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Friday, November 30, 2012

Spirituality: Heaven, Hell, and Our Bodies (4 of 4)

Individual judgment and universal judgment that will occur in the end times. Being prepared for it means bothering to love our neighbors as ourselves and deepening our relationship with Christ.

The Resurrection of the Body

As we believe that Christ will come again, we also profess that the dead will be resurrected on that day when Christ draws all to himself. Associated with that resurrection is the resurrection of the body in which each person will be completely human, both body and soul, for all eternity. How will this happen? Who really knows, but St. Paul in his 1st letter to the Corinthians writes about our spiritual bodies being raised. Material creation will also be transformed and God will provide for us an environment in which our resurrected, glorified bodies will thrive for all eternity.

What is heaven?

We always think about heaven as a place high above the earth with pure white and fluffy clouds, but heaven is more of a state than a place. It is the state of eternal life in union with God and with those who share in his life. Heaven in the perfect fulfillment of our life – we will finally be completely what God intends us to be - and we shall come to know God directly. Our response undoubtedly will only be one of happiness.

In heaven, we will retain our individuality, but the transforming love of Christ will mold us into totally unselfish images of the Father. Those virtues and characteristics that we strive for on earth – peace, love, truth, wisdom, goodness, beauty, justice, companionship and understanding – will be fulfilled.

So, then what is purgatory?

Purgatory essentially means a state of purification or cleansing. We are to be free from all of our sins before we enter into heaven. That is why the church administers the viaticum – formerly the last rites – so that we can confess our sins before we meet our maker.

While we have scant references to purgatory in scripture, we read about our need to pray for the dead so that they may be released from their sin. The prayers of the living, especially at the Eucharist where we offer Masses for the repose of a person’s soul, help those who are in purgatory.

A person enters purgatory due to the nature of the sins committed, or for one’s hesitation in totally opening one’s heart to God, or for our unwillingness to love God perfectly. During the Beatific vision when we encounter God face to face, our sinful infidelities may burn within us as we recognize the ways we failed to bother to love God, but God’s gaze eventually penetrates and melts away our imperfections so that our hearts can totally accept the eternal union that God offers us.

And what about hell?

Hell is eternal separation from God. A person who has died and has turned away from God’s love is turned inward to one’s own self – eternally – cutting oneself off from other relationships. A person experiences a sense of loss and a suffering of the senses. All people exercise free choice to accept or turn away from God. It has to be this way for God to respect our free will.

Who is in hell? Who knows? God’s merciful judgment is essentially for us, but we know that it is possible for a person to definitively reject God, but I wonder if any person could actually do that.

Be assured. A person who fundamentally loves God will act out of one’s love so we don’t need to unnecessarily fear hell. Our actions shape our selves and our future destiny by each of our actions. We always have to remember that God loved us so much that he sent Jesus into the world to save us from ourselves so that we may have eternal life. That is indeed the best good news that I have ever heard.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Spirituality: God's Judgment (3 of 4)

We are in the last days of our Christian year that ends with the Feast of Christ the King on November 25th so it is right that we think about the Last Things (eschatology.) We believe that this temporal world is transitory, but that there is the promise of eternal life with our Creator God. Therefore, as Christians, we live in a “now and not yet” reality. We are citizens of two worlds and must pay respects to both planes of existence. But if there is a next world, what makes us think that we will get there? We do not want to arrogantly presume we will be admitted into the eternal kingdom. First we have to pass the Judgment that is offered to us on our last day of personal existence.

In the Old Testament, judgment by God has always been metered out in a positive sense, such as Yahweh (God) judged (delivered) King David from his enemies. In the New Testament, God has already judged the world (he redeemed it and found it good) and yet God’s kingdom is not fully established so we await the judgment at the end time. One’s personal ‘day of judgment’ refers to a person’s fundamental, permanent decision to accept Jesus Christ or to reject him. Therefore, if we want to accept him at our moment of death, we ought to use our time now to get to know him and let him know us. Finally, there will be a final judgment when there is the ultimate victory over evil. We profess in our creed that Jesus shall come again to judge the living and the dead.

Our Individual Judgment

Scripture tells us that one part of the judgment happens now. If we fundamentally choose Jesus, we are to live immediately in response to God’s laws and will, which means we take care of our neighbor’s needs. Each choice we make is a decision for or against God.

We will appear immediately before God after death. Our earthly trial will be over. One of three things can happen:

a. We die in God’s friendship, have no need of further purification, and enter into heaven.
b. We die in God’s friendship, still need purification, and enter heaven when our purgatory is complete.
c. We die in the state of mortal sin – completely cut off from God’s grace. We enter hell.

