Transfiguration

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atransfigurationOne of the extraordinary events in the life of Jesus, chronicled in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), is known as the Transfiguration. That word when broken apart speaks to a process of changing form, which is what happened to Jesus and was witnessed by the apostles Peter, James and John one day on a high mountain where they had gone to pray. It is a familiar story. For those interested in detail, it is a great chance to question and muse about the what and why of the incident as each of the three versions in the gospels has small, distinctive differences, none of which changes the substance of the event.

I’m one of those people who likes to pay attention to the small things in order to get a feel for the underlying sense of emotions and reactions to what was happening. Today’s recounting is from MT 17:1-9 where the first thing that grabbed me was the place where they went to pray. The text says they went “up to a high mountain” and I began to ask myself: Why a high mountain? Is it symbolic of Jesus, the “high priest” – or more simply was it just a place where they wouldn’t be bothered by crowds? Then more deeply: Did Jesus know what was going to happen there on that day? Was that the only time he experienced a visitation from Moses and Elijah or others of his ancestors in such a visual way?

Then there are the three companions, not just observers but participants in the vision. I find it fascinating that in Matthew’s version, Peter (true to his usual manner of reactivity) seems not to be afraid at all in seeing Jesus transformed into a being of light, his clothes dazzling white, standing talking to two men who have been long dead! Whether or not he recognized Moses and Elijah, his enthusiasm caused him to blurt out the fact that it was great to be there and to make the suggestion that they set up tents and stay! Interesting also is that, although the vision did not frighten any of the three, the shadow that overcame them and the voice of God speaking out of the cloud the message that This is my beloved Son; listen to Him, terrified them such that they fell to the ground and hid their faces. In the end, I picture a tender scene that the gospel reports as Jesus coming over, touching them (probably leaning over to pat them on their shoulders) and telling them there was nothing to fear. The vision had passed.

What are we to make of all this? I recommend the message of Peter in his second letter where he speaks about the message God spoke on that day. “This is my Son, my beloved, in whom I am well-pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain…You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2PT 16-19)

Could that be a call to our own visionary seeing? Perhaps a waiting transfiguration of our own life?

 

 

 

 

 

O God of All

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aheartprayerI heard an urgency in the voice of Macrina Wiederkehr this morning in a prayer she wrote to the God of All. Take it with you today as a plea for what we need to stay the course of courage in this fragile world.

All peoples, all nations, all seasons, all years, all hours and days — You, who have invited us to love, hear our cry! Listen to our prayer. Make our spirits free, our hearts open, our minds healthy, our souls awake. Then we will be able to love as You have asked: with all our hearts, all our minds, all our souls. The all is frightening, yet in our deepest moments of truth we know that this is what we desire. O God of all, hear us. (Seven Sacred Pauses, p.104)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fear

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afearfogAs often happens lately on Friday mornings, I sit down to write and wonder where the week went. Time seems to pass more quickly as we get older. People have told me that for years and I accepted it but now I know it from the inside. As a consequence of that thought, next comes a wondering about the stretch of life before me. How long will I be here? What will be my experiences, accomplishments, abilities? Will I maintain the health I have been blessed with? How will I face the end of my life?

To be honest, I rarely worry about the answers to those questions, primarily because I am trying to live in the present and because I trust that, whatever happens, divine grace will accompany me. I raise the topic today because of conversations I have had with older friends and with frequent reports of accidents and illnesses of others. As well, I opened Meg Wheatley’s book, Perseverance, this morning at random and the page that stared back at me was a reflection entitled Fear.

Normally I would shy away from talking about what are considered negative emotions because I prefer to stay in a positive mode of thinking, yet given the state of our country and my awareness of all the fear that is manifesting in personal and communal encounters lately I decided to read Wheatley’s comments and pass on what I found to be of value. As usual, I could just copy the entire entry – Meg Wheatley has a way of making good sense – but even the first few lines will do, I think. She says:

Fear is just part of human life. It’s so common that every great spiritual tradition includes the injunction: “Be not afraid.” If fear is this fundamental to being human, we can expect that we’ll feel afraid at times, perhaps even frequently. Yet when fear appears, we don’t have to worry that we’ve failed, or take it as a sign that we’re not as good as other people. In fact, we’re just like other people. Fear is simple evidence that we’re human. What’s important to decide is what to do with our fear…(p. 71)

