Friday, May 17, 2013
Friday, May 10, 2013
Friday Focus: Getting It Together
This gospel is Christ’s last prayer before his Passion. And what does he pray for? Not for himself. Not even just for his friends. He prays for you and for me, for: those who will believe in (him.) He does not pray for a laundry list of blessings. He simply prays: …that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.
After two-thousand years, Christ’s prayer for unity has yet to be fully answered. But, we’re working on it. Jesus prays to the Father. But he also speaks directly to us. Jesus is giving us his love, knowing he will soon be giving his life. Then, as the risen Christ, he continues to give. He sends us the Holy Spirit to shower us with grace. It is through the Holy Spirit that we know God’s purpose for us: We have a mission to unite in his love. Baptized into God’s family, we have been given the power to unite. In scripture and liturgy, fellowship and outreach, we have been given all the tools we need to unite. But how are we using these gifts to answer Christ’s prayer? What are we doing to be one with each other, and one with the Father and the Son?
In our search for unity, let’s eliminate one place where it won’t be found. We won’t find it in coercive, sectarian conformity. That’s the antithesis of love. And only love can bring us together. That love is not a collective abstraction. It is an individual reality, created by individual commitment to live in the love of Christ. John tells us: They will know we are Christians by our love. It is love in every form, at every opportunity, despite every obstacle that draws us together. And through the power of the Holy Spirit, our commitment to love draws us into union with the Father and the Son.
This side of heaven, our union will not be accomplished through a single eruption of love. Rather, it will be accomplished day by day through individual acts of love, ranging from the most demanding to the most casual. From forgiveness, to compassion, to respect, to patience, to generosity, to kindness, to thoughtfulness, to hospitality, to merely good manners… when rendered in Christ’s name, they unite us in his love.
We are not drawn together to satisfy some primal herd instinct. We are drawn together to fulfill God’s purpose for us. And in this case, the ends and the means are identical. We were made by love. We were made to love. We are saved by love. It is what draws us to Jesus. It ties us to the Father. It gives direction to our lives. It gives meaning to our death. Christ’s love will spread, but only if we spread it. Today, every task, every encounter is an opportunity to love, to draw closer to Christ, to witness his love, to answer his prayer… to get it together. Alleluia!
Friday, May 03, 2013
Friday Focus: The Power of the Holy Spirit
When we flip a switch and light fills a room, few, if any of us, contemplate the awesome, unseen power of electrons coursing through filaments to produce that light. We don’t give a thought to the massive power grid of transformers, cables and boosters that surrounds us and makes modern life possible. The generators that turn carbon and sunlight, wind and water into electric energy are over the horizon; out of sight, out of mind. To most folks, the power grid on which we are totally dependent remains a complete mystery that only comes to mind if there is a blackout.
This week John introduces us to heaven’s hidden power system … The Trinity. With the indulgence of St. Augustine, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, let’s try to put this analogy to work. According to John: God is love. This simple declarative is the Christian equivalent of: E=mc2. It captures the complete essence of Divinity. John does not say that God loves or that God has love. Rather, he says flat out that: God is love. It is God’s irreducible, sub-atomic structure. Love is both God’s mass and God’s energy. Love is God in total.
The Father is the generator, the source of all love. Jesus, his beloved Son, is the recipient and transmitter of love. And the Holy Spirit is the alternating current that resonates and facilitates the mutual love of Father and Son. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are the myriad of filaments that shine God’s love in the world. As Tesla would prove with electrical systems, the alternating current of love is infinitely more powerful than a cramped, one-way, direct current. St. Augustine wrote that: the Father and Son breathe their mutual love back and forth and this shared love is expressed in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Confused? You’re not alone. John Wesley confessed that: “Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God.” And yet we have the existence of the Trinity on the very best authority. Father, Son and Holy Spirit make their first appearance together at the Baptism of Jesus in the first chapter of John. There are then literally scores of entries throughout the New Testament linking the divinity of the Father and the Son. While there are also ample references to the Holy Spirit, his presence and role are usually far less familiar even to devout Christians.