We will see ourselves as we truly are. We will see our life as God sees it. Do I make a loving response to the God I have come to know during my earthly life or do I focus on my self and turn away from God’s love?

As Jesus has revealed to us, God is not vindictive.  God is fundamentally rendering his positive judgment for us, not against us.

The Judgment at the End of Time

A general judgment will be made when Christ, the Son of Man, comes in his glory to gather all the nations to himself and to separate the sheep from the goats. The heavenly community will be established at this time and everyone will be able to plainly see God’s entire saving plan.

Jesus, as we know, will serve as judge. And what do we know of Jesus? He was good, practiced restorative justice, was merciful and compassionate, and granted us his peace. The question that will be asked us comes from Matthew 25: “Did we love God with our whole heart and our neighbor as ourselves?

So what is the Second Coming of Christ?

When Christ ascended into the heaven, he entrusted the task of spreading the kingdom that he established on earth to us – the people of God. With his Spirit to help us, we are to continue his work of social justice, forgiving sins, bringing about peace, and establishing the dignity of every person so that we can stand together as one human community.

Though the kingdom is already present, we still have to work against the forces that oppose God’s kingdom. We have to be “with others” before we can be “for others.” The work of establishing the kingdom is ongoing and we look forward to the day when the work of Christ will be complete and he will return, gather all of creation together, and consecrate it in offering to the Creator Father.

When will this happen?

Who knows? Only God knows. Christians look forward to this day when we will joyously encounter the Lord again. This is one reason why it is prudent for us to spend time in our lives to come to know the Lord and develop a friendship with him. Everyone who has ever lived with recognize Jesus as Lord of all.

Next up: A brief word on the resurrection of the body, heaven, purgatory and hell.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

First Sunday in Advent

December 2, 2012
Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

            Pay attention to the quality of waiting you experience in Advent this year. With nearly a month-long season, too many people are not immediately focused on the events of the incarnation. This waiting is remote and distant. The season is only in seedling form and few can see the growth that happens in young sprouts, but this is what we are asked to contemplate. The reading from Jeremiah says that in the days to come a just shoot from David, the mightiest king in Israel’s consciousness, will be raised up. In other words, forces are happening that the people cannot obviously see. They are exciting and are filled with promise. We have to increase our trust as we wait.

            Jeremiah lets us know that a new time will begin. The new leader, who is to come, will rule with a merciful justice. Internal and external divisions cease. Internally, people joyfully live the commandments. They live without fear of being defrauded, or abused, or manipulated. They trust the good-will motives of their friends and neighbors. Harmony and right relationships exist because people are respecting and honoring others’ boundaries.  Arguments and power struggles are resolved easily because people put aside their self-interests. They no longer defend themselves against others who impose their will upon them. Externally, the nation experiences safety and the lack of threat from hostile forces. Bordering nations set treaties that establish commerce and exchanges of ideas. Nations work together with nations to care for the less fortunate ones in their lands. Wisdom is able to flow forth from the land because the people have sufficiently understood the ways God wants them to live. This is a new age that we yearn for still.

            In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to be vigilant because they will see many troubling events that can shake their faith and sow the seeds of doubt. Jesus is telling his disciples that consequences exist for those who fail to heed the prophet’s words, but the disciples are the ones who can confidently stand erect and raise their heads high because they know the inner story. This is the day of vindication. This is the time when God’s victory is finally consummated. It is not a time to fear, but to hold onto their inner joy.

            Proof of their trust is made evident through their patient waiting. The timing is sure to catch some by surprise so one ought to have right relationships established with everyone. Most, if not all, of us have some un-reconciled relationship that troubles us. Jesus asks for us to find a way to bring an atoned closure to these conflicts. The anxieties of the day consume a great deal of energy and take us away from the important work we are called to do: promote the kingdom of God here on earth. When we fret over words someone spoke to us or we try to think of the right words to say back to our offender to get an advantage, we fail to comprehend the larger goal. If our actions are not in line with our ultimate goal in life, seek help to get yourself on the right track.

            St. Paul inspires us to live rightly – in such a way that we are prepared to be at peace when the end times come. Especially in our troubled relationships, we dare to ask ourselves, “Am I increasing love in this interaction?” and “Am I even bothering to try to love?” If I am not, I have to learn new actions. I have to chart a new course for myself if I am to be an effective disciple. It’s all about love, and loving another person is much more difficult to do than we think because we have to place their concerns above our own. Reconciling with others is not about dissecting ‘who’ went wrong ‘when,’ it is about charting a new course for the relationship for the future. It means acknowledging the hurts we face and not dwelling unnecessarily on them. It means building upon the good will and affection that was once there and can be restored with concerted effort.

