We actually began our last day in Lourdes the evening before with an 11:00 p.m. Mass in the Grotto followed by Eucharistic Adoration. Strong winds blew out the tower of candles which sits always before the Grotto and caused a column of incense to swirl about the altar and permeate the place with its sweet odor. A dramatic ending to the evening service.
One last morning in Lourdes and time to say au revoir to this holy place. We had just enough time to stop in the Museum of St. Bernadette and see some relics of the saint...her shoes and the veil of her habit as well as some autographed letters.
Then we stopped in the underground Basilica of St. Pius X which was built in 1959 for the centenary celebration of the apparitions. Said to be one of the largest buildings of its type, it will accommodate in excess of 20,000 worshippers. Its massive concrete structure stands in stark contrast to the more ornate places of worship here. Fifty-eight concrete pillars support the oval-shaped structure and its walls are adorned with Stations of the Cross and back-lit stained glass series of the Rosary.
A final bittersweet visit to the Grotto and we were able to receive communion one last time on this hallowed ground. While we're sad to leave this place, our final encounter here is a fitting reminder that Our Lady calls us to herself only to draw us closer to Christ.
We are now in Toulouse and will soon be on a plane heading home. A huge music festival is in full swing outside our balcony... Not exactly like the torchlight procession in Lourdes and the Marian chants of that first night but a lively celebration nonetheless.
I am grateful to have shared this remarkable trip with my dear friend, Kathy. We prayed, laughed, walked, ate, reflected, studied maps, laughed some more, shopped, attended masses, reconciliation, walked the stations, worked on Rosaries, explored the path of St. Bernadette, and so much more. After sharing close quarters together for eight days we decided we must truly be soul sisters because at the end of this pilgrimage we are still best of friends! I am thankful for the Willis Family for sharing her with me this week!
Now as I conclude my chronicles, I want to thank you again. I am forever grateful to each of you that have supported me on this pilgrimage - financially and spiritually. I will never forget your generosity just as I can never forget this experience. I feel as if I have left a little part of me in the Grotto so I'm sure to be returning there often. And just as I did this week, I will carry you in my heart as I go!
Thursday, June 21, 2012
We actually began our last day in Lourdes the evening before with an 11:00 p.m. Mass in the Grotto followed by Eucharistic Adoration. Strong winds blew out the tower of candles which sits always before the Grotto and caused a column of incense to swirl about the altar and permeate the place with its sweet odor. A dramatic ending to the evening service.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Remember that fourth message of Lourdes? Participation? That lesson was reinforced early today when we rode up on the "lift" with the celebrant for morning Mass. Since this was my same friend from yesterday who offered me absolution, I could hardly turn down his request when he asked me to do the reading. So, despite the glaring absence of my comfort zone, I was open to the Spirit and Participated! At Mass, the priest declared it to be the Mass of the Holy Spirit, but it seemed the Spirit had gotten a jump start on His day!
Later, It had been suggested by a friend that Vespers with the Carmelites was another experience not to be missed, so we mounted the hill behind the sanctuary for the short walk to the Carmelite Monastery nestled on the hill overlooking the Grotto. We were not disappointed. The atmosphere was serene in the rustic Chapel and the sisters' prayer was simple and pure. Although I couldn't understand their words, the rhythm of their prayer seemed unusually familiar!
Tonight, like every night at Lourdes, the evening concludes with a torchlight procession which begins near the Grotto and snakes around the sanctuary ending in front of the Rosary Basilica. After having witnessed the spectacle from our hotel balcony the first day of our stay, we were excited to join the multinational throng and join our voices to theirs in the recitation of the rosary, which is said in as many languages as there are pilgrims. The long line of malades in their wheelchairs and stretchers, who lead the procession just behind the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, is a humbling testament to faith, hope, and love. All faces, even the most pitiable, radiate a beautiful joy and happiness.
Having retired for a last visit to the Grotto for the night, I was again struck by the lesson of this impossible place. Over 150 years ago, in this forsaken and filthy little grotto, a "beautiful lady" appeared to a simple 14 year peasant girl. This unremarkable but tenacious little girl steadfastly repeated to authorities the two commands given her by the lady...that people should come to the place in procession and that a chapel should be built there. Despite every difficulty, Bernadette's fidelity to Our Lady's message ultimately borne remarkable fruit with thousands walking in the daily torchlight processions and the many millions that have come to this holy place. As for the chapel, I look at the magnificent Basilica that rises out of the very rock in which Mary appeared and am simply overwhelmed by its grandeur. All of these riches were borne out of the faith of a child.
I am reminded of the Sunday gospel reading which began our week in Lourdes...that of the mustard seed. How perfectly Bernadette, and the legacy of this place, reflects the meaning of that parable. In my own life, the mustard seed of love for this place was planted in my heart through my mother. And it was the love of several 14 year old children, such as Bernadette, that watered that seed when they conceived the idea of sending me here and brought it to fruition. I am deeply humbled and forever grateful to each of you for your love and generosity. I can't wait to see the edifice that springs forth in my own life from this seed, but it's growing, dear friends, it's growing!
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
They say that the message of Lourdes may be summarized by four words... Poverty, Prayer, Penance, and Participation. Today we've experienced all four.
Temperatures are cool again today, so after a morning drizzle, it seemed a perfect day to tackle the outdoor Stations of the Cross. While Lourdes actually has three different Stations of the Cross, the main one follows a path up the Espelugues Mountain, just behind the Church, for about a mile to the Calvary. The Stations consist of life-sized dioramas in cast iron overlaid with bronze. As you can see from the pictures below, the Stations are exquisite in detail. After walking the somber and difficult path to Calvary, we were rewarded for our effort by a refreshingly cool breeze at the empty tomb.
