Thursday, October 31, 2013
I was in New York City recently. I went to the National September 11 Memorial. I didn't know what to expect. I had seen no pictures. I was overwhelmed by its enormity and beauty. I immediately thought of baptism: dying into new life. It is a holy place.
The Memorial consists of two pools set in the footprints of the Twin Towers that were destroyed on September 11, 2001. Thirty foot waterfalls cascade down the four walls of each pool and within a short space plunge into a large square void in its center.
I remembered the horrifying sight of the crumbling, collapsing Towers on TV that morning twelve years ago. I prayed for those who had been killed in all the attacks that day: 2,977 people from more than 90 nations. I heard the many foreign languages and accents around me and thought of the whole world mourning. I hoped that the beauty of these enormous pools and the falling water would help to heal the world's wounds.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Morning sunrise gives bare and brown trees a colorful coat and a diamond pin.
The story of Zachaeus is one of the main reasons that Luke is my favorite Gospel (Luke 19:10.) A short little man, bobbing up and down trying to see over the heads of those lined up to watch Jesus entering Jericho. In frustration he shinnies up a tree in all of his fine clothes and scoots out on a limb so he can see Jesus when he passes under. A despised man because he works for the Roman occupation of his native land. No one is going to let him squeeze in front of them. All of them would have made fun of him when he climbed the tree.
Jesus probably laughed, too, when he saw him, but Jesus wasn't making fun of him. Jesus was loving him and thrilling him by offering to join him for a meal. The unearned love of Jesus transforms this despised little cheat into an honest, generous man. Jesus says to him, "This day salvation has happened in this house."
It is only the unearned love of Jesus that makes it possible for me to be good.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
When I arrived home from a week in NYC and found most of the trees stripped of their leaves, it was a nice gift to come across this red oak on my morning walk. It will hang onto its leaves until spring.
In recent years I have rarely prayed "O God, be merciful to me a sinner," as the tax -collector does in Luke 18:13. Like him, I know I am a sinner. Even though I may not have obvious sins like his, I'm sure there are bits of sin and selfishness and self-centeredness hiding in the corners and crevices of my soul.
This parable reminds me that I come before God in prayer as a creature before my Creator, a redeemed sinner before my Redeemer, and a person made holy by the Holy Spirit. There is nothing I can do without God's help.
This is especially true of prayer. Prayer is God's work. My role is to say yes humbly to God's work in me; and I even need God's help to do that, to say yes. When I come in this humble way before Pure Love, whom we sometimes call God, Love will flood my whole being, seek out every last bit of sin, no matter how well hidden, and wash it away.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
A darker, dying glimpse of Autumn's Beauty.
Today is the feast of the North American Martyrs. When I was a young teenager my parents gave me a historical novel, Dark Was the Wilderness by P.W. O'Grady and Dorothy Dunn which tells the story of six French Jesuit priests and two lay associates who gave their lives to bring the Gospel of Jesus to the Huron and Mohawk nations in the early 17th century. This book had a strong influence on my own desire to become a priest and help people to know God's gracious love.
My own copy was long lost. A friend whose husband had an ancestor who accompanied these Jesuits knew that the book was important to me. She found a copy online and gave it to me. It meant a lot to read it again. I am grateful to her.
I know that one of the things that attracted my young imagination was the gory details of the torture and eventual deaths of these great men. But I hope that I was attracted even more by their strong belief in Jesus and by their desire to help the Amerindians to become aware of God's unearned love for them.
Today as I thought about them I thought that I would like to visit the shrines in their honor. I want to list their names as a kind of prayer: Fathers Isaac Jogues, Jean de Brebeuf, Antoine Daniel, Gabriel Lalemant, Charles Garnier, and Noel Chabanel, as well as their lay associates, Rene Goupil and Jean de la Lande.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Some colorful remains of autumn. If leaves have to die, what a beautiful way to go!
The death of a young friend in this dying time of year has me reflecting what death means to me as someone who believes in Jesus. And wondering how to talk about death to the grieving, especially to the young.