            When we have success in skillfully negotiating the tasks required to “strengthen our hearts,” we instantly become joyful. We learn that living out of integrity is the much healthier path to take. We find our strength! Our strength is that we are capable of loving others above ourselves. We become known by it. We are nourished by it. We know that our Christ is the one who is accomplishing it in us and through us and we marvel at it.

            It makes our waiting easier. We know that we will be known and welcomed home by Jesus with a warm, inviting smile. We know that the One who started this good work in us is helping us bring it to completion. We know, that despite the distance, he is not far away. In fact, he is intimately involved in all our actions. We can feel how proud he is with us when we miraculously say or do the right thing in a relationship to bring about healing. He is very proud of how we continue to evolve because we bother to love another person fully and vulnerably. His heart touches ours so that we wait and think about that time when we will have fuller union with him. We will yearn and desire him with warmth and intimacy the way that he desires and years for us. This is great waiting. Happy Advent!

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: The prophecy in Isaiah reveals that Zion, the mountain of the Lord’s house, will be raised above all other mountains. People will stream to it to worship the God of Jacob, and the word of the Lord will instruct all people. Peace will reign over the world as instruments of violence are made into instruments of peace. On the Day of the Lord, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him, and he shall judge the world with merciful justice. Enemies will coexist and the Gentiles will seek out the root of Jesse, a signal for the nations. No harm or ruin will exist on this holy mountain. The veil over all peoples will be lifted and everyone will look to God and rejoice in what God has done for the world. Songs will be sun in the land. Jerusalem will be a strong city and God’s judgment will humble those in high places and lift up the lowly. When everyone sees the work of God’s hands, they will keep his name holy. Everyone will be in awe of the God of Israel. ~ In the Immaculate Conception, the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace is retold. The woman’s name was Eve for she became the mother of all the living.

Gospel: When Jesus enters Capernaum, a centurion asks him to cure his paralyzed servant who is near death. His faith is strong enough that Jesus does not even have to come into his home to cure the servant. He places great trust in the powers of Jesus as a man who knows obedience. Jesus turns to his Father in heaven and thanks him for revealing his truth to the simple ones and hiding them from the wise. At the Sea of Galilee, the crowds brought those who were ill or needing cures to Jesus. His heart goes out to them and he asks his disciples to feed the thousands gathered around him. Jesus tells his disciples that not everyone who calls upon the Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus claims that he will not know some on them. Those whom he knows well will enter the kingdom. As Jesus passes by on his way to Jerusalem, two blind men call out to him to get their sight back. Their eyes are opened because of their faith.

Saints of the Week

December 3: Francis Xavier, S.J., priest (1506-1552) was a founding member (one of seven) of the Jesuit Order who was sent to the East Indies and Japan as a missionary. His preaching converted hundreds of thousands of converts to the faith. He died before reaching China. Xavier was a classmate of Peter Faber and Ignatius of Loyola at the University of Paris.

December 6: Nicholas, bishop (d. 350), lived in southwest Turkey and was imprisoned during the Diocletian persecution. He attended the Council of Nicaea in 324. Since there are many stories of his good deeds, generous charity, and remarkable pastoral care, his character became the foundation for the image of Santa Claus.

December 7: Ambrose, bishop and doctor (339-397) was a Roman governor who fairly mediated an episcopal election in Milan. He was then acclaimed their bishop even though he was not baptized. He baptized Augustine in 386 and is doctor of the church because of his preaching, teaching and influential ways of being a pastor.

December 8: The Immaculate Conception of Mary is celebrated today, which is nine months before her birth in September. The Immaculate Conception prepares her to become the mother of the Lord. Scripture tells of the annunciation to Mary by the angel Gabriel. Mary's assent to be open to God's plan makes our salvation possible.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Dec. 2, 1552: On the island of Sancian off the coast of China, Francis Xavier died.
·      Dec. 3, 1563: At the Council of Trent, the Institute of the Society was approved.
·      Dec. 4, 1870: The Roman College, appropriated by the Piedmontese government, was reopened as a Lyceum. The monogram of the Society over the main entrance was effaced.
·      Dec. 5, 1584: By his bull Omnipotentis Dei, Pope Gregory XIII gave the title of Primaria to Our Lady's Sodality established in the Roman College in 1564, and empowered it to aggregate other similar sodalities.
·      Dec. 6, 1618: In Naples, the Jesuits were blamed for proposing to the Viceroy that a solemn feast should be held in honor of the Immaculate Conception and that priests should make a public pledge defend the doctrine. This was regarded as a novelty not to be encouraged.
·      Dec. 7, 1649: Charles Garnier was martyred in Etarita, Canada, as a missionary to the Petun Indians, among whom he died during an Iroquois attack.
·      Dec. 8, 1984: Walter Ciszek, prisoner in Russia from 1939 to 1963, died.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Spirituality: The Last Things (2 of 4)

