Advent Day 16 ~ Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent
I have learned to be intrigued by the shadows of my life, Lord.
The stronger the light, the deeper the shadow.
I have come to realize there will always be shadows.
I must accept the shadows of my life as well as the light; they will just always be there.
And so I now pause for a moment when a shadow greets me;
and take in its beauty.
Teach me to stop and be confronted, to be changed, by them.
This day, Lord, help me to realize what the shadows of my life can teach me about You and Your great love for me.
Editor’s note: This was my very first blog post on December 5, 2007.
I had two priests write back and say: “Thank you, Bob.
I wonder what they were saying?
I pay a lot of attention to shadows in my photography.
It’s “both ~ and.” That’s the way life is.
Carl Jung in psychology got us to pay attention to the Shadow side of life.
And in one’s prayer life, the mystics like St. John of the Cross talk about the “dark night of the soul.”
If we deny the shadows are there, we’re in trouble.
If we embrace our Shadow, make friends with it,
we can be on the way to wholeness.
And now before you go, here’s an excerpt from Handel’s Messiah to put you in an Advent mood. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.
Jesus had said this to his disciples shortly after his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. I’m thinking about the issue of Dying to Self these September days because this favorite feast day of mine brings me back to a long association with the Cistercian Abbey of the Holy Cross in Berryville,Virginia, nestled on the Western side of the first ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the shore of the Shenandoah River. I’m also thinking of the issue of Dying to Self these September days because of some personal issues as I’m preparing to move back to my home diocese of Orlando.
If you name the trauma(s) that have altered your life over the years . . . how did you deal with them? How did they affect you? What about Dying to Self? Can you ~ do you ~ do that?
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:24.) Does this make sense to you?
For you? In another place, Jesus says to his disciples . . .
If any wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? (Luke 9:24-26 ~ NRSV)
Obviously, this is not the wisdom of the world with its emphasis on Power Prestige and Possessions. A priest-friend sent me a Christmas card a couple of years ago that I framed and placed on my dining room table —a quote of St. Paul’s:
My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection. And so I willingly boast of my weaknesses instead, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For when I am powerless, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
Now here you have three koans to mull over, dear friends, and to try to grasp:
I / Unless a grain of wheat dies, it will not bear fruit.
II / Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. I
II / When I am powerless, then I am strong.
What is a koan, you might ask? A koan is a Zen saying often used by Buddhist monks to teach their novices: “To meditate on a koan is to engage in an active process, like that we engage in when we try to solve a mathematical problem. As in mathematics, the solution is supposed to come suddenly.”
So, rather than giving all your energy to the three P’s of the world, why not write these three Christian Scriptures on index cards and pull them out when you’re idle, waiting for something else to happen? Try it! You just might be enlightened, as I somehow receive the gift of some in wisdom, as I have from time to time when I have been attentive to my prayer-life.
Jesus, of course, shows us the way. Let’s look at the famous “Kenosis” passage of Philippians Chapter 2:6-11 “Kenosis”—meaning here Jesus’ self-emptying . . .
Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
There it is, dear friends! Jesus gave his life for us. The movement was downward. Earthward. Earth-bound. Into the muck. Humility comes from the word humus, meaning muck. So, that’s what Dying to Self involves—getting down into the nitty-gritty of our lives and those of our loved ones and those we are called to serve. Being obedient to what life demands of us. And beckons us to, whether we might like it not. Real Life elicits from our inner depths our best resources. Then . . .
Then . . . God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
And so, too, with us! We will be lifted up! I have experienced this several times.
But Jesus is faithful! Dying and rising is a continual process in nature and in our lives as well. We are taken down in some burden or crisis but, through faith, we are lifted up again! This is the Paschal Mystery. The Pasch ~ Passover ~ Passage ~Transition ~Transformation ~ Change. The Dying and Rising of Jesus in our lives is celebrated for us Catholics throughout the liturgical year and in every Mass.
Think about how you have experienced—and continue to experience the Paschal Mystery ~ this dying and rising ~ in your own life. And so, dear friends, I will bring this missive to a close by returning to the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and conclude with the wonderful words of the hymn Lift High the Cross. I remember when I first heard it. Trumpets and timpani sent shivers down my spine and goose bumps all over!
