Sunday, March 30, 2014

Seeing Can be a Dangerous Thing--Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent

We all have a desire to see. 

Going to a professional sports game, there is nothing better than seeing that first glimpse of the field.  You enter the stadium, walking through concrete walls and darkness.  Navigating your way through crowds you find your section.  You ascend stairs going up and up. Then, you walk out towards the light.  There in front of you is the bright green grass.  The massive expanse of the field.  The players warming up.  The colors.  The exhilaration.  This is all great of course, unless you are just a little kid less than three feet tall.  Being short is not always so cool.  Unable to see over the crowd and over the railing, you stand on tippy toes, you jump up and down, but it doesn’t help.  Then your dad reaches down.  He lifts you up on his shoulders.  Then you see what has mesmerized everyone else.  It is glorious.  We all have a desire to see.  

The same is true when we love someone.  The entire process of dating is a process of trying to see.  We try to see if the person is who with think he or she is.  We go on dates trying to see if anything can be found in common.  We meet each other’s families trying to see where this person has come from.  Then we commit to marriage once we have seen more clearly who the person is.  If we really love him or her we keep searching, longing, desiring to see into the other person’s heart.  For we all have a desire to see.

This last week we traveled down to Hanceville, Alabama to visit the shrine of the Blessed Sacrament.  At this shrine there is a community of cloistered nuns.  They have given their lives for one reason alone: to see.  At this monastery they have the world’s second largest monstrance.  It is around 7 feet tall.  The host that is in the monstrance is bigger than our heads.  The word monstrance comes from the Latin word monstrare, which means to show.  You see, God knew how much each of us longs to see and so he gave us a way to gaze upon him.  Imagine, when Jesus is in the monstrance we can gaze upon him and begin to see who he really is, and who we really are, too.  The sisters there gave their life in order to see more deeply.  For we all long to see.

The man in today’s Gospel longed to see, too.  He was born blind.  Imagine being born blind.  We all might know of someone who has been born blind.  But imagine that for yourselves.  If we think we long to see in life, he certainly must have longed to see.  Then he came in contact with the light of the world.  The one who came to shine light on all things that all people might see.  And the light of the world healed his vision and he was able to see.

But what he soon found out though, is that even though seeing was wonderful, it could also be a dangerous thing.  For in seeing we often end up being changed.

For the man born blind thing began to change.  He was questioned by people.  His family was interrogated.  And he himself was asked to make a decision.  To decide on who he believed the man was who healed him.  Who was this Jesus?  Because he saw he could not deny that this must have been God.  For only God could heal a person’s eyes.  And so they threw him out.  They rejected him.  They kicked him out and he was then separated from all that he once knew.  For even though we all long to see, seeing can be a really dangerous thing.

I remember visiting the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC.  It is a remarkable and yet devastating museum.  One of the exhibits is actually surrounded by a wall about 5 feet tall.  The purpose of the wall is to keep any young children from seeing in the exhibit.  The exhibit is horrifying.  It depicts many of the gruesome medical experiments the Nazis forced on the Jews.  I remember that there was a younger boy there with his mother.  As we all do, he wanted to see.  The mother thought about it.  Then she hesitated.  Then she lifted her son up that he might see.  His face became sad.  He started to cry.  His life was probably changed that day.  For how could he be the same?  Sometimes seeing can be a very dangerous thing.

The same can be true of someone who is our mentor or parent.  A person we place on a pedestal, because they have changed our life for the good. Yet, sometimes when we see even more of who they are it can be devastating.  I remember speaking to a woman who was so saddened when she found out that her father had been unfaithful to her mom.  She saw him as being a little less than a God.  And yet the knowledge of his infidelity, even though it helped her see him for all he was, was so difficult to handle.  They worked through their relationship little by little.  They are now closer for it.  But seeing for her was dangerous, too.  For it changed her and things could never be the same.  It required her to grow, to see life in a different way, and to learn forgiveness. 