To put it simply, I believe that when I die God receives me into God's loving embrace forever. When I say "believe" I don't mean I "guess." I mean that my faith in God makes me sure that I will be with God forever.
I have believed for most of my life that God is living within me. I see God in the beauty all around me in nature and in the goodness of people. God could not be more present to me. Where growth happens is in me, in my awareness of God's presence and in my loving surrender to God. Death completes that process.
I have said before in this blog that I find it helpful to think of heaven, not as somewhere in the sky or somewhere far away, but as right here, right now. The other world is woven into and through this world. The fact that I can't see the dead doesn't mean that they are not here around me. I talk to them and ask them to pray for me. When someone dies, I ask the already dead person who knew them best to help them get "settled into" the other world. I don't know if that's how it works, but I don't see why not. I think of the dead and risen Jesus as the "portal" through which the dying pass into the other world.
Monday, October 14, 2013
Fading Autumn on a dreary morning.
I used Luke 18:1-8 for Bible prayer this morning. An unjust judge finally gives a widow justice, only because she keeps after him. Jesus is not comparing God to the unjust judge. The widow's persistence is a model for our praying.
It would have been expected that a widow would give up after the first try. She acts so out of character that the judge is astonished. We could keep a little humor in the parable by staying closer to the original meaning of the Greek verbs. The judge says that he will finally grant the widow's request because she is giving him such a beating that he may end up with a black eye.
Jesus wants us to have a tenacious hopeful faith, not just in asking for particular favor, but all through our life.
Friday, October 11, 2013
As I was taking pictures of a sunset from the dock, I glanced down and saw this leaf illuminated by the setting sun.
This week I have been prayerfully reflecting on the notions of mercy and thanks. Our word "eucharist" comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving. It's verbal form is used in Luke 17:16 when the healed Samaritan leper returns to Jesus, "thanking him." The first syllable "eu" means good and "charis" means charm, pleasantness, graciousness. In the New Testament "charis" came to mean grace, the freely given share in God's life. Even by itself it is sometimes translated thanks.
Our word "gratitude" comes from the Latin "gratia" which means charm, pleasantness, attraction, as well as a favor done and thankfulness.
I am struck by the fact that both words mean charm and pleasantness. I am even more surprised that they refer both to something freely given and to the thanks offered for the gift. It seems that God's freely given love for us generates the same freely given love in us, which we express in giving thanks. And why not with charm and pleasantness!
Thursday, October 10, 2013
As I got up from the computer last evening this is what I saw. I hurried outside with my camera and kept taking picture after picture. A sunset never stays the same from moment to moment. I got cold. I had not stopped to put on a coat. I went back in the house and got out a winter coat and went back outside just to gaze at the fading sunset. Not taking pictures, just standing still before Beauty.
I remembered a book I read several months ago, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice by Christine Valters Paintner. She suggests that we "receive" pictures rather than "take" them. Contemplation requires a receptive attitude. Snapping pictures seems too active. But I think it might be possible to "receive" pictures in quick succession, once we begin approaching photography as contemplation.
I had always been bothered by my desire to possess beauty by taking a picture. I wondered whether it wouldn't be better to sit still and be absorbed into the scene. Paintner's book helped me to see that one needn't cancel out the other.
Lots of people tell me that they really like the pictures on this blog. Often, as a kind of afterthought, they say they like what I have to say. I know that the pictures express Beauty in a way that I seldom can with my words. I am satisfied to share Beauty who comes to me in both ways.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
On my walk this morning I came across four deer. Two bolted immediately. The other two stood and looked at me for a long while. I stood still, as well, and finally reached into my pocket for my camera. By then they seemed to be conferring about whether to run. They did. I was grateful to them for standing still so long and grateful to God for letting me live in a place where such encounters are possible.