The path down the mountain turned us out unexpectedly near the "piscines" which is where pilgrims go to bathe in the healing waters of the spring from the Grotto. It was on February 25, 1858, that Our Lady told Bernadette to "Go drink at the spring and wash yourself there." And since then, there have been long lines of "malades" and others waiting to be dipped in the water. Today, the line was surprisingly short. A little nervous about the protocol for the bath, I was fully prepared to skip the piscines altogether. But apparently, Mary had other plans! With no excuse remaining to bypass the bath, we waited less than ten minutes before being ushered into a changing area where you undress completely and are assisted into the bath. Humility...and healing. Healing for me and for all those heavy on my heart. Having just celebrated a fifteen year anniversary of being cancer-free, suffice it to say, I was overwhelmed with feeling for all those currently battling physical as well as spiritual or emotional illness. Words cannot describe the moment, nor will I try, but the grace was momentous and I will treasure that experience forever.
Walking out of the piscines, we stopped in the Adoration Chapel. If Mary's presence is alive in the Grotto, Christ's presence is even more palpable in that space. We silently prayed in that beautiful and reverent space while the rosary was being recited across the Gave before the Grotto. Its hard to describe how powerful prayer is here in Lourdes. And as I have promised, I have carried each of you in my heart every step of the way.
Because the act of drinking and washing with the water of the Grotto should be accompanied by the Way of the Cross, Confession, and Communion, we stopped by the Reconciliation Chapel before leaving the sanctuary. We found English speaking priests present and available for reconciliation and so were able to get yet another cleansing...this time an inner bath!
Poverty of spirit, Prayer from the heart, Penance of mind and body, and Participation in the life of the Church are the very heart of Mary's message to Bernadette at Lourdes. It's a call to life-long conversion, to a living-out of our Baptismal commitment. So today, I'd like to share with you this prayer given to me at the piscines...
God our Father,
It is through Mary, the most pure Virgin, that your Son has come to us, the Source of Living Water.
Help us to answer His call, in coming to purify ourselves at the Source of grace pouring from his heart, And of which this water is a sign and reminder, so that there may live in us the new creature, that we became in Baptism.
Monday, June 18, 2012
It has been in the low 60s with a fine mist of rain most of the day. While it might sound less than ideal, the weather has actually accentuated the prayerful spirit of this holy place. In stark contrast to yesterday's deafening roar from the 800 or so motorcycles in the Grotto's annual motorcycle procession, the streets are relatively quiet. Most striking, however, is the still constant flow of pilgrims to the cave of Massabielle.
Words can't describe the emotion at the Grotto...seeing a wedding party enter the Grotto for a blessing on their marriage...young parents presenting their babies for Mary's blessing...older parents lovingly rubbing water from the cave on the face of their adult disabled child...and "malades" lifted from wheelchairs and carried into the Grotto to touch the walls of the cave and helped to make the sign of the cross before the statue of Mary. Rain does not deter such as these.
It's impossible not to be moved by the obvious love and devotion always on display at the Grotto. The rain does not interfere with the rosary which is recited everyday at 3:30. Old women and men can still be found on their knees, others in wheelchairs or even stretchers. And it does nothing to dampen the ever-present sense of peace and joy.
For us, it has been a perfect day to add our prayer to theirs. We have remembered each of you in prayer and are so grateful for the opportunity to serve as your emissaries before the Blessed Mother. Thanks to modern technology, even though I'm in a foreign country, I am thrilled to still be receiving prayer requests from so many friends and family and some I haven't heard from in years. And if the faith of these humble people is any indicator, I know that she is listening!
Sunday, June 17, 2012
Wanting to take advantage of the beautiful weather, we decided we would walk in the footsteps of St. Bernadette today. We headed toward the Grotto to begin our journey and were surprised to discover that Mass was being celebrated there. No doubt who our tour guide is as she literally led us to Christ at the start of our day!
After Mass, we headed out of the Grotto and into the town of Lourdes. Our first stop was the little Cachot where Bernadette lived at the time of the apparitions. To say it was a humble dwelling is quite the understatement. A former prison deemed too unsanitary for the worst of criminals, the little one room hovel was the Soubirous residence after the family fell on hard times. Before that, until Bernadette was ten years old, the family lived in the Boly Mill, where her father ran a successful business. That was our second stop on the walking tour.
Next we visited the Parish Church of the Sacred Heart which houses the baptismal font used for Bernadette on January 9, 1844, when she was only 2 days old. It still holds holy water so that pilgrims can dip their fingers into the bowl by which St. Bernadette became a child of God. A refreshing dip to be sure!
Last on our tour was the old hospice and school run by the Sisters of Nevers. That is where Bernadette made her First Holy Communion when she was 14. She boarded there for six years after the apparitions and before leaving for Nevers in 1866 to enter religious life. Nevers, France is where her body still lies incorrupt but, as that is about 700 kilometers away from Lourdes, it wasn't on the walking tour! Although we were told many more facts about the hospice, our tour guide spoke no English so those details were lost in translation!
We treated ourselves to a nice dinner where we sat outside overlooking the Gave River. We were entertained by a young boy who was fishing off the bridge. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see him reel in a big catch!
As the day draws to a close we go to bed exhausted...9 miles of walking... but hearts filled with many graces and deep love for Mary who continues to lead us deeper into her Son's heart!