Lift high the cross The love of Christ proclaim,
Till all the world Adore His sacred name
Led on their way By this triumphant sign,
The hosts of God In conquering ranks combine. Refrain:
Each newborn servant Of the Crucified
Bears on the brow The seal of Him who died. Refrain
O Lord, once lifted On the glorious tree,
As Thou hast promised Draw the world to Thee. Refrain.
So shall our song Of triumph ever be:
Praise to the Crucified For victory. Refrain:
Now here is the hymn for your listening pleasure. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers.
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
The Birthday of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – 2019
in quiet silence,
And when night was
in the midst of
her swift course,
Your Almighty Word,
Leaped down out
of your royal throne,
~ And the Word became flesh
and lived among us. John 1:14
Our waiting is over.
Christmas is here!
This Christmas I want to share with you an excerpt from one of my favorite Advent authors ~ Brennan Manning entitled Shipwrecked at the Stable.
God entered into our world not with the crushing impact of unbearable glory, but in the way of weakness, vulnerability and need. On a wintry night in an obscure cave, the infant Jesus was a humble, naked, helpless God who allowed us to get close to him.
God comes as a newborn baby, giving us a chance to love him, making us feel that we have something to give him.
The world does not understand vulnerability. Neediness is rejected as incompetence and compassion is dismissed as unprofitable.
The Spanish author José Ortega puts it this way:
The man with the clear head is the man who frees himself from fantasy and looks life in the face, realizes that everything in it is problematic, and feels himself lost. And this is the simple truth—that to life is to feel oneself lost. The shipwrecked have stood at the still-point of a turning world and discovered that the human heart is made for Jesus Christ and cannot really be content with less.
We are made for Christ and nothing less will ever satisfy us. As Paul writes in Colossians 1:16, “All things were created by him and for him.” And further on, “There is only Christ: he is everything” (3:11). It is only in Christ that the heart finds true joy in created things.
Do you hear what the shipwrecked are saying? Let go of your paltry desires and expand your expectations. Christmas means that God has given us nothing less than himself and his name is Jesus Christ. Be unwilling next Christmas to settle for anything else. Don’t order “just a piece of toast” when eggs Benedict are on the menu. Don’t come with a thimble when God has nothing less to give you than the ocean of himself. Don’t be contented with a ‘nice’ Christmas when Jesus says, “It has pleased my Father to give you the Kingdom.”
The shipwrecked have little in common with the landlocked. The landlocked have their own security system, a home base, credentials and credit cards, storehouses and barns, their self interest and investments intact. They never find themselves because they never really feel themselves lost. At Christmas, one despairs of finding a suitable gift for the landlocked. “They’re so hard to shop for; they have everything they need.”
The shipwrecked, on the contrary, reach out for that passing plank with the desperation of the drowning. Adrift on an angry sea, in a state of utter helplessness and vulnerability, the shipwrecked never asked what they could do to merit the plank, and inherit the kingdom of dry land. They knew that there was absolutely nothing any of them could do. Like little children, they simply received the plank as a gift. And little children are precisely those who haven’t done anything. “Unless you… become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
The shipwrecked at the stable are captivated by joy and wonder. They have found the treasure in the field of Bethlehem. The pearl of great price is wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
So here we are at Christmas once again,.
And so, dear friend, it’s time.
Open your heart.
Take some quiet time over the weekend to prepare yourself and be ready receive the Lord into your heart as if for the first time—in humility and the joy and wonder. As you see from Brennan Manning’s wonderful story, Christmas is really not about giving gifts, but about receiving the one that Jesus want to give you.
Try to be receptive to God as Mary was. She just said, a simple Yes! to the angel:
”I am the servant of the Lord; be it done unto me according to your word.”
I pray so very earnestly that you receive the special gift God wants to give you.
Cleanse your heart of resentments—of preoccupations with unnecessary things.
Ask yourself what is the real meaning of life—your life.
For me the answer is to love as best I can, as meager as my life may be in the sunset years of my life. But I suppose I have some wisdom and compassion to share arising from my own crosses over the years. But it’s all gift; it’s all grace!
So, I hope you have received something nourishing and sweet in the posts I’ve been able to create this Advent. They are my gift to you.
May you have a wonderful Christmas with your those you love.
And if your Christmas is lonely with no one really special with whom to share, know that you have someone here who understands and who reaches out to you across these pages. I will remember each of you and your intentions and your needs in my Christmas Masses.
Be sure to open yourself to the holiness—
the wholeness—the peace of this Christmas.
