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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Morality and Relativisim, Being Relative, or Relational?


There is much being said in the Catholic Church and society on the issues of Relativism.  Specifically in the context of morality and moral teaching this is a passionate issue.    Relativism,  according to Wikipedia,  "is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration."   This can be a conflict-fraught perception especially when applied to the moral teachings of the church.  It is a danger many Christians feel must be battled, especially when applied to issues such as birth control, abortion, homosexuality or other struggles mired in conflict.  It is considered a part of the cause as to why many people are leaving what they perceive as "organized religion" for the allegedly freer paths of "spirituality".   It essentially denies any validity or possibility of absolute truth being an unchanging value upon which society, families or individuals can base their lives.
The fruits of this popular concept are evident in the assumed subjective freedom of our western culture.  Yet in many ways the attempted denial of truth and values has not brought freedom but a culture where anxiety, fear, strife, discord are pandemic.

But when relativism is rejected it results, very often, in very real issues, knowledge, people, being rejected as well.  While the words "reject the sin, not the sinner" are glibly said it is a practice rarely seen. 

Discussions seeking to bring the Gospel, the message and place of the Church into a relative place for those alienated are often quickly dismissed as being an embrace of the evils of relativism.  As a result many in the Church fail to understand or care when the teachings, the message, worship or liturgy steeped in traditions of years gone by not only alienates but turns people away.  It also tends to fuel rejection when morals and values are arbitrarily chosen.  Two men kissing is seen as a serious offense by many who would then embrace  greed or the quick use of guns and violence.  If anything it is often seen to be a badge of heroic faith and virtue of NOT to giving way to the evil of the times.

As a result many souls are floundering in the wake of these two conflicting courses.  Many families, many people are finding their relationships with each other and with God being torn apart by these two perceptions.  Can there be an alternative?

In the Gospel Jesus frequently was caught between the forces of this ancient conflict.  In the temptation in the wilderness Christ Himself wrestled with Satan, evil and interpretation when, repeatedly the enemy challenged doesn't it say?????  God will give his angels to watch over you???
Later Jesus would face the conflicts of divorce, adultery, judgment of others, greed.  Yet as Christ responded He gave the Church, His followers a better way.  He brings us to realize it is about much more than just intellectual moral absolutes, traditions and teachings.   It is about much more than one religious group's interpretations of Scripture or moral values.  It IS about NOT being relativistic, one way or the other but about relating.  Jesus made clear He is the way the TRUTH and the life.  He makes clear that we all are invited to GROW in our relationship, with Him, with the TRUTH and that HE, the Truth will lead us into freedom of spirit and soul.  And lest we rush to presume we, only, have and know this way and truth HE makes clear he is the shepherd of many diverse flocks.  Christ also made clear, we do not have all the answers.  The  Church has often rushed to the role of Guardians of Truth while forgetting God has given us the Holy Spirit to LEAD us into the truth.  The understanding of the church and world, centuries ago, was very concrete about the world being flat....until the eternal journey of truth was remembered.  (John 14:1-12, John 8;32, 38 & 10:16, John 16)
Christ was not focused on philosophical applications and labyrinths as He related to people.  He accepted souls, where they were and from there, led and leads the willing into the truth, the embrace of His arms that sets us free.  An embrace profoundly needed, relevant and true.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lent ~ Discoveries of Prayer

Second Sunday of Lent
16 March 2014
Homily ~ Cyber Version

Lent ~ Discoveries of Prayer

How many of us, during the day or before coming into the church checked to see if there was any emails or text messages that perhaps we were expecting?   We are a people who have come to expect others to be messaging us, in some shape or form.

Now, how many of us, during the week, or perhaps coming to Mass, walking into the church expect to hear from God?  Maybe we think God is too busy.   Maybe we think God has no need or great desire to speak to me.  Or perhaps we are afraid of what God may ask or speak about.  Are we afraid of those discoveries to be made in prayer.

God does long to speak to our hearts and lives.   Christ, present in the readings of Scripture this day clearly expresses accounts and examples of how, this powerful season of Lent, we can grow in discoveries of prayer, of God, of ourselves.

Prayer ~ Talking to God: 
For many we understand prayer as “saying our prayers”, i.e., talking to God.  With faith and blessing we say the rosary, the Our Father, or the Stations of the Cross.  We tell God of our needs and hopefully our thanksgivings.  In our    Gospel reading we see Peter, James and John taken by our Lord, to the Mount of Transfiguration.  There Peter seems to understand this is a time and place for prayer.  And he starts talking, a lot.  Our Heavenly Father, hearing Peter’s chatter, interrupts.   This brings us to ask..does God need to interrupt our prayers to get a word in edgewise?  It shows us what we miss by failing to listen, by not watching...Him.  How often do we come to a moment, time or place of prayer, rattle off what our intentions are and then rush on without really looking to God or hearing a reply?