We are in the last days of the liturgical year that follows the life cycle of the events of Jesus’ life. For Christians, the last day of this year is Saturday, December 1st. The feast of Christ the King is celebrated on Sunday, November 25th as he stands victorious over all creation. Christ is victorious over our old foes – Sin and Death.

Death looks directly into the face of every person in the world and we are powerless to turn away from death’s stare. In many ways, death seems to win out because our physical death is inevitable. It prompts us to raise such questions as: What is the meaning of life? Is there really a God? What is the meaning of death and how are we to enter into it? Where, how and when will the world end? Is there life after death, and what does it look like? Familiar questions? I thought so.

For a believer in the Lord Jesus, death does not have the last word. Our physical death becomes the gate to a new plane of existence.

It is natural for us to die, and we naturally fear it. Scripture also tells us that death and sin are related. Death is a penalty for sin. If sin had not infected the human race, we would be immune from bodily sin.

Therefore, to find meaning in death, we must look to Jesus of Nazareth, who was not immune from fear about his own violent death. He certainly was anxious as we can tell from his experience in the Garden at Gethsemane. Jesus certainly wrestled with the will of God like we all do. At Gethsemane, however, Jesus was able to make his final act of self-giving to the Father. He followed the will of his Abba Father, even though he had his moments of doubt, hesitation and fear. Fear is NOT faith. Fear may be natural, but ultimately, we learn to move beyond our fears into trust in Jesus.

Jesus actively entered into his death. He assented to the will of his Father and made his choice. It is the faith of Jesus that saves us – not our faith in Jesus. It is because Jesus obediently complied with the will of God that he was able to win salvation for us. We, as Christians, are called to imitate Jesus, and like him, we are to recite with him, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” when it is our time to leave this earth.

As humans, we will struggle with death and its implications, but in our faith we know the Jesus has conquered death. Jesus of Nazareth, the historical person, has been vindicated by God and has become our Christ of faith. Jesus still lives and death has no claim over him. And that is why these words from John’s Gospel are so important:

“I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

As Jesus lives, he wants to always draw us into a closer relationship with himself. He wants to be our friend in this life so that we can live joyfully with him in eternity. This is the good news that he brings to us to share with us.

Next up: The Judgment in the End Times

Monday, November 26, 2012

Spirituality: The Communion of Saints (1 of 4)

The Communion of Saints (1 of 4)

The church began this month with the Feast of All Saints on November 1st each year followed by All Souls on November 2nd. We hear about the “communion of saints,” especially made popular through the song "For All the Saints" that we hear at the end of funerals. We profess our belief in the communion of Saints each Sunday and whenever we say our creed.

The church is a community that is formed in Jesus Christ. The Lord sends the Spirit of love to us to endow us with the necessary gifts to continue Christ’s work for the kingdom. Jesus calls all Christians to holiness.

Paul's letters mention the saints as those who have come to know the Risen Christ. His point is that these Christians were not perfect, but were striving for holiness. Saint literally means “holy one.” We likewise are called to become holy in imitation of Jesus Christ.

Who Belongs to the Communion?

The communion of saints includes those who are now living on earth (a pilgrim people), those who are being purified in purgatory (the church that suffers), and those who are blessed in heaven (the church in glory.)

We understand that we are a Eucharistic community. The church is a real communion gathered around the Table of the Lord and unified by the Holy Spirit. We encounter the Lord in the words proclaimed in Scripture and in the elements of bread and wine that we offer for consecration. We receive the gift of the risen Lord, the source of all that is holy, to redeem and sustain us. The Spirit of love that surrounds this celebration unifies us.

Why do we pray to the saints?

We, who still live, depend upon the prayers and good works of our brothers and sisters to help us through our journey of life. We know the value of prayer for our departed brothers and sisters who are being purified in purgatory. We believe that our loved ones in heaven are vitally interested in those of us who are still living or in purgatory. At each Eucharist, we come together as one – gathered by the Lord – to help one another on the journey.