Since this Sunday's readings are about thanking, I've been trying to go deeper into the meaning of "thank." "Grateful" and "gratitude" help, but it's as difficult as trying to get this picture of the deer clear. It's related to "think." We think of something given to us or done for us and thank the person for it.
One definition in the Oxford English Dictionary says, "kindly thought or feeling entertained towards anyone for favor or services received." I think of the feeling that I had towards the deer and then towards God. The impulse to thank is so strong that the leper in the first reading (2 Kings 5) and the one in the Gospel return to give thanks. We are coming into a time of year when even primitive people thanked their gods for harvest.
Yet we know that sometimes we do not give thanks. We see in the Gospel that nine did not return to thank Jesus. Maybe as we grow more sensitive to how freely another person or God has acted, how undeserved their favor is, we will feel more grateful and be moved to give thanks.
The mystic, Meister Eckhart said, "If the only prayer we ever say in our lives is 'Thank You,' that will be enough."
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Colors of autumn reflected in the Lake as I took my morning walk.
In the story of the ten lepers that appears only in Luke's Gospel (17:11-19), they approached Jesus. "Keeping their distance they called out, 'Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.'" Since some translations use "pity," it set me off researching. The Greek verb is the same one used in our liturgical expression, "Kyrie, eleison; Lord, have mercy."
The Hebrew word that we translate "mercy" is one of the most distinguishing qualities of God in the Old Testament. That one English word doesn't capture all that the Hebrew word means. It means that God is dependable and worthy of faith. It implies that God's saving work cannot be earned but is granted out of God's inexhaustible generosity.
In the New Testament Jesus' own attitude towards sinners reflects the "mercy" of God in the Old Testament. Jesus is ready to forgive, to help those in need, and to heal. His saving will precedes any act of a human being. In the story of the ten lepers, even though he tells them to go show themselves to the priests, they are healed before they complete their action. Only the Samaritan understands how unearned his healing is. He is deeply touched by the mercy of Jesus and returns to give thanks.
No matter how good or bad we are, no matter how sick or healthy, we can make our own the lepers' prayer, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us."
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Friday, October 4, 2013
Scenes like this stopped me in my tracks this morning on my way home from mass for the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. I prayed that Holy Father Francis might have a long life and continue in the direction that he has set in his first six months.
St. Francis came home from war sick in body and mind. He became a peacemaker. God later revealed to him a greeting: "May the Lord give you peace," which he used throughout his life. As a young man he shunned anything that was unpleasant. Yet when he began to recover from the war he came across some lepers and became involved in caring for them. Eventually he dedicated his life to the poor. Respecting life.
Our Holy Father Francis mirrors his respect for life, especially for the poor. He began an interview this week by saying that the church's main concerns are the young who have no work and the old who are lonely. In his interview last week for the Jesuit publications around the world, he paired capital punishment with slavery as practices clearly against respect for human life. He suggested that we stop focusing on abortion, but he did not deny that loving the child in her mother's womb is another way of respecting life.
Caring for the health of all and welcoming immigrants to our country of immigrants are other ways of respecting life. God loves us and gives us the precious gift of life. God expects us to protect it anywhere that it is threatened.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
This morning's walk was full of color.
The parable in Luke 17:7-10 befuddles me. Jesus concludes the parable by saying, "When you do all the things commanded you, say, 'We are unprofitable slaves; what we ought to do we have done.'" Each time it comes up as a Sunday reading, I start looking at all the commentaries and translations I can get my hands on. The above is a close translation of the Greek. In the commentaries I find that I have already underlined possible meanings, which I have forgotten since the last time the parable came along.
This week the explanation that I find most appealing is that a slave can earn nothing. He simply does what his master says with no expectation of a reward or payment. He does not make a profit by his work. In that sense he is "unprofitable." The master may profit from his work, but the slave does not.
Jesus is saying that no amount of service on our part can earn a reward from God because God's goodness to us is unearned. All is grace. Our service to God is not bad. In fact it may be excellent.
But no matter how much we do, we do not profit from our hard work. God's love is free.