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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lenten Resolve

Learn the art (and delight in it) of saying "no." When you exclude something you invariably include something else even more fully.

Second Sunday in Lent

March 4, 2012
Genesis 22:1-2, 9-18; Psalm 116; Romans 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10

                Scripture lauds Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac as a show of true fidelity to God's commands. To many it makes us wonder why God would ask a father to kill his son as a sacrifice. It seems barbaric, cold-hearted, and too severe a request. The author means to stress fidelity and dependence upon God as the condition by which one gains the revered blessings of long life, prosperity, and many descendents. Such blessings show others that they are on the path to righteousness. Furthermore, this reading takes on added significance for Christians who know that while Abraham was ready to sacrifice his only son, God in fact does fully sacrifice his own son in the person of Jesus. The fidelity of Jesus to his Father, even to the point of death, is upheld in the resurrection.

          In his Letter to the Romans, Paul writes that we are to know that God is on our side, for if God does not condemn us, but acquits us, we are not to worry about any earthly adversaries. God shows his fidelity to us by handing over Jesus for us all. God already definitively proves that he will give us everything else to win us over. We not only have God on our side always ready to acquit us, but Jesus is interceding for us and pleading with God on our behalf. We have all the support we need.

          The first reading is designed to confirm for us just how much God is doing for us. In the Transfiguration, God shows the whole history of salvation when Jesus stands on the mountain with Moses and Elijah. Moses is the great lawgiver through whom we have received the divine commands to care for God, neighbor, and self. Fidelity to the law means life and prosperity. Elijah is the great inaugural prophet who exhorted the Israelites to heed the commands of God and to be faithful to the prophetic tradition. The deaths of neither of these men were reported by anyone. Speculation holds that since these men were heroically regarded they were brought to heaven before death could take them.
          The Transfiguration scene has Jesus conversing with the Giver of the Law and the Prophets - the two great scriptural traditions. I wonder what that conversation must have been like. It might have seemed surreal to Jesus that he was speaking to the two great men of his people's history, but when the cloud descends upon the three a voice from heaven is heard saying, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." Fidelity is linked to hearing. When we respond affirmatively to what we hear, we act faithfully. When the inner circle of the disciples heard this, they no longer saw Moses and Elijah - only Jesus. Jesus stands alone as the unique revealer of God to the people.

          As perplexing as this event was to the disciples, Jesus further confuses them by declaring they are to keep this a secret until the time he rises from the dead. Of course, they have no idea what "rising from the dead" meant. Secrets are hard to keep, but I can't imagine that they felt confident enough to speak of their experiences to their close friends and family members. They knew such a preposterous statements would have been ridiculed. In fact, it is good for us today to ponder what really happened at the resurrection. I think we fail to look at the nuances of it enough to comprehend all our questions about it. For most people, it seems like an obvious fact, but it behooves us to ponder the resurrection events so we know what it personally means for us. It is a worthwhile question to ponder as we make our Lenten journey to Easter.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading:  Rather than a linear story, the first readings this week continue to show the relationship between God and the people of Israel. The descendents of Abraham have sinned and turned away from God and they desire that God looks upon them and grants the mercy God promised in his covenant. ~ In the Book of Daniel, the people pray to God who mercifully remembers his covenant. They acknowledge they have sinned out of their own treachery and they have been scattered into other countries. Isaiah instructs people to wash away their sins and make themselves presentable to the Lord. Jeremiah tells us the people plotted against him by destroying him with his own words. He responds by cursing the one who trusts in human beings instead of God. The Lord alone probes the mind and tests the heart. Genesis begins the story of Joseph. Israel loved him best because he was the child of his old age. For their jealousy, Joseph's brothers plotted to kill him, but eventually chose the less evil path by selling him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. Micah describes God as the one who removes guilt and pardons sins. God delights in clemency and compassion. God will show faithfulness once again to the descendents of Abraham.

Gospel: In Luke, Jesus tells the people to imitate God, who is merciful, refrains from judging, forgives easily, and gives abundantly. In Matthew, Jesus warns people not to imitate the Pharisees and scribes who speak of the teachings, but privately do not follow them. As Jesus and his disciples were nearing Jerusalem, the mother of James and John approached him to ask if her sons could be seated at his right and left hand side in the kingdom. Jesus tells his friends that the proper use of authority is to serve, just as he will do when he gives his life as a ransom for many. In Luke, Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and the poor Lazarus who was covered by sores and shunned by society. When the two died, the rich man saw Lazarus at the side of Abraham. He sought relief and wanted someone to go back to his family to tell them the moral of the story. Jesus told them that they still would not listen - even if the Son of God was sent among them and persuaded them that someone should rise from the dead. Jesus tells another parable in Matthew about a landowner whose rebellious servants seize his vineyard and kill the owner's son. In Luke, Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son saying that he who was lost is now found.

Saints of the Week

March 7: Perpetua and Felicity (d. 203), were two catechumens arrest and killed during a persecution in North Africa. Perpetua was a young noblewoman who was killed alongside her husband, their young son, and their pregnant slave, Felicity. They were baptized while under arrest and would not renounce their faith. Felicity was excused from death because it was unlawful to kill a pregnant woman, but she gave birth prematurely three days before the planned execution. They were flogged, taunted by wild beasts, and then beheaded. They appear in the First Eucharistic Prayer.

March 8: John of God (1495-1550), was a Portuguese soldier of fortune who was brought to Spain as a child. He was a slave master, shepherd, crusader, bodyguard and peddler. As he realized that he frittered away his life, he sought counsel from John of Avila. He then dedicated his life to care for the sick and the poor. He formed the Order of Brothers Hospitallers and is the patron saint of hospitals and the sick.