The author suggests moving toward our fear, being curious about it, not asking why we’re afraid but rather investigating the feeling itself which can often dissipate the strength of the emotion in the process. Whether or not this is the way to proceed, my intent was simply to bring the topic to our consciousness for examination in our own lives, having been reminded that fear is, in fact, just part of living on earth. To conclude, I do want to add the quote that is a standard feature of every topic in Wheatley’s book, this one a short word from the 14th century Sufi poet Hafiz. It made me smile. He says:

Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Balance

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acampYesterday a trio of people came to visit and remember the days of their youth here in Windsor. Two of them had been campers here when the Spiritual Center was Big Island Camp, a summer camp for Jewish children and teens, and the third, a husband who had heard all the stories from that era and was a willing companion to the two who desired a return to “the old days.” It is less common now, after almost 40 years of the life of the Spiritual Center, for campers to come back to refresh their memories, but come they do and their conversations with each other as we tour the land and the buildings always reveal a fondness for their experiences here.

Yesterday was no exception and I was happy for the opportunity to be the “tour guide” with a window into their past and observer of their appreciation for what has become of their youthful home-away-from-home. Several times, someone remarked that those days were experienced as “simpler times” when campers lived in primitive cabins, played simple games and used their creativity to entertain themselves and each other with the carefree energy of summer. The follow-on line was always, “That couldn’t happen now…” and everyone agreed. Now there are security concerns everywhere and standards for everything like whether or not electronic devices are allowed in camp. (Well, we at least need our cell phones!!)

Nostalgia aside, it’s easy to admit at times like yesterday that we have lost something in the past half-century. We must admit, however, that there are some astounding advances that are beneficial to our world – and there are campers who are still learning to love the outdoors and experience the joy of diving into a lake or catching a fish or climbing a mountain – or being part of a group challenge in creating a game or making something silly out of clay. Moreover, even the sophistication of many camping experiences now can remain as peak moments in a person’s life as it is the relationships that form from those times that stay with us when all the specifics of the experiences dim.

This morning as I read the wisdom of the gospel text that says, “The kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old” (MT 13) I gave thanks for the happy memories embedded in this land and prayed that we would continue to enliven the people who come here for peace and rest and refreshment with an experience of reverence for all that has been and all that can be for those who share it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Never Know…

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akindactYesterday I wrote about charisms, the gifts we possess and offer to the world. These are not material gifts but gifts of the heart. Sometimes we band together with others to strengthen what it is that effects some change or gives some hope to the world. Often we have little or no sense of the impact of our presence in the lives of others. Sometimes it is the smallest kindness that saves another person in an hour of need. Mother Theresa said something like: “We need not do great things but only little things with great love.”

I’m thinking of this today for three reasons. Alan Cohen’s daily inspiration page for August 2nd spoke of an experience he had from giving a talk that he thought had been totally ineffectual. People began calling him soon after, however, on the recommendations of those who had participated in his presentation and praised his work. Secondly, I opened Hearts on Fire to three short prayers of a Jesuit named Alphonsus Rodriguez, following one after another on the page thusly:

  1. Lord, let me know you. Let me know myself.
  2. Lord, do your will and not mine.
  3. I’m just coming, Lord.

A short commentary follows which says that “these three brief aspirations are examples of Alphonsus Rodriguez’s way of praying. For many years this humble lay brother answered the door at the Jesuit college on the Mediterranean island of Majorca, where he tried to see Christ in each of the guests who came to the door.”

Closer to home, my major task for today is to write a sermon for this coming Sunday, to be presented at a liturgy that will be last jubilee celebration of us, the golden jubilarians of 2017. I have been moved beyond my expectations by the effects of this special year, most obviously because of the joy shared among the five of us who have over the years, in mostly subtle but occasionally overt ways, experienced the connection of our vowed commitment to each other in God. This last celebration will be special. As we mark the feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus, traditionally the day on which the Sisters of St. Joseph professed their vows, we will honor one of our own in her hometown, at the church where she was baptized and formed into adulthood in faith. I hear that the town of Coxsackie is excited at the prospect of such a celebration, no more than we ourselves, because of our honoree’s willingness to pour herself out in kindness to everyone she encounters. Mary Rose has gone about her 50 years in an unassuming way and has endeared herself to us because of her genuine living out of our community’s charism of unifying love.

