Saturday, August 31, 2013

Tough Gospel Reading Challenges Us in the Direction of Love

The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 is often heard as the master being harsh on the servant who is full of fear and resentment. In our journey of faith all of us are challenged to get out of the myth of an autonomous self stuck in the world-view and instead enter into Christ, linking us to Him, those who have gone before and those whose lives we are intertwined, enabling us to recognize our talents as "what has happened to us, the heritage granted to us by faith." The reality is when we try to operate out of fear or resentment we not only suffer, but the fruits "can even be harmful...," and as my friend Gil Bailie alludes, it is a recipe for squandering the gift of being and our talents, and we become like withering branches that are collected and thrown on the fire and burned (John 15:7).

The following appeared in The Magnificat - it is an editorial from Traces Magazine, (Communion & Liberation International) 2011.

In the painful confusion presently surrounding us, only a few things are clear and certain. One of these is that we cannot live on the proceeds of the past any longer. For example, we cannot base our tranquility on political balances consolidated decades ago; they are collapsing in the most unforeseeable way... It is no longer possible to assume that wealth automatically produces wealth - as was the case in the past fifty years in Western countries - without re-investing it now, and at a risk. Even lifetime certainties like home or relationships can be swept away in a moment, or end up caged in by a threat of death that suffocates the future...
So, as you find yourself looking at those dramatic events... you realize that the challenge reaches you at a deeper, radical level. For your wealth, too, cannot be enough, even that wealth that once served to lay a foundation on solid ground - an encounter, a history behind you, an education - in a word: the Christian heritage, what many of us would define, quite rightly, as the crucial factor of life, that which has given form to our existence. We can't live on the proceeds even of that. A faith reduced to heritage, to an inherited treasure, doesn't automatically generate interest and dividends sufficient for living now, for surviving the onslaught of reality today. It's rather like the parable of the talents... in which the owner is angry with his servant who buries his talent in the ground to keep it safe, instead of making it produce a profit. 
The talents are... what has happened to us, the heritage granted to us by faith. If you don't risk it now, in time it is of no use. If there is not a presence that enables you to augment it and make it fruitful now, it is useless. It can even be harmful... 
"The Christian faith stands or falls with the truth of the testimony that Christ is risen from the dead", as Benedict XVI reminds us... If you take this away, we are dead, because faith is reduced to "a series of interesting ideas" or "a kind of religious worldview", but it is "dead". All that's left is "our own judgement in selecting from his heritage what strikes us as helpful", and we find ourselves "left to ourselves", alone, unable to face up to the certainties that collapse, in a moment.

This is why Christ rose. He removes the stone from the grave, and he digs up the earth where we would like to hide what we have received, where at times we would have the temptation to bury the heritage of faith. He does it so as to give it back to us now, to make it bear fruit now, and to take away our loneliness from the world, for ever.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Why Patron Saints and My Patron Saint

One practice of some Christians that is so misunderstood today is a devotion to patron saints. Spiritually and religiously from the earliest days of the Church, groups of the faithful have chosen a particularly holy person who has passed on to intercede, as well to hold up as a model, for the community in their walk with God. 