A neat thing about having people in the RCIA program in a church is that they provide an example for us all.  We get to see people who desire to see more clearly.  They desire to see faith at a new level.  They desire to see God at a new level.  They desire to see themselves and the world around them at a new level.  But if they, and if we too, are serious about our faith, seeing life through the eyes of faith should be a dangerous thing.

Through faith we see ourselves a little different, and it is a dangerous thing:  we realize we don’t really have all the answers, and that is a scary thing.  We realize we have squandered a lot of things away in life, and that makes us sad.  We realize we have let a lot of people down, and that humbles us.  But we also see how loved we are, and that we were created in a special way.  We see the gifts we truly have and we see how we can use them.  We see that there is hope in our lives, and that each day we can be sure that God is trying to help us grow.

We see those around us a little different, too, and this is a dangerous thing:  we see how imperfect they are, and yet we are called to love them.  We see how messy they can be, and yet we know that we cannot live without them.  We see the poor and we simply can’t ignore them.  We see those who don’t have faith and our hearts ache inside and we desire to show God to them.  We see the injustice we have created and we see how hard it is to change things, but that we must change because we now have seen.

And we see God a little different, and this is dangerous too.  We see that he has given us so much and yet so often we have ignored it.  We see his sacraments like the Eucharist and confession and we can no longer take them for granted.  We grow in a reverence for them because we see how fundamentally divine they are. We see the great sacrifice he made for us and we realize that we must sacrifice all we are, too.  For we all long to see, but seeing is a dangerous thing.

We all long to see.  Just like the man born blind, coming to know the light of the world helps us to see.  Yet this seeing is a dangerous thing.  Because we realize that unless our lives are completely changed, every single day, then maybe we truly don’t see.  So we turn to God once again in this Mass and ask him to help us to see.  For we long to see, even if it is a dangerous thing.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Springtime Mountain Rain

Here is just a little something as we make ready for Spring....

Behold the wonders of a springtime mountain rain.  The kind your nose tells you is coming far before it begins. It commences early in the morning as the faint call of birds echo through the misty darkness.  From the enveloping fog and intimate clouds it appears mysteriously.  What is just a mist turns to a pitter-patter on tin roofs and the leaves of the trees.  Then comes the steady drip, drop, drip, drop—as the leaves release what they have momentarily absorbed, letting it fall to the ground. 


Meanwhile, that same ground contemplates how to respond to the rain.  It first rejects the water as it flows briskly down the mountain.  But the rain is relentless; it finds its way in and soon the ground is soaked.  No area is left untouched.  Creeks and river beds begin to flow over until the earth is teeming.


Behold the wonders of a springtime mountain rain.


Behold the wonders of God’s love, too. 


It moves through this world like an enveloping fog, leaving nothing untouched or unattended.  We catch slight hints of its fragrance as it passes through our lives.  Though it can sometimes be ignored, it often mysteriously appears and begins to engage our hearts with a gentle pitter-patter: always taking the initiative, always respecting our freedom, but ever consistent.  Sometimes when our lives take a turn for the worse, we grope for this love in all the wrong places.  And then in the midst of our despair we recognize its presence next to our beating, longing hearts.  We reach drastically to absorb it if only for a moment.  But still we find it difficult to grasp. 


Yet it never ceases to flow through our lives.  And even though the hardness of our heart can sometimes be stubborn and reject this love, we cannot help but give in to its persistence.  Soon we find that we are saturated by it.  No part of our being is left untouched.  We are filled with happiness and joy.  We drown in His presence and desire nothing more. 


Behold the wonders of God’s love, too.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Vamos Juntos a la Periferia de la Mision

Todos de nosotros entendemos que ahora el Papa Francisco es muy popular.  Su fama crece cada día, especialmente en la empresa.  ¡Y para nuestros católicos, este es muy bueno!  Pero es buena para el mundo, también. 


