Saturday, November 19, 2011

Feast of Christ the King (Year A)

I imagine the separating, by Jesus, of sheep and goats is something only a farmer, a modern day shepherd, could truly appreciate. 

But the message of the gospel, the key to understanding what Jesus does, lies in the verb “to see”.  Matthew speaks of the Lord’s arrival amongst us as a coming in glory, a beauty visible and irresistible to any and all.
The sheep, to the right, says Jesus, saw and tended to the poor and to the lame.  They served the Lord, via his people, when they were in need.  The goats to the left saw nothing and did nothing.  Jesus tells them so and they admit such.  The question for us then is: are we awestruck enough to see and to appreciate God’s glory; to accept our own imperfectness before him? Can we see the God given goodness in flawed humanity, and respond to it?  Or need we separate, distinguish sheep from goats. 

What are we able to see?

The year was 1925. Europe and the colonies had only recently survived what became known as World War I.  Violent dictatorships were on the rise, international combat was, arguably, more destructive and less civilised than it had ever been; Christian Europe was as divided as ever.  If people of God ever needed leadership, a Messiah who would liberate or a Prince who would reign in their hearts, it was between the two world wars.  And so Pope Pius the XI, aware of the depressed state of humanity, particularly Catholics, invoked this feast in honour of Christ the one true King – a just protector of sheep and goats.
As citizens in a democratic society, accustomed to dialogue and consensus models, we do not easily perceive God as absolute authority and judge.  I do not naturally find comfort in a being who should care little about my opinion, an absolute monarch, so to speak, who would, in theory, possess no reason to respect my feelings.  Yet, on this feast of Christ the King, we celebrate a God who is Lord and Judge; and yet a God who is Servant and Saviour.  Jesus Christ, the King, is a God entitled to and deserving of honour and praise, yet a God who behaves as a good and loving Shepherd. 

 A story is told of a little girl who, with her mother, was crossing a bridge.  Before stepping onto the bridge the mother, instinctively cautious, said to her daughter, “Sweetheart, please hold my hand so that you don’t fall into the river.” The little girl replied, “No, mommy, you hold my hand!”  Puzzled, the mother shot back: “What’s the difference?”  “Mom,” the little girl said, “there is a big difference. If I hold your hand and something happens to me, I may let go. But if you hold my hand, I know for sure that no matter what happens, you will never let go.”

For people who like to be heard, and have their feelings honoured, inferiority is never desired, but attentive concern is always appreciated.  Personally, I take little comfort from a loss of control or responsibility, although I can see how some might.  But the idea that God actually cares when I am in trouble, that God is committed to my well-being, and that God never lets go, resonates.  If Christ the King is a Good Shepherd, he is welcomed to reign in my heart!

The world we live in is challenged.  To a certain degree, despair abounds in everyone.  And sometimes reality becomes so burdensome, we are so divided, that the goodness of Creation, the presence of God in our brothers and sisters, is invisible.  Though we long, we cannot to see. 

If this Feast of Christ as King does anything for us, might it be a reminder of the trustworthiness of God.  Might we believe that both the sheep and the goats are in good hands, that we can leave judgement to the Judge and allow Peace to reign in our hearts.

The fact is, that if all people, even all Christians, were able to see together, if we were awestruck by a the same glorious Lord, we would have little need to fight; we would have little need to draw lines between ourselves, and peace would reign in our hearts. 

In the care of the good Shepherd, may all find peace.  May Christ reign in our hearts. And no matter how despairing reality is, regardless of our ability to see his glory, may God never let go of us. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Blessed is He/ We the Saints

The beatitudes stir various reactions.  “Too humiliating (meaning embarrassing)” remarks one of my confreres, “intimidating” says another.  The “formula for Christian living” says the American Bishops, and countless others before them.  “The perfect description of our Lord” (poor, meek, humble, etc) explain some, “and ourselves” others would add.  
The gospel most read at funerals, it is odd, ironic, fitting to hear the beatitudes on the feast of all saints.  All saints day, or the feast of all hollows (holy people) started in the fourth century to celebrate Christian martyrs – exemplary followers of the crucified messiah – so they believed.  Gradually, with the evolution of our definition of holiness, all saints day grew to include non-martyrs, and eventually (with greater reflection on scripture), I would argue, the entire people of God.  
While there remains some debate on this issue, about who this day really celebrates, one Saint Paul says unequivocally that each and every baptised person is and is called to be a saint.  Holy people, the communion of saints is the graced filled church, those baptised and set free to become that which we are and are not – like him – one with He who is one with us.  
As Christians, we live with the tension of being both now and not yet.  We know that we can always do better and that although we are already poor, meek, and humble of heart we can always become yet more united to our saviour Jesus Christ.  And we have the grace to it.  
In Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech in 1994, he spoke to the people of South Africa about God’s grace, the fine line between fear and power, and what it does to us. 
For our sake, I will add “as Christians”