Today, then, I encourage you to pray for, and maybe connect with, someone in your life whom you know to be an example of that quiet, consistent presence of God in your life. No need for great deeds; great love will do.

 

 

 

 

 

Charism

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aSt.-Alphonsus-LiguoriToday we note an interesting juxtaposition of feast days in the Roman Catholic Church. While yesterday we celebrated St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order of priests (the Society of Jesus), today we note the founder of the Redemptorists (The Congregation of the Holy Redeemer), St. Alphonsus Ligouri. Taken together, these two religious orders have influenced the Church for over 5 and 3 centuries respectively in similar if not matching ways. The Jesuits are known, as we saw yesterday, for their leadership in education and the study of Scripture as the basis for theological research and deepening in the spiritual life. Today we hear of Alphonsus, himself a brilliant scholar who received a doctorate in both canon and civil law by acclamation at the age of 16 (!) who gave up the practice of law for apostolic activity. He was ordained a priest and concentrated his pastoral efforts on popular parish missions, hearing confessions, and forming Christian groups. (http://www.franciscanmedia.org)

Alphonsus lived from 1696 to 1787 (in itself an extraordinary achievement in his day!) and spent himself in the fight against the moral rigidity of Jansenism. Fr. Don Miller (Franciscan Media) begins the biographical sketch of this holy man’s life in a telling paragraph, saying: Moral theology, Vatican II said, should be more thoroughly nourished by Scripture, and show the nobility of the Christian vocation of the faithful and their obligation to bring forth fruit in charity for the life of the world. Alphonsus, declared patron of moral theologians by Pius XII in 1950, would rejoice in that statement.

The Redemptorists have always been dedicated to mission, working often in rural villages with the poor, preaching to them – by word and their lives – the imitation of Christ. Pastoral reforms were and are in the pulpit and the confessional, “replacing the pompous oratory of the time with simplicity, and the rigorism of Jansenism with kindness.”

That last statement leads me to a consideration of the word charism (charismata in the plural form of the Latin word) meaning gift. Each religious community is known for some special gift or gifts to the Church and the world. Yesterday we saw that the Jesuits did everything for “the greater glory of God.” How this charism is expressed is many-faceted but can be seen in the world by their efforts toward the imparting of the knowledge and love of God to others, especially in the ministry of education. The Redemptorists, on the other hand, are known for preaching retreats in parishes, speaking to “the common folk,” and for their kindness in hearing confessions of the faithful. I can attest to the efficacy of the Redemptorist charism from my personal experience of my uncle Walter Cavanaugh, CSsR, who served as a missionary to Brazil and started a parish with six congregants in the South of the USA in mid-20th century where there was little Catholic presence. Uncle Walter was best known, however, as were some of his “brothers,” for his kindness in the confessional where he provided solace to people for hours at a time.

That these two great religious communities, among others, to be sure, have endured for hundreds of years, is testament to the gifts of God to the collective but also to each of the members who have been called for a specific mission. Might we reflect today on the influence of God’s gifts in our own lives and consider that we, too, have a certain “charism” – a gift to share with the world?Is yours a personality that draws people to your faith? your joy? your hospitality? Are you noted for your generosity? your service? a certain skill? My mother used to show her love for all our extended family by making our birthday cakes – often unique and always delicious. Now my cousin Mary Jane is noted for spectacular creations for every special event.

What is it that makes your life a gift to the world – for the greater glory of God? (The only unacceptable answer here is “Nothing.”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

“AMDG”

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astignatiusAs a child in Catholic school, I offered my work, as did all my classmates, to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Especially on tests, our papers were signed at the top with a small cross and the letters JMJ. As a high school student studying Latin there often appeared a more sophisticated reminder at the top of our papers: AMDG under the cross reminded us that all our work was dedicated “for the greater glory of God.” (Ad majorem Dei gloriam) I doubt that I knew at that time the origin of that phrase as a motto although I was aware of the esteemed men’s religious community that claimed it: the Jesuits, formally named the Society of Jesus, founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century. Today is the feast of St. Ignatius.