March 9: Frances of Rome (1384-1440), was born into a wealthy Roman family and was married at age 13. She bore six children and when two died in infancy, she worked to bring the needs of the less fortunate to others. She took food to the poor, visited the sick, cared for the needy in their homes. When other women joined in her mission, they became Benedictine oblates. She founded a monastery for them after her husband's death.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Mar 4, 1873. At Rome, the government officials presented themselves at the Professed House of the Gesu for the purpose of appropriating the greater part of the building.
·         Mar 5, 1887. At Rome, the obsequies of Fr. Beckx who died on the previous day. He was 91 years of age and had governed the Society as General for 34 years. He is buried at San Lorenzo in Campo Verano.
·         Mar 6, 1643. Arnauld, the Jansenist, published his famous tract against Frequent Communion. Fifteen French bishops gave it their approval, whereas the Jesuit fathers at once exposed the dangers in it.
·         Mar 7, 1581. The Fifth General Congregation of the Society bound the professors of the Society to adhere to the doctrine of St Thomas Aquinas.
·         Mar 8, 1773. At Centi, in the diocese of Bologna, Cardinal Malvezzi paid a surprise visit to the Jesuit house, demanding to inspect their accounting books.
·         Mar 9, 1764. In France, all Jesuits who refused to abjure the Society were ordered by Parliament to leave the realm within a month. Out of 4,000 members only five priests, two scholastics, and eight brothers took the required oath; the others were driven into exile.
·         Mar 10, 1615. The martyrdom in Glascow, Scotland, of St John Ogilvie. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lenten Resolve

Reduce love to its essence. It is mostly a knowing and a being known. Make the effort of getting to know and letting your true self be known. You will see the oneness of love and God's love.

Prayer: Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk

When we forgive, we don't deny the hurt that we have received. We don't deny that it was wrong.... But we acknowledge that there is more to the offender than the offense.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lenten Resolve

Reduce life from its complexities to its essence. It is mostly love that matters --- and lasts.

Prayer: Meister Eckhart

You need not seek him here or there, for he is no further than the door of your heart; there he stands patiently awaiting whoever is ready to open up and let him in. No need to call to him from afar; he can hardly wait for you to open up. He longs for you a thousand times more than you long for him.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Prayer: Dulcinea in Don Quixote

Blows and abuse I can take and give back again, but tenderness I cannot bear.

Prayer: Rod McKuen

I only know the dying heart needs the nourishment of memory to live beyond too many winters.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Prayer: Francis de Sales

Render thanks to God. O great and good Creator, how much do I owe to you, since out of my nothingness you have made me what I am? How can I ever worthily bless your holy name and thank your infinite goodness?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Spirituality: The Twelve Steps of A.A.

Principles and Defects

1. Honesty              Denial
2. Hope                 Despair
3. Faith                  Fear
4. Courage             Anxiety, worry
5. Integrity             Dishonesty
6. Willingness          Control
7. Humility             Egoism
8. Fraternal Charity Hate
9. Justice                Judgmental
10. Perseverance     Complacency
11. Spiritual Awareness       Self-centeredness
12. Service              Selfishness

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Prayer: From Ashes to Easter

Jesus gives his disciples a simple, clear example of what discipleship is all about: service. Washing one another's feet, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked - here is the core of the Eucharist, our great miracle of love.... God's table is large, as large as creation. All are invited, all are to have access to the necessity of food and the miracles of love. Both are essential to the fullness of life. Without food, the body languishes and dies; without love, our souls wither and are filled with despair. The leftovers in our lives? What are they and who will get them? So many people can live off our leavings if we would only share. This is hardly sufficient. Disciples of Christ give abundantly in imitation of the Master who gave his very self. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Homily for Ash Wednesday

                I can stand here and suggest to you very clever ways to fast and to enhance your Lenten devotions of prayer and almsgiving, but I can't imagine you need or want that. I could elaborate on various ways to take the reading from Joel to heart imploring you to turn to the Lord, but you are on retreat with your face turned toward the Lord already. I could speak about the contrasting views within the readings, but that doesn't seem to be the point. For me, the second reading holds the key when Paul says: Be reconciled to God. Don't receive the grace of God in vain.
          When I was in Australia I made my 30-day retreat amid the vintage grapes of a vineyard. I took on a project of clearing a field filled with fallen brush that had sharp, pointy thorns sticking out of each branch. I was cut mightily several times a day, but those branches were not as dangerous as the venomous brown snakes or the deadly red stripe spiders or as messy as mis-stepping into cow patties. Day by day I worked to clean up the field - moving gingerly with my fears.
          Each branch I added to the pile represented a memory for me. The thick logs were long familiar memories that seemed like old friends; the younger, fresher, green branches cut more sharply and stung into my skin. I prayerfully used this time to examine the painful memories that I carried. Some were much too painful to touch and I was unwilling to focus upon them; others were hurtful, but I was now used to the hurt. I plodded along and I knew Christ was laboring alongside me. He knew how deep the hurts were and I knew he wanted to talk about them and was patient with me. I resisted fiercely. One of my hopes for the retreat was to be able to forgive my parents. I had been in the process of doing that for years, but always unsuccessfully. My parents are good parents, but I held some resentments about choices they made and didn't make. I wanted a better life for me and a better life for them and I held onto frustration and great disappointment for far too long.
          I had a breakthrough one day during prayer I was invited to a mansion party that Jesus was throwing. He wanted me there. I looked around and saw few people I knew. I thought I would have know some. He excused himself because he caught the eye of an extraordinarily beautiful woman across the room who wanted to dance with him. She was stunning and radiant. With such grace and poise, she warmly gazed at Jesus who commanded her attention. All of a sudden, my throat thickened and my stomach tightened and I was dazed and confused at the same time that I had the utmost clarity. Jesus led her over to me and said this woman found you so attractive, she wants to dance with you. She wonders who you are. We both had to search our memories because on the surface we were unrecognizable to each other. Gripped with fear, I started to tell Jesus that I couldn't do it, and he said, "Don't say a word," and he handed me to her. I sobbed and broke down. I knew even before she held me in her arms that she was my mother. She was beautiful. She appeared to me as she did through the eyes of Jesus. She was free of her worldly burdens and she moved with great freedom. She appeared as lovely as I once viewed her. The loving gaze of Jesus perfected her and made her so desirable. Jesus restored my mother to me and gave us back to each other. He reconciled our hearts so we could love each other the way Jesus loves each of us.
          Another stunning woman ran over to me and wanted to dance. She was graceful and nimble and was bounding with joy. My deceased sister, Dawn Mari, was so happy to see me once again. She was free from the body that held her captive in her earthly life. Though she had mental retardation on earth, she was just perfect to Jesus in heaven. Then Jesus pointed to a ruggedly handsome man who was inwardly proud of me. My father waited so long for me to return to him to share his joy of watching me grow. My other siblings were there as well, but we were all far different to Jesus than we see each other on earth. The way Jesus knows us is how he wants us to know each other. He doesn't want us to get trapped with mundane and petty associations. He wants us to live as we see the best in each other. Jesus took so many memories and healed them in a way that is indescribable.
          Another very painful memory was my implosion when two friends hurt me badly. I have always accepted that I was mostly the cause for this hurt - because they told me so, but when Jesus firmly intruded into my prayer, it became clear that he had a different point of view. He showed me that he was angry with these two former friends because they sinned against me, not I to them, and that I had right to be angry with them. He shifted the whole paradigm of that memory around - He re-membered it  - for me so that when I recall it today, I feel his grace and have a broader insight into the events. He has freed me from the shackles I place unknowingly around myself. He showed me I was not responsible, but was a victim of their anger. He straightened out the power imbalance that kept me paralyzed and immobilized. Now I can act with greater freedom and ease and I can stand proudly because I did the best I could - for me and for my friends. That is all he asks us for.
          Jesus wants to get deep into our memories so he can reconcile them to God. This is why he keeps bringing us distractions in prayer. They are not distractions, but the substance of our prayer that he wants to look at with us. We can't look at them alone because we will replicate our worldview and judgments. He needs space to clear out those things we wrongly remember to replace them with that which he wants us to remember.
          Once we reconcile those memories and difficult situations, other aspects of our lives become reconciled. I have tried for years to forgive my parents and I finally have done so. Once reconciled, we can begin anew. We can learn to see each other in the way Jesus sees us. The kingdom is furthered. This is the message of St. Paul: If we reconcile with one another, we are reconciled to God. Life is happier and we learn to see some beautiful people amid some beautiful events. Being reconciled means that we learn to love with a love like God's.
          To this day, I love tearing down vines. I enjoy the cuts and scrapes along the way. I want to make room for Christ to enter into our lives. This Lent, let's give him some room to do some things that can only be described as miracles. You are precious to him. You are a miracle. Let him love you with that gaze that transforms every aspect of your life. His glory already radiates throughout you. Thanks be to God. 