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

As children of God, the communion of saints, we have light to shine. The light God give to us is hope.  Hope in what we have, and hope in what is to come.  As John’s Epistles states: ‘we are God’s children now, what we will become is not yet revealed but we do know is this: that we will become like him.’ (3.2) 

Christ our Lord was the only perfect human being.  He lived and breathed the beatitudes in ways that we never will, but he did it with us.  As God’s holy people we have the grace of a God walks with us so that we can walk with him. 
May we not be embarrassed or intimidated by what he does, but rise up and in pride (hope) as we are, to have been included in his love.  May the holy baptised radiate God’s glory revealed in Christ and ourselves - poor, meek, and humble of heart. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

God of Surprise/Hope

Two young boys were always in trouble. So one day their mother sent them to the parish priest in the hope that he could help.
The first boy went in, sat down and his pastor asked him “Son, where is God?” a question to which the child gave no reply, so the priest asked again. “Where is God?” But again, he gave no answer, so the priest said “boy this is not a difficult question, where is God?”
By now the boy was not only shocked but frightened, he ran out of the church, found his brother and said: “We are in big trouble now, they’ve lost God and they are blaming us.”
The parable of the Sower, the image of seed spread randomly about, some on good earth, some on not so good earth, causes me to reflect on the oddities and surprises of God.  Why it seems as though some get more than others, while some are challenged, right from the start, by the harder facts of life: disease, disability, and poverty.  I wonder too why so much this universe exists unexposed to God’s Word, and therefore given very little chance to respond to it with any enthusiasm and faith.  I wonder how such an odd God is a God of hope.
History suggests that God likes to pick on the unlikely.  Surprise, God chose the persecuted people of Israel;  Surprise, God chose the little town of Bethlehem;  Surprise, God chose us.  
A friend of mine used to say, if you want to make God laugh tell Him your plans.  
Ours is a God of surprises.  
But then again, our God is consistent; always acting in and out of love for us. 
A giver of grace, consistently catching us off guard, Christ invites believers to change, to become better disciples, and Christ does so without warning.  And while we struggle with the burden of expectation, a load placed on ourselves entirely by ourselves, it is worthwhile to remember that God loved us first.
Dying and rising, God gave us hope in something, Someone, much bigger than ourselves.  If nothing else, what Jesus did, and continues to do, is the assurance that the God of surprises acts with purpose. 
Hope is believing that God, though strange, is faithful;  that God’s love is not measured or deterred by our mediocre replies to his overtures, and that even though the seed that falls on me does not bare all the fruit it can, God’s plans are fulfilled. 
This is our hope: that the cross of Jesus Christ is enough.   That what we, the world, fail to give back is covered by the ransom God paid on our behalf.  As St. Paul’s says – the challenges of this present time are small before the glory He presents.
To people of God, much love has been given.  May the Sower of surprises continue to grace us, and may we respond to Him with hope.  Or might we react as God expects -with sincere/mediocre enthusiasm and faith.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Joy in the Crucified (and Risen)

This being the second Sunday of Easter, it is appropriate to say again, happy Easter; happy pinnacle feast of the Christian year; happy victory of life over death. For Christians everywhere, Easter is our definitive statement that love wins, and that God’s mercy has no worthy opponent. Together we profess that hope defeats despair; that Christ’s death and resurrection is the assurance of God’s forgives and reconciliation.

But yet, I doubt. In a world dominated by religions other than Christianity (Islam in the East and Secularism in the West), I ask myself why Jesus Christ, why us, and why me?

So close to the heart of oil rich Alberta, it is hard to identify with the experience of the early church, their dependence on one another for all things monetary, cultural and spiritual. Most of us are pretty self-sufficient -we can look after ourselves.  A community that pools their resources (as the book of Acts says the Apostles do), and promises to protect members from poverty and persecution, as the first Christians did, is a difficult sell these days.  And for me it all begs the question, has Christianity (what Jesus taught) become irrelevant?