Jesuits are famous for their scholarship, marked especially by the many colleges and universities in the United States and around the world. It is also interesting that the founding of this extraordinary company of dedicated men was quite similar to that of the Franciscans three centuries earlier. Both men, Francis and Ignatius, were soldiers who because of illness – Francis as a prisoner of war and Ignatius as a result of a shattered leg in battle – spent a year in convalescence during which each had a deep conversion experience. As a result, each dedicated himself totally to the work of God in differing but all-consuming ways.

The life of Ignatius and his “Company” is fascinating and it seems that much of his success – as in the life of Francis – in drawing others to his cause was his own inner fire and dedication. The basis of his teaching, his living, was finding God in all things and his legacy is seen most clearly today in his major written work, The Spiritual Exercises. Christians from every denomination and walk of life are now participating in the rigorous spiritual journey of a 30 or 40-day retreat based on the Exercises. For those unable to participate in such a concentrated time away, an adaptation called The Nineteenth Annotation of the Exercises is available. In this format, each “day” of reflection becomes a week, thus the process is spread out over 30 weeks and becomes for many a method of Scriptural reflection for a lifetime.

My interest this morning in reflection on Ignatius, however, is focused on that cannonball that so maimed his leg that he was blocked from pursuing what seemed to be a call to military greatness. Sometimes we are on a path that seems our true calling when something or someone intervenes and everything turns around. Sometimes the intervention is less stunning but still requires a response. I smile when I think of Ignatius because his conversion began in a rather ironic way. As he was lying in bed,  the story goes that there were no books (romances) to interest him in reading. All he could find or the only things that were offered to him were books concerning the life of Christ and the saints. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Whether we are shocked into our destiny or see it unfold incrementally day to day, God speaks to us and it behooves us to listen because, as Ignatius taught, we can “find God in all things.” The time to wake up is always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Describing Heaven

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aheavenThere has been lots of speculation over the history of this world of what heaven is like. The difficult thing about any definition is that nobody is really sure. People have talked about “moving toward the light” and other sensations as part of near death experiences but it seems there is no absolute definition, primarily because we live in this realm for now and can only speculate about the next. The gospel for today (MT 13:44-52) gives a few good similes, however, that can help us begin to consider what heaven might feel like at least. They’re very familiar: the joy of finding a treasure in a field, the willingness of selling everything to buy a pearl of great price…but then Jesus talks a bit more seriously about our responsibility not to be swayed by externals. At the end of this morning’s text he says that every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.

I find that a very helpful sentence and know the truth of it from my experience of life where so much has changed over the past half century. One of my housemates is fond of quoting our novice director who said (among many other pieces of advice): “Don’t be the first to jump on the bandwagon of any idea or trend, but don’t be the last.” In other words use your mind and intuition to come to a decision on what is good in a changing world.

One of the wisest  personages in the Scriptures is Solomon and he appears in today’s lectionary as well. When God gives Solomon “a blank check” for a reward (1KGS 3:5, 7-12) he doesn’t ask for anything material but rather speaks of being young and inexperienced and therefore says: “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge people and to distinguish right from wrong.” Great answer! Would that we would all be so wise!

Perhaps it seems I have veered off from my original intent of writing about what heaven could be like. Not so! All of this is building to a statement of Jesus that seems finally in our lifetime to be considered by many as a way to proceed in this life and to prepare for the next. Not part of today’s readings but essential to this consideration is LK 17:21. Jesus says (perhaps shockingly) “The kingdom of God (or heaven) is within you.” Some translations say “among you” or “in you midst” but the message is clearly that we needn’t wait for our death to live in heaven. It is here, lived by those whose wisdom is akin to Solomon’s. It doesn’t mean that everything is perfect but it does mean that we ought to be conscious of God’s presence working at all times and in all places and that we are to participate in this presence. That is a difficult teaching, especially if we live on the level of personality instead of “putting on the mind of Christ.”

I am stopped in my tracks here – thinking that I have opened a very large can of worms that takes more than a few sentences to bring to conclusion. So let me just make a few suggestions for reflection on what putting on the mind of Christ might mean that might lead to more and deeper consideration.