We honor our saints in heaven when we petition them to intercede for us to God, our Creator Father. They already possess a deep, personal, loving relationship with God. They have proven their friendship to God and to us by the goodness of their lives while on earth.

We pray to our canonized saints too because they inspire us by the example of their lives. While they undoubtedly had flaws in life, they were real people who rose to the challenge of the Christian life and discipleship. We admire (to look towards) and are inspired by a virtue they possess and we want to attain. We imitate their particular virtues because it speaks of our inner desires.

The whole month of November is dedicated to All Souls. Let us continue to remember one another, living and deceased, in our prayers and at Eucharist. We can all benefit from each other’s prayers. We are all pilgrims moving closer to the heart of the Lord.

What’s next?

As we move closer towards the end of the liturgical year, we reflect on “The Last Things,” that is, judgment, death, the Resurrection of the Body, and the life of the world that is to come when Christ comes again.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Prayer: An (American) Indian Prayer

O Great Spirit,
whose voice I hear in the winds,
and whose breath gives life to all the world,
hear me!

I am small and weak; I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold and red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.

Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother or sister, but to fight my greatest enemy - myself.
Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Song: "The Call" by Vaughan Williams

The Five Mystical Songs are a composition by Ralph Vaughan Williams, written between 1906 and 1911. The work sets four poems by George Herbert, from his 1633 collection The Temple: Sacred Poems.

While Herbert was a priest, Vaughan Williams himself was an agnostic, though this did not prevent his setting of verse of an overtly religious inspiration. The work received its first performance on 14 September 1911, at the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester, with Vaughan Williams conducting.

It can be played by clicking the link below:

"The Call" on Youtube.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Prayer: The Novena of Grace

In this, the Year of Grace, the devotion called the Novena of Grace could be a help to our spiritual growth. The novena, nine days of prayer, was attributed to St Francis Xavier, and its history goes back nearly 380 years.

It was traditionally performed from 4-12 March, but now is more often observed from 24 November to 2 December leading up to Xavier's feast day on the 3rd.

In 1633, a Neapolitan Jesuit, Fr Marcello Mastrilli, had asked to be assigned to the Japan mission, at a time when persecution against Catholics was at its most cruel. Christianity had been banned there for some 20 years.

An accident left Mastrilli close to death. Francis Xavier, the famous missionary to the East, had been canonised some ten years earlier by Pope Gregory XV. Xavier appeared to the priest and reassured him that he would go to Japan. He proposed nine days of prayer, from 4-12 March, promising 'those who implore my help daily for nine consecutive days … will experience my protection and may hope with assurance to obtain from God any grace they ask that is for the good of their souls and the glory of God.'

Mastrilli was cured, and continued to plan for his voyage. Before he left for Japan he often gave witnessed to his cure, spreading the new devotion far and wide. He and 33 other Jesuits went to Japan in October 1633, where he was almost immediately captured and died a martyr's death.

The devotion continued to be popular, and is now more often practised over the nine days leading up to the feast of St Francis Xavier, 3 December.


If this prayer is being made with a group, it can be made as follows:

The presider calls the group to an awareness of the presence of God. He or she may make a brief presentation on the life of St Francis Xavier.

Presider: Francis, you offer to be our companion as we bring our needs to God, and so we pray:

All: Gracious and loving God, we join with our brother Francis to give you thanks and praise. We ask that we might live as he did, loving so completely those who are sick, forgotten, foreign or feel alone. We pray that our hearts be united with you through all our days. And because you have told us to ask, to seek and to knock, once again with Francis we come to you with our hopes and longings.

(Pause here for silent personal prayer. In keeping with the original devotion, this can be for some personal intention or more generally for the grace to live inspired by the example of Francis Xavier.)

All: Loving God, hear our prayers and answer us according to your wisdom and compassion, For you make all things work together for good. Amen.

Presider: Pray for us, St Francis Xavier.

All: That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Of course, all this can be adapted to one's individual prayer at home.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Poem: Thanksgiving Day

By James J. Montague
(American, 1873-1941)

With steadfast and unwavering faith, with hard and patient toil,
The Pilgrims wrung their harvest from a strange and sterile soil.
And when the leaves turned red and gold beneath the autumn sun,
They knelt beside the scanty sheaves their laboring hands had won,
And each grave elder, in his turn, with bowed and reverent head,
Gave thanks to bounteous Heaven for the miracle of bread.

And so was born Thanksgiving Day. That little dauntless band –
Beset by deadly perils in a wild and alien land,
With hearts that held no fear of death, with stern unbending wills,
And faith as firmly founded as the grim New England hills,
Though pitiful the yield that sprang from that unfruitful sod –
Remembered in their harvest time the goodly grace of God.