Well it just so happens that the gospel of John, written from the experience of believers almost 2000 years ago wrestles with these same questions.  The query, why Jesus Christ, why this, and why me is at the heart of St. Thomas’ want to touch the wounds of a crucified and risen Messiah;  and I emphasis the first part of that, a crucified Messiah.  Because for Jews of the ancient world, those who witnessed Christ’s death and resurrection, doubt persisted.  They doubted not that a Messiah could be raised, but that a Messiah would be crucified.  In other words, they questioned the logic of a God who would stoop to human frailty and be victim to the very world He created.  This is a scandal to the Hebrew people – to many an insult.  But, in this sort of God, a God on fire with love and integrity, Thomas believes. 

Hardly doubt Thomas’s want to touch the wounds of the risen is one believer’s statement that Love, and any Being who claims to love, would indeed give of him/her self fully and completely to the well-being of a beloved. Thomas is confident that a real Messiah would walk the talk, even if, by doing so, Jesus challenges he (a believer) to do the same.

During a winter journey with St. Francis, Brother Leo reflected on the wonderful work the Franciscans were doing and boasted: Is this not perfect joy? Drenched and cold, St. Francis responded: "Brother, if you were to please God by giving the world a great example of holiness and teaching. If you were to perform miracles, chase away demons, heal ills, and raise the dead, this would not be perfect joy."

And "Brother, if you knew all languages, were versed in all science, could
explain all Scripture, had the gift of prophecy and could read hearts, you
would not have perfect joy."   

As they walked, Francis continued: Brother Leo, if you could speak in
tongues, and were acquainted with the qualities of all creatures, and dare
I suggest "O Brother, that if you had the gift of preaching so as to convert
 anyone and everyone to faith in Christ, that would not be perfect joy."

Now after some silence, Brother Leo questioned the saint, he said,
"O.K. Francesco, what is perfect joy?" Francis answered: "If, when
 we arrive at our destination, cold and wet, covered with mud and
hungry; if, we knock and the porter is rude, asks us who we are even
after we have told him, does not believe our story; If he refuses to open
the door, leaves us in the cold and hungry, beats us and drives us away
repeatedly, and, if we can accept such cruelty, trusting that it is God who
causes the porter to speak and behave so, if we can shake the dust from
our feet with patience and charity, note, O Brother, that we have found
 perfect joy.

Then says Francis, brother, listen up. Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends is the grace to overcome oneself; to accept willingly out of love, all trial, injury, discomfort and contempt. These and these alone, are gifts to celebrate. In most else, given that such things come from God and not from ourselves, we have no right to boast.

Friends of Christ, there is cause to doubt -at least uncertainty can be owned. I have good reason to ask why Jesus Christ, why us, and why me - the truth can hurt. It was difficult for the first disciples to accept that theirs was a God who walked the talk –It might be difficult for us. But if faith so compels, might we overcome ourselves to discover the integrity of our Messiah’s commitment, the resolve of God’s love and forgiveness. With hope in the crucified and risen, dare all who believe find perfect joy. Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Do This in Memory of Me

It is easy to take people for granted.  How often do we realize the value of friendship, love, or even mentorship, after a companion is gone?  How often have I dismissed a person who challenged me, only to later recognize how impactful she or he was on my life?  In this vein, I can only imagine how it was for the disciples after Jesus had died and rose.  How difficult was it for Peter, Judas, or Mary Magdelane, the many men and women who broke bread with Jesus, witnessed his compassion for strangers, his humble dependence on Abba, to finally comprehend his actions and discover their master's true identity – a Christ known only by faith.

Tonight we commemorate Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, his last supper with those who would ransom, deny and abandon him.  And just as Jesus celebrated with his friends, we too will wash feet.  It’s a simple gesture, and for many of us it is an awkward gesture.  For Christ, it was a humble service done in love; for Peter it was humiliating. 

St. Peter’s reasons for not wanting his feet washed may have been different than yours or mine, but his objection resonates. A positive spin says that Peter knew he was unworthy, but another suggests that he was looking out for none other than number one.  Peter knew that no King who washes feet has any glory to share, that no master who crawls on his knees has accolades to distribute, and a messiah does not wash feet -that’s what slaves do.  As a self-respecting man, Peter knew darn well that he could never benefit from being the right hand, or wing man, so to speak, of a slave.  In end Peter submits but only because Jesus insists, essentially humiliating the apostle.  And perhaps it is fair to say that he knew his unworthiness.  To what degree is another question. 

In the letter to the Corinthians, the Lord’s last supper is recalled by St. Paul and the early Church. According to Scripture scholar James Dunn, Paul understood the Eucharist as two messages –one for the weak and another for the strong.  For the strong, such is "a reminder that feasting together has an objective significance, while for weak Eucharist is the assurance that they indeed belong at God’s banquet."  Weak and strong, wise and foolish, courageous and scared, rich and poor, Peter, Judas, and Mary, Christians are called to celebrate together and to serve one another - to make Christ visible by being ministers of presence to each other and the world. 