Perhaps the role of the Holy Spirit is best described in his title: The Paraclete, literally: the helper, protector, comforter. In Acts and the Epistles there are repeated references to the power of the Holy Spirit to fulfill the role of the Paraclete… to help us, to protect us, to comfort us.
There is a magnificent symmetry to the Trinity. The love of the Father puts the universe in motion and creates all life. The love of Christ comes in human form for our redemption. And, as promised, Jesus returns to the Father, leaving the love of God to help, protect and comfort us through the power of the Holy Spirit. And so we pray for that awesome, unseen power to surge through the wiring of our souls and fill us with light. In the words of St. Augustine: “O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there thy cheerful beams.” Alleluia!
Friday, April 26, 2013
Friday Focus: The Hard Part
No matter how hard we try to make Jesus a living presence in our lives, he still dwells largely in the realm of the spirit. No matter how firm our faith, he remains to some extent a tabula rasa… a blank, ephemeral canvas for our hopes and dreams. Those canvases that have been filled in by masters over the years all radiate glory. The Jesus we meet in song and scripture, in literature and liturgy is a paradigm of love and beauty. So what’s not to love? He doesn’t litter the landscape of our lives with habits we hate and sights and smells we despise. In contrast to the image of a loving, loveable Jesus, reality rears its ugly head in the form of people we struggle to tolerate, much less love.
But toleration is not an option. Jesus commands us this week: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you…” With Jesus, “love” is always the operative word. He doesn’t specify that we love only the sweet smelling and considerate, the virtuous and attractive, the sound of mind and body. Neither is his commandment restricted to the disciples or just the Chosen People. Jesus commands us to love all of God’s children, just as he loves us.
There’s no wiggle room here. This is not a suggestion or a helpful hint. It is Christ’s commandment. And nobody said it was going to be easy. Some people are harder to love than others. Start with those labeled as life’s losers: the drunks, the addicts, the hookers and the crazies. Jesus knows and loves every one of them. He took their sins to the cross, right along with our pride and contempt for these, our discarded, de-humanized brothers and sisters. It is humbling to consider what pained Christ the most, their sins or ours?
Just as Jesus offers us no choice but to love, he clearly shows us the way to love. To follow his commandment, we have to practice loving the way that he loves. First, give any discomfort or reticence you have to the Father. Then, no matter how dim or obscure, respect the divine spark in everyone you meet. Try very hard to look past your prejudices and society’s degrading labels. Try understanding that pathology and pain produce obnoxious, off-putting behaviors. And don’t be put off by them. Keep searching til you recognize the image of God that resides in all of us. Work at it. Pray for it. And always be kind; be respectful; be helpful; be forgiving. Remember every one of us is a beloved child of God, here for one reason. And that reason is to preserve and project his love, so that: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Our charge is simple: Witness Christ’s love in the world, as if he had left only yesterday and will be returning tomorrow. Til then, his love is in our care. We must live it and share it. Seen through his eyes, the hard part of love gets a lot easier. Alleluia!
Friday, April 19, 2013
Friday Focus: Belonging
Friday, April 12, 2013
Friday Focus: Do You Love Me?
In this week’s gospel, Christ’s time on earth is rapidly running out. He has much to do and little time to do it. He knows that he’s leaving very extraordinary things to be done by some very ordinary people. And what are those ordinary people doing? They’re out fishing. It’s what they know best.
Jesus makes a humble, but very powerful entrance. Like any casual passerby, he asks how the fishing is going. And when they tell him they’ve caught nothing, he tells them exactly where to find the fish. They do what he tells them and they are swamped with fish. And at that moment they recognize the helpful stranger with nature at his command. It is the risen Christ.