First Sunday in Lent

February 26, 2012
Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

          Mark’s Gospel succinctly relates the story of the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert. We are told Jesus was driven into the desert by the Spirit of God following his baptism in order to be tempted by Satan. Mark offers sparse details about what happened during these desert days. He does not mention any specific temptations that the other evangelists describe. He does not mention any great ordeal or tell us that Jesus fasted or performed any penitential acts. He simply mentions that he was driven into the desert, remained there during perils and threats of wild animals, and that angels ministered to him. At the end of that period, Jesus was ready for public ministry. We have lots of imaginative room to consider what his retreat from daily life was like.          

         The church sets this reading for the First Sunday in Lent within the context of Noah’s flood and the establishment of the covenant. Noah's account prefigures the saving waters of baptism. In order to set the world aright, God sends a great flood to coverage the earth to destroy all creatures. After the waters recede, the covenant is offered to Noah, his seven companions and the pairs of creatures that were saved. After Jesus enters into drowning river and emerges from the life-giving waters at his baptism, a special covenantal bond exists between him and the Lord God - just like Noah. Being sent into the desert is the beginning of Christ’s choice to suffer for us. Christ suffered for sins once that he might lead us to God. These readings stress our baptism as a first act of fidelity in our relationship with God. In the second reading, Peter tells us that baptism is that which saves us now.

          The Noah readings also shed light on our Eucharistic practices. God tells us that the rainbow is the ancient sign of the covenant. God promises to send us a sign that recalls the covenant. Jesus becomes that symbol of the covenant. Therefore, whenever we offer our gifts and God sees this sign of our covenantal memory, God remembers us and blesses what we offer. In our Eucharist, the bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ. God affectionately remembers us and transforms the gifts each time we bring them to the altar.

          The desert temptations that follow his baptism are good events to remember when we go through growth periods in prayer. We are filled with great vigor and confidence when we have a profound religious experience, but we have to be aware of what follows it. Ignatius of Loyola tells a retreatant during the Spiritual Exercises, that when a person is moving to greater virtue or goodness, the Evil One does all sorts of things to stop one’s progress. We are sometimes blindsided by this derailment and we question the authenticity of the positive religious event. We get sidetracked. It is important for us to remember that we replicate the pattern of the life of Jesus. Just as he was baptized, Satan was there to test and tempt him. This dynamic is extremely common when we are making progress in our spiritual life, but since it is so personal, we lose sight of the tactics of the evil one. It is not a moral failing on our part. Like Jesus, we learn to rely upon the many spiritual resources at our disposal.

          This week's readings are to fortify us at the beginning of our Lenten journey. With our penitential resolves, we may undoubtedly falter. We are not to fret. Our baptism has saved us; our sacrifices and reformed ways do not change anything, but they keep us focused on the sacrifice Jesus made for us. However, as we imitate the life of Jesus, we are given signposts along the way to tell us that we will suffer temptations and undergo trials. As long as we keep our eyes on Christ, we can do what he did: proclaim that the kingdom of God is among us. It is a good story to tell.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading:  The first readings in the First Week of Lent are snippets from the Old Testament designed to help the person see the virtues of turning towards God and knowing the path of destruction so one can avoid it. ~ In the Book of Leviticus, Moses tells the people to be holy because the Lord God is holy. A person stays holy by keeping the commandments given to Moses on Sinai. Leviticus elaborates on what the commandments mean with all their nuances. Isaiah explains that the ordinary things of this world, like rain and snow, are mysteries from heaven that come to us and return to God. In Jonah, the prophet preaches to the Ninevites, who, with their king, repent and turn back towards the Lord. In Esther, the Queen, seized with mortal anguish, turns to God for help against her enemies. Ezekiel tells us that the wicked man who turns to God will live, but the righteous one who turns away will surely die. Moses, in Deuteronomy, implores the people to keep the commandments, which give life. The other way brings about death.

