This is an actual image of one of the four panels of the words of Thomas Jefferson emblazoned upon the walls of perhaps America’s most sacred shrine, the Jefferson Memorial.
The image was taken in October 2007 on my first pilgrimage to pray for our country’s transformation.
As I offer my thoughts, I invite you to observe this Fourth of July by a deeper, interior observance of the heart.
Take time to make these words, of the Declaration of Independence, your own.
Realize, especially those of you who are young people, that these words conceived, founded and established our country.
What existed only in the minds and hearts of our founding fathers and mothers became the United States of America.
But, very sadly, it is my sense that we have wandered far away from this vision.
We don’t realize that we must constantly re-birth America — for good or for ill.
It is my sense that at this critical point of American history that we — each and every American — ought to revisit that moment of our founding. And imagine what it was like.
Imagine their vision of what did not yet exist in the external world.
Imagine the courage they had.
Next to the Word of God, there are no words that are more sacred to me than these.
They are sacred because they reflected divine reality.
God blessed these words of Thomas Jefferson. And our country was born on the Fourth of July 1776.
When I lived in Washington in the summer of 1979 when I was 36 years old, I would go often and sit in the rotunda of this sacred shrine and ponder the vision of these sacred words.
I’d like to share with you what was going on in my head and my heart 38 years ago and today in America in which we are so in much in need of unity and healing, and inspiring leadership.
They are faith-based thoughts.
I just share them because they lead me to a very positive view of our country and our world,
a view that resists the profound hatred and violence and self-indulgence of our comatose society.
As you ponder my thoughts ask yourself what vision of America, what vision of the world and our future do you yourself have?
What do you want for you, for your children, for our country, for our world, for our planet?
I believe your Holy Spirit inspired these words:
WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF-EVIDENT THAT ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL AND ARE ENDOWED WITH CERTAIN INALIENABLE RIGHTS. AMONG THESE ARE THE RIGHT TO LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.
As a Christian among other God-fearing women and men. I address You and love You as my God. You are my God. But this means that You are not just my God, but the God of all those you have created. You care about every person on this planet who has ever lived or who ever will; Therefore, we are all equal in your sight. We are all persons. You conceived and created each human being from the very beginning in Your mind and heart with a unique identity, a body and soul, and you sustain each one of us today and for all eternity.
I have come to recognize that ALL of us are in Your family, dear God. And that makes us but sisters and brothers. Help me to embrace Your children on this planet in my heart. Help me to want for every one what you have so generously provided for me – a little place to call home, simple food on my table, a decent education and decent health care.
Help me, God, to recognize and support the right of every human person to life, liberty and the pursuit of other people’s happiness as well as my own. Help me not to be only concerned about my own needs, my own family’s needs, but to realize that we are all one family. Yet we are torn apart by hatred and violence and bigotry and brother still kills brother. Help us export love not hate, peace and development for all people, not war and destruction.
This is my daily prayer, heavenly Father, for the world in which I live.
I pray that you would allow me the grace in some small way to help bring that about.
To you, heavenly Father ~
Father of my Redeemer and elder brother Jesus ~
all honor and praise and thanksgiving, with the Holy Spirit, now and forever.
The Jefferson Memorial
This, dear friends, is my prayer for the world in which I live.
It has ever been such since my lazy summer of ’79 in Washington and always will be.
I do not expect you to use my words as you pray.
I just invite you to make your own prayer.
Make this Fourth of July a re-dedication to our ideals.
We need God in our world today as we face the effects of covid 19 that continues to plague us.
I am presently away from home and intended to visit friends along my way, and have found all but one declining to see me because they are choosing to remain quarentined. And then there’s the double plague of racism that we also have to look into ourselves and see how each of us is infected by this virus that has been with us for so a long time. And it’s about time we faced up to it.
But we rely on ourselves and not on God. Capitalism, by definition, can create that illusion.
I urge you to rebirth the vision of our founding fathers and mothers in your own heart this Fourth of July 2020.
We need to renew that vision, that commitment every year, indeed, very often from the mightiest to the lowest of our land.
And I warn you (me too), if we don’t constantly attend to our renewal,
we will lose what we have and are.
Great civilizations before us have collapsed because of their complacency.
Nevertheless, it is my sense that God will transform us if we pray and bind together!
Before the hotdogs and the baby back ribs and the fireworks, let’s be at prayer and reflection, this Fourth of July.
Ask God for guidance. Ask forgiveness for taking all of this for granted.
We need God to bring us through these critical times.
And now, before you go, here’s a powerful song with historical images to inspire your reflection. Click here.
Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers. Enjoy your celebration for we still have a beautiful land.
(There will be two other posts to reflect on following this one.)
The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christ)
Sunday, June 14. 2020
Today is our Roman Catholic Feast of Corpus Christi in which pause to appreciate and give thanks for the wonderful gift of the holy Eucharist.
I’d like to reflect for a moment on what we Catholics believe about this wonderful sacrament.
