Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mothers: Models of Unconditional Love

Today we celebrate Mother’s Day. I think we would agree that mothers are great teachers. Here are a few things my mother taught me: To appreciate a job well done.  She would say to us, e. g.: “If you’re going to kill each other, do it outside; I just finished cleaning!”  Mom taught logic. How many have heard mom say: “Because I said so, that’s why!”  Mom taught about the economy.    E.g.: “Clean your room.  We can't afford a maid." And about envy. She would say: “There are millions of starving children who don’t have such a healthy supper as you do!” Sound familiar to you?

Seriously the words mother and mom evoke many roles, but whatever her job, a mother shows her children how to live.  And the most important thing a mother can give?  Unconditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness.  Our mothers encourage us, are patient and always ready to listen.  Yes, we never will be able to fully measure the unconditional love of mothers.

Today's word of God in the Book of the Acts takes us back to the beginnings of Christianity.  The challenge then and now is how to stay united as the Church diversifies. Suddenly in this passage, a problem arises: the community is neglecting the needy.  But they don’t let the problem simmer.  They solve it.  They ordain some as deacons.  The Greek word diakonia means service. That's what we should be all about: serving one another with our time and talents.

The letter of Peter evokes the image of a building, a spiritual house, a living temple of God.  Jesus Christ is the cornerstone or center; and we are the living stones of that house.  The author of Peter invites us to build a living temple to God, out of our life of discipleship with Jesus. The stones are our good deeds.

Christ Rescues Peter
One of my favorite images of the Church is a boat.  It offers insights into who the Church is and the history of the Church. Imagine! We're on a boat, traveling to a port of call (heaven), with a map and lots of stormy weather, people slipping overboard, survivors being pulled in, mutinies, getting off course, being attacked.  And a boat needs a captain.  He may not be ideal, but if everybody grabs for the tiller, we're all in trouble.  Peter. e.g., wasn't ideal, yet what his crew and subsequent crews managed to do, with the grace of God, has lasted over two thousand years. And there are many models of the Church, e. g., servant, herald of the Gospel, sacrament of God's grace.  No one model can fully capture the reality of the mystery of the Church.

This global community of believers lives under a huge tent. Some people are good; others not so good.  In fact some are downright dysfunctional.  But like so many other things in life, we have to live with some messiness and muddle through as best we can.  Nonetheless we have to continually strive to do the right thing, to forgive ourselves and one another, to let go of feelings of resentment and bitterness, and get our lives “back on track” and, as the prophet Micah said centuries before Jesus: “do the right and love goodness and walk humbly with our God.”

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Door to Eternal Life

The Good Shepherd
Jesus gives us many images of himself: I am the bread; the vine; the way, the truth and the life; the gate; the door; the resurrection; the good shepherd.  These “I am” sayings allude to the divinity of Jesus, completely divine and completely human.

I particularly like the image of Jesus as the “door” to eternal life. We pass through many doors, don't we? Architects sometimes spend a great deal of effort designing the entry or facade.  They want to make a statement.  Doors can speak for us, as well.  They can be opened in compassion.  They can be slammed in anger.  The doors we pass through may be transitions from fear into sanctuary, from isolation into community, from struggle into peace.  The church door welcomes us.  The courthouse door may be the entry to justice.  The college/university door is the threshold to learning and discovery. Our own front door is the assurance we are safely home.

On our journey to the fullness of the kingdom of God, Jesus is our gateway to life in all its fullness. What a magnificent image of Jesus: the door into eternal life.

Easter challenges us to reset our lives each day.  Every day is a new beginning. How make a fresh start each day? A best seller “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...and Maybe the World” by William McRaven provides some lessons:

--Make your bed every morning, because when you accomplish one thing early in the day, you'll be motivated to achieve more.  Start each day with a task completed.
--To change the world, find someone to help you paddle, a friend or colleague who can mentor you from goals to achievement.
--Always measure a person by the size of his heart, not by physical size, color, creed or anything else.  Respect everyone. But what matters most is the will to succeed.
--Remember life isn't fair, and that's no reason to cry.  Keep moving forward and what you learn will make you wiser.
--Stand up to the bullies. There are a lot of sharks in the world and we have to deal with them.  In your darkest moments, be your very best so that you can bring all your skills of mind and strength of character to bear on the challenge before you.

One person can change the world by giving people hope. Easter is about hope. At every stage in our earthly pilgrimage, God is present invisibly. Seeing God face to face is the fulfillment of our hope. In the meantime, let us pursue every opportunity to do all the good we can.  By all the means we can.In all the ways we can.  In all the places we can.  At all the times we can. To  all the people we can. As long as ever we can. Yes, Jesus Christ is risen.  He's alive.  And because he lives, we live.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Faith in God Lifts Us Up

The pyramids in Egypt are a wonder of the ancient world.  For more than two millenia, scientists, tourists, and grave robbers had searched for the burial places of the pharaohs.  Many gave up.  In 1922, Howard Carter, a British archaeologist, unlocked the world’s most exciting archaeological find: the tomb and treasure of King Tutankhamen.  Carter discovered Tut’s tomb because he persevered.