God grant us grace to look on this, our glorious native land,
As but another princely gift from His almighty hand.
May we prove worthy of His trust and keep its every shore
Protected from the murderous hordes that bear the torch of war;
And be the future bright or dark, God grant we never may
Forget the reverent spirit of the first Thanksgiving Day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Vigil of Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.

It is the vigil of Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. and I find the atmosphere at the Jesuit Center on Jebel Hussein to be serene. I’m the only person in the building and not much activity is happening out on the streets. Some workers are setting up for the Abdali market below the Center, but the street noise on Al-Razi is quiet. I know I am projecting, but if feels like everyone is settling in for a quiet evening. The cold air (70 degrees) has hampered outdoor activities so the streets roll up earlier when darkness descends.

The Arab culture is aware of, but isn’t quite sure how to celebrate Thanksgiving. The markets sell frozen turkeys and all the ingredients that are used to make a traditional dinner. Fall decorations meagerly dot the mall-scapes, but there aren’t many maple or oak trees here so colored leaves are a foreign decoration for many families. I’m trying to make a few by doing some watercolors, but I am a novice at this craft.

Exteriorly, it will not feel like a holiday in Amman. We’ve been invited to dinner on Friday by a very kind parishioner, but the day itself will be devoid of football games, hearing about traffic jams, turkey drives, meals at shelters, and time with family and friends. We won’t have the two and a half days off that mark the fourth week of November, but we’ll make sure to slow down tomorrow. It is my favorite holiday of all.

I am not fretting what I don’t have because I feel very full from what I do have. I have your friendship and care to support me. I am grateful for the many emails, cards, and Skype sessions that have helped me in my transition during these two plus months. I am touched by your concern for my well-being and your interest in knowing what my life and ministry are like. I’m grateful for your prayers, especially in my three bouts of illness and during a confronting culture shock. You give me reason to thank God for each of you.

I feel like St. Paul in many of his salutations in his letters. This one is from Philippians.  “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ… And this is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more…” I feel like a missionary in the line of St. Paul.

I’ll tell you what I do miss. I miss being with you when you or a loved one is in the hospital or facing an uncertain medical test. I wish I could be there when a loved one has died or even when a pet had died. I miss sharing your sorrows and fears and your dreams, hopes, and achievements. I miss being there for your birthdays or significant celebrations. I miss singing in the chorus, landscaping, going to coffee houses or museums, and I miss retreat direction. I miss being there as each day passes and we grow a little older. I miss the ordinary things of being with you, having a phone conversation, or going out for a meal. I miss being with you in the ordinariness of your lives.

In our Constitutions, Ignatius and the first founders stress the importance of the “union of hearts and minds” of its members, and you are part of that extended family. I feel secure of that in my work. I’m proud of the many of you who support me and the Jesuit mission in prayer. This is not easy work. It is not an easy place to be. What is easy is that I know Jesus Christ is present to me and to the many people, Muslims, Jews, Christians, or otherwise, who are bearing with suffering or are caring for neighbor in a loving way. It is easy not to think of oneself when others are in such demand.

I am navigating my way. I have the solid support of the Jesuit community in Amman and in New England. I have four co-pastor friends who are my brothers in mission and I’m grateful for their hospitality and good counsel. I have dedicated parish leaders who want a vibrant, meaningful prayer and worship life. I see generous Christians who genuinely want to care for one another. I’m humbled by the goodness I see.

The Middle East is complex beyond belief. Sometimes portrayal of life here is too simplistic because many forces operate below the surface. Tension here is real. We are safe and we know there are undercurrents among the people that can go in any direction. We have solid planning in case anything harmful develops. We are prudent and we are not presumptuous. We know danger can surface in unexpected places, but we know that we, as American Catholics, are not targets of anger. The people are grateful for the work we do for its citizens. Much of the tension is between classes. In fact, many of the situations that are present in U.S. politics are present in this society.

The Amman mission is a “school of the heart.” It teaches one how to survive with limited resources. It causes us to dig deeper into ourselves and into the heart of Christ. We are a small group and we are dependent upon one another. Daily Mass and our one mission keep us united in fraternity. We want to preach the good news of the Risen Christ in a kingdom and region that accepts and tolerates Christians, but has governmental preferences and services for their Islamic citizens. It creates a way of life that I cannot yet describe.

