Monday, January 15, 2018

'Integrity: Living God's Word'--new book!

Front Cover
Integrity: Living God’s Word (WestBow Press, 2018), a new collection of 55 of my homilies, connects scripture and service. The year’s cycle representing salvation history weaves together contemporary humor, human experiences and challenges, and communion with all God’s creation.
And the “good news” is Easter is early this year; the book is accessible for Lenten bible study and general inspiration.

Integrity: Living God’s Word features heroes ranging from recently canonized favorite Mother Teresa of Calcutta to renowned Protestant theologian, Bach scholar and medical doctor Albert Schweitzer. And of course, historic examples populating the Old and New Testaments.

This new book invites the reader to encounter the living Christ, who communicates his life to us. This bread we eat and this cup we drink should not only form us into a community of deeper faith but also empower us to reach out compassionately to the people around us. Yes, the Eucharist is a going forth. We must go from the church to “wash the feet” of our brothers and sisters in daily life. In giving ourselves to others, we will live God’s word and act with integrity wherever we are, and whatever our profession and relationships.”

Integrity: Living God’s Word (WestBow Press, 2018, ISBN 978-1-9736-1122-6) is available now in paperback, hardcover, and e-book format from booksellers including
Barnes and Noble
WestBow Press 

Also see A Spirituality for Sunday People (WestBow Press, 2017).

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Tuning into God

Pope Francis baptizing a child in the Sistine Chapel
The word of God takes us back to the 11th century before Jesus (the 1000s BC), to a young man named Samuel who is asleep close to the Ark of the Covenant at a shrine in Israel. Samuel hears a voice which he eventually recognizes as the voice of God. And he responds: Speak, Lord, for I am listening. And because he listened, Samuel went on to become one of the great prophets of Israel.

God also speaks to us in many different ways. But are we listening? Are we on the same wavelength? Prayer -- tuning into the presence of God -- puts us on the right frequency.

St. Paul in his letter to the Christian community at Corinth speaks about our ultimate purpose: eternal life with God. Yes, Paul says, we are living temples of God; God dwells within us.  But do we reflect the presence of God in our everyday attitudes and behaviors? Do we see in our fellow human beings the image and like of God, no matter how unattractive their appearances.

In the Gospel, John the Baptist points out Jesus as the Lamb of God, an allusion to the Lamb in the Hebrew Passover meal and the sacrificial lamb in Jerusalem temple worship. Jesus, John proclaims, is our messiah. We might ask ourselves whether we, by virtue of who we are and what we do, point to Jesus as our way, our truth and our life.

Now what was John doing in the Jordan river? He was baptizing, inviting people to orient their lives to God and the things of God. Isn't this what Baptism does?

Baptism is a gift from God and a rite of initiation into a world-wide community of disciples, the Church universal.  But  why be baptized? Because at birth we lack God's life within us; we fell from grace, so says the Book of Genesis.

Ever since, human beings have cried out for God's friendship.  St. Augustine put it well: "God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

That's why God became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.  God through the dying/rising of Jesus by the power of the Spirit re-established our relationship or friendship with God. Yes, God became one of us so that we might become like God.

That’s an incredible gift. Wouldn't we like God to say about each of us: “This is my beloved son/my beloved daughter, with whom I am well pleased.”

Yes, baptism initiates us into a community of Jesus disciples, a fellowship of grace.
In early Christianity, candidates were often immersed in water.  Water symbolizes life and death.  A hurricane can demonstrate how life-threatening water can be, and cool water on a 100-degree-plus day can easily show how life-giving it can be.

The early Christian candidate stepped down into a pool of water and then came up out of the pool, symbolizing a dying to a self-centered life in their immersion and a rising to a God-centered/other-centered life in their stepping up out of the pool. By the eleventh century, pouring water on the head became the common baptismal practice.

Today I invite us to renew our own baptismal promise, to re-consecrate ourselves to Jesus Christ, to participate more fully in the three-fold office of Jesus as prophet (trying to do the right thing), as priest (seeking reconciliation in all our relationships) as as king (working for a more just world). And then, to paraphrase the prayer in the musical Godspell, we will:  see God more clearly; love him more dearly; and follow God more nearly, day by day.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Gift of Purpose in Life

Van Der Goes' Adoration of the Magi
Sunday we celebrated the feast of the Epiphany, the showing forth of the divinity of the child Jesus to the magi. We really don’t know who they were: wise men, astrologers or spice traders. All we know is that they were non-Jews who, guided by a mysterious star and a sudden illumination of wisdom, came from far away to pay homage to this Jewish child named Jesus.

