Monthly Archives: September 2014

Feeling and thinking like Christ

The second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one of my favorite passages from the letters of Paul.

I was first moved by the central part of the chapter, verses 6 to 11, possibly an early hymn that celebrates the emptying of Christ Jesus. I particularly love the chant rendition used on Holy Thursday.


But reading the whole chapter presents us with a profound challenge. In verse 5 Paul challenges us to think and feel as Christ Jesus did.

Paul wants us to be a people who live as Christ did.

What particularly struck me this morning were verses 3 and 4, in The Christian Community Bible translation:

…let each one of you gently consider the other
as more important than yourselves.
Do not seek your own interest,
but rather that of others.

Gently – or humbly – consider the other as more important than me?

You mean that the world does not revolve around me?

That others are more important than me alone?

I think Paul is saying this because that’s the way we find our true joy – in having “one love, one spirit, one feeling.”

It’s not about me; it’s about us in Christ.

It is not about my desires in themselves; it’s about how my desires go beyond me, joining me to Christ and to others.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t care about myself. It’s a reminder that I am not alone; I am part of the Body of Christ and find my fullest join in union with God and others.

In this way God can fill us with love, joy, and grace – and we can become fulfilled persons, God’s holy people.

 

For God and for the poor

When he was young, St. Vincent Depaul wanted nothing more than to escape the poverty he was born in. From middle age on, he wanted nothing than to “be for God and for the poor,” seeking out the poor in the streets of Paris.

Explaining why the Sisters of Charity, that he cofounded with St. Louise de Marillac, should not be enclosed in a cloister, he reminded them that they should leave God for God – seeing in the streets of the city their cloister.

When you leave your prayer to care for a sick person, you leave God for God. To care for a sick person is to pray.

According to his own words he was not an easy man to get along with, but he inspired and led many to go beyond themselves to care for the poor.

He saw the importance of evangelizing the poor, going out to where they are to serve them with the Word of God and the sacraments as well as to care for their needs.

Today’s Mass prayer in Spanish beautifully sums up his way to God and gives us a challenge to follow Christ, as he did:

Our God,
You bestowed on Saint Vincent de Paul
an immense compassion for the poor
and a great concern for the formation of priests
who would dedicate their lives to those most in need.
Grant us, by his intercession,
to share, in so far as we are enabled,
in his evangelical commitment
to the good of the poor of Christ.

 

The Prayer of Agur

A few years ago a book that promoted the prosperity Gospel, A Prayer of Jabez, was making its rounds in the popular religious print world.

I never read it – and have no desire to read it.

I find the challenge of Jesus much more challenging and appealing: sell all you have and give it to the poor and follow me.

Of course, I haven’t followed that. Nor have I followed the injunctions for a missionary from today’s Gospel, Luke 9:1-6:

Take nothing for your journey…

Yet, for those of us not yet ready to take the plunge, today’s reading from Proverbs (30: 5-9) offers a way of praying for God’s guidance in regard to wealth:

Two things I ask of you, …
Put falsehood and lying far from me,
give me neither poverty nor riches;
provide me only with the food I need;
Lest, being full, I deny you,
saying, “Who is the Lord?”
Or, being in want, I steal, and profane
the name of my God.

A few years ago friends gave me a CD of songs of Bryan Moyer Suderman with a sung arrangement of this prayer of the unknown Azur. The words make the prayer a lot more poignant:

Two things I ask of you, O God:
Take away my falsehood and lying;
make me neither poor nor wealthy,
but feed me with the food I need.
For I know if I am full I’ll forget it comes from you.
If I am hungry I’ll steal and curse your name.
So, feed me with the food I need.

And so, until God gives me the grace to give up all and place my trust in the Providence of God, I think this prayer is a good first step.

So, pray this prayer today.

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The mp3 is available here.

 

Helping and choosing translations

Do not hold back from those who ask your help,
when it is in your power to do it.
Proverbs 3: 27

 When I read this verse from today’s first reading in the Christian Community Bible translation, used in Bible Diary 2014, I was taken aback.

