit from the same prayerful discourse.

John’s Gospel continues his Farewell Discourse in which we are able to hear an intimate conversation between Jesus and the Father. Jesus thanks God for protecting him and his own, who are separate from the world. He then tells the Father that he has done his best to care for the disciples entrusted to him, and we can hear his concern for them as they will temporarily be left without a strong protector. He, therefore, consecrates his followers and sets them apart so they will continue his mission. Jesus’ prayer strengthens his friends in a way that allows them to face the inevitable hostility and hatred that must come before they can experience the joy in the new life that comes from remaining in the protective love of Jesus.

May we learn to actively seek the will of God as the first disciples did and may we allow the divine protection to embolden us to take risks that God may ask of us. Let us confidently know that Christ is still working for our behalf – still offering us his protective care. Wouldn’t that allow us to freely and boldly step forward and to live our faith well?

Themes in This Week’s Masses

Interesting parallels exist between the first readings and those of the Gospel this week. On Monday, both St. Paul and Jesus begin to speak plainly about the workings of the Holy Spirit. For the remainder of the week, we get Paul’s farewell discourse to the people of Ephesus at the same time we are hearing Jesus’ final portion of his farewell discourse. While Jesus is foretelling the probable dangers of the disciples for carrying on his mission, we see Paul being unjustly charged, tried, and imprisoned. The parallel to Jesus’ arrest and trial is stunning. Paul is living his life in the same manner that Jesus lived his. Paul exhorts us to live in the same manner and he shows us how to do it. Both men were true to their mission given to them by God and were vindicated for this faith. The final Gospel passage of this week shows the Risen Lord calling us into deeper relationship and entrusting us with his individual mission for us.

On Monday, we remember the Venerable Bede whose greatest work was writing The Ecclesiastical History of the English People and preparing the people for the inclusion of the non-Roman barbarian north of England to receive Christianity. St Gregory the Great is also celebrated traditionally on May 25th. He is responsible for the Gregorian reforms by which he separated the Church from civil control. The ancient chant that is used in our churches were commissioned during the time of Gregory’s papacy. Tuesday is the memorial of Philip Neri who became a priest around the time of the Council of Trent. His personality attracted many people to his type of spirituality in which people to become more human through their holiness. He is remembered for both his humility and his laughter. On Wednesday, the church remembers Augustine of Canterbury, a contemporary of Gregory the Great. Augustine was a missionary in England who failed often. His failure allows the Britons to retain their pagan rituals that later became incorporated into the larger Catholic world.

Happy Memorial Day to all of our veterans. May we remember our deceased brothers and sisters who gave their lives to the service of their country. Through their sacrifice, we are able to enjoy the many comforts and freedoms that they won for us.

Republished Book: The Practice of Spiritual Direction

HarperOne of San Francisco is publishing a second, revised and updated edition of The Practice of Spiritual Direction by Jesuit Fathers Bill Barry and Bill Connolly. The language is made more inclusive, and it contains an updated bibliography with some changes in the text. The basic thrust and insights of the book remain the same. The cover is more inviting, and the price is right, $14.99. Besides ordering directly from HarperOne or your bookstore, you can also get the book online through Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. The authors are very pleased that the book continues to attract readers and practitioners.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 17, 2009

The Easter season is concluding and we are privileged to see how the early church struggled with its own doctrinal and worship issues. It is heartening to see the growth in the disciples as the new realities of the Church confront what was once a comforting aspect of their faith. Prior to today’s selection of readings, God speaks to Peter three times to pave the way for the insights he is about to receive about the inclusion of the Gentiles into the new community and finally he is able to conclude, “I see that God shows no partiality.” For a Jew – the chosen people – this is a paradigm shift because ‘salvation comes from the Jews.’ It meant abandoning the precepts of the Law that they cherished dearly. Hastening to fulfill the Law meant hastening the redemption of Israel. To let go of this cornerstone belief could only be done through grace.

As Peter is telling Cornelius about his new insight, the people gathered around them received the Holy Spirit equally – not only the Jews, but also those who were Gentile Christians. Peter is moved to declare that no one ought to place any impediment upon baptizing these new believers to bring them wholeheartedly into the faith. The greater initiative is from Christ’s Spirit. God wants the Gentiles to be welcomed into the Church.

I find Peter’s just exercise of his authority is remarkable. He has a gut-wrenching decision to make and needs to examine all of his resistances to abandoning a precept of his faith that worked so well for Jews for centuries. God enlightens his mind and heart four times in order to convince him of God’s truth. Peter’s gradual coming to greater faith is done through sustained prayer and by allowing him to truly understand what other believers are experiencing. Rather than tightly clinging to doctrine, he realizes that he is asked to step forth into bold, uncomfortable, fearful territory. The whole weight of decision falls to him, but his heart and mind are moved to do what is right in God’s eyes. These Gentiles want a closer relationship with the Lord and Peter’s compassionate concern for them paves the way for a full inclusion into the community with no burdensome restrictions. You can almost sense Peter’s relief when he decides justly and rightly for the people. Peter’s experience of wrestling with the complex faith issues of his time can serve as a worthy model for us to examine as we wrestle with equally complex issues that confront our faith.