**Anthropologically this practice reveals a basic human trait - the individual is more inter-dividual, relying on the other, and that aside from the biological basics, we desire and yet we do not know for what. The fact that we are social animals taking our cues from one another, seeing others with certain status and/or goods, intuit that those things must be desirable, and then start wanting them ourselves - we begin to covet resulting in competition, rivalries and inevitably violence. From this very good and very basic human trait we can observe how easily the good may turn nasty especially when our model is our next door neighbor.
In choosing a patron saint, a Christian seeks guidance and intercession from one who, by having passed, will never be a rival, and by community standards will be a beacon in one’s path with God. So for me the process of choosing a patron saint was one where I discerned influences and interests in my life - researched the communion of saints and found St. Bernadine of Siena an excellent fit. A patron saint of advertising, public relations and compulsive behavior I felt a kin to him. (I’ll wait for a later posting to delve into the compulsive behavior trait)
The Catholic Church honors St. Bernardine of Siena on May 20. A Franciscan friar and preacher, St. Bernardine is known as “the Apostle of Italy” for his efforts to revive the country's Catholic faith during the 15th century.
Bernardine Albizeschi was born to upper-class parents in the Italian republic of Siena during 1380. Misfortune soon entered the boy's life when he lost his mother at age three and his father four years later. His aunt Diana cared for him afterward, and taught him to seek consolation and security by trusting in God.
Before becoming a preacher, however, Bernardine spent several years ministering to the sick and dying. He enrolled in a religious association that served at a hospital in the town of Scala, and applied himself to this work from 1397 to 1400. During that time, a severe plague broke out in Siena, causing a crisis that would eventually lead to the young man taking charge of the entire hospital. Inside its walls, up to 20 people were dying each day from an illness that also killed many of the hospital workers. The staff was decimated and new victims were coming in constantly.
Bernardine persuaded 12 young men to help him continue the work of the hospital, which he took over for a period of four months. Although the plague did not infect him, the exhausting work left him weak and he contracted a different sickness that kept him in bed for four months.
After recovering, he spent over a year caring for his aunt Bartholomaea before her death. Then the 22-year-old Bernardine moved to a small house outside the city, where he began to discern God's will for his future through prayer and fasting.
For almost a dozen years he lived in solitude and prayer, and discerning his gifts he felt God calling him to preach. Especially known for his devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, Bernardine devised a symbol—IHS, the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek, in Gothic letters on a blazing sun. He had a twofold reason to promote devotion to the name of Jesus; first as a simple and effective means of recalling God's love at all times; and secondly, the symbol displaced the superstitious symbols of the day, as well as the insignia of factions (for example, Guelphs and Ghibellines). The devotion spread, and the symbol began to appear in churches, homes and public buildings. Opposition arose from those who thought it a dangerous innovation. Three attempts were made to have the pope take action against him, but Bernardine’s holiness, orthodoxy and intelligence were evidence of his faithfulness.
When other priests consulted him for advice, Bernardine gave them a simple rule: “In all your actions, seek in the first place the kingdom of God and his glory. Direct all you do purely to his honor. Persevere in brotherly charity, and practice first all that you desire to teach others. By this means,” he said, “the Holy Spirit will be your master, and will give you such wisdom and such a tongue that no adversary will be able to stand against you.”
Bernardine was widely admired throughout Italy, and he was offered the office of a bishop on three occasions. Each time, however, he turned down the position, choosing to preach throughout most of Italy several times over, and even managed to reconcile members of its warring political factions.
Later in his life, Bernardine served for five years as the Vicar General for his Franciscan order, and revived the practice of its strict rule of life. Then in 1444, forty years after he first entered religious life, Bernardine became sick while traveling. He continued to preach, but soon lost his strength and his voice. St. Bernardine of Siena, at the age of 64 died on May 20, 1444. Only six years later, in 1450, Pope Nicholas V canonized him as a saint.
Sources include:
** From IDEAS producer, David Cayley: "Human beings, according to French thinker René Girard, are fundamentally imitative creatures. We copy each other's desires and are in perpetual conflict with one another over the objects of our desire. In early human communities, this conflict created a permanent threat of violence and forced our ancestors to find a way to unify themselves. They chose a victim, a scapegoat, an evil one against whom the community could unite. Biblical religion, according to Girard, has attempted to overcome this historic plight. From the unjust murder of Abel by his brother Cain to the crucifixion of Christ, the Bible reveals the innocence of the victim. It is on this revelation that modern society unquietly rests. Girard's ideas have influenced social scientists over his long career as a writer and teacher." - IDEAS producer David Cayley introduces this seminal thinker to a wider audience.

Silence + Composure leads to Being Someone

“Silence overcomes noise and talk. Composure is the victory over distractions and unrest. Only the composed person is really someone." Because of our restlessness, confusion, distraction and disorder... "we do not yet really exist as persons -- at least not persons God can address expecting a fitting response. We are bundles of feelings, fancies, thoughts, and plans all at cross-purposes with each other. The first thing to do, then, is to quiet and collect ourselves.” - Theologian Romano Guardini bridges thought that leads from art, from literature, from philosophy - to religion. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Thomas Merton - Freedom Under Obedience

Merton in chapter seventeen, “Freedom Under Obedience” of Seeds of Contemplation writes:  

Very few men are sanctified in isolation...

The most dangerous man in the world is the contemplative who is guided by nobody. He trusts his own visions. He obeys the attractions of an interior voice, but will not listen to other men. He identifies the will of God with anything that makes him feel, within his own heart, a big, warm, sweet interior glow. The sweeter and the warmer the feeling, the more he is convinced of his own infallibility. And if the sheer force of his own self-confidence communicates itself to other people and gives them the impression that he really is a saint, such a man can wreck a whole city or a religious order or even a nation. The world is covered with scars that have been left in its flesh by visionaries like these.