In the last few weeks I have been asked several times to help. There are two persons from the parish in hospitals; there’s a young girl who wants to study in Santa Rosa; there’s the young university graduate with a new child who is seeking work; there’s the woman I gave a ride to from a rural village who needed someone to listen to her marriage difficulties; and the list goes on to include the beggars in the street and more.

I don’t know how to respond. But I do try to listen and to treat them respectfully, often looking the street beggar directly in the face when responding.

This is a challenge I hope I never fail to take into account or solve by merely throwing money at someone or by failing to listen to their pleas.

But when I read the US lectionary’s translation (from The New American Bible) I was a little confused. It is not as challenging a translation. It reads:

Refuse no one the good on which he has a claim
when it is in your power to do it for him.

 

I checked other translations and most lack the bite of the Christian Community Bible translation. Only the Jerusalem Bible comes close:

 

Do not refuse a kindness to anyone who begs it,
if it is in your power to perform it.

 

The Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh puts it this way:

 

Do not withhold good from one who deserves it
When you have the power to do it [for him].

 

It is so easy to pick and choose your translation, looking for a way to blunt the challenge of the scripture and its challenge to my comfortable life.

 

So today I will again pray to God for the wisdom and the generosity to know how to respond to everyone who asks my help.

 

A Kingdom wage

My thoughts are not your thoughts
and your ways are not my ways,
says the Lord.
Isaiah 55: 8

Jesus wouldn’t make it in a dog-eat-dog business world. Today’s Gospel, Matthew 20: 1-16) proves it.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of a vineyard. He needs to get the crop harvested today and so he goes out and hires workers for the normal daily wage.

These aren’t enough and so he goes out to the market place four more times and finds men idle. The lazy bums, some might say.

He asks the last group why they were standing around idle all day. “No one hired us,” they say.

Then he pays all of them the daily wage, the money needed to buy what they need for their families. Their lives depend on finding work.

Those who worked all day complained.

But, as Gustavo Gutiérrez explains in Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year,

… the workers of the eleventh hour have the same right to work as the first laborers and the right for them and their families to live from that work.

I never really understood this parable of Jesus until I spent a few days in Houston twenty four years ago.

Each day I passed a corner several times and saw men standing around idle. It didn’t matter when I passed; there were almost always men there.

Once, as I passed, a pickup stopped by the corner and the men ran out to talk to the driver. Soon several jumped into the truck as the driver sped off.

They were day laborers, seeking a job for the day. They were not lazy bums standing on a street corner. They were men hoping to find a way to earn some money.

That’s the situation of people all over the world. Some seek a job for even one day – to earn some money for the family. I have been approached a number of times and asked if I had a job for a person. Even some university graduates ask me from time to time if I know of a job.

In God’s Reign, everyone would have a job with a decent wage. All would have what they need to sustain their families.

But also, in God’s Reign all would be welcomed – even the tax collector Matthew whose feast is celebrated today.

The owner of the vineyard asks, “Are you envious because I am generous?”

As José Antonio Pagola writes in Following the Footsteps of Jesus,

All our notions are overturned when we are faced with the free and unfathomable love of God. That is why it shocks us when it seems that Jesus bypassed the pious who are loaded with merits and goes precisely to those who are not entitled to any reward from God — sinner who do not observe the Law or prostitutes forbidden to enter the temple.

God is just and generous. God’s Reign is overflowing with justice and generosity.

With God, we are called to live aware of the generosity and abundance of God – not in a world defined by scarcity where each one of us looks out only for our own salvation and physical existence.

God calls us to something more.

 

El Perdon

There’s a song of John McCutcheon, “El Perdon,” in his album “Untold,” which has touched me deeply ever since I first heard it a few years ago.

McCutcheon sings of a soldier sent to kill a priest in the San Juan de Dios hospital who tells them:

Mátame de frente, porque quiero verte, para darte perdon.

