Sunday, May 16, 2021

Solemnity of The Ascension of the Lord


So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them,
was taken up into heaven
and took his seat at the right hand of God.
But they went forth and preached everywhere,
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.

 

Saint Mark’s Gospel ends with Jesus’s taking his seat at the right hand of God even as he continues to work with the apostles, confirming their words with wonderful signs.


Perhaps we have grown used to the image of Mary’s son, the poor infant born in a manger, sitting at God’s right hand, but we would do well to reflect on that astonishing, heavenly vision. Since the days of King David and King Solomon, the Jews had imagined God as king. He was Lord of lords and King of kings and God of gods if there were other gods.


Despite crushing military defeat, the destruction of Jerusalem, the loss of national autonomy, the diaspora throughout the world, and their near disappearance among the many peoples, Jews believed and insisted that theirs is the only God. There is no other. Jewish psalmists, poets, and philosophers like Jesus ben Sirach and the Author of Job insisted that their Only God had created the entire universe out of nothing. Not even the Greek gods could do that; their philosophers supposed there had always been matter, and gods had added nothing more than form.


Saint Mark expressed the belief of the new Christian minority when he wrote that Jesus now sits at God’s right hand. His throne name, “Lord Jesus,” expresses our faith that he is coequal with the Father, since the word Kyrios (Lord) was the Greek translation of YHWH, the Hebrew name of God.


But – as high and mighty as he is – Jesus is by no means removed from the Earth or the Church. He works with us continually and confirms our word through innumerable signs. The Son of God never forgets the people who loved him.


As a human being, he still loves his mother Mary and his foster father Joseph. He still enjoys the company of his apostles and disciples. He admires the courageous and speaks kindly to the defeated. His heart is still melted with anguish by the sight of hunger, thirst, weariness, sickness, and death. He is still angered by injustice and cruelty. From his throne in heaven he will no more abandon his church than he would remove himself from the cross.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 296

“I have told you this in figures of speech.
The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father.
On that day you will ask in my name,
and I do not tell you that I will ask the Father for you.
For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have come to believe that I came from God.


A long time ago many of us were given a simple introduction to the mystery of the virgin birth of Jesus. To the Angel's announcement, the Galilean maid asked, "How can this be since I do not know man?" In that sentence the word know includes more than a man's name, weight, and height. It concerns a very intimate and personal relationship. 
Children of the twentieth century had to be reminded by our religion teachers that knowledge is not just what we find in books. It's not the information we learn in conversation, or the data we meet in fire hose amounts on the Internet. 
Mary's knowledge concerns the encounter of mystery in the body/person of another human being. It's the interface of two or more embodied spirits that meet in communion. 
We learned that of Mary's conversation with the Angel; hopefully we began to realize there was more to knowing than a grasp of the facts. 
Facts have their usefulness. Like Lego bricks they can be built into fascinating systems. They can be discovered, accumulated, organized, identified, analyzed, broken down, reassembled, and discarded. They can be used to reveal the truth or hide it; to heal and to hurt, depending on one's intentions. They may be beautiful or not; and, in context, they may be  knowledge to those who know what they mean and what they're good for. 
In today's gospel Jesus tells us we shall know the Father, "I will tell you clearly about the Father." He will not tell us facts; they mean nothing in the encounter with God. God cannot be discovered like facts; God can only be revealed. 
What exactly he will "say" will not translate into words or familiar constructs. This longed-for event, this telling us of the Father, will transpire on Good Friday as the Lord surrenders his life. In the sacrifice of his body and blood we see the Father. In the Eucharist we meet God face to face. 
It is as real, as physical, as any life-changing encounter; as beautiful as Virgin Birth. 

Friday, May 14, 2021

Feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle


This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.


We celebrate the Apostle Matthias each year as we anticipate Pentecost. He was the thirteenth man chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, who betrayed the Lord. The disciples might not forget the treason but they would at least fill the empty spot with a more worthy successor. 

Peter and his companions, even before the Holy Spirit came upon them in tongues of flame, had no intention of forgetting the Lord or of allowing the arrangements he had made to be dismantled. If Jesus wanted a "college of twelve" to enjoy particular authority during his ministry and after his death and resurrection, they would maintain it in his absence after his Ascension. Later, under the pressures of long distant travel and virulent persecution, they would let the "college of twelve" go as a more practical system of authority emerged. 

Matthias represents the decision of the apostles to keep the faith within a formal "body" of twelve men. There is no soul without a body, no breath without lungs, and so they restored the body of Twelve in preparation for the Breath of the Holy Spirit. 