Saturday, June 16, 2012
Today on this Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary we were able to join other pilgrims in praying the rosary in the Grotto. We were praying in English and they in French, but all with one heart. The diversity of the people here truly make it feel like a heaven on earth. So many beautiful smiling "malades" which are what the infirm pilgrims are called.
The Grotto marks the spot in the cave of the rock of Massabielle where the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette eighteen times in 1858. Since then, millions of pilgrims have gathered there together in prayer. We walked into the cave and saw where Bernadette dug out the original spring from which healing waters continue to flow for the physical and spiritual blessings of the faithful. We were also able to pray in the very spot, marked in the pavement, where Bernadette prayed when she first saw the "beautiful lady".
Afterward we stopped in the Rosary Basilica which is built against the rock of the Grotto. Around the Church there are fifteen chapels dedicated to the mysteries of the rosary, beginning on the left, each adorned with spectacular mosaics depicting the individual mysteries. The fifteenth chapel contains mosaics which represent people involved with St. Bernadette and the apparitions. In the upper wall of the sanctuary there is a large mosaic of the Virgin Mary with outstretched arms bearing the inscription "Par Marie a Jesus" (through Mary to Jesus). What a blessing to be able to pray to Our Lady in such a place!
Finally, we concluded our day with an English mass being held in one of the countless chapels here in Lourdes. With rapidly dropping temperatures and an ominous looking sky, we grabbed some "take out" and hurried back to the hotel to enjoy a picnic on the balcony. And now from that same balcony as the sky grows dark, we are enjoying the sights and sounds of the several hundreds of pilgrims that are participating in a breathtaking candlelight procession which occurs every night at 9 pm. All the pilgrims carry candles and process from the Grotto toward the Rosary Basilica, reciting the rosary and singing Ave Maria, and honoring Mary with their song and prayer.
A day filled with wonder and delight! I still can't believe we are in this holy place all thanks to the love and generosity of my wonderful Class of 2012! Keep your own Light of Christ burning brightly dear friends! Continued prayers for each and every one of you...
Friday, June 15, 2012
It has been a long day of travel! We arrived in London and were able to find our gate that would take us toToulouse, France...only to find it was running about an hour behind. Having fasted from sweets for 100 days in thanksgiving for this marvelous opportunity, I was ready to indulge in something decadent! We certainly had time on our hands. We found a little coffee shop that offered cappuccino and lattes...as well as some amazing chocolate delights. And so the blessings began!
We boarded the plane and arrived in Toulouse thirty minutes before our train to Lourdes departed...we didn't make it to the train station on time...here is a bad combination for you...too little sleep and not fluent in French! Yet, God was with us every step of the way! We somehow were able to communicate where we needed to go and were informed that we would have to wait until tomorrow. But as she was checking her screen, she seemed surprised to discover that another train was headed in the direction of Lourdes. We had fifteen minutes to spare! Divine Providence is a wonderful travel companion!
As we rode the train through the beautiful countryside and into the lush Pyrenees Mountains we could only rely on our faith that we were headed in the right direction. As much as we tried to remain calm and trust that Mary was with us every step of the way...one of us couldn't help but feel a little anxious about whether or not we would find our hotel before the sun went down. You can guess who the nervous one was...
We reached Lourdes at 10:00 P.M. Lourdes time...4:00 P.M. Indy time. We thanked God once again and dropped into bed. Tomorrow, after what we hope to be a great night's sleep, we will journey to the Grotto! Until then, continue to pray for us as we continue to pray for you.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
June 14th... Finally here at last! Bags are packed and passports in hand, we'll soon be off to the airport. The bags will be much lighter on the way home once we deposit all the prayer requests! Our hearts are full of joy and excitement as we set off on this amazing journey, anxious to discover the graces that await us.
Thank you to the Holy Name Class of 2012 for this remarkable gift. You will be in our first prayers when we reach the Grotto.
We plan to blog daily barring unexpected technological challenges. Please keep us in your prayers and rest assured of ours!
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Readings: Ex 24:3-8; Heb 9:11-15; Mk 14:12-16, 22-26
At several of the daily Eucharists this past week we have been remembering and reflecting on some of the meanings inherent in the Eucharist itself. We recalled that the Eucharist looks back to the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples and his gift of himself to the disciples....and to us. We also considered the Eucharist as a public act of thanksgiving and praise, as celebrating the very presence of Jesus among us, and the Eucharist as a statement of hope about the future of human life and all the world ("If we have died with him, we will rise with him."). All of these meanings of the Eucharist were developed beautifully by Pope John Paul II in his Encyclical, "The Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church." (2003)
The Pope’s Encyclical contains an admirable summary of Catholic teaching on the Eucharist as it has developed through the years. But the Holy Father went even further and introduced a brand-new theme in Eucharistic theology. Listen to these words: "Certainly the Christian vision leads to the expectation of new heavens and a new earth, but this increases, rather than lessens, our sense of responsibility for the world today. I wish to reaffirm this forcefully at the beginning of the new millenium, so that Christians will feel more obliged than ever not to neglect their duties as citizens of this world. Theirs is the task of contributing with the light of the Gospel to the building of a more human world, a world fully in harmony with God’s plan." (#20) This adds a whole new dimension to Eucharistic theology. Whenever we receive the Eucharist, it should be for us a clear renewal of a commitment to work for building up this world of ours in justice and peace. And there’s a lot to be done in that regard.