Gospel: Much like the first readings, the Gospels in this First Week of Lent are not continuous progressions of a story, but selected passages designed to fortify a person on his or her Lenten journey.  ~ Jesus gives an account of the end times through the last judgment when the sheep are separated from the goats. Those who act mercifully are the ones who are saved. Jesus teaches the disciples to pray as he does. He gives them the "Our Father." Jesus assures the people around him that he himself and his words are a more powerful sign than Jonah when he faced the Ninevites. Jesus tells the disciples to ask, seek, and knock for God, who is all good, wants to bless you with everything you want. Our righteousness is to be greater than the religious authorities. We are to keep the commandments, but we have to work on our attitudes. Therefore, if we have anger, find a way of settling the cause of that anger. You will be happy and righteous. This righteousness extends to our neighbors and enemies. If we care for our enemies, we will have proof that the love of God rests within us.

Saints of the Week

March 1: Katherine Drexel (1858-1955), was from a wealthy Philadelphian banking family and she and her two sisters inherited a great sum of money when her parents died. She joined the Sisters of Mercy and wanted to found her own order called the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to work among the African and Native Americans. Her inheritance funded schools and missions throughout the South and on reservations. A heart attack in 1935 sent her into retirement.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Feb 26, 1611. The death of Antonio Possevino, sent by Pope Gregory XIII on many important embassies to Sweden, Russia, Poland, and Germany. In addition to founding colleges and seminaries in Cracow, Olmutz, Prague, Braunsberg, and Vilna, he found time to write 24 books.
·         Feb 27, 1767. Charles III banished the Society from Spain and seized its property.
·         Feb 28, 1957. The Jesuit Volunteer Corps began.
·         Mar 1, 1549. At Gandia, the opening of a college of the Society founded by St Francis Borgia.
·         Mar 2, 1606. The martyrdom in the Tower of London of St Nicholas Owen, a brother nicknamed "Little John." For 26 years he constructed hiding places for priests in homes throughout England. Despite severe torture he never revealed the location of these safe places.
·         Mar 3, 1595. Clement VIII raised Fr. Robert Bellarmine to the Cardinalate, saying that the Church had not his equal in learning. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Blessing and Giving of Ashes

During Mass during the Ash Wednesday services, the priest prayers over the burned palm fronds from last year's Palm Sunday liturgies with the following words:

Lord, bless these ashes by which we show that we are dust. Pardon our sins and keep us faithful to the discipline of Lent, for you do not want sinners to die but to live with the risen Christ, who reigns and lives with you forever and ever.

The priest or minister places the ashes on the foreheads of the faithful saying:

“Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel” or
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
From the Joel 2 from the Ash Wednesday liturgy:

“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord your God.”

Prayer: Polycarp of Smyrna

If we pray to the Lord to forgive us, we ourselves must be forgiving; we are all under the eyes of the Lord and God, and every one of us must stand before the judgment seat of Christ, where each of us will have to give an account.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mardi Gras

The carnival season is coming to an end. It has been a lengthy season that began nine weeks ago at the conclusion on the Christmas season. Carnival stands for "carne" (meat) and "vale" (goodbye) when the faithful ones say goodbye to meat. They put it away for the season as they ready for the fasting, prayer, and almsgiving of Lent. 

Mardi Gras has developed into a great day of frivolity and revelry and is largely seen by the general public as independent of Ash Wednesday and Lent. For us Christians, the partying carries a measured, respectful tone because of the deeper meaning of the penitential season that begins the following day. It becomes, not a last gasp day of partying, but a day to bid farewell to those ordinary blessings in our lives that we take for granted.

Prayer: Great Lent

Bright sadness is the true message and gift of Lent. Little by little we begin to understand, or rather to feel, that the sadness of Lent is indeed "bright," that a mysterious transformation is about to take place in us. It is as if we were reaching a place to which the noises and the fuss of life, of the street, of all that which usually fills our days and even nights, have no access - a place where they have no power. All that which seemed so tremendously important to us as to fill our mind, that state of anxiety which has virtually become our second nature, disappear somewhere and we begin to feel free, light, and happy. It is not the noisy and superficial happiness which comes and goes twenty times a day and is so fragile and fugitive; it is a deep happiness which comes from not a single and particular reason but from our soul having touched another world. And that which it has touched is made up of light and peace and joy, of an inexpressible trust.

Alexander Schmemann

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Prayer: Thomas Brodie

Oneness with ultimate reality is not an abstract idea; it is a spiritual experience of knowing that the timeless God is at the door inviting you to full union. It is an attentiveness to the present, a readiness, at every moment, to receive reality, to enjoy deeply even the simplest things. In the words of poet Paul Murray: "This moment, the grace of this one raptureless moment..."

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Prayer: Teresa of Avila

Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life, which is short and has to be lived by you alone; and there is only one glory, which is eternal. If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Homily for James 2 and Mark 8 (Friday, February 17)

