Category Archives: Jesus

Seeing the Father

Master, show us the Father…
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
John 14: 8-9 

 When we see Jesus, we see God the Father.

But what do we see?

I see a father who loves his loves his prodigal son, as Jesus tells us in the parable.

I see a father who feeds the hungry, as Jesus fed the crowds with only five loaves and two fish.

I see a father who heals the sick, as Jesus healed many including the woman who was hemorrhaging and the synagogue leader’s daughter.

I see a father who talks with the marginal, as Jesus talked with the woman at the well.

I see this and more, but an image that touches me deeply is that of Jesus welcoming the children.

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Maybe this is because my own father deeply loved children and welcomed them into his life – even as his life faded. I remember the time he gave ought fifty-cent pieces to kids at a church Halloween party.

God welcomes us to come and sit with him.

Sitting with Jesus helps me open my heart and let others sit with me, listening to their joys and sorrows, their hopes and concerns.

May God give me always the grace to sit with Him – and to sit beside others.

Heaven in ordinarie

Prayer the Churches banquet, Angels age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,…
Heaven in ordinarie,…
George Herbert, “Prayer”

 Jesus was probably very ordinary in his appearance. His hands were probably rough from his work as a carpenter. His feet were probably very dirty, walking through the dust or mud on streets that people shared with the animals. He probably sweated a lot under the hot summer sun and maybe even exuded the odor often connected with sweat.

But one day he took three disciples up on a mountain. There they saw the Godhead hidden in Jesus the human, they saw “Heaven in ordinarie.”

God was well-hidden in Jesus, though He manifested His Godhead in all that He did. But to most people he might just appear to be another Jew from Galilee.

I think that today’s Gospel (Mark 9: 2-10) reminds us that there are two temptations in our life with God.

The first is not to see the presence of God in the ordinary, in our daily life. We get so caught up in daily life that we don’t have time to go up to the mountain to pray. Or we get so used to the signs of God presence around us that we can’t see God in our midst.

But there is another temptation. Like Peter we want to stay on the mountain; we want to hold on to the peak experience. We fail tofind God in the everyday experience of our lives, full of suffering and joy, full of promises of death and resurrection,

George Herbert’s poignant description of prayer as “Heaven in ordinarie” reminds me to be attention both to heaven and to the ordinary – for God is present in both.

——

The English Anglican poet George Herbert died on March 1, 1633.

The merciful power of the Name

Put aside, I beg you, any name implying political power;
let there be no mention of vengeance, no mention of justice.
Give us the name of mercy.
St. Bernardine of Siena

 Today the church, especially the Franciscans and the Jesuits (the Company of Jesus), celebrate the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.

In the fifteenth century, the Franciscan reformer, Bernardine of Siena, revived the devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. He popularized a medallion with IHS, the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek capital letters: ´ΙΗΣΟΥΣ.

The Jesuits also have a special devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus and their main church in Rome, the Gesù, bears the medallion over the main door.

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Names have power.

When you call out someone’s name, how often does that person turn around.

When someone gives you a nickname, how often does that in some way “define” you – for good or for ill.

In the first days of the Christian community, Peter healed the beggar at the temple gate “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (Acts 3:6).

The name Jesus means “the Lord is salvation” – a reminder that we are not completely in charge, but also that God made flesh in Jesus is a God who reaches out to save in mercy.

And thus St. Bernardine’s admonition in this morning reading from the Office of Vigils makes a lot of sense.

The salvation of Jesus is not a political power – though it has political implications. Thus, politics must be put into context.

The salvation of Jesus is not vengeful; the God of Jesus is not a vengeful God, seeking recompense.

Nor is the salvation of Jesus mere justice – tit for tat. It is a manifestation of the deeper Justice of God which brings health and healing.

The salvation of Jesus is the salvation of mercy.

So today, I pray that the mercy of God may penetrate the hearts of all the world, especially political leaders and those who live by violence.

Mercy upon mercy…

Nativity scenes – God in many colors

Where I’m now living in the Honduran countryside I don’t have internet access. (UPDATE: I got internet access in January 2015).

So I’m posting a number of the nativity sets I saw in the Ravenna, Italy, cathedral in February 2013.