Henri Nouwen - Direction is key

A quote from Reaching Out, by Henri Nouwen

How do we know that we are not deluding ourselves, that we are not selecting those words that best fit our passions, that we are not just listening to the voice of our own imagination?…Who can determine if [our] feelings and insights are leading [us] in the right direction? Our God is greater than our own heart and mind, and too easily we are tempted to make our heart’s desires and our mind’s speculations into the will of God. Therefore, we need a guide, a director, a counselor who helps us to distinguish between the voice of God and all other voices coming from our own confusion or from dark powers far beyond our control. We need someone who encourages us when we are tempted to give it all up, to forget it all, to just walk away in despair. We need someone who discourages us when we move too rashly in unclear directions or hurry proudly to a nebulous goal. We need someone who can suggest to us when to read and when to be silent, which words to reflect upon and what to do when silence creates much fear and little peace. (Henri Nouwen, “Reaching Out”)
To see more on click here: Henri Nouwen Society 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Meditation on the Sacramental Life

People sometimes quibble with the use of the term “direction” in the ministry of spiritual direction, yet in these words that draw us toward, if you will a spiritual “direction,” Caryll Houselander leads us into a surrendering to grace - to live fully the sacramental life.  

"We must grow in wisdom, as Christ did, by deepening our understanding of the sacramental life through the very substance of every day.  Until there is nothing we see or touch that is not charged with wonder for us, though it is something as familiar as the bread on the table.  And there is nothing that we do, though it be no more than filling a glass with water for a child, which does not sweep the loveliness of God's sacramental plan through our thoughts, like a great wave of grace washing them clean from sin and the sorrow that is inseparable from it.
Then we can increase joy through compassion, even where there is incurable suffering, for if we want to put on Christ's personality we shall radiate his light, and he is the light which shines in the darkness, which darkness cannot overcome.
In matrimony it is the bride and bridegroom who give one another the grace of the sacrament; and it goes on, as they grow together in one another's love, a gradual increase of JOY, which nothing, ultimately, can take away from them.  In a sense they are one another's priests, because their life is a lifelong giving and taking of Christ's life.  Everything in their lives has a quality of miracle; all their words of compassion or forgiveness are in a sense little absolutions; their union a communion with Christ.  Every breaking of bread at their table, a remembrance and more than a remembrance of him.
Human marriage is only a symbol, a shadow of the marriage of Christ with his Church, of the continual growing together in creative love, of the daily transformation of everything that so much touches the hem of his garment; it is we who are the Church!
By our baptism we are bidden to the marriage feast where water is changed to wine.  Cana is an image of our Christ-life on earth, but Christ is not only a guest; he is the Bridegroom with whom we must rejoice, who desires for everyone who loves him 'that my joy may be yours, and the measure of your joy be filled up’ (John 15:11).”  

- Caryll Houselander (1954) was a British mystic, poet & spiritual teacher. (Magnificat 8/13)

Meditation of St. Francis of Assisi on the Most Blessed Sacrament

In a letter to his brother friars, St Francis writes that one should not hold anything back.

Let everyone be struck with fear,
the whole world tremble,
and the heavens exult
when Christ, the Son of the living God,
is present on the altar in the hands of a priest!
O wonderful loftiness
and stupendous dignity!
O sublime humility!
The Lord of the universe,
God and the Son of God,
so humbles Himself
that He hides Himself
for our salvation
under an ordinary piece of bread!

See the humility of God, brothers,
and pour out your hearts before Him.
Humble yourselves
That you may be exalted by Him.
Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves,
that He Who gives Himself totally to you
may receive you totally!

Friday, August 16, 2013

O Sacrament most Holy

Traditional Catholic Hymn

1. O Lord, I am not worthy
That Thou should'st come to me,
But speak the words of comfort,
My spirit healed shall be. 

2. Oh, come, all you who labor
In sorrow and in pain,
Come, eat This Bread from heaven;
Thy peace and strength regain. 

3. O Jesus, we adore Thee,
Our Victim and our Priest,
Whose precious Blood and Body
Become our sacred Feast. 

4. O Sacrament most holy,
O Sacrament divine!
All praise and all thanksgiving
Be ev'ry moment Thine.