Rembrandt, Supper at Emmaus
Today's word of God, from one viewpoint, is about persistence, seeking and finding God.

Peter had denied he knew Jesus.  But Peter realized what he did and wept bitterly.  He begged forgiveness.  Jesus asked, “Do you love me?”  Peter said, “You know I love you.”  Peter had fallen badly, but God lifted him up.   Despite our own falls, God continually lifts us up.  A repentant Peter fearlessly proclaims that Jesus is risen.  Jesus lives and so we live. That is the Easter message.

The author of the Lukan Gospel describes two disciples who initially didn’t recognize Jesus even as they were walking and talking with him.  Eventually in the “breaking of the bread” (a phrase for the Eucharist) they recognized with their eyes of faith the transfigured reality of Jesus Christ.  They were seeking God and found him in the risen Christ.

I like to think that God reveals himself to us if we persistently seek him. We seek God in prayer and especially in the Mass.   But we also should seek God's wisdom in the bible; seek his Spirit in trying to do the right thing; and seek his presence in our daily routine.

Yes, seek God's wisdom in the prayerful reading of the bible, a privileged expression of our faith.  God is the author in that it highlights what God wants us to know about himself, his relationship with the universe, and his purpose for us. The bible is about religious, not scientific, truths. The many biblical authors communicated  these religious truths through the languages, images and literary forms with which they were familiar.  At the heart of the bible is the Christian belief that Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, entered into our history so that we could become "like God."  Jesus Christ is our way into the future, our truth who exemplifies our true self, and our life in and with and through whom we breathe and live.  We open the bible to hear from God about the baffling questions of life.  Seeking God requires discipline and patience. That's why we pray.

Second, seek God's Spirit persistently.  Jesus notes the importance of persistence.  For everyone who asks receives; and they who seek find; and to those who keep knocking, the door shall be opened. Obviously, we should seek the right things: God, his kingdom, his grace, his Spirit.

Finally, seek God's presence enthusiastically in our daily routine.  How we relate to others is hugely important, the subject of seven out of the ten commandments. However, our relationship with God is the most important aspect of our life. Out of this relationship our love for others should flow.  Seek God daily, and we will find life in all its fullness and his life--divine life--will transform us into new creatures in the way we love and serve one another. And then we will discover our true treasure: God and the things of God.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

God at the Center

Caravaggio's Doubting Thomas
In the Gospel according to John, we have a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus in a Jerusalem house.  The risen Christ conferred upon the excited disciples the power and energy of the Spirit so they and their successors could continue the saving ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem and beyond.

The skeptical or doubting Thomas wasn’t there.  Thomas may have been like some people today who question whether there's a God.  Perhaps they should recall Blaise Pascal’s wager: Not believing in God is bad for one's eternal soul if God does exist; believing in God is of no consequence if God does not exist; therefore it is in one's interest to believe in God.

Thomas seems to have been a realist.  Where's the evidence?, he probably asked.

The disciples described the appearance of the risen Christ in detail.  Maybe Thomas lacked faith in the disciples.  Faith in people can be tough today as it was then.  We have to recapture the importance of truth in our lives.  Jesus Christ is the foundation.   He is the way, the truth and the life.

The risen Christ in his second visit restored Thomas' faith, prompting the cry: “My Lord and My God.”  Thomas' prayer could have inspired a prayer in the musical Godspell: “Lord, I pray: to see you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly.”

I like to think that Thomas, like the other disciples, strove to be a man of integrity. Integrity is saying what we think and doing what we say, practicing what we preach.  It's all about our moral character.

I read in the book “The Jesus Lifestyle” that James Cameron, director of the movie “Titanic,” described the Titanic as a metaphor for life.  The Titanic was declared unsinkable because it was constructed using compartmental technology.  Tragically, the Titanic sank in April,1912.  When the wreck was later found, they discovered damage to one compartment affected all the rest.

Many people make the “Titanic mistake” trying to confine God to a segment of our lives. For example, my Church life where God is involved; my work life where God can’t be involved; my social life where I don't want God involved.

Perhaps we should think of life as like a circle: God at the center, affecting everything.  That is what I would call a life of integrity, a life not divided.

Honesty, truthfulness and reliability create integrity.   Love, or always wishing the other person good, no matter how much they may have mistreated us, is the context for integrity.

Second, did you know that twelve out of Jesus' thirty-eight parables are about money or possessions. The way we use our financial resources can have eternal consequences.  Think of Matthew 25: “When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat....”  We positively have to do good.

Jesus challenges us not to love money and use people; rather, love people and use money.  Focus on God and the things of God. Yes, think of life as a circle: God at the center.