The poor are all around. Refugees from Syria and Iraq and poor workers from Egypt come looking for subsistence work and safety. The tragedy with the poor is that they often do not know what resources are available to them to pull them up from their station in life. Too many make decisions that keep them in their current state or in a downward spiral. Regardless of who they are, I want them to know of the freedom and dignity that are available to them through God. I have no idea if I am making the right choices or making a difference. This is a place where effectiveness cannot be measured and I have to suspend many of my expectations and assumptions. I have no idea what my preaching does for people. The language barrier is immense, but I hope they can see the goodwill and the prayers I have for their happiness. Love and suffering. This is what we all have in common. Love and suffering.

I’ll end now. I just meant to give you a brief update and to say many, many thanks for your care and support. As I say Mass in the morning, I will lift all of you up in prayer. That should set your day right because I am eight hours ahead of you. Know that I will pray for the happiness and warmth of your gatherings tomorrow. I wish you and your loved ones many good moments throughout your day so that you can savor the great love that you have for one another – even in the midst of family arguments, estrangement, and heartbreak. It hurts a great deal because you care a great deal. Enjoy the small details of your day. Linger on the good that is there. I’ve witnessed a great deal of your goodness and I will tell Christ how happy I am to know you.

Thanksgiving blessings.


Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Tim

Christ the King
November 25, 2012
Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33-37

            The Feast of Christ the King is the final Sunday of the Christian year and it concerns itself with the return of the Lord Jesus to inaugurate the final judgment of our moral choices. It becomes our day to check in on ourselves to see how faithfully we are imitating the life of Jesus and make needed amends. It gives us a chance at a dry run. All of creation will be called to account for how much they have loved others and the righteous will be taken up into heaven as a reward for their fidelity.

          The feast is relatively new to the church calendar as Pius XI instituted it in 1925 as a response to the rise of secularism when church leaders thought the role of Christ was becoming displaced by modern ideas. With the rise of dictatorships in Europe, Pius XI thought that the masses of people were getting pulled into the orbits of earthly leaders with new types of secular-based governments. Mass attendance was at a low point and respect for Christ and the Church was waning. This feast was to bolster a strong image of the church and remind everyone that Christ still reigned supreme while other governmental leaders would pass away, yet the image of a strong, kingly Christ depicted by Pius XI is diametrically opposed to the one presented in the readings. The king we know works in very different ways.

            The Daniel reading shows us what the mere presence of Jesus does for the world. In the preceding verses, the four beasts of the apocalyptic vision are destroyed. They’ve lost their dominion on earth, which are signified as the four successive pagan empires of the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and the Greeks. These beastly images come from the great abyss below, that is, the power of evil, but the image of the one like a Son of Man comes from above “with the clouds of heaven.” This Son of Man represents the holy ones of the most high and he cares about the faithful people who served God all life-long. He becomes a messianic king whose dominion never ends.

            In the Gospel, Pilate asks Jesus about his kingship and they get into a discussion about what constitutes “truth.” We know that Jesus testifies to the truth and that the subset of Jews who were in opposition to the Christians of John’s community has already rejected the truth. Pilate distances himself from the Jews whom he despises, and Jesus distances himself from both the Jews and Pilate. Jesus answers the question to separate his kingship from anything that could threaten Pilate, since he claims that it can be proved that his kingship is not of this world. He has no followers fighting to secure his release. Jesus must testify to the truth because he was sent as King, but Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” shows that he is ranked with that subset of Jews as one who cannot hear the voice of Jesus. Therefore, he cannot hear the truth revealed in his words.

            Pilate though understands something at a gut level. He has Jesus flogged and mocked as king at the center of his trial and, in this Gospel, Jesus appears as king for the rest of the proceedings. Pilate is then caught by his actions and has to state that Jesus is king otherwise he would be labeled a traitor to Caesar because in the empire there can only be one king. In the end, Pilate writes an inscription over the crucified Jesus so that everyone can see that Jesus is “the King of the Jews.” Pilate publicly and universally affirms the truth about Jesus that the opponents of Jesus desperately seek to reject: He is the King. Truth always emerges, and truth is always found in love and suffering.