It is there beneath all the craziness and hype.
It is yours if you seek it and ask for it.
Dearest Lord Jesus,
O how wonderful you are to me—to us.
May we feel like children again for you said
that we must be childlike before the Father
and you called him Abba—Daddy.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jesus,
for my priesthood, for my home
for the food on my table,
for my little furry friend Shoney,
for you my readers and so much more!
Please bless my friends and readers,
especially those who are missing a loved one this year,
or who are lonely or sick or in need in any way.
We ask you this, Jesus, always,
in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!
Now, before you go, here is a very special Christmas music video for you. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
If you would like the Scripture readings for any of the several Masses for Christmas. Click here.You’ll find a list of the Vigil, Mass at Night, at Dawn, etc.; click on the one(s) you want.
Monday of the Third Week of Advent
We’ll take a deeper turn in this Advent blog beginning today.
Christmas Eve is one week from tomorrow.
As I get closer to Christmas, my prayer is opening up and enriching from the reading I’ve been doing. I pulled an old favorite book off my shelf and reading it again after nearly fifty years was sort of like a mini-retreat.
It’s bringing me a deeper realization of my sinfulness and frail human nature.
Also an ongoing surrender to the process of transformation that’s occurring in me as I turn my life and my will over to God once again.
That, ongoing dual process ~ “a kind of coincidence of opposites” ~ sin and grace ~ dear friends, is always what gives meaning and joy to my life.
The Church invites us to enter into that process of ongoing repentance and conversion each year during Advent ( and Lent as well, of course).
Advent is counter-cultural. A time to step out of the rat race. To take a look at our maneuvering ~ scheming ~ elbowing for status or power or success or prestige. Or any of the things American society tells us we’re supposed to “have or or possess ” to make us happy.
The wise person realizes they won’t!
Let’s reflect a little more on what we can learn from John the Baptist tell us it’s all about . . .
He was a pretty successful preacher. People were streaming out into the desert to listen to him; he was persuasive. People were willing to change their lives after listening to him.
But he didn’t let it go to his head. He realized what his role was. He was just the “advance man” ~ the Messenger of the Son of God. And he was content with that.
He knew who he was. He didn’t want to be the star. Even though many thought he was “The Man.”
The saying of John that I love and pray often myself is:
“He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
My spiritual director at the time reminded me to stay focused on Jesus. To make all my plans provisional.
I was a young, cool, creative priest. I was a rising star. I thought I was pretty hot stuff.
A bishop once told my father, “He’ll be a bishop someday.”
But God had other plans.
Today, I’m just a little guy, content with a tiny flock to care for, and to write a little blog few know about.
Arrogance was my greatest character defect and it has taken till recently to whittle that away.
And so today I pray inspired by the one who was content to live in the wilderness . . .
Jesus, You are the light of my life.
Without You I would be nowhere. Nada. Nothing.
And that’s okay with me.
I want You to be in all my relationships,
in all of my writing,
You help me to be humble, Lord.
You cast me down and raised me up again.
You chastise me; You heal me.
With St. Paul, You’ve helped me realize in the midst of my brokenness,
it was ~ and is ~ You who make me strong.
Whatever flows from my relationship with You will be good
if I allow You more and more to increase
and allow my false self, my little (Big) ego to fall away.
To be humble is to be close to the “humus” — “muck”.
So, I’ve finally learned to be content with the muckiness of my life.
And You have surprised me ~ delighted me ~ ravished me with Your love.
And you know what?
It’s there that I found You!
You raised me up! You drew me to Yourself!
You bound up my wounds! You clothed me with Your LOVE!
What a joy!
And now I’m eager once again to share Your Love.
To help others know that You love each and everyone ~ no matter what.
Yes, Lord Jesus, You must increase; I must decrease.
Let me never ever forget that. No matter what.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
In this last week before Christmas I’d like to have us take a deeper look at the mystery of the Incarnation — God’s love affair with our messy ~ mucky ~ crazy human race, as it appears in Matthew’s and Luke’s stories of how God came into our world as a vulnerable, homeless baby who cooed and pooped in his pants like the rest of us. That story ~ even if you just accept as a story ~ has much to teach us. Let’s take a fresh look at it and go down to a deeper level.
Before you go, here’s an inspiring YouTube orchestral and voice arrangement of J. S. Bach’s lovely Advent piece sung by Josh Groban. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. Prepare to be goosebubbed!