          Today's readings seem like Lenten ones. They are somber and difficult to integrate into daily practice. As I reflect upon the words of Jesus that any prospective disciples must deny themselves, take up his cross, and follow him, I am reminded of my difficulty in reconciling the first reading. Sure, the Letter from James is instructive, but it sometimes catches me in the craw and I wrestle with my lack of integration of the two - the words that come out of my mouth as a man of faith and good works.
          Our actions are to match the words we speak. For too long, I interpreted this passage from James backwards - focusing more on the actions that the words. I have always read James as giving greater weight to the necessity of our actions matching what we say, but I now see it as James giving ascendancy to the words we speak. He does not want us to be flip about the words we choose to speak. Words are as sacred as our actions, if not more, and both are to flow from our faith.
          You might be like me when I say things I really wish I hadn't said. Sometimes my words are hurtful when I am only trying to say something witty or funny. I withhold words when a kind word can be consoling. Sometimes I play word-games for the sake of the game that are often misconstrued and sometimes I just speak far too quickly. I do it without momentary reflection. When it is difficult to express my hurt or anger directly to the person who hurt me, I am sorely tempted to say an unkind word about that person. I try hard not to do that, but I feel like St. Paul when he wrote in Romans, "I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate." Four lines later he writes, "Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who does it, but sin that dwells within me." This is troublesome for me because I want to act out of my faith, not out of my sin.
          I wonder if choosing one's words correctly is taking up one's cross. For me, it is. In fact, mere human discourse and the consequences associated with poor communication skills can be a heavy cross to bear. Some of us are stuck with something harsh that someone said to us as a child, "Stop singing, You sound awful," or "Good girls don't do that," or "God skipped over you when he doled out the fill in the blank."  We kill some part of a person with the words we choose.
          We've missed opportunities to act on our faith through our words. We waited too long to tell a dying loved one something that we wanted to say or we wanted them to hear. We were guarded with a spouse or community member because we wanted to protect ourselves or not hurt the other. We are gun-shy to speak honestly or at all around someone meaningful to us. It reminds me of the words of my moral theology professor, Jim Keenan, who defines sin as "a failure to bother to love."
          In my middle-years of life, I am finally learning of the sacredness of words and of the silence that is necessary for those words to have power. For much of my life, I have wanted to be seen and heard and known by others so I said things that would get someone's attention to notice something about me. This is acting out of my need, not my faith. I have always understood it cognitively, but learning it through my heart is very different - and refreshing. An effortless ease comes about. I find that listening is more enjoyable and satisfying than speaking. Ever so slowly, I am learning to integrate it. By listening more, I seem to be more seen and heard and known to Christ, which is what I want more than ever. It is intriguing and ironic that choosing to be silent makes a person feel better heard. When I am silent, I pay more attention to Christ's feelings and needs and I notice that I am able to feel more compassion and care for another person because my needs are out of the way. Christ works miracles when the silence allows us to see, and hear, and know him. My actions seem to be more like Christ's actions that flow from this silence. He allows me to choose words more carefully - one's that arise from faith.
          I had a conversation with two friends on Sunday. They asked me why I joined the Jesuits. I usually give a longer answer, but I succinctly said, "I wanted to be like Ken Hughes. He was my first spiritual director." I always admired much about the man - the way he lived for Christ - the way Christ seemed to shine through his words and actions in all ways. His words, like Christ's, saves lives and brings hope. He's a holy man and there is much about him that I honor, but I realized how far I am still away from my goal. I'm probably no closer to being like Ken, who is close to being like Christ, because I have spent more time trying to define myself and figure out how my unique gifts matter to my Jesuit life. I missed the point. The point is for me to be less of myself, and more like Ken and Christ. I know this is where true contentment lies.
          I know I have lots more to learn and it is still a journey worth discovering. The secret is taking care of those ordinary tiny details in life that don't seem like all that much. Carefully chosen words, a pause or extended silence, an small action devoid of words can attest to our faith that Christ is risen and is among us in the most mundane parts of our day. Though we retain our identity and uniqueness, Christ will become more visible to others when we allow our words and deeds of compassion and charity arise from what emerges from the heart of Christ. I find it amazing to passively watch it happen as an active participant. Christ's power is mediated through our actions. I think this is what Jesus means when he said, "there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the Kingdom of God has come in power."

Prayer: Richard McBrien

If love is the soul of Christian existence, it must be at the heart of every other Christian virtue. Thus, for example, justice without love is legalism; faith without love is ideology; hope without love is self-centeredness; forgiveness without love is self-abasement; fortitude without love is recklessness; generosity without love is extravagance; care without love is mere duty; fidelity without love is servitude. Every virtue is an expression of love. No virtue is really a virtue unless it is permeated, or informed, by love.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Prayer: Bonaventure

Ask for grace not instruction, desire not understanding, the groaning of prayer not diligent reading, the spouse not the teacher, God not people, darkness not clarity, not light but fire that totally inflames and carries us into God by ecstatic unctions and burning affections. This fire is God, and God's furnace is in Jerusalem; and Christ enkindles it in the heat of his burning passion...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Questions for the General #2: Spirituality

Kerry Holland is an artist and a giver of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. She is at present co-chair of Companions in the Ministry of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, a national organisation set up to encourage conversation between and ongoing development of those whose ministry is giving the Ignatian retreats.

Kerry’s questions: Fr General, would you share with us something of your early experience of God that on reflection has caused transformation in your life. If you were to paint a picture of the feelings associated with that experience what colour or colours would you choose?

Well, we are looking at early experiences. I would say of myself that I could be painted as a quiet Spaniard. There is a book, The Quiet American. I could be the quiet Spaniard.

I was shy and slow as a child, and so I guess - and think I recall in my life God comes slowly and smoothly into my life, so I cannot boast of any mystical experiences that I could surprise you with.

I feel that if I have grown in my life, if I have grown at all, it's through crisis. That has brought to me a triple conviction. First, I have a very positive view of crisis, so when a young Jesuit speaks about a crisis I thank God, because that's a great opportunity to grow. A crisis puts us in an emergency situation so we can know ourselves better, and so we know better the word of God. So I have a very positive view of crisis.

Second, the crisis forces us to go deeper into our lives and to ask the tough questions, because the surface questions are not good any more. Either you go deeper or you lose your horizon.

Because of that my way, the third conviction, is not a flashy way. It is a quiet, smooth and simple way. The remedies that we develop out of these crisis experiences are worth taking time sharing within the Society of Jesus reasonably in depth. Because God is at work and we have to search quietly and deeply to find God, and to use creativity, because the world is changing and yet our mission continues to challenge us to find the language, the content, the responses that are going to help people, and particularly life in the spirit, because in the spirit we have the fire, the inspiration, the force to keep us going quietly or in a flashy way.

Colour? Personally I like red, yellow and green, with blue also. But when we come to the experience, how would I colour the experience, maybe I would colour it orange or lavender. In Spain violet is not a very positive colour, but in Japan I have learned that lavender and violet are very good colours, colours for feasts, for celebrations, and they are more subdued than red and yellow.

Fr General fielded questions from six people at his address on 25 January. In this edition of Province Express, we feature the first three questions. The other three questions will be featured in the next edition.

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 19, 2012
Isaiah 43:18-25; Psalm 41; 2 Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12

Isaiah instructs us that the Lord quickly forgets our sins. He says that it is he who wipes out our sins for his sake. That's strange. He doesn't do it for our sake, but for his. He simply does not remember our offenses. Why then do we hold onto our sins so vehemently? He constantly tells us that he delights in the mercy we show to ourselves and others.