Papa Francisco tiene muchas palabras buenas sobre de la compasión de dios, el amor de Jesús, y la misericordia de dios.  Y él le invita al mundo para cuidar a los pobres, y especialmente él les invita a los católicos para vivir su fe más profunda.  Pero para mi, y yo pienso que posiblemente para ustedes también, los consejos de Papa Francisco sobre de la misión de la iglesia son mas importante.  Y esas son las palabras que yo quiero explicar ahora. 


En su conferencia con los obispos de américa latín, y también en su primero exhortación apostólica, Papa Francisco dice que es importante en nuestra época que los discípulos de dios, todos los católicas, tengan que vivir como misioneros.  Para ser católica es para ser un misionero.  Pero el Papa dice que nosotros no somos simplemente misioneros típicos, somos misioneros de la periferia. El papa dice:


“En la Palabra de Dios aparece permanentemente este dinamismo de “salida” que Dios quiere provocar en los creyentes….Hoy, en este “id” de Jesús, están presentes los escenarios y los desafíos siempre nuevos de la misión evangelizadora de la Iglesia, y todos somos llamados a esta nueva “salida” misionera. Cada cristiano y cada comunidad discernirá cuál es el camino que el Señor le pide, pero todos somos invitados a aceptar este llamado: salir de la propia comodidad y atreverse a llegar a todas las periferias que necesitan la luz del Evangelio.”


¿Pero, cual es el significado de ser un misionero a la periferia?  Mantengo que hay dos cosas para considerar: para ser un misionero a la periferia es 1.) Para tener un encuentro con Jesús profundo que afecta toda su vida y 2.) Para compartir el evangelio de dios con las personas que normalmente nosotros no pensamos que ellos merezcan el amor de dios. 

Para entender más esas dos cosas, vamos a observar la vida de Jesús. Especialmente, vamos a leer la historia cuando Jesús le llama a San Mateo.  Las escrituras dice:


“9  Cuando se iba de allí, al pasar vio Jesús a un hombre llamado Mateo, sentado en el despacho de impuestos, y le dice: “Sígueme.” Él se levantó y le siguió.  10  Y sucedió que estando él a la mesa en casa de Mateo, vinieron muchos publicanos y pecadores, y estaban a la mesa con Jesús y sus discípulos.  11  Al verlo los fariseos decían a los discípulos: “¿Por qué come su maestro con los publicanos y pecadores?” 12  Mas él, al oírlo, dijo: “No necesitan médico los que están fuertes sino los que están mal.  13  Id, pues, a aprender qué significa aquello de: Misericordia quiero, que no sacrificio. Porque no he venido a llamar a justos, sino a pecadores.”


Mateo era uno publicano.  Y durante el tiempo de Jesús, todo odiaba a los publicanos.  Ellos no eran honestas, ellos robaron a los demos, y ellos eran como pecadores de todo.  Pero Jesús no tenía un problema con eso.  Jesús le llamada a Mateo para seguirle.  Jesús tenía confianza en Mateo.  Es increíble.  Los fariseos no tenían confianza en Mateo ni todos los publicanos.  Pero Jesús no importa: él quería compartir su amor y compasión con Mateo. 


¿Entonces, cual es la razón que Jesús podía compartir el evangelio y amor de dios con Mateo, sino los fariseos no podían?  La razón es que la divinidad de dios toca todo los partes de Jesús.  Jesús es hombre y dios, la segunda persona de la trinidad.  Y su voluntad es completamente de acuerdo con la voluntad de dios.  Y la voluntad de dios es que toda la humanidad recibe el evangelio.  Es que todas las personas conocen el amor de dios, especialmente las personas en la periferia.  Las personas que son como Mateo.