God comes to us, in a poor babe in a manger – in many colors:

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The offensive worker

The people took offense at him.
Matthew 13: 57

 One of my pet peeves here in Honduras is the way manual workers and campesinos,the poor workers in the countryside, are treated.

They are looked down on, at times despised, for their lack of education, for being manual laborers. They are not culto, cultured.

As I look back on my life I recognize that this is not a concern that began when I came to Honduras almost seven years ago.

Neither my father nor my mother finished high school. They were “blue-collar” workers, though my Dad, because of his incredible math skills, went from working on the floor of a steel-fabrication plant to an assistant supervisor.

But it is also for me a question of spirituality.

I remember the story about St. Bonaventure in which he told a friar that a poor woman could get to heaven just as well – or maybe better – than he could with all his learning.

I remember hearing Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking in a north Philadelphia church, with a call much like this text of a 1956 sermon:

Whatever is your life’s work, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better. If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well.”

I remember reading this text of John Gardner in the early 1970s and sharing it with a person working at the Catholic Peace Fellowship:

 An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.

Bill noted the appropriateness of the quote. He was a plumber and I was studying philosophy.

When I was a campus minister at Iowa State University, I kept insisting on the dignity of work and had a special concern for agricultural issues and students studying agriculture at “Moo U” as some called ISU.

In a talk at the Antioch retreat I reminded the students of the priestly nature of their work by quoting Monseñor Oscar Romero who once said,

 How beautiful will be the day
when all the baptized understand
that their work, their job,
is a priestly work,
that just as I celebrate Mass at this altar,
so each carpenter celebrates Mass at his workbench,
and each metalworker,
each professional,
each doctor with the scalpel,
the market woman at her stand,
are performing a priestly office!

Today is Labor Day in most of the countries of the world. Today is also the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, when we remember that Jesus came from a working family.

The people of his town took offense at this:

 Where does this guy get all his wisdom and powers? He’s just the carpenter’s son.

Today is a day to remember the dignity of manual work – and the need we have for that work and for the people who sweep our streets, wash our dishes, grow our food. It is a day to remember that Jesus was one of them.

They have much to teach us. As Thomas a Kempis, the author of The Imitation of Christ, wrote:

A humble countryman who serves God is more pleasing to Him than a conceited intellectual who knows the course of the stars, but neglects his own soul.

 

Handing over

The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
John 13: 2

 I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread…
1 Corinthians 11: 23

 What does it mean to hand oneself over?

Many years ago I was struck by the word “hand over” which we find in Paul’s account of the Eucharist as well as in John’s account of the Last Supper.

For me handing onself over conveys a giving of oneself – into the hands of God – to respond in love to what God asks of us.

In the Spanish version of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, we find many uses of the Spanish word – entrega – although we might not notice it because, in one of the most moving passages, it is translated as “sacrifice.” But una entrega is a conscious decision to put oneself into the hands of God.

And so I offer this alternative translation from paragraph 269 of Evangelii Gaudium:

Jesus’ handing himself over on the cross is nothing else than the culmination of the way he lived his entire life. Moved by his example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world. But we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of a personal option which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives.

And so, washing the feet of the apostles flows from a life given to handing Himself over to the Father, a life lived in love and service.

And so we ought to wash one another feet.

 

The Holy Name

This morning Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the church of the Gesù, the major Jesuit church in Rome, on the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.

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Today both the Franciscans and the Jesuits celebrate the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, a devotion that goes back to the early church.

Holy Name, Santa Croce Church, Florence

Holy Name, Santa Croce Church, Florence

In the early 15th century St. Bernardine of Siena promoted devotion to the Name of Jesus. In one of his sermons he emphasizeS how the name of Jesus is a name that reveals to us the mercy of God:

When the moment of grace arrived, [the most holy Name] was given with mercy. Put aside, then, any name implying political power; let there be no mention of vengeance, no mention of justice. Give us the name of mercy.

St. Bernardine of Siena

St. Bernardine of Siena

In 1530 the pope gave the Franciscans permission to celebrate a special Mass and office to honor the Holy Name.

Years later when Ignatius and his companions came to Rome, they were known as the Company of Jesus.

The devotion to the name of Jesus reminds us that God comes to us with a special name – Jesus, Yahweh saves.

As we all bear a name, God-made-flesh has a name, a name that tells us who He is, what He does – the one who saves.