What better way to get a fisherman’s attention, than to tip him off on how to land a bumper catch? Jesus does and they do. And now that he’s broken the ice, Jesus gets down to business. Job one is to get Peter back on the leadership track. Back when the going got tough, Peter had denied Jesus three times. Now Jesus gives him three chances to make amends. The symmetry of Peter’s denials and subsequent affirmations of faith is striking. It tells us that God knows us and loves us in our frailty. Peter betrayed Jesus at the worst possible moment. And here is Jesus talking love and living love in its purest form…he forgives and forgives and forgives.
The exchange between Jesus and Peter is a masterpiece of economical communication. Jesus succinctly poses the irreducible question that frames the relationship between God and man: Do you love me? Before we can address the question, we must consider: What does loving God mean? Cui bono? Who benefits if and when we love God?
All creation benefits from our love of God. But we benefit the most, directly proportional to our love. Loving God produces what economists would call a Virtuous Circle: a beneficial chain of events that reinforce each other, with each event passing positive benefits on to the next in a closed cycle that continuously strengthens each link of the chain and consequently the chain itself. The Virtuous Circle of love breaks the Vicious Circle of self-absorption, pride and the pathologies of vice that feed on it.
In this dialog, the always passionate Peter responds with heartfelt protestations of love; while Jesus serenely poses both questions and answers. As Jesus has told us, God is the embodiment of love: God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (John 4:16b) Jesus is not looking for lip-service love. The Good Shepherd tells Peter: Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Dietrich Bonhoeffer expanded on these imperatives, saying: “To abide in love means to have open eyes, to be able to see things that only a few can see, namely the begging outstretched hands (and) to help (them), using everything one has.”
This Easter time Jesus asks us again: Do you love me? He’s not looking for artful expressions of devotion. He wants our love to answer him, not our words. In kindness, in caring, in generosity, in patience, in forgiveness, let’s feed his lambs, tend his sheep and rejoice in the love of the risen Christ. Alleluia!
Friday, April 05, 2013
Friday Focus: Beyond Belief (John 20:19-31)
Thomas had stated adamantly that: I will not believe. Now he proclaims the risen Christ as: My Lord and my God. So now that Thomas believes and the other disciples believe what does that mean? Do they conclude: Well this has all been very interesting. But we have nets to mend and fish to catch. See you in temple sometime. What was the real impact of the Resurrection on their lives? What is the real impact of the Resurrection on our lives? For an answer we turn to another Thomas, Thomas Merton who tells us: It is not enough to believe in the Resurrection, we must participate in it.
The Resurrection changes the whole ball game. Now we are both the beneficiaries and the legacy of the risen Christ. We are the beneficiaries because now life has new meaning. We are showered with grace. We are cleansed of our sins. We are meant for eternal happiness. That’s because Jesus was not just another gentle holy man who ran afoul of the tough guys and got the chop. Sadly, history is full of those stories. But the risen Jesus is infinitely different. He is God, the Son of the Father, come to earth for our salvation, in total command of both life and death. As his legacy, our lives were never meant to be business as usual, with a religious flourish thrown in at Christmas and Easter.
You may believe in the Universal Theory of Relativity, but unless you are a practicing atomic physicist, that belief has little impact on the way you live your daily life. Not so with belief in the Resurrection. We are the living legacy of the risen Christ. Beyond private, personal belief, our lives are meant to proclaim: He is risen. Christ lives in us. He is risen in us. We are the Body of Christ …the risen Christ.
For us the Resurrection cannot be some abstraction, only peripheral to our real lives. As Christians, the Resurrection gives us meaning and direction. It necessarily shapes our thoughts and actions. Thomas Merton captured this centrality when he wrote that Christianity gives us the power to confidently face the inevitability of suffering and death “… because the Resurrection of Jesus has robbed them of meaning.” In the risen Christ, death is not a destination. It is a passage. Beyond belief in the Resurrection lies actively living and sharing the joy of the Resurrection… both now and in eternity. And that’s as good as life ever gets. Alleluia!