A veces nosotros pensamos como los fariseos que hay personas que no merecen recibir ni escuchar el evangelio de dios.  Pero necesitamos que permitir la divinidad de dios, el espíritu de dios, toca todo de nuestras almas.  ¿Hay partes de nuestras vidas que no estamos orgullos? Dios necesita toca esas partes.  ¿Hay pecados en nuestras vidas que nosotros pensamos que dios no puede perdonar? Dios necesita tocar esas partes. Esas partes son la periferia de nuestras vidas.  Solo cuando dios toca esas periferias de nuestras vidas pudiéremos compartir el evangelio de dios con personas como Mateo, personas en la periferia.  Y cuando nosotros tenemos un encuentro profundo con dios, él va a poder tocar todo de nuestras vidas. 


Después de eso encuentro profundo de dios, después de dios toca las periferias de nuestras vidas, nosotros realizamos que nosotros somos los pecadores y publicanos también.  Nosotros no somos diferentes de Mateo u otras personas, nosotros necesitamos la gracia y apoyo de dios tanto como otros pecadores.  En este momento nosotros estamos listos a compartir el evangelio a los demos.  Nosotros estamos listos para ir a la periferia y compartir el evangelio de dios. 


¿Pero quien son las personas en nuestras periferias?  ¿Quien son las personas como Mateo para nosotros?  ¿Eres racista? Comparta el evangelio con las personas que no te encanta.  ¿Tiene odio a un grupo de personas? Comparta el evangelio con esas personas.  Cualquier persona que nosotros pensamos que no merecen el evangelio, esta persona necesita el evangelio. Y nosotros tenemos que ir a estas periferias.  Es nuestro llamado como discípulos de Jesús.  Es nuestro llamado como misioneros a la periferia.  


Gracias a dios que el espíritu santo mandó el Papa Francisco para ser nuestra papa.  Él tiene muchas palabras y consejos buenos.  Pero es importante que nosotros no solo escucháramos a esas palabras, pero vivamos esas palabras.  Entonces, vamos juntos a un encuentro de dios.  Un encuentro que toca todas las partes de nuestra alma, pero también, un encuentro que nosotros vayamos a la periferia de la misión de dios. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. John's University Article on Glenmary's Missions

Here's a link to view an article done for St. John's University Alumni Magazine.  I thought they did a really good job.  But of course, I might be a little biased!!  Makes me proud of Glenmary and the missions of Blessed John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta...and let's not forget the volunteer program.

St. John's Article on Glenmary

Contemplation and Mission

I love von Balthasar. I think his thought can and should be applied to missionary work....that is, to the involvement of all people in bringing God's love to the world. 

Here are a few words from Hans on the connection between contemplation and mission:

"What we are looking at when we contemplate the love of God is 'Christ giving himself in love' and this 'urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died' (2 Cor. 5:14).  In contemplating this, we suddenly realize that we have been made to take our part in the action as a whole and that we are therefore participants in this action. God's active work urges us on to active works."  --From Engagement with God

Basically, love urges us on to love. We must rest in that love to share that love!

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Video on Our Missions by Scott Maentz and the Diocese of Knoxville

LA Religious Education Congress

The Holy Spirit is really working!

I spent some of the morning and all of the afternoon staffing Glenmary's vocation booth at the LA Religious Education Congress.  Hundreds of people stopped at our booth.  Thousands more passed by--somewhere in the area of 30,000+.  People of every color and race.  People of many languages.  People interested in Glenmary.  Many more just simply interested in securing a free flashlight with Glenmary's logo on it!

With all of these visits, though, one thing stood out the most:  the Holy Spirit continues to work in people's lives.

There were people passionate about educating young people.  There were people excited to learn about mission.  There were people hopeful for what the church is doing.  There were people enthusiastic at the work being done in their diocese.  People young and old, one cannot deny the working of the Holy Spirit driving the People of God to be involved in mission.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of  your love.  Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.  And you shall renew the face of the earth.