In the Eastern Christian tradition, one of the most important prayers is the Jesus prayer.

At times, a long form is prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I use a shorter form: “Jesus Lord, be merciful.”

But today perhaps a prayerful invocation of just the name “Jesus” may serve us to call to mine this mystery of a savior-God who comes among us as a human.

Seeing the light

“my eyes have seen your salvation”
Luke 2: 30

 On this feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple forty days after His birth, one of the central figures is the aged Simeon who had been assured by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah (Luke 2: 25-26).

Why did he see in Jesus “the light revealed to all the nations”?

If Jesus is the Messiah, why was this not apparent to all who encountered Him?

Perhaps it’s because we do not wait in hope, as Simeon did. We think we have everything figured out and can see what is real.

Perhaps it’s because our eyes are not open for the miracles around us.

Today is also the anniversary of the execution of the Jesuit priest Alfred Delp in 1945. From prison he wrote an incredible set of meditations – on Advent, Christmas, the Lord’s Prayer, and the hymn “Come, Holy Spirit.”

From the darkness of prison his writings are full of light and truth.

As he wrote, “The world is full of miracle buts no one perceives them; our eyes have lost the power to see.”

He could see the possibilities of a new world even as he recognized the horror and evil of Nazism. It was not easy. After he had been condemned to death he wrote, “I can’t yet see the way clear before me; I must go on praying for light and guidance.”

But he had an open heart, as did Simeon, and so could see God’s presence and, in his writings, help us also see God.

In his reflection on the phrase “Send Thy Radiant Light” from the hymn “Veni, Sancte Spiritus,” he wrote:

“Light is symbolic of one of the great longings of human life…. God created human beings as light-endowed, radiant beings, and as such sent us forth into the world; but we have blinded ourselves to the truth…. [This prayer] is a despairing cry for divine help to disperse our self-imposed, sinful darkness, wiping the dreams and the fear from our eyes so that they may see again.

“But there is another imperative need for light in our lives; God’s radiance dazzles us. We get presentiments and glimpses but they are transitory and usually lead nowhere. Those who are dedicate and prepared pray for divine light which will heighten their perception and raise them to the realization of that fullness they had hitherto only dimly guessed at. Once a person has arrived at this stage he know what the strength of God is even in the darkest and most hopeless situations of his life.”

Let us pray for eyes that see the Light of the Nations, in the midst of darkness. Let us not contribute to that darkness by despair or incessant grumbling. “Let us wait in joyful for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And, in the meantime?

As Father Alfred Delp also wrote:

If through one man’s life there is a little more love and kindness, a little more light and truth in the world, he will not have died in vain.

——-
Quotations from Alfred Delp, SJ: Prison Writings. Orbis Books, 2004.

 

The inaugural address of Jesus of Nazareth

I must admit that I didn’t read President Obama’s inaugural address – partly because I am tired of the words of politicians, no matter what their ideology.

But today’s Gospel gives us what is for me the real inaugural address of followers of Christ: Luke 4: 14-21.

Jesus has returned to his hometown and takes a text from the prophet Isaiah to proclaim his mission. He tells the people, straight away, where they can find him

Bringing good news to the poor,
Proclaiming liberty to captives
and new sight for the blind,
Freeing the oppressed,
Announcing a year of jubilee.

But these are not mere words. They are, as Jesus said, “fulfilled in our hearing.” They have been made flesh in a God who has put Himself on the side of the poor and the marginalized, who promises the real liberty of bringing people out of misery, who calls for a year of Jubilee when unjust structures are brought down and equity rules. If you read the Gospels with an open heart you will see that the life and deeds of Jesus live out these passages from the prophets.

This inaugural speech and its being lived out in Jesus is, in part, a political program that should frighten US conservatives and liberals, because it calls for real conversion; it calls us to be a People of God, a Church, where the poor are at the center of our lives, where freedom is lived out in love, where there is no distinction between rich and poor, and where all have their part in building up the Body of Christ.

But it is a project that will bring pain and persecution – because it opposes structures of consumerism, greed, militarism, empire, and racism by living in a different way.

This is the challenge for all of us who claim to follow this Jesus.

It starts where we are, so that the scripture may be fulfilled.