            Who is this king for us? The chapter from Revelation, our second reading tells us that our king is the one who loves us and frees us. From his suffering he was able to love us. Truth becomes visible once again. This is not a king concerned with his own power or dominion; this is a king who uses his power to free us from anything that keeps us separate from his love. The magnetism of his love draws us to him and makes everything right. This is a king who speaks gently, by softly inviting us into his realm, who encourages us the best out of us, who “sees, and hears, and knows us,” and will stand in the pits of our suffering with us – just so we can know he is there with us and for us. This King abides by us and is nearer to us than we imagine. When we know his love, we know the truth: He is our King and our Lord. Let us give thanks to our King today. Alleluia.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: Near the conclusion of the Book of Revelation, the Lamb stood on Mount Zion with 144,000 holy ones who were unblemished in their devotion to the Father. One who looked liked the Son of Man sat on a throne and carried a large sickle for the time to reap the harvest had come. Seven angels from the seven last plagues carried out God’s fury. On the sea of glass and fire stood those who had won victory over the beast. They sang the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. Another angel with great authority cried to the earth, “Fallen, Fallen is Babylon.” A different angel picked up a stone and hurled it at Babylon until light, life, and song be snuffed out of the city. The multitudes in heaven sang, “Alleluia! Salvation, glory, and might belong to our God.” ~ The Feast of Andrew the Apostle teaches us to confess that Jesus is Lord and he has been raised from the dead. If you believe this, you will be saved.

Gospel: At the temple, Jesus sees the wealthy putting money into the treasury. He also notices a poor widow who makes her offering and Jesus is delighted with her generosity. Jesus tells the people that the elegantly adorned temple will be one day be thrown down in rubbish. They ask when it was to happen and he tells them to pay attention to the signs of the times. Nations will rise against nations and powerful earthquakes and natural destruction will usher in those disastrous times. Then the leaders and people will seize you and persecute you because you believe in Jesus. The spirit of Jesus will come to your aid in those times of trouble and you will be protected. When armies surround Jerusalem, desolation will be at hand. Scripture is fulfilled after terrible calamities. People will either choose or deny him. Then the Son of Man will come in a cloud with power and great glory.   ~ On the Feast of Andrew, Matthew shows us that Andrew was the one who brought his brother Simon to Jesus at the Sea of Galilee.

Saints of the Week

November 25: Catherine of Alexandria, martyr, (d. 310) is said to have been born in Egypt to a noble family. She was educated and converted to Christianity because of a vision. She refused to marry a man arranged to be her husband by the emperor, and she denounced him for persecuting Christians. She was arrested, tortured, and killed.

November 26: John Berchmans, S.J., religious (1599-1621), was a Jesuit scholastic who is the patron saint of altar servers. He was known for his pious adherence to the rules and for his obedience. He did well in studies, but was seized with a fever during his third year of philosophy and died at the age of 22.

November 29: Bernardo Francisco de Hoyos, S.J., religious (1711-1735) was the first and main apostle to the devotion of the Sacred Heart. He entered the novitiate in Spain at age 14 and took vows at 17. He had mystical visions of the Sacred Heart. He was ordained in January 1735 with a special dispensation because he was not old enough. A few weeks after celebrating his first mass, he contracted typhus and died on November 29th.

November 30: Andrew, apostle (first century) was a disciple of John the Baptist and the brother of Simon Peter. Both were fishermen from Bethsaida. He became one of the first disciples of Jesus. Little is known of Andrew's preaching after the resurrection. Tradition places him in Greece while Scotland has incredible devotion to the apostle.  

December 1: Edmund Campion, S.J., (1540- 1581), Robert Southwell, S.J., (1561-1595) martyrs, were English natives and Jesuit priests at a time when Catholics were persecuted in the country. Both men acknowledge Queen Elizabeth as monarch, but they refused to renounce their Catholic faith. They are among the 40 martyrs of England and Wales. Campion was killed in 1581 and Southwell’s death was 1595.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Nov 25, 1584: The Church of the Gesu, built in Rome for the Society by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, was solemnly consecrated.
·      Nov 26, 1678: In London the arrest and imprisonment of St Claude la Colombiere. He was released after five weeks and banished.
·      Nov 27, 1680: In Rome the death of Fr. Athanasius Kircher, considered a universal genius, but especially knowledgeable in science and archeology.
·      Nov 28, 1759: Twenty Fathers and 192 Scholastics set sail from the Tagus for exile. Two were to die on the voyage to Genoa and Civita Vecchia.
·      Nov 29, 1773: The Jesuits of White Russia requested the Empress Catherine to allow the Letter of Suppression to be published, as it had been all over Europe. "She bade them lay aside their scruples, promising to obtain the Papal sanction for their remaining in status quo.
·      Nov 30, 1642: The birth of Br Andrea Pozzo at Trent, who was called to Rome in 1681 to paint the flat ceiling of the church of San Ignazio so that it would look as though there were a dome above. There had been a plan for a dome but there was not money to build it. His work is still on view.
·      Dec. 1, 1581: At Tyburn in London, Edmund Campion and Alexander Briant were martyred.