Pope Francis and Mission at the Periphery

Author's note:  This is a talk I have prepared for a Lenten Retreat to be held in Erwin, TN on March 21 and 22.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… Well, if you were around in the 1980s then these words probably spark movement in your memory.  They are words that scrolled up the screen of probably the most popular science fiction movies ever created: they are from Star Wars.  Beginning each movie these words were an invitation to the movie-goer to go on a journey: a journey to a new place; a journey to a new world; a journey to encounter something never encountered.  A journey to visit a destination never thought of and to be transformed through the experience. 


With the election of Jorge Cardinal Bergolio as the 265 successor of St. Peter, the church has been invited to go on a similar journey. But rather than being invited to a galaxy far, far away, we are being invited to a different reality.  We are being invited to the periphery:  the periphery of faith, the periphery of people, the periphery of ourselves, the periphery of life.  Just as Star Wars provided for us new encounters that in many ways changed our lives, this journey has potential to do even more.  This journey has the potential for us to be eternally changed.


In his address to the bishops of Latin America Pope Francis wrote: “That is why I like saying that the position of missionary disciples is not in the centre but at the periphery: they live poised towards the peripheries… including the peripheries of eternity, in the encounter with Jesus Christ…The disciple is sent to the existential peripheries.”[i] 


Still more, in his recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium Francis writes: “The word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him “to go forth”. Abraham received the call to set out for a new land (cf. Gen 12:1-3). Moses heard God’s call: “Go, I send you” (Ex 3:10) and led the people towards the Promised Land (cf. Ex 3:17). To Jeremiah God says: “To all whom I send you, you shall go” (Jer 1:7). In our day Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” echoes in the changing scenarios and ever new challenges to the Church’s mission of evangelization, and all of us are called to take part in this new missionary “going forth”. Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel.”[ii]


Historically, whenever a Pope addresses the faithful in an exhortation, he usually does so in a way to correct something that has been lacking or waning in the church.  It seems, then, that Francis is pinpointing that a vital struggle in the church this day is the church’s lack of missionary zeal: that zeal which shakes us up, that zeal which sends us off. 

And so he is calling the church back to her fundamental reason for existence: to be missionary.  But he does not stop by just calling the church to mission.  He says that missionary activity must be focused on the periphery of life.  Going to the periphery of life, I would maintain, means for us two things: 1.)  to be shaken out of our comfort zones by a profound experience with Christ,  and 2.) to be sent out to people with whom we normally think don’t deserve to hear the good news.


It is to these two ideas, being shaken out of our comfort zones, and to go out to those on the edge that I would like to now elaborate.  In order to do so, I am going to the very teacher himself, Jesus Christ.  It was Jesus who modeled this kind of missionary Spirit: for he lived on the periphery of life.  And he is the one who has called each of us to be with him, and has sent us out with his Spirit to carry his work out on the peripheries. 


In order to illustrate how Jesus models this type of missionary work I would like us to visit the calling of St. Matthew.  As we all know Matthew himself was a tax collector, who after being called by Jesus immediately left everything to follow him, becoming an apostle and also providing for us one of our four Gospels.


Now we all know a little bit about tax collectors during the time of Jesus.  They were hated, despised and had few friends.  They were charged by the Roman government, the oppressors in the eyes of the Jews, to collect a certain amount of money from taxpayers.  However, that amount was never clearly known to taxpayers, and the tax collector could easily abuse the system by asking for more than was required, and pocketing the rest.  And so they were hated.  They were on the periphery of society.


We can imagine how much the Jewish people of Jesus’ time would have hated a person like Matthew.  Every time he came around to collect money, the people not only had to fork it over.  They knew that most likely he was ripping them off for his own benefit. Still more he was a terrible reminder that they were occupied by the Romans.  They were controlled.  Their freedom was limited.  And that for all intents and purposes, God had not upheld his bargain of sending them a messiah to liberate them from oppression. 