That takes the Eucharist in a somewhat different direction than is often held by Christians. There are lots of people who see the reception of the Eucharist as a very private, intimate moment between themselves and the Lord Jesus. It’s why we have that period of quiet time after receiving the Eucharist. That’s all fine and good. But the Holy Father reminds us, ‘forcefully’ as he says, that the purpose of that intimate time is to strengthen our resolve to work for justice and peace in our world. We should come out of that intimate time with Jesus empowered to help others in this world of ours, to help build the Kingdom of God.
In the background of all this is a recognition that one of the major tasks of the Church as a community of the disciples of Jesus Christ is a commitment to the improvement of this world here and now. That was one of the significant achievements of the Second Vatican Council and it was expressed powerfully in the closing section of the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World; that section was entitled: A World to be Built Up and Brought to Fulfillment. It’s a wonderful conclusion to all the achievements of the Second Vatican Council and should serve as an inspiration for all of us.
In just a few moments we will receive the consecrated bread and wine. We will be receiving the presence of Jesus Christ within us; we will be celebrating a public act of praise and thanksgiving as the followers of Jesus Christ. Let’s remember too that this action is also our re-commitment to work for a more just and a more peaceful world.
Monday, June 4, 2012
Readings: Deut 4:32-40; Rm 8:14-17; Mt 28:16-20
Whenever the topic of Trinity comes up, people expect a barrage of mind-twisting ideas. So much Greek philosophical language got caught up in it. One of the places that is not true is in the Celtic tradition in Ireland. They were never part of the Roman Empire, nor influenced by Greco-Roman philosophy. They accepted the Christian faith in a more folksy and homely way. The following poem-prayer is probably one of their most complicated attempts to explain the Trinity.
Three folds of the cloth, yet only one napkin is there,
Three joints in the finger, but still only one finger fair,
Three leaves of the shamrock, yet no more than one shamrock to wear,
Frost, snow and ice, all in water their origin share,
Three persons in God, to one God alone we make prayer. (pp. 39-40)
Ireland had a tradition of birth-baptism songs and poems. As a completely rural society people lived on farms often far from each other. Frequently a child was baptized immediately after birth and often by the mother herself. Here’s one of those birth-baptism poems; you can almost imagine the face and gestures of the mother:
The little drop of the Father on thy little forehead, beloved one,
The little drop of the Son on thy little forehead, beloved one,
The little drop of the Spirit on thy little forehead, beloved one,
To save thee for the three, to fill thee with the graces,
The little drop of the Three to wash thee with the graces. (pp. 40-41)
The Trinity was frequently invoked in daily prayers. One of them differentiates the specific works of the three Persons:
O Father who sought me,
O Son who bought me,
O Holy Spirit who taught me. (p. 43)
The Trinity was called upon when one washed one’s face in the morning:
The palmful of the God of Life,
The palmful of the Christ of Love,
The palmful of the Spirit of Peace,
Triune of Grace. (p. 77)
Another asks the Trinity for help in daily life.
Bless to me, O God, each thing mine eye sees,
Bless to me, O God, each sound mine ear hears,
Bless to me, O God, each odor that goes to mine nose,
Bless to me, O God, each taste that goes to my lips,
each note that goes to my song,
each thing that I pursue,
The zeal that seeks my living soul, the Three that seek my heart,
The zeal that seeks my living soul, the Three that seek my heart. (pp. 70-71)
Finally, the Trinity was called upon to guard one’s entire life:
The guarding of the God of life be upon me,
The guarding of loving Christ be upon me,
The guarding of the Holy Spirit be upon me,
Each step of the way,
To aid and enfold me,
Each day and night of my life. (p. 27)
In the end we can only say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
(All poems are from Esther de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer, Doubleday, 1997.)
Saturday, June 2, 2012
Dear apostles, it is with all hope that I speak to you today. I have hope in the vision held by heaven of the future of My Church on earth. I am pleased when I see holiness increasing in My friends and this increase in holiness is what gives Me hope for the Church. Yes, I am urging My followers toward sacrifice and service and many of you are answering with your whole hearts. You, listening to My words and allowing them to change you, are giving Me great hope. With this hope I push on into the world, confident, that while some resist change, others embrace it. Yes, change is happening, most especially in the heart of every committed apostle. You are becoming holier. As you are becoming holier, My Church is becoming holier. Apostles, hear this call with all seriousness. I, Jesus, have everything needed to advance the Church into greater unity. And I, Jesus, can do this as quickly as you will allow Me. Find Me in your soul in each moment you are questioning your role in the Kingdom. I will direct you. I hear many of you saying, ‘Jesus, tell Me what to do’. I am answering, ‘Serve Me’. I am answering, ‘Be committed to your vocation’. And I am answering, ‘Love each person you encounter and My kingdom will come’. Do you see? The details of your life can be discerned with me over time by examining your circumstances with the Spirit I have sent to you. There is no need to be anxious about My will. You will know it in each day and in each day My will can be noted in the duties and opportunities for service. Are you sitting with Me quietly? Are you asking Me to help you become holier? Are you offering Me your will? Or are you serving in the way you desire without willingness to change and adapt when I need you to adapt? My friends, your life will always be changing. This should not alarm you because I do not change and My love for you does not change. Be at peace. Accept that if you are not open to change then you are not open to becoming holier. All is well and I am holding you very close to Me.
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Gal 5:16-25; Jn 15:26-27, 16:12-15
At first glance it would seem to be a fair assessment to say that the Holy Spirit played practically no role in my religious upbringing or my learning and understanding of the Catholic faith. (Of course, the Holy Spirit did play a huge roll; I just wasn’t aware of it.) In those days in the 1950s and early 60s not much was said about the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church. For some verification of that I checked in the Baltimore Catechism. The Holy Spirit is never mentioned in the entire booklet. You might say, "Well, we used Holy Ghost back then." Unfortunately the Holy Ghost only appears one time and that’s in the text of the Apostles Creed. No, as far as we Catholics were concerned in those days the Holy Spirit was blissfully inactive.