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
THANKSGIVING DAY 2019
Thanksgiving Day. What’s it for? For some it’s a time get away for a few days—maybe to visit family in a different part of the country, or just chill out. For others it’s a family dinner followed by football watching and beer drinking. For still others it’s the dread of the first or the many holidays after the loss of a their Beloved in tears and in just plain shattered, empty loneliness.
For some children it’s like having to please of both divorced parents by being “shared” by both families on holidays. For still others—they’re always alone; some enjoying their solitude—others though perhaps sharing it with a bottle or pills.
How ‘bout you? Do you take the time on this holiday to Offer Thanks? Do we even think about the things in our life for which we are grateful? Or do we not care what this day means or should mean any more?
Here’s the Thanksgiving Proclamation of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1942—a year after Pearl Harbor and entering World War II.
“It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord.” Across the uncertain ways of space and time our hearts echo those words, for the days are with us again when, at the gathering of the harvest, we solemnly express our dependence upon Almighty God.
The final months of this year, now almost spent, find our Republic and the Nations joined with it waging a battle on many fronts for the preservation of liberty.
In giving thanks for the greatest harvest in the history of our Nation, we who plant and reap can well resolve that in the year to come we will do all in our power to pass that milestone; for by our labors in the fields we can share some part of the sacrifice with our brothers and sons who wear the uniform of the United States.
It is fitting that we recall now the reverent words of George Washington, “Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy Protection,” and that every American in his own way lift his voice to heaven.”
Note that he, as many other presidents before have, had no qualms about addressing the Almighty in his decree for the holiday, though we may also note he had no qualms about dropping a mighty bomb on Hiroshima three years later.
When I was in AA many a year ago, we were taught a very simple way to pray ~ to say “please” in the morning and “thank you” at night. What could be simpler and more heartfelt? Thanks is on my lips and in my heart whenever I can accomplish something that I need to do ~ usually after I’ve said “Please help me do this, Lord.” And that little conversation will take place quite often. So, for me, every day is a thanksgiving day! I get down on my knees every morning and thank God for another day and for other specific things.
I’m now in the fiftieth year of my priesthood, by God’s holy grace. As many of you, my readers know, mine has been an unconventional priestly journey as I have dealt with manic-depressive disorder along the way and later Parkinson’s that somehow disappeared after three years—again by the grace of God. I’ve also struggled from time to time with severe financial issues too. So, indeed, this has been an unconventional priestly journey, but one I’ve accepted as a grace, and for which I give thanks every morning and at every Eucharist.
Jesus has been so faithful to me and has lifted me up when I have fallen so, so many times.
I cannot tell you how much joy, how much love, how much gratitude I have for Jesus and my Diocese of Orlando for ordaining me a priest of Jesus Christ.
I have often referred in this blog to a short quote from St. Paul who seemed to struggle a lot too in his life too:
“ My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection,”and so I willingly boast of my weakness instead, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For when I am powerless I am strong. (2 Cor. 2:9-10)
I’ve lived a life of solitude for the past thirteen years—just me and Jesus and my two furry companions—first Shivvy, who passed away in November 2013 and now my little Shoney, whose already ten years old who still looks like and acts like a puppy.
I’m grateful for the solitude, too. It’s nice. People ask me what I watch on TV, and I tell them, I don’t have a TV and they’re astonished. I get my news online; that’s enough.
The silence can be penetrating. It connects you to the universe, you know. I love it. But I do hope to return to active priestly ministry for a few years. I am a good preacher and teacher and I still have many gifts to offer.
I am also very grateful for my dogs. A dog is a wonderful companion and my dogs have been designated as service animals, so they can go anywhere with me.
And Shoney gives thanks too, ya know. I often put my plate on the floor for him to lick the scraps. Well, the other night, he went to get one of his kiddies and bring it over to “share” in the goodies! He often he puts one of his kiddies in his food dish, but the other night he went across the room and brought one around to my plate just for a special treat. Wadaya think o’ dat?
I’m also very thankful for my condo-home. It feels just right for me. I’ve been here eleven years now. Like my mom before me, the walls of my house are painted my favorite colors; my living room and my bedroom are tiele; my master bedroom, which is my office is burgundy and my kitchen and bathrooms are goldenrod. I also have about ten of my own photographs professional framed throughout the house.
