Thursday, May 29, 2008

I want to share with you part of a mediation I wrote on Martha for a retreat this weekend: As we think about how we encounter Christ, I want to turn to the Scriptures to look at an encounter between Christ and Martha of Bethany.
As they [Jesus and the disciples] continued their journey he 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." Luke 10:38-42
Martha is a good and faithful woman, performing the duties that were expected of her. Jesus sees her efforts and loves her for them, but he invites her to set aside her concerns and enter into a deeper relationship. Like the rich young man who is too attached to his material possessions to surrender to God, Martha is too attached to duties and expectations to surrender. Maybe she is also attached to what others will think of her. We do not hear what she did after this – did she too let go of her concerns, her attachments and sit attentively at the feet of Jesus? Or did she maybe sit at his feet while still trying to cling to her attachments, half listening to his words, glancing anxiously back at the kitchen and wondering what they would do about a meal. Or looking nervously at the men around her, wondering if they were offended by her presumptuousness of sitting at the feet of the Master with the men, trying to be like one of the disciples. Would they tell the others in the village? What would the other women say? Imagine her unhappiness, wanting to be with Jesus and yet pulled away by the things that were distracting her, filling her mind. Imagine her sorrow once he was gone and she thought, if only I had taken more time to be with him.

OR did she freely give her heart over to the Lord, letting go of her attachments? Which story is yours? Do you find yourself free to give your whole heart to God or are you caught up in your attachments? What are your attachments? We all have them – for some they are material possessions, for others doubt. For some the attachment is a matter of letting their identities get caught up in their performance of certain roles – at work, as a parent, even as a member on a church committee! Are there areas where you lack the courage to trust God with all of the details of your life?

What would it take for you to let go of your concerns and spend some time sitting at the feet of the Lord? Surely Martha learned to do this over the course of her time with Jesus, because the Gospel of John tells us that when her brother Lazarus dies, she is able to profess her faith and belief, stating:
"Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world." John 11:27

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Last Sunday we celebrated Trinity Sunday, so I want to offer you a couple of ideas to reflect upon, neither of which are my own! The first is my current favorite Trinitarian description, and it comes from Elizabeth Johnson in a Catholic Update she wrote titled, "Who is the Holy Spirit?" Johnson talks about the Trinity as God beyond us, God with us, and God within us. God beyond us refers to the first person of the Trinity and emphasizes the transcendence of God, the God who is incomprehensible mystery. Were God not beyond us, were we able to comprehend God, God would not be God, because God would then be something finite and graspable. Instead our God is infinite, and as such always beyond our finite minds. Karl Rahner talks about God as the horizon - we move closer but never arrive. He also talks about our asymptotic relationship to God. If you think back to your geometry classes, an asymptote is a curved line on a graph where the line continously approaches the axis, but will never actually touch the axis because the amount of space between the two can always be divided (click here for an image). While we never reach God by our own efforts, the good news is that we don't have to because God has reached us, God has drawn near to us. God with us refers to the second person of the Trinity, God Emmanuel, incarnate in Jesus Christ. God has entered into unity with humanity in the incarnation. At the end of Matthew's gospel, Jesus, Emmanuel, assures his followers,
"I am with you always, until the end of the age." Mt. 28:20
Finally God within us refers to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit that dwells within us uniting us to the Father through the Son. Paul refers tells us,
"the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us." Romans 5:5
The second idea I want to leave with you is a passage from St. Athanasius, one of the early theologians who had a profound impact on the Church's understanding of the Trinity. This passage is part of the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours and is taken from Athanasius' First Letter to Serapion.

[T]he Father makes all things through the Word and in the Holy Spirit, and in this way the unity of the holy Trinity is preserved. Accordingly in the Church, one God is preached, one God who is above all things and through all things and in all things. God is above all things as the Father, for he is principle and source; he is through all things through the Word; and he is in all things in the Holy Spirit. . . . [W]hen the Spirit dwells in us, the Word who bestows the Spirit is in us too, and the Father is present in the Word. This is the meaning of the text: My Father and I will come to him and make our home with him. For where the light is, there also is the radiance; and where the radiance is, there too are its power and its resplendent grace.

This is also Paul's teaching in his second letter to the Corinthians: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. For grace and the gift of the Trinity are given by the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Just as grace is given from the Father through the Son, so there could be no communication of the gift to us except in the Holy Spirit. But when we share in the Spirit, we possess the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the fellowship of the Spirit. (Italics indicate quotation of Scripture.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I wanted to share with you some comments about last week's blog that were sent to me in an email, because I think that they offer a lot to think about!