Whenever I am chairing a meeting, or arriving early to attend one, I look at the room and its chairs. Will this arrangement of chairs serve our purpose? If we're to meet as a group of equals, then the chairs should form a circle. No one should sit elsewhere in the room for they will be outside the circle. They may feel unwelcome to add to the conversation; and, if they speak up, their voices may be regarded as intrusive. Some will not even look at them as they speak, nor will the out-sided see the response on the faces of those whose backs are turned. 

If the chairperson has particular authority in the group, their chair should be placed in a commanding position where they can register each person's presence and response. 
The physical body makes a difference. 

Some people might say that everyone should regard those outside the circle as equally important. They think the right spirit will overcome those physical handicaps. But we don't live in the Land of Should. We live in the Land of Is, and seating arrangements matter. 
Jesus acknowledged that fact of life when he spoke of the modest guest who is honored with a position of prestige. The whole group is disrespected if a worthy member is denied the respect they're due.

Because the Church honors the physical presence of the Risen Lord Jesus, we go the extra mile to show it in our attitudes, arrangements and actions.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 294

Amen, amen, I say to you,
you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices;
you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”


Catholics of a certain age will remember the morbid images of Jesus and Mary that were popular in our youth. We did not see pictures of Jesus, Mary, or the saints laughing, playing, or looking very pleasant. Their images were deadly serious and sometimes frightening. 
With the prosperity of the nineteen-sixties and the "changes" of the Second Vatican Council, Catholic and Protestant imagery began to lighten up. The future looked good in those days. The Boom Generation was assured of a prosperous future. If their parents retired at 65, Boomers might retire sooner! And be healthier with longer life expectancy. They could improve on their parents' big houses, big boats, and extended vacations. If there were no gods to smile on them, the One True God certainly did. 
It didn't quite happen that way. Many of those promises have not been fulfilled. Happy expectations disappoint us. 
As I ponder the Ascension of Jesus, (which we'll celebrate this Sunday), I suppose that although he was "taken up from us," he also remains with us. The Lord is physically with us as we are the Body of Christ. Our joys are his joys; our sorrows are also his. 
Should heaven, that place where Jesus has gone to, be a place of continual happiness? Is there no place for grief, sadness, and sorrow in eternity? If not, then there should be no place for our human experience in this world either. Many people believe that, and they tell us we should not cry at funerals.
No one can imagine how Jesus remains with us physically. The gospels describe the Risen Lord as appearing in rooms that are tightly secured against possible threats. He seems to move about freely from Jerusalem to Galilee. In some descriptions, he walked with them and ate with them. His body showed severe wounds but he was free, happy, and alive despite their fatal appearance. 
I think the Risen Lord knows something deeper than joy or sadness, those passing experiences of normal human life. He is no longer subject to those cycles for his life surpasses death. 
In his Spirit, we experience sadness but it does not crush us. The martyrs have shown us that. We also know gladness but, born of Jesus's pascal mystery, it does not forget the struggle. Our happiness does not stop us from feeling the sadness of our neighbors; our sadness does not sabotage our ability to feel their joy. 
Remembering how Jesus died for us, we are never so sated with self that we cannot welcome others into our sacred presence, just as the Lord always welcomes us into his Real Presence. 
Possessed by the Spirit of God, our grief is joy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter


I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.

 

First century Gnostics made much of Jesus’s statement, “I have much more to tell you,” as does Elaine Pagels in her 1979 book, The Gnostic Gospels. Periodically, people discover what Jesus “really meant to say,” or, “Did say but the apostles conspired to cover it up.”  These are not revealed to ordinary folks, they belong to the elite, especially to members of Ms. Pagels’ privileged social-economic status.

In fact, Jesus's “more to tell you” appears in his crucifixion, and it is hard to bear. This is how much he loves us. This is how much the Father loves us, who did not spare his only begotten son. This is how we are to love one another. We cannot bear it without the Holy Spirit which makes all things possible.

I can’t help but be delighted by Jesus’s additional teaching about the Holy Spirit. Like the Father and the Son, the Spirit defers to the others. The Father has given all authority in heaven and on earth to the Son; the Son does nothing but what the Father shows him; and the Spirit will not speak on his own.

Emperors, kings, tyrants, and self-styled individuals have never been fond of this story about God. The emperor Constantine struggled mightily to persuade the bishops at Nicea to adopt the Arian model of God, with the Father as supreme over the demigods, Jesus and the Spirit. Risking their own lives, the bishops refused. 