“Face me when you kill me, for I want to see you to give you my final perdon.”

Memorial to Padre Joan Alsina

Memorial to Padre Joan Alsina

I wondered whether this was a true story until I looked up Joan Alinsa who was killed on September 19, 1973 in Santiago, Chile. The Wikipedia article in Spanish is here.

The story is true.

Padre Joan was a Spaniard missionary and worker priest in Santiago, Chile.

He was arrested in the hospital and shot at the Bulnes bridge. According to the report of Nelson Bañados, the 18 year old soldier who killed him, he told them:

Por favor no me pongas la venda, mátame de frente porque quiero verte para darte el perdón“.

“Please don’t blindfold me, kill me face to face, because I want to see you to forgive you.”

Perhaps in a world where violence and revenge are all too common and people are killing others in so many ways, we need to recall the witness of Padre Joan Alinsa.

There is a very sad follow up to this story. Bañados confessed the killing to a priest and then let his role in the killing be known. He later committed suicide.

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Information on the photo:
«Memorial a Joan Alsina 03» de Ciberprofe – Trabajo propio. Disponible bajo la licencia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 vía Wikimedia Commons – here

 

The little things

One of the works that influenced me in my early years (in the 1960s) was Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings.

Hammarskjold was the Secretary General of the United Nations who died in a plane crash in the Congo on September 18, 1961. He was there to help negotiate a peace in that land that still is besieged by conflict.

After his death a book he had left was published. It contained the wisdom he had written in his journals over his years of public service.

One quote has stuck with me because it helps me see that what really count are not the great deeds we dream of but the small deeds of faithfulness in daily life. It is so easy to try to live the “great commitment” but miss the faithfulness in the little things that make great things happen.

 “The ‘great’ commitment is so much easier than the ordinary everyday one — and can all too easily shut our hearts to the latter. A willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice can be associated with, and even produce, a great hardness of heart….

“The ‘great’ commitment all too easily obscures the ‘little’ one. But without the humility and warmth which you have to develop in your relations to the few with whom you are personally involved, you will never be able to do anything for the many. Without them, you will live in a world of abstractions, where your solipsism, your greed for power, and your death-wish lack one opponent which is stronger than they – love. Love, which is without an object, the outflowing of a power released by self-surrender, but which would remain a sublime sort of super-human self-assertion, powerless against the negative forces within you, if it were not tamed by the yoke of human intimacy and warmed by its tenderness. It is better for the health of the soul to make one [person] good than ‘to sacrifice oneself for [hu]mankind.’ For a mature [person], these are not alternatives, but two aspects of self-realization, which mutually support each other, both being the outcome of one and the same choice.”

 

Bearing the marks of the crucified

From now on, let no one trouble me;
for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.
Galatians 6: 17

St. Francis on Alverna

St. Francis on Alverna

Today Franciscans throughout the world celebrate the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis. The stigmata are the wounds of Christ on his hands, feet, and side which Francis was the first to experience in his own body.

In 1224, two years before his death, in the midst of a time of deep anxiety in the soul of Francis about the future of the order that had grown up around him, Francis was in prayer and fasting on Mount Alverna.

He saw a vision of a seraph on the cross and experienced the wounds of Christ in his own body which he sought to hide.

It is very easy to dismiss the stigmata as a medieval legend meant to present Francis as “another Christ” or to exalt the stigmata to a super-miraculous manifestation of God’s special favor.

But I think it’s much simpler.

As Augustine Thompson writes in Francis of Assisi: A New Biography (p. 118):

… the stigmata were the culmination of Francis’s life since his conversion: a search for total conformity to Christ.

Francis sought to be like Christ in all things, especially in his poverty and his love for all people and all creation.

As Carlo Carretto puts it in I, Francis, Francis prayed for two graces:

Lord Jesus, two graces I ask of Thee before I die.
First, to feel in my soul and in my body, as far as possible, the sorrow which Thou, sweet Jesus, didst endure in the hour of Thy most bitter passion; second, to feel in my heart, as far as possible, that extraordinary love with which Thou, O Son of God, wast inflamed, to the point of willingly undergoing so great a Passion for us sinners.