Oh, and I have a different car now. It’s a 2011 Ford Mustang and they tell me its Candy Apple Red. It’s a coupe, not a convertible, like the Mitsubishi was, but unfortunately, it’s been –um—through two accidents since I’ve had it.
So, I am very thankful for my home, for an enjoyable ride, for good companionship in my dog and, right now good healthful food on the table.
But most of all, for Jesus gift of love as a baptized Christian and then later, that he called me to his sacred priesthood—happy of trying to be his obedient priest-son for fifty years and beyond.
Last night, laying in bed waiting for sleep, I was reminded of a couple of important things for which I have been very grateful again and again—my ongoing education and the four freedoms we enjoy in our country and which I’m afraid we could very easily lose.
First of all, here’s a bit about my Catholic education. I went to St. John’s Parish grade School a few blocks from my home on St. Pete Beach and remember my excellent teachers fondly. Then I went to Bishop Barry High School in St. Petersburg and graduated as Salutatorian with a life-long tête-à-tête by email with the Valedictorian, (now Dr.) John O’Brien.
I entered the seminary directly after high school and was first assigned to St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Connecticut for my first two years where I met my first best-friend (now Dr.) George Ducharme. From there for six years I was under the influence of the Sulpicians, whose only task is the formation of seminarians. First, at St. Mary’s Seminary in downtown Baltimore, I had a great teacher there in Father Bill Lee who really taught me how to write.
For my final four years, Archbishop Hurley assigned me to Theological College of the Catholic University. During those years, my formation for the priesthood was broadened in many ways, particularly in regard to liturgy. The staff of the University asked me to initiate a Sunday Mass for the students in the crypt church of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. I came away from T.C. with several life-long friendships—my closest one—Father Phil Stegeman who was ordained with me for my Diocese of Orlando died suddenly of a heart attack at age 47, a friendship that I’ve never been able to replace.
I did go away in my fifties in 1992 to get a second Masters degree in Professional Writing from Towson University (a suburb of Baltimore.) That was fun. I brought my father up there with me and made lots of friends up there too. I also helped out in a local parish and two convents. And that’s where I met my first doggie Shivvy.
Now let’s turn to our appreciation, our gratitude, for what we have in our country. Our president keeps telling us to make America great again. But ought we not give thanks for the greatness that we have been for over two hundred years and the freedoms we’ve been given by the Constitution and that I fear we could so easily lose?
Riffing on President Roosevelt’s famous speech about four freedoms for the entire world in 1941, we have the same here:
Freedom of speech
Freedom of worship
Freedom from want
Freedom from fear
Now ask yourself how many of these are secure in the year of our Lord 2019?
I suggest this Thanksgiving Day we ought to be especially thankful and maybe get down on our knees and ask God as we understand God to secure these freedoms for our children and grandchildren.
So, Thanksgiving Day is not just about passing the turkey around the dinner table with the cranberry sauce and the gravy while the football games are on the TV in the background.
If you don’t start with GIVING THANKS, with the TV off and cell phones silent and everybody focused on what’s this day really is about, we just might not have too many more of these; we could very easily lose what we have.
Past civilizations who took for granted what they had lost what they had. Jesus warned Israel “ As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.” (Mark 13: 1-2.) And indeed the Romans did destroy the temple in 70 A.D. and brutally massacred 600,000 Jews.
I’ve been pleading with my readers since I inaugurated this blog in 2007 to enter into personal transformation for the sake of the spiritual transformation of our country.
And so let me conclude as I often do, with my own prayer . . .
We are living in difficult times.
We do not know what lies ahead of us.
Some of us look forward with confidence;
others are fraught with fear.
But let us remember that if we look to you, Lord,
You will be our Strength and even our Joy.
Please be with us in our land today
and bless us.
Bless our President and elected officials
that they would serve all of the people of this land.
And so, we give you thanks this day for all of the blessings
You have showered upon our country and each of us.
Please bless us most of all with peace among nations
and peace here at home.
To You be all Glory and Honor and Thanksgiving. Amen!
So, I hope you’ll make your own gratitude list. And when you sit down for dinner on Thursday, why not take a moment to ask folks to first have a moment of silence to think of something that they’re especially thankful for this year. And then ask each of them if they’d like to share it. (The moment to think is important! Don’t skip it or else everybody will repeat what the last one said.)