Love is the guarantee that the life of the Spirit is growing in us. Love is the sign of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church and in the world. – Thomas Merton

Ascension Thursday

Ascension Thursday is a holy day of obligation. It marks the event in the life of the Resurrected Christ who departed from this temporal earth to return to God. St. Ignatius was so desirous of learning about the historical Jesus that he traveled to the places in the Holy Lands where Jesus walked and lived. As he was getting kicked out of the Holy Lands, he desired to return to the place of the Ascension to see the direction of Jesus’ feet as he ascended to God.

This week’s liturgies

We anticipate the sending of the Holy Spirit this week as we follow the events of Jesus’ Ascension to his Father in heaven. In the Gospels, we hear Jesus preparing his disciples for his departure, but that he will send us an Advocate to console us and inspire us to continue the work that Jesus has begun. In the first readings for Mass, Paul encounters many believers who share his work of building the new community. Lydia, Silas, Timothy, Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos are instrumental is sustaining the new church that Paul is creating.

On Monday, we honor John I, pope and martyr, who persuaded the church in Constantinople to end the persecution of the Arians. On Wednesday, the Franciscan Bernadine of Siena is remembered for his winning over of converts in northern and central Italy by his eloquence and understanding of the needs of the people. On Friday, we revere the Augustinian Rita of Cascia for her 40 years of prayer, contemplation and service of the poor.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fifth Sunday of Easter - Mother's Day

May 10, 2009

Today’s comforting Gospel passage by St. John about the vine and the branches also reveals to us the ways that Christ prunes us and helps us come to more abundant in bearing fruit. The first reading tells us how St. Paul was pruned by the Spirit of Jesus – shaping him from a fierce persecutor into the church’s greatest missionary ever. The disciples were likewise pruned. We see them first protecting themselves against what they perceive to be a clever ploy by Paul to cut them off at the root, then walking with Paul freely in Jerusalem, to protecting Paul against the Hellenists and from all those who sought to harm him. Somehow Paul‘s way of life convinced the disciples of his authenticity of being on their side.

We are pruned by the Lord as well, and we feel the pinch against the branches of our body. We don’t often understand that this is going to happen to us when Christ tells us to come and remain with him. Contemporary Jesuits have a saying that helps us understand what Jesus means when he uses the verb “to remain.” We form people to become men and women with and for others. We realize the necessity of being “with” others before we can be “for” them. This word “remain” means becoming more like the one we are with – knowing what the other values, desires, and hopes.

Remaining with Jesus is a loving action, but we have to learn to trust the authority of Jesus’ words and intentions. We respond to authority in our lives cautiously – always testing it to see if it is just – always testing to see if it is safe for us. We only trust authority when they reveal to us that they have considerate concern over us. Think about how you can best hear the message from someone in authority. When you are outright told “no, don’t do something,” you get angry and your freedom is taken away. But if that person outlines her expectations for you and gives you the ability to choose in light of her expectations, you can choose more freely. Placing your choices within a context of a larger set of goals and objectives allows you to choose not only what you want, but you also take the authority’s considerations into your decision. The one in authority needs to use her power justly to build a trusting relationship. As we make our choices in life, we want to know “which is the most beneficial way we can choose to prune another and minimize the pain he or she may feel?” After all, we want those around us to bloom and flourish and produce a bountiful harvest.

Jesus chooses to build a trusting relationship. He says, “Just come be with me. Rest with me. Learn from me. Let your soul be replenished by being with me. Learn to trust that I care for you and will do the best for you, even if it hurts a little. I want you to grow in my freedom.” Once we build trust in that relationship, we can allow Jesus to snip off our wayward branches. He doesn’t do it all at once; he does it with our consent and he realizes that it is a process that takes some time. It is a trusting way that he asks us to conform our will with his own will, and before too long we realizes that we are making choices that are aligned to his will and we do it because it pleases him. We find that we have areas of our lives that begin to blossom in unexpected ways and we relish what we discover about ourselves. We all want to produce good fruit and we don’t do this on our own, we do it because we remain with Jesus who is always working for our good – bringing forth new life.

This Week’s Liturgies

Our scripture from the first readings of the day follow Paul’s work of establishing new Christian communities in the Mediterranean world. We note how it was not all preordained and a smooth action by the Holy Spirit. In fact, Paul faced many hardships in setting up the new churches. People were healed and continued to suffer and many complicated problems needed to be addressed in order to maintain the unity of the community. In the Gospels, Jesus continues to reveal his deep thoughts and wishes for his disciples. He illustrates the complexities of deepening relationships with him. The disciples will gain new wisdom and insights from the Holy Spirit; they will increase in the theological virtues of faith, hope and love; and they will undergo suffering in service of others.