What happened? Like so many things within the Church the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s was a watershed in a new appreciation of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in personal spirituality. In the previous centuries the Western Latin church had placed the Holy Spirit within very narrow confines. About the only place the Spirit worked was through the bishops in the administration of the sacraments and practically nowhere else. But at the Council the Western Latin bishops encountered the Eastern Catholic churches as well as the Orthodox churches; for all these churches the Holy Spirit was front and center in almost everything. They not only challenged the Latin bishops; they had the supporting evidence from church history to back up their own views. The Western Latin bishops had to face up to that. And so a new appreciation of the Holy Spirit began to appear in the Council documents.
For reasons too complicated to explain in a homily, the Western Latin church had emphasized more the Oneness of God, while the Eastern Christian churches stressed more the Trinity and the continual interaction between Father, Son and Spirit. In the Eastern view the whole of the Christian life was understood to be in the Spirit, through Christ the Son, to the Father. Sometimes Eastern church fathers would refer to the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ as the two arms of the Father. Above all Eastern Christians sang the prominence of the Holy Spirit regularly in the celebration of the Eucharist, the Divine Liturgy. God’s Holy Spirit pervades the whole Church.
The Council documents introduced Western Christians to dimensions of the Holy Spirit they had never heard of. One of the most powerful passages is in the Constitution on the Church: "It is not only through the sacraments and the ministrations of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the People, leads them and enriches them with His virtues. Alloting His gifts as he wills, the Spirit also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. ... Whether these charisms be remarkable....or more simple they are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation."(# 12) With those words the bishops affirmed that the Holy Spirit acts directly in every believer in the Church. These were shocking words to Latin Christians, but just taken for granted among Eastern Christians.
I personally like that image of the Son and Spirit as two arms of the Father. The Son in Jesus Christ shows us the mystery of God in an external way that we can relate to with our senses; we can see, hear and relate to Jesus of Nazareth. The Spirit is the Mystery of God within us internally, bubbling to the surface in gifts and charisms, transforming us from the inside out. One of the Church Fathers favorite sayings was that the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. If so, then God’s Holy Spirit is in the soul of each one of us. Let’s celebrate that this feast of Pentecost!
Monday, May 21, 2012
Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Eph 4:1-7, 11-13; Mk 16:15-20
The Physics course in my junior year of high school was one of the worst courses I’ve ever had. One day the professor brought in an instrument, which he said was an altimeter used to measure height above the ground. If you lift it up, the needle indicates the change in altitude. He raised it up; nothing happened. A second time, again nothing. Frustrated, he said he was taking it back to the store. A couple days later he told us that the reason the altimeter appeared not to work was that each one of the lines on the measurement list represented one hundred feet. In that same course I learned the difference between centrifugal force (a force impelling outward) and centripetal force (impelling toward the center). In nature the two forces often complement each other; at other times they compete with each other. The Physics teacher did a lot better on that subject.
Types of both of those forces are also represented in today’s scriptural reading, especially the Letter to the Ephesians. They concern the dynamics of forces in the Church. The centrifugal force is the explosion of ministries caused by the Paschal Mystery of Jesus; that explosion creates apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, pastors and all sorts of other ministries of service. The Ascension of Jesus is part of that outward explosion of service and love. Perhaps it’s too irreverent, but I imagine the Ascension like the lifting-off of a rocket. You see the rocket going up, but around its base there’s a great explosion of fire and smoke from all the energy being released. Life in the early Church was like that; ministries abounded everywhere. On the other hand the centripetal force impels toward unity in the Church, as the author of Ephesians writes: "strive to preserve the unity of the Spirit through one bond of peace: one body and one Spirit....one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all." Through all this diversification of spiritual energy in many forms, never forget the unity. At the same time that the Church spreads out in ministry, there is also the continual work toward oneness in the Church.
In the ideal setting life proceeds best when the two kinds of forces are evenly balanced. That’s as true of institutions as it is of individuals. There are times when we are doing things, actively engaged with others, giving of ourselves in service—this is energy flowing outward. But all that needs to be balanced with times when we pull ourselves together, work for some inner unity and peace. That’s what events like the annual retreat and your desert days are about. The outward and inward forces need to be balanced for each to support and strengthen each other.
Alas, we know that most of the time that doesn’t happen in life; emphasis usually tips in one direction or the other. We can get so caught up in activity, that we can almost completely neglect unifying issues. On the other hand, we can get so fixated on ourselves or on our own issues, that we give of ourselves meagerly. We always need to be looking for more balance. That’s good to remember on a feast like the Ascension of Jesus today. This feast is so outward looking, buoyed by that marvelous command of Jesus in the Gospel: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature." In the very same breath let’s also remember the words: "strive to preserve the unity of the Spirit through one bond of peace: one body and one Spirit....one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all." And as Benedictines who love moderation we want to see a good balance between the two forces in the Church and in our own lives.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Readings: Acts 10:25-48; 1 Jn 4:7-10; Jn 15:9-17
I’m currently listening to a course from the Teaching Company entitled "Turning Points in American History." It’s certainly been a learning experience; the lecturer deals with some episodes that I’ve never even heard of before, like the eradication of hookworm disease in the American south in the first decades of the twentieth century. The lecturer frequently refers to a theme that often crops up: namely, that the study of history is the study of surprises. So often things happen that no one ever planned on, and yet everything changes because of it. That certainly holds true for the events in today’s first reading from the Book of Acts.