And, if your family isn’t up to going around the table and saying what they’re grateful for, here’s an article that might help by a guy who wrote a book on gratitude: “How to be Grateful without rolling your eyes.” click here
” Rejoice always,
Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5: 16-18
Now, before you go, here’s a slideshow on giving thanks. Click here.
I will publish the blog for the First Sunday of Advent on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Be sure to look for it!
Thank YOU, my beloved readers.
Centering Prayer and the Need for Silence in our Lives (Part three) Friendship with God
In the past two issues of this Blog on Centering Prayer, we looked at the basics at how to get into it. In this one, we go a little deeper to take a look at where Centering Prayer is leading—towards real abiding friendship with God at the center of our being. I turn here to another book by Episcopalian priest Cynthia Bourgeault Wisdom Jesus. It was recommended by Father Bill Sheehan, O.M.I. at the last retreat I made with him this past January at the Passionist Retreat Center in North Palm Beach, Florida, He quoted extensively from it and I will do so here. (The image above is Father Bill teaching a group at that retreat with the traditional Passionist cross in the background. I captured the image but was a little nervous because I didn’t want to disturb the proceedings. Father Bill was at the moment talking about Cynthia Bourgeault’s teachings.
In her first chapter, she gives a bit of her story and says that she needed to learn “not what to seek but how to seek.”
“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks again and again throughout the gospels. Which really means, according to Bourgeault, “Who or what in you recognizes me?
In West civilization, we all grew up with the notion of St. Augustine’s doctrine of original sin that had so pervaded Protestant and Catholic teaching that many of us grew up with a sense of man’s depravity rather than goodness,
This mindset still can have a powerful hold on us today. I recall a dear old lady-friend telling me she couldn’t receive communion because “She flatuated and enjoyed it.” Now, that’s a bit of scrupulosity but it’s an indication of what Cynthia is saying here. This lady thought such a minor thing was a sin that would make her liable for the fires of hell!
And Cynthia was saying that when she gives Centering Prayer workshops, she’s utterly dismayed that when she speaks of the divine indwelling (“The Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” someone in the audience vigorously corrects her.
In the East, there was not a soteriology—a theology that Jesus is Savior—but a sophiology—a word that has its root in wisdom.
Later, Cynthia tells us that for the earliest Christians Jesus was not Savior but Life-Giver.
“In the original Aramaic of Jesus and his followers there was no word for salvation. Salvation was understood as a bestowal of life, and to be saved was to be made alive.”(p.21.)
Bourgeault suggests this may seem strange to us, maybe even heretical. As the evidence is collected from the Gospel of Thomas, and the Nag Hammadi collection, from the Syriac liturgies, from the African desert fathers and mothers, from Celtic poetry, the same sophiological messages emerge.
The point is that the primary task of the Christian is not belief in theological premises but to put on the mind of Christ. In the West—both in Catholicism and in much of Protestantism our emphasis is on correct dogmatic teaching. (Perhaps we ought to re-think the recitation of the Nicean Creed at Mass on Sundays for something that reflects, “putting on the mind of Christ?)
The Hebrew equivalent Life-Giver is da’arth—the same word used for “love-making”—as in “David entered Bathsheba’s tent ‘knew’ her.”
The Greek word Gnosis is used in the New Testament and St. Paul uses it repeatedly to describe the intimate experiences of being known in Christ. (Throughout my blog writings, it has been my fervent hope and prayer to draw my readers into a closer friendship with Jesus. To get to know and love him personally and richly.)
Now let’s fix Jesus geographically because this is important to his education. Jesus grew up in Galilee. The Silk Road ran right through Capernaum where Jesus did a lot of his learning and teaching. He would’ve been exposed to a lot of ideas—as Cynthia says seemed “as the New Age of the time.” She thinks he “soaked up spiritual teaching like a sponge.” Jesus was his own person, doing his own thinking, but his mind was expanded beyond his Jewish upbringing to include other spiritual traditions that were brought to him from traders on the Silk Road, particularly Buddhism and Persian light mysticism. (p.25.)
Now let’s take a look at this teaching of Jesus from the Gospel of St. Luke . . . .
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Do to others as you would have them do to you. [ . . . .] “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
In this passage we can see the“razor edge of Jesus’ brilliance”, as Cynthia puts it. He’s transforming proverbs into parables. A parable is not a moral lesson—the closest thing to it is a Zen koan—as I’ve offered before in my Blogs—“a deliberately subversive paradox aimed at turning our usual mind upside down.” One of her colleagues referred to parables as “spiritual hand grenades;” their job is not to confirm but to uproot.