Francis sought to be like Christ in solidarity with the suffering and love for all.

The stigmata are signs that Francis felt the pain of Christ – as Christ feels the pain of all human beings. They are also signs that Francis wanted to love as Christ did, loving even those who crucified Him.

The wounds of Christ and the stigmata of St. Francis are for me a call to deeper solidarity with the suffering and to a more embracing love for all.

Lord, open me today to solidarity and love.

All the parts of the Body of Christ

Today’s first lectionary reading is from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 12: 12-14, 27-31a.

As I read it I noticed that a large portion of the chapter had been omitted. This is often done to shorten the reading. But in this case I feel something important has been left out.

In working with catechists and in materials for religious education here, I have used 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27 in a dynamic way.

I begin asking the catechists to draw a body and write the parts of the body on the paper. Then I read St. Paul in parts, emphasizing that we are one body in Christ, the Church.

But Paul is very clear that we aren’t all the same; all of us have different functions. He even says that “the parts of our body that we mist need are those that seem to be the weakest; the parts that we consider lower are treated with more care and we cover them with more modesty…” (1 Corinthians 12: 22-23).

We talk about how we need all the parts of the body. We get concrete talking about how we feel when we have stomach problems or a headache. Nothing seems to work.

We need all the parts of the body – not just those appointed to positions in the Church.

Then I have the catechists come forward and write their names on the part of the body that they feel most represents them and their work,

DSC01195

We then read and reflect on verse 27:

You are the Body of Christ
and each of you is a member of that Body.

The catechists will do the same process with the young people they work with, helping them see that each one of us has an important role in the Church. This is extremely important in a society that looks down upon the poor.

Finally we conclude with the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila

Christ has no body on earth but yours;
no hands on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks out
with compassion on the world.
Yours are the feet with which he chooses
to go about doing good.
For as He is the Head of the Body,
so you are the members;
and we are all one in Christ.

Unless we remember this, we might forget the important role that everyone plays – from the Pope in Rome to the illiterate adolescent in a rural Honduran village. We all are part of Christ’s Body – with a role, with a mission: building up God’s Reign of Love in this world.

 

The Cross today

San Damiano Cross

San Damiano Cross

Today in much of the Christian world we celebrate the feast of the Triumph of the Cross.

The Cross is the sign of our redemption but all too often we reduce the cross to a minor pain or discomfort, something disagreeable that disturbs our normal routine.

This morning I came across this story I love about Clarence Jordan, a Baptist preacher and farmer, who founded Koinonia Farm, an interracial community, in Georgia in the 1950s. He also authored the “Cotton Patch” translation of parts of the New Testament that placed Jesus in Georgia.

Clarence Jordan was getting a red-carpet tour of another minister’s church. With pride the minister pointed to the rich, imported pews and luxurious decorations.    As they stepped outside, darkness was falling, and a spotlight shone on a huge cross atop the steeple.

“That cross alone cost us ten thousand dollars,” the minister said with a satisfied smile.

“You got cheated,” said Jordan. “Times were when Christians could get them for free.”

Jordan was, presumably, thinking of the martyrs of the early church who died for their faith.

But today I am thinking of other martyrdoms.

In 1597, Christians, priests and laity, were crucified in Nagasaki, Japan.

In the 1980s, some activist Christians were crucified by the Guatemalan army.

Today, Christians are being crucified by ISIS.

But it seems all too easy to be a Christian in many parts of the world. We often forget the radical commitment of Christ with the poor and with all the suffering, His radical love which embraced the world, including His enemies.

Today I need to contemplate Jesus who, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2: 6-8:

did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
But, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave, made in human likeness;
… he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.

And then I need to ask myself how I can put on the mind of Christ (Philippians 2: 5).