The Gospel passage shows a conflict between one's reluctance and another's freedom to forgive. In biblical Jewish thought, God is the only one with the right and the power to forgive. Therefore, Jesus is blaspheming because he is usurping God's role as forgiving judge. Jesus demonstrates that he has power to forgive because he performs a more unimaginable task: he heals a paralytic who was lowered through the roof of his house by four friends. Surely, this miracle-work is more difficult to do that to say, "Your sins are forgiven." In each act, hidden power is unleashed.

I once heard of an analogy of this Gospel passage that I have used in prayer often. The church takes the place of the paralytic man who is lowered by his friends into the house where Jesus preaches. It is an image that draws great compassion out of me - for our church. It shows the church as paralyzed and in need of the healing and forgiving words of Jesus. Just like us, the church wants to be acknowledged and seen before Christ - even though the church is fundamentally a part of him. In the archdiocese of Boston, 16% of those who profess themselves as Catholics attend church on Sundays and the percentage is similarly low across New England. The local church is limping along and in need of forgiveness along after a tumultuous decade.

However, friends of the church care for it strongly enough to find any way possible to bring it to Jesus. They go to unusual means of opening the house's roof and lowering the church on a mat where Jesus can acknowledge it and care for it. It takes great risk and resolve to break through in this stupendous way. It is neat to imagine the reaction of Jesus who looks upon the ingenious friends of the church. His heart must have warmed to them, which built up his affection for the church on the mat. Of course, Jesus wants to heal it and, at the same time, honor its friends who bring it to him. I want to be one of those friends.

Jesus realizes adversaries will take offense at his actions. He will be further rejected by the religious leaders, but it is worth the risk for him. He wants the church to heal, to pick up its mat and go home where it can convalesce and figure out a way to be fruitful once again. After a healing that redefines its identity and mission, it has to figure out how to set its life on track again. The compassion it receives from Jesus, it can now give to others. Once one is healed and forgiven, it acts with greater care, understanding, and from a wisdom borne of suffering. It acts in a way that causes other to remark with grateful astonishment. Once forgiven, it can forgive because it is now great-souled and magnanimous because it allows its heart to be transformed. It acts from a place of honorable virtue that causes everyone to turn heads and want to be near its noble, integrated self. It becomes attractive to all sorts of people who want what it emits. It becomes healthy, awe-inspiring, and vital.

We all want this. We all hope for this. We have faith in Christ Jesus who forgives and heals - despite all the opposition. It wants us as church, as the people of God, to rise, pick up our mat, and go home to a place where we are at our most true selves.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: James continues his description of discipleship by telling his friends that one's works come from a good life in humility that arises from wisdom. This wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits. He urges the people to be a lover of God and not of the world for the cares of the world can lead one away from God. ~ In the days after Ash Wednesday, the church switches to back to Old Testament readings. In Deuteronomy, Moses, as he prepares the community for life after his death, implores the people to choose life, which means keeping the commandments of God. Isaiah explains how the people are to keep a fast that is pleasing to God. Social justice and caring for one's neighbor pleases God. If you choose to live with integrity by honoring the commandments, God will remain close to you and guide you.

Gospel: In Mark's Gospel, Jesus comes down from the mountain after he was transfigured and finds his disciples perplexed because they could not heal an epileptic boy. Jesus gets miffed and tells them that these types of demonic possessions can only be cured through prayer. Jesus then predicts his manner of death. When they returned to Capernaum, his disciples argued about who was the greatest. Jesus told them that the one who serves others is the greatest in the kingdom of God. He told them also that the one who wishes to be his disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily. ~ In the days after Ash Wednesday, the Gospels focus upon fasting and who (tax collectors and prostitutes) will be admitted into the kingdom of heaven.

Saints of the Week

February 21: Peter Damian, bishop and Doctor (1007-1072), was orphaned and raised by his brother, Damian, a priest in Ravenna. He began as a hermit monk and was then made abbot and cardinal. He became a reformer in the church often speaking out against clerical laxness.

February 21: Mardi Gras is your last chance to eat meat before Lent. This is the last day of Carnival (Carne- meat, Goodbye – vale). Say goodbye to meat as we begin the fasting practices tomorrow.

February 22: Ash Wednesday is the customary beginning to the season of Lent. A penitential time marked by increased fasting, prayer and almsgiving, we begin our 40-day tradition of sacrifice as we walk the way of Jesus that ends at the Cross during Holy Week. Lent is a time of conversion, a time to deepen one’s relationship with Christ, for all roads lead to his Cross of Suffering and Glory.

February 23: Polycarp, bishop and martyr (69-155), was made bishop of Smyrna and was the leader of the second generation Christians. He was a disciple of the apostle John and a friend of Ignatius of Antioch. He wrote catecheses and rites for initiation into the Christian community. He was martyred in 155 and is a Father of the early church.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Feb 19, 1581. The election of Fr. Claude Acquaviva as fifth general in the Fourth General Congregation. He was only 37 years of age and a Jesuit for only l4 years. He was general under eight popes. He had been a fellow novice with St Stanislaus.
• Feb 20, 1860. Pope Pius IX visits the rooms of St Ignatius.
• Feb 21, 1595. At Tyburn, the martyrdom of Robert Southwell after he had suffered brutal tortures in Topcliffe's house and in prison. He embraced the jailer who brought him word that he was to be executed. As he breathed his last, Lord Mountjoy, who presided over the execution, exclaimed: "May my soul be one day with that of this man."
• Feb 22, 1599. By order of Pope Clement VIII, the superiors general of the Jesuits and the Dominicans, assisted by others, met to settle, if possible, the controversies about grace. Nothing came of the meeting, since the Dominicans insisted on the condemnation of the writings of Fr. Molina.
• Feb 23, 1551. The Roman College, the major school of the Society later to become the Gregorian University, began its first scholastic year with 15 teachers and 60 students.
• Feb 24, 1637. The death of Francis Pavone. Inflamed by his words and holy example, sixty members of a class of philosophy that he taught and the entire class of poetry embraced the religious state.
• Feb 25, 1558. St Aloysius Gonzaga received tonsure at the Lateran basilica. Within the next month he would receive the minor orders.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Poem: Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J

HONOUR is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.
On Christ they do and on the martyr may;
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.

Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Prayer: 1559 edition of the Book of Common Prayer

... also that I may with a free conscience and quiet hert, in all manner of temptations, afflictions, or necessities, and even in the verie pangs of death, crie boldly and merily unto thee, and say: I believe in God the Father Almightie, maker of heaven and earth.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Prayer: Peter Julian Eymard

Going to Mass will prosper the whole day. All your duties will be performed the better for it, and your soul will be stronger to bear its daily cross. The Mass is the most holy act of religion; you can do nothing than can give greater glory to God or be more profitable for your soul.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Prayer: Louis-Marie de Montfort

Simple faith is both the cause and the effect of wisdom in our soul. The more faith we have, the more we shall possess wisdom. The more we possess it, the stronger our faith. Without seeing, without feeling, without tasting, and without faltering.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Prayer: Love by nature seeks union

Union not only transcends every political, social, cultural, and religious consideration and not only infuses them with ultimate meaning, but defines the very purpose of life itself.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Prayer: My True Love Hath My Heart

My true love hath my heart, and I have his,
By just exchange one for other given.
I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss;
There never was a better bargain driven.
His heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:
He loves my heart, for once it was his own;
I cherish his because in me it bides.

His heart his wound received from my sight,
His heart was wounded with his wounded heart,
For as from me, on him his hurt did light,
So still methought in me his hurt did smart.
Both, equal hurt, in this change sought our bliss:
My true love hath my heart, and I have his.

Philip Sidney

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 12, 2012
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; Psalm 32; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45

          Leviticus sets the rules for dealing with leprosy and other skin diseases. Out of respect for the community, a leprous person shows themselves to be apart from the community by keeping one’s head exposed and by crying out “unclean, unclean.” Such exclamations were designed to keep others away from harm and contagion with fair warning. It seems barbaric to us today, but it was designed as a civil way of maintaining proper health standards. Only the priest, who acted as doctor and judge, could readmit a restored person to society. Anyone who comes into contact with a leprous person automatically cuts oneself off from the community.

          At the very start of his public ministry, Jesus heals a leprous man, thereby placing himself at the periphery of society. Of course, Jesus wishes to cure the man, but he knows that it comes at great risk. He previously announced that his mission was to travel throughout Israel preaching and teaching the kingdom of heaven is among us. He is set to go from town to town beginning with Galilee to bring the good message of salvation. At the outset, he hits a snag in his plans. No longer can he go into towns, villages, and marketplaces or to synagogues and public meeting places. He cannot go where the people assemble. They now have to come to him. It is like telling a presidential election campaigner that she cannot attend a televised debate. Preaching one’s message is much harder to do when a person cannot use the community’s resources for mass communication. However, this is the risk Jesus takes. His compassion will not allow him to do anything else.

           The scene tells us a great deal about what motivates Jesus. He risks his entire mission for the sake of one man who does not even respect the wishes of Jesus. With an injunction to tell no one about what Jesus did for him, he immediately rushes out and tells anyone he sees about his cure. All the townspeople quickly find out that Jesus has become ritually unclean.

          I remember back to the days when AIDS had a hysteria-like quality to it. As a hospital chaplain, I was asked to pray with a woman covered with leprous-like lesions. I remember reacting to her condition and inwardly wanting to avoid contact with her skin, though I knew that AIDS is not contracted by casual contact. As I read the Gospel of the day to her, the passage made her jump up and scream. She hugged me tight and held onto me. She told me that no one ever touches her anymore and she feels completely shunned. Only her dog licks her wounds. All I could do was to hold her in my arms as she wept. Real human needs beg us to go beyond ourselves deep into the lives of others. I think that this is what Jesus did for the leper.

          I have just finished directing another 30-day silent retreat. I am constantly reminded that Jesus wants to heal the most unlovable part of us - the parts we keep hidden from others and even from ourselves. He wants to place his healing touch on a painful memory that we keep pushing out of our minds or cannot even properly remember. We often do not want to think of these unpleasant memories because of the raw pain they cause us. We have to learn to see that they are the content of prayer and not distractions to be dismissed. When we look at these areas with Jesus, we garner new insights and begin the process of healing. Once the healing begins, we can be restored more fully to our true selves and by extension, to the larger community.

          I think Jesus does not care too much if we go and spread the word about what he has done for us like the healed leper did. I think he is just happy that we are coming a step closer to healing and that we live more fully integrated lives. Our happiness and our awareness that we depend upon him is enough. He needs nothing more. He is only concerned to touch our lives to bring us salvation. Our fuller integration and joy is the only testimony he needs. We only wants us to celebrate with him and say thanks.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading:  James bolsters the faith of the young community by telling them to persevere in their faith. Cast away doubts and be of one mind. Just as a weak plant withers in the scorching sun, the rich one will pass away in the midst of his pursuits. Every person is tempted by his or her own desires. Receive the gift of faith as grace that comes down from heaven. A faithful person is to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Like God, show no partiality in love. Partiality leads to sin. Instead, love your neighbor as yourself. Faith is to be shown more in deeds than in words. Just as a body without spirit is dead, faith without good works is dead. Beware of the ways you speak. The same mouth can bring forth blessings and curses. It is good for us if we can exercise control of what we say and how we say it. The good will prosper.

Gospel: As the Pharisees approach Jesus for a sign from heaven, he sighs in displeasure and asks, "Why does this generation need a sign?" As the disciples journey on, they realize they have no bread and they begin to grumble. The perplexed Jesus tells them that, even after seeing the multiplication of the loaves and fish, they still do not understand that they have 'bread' among them. They arrive at Bethsaida and the people bring a blind man to Jesus for healing. After putting spittle on his eyes, the man begins to see, but indistinctly. Jesus prays harder and then the man comes to full sight. Jesus pulls his disciples aside and asks, "Who do you say that I am?" to which Peter replies, "You are the Christ." He then predicts his manner of death and the cost of discipleship. Then he brings Peter, James, and John up a high mountain by themselves where he is transfigured before their eyes.

Saints of the Week

February 14: Cyril, monk, and Methodius, bishop (Ninth Century), were brothers who were born in Thessalonica, Greece. They became missionaries after they ended careers in teaching and government work. They moved to Ukraine and Moravia, a place between the Byzantium and Germanic peoples. Cyril (Constantine) created Slavonic alphabet so the liturgy and scriptures could be available to them. Cyril died during a visit to Rome and Methodius became a bishop and returned to Moravia.