On Tuesday, the church honors three minor saints – St. Nereus and St. Achilleus who were soldiers in the Roman imperial arm that converted to Christianity and suffered martyrdom because they refused to sacrifice to idols, and St. Pancras, a Syrian orphan brought to Rome by his uncle where they were both martyred for becoming Christians. On Wednesday, we celebrate Our Lady of Fatima, on the anniversary of her appearance to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal – one of the most visited Christian pilgrim sites in Europe. Our Lady stressed the necessity of repentance, deeper conversion, and dedication to the Immaculate Heart of Mary with an increased devotion to the Rosary. St. Matthias, the apostle, is celebrated on Thursday, a week before Ascension Thursday. Matthias was chosen to replace Judas after the Resurrection because he had been with Jesus and the disciples from the time of Jesus’ baptism until the resurrection. St. Isidore, the farmer, from Madrid, Spain, labored on an estate, but became known for his generosity and piety. Jesuit Fr. Andrew Bobola is remembered on Saturday for his missionary efforts in Poland and Lithuania during the mid-17th century. He angered the governing authority by converting schismatics back to the Catholic faith.

Two Students Entering the Church

By looking at the saints this week who lost their lives by converting to Christianity, we realize the powerful work of the Spirit as it continues to build up God’s Kingdom On Monday, May 18th, two Cheverus seniors will formally be received into the faith. Please pray for Jake and Justin that they be armed by every spiritual aid that is needed to bolster their faith.

And Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers and to those who have been mother to us sometime in our lives. A big hearty, Thank You.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Good Shepherd Sunday - Fourth Sunday of Easter

May 3, 2009

A friend from Cape Elizabeth, Maine a few days ago excitedly told me about her flourishing sheep barn. A year ago I saw her preparatory work as she converted a storage barn into her latest “green” project. Louise remarked, “Do you know? The Gospel stories mean so much more to me now that I am closer to the land. Jesus was brilliant in using those images and symbols as a way of appealing to the real stuff of life. My sheep have so much to teach me.” “Wow,” I thought. “What an insight to carry with me as we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday.

The old fashioned images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd carrying the lost lamb on his shoulders can be comforting for some, but many adults bristle at the thought of being compared to a mindless flock animal. Some do not want to be typecast as a person that is unreflectively obedient to whoever is assigned to herd them. Fortunately for us, this was not what John the Evangelist had in mind when he wrote about Jesus as the model of exemplary leadership.

In his Gospel, John was raising Jesus up as the true leader who gathers all together into one, giving his life for his own while other religious leaders in Israel were absent shepherds who would scatter the flock whenever there was any threat to the community. These were false shepherds who were primarily concerned with their own needs. According to John, Jesus was different from the others because he had an intimate relationship with them just as he had with his Father. This intimacy is best expressed by Jesus through his loving, self-surrender – even to death.

This is the type of intimacy that my friend, Louise, is learning from her own sheep. They respond to her and she caringly takes care of them. It is a life-giving, mutually-nourishing friendship – the same type of friendship we can have with God. Try a little experiment. Take one day this week to listen to all the voices that surround you: the television commercials, radio and magazine advertisements, the silent expectations of family, the unexpressed demands of work, the wishes and desires of friends. When do you get to hear and honor your own desires? When do you hear the still, silent voice of the Good Shepherd? With so many competing and clamorous voices, isn’t it nice to be able to recognize the voice of merciful truth from the one who only means the best for us? We can never forget his voice, but we have to be able to lessen our responses to those other voices so that the voice of Jesus becomes primary. Which other of those voices are always willing to lay down their lives for you?

This week’s liturgies

In our first readings for daily Mass we follow the missionary adventures of Paul and Barnabas (son of consolation because he was a skilled mediator.) Their message is intended for a different audience than the Twelve disciples. They begin their missionary work in Antioch and move steadily westward. The Easter message is rejected by the Jews, but received gratefully by the delighted Gentiles. In the Gospels, we hear the remaining words by Jesus about the way he is the Good Shepherd. We further deepen our understanding of Jesus by hearing about the ways he is one with the Father in essence and in mission. He further elaborates on the intimacy that he shares with the Father and yearns to share with us. We all want the comfort on knowing someone intimately cares for us. Well, we have someone who constantly invites us into deeper friendship.

Cinco de Mayo

Happy Cinco de Mayo (the Fifth of May)! This celebration commemorates the defeat of the superior French forces against a ragtag Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It marks the final time that an army from another continent invaded the Americas. At Cheverus, we had a nice fiesta on Thursday as I cooked a Mexican casserole for 70 faculty and staff members. As you can imagine, I needed a siesta afterwards. Let us celebrate with our cousins to the south of the Rio Grande and let us remember all immigrants who strive for protection and a stable livelihood.

Cheverus Auction

Just a reminder that our annual auction is held on Saturday, May 9th at 7:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland. Please come or at least pray for our success as this is our primary fundraiser for the year!