Throughout all four gospels, we hear people saying, “Where did he get this teaching? Where did he come from? No one ever said anything like this before.”
Jesus response to these questions was always the same: “Come and see.” And this will be true for us as well as we complete our journey through Centering Prayer—and this the point of this third and final blog on this subject.
Within his Near Eastern context he emerges as a fully attuned, even cosmopolitan teacher, yet recognized fully to his Hebrew audience. We begin to see it’s not proverbs for every day living or ways of being virtuous that he’s laying before us.
No. “He’s proposing a total meltdown and recasting of human consciousness, bursting through the tiny acorn selfhood that we arrived on the planet with into an oak tree of our full realized personhood. (p.27,)
So the question is: How do we put on the mind of Christ? How do we see through his eyes? How do we learn to think and feel as Jesus did? Or as a friend has on his email address, “WWJD”—What would Jesus do? Or as I have often prayed, “let your Body and mine become as one and your Blood course through my bloodstream.”
Ms. Bourgeault is saying that, “Putting on the mind of Christ is what Christian orthodoxy is really all about. “It’s not about right belief; it’s about right practice!
So what about the phrase Jesus uses, “The kingdom of heaven is within you?” “”The kingdom of heaven is at hand?” That is, it’s here, now. “You don’t die into it; you awaken into it,” Cynthia suggests.
Where is it then? Relying on a colleague of hers, Jim Marion—and this makes a lot of sense to me—the Kingdom of Heaven is a metaphor for a state of consciousness; it’s not a place you go to, but a place you come from. It’s what we would call today non-dual consciousness or unitive consciousness, which sees no separation—not between God and humans and not between humans and other humans.
I have a major piece of writing on this, called “Spirituality in the Balance” as opposed to Either-or Spirituality that has a tendency to cause unhealthy splits in human behavior. I’d like to enter some of it here . . . .
The curse which affects all of us is dualism, which pervades both Church and Society. It is also the curse of a deceptive spirituality. Earlier in my writings I wrote, I “was inwardly split ~ torn apart by two opposing forces,” In that, I embody the culture. My struggle has roots common to us all. Diabolein—to dispel or disperse—is a force that wants to tear us asunder—personally, ecclesially and societally. Dualism has been with us for a long time, running through the works of Plato, then Augustine, down to the present time. Symbolein—to draw together—is the opposite of diabolein and is a positive force. What we need is a “Both—And ” spirituality, both inside and outside the church that draws us toward wholeness and that sees that disparate elements contain each other and each has value.
Both—And is the spirituality of God and Jesus:
God has given us the wisdom
to understand fully the mystery,
the plan he was pleased to decree in Christ.
A plan to be carried out
in Christ, in the fullness of time,
to bring all things into one in him,
in the heavens and on the earth.
It pleased God to make absolute fullness reside in him
and, by means of him, to reconcile everything in his person,
Both on earth and in the heavens,
making peace through the blood of his cross.
The political scene in our country is split wide apart. Factions and divisions abound. We grow very weary of this. Government grinds to a halt by a refusal to cooperate. And then can we ever get beyond the dualism of pro-life and pro-choice so that there can be real healing? (This written in 2004!)
The Church also sees its factions and divisions. We become scandalized.
In our selves, we are often torn between “either / or” polarities. Should we end a bad marriage? Should we get out of an oppressive job? We get discouraged.
Jesus is Redeemer of both the left and the right—and both darkness and light. No one captures all of the truth, except Jesus. He’s the Stillpoint, the center of the whole universe and all of us who are contained therein! He calls each of us to wholeness and holiness.
Consider the following sets of antitheses:
Both body and soul. Soul and body. We are human, after all, which is to be known as being a body and a soul; we are neither pure flesh nor pure spirit. We must learn to tend to both body and soul.
Both good and bad . . . Bad and good. There would not be good without bad, nor bad without good. Those who say there is no bad within them are hypocrites (they like to portray themselves as filled with truth and light. and, therefore, can be evil incarnate. The hypocrites crucified Jesus; they still do.)
Church and world . . . World and church. There would not be church without world, and the world needs the church to call it back to God.
Left and right . . .Right and left. A person who is missing one of his arms misses something important. A church that does not embrace left and right misses part of the truth. So, too, a politic that does not embrace both left and right also misses part of the truth.