February 17: The Seven Founders of the Servites (Thirteenth Century) were from Florence and they joined the Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin, who were also known as Praisers. They devoted their apostolate to prayer and service and withdrew to a deserted mountain to build a church and hermitage. After adopting a rule and gaining recruits, they changed their name to the Servants of Mary.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Feb 12, 1564. Francis Borgia was appointed assistant for Spain and Portugal.
·         Feb 13, 1787. In Milan, Fr. Rudjer Boskovic, an illustrious mathematician, scientist, and astronomer, died. At Paris he was appointed "Directeur de la Marine."
·         Feb 14, 1769. At Cadiz, 241 Jesuits from Chile were put on board a Swedish vessel to be deported to Italy as exiles.
·         Feb 15, 1732. Fr. Chamillard SJ, who had been reported by the Jansenists as having died a Jansenist and working miracles, suddenly appeared alive and well!
·         Feb 16, 1776. At Rome, the Jesuit prisoners in Castel San Angelo were restored to liberty. Fr. Romberg, the German assistant, aged 80, expressed a wish to remain in prison.
·         Feb 17, 1775. The French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Neapolitan Ambassadors in Rome intimate to the newly elected Pope Pius VI the will of their respective sovereigns that the Jesuits imprisoned in Castel S Angelo should not be released.
·         Feb 18, 1595. St Robert Southwell, after two and a half years imprisonment in the tower, was removed to Newgate and there thrust into a dungeon known as "Limbo." 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Prayer: Teresa of Avila

The most potent and acceptable prayer is the prayer that leaves the best effects - those that are followed up by actions.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Prayer: Teresa of Calcutta

To show great love for God and our neighbor we need not do great things. It is how much love we put in the doing that makes our offering something beautiful for God.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Prayer: While Earth Remains

God, who made the earth, declared it good in the beginning, meant a time and purpose for all things that were and would be.

While earth remains, there will be seed-time and harvest, summer sun and winter moon, the dead of night, the bright day.

Though humanity defiled the Eden God had cherished, God did not despise the earth whose worth its Maker could see.

So, in Christ God came from paradise to imperfection, repossessing earth and people through a tomb and a tree.

Wood, though felled to earth, produced a blossom none could perish; Seed, though dead and fallen, burst to life and rose up again.

We, who follow Christ, discover heaven though limitation; pruned, we bear more fruit, and grafted to the Vine we are free.

John Bell

Paul Miki, companion martyrs, and the suppressed church

Read a post from Soohwan Park about her recent trip to Japan. She happened across the story of Paul Miki and his companions where were martyred in 1597, an event that sent the Catholic church underground until its rediscovery centuries later when Japan opened itself to the Western World.

Soohwan Park's commentary on Paul Miki's Japanese community

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Prayer: I Bow My Knee In Prayer

I bow my knee in prayer before the Father who made me, before the Son who purchased me, before the Spirit who cleansed me, in friendship and love.

Lord, through your anointed, give us the fullness we long for: for love and affection, for our God, the smile and wisdom of our God, the grace of God.

So may we live on earth as saints and angels in heaven; each shade and light, each day and night, through every moment we draw our breath, God give us your Spirit.

Words - adapted from "Carmina Gaedilca"

Friday, February 3, 2012

Symbols of the Gospel Writers

 Traditionally, the four Gospel writers have been represented by the following symbols: St. Matthew, a divine man; St. Mark, a winged lion; St. Luke, a winged ox; and St. John, a rising eagle.

These symbols are taken first from the Prophet Ezekiel (1:1-21):

“In the 30th year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, while I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens opened, and I saw divine visions. ... As I looked, a storm wind came from the North, a huge cloud with flashing fire, from the midst of which something gleamed like electrum. Within it were figures resembling four living creatures that looked like this: their form was human, but each had four faces and four wings, and their legs went straight down; the soles of their feet were round. They sparkled with a gleam like burnished bronze. Their faces were like this: each of the four had a face of a man, but on the right side was the face of a lion, and on the left side the face of an ox, and finally each had the face of an eagle ....”

In the Book of Revelation (4:6-8), we find a similar description:

“Surrounding this throne were 24 other thrones upon which were seated 24 elders; they were clothed in white garments and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightening and peals of thunder; before it burned seven flaming torches, the seven spirits of God. The floor around the throne was like a sea of glass that was crystal-clear. At the very center, around the throne itself, stood four living creatures covered with eyes front and back. The first creature resembled a lion; the second, an ox; the third had the face of a man; while the fourth looked like an eagle in flight. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and eyes all over, inside and out. Day and night, without pause, they sing: ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, He who was, and who is, and who is to come!’”

These images in both the Old Testament and the New Testament prompted St. Irenaeus (140-202) to liken them to the four Gospel writers because of the content of their Gospels and their particular focus on Christ.

Irenaeus came up with the first living creature designations, but the ones from Jerome finally stuck.

Matthew:  the winged human to symbolize humanity and reason. The theme of the Gospel is the personhood of Christ and the Gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham through Joseph. 

Mark: the winged lion to symbolize royalty, courage, resurrection. The theme of the Gospel is Christ as the Son of God and the Gospel begins with John the Baptist roaring like a lion in the wilderness.

Luke: the winged ox to symbolize sacrifice, strength. The theme of the Gospel is Christ as the healer, priest and sacrifice and the Gospel begins with the temple duties of Zacharias.

John: the eagle to symbolize the heavens, sky, and spirit. The theme of the Gospel is Christ's divine nature and the Gospel begins with Christ as the Eternal Logos, the enduring Word of God. 

The wings on all of the symbols of the gospels are to symbolize their connection to the divine, like eagle wings or angels (who were the messengers of God) they deliver this story and good news.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Poem: The Sacred Now

When we are present in the moment
wherever we be
on the way, at table, ‘round a campfire
time pauses, opens out, lingers a while
for us to come home to ourselves
delight in the company of each other
share and give thanks.

We become patient
wildly patient
letting go of yesterday, tomorrow
open, vulnerable to the Sacred Now
firing, inspiring, spiriting all
delighting in all
moving us to reverence each other
as we are reverenced
by the Beloved of All.

Noel Davis, Australia