Christians today, living by the Spirit, prefer obedience to creativity and originality, even in a culture that pretends to despise conformity and lionizes the so-called individual. 

This is why I spend significant time each day reciting prayers others have written. How could I better a prayer than the Lorica of Saint Patrick, the Anima Christi, the Little Office of Saint Francis, the Divine Office, or the Mass? Could I fashion a prayer superior in depth and wisdom to the Our Father? What kind of fool would think so? 

Let my spirit, mind, thoughts, and words conform to the blessed pathways created through these several millennia. Let my hesitant spirit conform to the Holy Spirit of Jesus. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 292

Then [the jailer] brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved.”
So they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to everyone in his house. He took them in at that hour of the night and bathed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized at once. He brought them up into his house and provided a meal
and with his household rejoiced at having come to faith in God.

Rescued from the impulse of suicide the jailer begged for salvation and it was readily granted. Millions of American each day ponder suicide; some hold a gun to their head; many die. Researchers believe that the impulse comes to nearly everyone. It is usually brief. A distraction, an amusing idea, or the fear of hell persuades some to let it go. A moment's conversation with a friend can dispel it. Very few regret not killing themselves; they often shudder at the memory. 
But we might ask, "What brought that on? Why was I thinking like that?" and, "What changed my mind?" 
The jailer found salvation for himself, his wife, children, and household slaves. His brief story should inspire us to speak more courageously about the Lord and his mercy. 
The epidemic of suicide in the United States should tell us the truth about our culture. It fails to offer assurance, dignity, and purpose to many citizens. Even apparently successful person take their own lives. Success is not all it's cracked up to be. 
The Prophet Isaiah asks us, 
"Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what does not satisfy? 
As I listen to Veterans in the VA hospital, many at the end of their lives and at the end of their ropes, I wonder, "Why do we choose to live this way?" It is so lonely. Some have been married four and five time! They have shared their lives with no one. No one knows them; no one cares about them except the largely impersonal VA. 
Isaiah goes on, 
Only listen to me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
Pay attention and come to me;
listen, that you may have life.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
the steadfast loyalty promised to David.

We must return to the One, Holy, Catholic (with a large C), and Apostolic Church; that Church founded by Jesus in obedience to His God. 


Monday, May 10, 2021

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 291

 

“When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father,
he will testify to me.
And you also testify,
because you have been with me from the beginning.

 


Which institution is built for the express purpose of speaking the truth? Government? (I don’t think so.) Military? (Not on your life.) Family? (Not very often.) Neighbors? (When it’s convenient and doesn’t cost too much.) Entertainment? (Not even close.) Science? (Just the facts, Ma’am.)

Speaking of science, the story is told of the Senator who convened a panel to take reports on climate change. A scientist sat before him with two massive piles of documents. “On the one hand,” he said, “we have these scientific data which show the Earth’s climate is affected by human activity. And, on the other hand, this stack of papers shows the climate is not impacted by human activity.”

Finally, Senator Ed Muskie (D-ME) said to his equally exasperated colleagues, “Will somebody find me a one-handed scientist?!”

Scientific facts are important, but they are not the truth. Facts are useful abstractions within their context. They can be used to reveal the truth, or to hide it; to heal or to harm people. When a drunk says he going to the grocery store to buy milk, he probably will buy a bottle of milk. He spoke a fact; he didn't speak the truth. 

Facts are discovered; truth is revealed; it appears among persons who are willing to trust one another.

There is only one institution whose sole mission is to speak the truth; and that is the Church. The congregation of the Word made flesh has received and welcomed the revelation of Truth, even at the cost of many lives. They know that it always takes courage to speak the truth. It also takes time, compassion, and patience. 

Not everyone wants to know the Truth. In that case, we do not throw our pearls to swine. But sometimes, in an apparently barren field, we broadcast seeds in every direction and hope that some will germinate twenty-, thirty-, and a hundred-fold. We risk it and face whatever happens next. When the time is right, the Holy Spirit often tells us which choice to make, but usually "the Advocate" does not tell what will happen next. 

The Word of God appears in human words of many different languages. Very often we must wait upon the truth to appear as we study the situation. 

Meeting people of different cultures, nationalities, and language we must diligently search for the right words and concepts. 

To live in the Truth is to live in that Cloud of Unknowing with only the cheerful company of the saints to assure us that we're going in the right direction.