The author of the Book of Acts stresses several times how shocked and surprised the Jewish Christians (the circumcised believers) were when they saw that God’s Spirit also came down on Gentiles in the same way as they themselves had received it. "The circumcised believers were astounded that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles also." That same process will be repeated and described several times in the Book of Acts. This turning point, the acceptance of Gentiles into the fledgling Christian community, was one of those surprises that no one saw coming. It ranks as one of the greatest turning points in the history of Christianity.
The passage that we heard today also makes it seem as if the circumcised believers accepted this change readily and even joyfully. But other passages in the New Testament give the impression that it didn’t happen so smoothly. We know for example of that crucial meeting in Jerusalem between community leaders there and envoys from Antioch over what aspects of the Jewish law these Gentile Christians were required to follow. One gets the impression that there were sharp differences of opinion. Then, too, there is that famous passage in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, where Paul writes of how he had to confront Peter because he was backsliding on the issue and caving in to Jewish Christians. "When Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction." (2:11-12) Paul goes on to describe how he criticized Peter’s action right in front of the whole Christian community there. No, change was a little harder than today’s passage seems to say.
It does raise a question for us: how do we deal with religious change, especially that which comes very suddenly like at the Second Vatican Council? It’s not an easy task. Many years ago I read a little book entitled Managing Change in the Church (1974). It was written by Douglas Johnson, who was an organizational manager for the Churches of Christ. This book opened my eyes like never before about how church leaders need to have a whole bevy of skills to lead a community through a process of change. I knew right then why the years after Vatican II were so difficult. Practically no one in the Catholic Church was trained in any of those skills. (Seminaries have made some improvements since then.)
The challenge of coping with religious change can weigh heavy on individuals. I think it’s good to remember that dealing with religious change is itself a religious issue. Beyond what we like or dislike about any particular religious words or actions, there remains the issue: am I really doing my best to serve God? If we keep that thought as our touchstone, then we can make our way through the adaptation process involved in any religious change.
Sunday, May 6, 2012
Readings: Acts 9:26-31; 1 Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8
The Bible contains some marvelous passages that try to express the whole of one’s religious belief and actions in a very succinct way. For example, in the prophecy of Micah: "This is what the Lord requires of you: to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God." (6:8) Or again in the Letter of James: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (1:27) And there’s one in today’s reading from the first Letter of John: "God’s commandment is this: that we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another." Oh, would that it were so simple. Lately I’ve been going through my notes and files, culling out lots of things (student grade sheets and hand-written notes that even I can’t read anymore) and throwing them away. When I look at all the topics in my notes, topics that I have taught in theology courses or given retreats and workshops about, it’s pretty clear that "being a Christian" has become a lot more complicated than those little thumbnail summaries would have us believe. And that’s just dealing with issues in systematic theology; lots of other areas of religious disciplines would contribute their own concerns and problems.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s in the very nature of things to become more complex as they move on in time, s they evolve and change. For example, cars used to be relatively simple; it once was fairly easy to go out and work on an engine....until they started to put those computer chips in all over the place. Or again. There is nothing that strikes more fear in the hearts of parents of young children than when the child receives a present, a toy, that has imprinted on the box: Some assembly required. (I like that cartoon where a father is holding a list of Assembly Instructions and the first one reads: Get a degree in mechanical engineering.) You used to be able to go out and buy a telephone, bring it home, plug it in and use it right away. Now you buy a telephone and with it you receive a thick instruction book about all the things you have to pre-set before you can use the phone. It’s in the very nature of things to become more complex. Unfortunately that applies to religion as well.
But I would still maintain that those short summaries serve a very useful purpose. That purpose is this: when we get overwhelmed, confused, or conflicted by the complexity of a religious issue, these short sayings become safety grips to hold on to. We can say, "I can’t understand why this happens" and emotionally get tied in knots. The complexity is simply too much to sort out now. Then it’s helpful to grab on to one of these succinct summaries and say: "This is God’s command: believe in Jesus Christ and love one another." That can help to get you through. In a way that’s why we have some of the posters we do on our walls. I have one such poster that hangs on the wall by my work desk and computer. I’ve had it for years. It shows a part of the old city wall in Lucerne, Switzerland, along with part of the old medieval city center with the saying: "In solitude one lives in all ages." It’s hard to explain, but through the years, through class preparations, writing articles, reflecting on spiritual direction problems that picture and saying helped me many times. Maybe sometime when we are wondering about the complexities of "being a Christian," when we find ourselves swamped by some religious problem, just think of today’s maxim: "God’s commandment is this: that we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another." Maybe that will be enough to help us get through. Just another of God’s little gifts.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
My dear apostles, be assured that the Father blesses your work. You may not see the blessings that are given to your work. You may not see the advances that come for the Kingdom because of your work. But the Father blesses both the servant and the service, day after day. Remember that without the full knowledge of the Father’s plan, you lack the ability to evaluate the impact Heaven is achieving through your service. Dear apostles, so committed to Me, please trust that the Savior is bringing about exactly what is needed for the Father. Serve on and I will continue to bring you courage when you need courage. I will bring you strength when you need strength. Please do not be tempted to think that there is only a limited amount of strength or courage and that you will run out of these things one day. I, looking through time, watched you serving Me faithfully, and from the cross I obtained every possible grace that you would need. If you have a struggle tomorrow, then you know that I have already obtained the grace for you to both endure it and overcome it. By overcoming it I do not mean that you will not suffer because, as you know, your King suffered. No, that is not what I mean. We are working together and we are suffering together. I suffered on the cross and you honor My suffering as you suffer through your life. Truly, I say to you, that when I suffered on the cross I honored your suffering and created for you a way. We are humble in suffering, dear apostles. We are humble in service. And when you come to Me and I present you to the Father as a faithful servant, you will be humble in the great triumph that will be ours to share for eternity. I am with you. I will not leave you to suffer alone.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