The challenge to Jesus’ followers, in the gospel and today, is to do as he does.  We are invited to appreciate his presence, to not take one another for granted, and to depend on strangers, even if we find all of this very humiliating.

In each and every Eucharist, we celebrate the mystery of God’s love for us and do consider the many ways to do as he does.  Through faith might we also discover who Christ is, comprehend his actions and acknowledge his simple, yet sometimes humiliating, instructions:  “Do as I have done to you” and “do so in memory of me”.   

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Free Love!!!

True love may be the least random act of all.  Love is something we choose to give and choose to receive.  A mystery entered into, true love is a dialogue between persons made manifest in fidelity; each sharing his or her self in freedom while reinforcing self-determination in the other. 

For God, the act of loving goes part and parcel with whom God is.  Made of love in its purest form, the being of God like no other being, exhibits a passion and commitment to the freedom and happiness of his beloved.

In the first reading from Isaiah our Lord is depicted as a Mother.  As anyone who is or has a mother understands, a Mother does not, would not, cannot forget her baby.  She/God is, as St. Paul says, trustworthy.  So trustworthy, or reliable, is this God that She, as Jesus’ insists, can be depended on to feed and clothe the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, and even human beings. Providing as needed, food, shelter, and good health, all these that we cannot live without are worries for God alone. 

Before instructing his disciples not to worry about what they will eat, drink or wear, Jesus cautions them against serving both God and mammon. Made for one master, disciples cannot remain consumed by themselves if devoted to the kingdom. Between the other and thyself, disciples are forced to choose.

Fully aware of our limitations, our inability to serve two masters, God, demands our undivided attention. Passionately in love, God requires our exclusive devotion. 

Desiring to share all of Gods very self with us, a free and intentional Christ, through a death and resurrection promises to remove all that stands between us and the love of God.   
A grace to render hearts exclusively and to serve, God’s love takes away the fears, the insecurities, and the worries – the obstacle course, so to speak, between us and Him.

With God and in Love there is no room to be distracted, manipulated or controlled. Ever feeding, clothing, and liberating Her beloved, God is committed to our happiness and well-being.  As a Mother to her baby, may She never forget our needs. And may Christ continue to set us free to love and serve God and one another.   

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dorothy Day, Christ & Eight Do's

There is no call like a call from God.  Summoned to act on the Word they hear, Christians can be compelled to do extraordinary things.  If we happen to be one of these people, called to do extraordinary things (like follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ) it is certainly not because of who we are, the family or society that we have been born into.  There are no stated prerequisites be becoming a disciple.  The body of Christ has all sorts:  fishers, tax collectors, you name them, they worship among us.  All ordinary people called to do extraordinary things. 
In the letter from St. Paul to the Corinthians we hear, as we so often do, that people of God are at best an average bunch.  “Not many are wise” says St. Paul, “not many are powerful, and not many are of noble birth” -ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Throughout history we have witnessed a whole tradition of ordinary people who have done extraordinary things.  Take Dorothy Day, for example. 
In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II officially opened the cause for canonization of this rebellious American feminist who was to some a hippie and to others an anarchist. Founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, several houses of hospitality for victims of “the Depression”, and an outspoken opponent of several international conflicts, Day was as ordinary as any of us yet extraordinary at the same time. 
As a young woman, then of little faith formation, Dorothy wandered.  She suffered a failed marriage as well as an abortion.  She was easily duped by men, ideas, and even money all until called by Christ through a Catholic faith and the yearnings of the poor.  With God in her life Day matured into a “faith-passioned” woman widely recognized as a Saint, even before her death in 1980.  