I just read your 5/7 Theological Reflections and was struck in particular by the specific phrase: "Chastity, while often understood as celibacy, actually means to remain true to one’s state in life." I was also impressed at how your thoughts seemed to somewhat parallel what I had read in Fr. Rolheiser's column: The Secret of a Monk’s Cell.

Since I can't really even paraphrase what Fr. Rolheiser said I will copy a few passages and underline [italicized here instead] to point out the similarities I see between your thoughts and his.

"This advice (to stay in one's cell) is being given to monks, to professional contemplatives, to persons living inside a monastic enclosure, to persons whose very vocation it is to live in solitude, to persons whose primary duty of state it is to pray in silence. In such a context, the word "cell" becomes a code-word that encapsulates the entire vocation and duties of state of a monk. Thus when Abba Moses says, "Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything" he is, in effect, counselling due diligence and fidelity. Do what you came here to do! To remain in one’s cell is synonymous with fidelity.

And that’s sound spiritual advice for everyone, not just monks. Our "cell" is another word for our primary set of responsibilities, for our duties of state, for due diligence and fidelity inside of our vocations, relationships, marriages, families, churches, and communities. To "leave one’s cell" is to neglect our responsibilities or to be unfaithful. To let "our cell teach us everything" is to have faith that if we remain faithful inside of our moral values and our proper commitments then virtue and fidelity will themselves teach us what we need to know to come to maturity and sanctity."

First of all, let me say how profoundly I was struck by the insights offered here! I love the connection with being "in one's cell" and fidelity to our calling and the responsibilities those callings entail! I also think of the command to dwell in one's cell as the call to go within oneself, to spend time just being with oneself and God, again for those leading active lives as well as contemplatives. For me the line about "your cell will teach you everything" brings in that idea of self reflection as well. We come to know ourselves and our God through living our lives with faithfulness to our primary responsibilities and commitments. Likewise we find the energy to live that faithfulness through coming to know ourselves, taking some time to be in the "cell" of our own self, as well as in taking time to just be with and in God.

I highly recommend Ron Rolheiser as an author. I have frequently used his book, Against an Infinite Horizon, in one of the courses I taught.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

On Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, and in doing so, we each celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit in our own lives and our commission as disciples to go out and continue the work of Christ in the world. Jesus calls us into a special relationship with God through our baptism giving us the mission of continuing his work of being the presence of God’s love to all people. Part of that mission is to spread the gospel message of God’s love among all people and to call others to join us as disciples of Christ. The Catholic tradition tells us that human beings have a natural ability to know and love God, that is to say, that human reason can lead a person to God, even if he/she has never been exposed to Christian revelation. Being created with the ability to know and love God means that all people are called to know and love God, regardless of whether or not they are Christian. People can know and experience the existence of God just by looking at the world around them and reflecting on their own experiences of love, goodness, beauty and truth. A brief study of history and other cultures witnesses to that truth when we see the phenomenon of so many people across different places and times having a belief in some type of God. Hence when missionaries go into a non-Christian territory, they are taught to look for the ways that God is already working among the people that live there before they try to teach people about God.

Too often people do not experience the Church as a sign of God’s presence in the world, but rather see the humanness and failings of the people that make up the Church. One of the greatest scandals of the Christian Church is the divisions between the different denominations. Thankfully, we have made great strides toward unity in the Christian Church in recent decades. I have always thought one of the greatest gifts of the Catholic Church is its principle of maintaining unity in diversity and diversity in unity; that we have many gifts, but the same spirit. In other words, there is a great blessing in the fact that the Church is able to hold together in the one Body of Christ so many people who come from different perspectives and who have different experiences of God and of life. We can celebrate our differences, while holding onto the firm foundation of our faith in one Lord, one baptism and one Church.

Our Church is made up of people who live out their baptismal calls in many different ways. Those who live out their baptismal vocation through religious life take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience (the evangelical counsels), but as disciples we are all called to be witnesses to the world through lives of poverty, chastity and obedience. We embrace poverty by not clinging to our possessions and by realizing that God has called us to be good stewards of our resources, making sure the goods of our world are fairly distributed. The first Christians actually held all of their good in common, dividing them “among all according to each one’s need (Acts 3:45).” Chastity, while often understood as celibacy, actually means to remain true to one’s state in life. Thus for single people, priests or religious, it means to be celibate; and for those who are married, it means to remain faithful to one’s spouse. Finally, all disciples are always called to be obedient to the will of God in their lives. As we celebrate this Pentecost, I pray that we will all feel renewed in the Spirit to recommit ourselves to living out our baptismal vocations, to being Church, to being the Body of Christ in the world.