  1. How would you feel if you found a treasure or won the lottery? What would you do with the money?
  2. What is your most prized material possession? For whom or what person would you be willing to give it up or even share it?
  3. What does the concept of “an understanding heart” mean to you? Can you think of times when someone has shown you an example of that reality in a big way?
  4. What is the level of your self-esteem? Can you believe that the kingdom of heaven exists within you? That your actions and ways of relating further the reality of God in this life? Has anyone ever said anything to you indicating that kind of message (e.g. “You’re an angel!” or ” God must have put you in my life because…”) Did you believe it?

These are just beginning prompts for considering the possibility that we are, in fact, responsible for living the kingdom of God right here, right now. Can you see it? Are you even willing to entertain the concept? That would be a start…

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Morning in the Convent

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ajulieIn the “good old days” when I was young and eager – especially in the novitiate, but also in the convent at my first teaching assignment where I lived in a group of 21 Sisters – life was very structured and predictable. The “horarium” (schedule) of the days was built around times of prayer, teaching school, meals and community sharing time – known in the novitiate at least as “recreation,” a.k.a. the hour after supper when we relaxed and talked to one another while knitting or listening to music or some such simple activity before preparing schoolwork for the next day. Saturdays were set aside for cleaning and other charges (read: household tasks) or meetings and the occasional planning time for community celebration days.

Today is Saturday. Although nearly everything has changed about the rhythm of community life, it seems that the Saturday horarium is part of our DNA that has not disappeared. I woke up today feeling altogether unable to even make a list of necessary tasks, nevermind the possibility of achieving anything. Lying lazily in bed listening to the birds who’ve been up for hours, I heard Julie Andrews singing in my head: What will this day be like…I wonder…as she was getting up her gumption to take on a job as a nanny for the seven children of the widowed Captain Von Trapp.

Having seen The Sound of Music several times over the years, I have learned a lot about attitude – starting with the above-mentioned song about confidence. I was reminded of that in my short reverie this morning and so got up determined to face the day in a positive way. Downstairs I encountered two of my three housemates who had been up maybe longer than the birds – one having already accomplished preliminary tasks that would allow her to concentrate next on what is central to her major plan of the day and the other whose response to a needy phone call of yesterday had allowed her to formulate a plan much larger than the requesting person could have imagined. The most amazing thing about my encounters with all this news was just a smile, knowing that difference does not mean distress and that we are now free to live our commitments as we can and use our energy for the highest good of ourselves and all others.

I practically laughed aloud when I returned to do the one task that is not discriminated by the day of the week. (This blog is a discipline that marks my days, much as the horarium of yesteryear gave shape to everything.) It is all a question of listening to God speaking through whatever is in front of us. Each one of the readings told me that this morning. How can I not proceed in delight?!

  1. EX 24:3-8. When Moses came to the people and related the words and ordinances of the Lord, they all answered with one voice, “We will do everything that the Lord has told us.”
  2. PS 50:1-2, 14. God the Lord has spoken and summoned the earth, from the rising of the sun to its setting. From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth…Offer to God praise as your sacrifice and fulfill your vows to the Most High…
  3. LK 10: 38-42. Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Amazing, no? Happy Saturday to all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can You Hear It?

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abutterflybabyIn keeping with what I said yesterday about Chardin’s vision of evolution in the universe, today we have Psalm 19 in the lectionary readings. One commentator sees this psalm as containing “a grand cosmological vision of a vast universe, alive and full of the divine Presence.” In this psalm we hear the message that God’s word is heard through the natural world as well as in church sermons and our life experiences. I am always happy to read and hear others speak of the importance of the natural world as a conduit of God’s presence and teaching since I learn a lot from observing the depth and function of nature. Here is a suggestion for all of us, the busy people of the world, that might be something to try with the goal of opening us more fully to a deeper way of seeing.

Sometimes our difficulty is that we are not silent and still long enough to hear the subtleties of this quiet yet pervasive form of instruction. Allow yourself to become still and silent for a period of inner and outer listening. Listen with your whole being. Ask this divine energy and communication flowing through you to become a cleansing wind blowing the dust and debris away and opening you more fully to God’s inner Reality. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p.46)