Today’s gospel poses an extreme vocational challenge to we who hear it.  “Eight Do’s”, spelled-out by Jesus himself, are a discomforting reminder of how selfish we can so often be.  The beatitudes are, in fact, so challenging a call to action that they make the Ten Commandments, or the “Ten Do-Not’s”, sound easy.  
But I won’t suggest that we abandon what Jesus taught;  I might instead suggest a different approach to this “Sermon on the Mount”.  Might we ask who Jesus is talking about?
A critical look at Jesus’ description of the blessed: the poor, the mournful, the comforted, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted, makes apparent that he speaks of none other, or no-other more evidently, than Himself.  Poor, mournful, meek, hungry, merciful, pure, peacemaking, and persecuted, Jesus alone is truly blessed.  A rejected stone and Son of God, He is no ordinary person, He is extraordinary. 
Like the exiled people of Israel, Jesus endured persecution with hope.  Like Dorothy Day, Jesus faced injustices and embraced poverty.  And like ourselves, Christ strove to live out his vocation without full knowledge of what that meant, without worldly power, and without much in the way of status.  Among those who dwell in the world, He was ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. 
Unlike the Israelites, Dorothy Day, you or I, Christ accomplished his work to perfection.  A perfect Saviour, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, Jesus brings justice to the poor and freedom to we who, to some degree, remain enslaved.  His is a high bar; what He did may be imitated, but He shall never be equated.  Our own Lord is a reminder of how ordinary, short of extraordinary, we all are.  
As for the beatitudes, these are clearly not about us.  God’s blessings for the poor, the mournful, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure, the peacemaking, and the persecuted may neither be about those we know or encounter.  But these eight, impossible, do’s are nevertheless the guidelines for discipleship and our invitation to do as Jesus does.
A reminder of whom we are, as well as whom we are not, may God’s blessings, the “eight do’s”, call us toward a joyful reception of the grace to do as He does.  May God help us ordinary people to follow in Christ’s extraordinary footsteps. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Good News!

Myself with a recent member of the communion of saints.  This is just to prove that I do indeed work.
On that topic, I gained insight from Bishop Fred Henry's Sunday night talk at the James Joyce Pub, Calgary (Theology on Tap).  A holistic Christian Spirituality involves all three of the following: study, prayer, and action.  He did not exactly say such, but I am saying such.  Athol Murray's motto was "God, Canada, and Hockey, and not necessarily in that order".  I say, "Study, Pray, Do, (the Word of God) and not necessarily in the that order".  To be stuck on any one, is to avoid all three.  Peace Out!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Come Out! It's Epiphany.

For God, the feast of the Epiphany is a “coming out” party of sorts; For Christians around the world, a wake-up call.

The setting is violent and inhospitable: a King is born to unmask the truth about Himself, the One, and everyone. Revealed as human in the poor (a child) of the ancient middle-east, Christ the universal King awakens all to whom we are, and more importantly, who we can be: faithful subjects of a just and gracious God.

A lamb among wolves, Jesus is born a threat. One wonders how a newborn baby could scare anyone, but to Herod, an appointed representative of the Roman Government (for and from the Hebrew people), word of another, even a child, King is menacing.

The reaction of Herod (not really a King), the rejection of Mary and Joseph, and the visitation of the Magi (neither wise nor royal: I will say more about that later) associates Jesus, right from his start, with suffering and death. Of neither status nor wealth, Mary and Joseph are forced bear the Son of God in a cave with animals, shepherds, and God only knows what else. When finally visited by people, several days, if not weeks, later, they are not by their own.

The Magi (a name from whom we get the English word magic) are neither religious nor dignitary. Tradition calls them Kings but they are no more than wandering star gazers, led by faith to a child who will give them, symbols of the lost outsiders, hope.

Foreign and “unchurched”, the magi are no traditional believers. They are, nevertheless, a testament to Christ’s universal kingship.

In a marginal place, Bethlehem, from marginal people, Mary and Joseph, to marginal believers, Gentile magicians, a marginal Jew brings salvation and justice to all. A threat to strong, proud, rich and secure, the birth of the Christ is a wake-up call for everyone. God's coming out as with us is validation to flesh and fire for weary hearts.

Beneath inhumane tendencies to hide and divide, artificial make-up, Christ unmasks the inherently good, children of God's own image, the wandering souls longing to reflect His greatness. When self-deceit is removed, His holy innocence glows.

But who are we really? As children of God, we are born small and vulnerable; arguably, we remain so throughout our lives. We are human, we are good: humble truths that we so earnestly deny. Though we are poor, we long to be rich. Though we are weak, we long to be strong. Though we are foolish, we long to be wise. Etc. Yes, human beings posses all sorts of disordered desires.

A frequent visitor of the poor, the lost, the sick, and the imprisoned, Jesus turns our way of thinking, our disordered yearnings, upside down. Death to personal kingdoms, Christ unsettles the stable and brings hope to those who live on the edge.

So what about us? Are we threatened by a God who shows us who we really are? How do we respond to a king who prevails as small and tender like ourselves?

On this celebration of God’s humanity, it is time for Christians around the world to wake up and face reality (we are all, like Christ, human and good). And though we be masters of our personal destinies, there is but one king in this universe. Like him, the child of poverty, rejection and violence, may we be humbled yet again. May we come out as faithful subjects of a just and gracious God.