One of the Second Vatican Council’s shortest documents was the "Declaration on the Relations of the Church to non-Christian Religions." (October, 1965) However, some theologians believe that in the long run this document might become one of the council’s most significant achievements. Almost immediately it opened up a new, positive dialogue between the Catholic Church and Jewish communities. Since then there have also been developing dialogues with Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic groups. Previous to Vatican II none of those dialogues and positive interactions would even have been imagined. Some of those early pre-council Catholic viewpoints even judged non-Christian religions to be the work of the devil. The general mood between religions was confrontational and adversarial. Vatican II opened up a whole new world of cooperative interactions....which was one of Pope John XXIII’s explicit intentions for the council. Our scripture readings today contain several passages which have played a big role in those inter-faith discussions. In the first reading from Acts of the Apostles it states, referring to Jesus, "There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved." That might seem to be a real roadblock. But, as with just about every passage in scripture, there are several ways of understanding this passage. A tight reading would require an explicit acknowledgment of faith in Christ to be saved. However, taken in a purely objective sense, this text does not require that a person has to openly acknowledge Jesus for this salvation to occur, only that all salvation in fact happens through him whether a person realizes it or not. The same holds true for that section in the gospel which says: "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold." Is this referring to other Christian communities besides the one the evangelist is writing to? Or does it possibly refer to some people beyond the Christian communities altogether? At the very least these passages show us that discussion over inter-faith issues was already underway in the 1st century. Most of us here don’t deal with inter-faith issues or have regular contacts with people of non-Christian faiths, but some of us do. Still it’s important for all of us to know that the Catholic Church has a very positive outlook on all World religions. As Catholics we believe that—in ways unknown to us—our God works through them. The Vatican II Declaration said it very clearly: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all people. ... The Church urges her sons and daughters to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions." (Nostra Aetate, #2) Recent popes have provided leadership and example in this endeavor by their joining in common prayer services with members of many other religions. The historic meetings of Pope John Paul II at Assisi with leaders of various world religions to pray for peace comes immediately to mind. I mentioned these things because it is important for all of us to know the Church’s positive outlook on World Religions. Because there still are a lot of Catholics who don’t know that and we can help them understand it. That’s part of modern evangelizing and it falls upon all of us.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Last night the 8th Graders received the Sacrament of Confirmation. I asked the students to write one or two sentences about what being confirmed means to them. Enjoy!
Confirmation was an outstanding experience for me. I was a bit nervous at first, especially since I was the first to get confirmed, but it was a really great and exciting night.
Confirmation to me was like finishing my Baptism. It makes me feel like my life was completed from Baptism to Confirmation. Confirmation has made me more holy.
Confirmation was a really cool experience, the oil smelled a little funny, but over all it was a really awesome experience.
In my opinion, Confirmation means I am receiving graces to become closer to God in heart, and in spirit. I was anointed with the beautiful smelling Chrism by the Bishop. To me it represents how much God loves me, and I need to act more like God. I should adore, and praise Him.
Confirmation meant taking a huge step in my life, and it made me realize how important God is in my life.
Confirmation meant taking a step further in my faith; it means that I am willing to bear the name of Christ in all I do.
What does being confirmed mean to me?
I loved the smell of the Chrism
It was cool having my name read aloud and being called forth
Bishop Coyne gave a wonderful homily
I liked dressing up
What I liked most about Confirmation was personally and publicly proclaiming myself to be Catholic
Confirmation means taking up my faith. I took up my faith because I want to be close to God. Right now I feel closer to God because of Confirmation. It has greatly increased my faith and will help me preach the Word of God.
Confirmation was a blessing to receive. Confirmation means to me that I am filled with the Holy Spirit. It was an honored to be confirmed by Bishop Coyne.
Being confirmed made me feel a lot closer to God. When I got home I didn't want to take the Chrism off, so I took the cross of the Rosary Sr. Nicolette made me and rubbed the Chrism on it.
Confirmation means a lot to me...so much happens! I got a new name and I know the Holy Spirit joins me on my Catholic journey.
Confirmation means to me that I am really saying myself I believe in Jesus!
Confirmation was a really significant time. It made me feel closer to God. It was cool to get confirmed...I will never forget it!
To me confirmation means that I have a chance to grow closer to God, and to walk in His footsteps.
To me, Confirmation means continuing my journey in the Catholic faith. I am now a step closer to God.
Confirmation was a really nice way for me to grow closer to God. It will help me in my spiritual life.
I can't really put into words what receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation means to me. I know I will bear the words of Christ.
Confirmation deepens my relationship with Jesus. I took personal responsibility to continue my life as a Catholic.
Confirmation makes me feel like a better and holy person.
Confirmation brought me closer to God. What a great experience for me. At first I was really scared...however, when the time came for me to receive Confirmation I felt at peace.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Readings: Acts 3:13-19; 1 Jn 2:1-5; Lk 24:35-48
Christian literature and lore through the centuries have come up with many imagined descriptions of what the resurrected life will be like, what heaven will be like. My mother provided one recently. Her eyesight has taken a significant downturn lately. When we talk, she says that my head is just a blur for her; she can’t see any of my features. Anyway, she was lamenting her declining vision, when she said: "I hope I don’t go blind before I die. When Jesus comes to wake me up, I want to be able to see what heaven looks like." I agreed with her totally. Christians have always been wondering what the resurrected life would be like. There’s no sign that they are going to be stopping any time soon.