In my 50 years as a priest I must have celebrated hundreds, maybe thousands of Masses over that time. But I’d like to offer some wonderful comments from Father Richard Rohr, an author I have always appreciated for his wisdom and insight. These are from a recent book “The Universal Christ.” Father Rohr realized that Jesus did not say, “This is my spirit given for you”, or ‘These are my thoughts.” Instead he said very daringly, “This is my body,” which seemed for a spiritual teacher, a God-man to speak. And John reports many left him because of it (John 6:66).
Rohr says he has come to realize that in offering his body, Jesus is precisely giving us his full bodily humanity more than his spiritualized divinity! Eat me,” he shockingly says.
Many of the ancient religions portrayed their god as eating or sacrificing humans or animals, which were offered on altars, but Jesus is inviting us that God would give himself as food for us.
On helpful piece of the Catholic ritual is our orthodox belief in ‘Real Presence.” By that we mean that Jesus is somehow physically present in the sacramental bread. This, Father Rohr says, sets the stage for what he likes to call “carnal knowledge” of God, who is normally assumed to be Spirit. It seemed that mere mind-knowing is not enough because it does not engage the heart or the soul. Presence is a unique capacity that includes body, heart, mind and whatever we mean by soul.. Only real presence can know Real Presence.
When Jesus speaks the words “This is my Body,” Father Rohr believes he was speaking not just about the bread right in front of him, but about the whole universe, about everything that is physical, material, and yet is spirit-filled. (The name of his book , again, is “The Universal Christ”). When we speak these sacred words at the altar, we are speaking them to both the bread and the congregation—so we can carry it “To all creation” (Mark 16:16). As St. Augustine said, we must feed the body of Christ to the people of God until they know they are what they eat! And they know what they drink!
Jesus pushes it further into even scarier directions by adding the symbolism of intoxicating wine as we lift the chalice and speak over all of suffering humanity. “This is my blood.’ Jesus then directs us Drink me, all of you!’
In drinking the Blood of Christ at this Holy Meal you are consciously uniting yourself with all unjust suffering in the world from the beginning of time till its end.
The bread and wine together are stand-ins for the very elements of the universe, which also enjoy and communicate the incarnate presence.
A true believer is eating what he or she is afraid to see and afraid to accept; The universe is the Body of God, both in its essence and its suffering.
As Pope Francis insists, the Eucharistic bread and wine are not a prize for the perfect or a reward for good behavior. Rather, they are food for the human journey and medicine for the sick.
For me, the Eucharistic words have sustained me as I experienced my sinfulness, my woundedness, my brokenness and also profound joy and at times, and a deep affection for my Jesus.
When I receive our Lord in holy communion I pray:
Lord Jesus, You became — You are still — bread-broken
and blood-poured out for the sake of the world.
As I receive the precious gift of the Eucharist
may I become Your body
and Your body become mine.
May Your blood course through my own blood stream.
I want to be transformed by my communion with you, Lord.
Transformed from my self-centered lusts and angers and petty jealousies
Let me become Your Body-broken
and Your Blood-poured-out
into a world that needs You
now more than ever.
To You, Jesus, be honor and glory and praise
this day and forever!
So be it! Amen!
And now. before you go, here is the Eucharistic hymn “Adoro Te Devote sung in procession. On this day throughout the world, it is the custom to have public processions in Catholic countrie with the Blessed Sacrament such as the one in this video. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are today’s Mass readings with the Ancient “Sequence” or Eucharistic poem included before the gospel. Click here
Richard Rohr The Universal Christ / Ch. 11 pp. 129-138 Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge /2019 / 36 Causton Street / London SWIP 4ST / Copyright Center for Action and Contemplation 2019
The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity ~ Sunday June 7th, 2020
We Catholics (and most Episcopalians) recite these words Sunday after Sunday. (And some Lutheran congregations as well.) But I have a question for you: Do you ever think about what you are saying or reciting? Will you allow me to help us look at them together and plumb their meaning a bit?
I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Begotten Son of God.
Now right there, some of us might not understand what “only Begotten” means,
but I suppose the next line explains it:
Born of the Father before all ages,
God from, God, Light from Light,
True God from True God,
Begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father.
Before this last change in the Mass, we said “one in being with the Father,” which is a bit easier to understand.
So, I’d like go back to one of the early Church Fathers and to St. Paul, and a little of my own experience to see if we can understand this important mystery of the Holy Trinity a little better.
The word consubstantial means “being of the same substance.”Yeah, I know, that doesn’t help a lot.
Well, here’s a letter written by St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt to Serapion in the early 4th Century. He is best known for his tirelessness defense of the full divinity of Jesus Christ ~ God the Son’s equality with God the Fatherduring the troubled period of the Arian heresy that taught that Jesus was only a man. It was through this saint’s efforts that the nature of Jesus Christ, both fully man and fully God was clearly articulated in the Nicene Creed. Here’s what he has to say . . . .