The word of God from Isaiah takes us back to the 6th century before Jesus. The author speaks about a new Jerusalem. A divine light will emanate and all people will acknowledge and walk by this light. Christians see Jesus as this light.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, we have all the ingredients of a great story:  exotic visitors, a wicked king, court intrigue, a mysterious star, precious gifts, a new child.

The magi give homage with gold, frankincense and myrrh, highly symbolic gifts about the identity of this child. Gold can symbolize kingship or divinity, the things of God; and the coin of this child’s heavenly realm are virtues of compassion, responsibility, friendship, courage, perseverance, faith in God.

Frankincense with its wonderful fragrance and medicinal magic can symbolize healing, and this child came to heal our wounds and bridge the chasm that separates us from God and one another. We too are called to be healers.

Myrrh or ointment can symbolize a burial embalmment, and this child through his dying/rising re-established our relationship with God and made us co-heirs to God’s promise of eternal life.

The early Christian community saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the hopes of ancient Israel. So they called him the Messiah, the anointed one. But the more they reflected, the more they saw Jesus not only as the fulfillment but the foundation. And so they named him the eternal Word. The Gospel according to John captures this magnificently: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was made flesh.

Jesus was flesh and blood like ourselves. He was a rabbi, a teacher, a prophet preaching that the kingdom of God was breaking into our lives.

Jesus proclaimed that good ultimately will triumph over evil; he possessed authority to forgive wrongdoings; he promised eternal life. He had a unique relationship with the God of Ancient Israel; he was one with God; he was crucified and then raised up from the dead; the living Christ is alive in our midst; and we are alive with his grace and favor.

Jesus taught that we can participate in this kingdom by living a life of discipleship. So I invite all of us to ask him to grace us anew at the beginning of this new year, so that we might manifest ever more deeply the glory of God in our everyday lives and behavior.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Sustaining Life

Murillo's Holy Family
Happy New Year! Feliz Ano Nuevo! Bonne Annee! Frohes Neues Jahr!

The word of God on the Feast of the Holy Family has bible options.  I chose Genesis and Colossians. They are all about family.

In the Book of Genesis, Abraham worries that he is childless. But Abraham puts his trust in God. Abraham’s wife had a son. The author challenges us to trust always in God, no matter how anxious we are about a particular situation.

Paul’s letter begins with the familial address “Brothers and sisters,” and carries qualities we should embody as family: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love.

Luke’s Gospel tells us that when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, Simeon took Jesus into his arms and blessed God and said, “My eyes have seen your salvation … a light …”

The close-knit family then went back home, where Jesus grew in wisdom and age and God’s favor (Lk 2:41–52). This family clung together, worked together at ordinary tasks. And like every family, Mary eventually waved a goodbye to Jesus as he set off for his life’s mission. She experienced the empty nest! And what sustained the holy family? I would like to suggest three virtues.

Faithfulness sustains family life. Married couples are called to be open to new life and to nourish and educate the children with whom God gifts them. To do this well, parents need to be faithful to each other and to their children. Faithfulness builds trust. We all need to know that someone loves us and will be there. Sometimes parents have to show tough love. But we need the anchor of faithfulness.

Second, families need courage. In William Bennett’s Book of Virtues, we find stories of David and Goliath, Susan B. Anthony, and Rosa Parks. Courage is an attitude that challenges us, despite our fears, to stand up for what is right and true and good. Many of us would include our parents in our list of courageous people. Parenting, sustaining life, requires courage.

And the third virtue is prudence: to seek the right thing to do. Parents have to act amid the messiness of everyday life, to make decisions often without clearly seeing all the possible outcomes. Prudence requires that parents continually reflect and learn.

People have long noted God’s creations and their lessons. Look at the newborn bald eagles in two Florida nests. “Eagle cams” let us view closely the way the parents carefully create the nest and incubate as a team. Bald eagles mate for life, and are marvelously oriented to the new lives: sustaining them, spreading their mantles to protect them, living examples. The babies watch, bobble, then walk, grow and fledge as they discover the wonder of their own winged identity.

Consider the Book of Deuteronomy: “Like an eagle that protects its nest, that flutters over its young” (Deut 32:11). And Psalm 91: “He will shelter you…and under his wings you may take refuge.” You’ll find many such creative passages in Scripture. May God grace us with faith, courage and prudence as we soar into this new year.