Sin and grace . . . Grace and sin. Jesus teaches us that it is the one who realizes he is a sinner is the one who is open to grace.
Spirituality and sexuality . . .Sexuality and spirituality. Every one of us has a body, and by that reason, are sexual beings, whether we are celibate or not. Spirituality needs a wholesome sexuality and sexuality needs spirituality to be redeemed and meaningful.
Heaven and earth . . . earth and heaven. As we strive for heaven, a place of bliss and fulfillment we remain rooted in our earthiness — “Dust thou art and unto dust we shall return.”
And finally to top off our reflection on all this . . . .
Cynthia shows us that Jesus’ most beautiful symbol for this in his teaching is in John 15 when he says,
“I am the vine; you are the branches, Abide in me as I in you. A few verse later, he says, As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.”
There is no separation between humans and God, which expresses the indivisibility of divine love. We flow into God—and God into us because it is the nature of love to flow.
And our final word will be from St. Paul . . . .
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:14-19)
But before you go, here’s the full version of the Eucharistic hymn, Adoro Te Devote as it’s sung accompanying a Eucharistic procession in a Latin country with English subtitles. Click here.
Paul was an amazing man. He was small of stature; he refused to depend on charity–thus, he worked as a tentmaker wherever he went. After he was severely beaten, he was in constant pain, but went on and on and on, because, as I tried to learn from him . . . .
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
~ Philippians 4:13
Paul before his conversion was known as Saul of Tarsus, and as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles he says, “I persecuted this Way (i.e. Christians) to death, binding both men and women and delivering them to prison.” And then he tells the story of his conversion on the way to Damascus, that a great light blinded him and he heard a voice asking, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (You can read the rest of the story in Acts 22: 1:16.) Or the alternative version given in the Mass readings below (Acts 9:1-22).
I enjoyed what St. John Chrysostom, a Bishop and Doctor of the Church, in the early church says about Paul in the divine office for today . . . .
Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what man really is, and in what our nobility consists and in what virtue this particular animal is capable. Each day he aimed even higher; each day he rose up with even greater ardor and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in his words: “I forget what lies behind me and I push on to what lies ahead.” (There’s a lesson for us here, isn’t there?)
I never paid much attention to Paul until my later years. And suddenly, I fell in love with him; thus, I’m writing this blog in his honor, despite the passages that show his Hebraic attitudes toward women and the misuse of his words about gay people. Here’s the reason . . . .
Chrysostom goes on to say that the most important point of all is . . . .
St. Paul knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considers himself happier than anyone else . . . . He preferred to be thus loved and yet the least of all, or even among the damned, than to be without that love than be among the great and honored. So too, in being loved by Christ he thought himself as possessing life, the world, the angels, the present and the future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings. Apart from that love nothing saddened or delighted him; for nothing earthly did he regard as bitter or sweet. (Another lesson for us?)
A few years ago, a priest-friend sent me a Christmas card with a favorite quote from St. Paul on the cover that I framed and still sits on my dining room table that I often glance at. As I have had my own cup of suffering from long years of manic-depressive illness it means a great deal to me . . . .
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for in weakness power reaches perfection.”
And so I willingly boast of my weaknesses instead,
that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
For when I am powerless, it is then I am strong.
(2 Cor. 12:9-10)
You see, Paul has helped me love my Lord ~ or rather to realize in tears of joy that Jesus loves deeply and richly ~ as I am, weak and sinful. He has raised me up and heals me, granting me the wonderful grace to share his love as best I can at the tip of my cursor ~ if in no other way.
And so, dear friends, know that you, too, are loved, whether you know it or not. Our God is love! Know that–despite whatever else you’ve been taught, despite how guilty you may feel or how unworthy you think you are. YOU ARE LOVED! THIS IS A MEANINGFUL UNIVERSE! And if you want, call me and I’ll try to help ~ 904-315-5268.
We’ll let St. Catherine of Siena have the last word that really grabbed me, Paul “became a vessel of love filled with fire to carry and preach God’s Word. Amen. Amen!
And now, before you go, here are the St. Louis Jesuits singing the Prayer of their Founder, “Take, Lord, and Receive.” It’s a beautiful prayer and a beautiful song. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen for the slide show that accompanies it.
And here are all of today’s mass readings for today’s Feast, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.