In fact, that discussion was already going on way back in the first century. Today’s gospel passage from Luke lies right in the middle of this discussion. We know from other documents of the same time period that some people were claiming that only Jesus’ spirit or soul survived, and his body didn’t. This was called Gnostic Christianity; the Gnostic Christians claimed that Jesus is now only a Spirit! In contrast to this Luke’s gospel strongly affirmed a resurrected body of Jesus. Jesus tells his disciples to touch him; he even asks for something to eat. The evangelist Luke is making a strong statement that Jesus’ resurrection includes a transformed bodiliness. That has been the Catholic Christian conviction of faith ever since, even if we haven’t always acted on it.
The challenge of imagining the resurrected life and heaven continues on in our own day. Last week’s issue of TIME magazine had as its lead article, "Rethinking Heaven." The article summarized some of the many books recently written on the topic. It’s interesting to note that the issue of bodiliness is still one of the key toopics. However, the bodiliness at issue is not that of Jesus, but of the whole cosmos. To some writers today heaven is ultimately this whole cosmos transformed by the power of God. Well, the French Jesuit theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, already had that idea over seventy-five years ago. Teilhard had a vision of what he called Christogenesis, that is, the whole of the cosmos evolving and developing to the point where it becomes one with God. This happens through the mediation of the resurrected Christ, who is present and active within all creation. (I remember reading Teilhard’s books back when I was in the seminary. It was heady stuff.)
The TIME article makes one point that is well worth reflecting on. That is this: the way in which people image heaven has a great deal to do with the way they live their lives here and now. Those people who believe that heaven is a completely and totally different place opposed to this sinful world—those people generally have little commitment to improving the social condition of this world. They don’t see any need to alleviate problems of hunger, poverty and so on. They also don’t think that environmental conditions are any great concern. On the other hand, those people who image heaven as a fulfillment of this present, existing world are generally more likely to be strongly involved in social issues and improving the poor situations of this world. They believe that whatever improvements they can make are part of the ongoing resurrection of Jesus.
So, today’s gospel presents us with a question: what role does the resurrected bodiliness of Jesus play in my spirituality?
Sunday, April 15, 2012
2nd Sunday of Easter, Apr. 15, 2012 (OLG)
Readings: Acts 4:32-35; 1 Jn 5:1-6; Jn 20:19-31
Today’s gospel passage narrates the well-known story of the "doubting" Thomas. It’s a very moving story and one often depicted by artists. But unfortunately it can give some muddled ideas about faith. Well, actually the story doesn’t. I should say that people often deduce some rather muddled notions of faith from the story. If they have any doubts about any aspect of the Christian faith, then they immediately cast themselves into the role of unbelievers or doubters—like Thomas. Then they think the only way out is an absolute and total confession of faith. However, the Thomas story, as written by the evangelist, really has two primary purposes: 1) it provides the opportunity for a dramatic portrayal of the culmination of John’s Christology in Thomas’ confession: "My Lord and My God." And 2) it affirms that those believers who have not personally witnessed any of Jesus’ earthly ministry or his Resurrection are just as much true Christian believers as that generation that lived and walked with Jesus.
There’s a tendency among people living in a large, ages-old tradition to look back at the beginnings of that tradition with rose-colored glasses. We have that tendency, for example, in considering the beginnings of our own country. How highly George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, or Thomas Jefferson are revered as larger-than-life heroes. We simply overlook their failings (there were many) and magnify their good points. We do the same with the beginnings of our Christian faith. We can so easily imagine: "Oh, if only I would have lived in the time of Jesus and seen him. Then faith would be so easy." Well, when the evangelist John was writing his gospel some 70-75 years after Jesus, he was already dealing with that same tendency. He wanted his readers to consider that their Christian faith is just as real and solid as that of the apostles, even though their faith is not nourished by the memory of having seen. He also wants them to know that the apostles didn’t have an easy time believing in the Resurrection either.
Sometimes we can overlook how many negative emotions—fear, doubt, disbelief—are written into the Resurrection stories in the gospels. The Evangelists want us to know that faith in Jesus’ Resurrection didn’t come easy for Jesus’ own disciples. Their faith had doubts riddled all through it. In Matthew’s gospel the women who see the angel at the tomb are filled with "fear and joy." (28:8) The disciples who meet Jesus on the mountain in Galilee "worshiped Him, but some doubted." (28:17) In Mark’s gospel when Jesus appears to the eleven disciples, he upbraided them "for their lack of faith and stubbornness." (16:14) Thomas was not the only one of the disciples who was doubting; he had lots of company. Faith in Jesus’ Resurrection never came to them in a crystal-clear fashion.
We fit right in there with them. Mixed in with our faith in Jesus’ Resurrection will be some doubt, some fear, some disbelief, some stubbornness. And we move forward in life with that mixture in our hearts. Because that’s what faith is in an imperfect world. St. Paul tells us that as long as we live in this world, we "see through a glass dimly." (1 Cor. 13:12) (1st century glass was not clear; it was like frosted glass; you can’t make anything out clearly.) So in this Easter season let’s celebrate faith in Jesus’ Resurrection; but we should also remember that it might have some mixture of doubt and disbelief thrown in. It was true back in the disciples’ day; it’s still true in ours. In this Easter season celebration and praise take first place.