“It will not be out of place to consider the ancient tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church, which was revealed by the Lord, proclaimed by the apostles and guarded by the fathers. For upon this faith the Church is built, and if anyone were to lapse from it, he would no longer be a Christian either in fact or in name.
“We acknowledge the Trinity, holy and perfect, to consist of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In this Trinity there is no intrusion of any alien element or of anything from outside, nor is the Trinity a blend of creative and created being. It is a wholly creative and energizing reality, self-consistent and undivided in its active power, for the Father makes all things through the Word (Jesus) 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 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.
I would like you to note what might seem “Pantheistic” here. God is “through” all things.The implication here is that God can be worshipped in all things! Think about that! That’s true! The worship of God didn’t start with the Hebrews or Catholics. It began eons ago!
Earlier, writing to the Corinthians, St. Paul traces all reality back to one God, the Father, saying:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of service but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone.
This is also Paul’s teaching in his second letter to the Corinthians (2:13): 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 himself.” Saint Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria.
Now. isn’t that amazingly clear?
And notice that he ends with the phrase that the priest often uses to greet the people at Mass, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit … be with you all.”
And when the priest ends his prayers at Mass and sometimes we do too with: Through our Lord jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
And yet this is all a secret, a mystery that God invites us to share in by entering into the silence of our hearts. We call this contemplation ~ or some would say “Centering Prayerl
Now here’s a story often told about St. Augustine, surely a legend. . . .
St. Augustine spent thirty years trying to write his definitive work De Trinitate. (About the Holy Trinity) But one day . . . .
He was walking by the seashore one day contemplating and trying to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity when he saw a small boy running back and forth from the water to a spot on the seashore. The boy was using a sea shell to carry the water from the ocean and place it into a small hole in the sand.
The Bishop of Hippo approached him and asked, “My boy, what are doing?”
“I am trying to bring all the sea into this hole,” the boy replied with a sweet smile.
“But that is impossible, my dear child, the hole cannot contain all that water” said Augustine.
The boy paused in his work, stood up, looked into the eyes of the Saint, and replied, “It is no more impossible than what you are trying to do – comprehend the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your small intelligence.”
The Saint was absorbed by such a keen response from that child, and turned his eyes from him for a short while. When he glanced down to ask him something else, the boy had vanished.
Some say that it was an Angel sent by God to teach Augustine a lesson on pride in learning. Others affirm it was the Christ Child Himself who appeared to the Saint to remind him of the limits of human understanding before the great mysteries of our Faith.
Through this story, the sea shell has become a symbol of St. Augustine and the study of theology.
And now, let’s turn to St. Paul and to passage I’ve always loved . . .
“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart and what God has prepared for those who love him,”
but what God has revealed to us through the Spirit.
For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God. [. . . .] And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. [. . . . ]
For “who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (Corinthians 2: 9-16)
And finally, what do we take from this? What does the Holy Trinity mean for our lives today?
The Holy Trinity is that dynamic energy that sustains the universe. Theirs is a circle of love that encircles everything that exists. And that includes you and me too! They’re a dynamic threesome. They’re dynamite! They’re love itself! The new Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “by sending his only Son and Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and he has destined us to share in that exchange. (CCC No.221.)
And so, we are invited to share in, to be caught up in that eternal exchange of love, that dynamic energy, that eternal communion.
And then, we’re to share that loving, dynamic energy with one another.
I found this insight in my seminary’s latest alumni news talking about “connecting” . . . . The writer Brene Brown says “connecting” is the energy that exists between people when they realize that they are seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they can derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.
This challenge is especially significant given the times in which we live, times that are afflicted by patterns of polarization and the demonization of those with whom we disagree; times that seem to grapple with the consequences of social media sites that remain unaccountable even as they seek to divide rather than to unite especially with the challenges and burdens that all of us complicated our lives with the two major crises our Nation is facing right now. The first being the coronavirus epidemic and how our states should or should not open up and how each of us should come out of quarantine. And on top of that, how each of us is responding to the the fact that the three recent killings of Black folk have brought to the surface that our Nation has a great deal of work to do to solve the racial crisis that has been brewing beneath the surface since the Watts riots of 1968.
I urge you to take care of yourself! Find caring people you can talk with by phone or by email or in person (6 ft please ~ as we still have to observe. There’s a lot of pressure on all of us. But this Feast is a feast of joy and hope so take it in.
Does this make the Holy Trinity seem a little more vital to you? The Holy Trinity keep it all going! They’re a circle of love! And they want YOU in it!!! Yes You and me too! And then they want you to tell the world about how it all really works. that: That they have a Father who loves them, a Brother Jesus who redeemed them. And the Spirit they sent to shake things up and get you and me a-movin! Brothers and Sisters we have work to do!
And so may we pray . . .
All holy, undivided Trinity, Creator and Ruler of all that exists,
may all praise be yours now and forever,
and for ages unending, Alleluia, alleluia!
And now before you go, here’s the Hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty Click here
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.