But Matthew did not bother Jesus at all.  Being a missionary to those on the periphery Jesus saw Matthew as the very person with whom his mission was directed.  And so the story goes:


“As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”


Matthew was on the periphery of life.  Yet Jesus went unflinchingly to his side.  When the Pharisees so easily wrote Matthew off, Jesus saw him as a person in need of his love.  For us to grow as missioners, we need to reflect more deeply on why it was so easy for Jesus to approach a person like Matthew when so many others would have passed him by.


We know that Jesus himself was the Son of God.  Being God’s only Son the divine will of the Father flooded every part of his being. The will of the Father has always been that all people experience his love:  especially those in the periphery.  So for Jesus every part of himself was directed at going to the periphery.  There was no tension in Jesus between what God’s will was and what he did.  God’s will flowed from his life, and so he was always going toward the periphery.


Unfortunately, the same could not be said of the Pharisees, and the same probably cannot be said of us.  Divinity had not reached the periphery of the lives of the Pharisees.  They made judgments.  They held grudges.  Their eyes were blinded by pride and by a misunderstanding of God.  In other words, they had not allowed the Spirit of God to penetrate to the very periphery of their own souls.  They were holdings things back from God.  They could not realize that they were the ones in need of the physician.  And because of this, they could not be disciples to the periphery. 


If we want to be disciples of Jesus who go to the peripheries of mission, we must allow Jesus Christ to visit the peripheries of our very beings.  We must let him into every part of our lives.  We must not hold back.  In other words, we must let grace into the peripheries of our souls.  If there is a deep-seated past wound in our lives, we must let the physician enter.  If there is some sin in our life that haunts us, we must let the healer in.  If there is an ugliness that keeps us up at night, we must find comfort in the Lord. 


There is tremendous freedom in recognizing that we are the ones in need of physicians.  We are the sinners.  We are the tax collectors.  We are the ones that without God’s forgiveness we would have no hope.  This is what it means to have a profound encounter with Christ.  This is what it means to be shaken from our center.  This is where we will be moved from our comfort zones and be able to then carry the message of Christ to the peripheries.  This is why it was so easy for Matthew to follow Christ: he knew he needed a physician.  He knew he was on the periphery in need of God’s grace.


Once God’s Spirit begins to flow to the peripheries of our own life, we begin to see how necessary it was for Jesus to visit people like Matthew.  We begin to see how necessary it is for us to go to the peripheries, too.  If God was willing to forgive, save and sanctify us, then all people, whether we like them or not, deserve to know Christ, too.  So we begin to look for the people on our own peripheries: 


Do we hold biases against certain groups of people?  Are we racist or sexist in any way?  Are there certain people in our lives that we simply can’t seem to forgive or that make our blood boil?  Is there a certain political party that we just simply hate?  Are there certain sins that when a person has committed them we write them off as being outside of God’s love, and with whom we find ourselves not wanting to associate?


All of these questions are dangerous questions. Because if we can answer any of these questions, and I know we can, myself included, then these are the people on the periphery for us.  These are the people we are called to love, to show mercy to, and to invite to follow Jesus in a profound way.  It takes every effort in our being to accomplish this task.  But that is why to serve on the periphery we must let God transform the peripheries of our lives.


We all want the Catholic Church to grow.  We all want our missions to expand and develop.  The desire we have is the desire of our Pope, too.  The only way to see this happen though is if we take up the radical call of Christ to be people of the periphery.  We are being invited to a new world, on a journey where we will not necessarily know the outcome.  But let us go to the peripheries together.  And may God bring to fulfillment this good work he has already begun in us!


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Authentic Personal Fulfillment

Sitting at the airport and being reminded every 5 minutes to report suspicious activity, I thought this quote from Evangelii Guadium is worthy of noting:

10. The Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane, but with no less intensity: "Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others".[4] When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfilment. For "here we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others. This is certainly what mission means".[5] Consequently, an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that "delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ".[6]

Both security and safety are important,  but perhaps not more so than living a fully authentic life. To do so, we must keep finding ways to share our life, and especially our love for God, with the entire world. Only then will we leave the shores of safety and enter into a life of abundant joy. 

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