Prayer ~ Watching & Listening:  We are, as disciples of Christ are called to follow Him.  To watch and listen, to His way, His Will,  His purposes.  We see this relationship illustrated in the roles acted out in such dramas as Downtown Abbey.  The footmen, the butler, ladies maids are all and always attentive to their masters.  They tend to their tasks often with no verbal direction from their lord and his household.   They watch and they listen.   Sadly in our prayer life we miss this grace, profoundly and often tragically.
In our Old Testament reading we witness God speaking to Abram, telling him to follow His guidance to the promised land.  In that era of primitive faith Abram knew how, knew and listen for God.  Times have changed. God has not.  As it was in Abram’s day, as it was that day on the Mount of Transfiguration, God yearns for our attention.  And it is in that faith, the listening in the silence that we learn to hear God speaking, in the Scriptures, in creation, in and through the fullness of His Eucharistic Body and His Body of we we are.

Prayer ~ Responding to God: 
It is as we seek to watch and listen, as we share our hearts  of hope or wounds that Jesus calls us to respond to Him.   God the Father, speaking in the cloud clearly spoke to the disciples, “Listen To Him”. The first words Jesus spoke after that command were simple and clear:  “Rise and do not be afraid”.  As God called the early disciples to rise from their fears, as God called Abram to rise from his earthly securities so God calls each of us, to rise, from our fears and follow Him to discover the promises of His Kingdom,  this season of Lent and for all eternity.
It is in our watching and listening that the response of our lives becomes the real Amen.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Discovery, Design, Destiny

Cyber-version of homily for Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
19 January 2014

Mass Readings 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time:


Have you ever thought you knew someone and then discovered there was far more there 
than you may have first thought.  Or, perhaps even more important, have you ever thought you knew, you understood yourself?  And then  (with either delight or dismay, you discovered, again, there was far more “you” than you had realized?

Our Bible readings, this start of Ordinary Time, all share insights and experiences where this process of discovery is taking place.  And it is in the ordinary, not just the extra-ordinary times and places of life these discoveries occur.   We can learn that we all are created for this very journey of life.  It is a journey of DISCOVERY as we learn we each are DESIGNED by our Creator-Savior for a DESTINY of God’s will and purpose.

This discovery process is illustrated in our Old Testament reading and the Gospel.  In the book of Isaiah we observe the prophet, as he listens to God in his heart, discovers that he was planned by God.  Even in his mother’s womb God well knew the hopes, paths and destiny for which this human soul was made.  Isaiah is not an exception.  Careful listening to God and hearing of His word will show that each soul is designed by God for a life of fulfillment, blessing and yes, trials.  Isaiah reminds us that as we pray the refrain from our Psalm, “Here I am Lord; I come to do your will” that we discover that with God nothing in our life is wasted or that we are a mistake in His eyes.  We discover that our own very distinct heart is called to love God, and others, as no other soul can.

It is in our Gospel we see the process of discovery as John the Baptist, in obedience baptizing Jesus, grows in his discovery of who is this Christ.  John the Baptist had “known” Jesus at least to some degree.  From the pre-natal encounter when Mary came to Elizabeth after the Annunciation, to probable encounters at the large family gatherings John and Jesus must have known each other to some degree even as cousins.  But it would not be until that destined day in the river Jordan that John truly discovered whom his cousin truly is, and, in that process discover and understand his own design, his own destiny more clearly.

Both of these events help us understand the message of St. Paul  we read in his letter to the Corinthian faithful, to all the faithful.  He writes, how, by the will of God, we have been sanctified, that is set apart IN Christ Jesus, called to be holy.  Christians these many years later are often tempted to place this sanctification to some time after death, to those saints with which we pray.  But Paul is writing, not in a future tense nor to a group of people known for their apparent sanctity.  The faithful in the city of Corinth were, a flock fraught with human failure, ignorance, failing and sin.  Although they faithfully loved their Savior and God they were deeply flawed.   But that did not diminish or negate their design or destiny IN CHRIST.  St Paul (himself profoundly human) was very clear they were set apart, designed by and  for God there in the midst of their very human ordinary lives.  They were created to proclaim, by lives of the forgiven and mercy-filled, the exquisite beauty of holiness found in Christ and His Kingdom.  

It is in that same letter Paul wrote ( I Corinthians 13) , it is in the life of the prophet Isaiah and in John the Baptist we Discover another aspect of our Destiny for which we are Designed.  We are created, redeemed, set apart, to discover and share the boundless power and beauty of love. 

As we begin another year, as we enter into the ordinary times of life may we journey with the hope and anticipation that regardless of what may lie ahead, that in Christ we may Discover our Design and grow in the Destiny of His holy love.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Leper

Cosimo Rosselli The Healing of the Leper (detail, Cappella Sistina, Vatican, 1481-82

The Leper
Lk. 5:12-16

Known only as the ‘the leper’,
outcast within the town.

With eyes from his marred face,
he watched all those around.

He saw the men at work,
strong, with muscles bold.

He saw the mothers back holding,
their children, with stares so cold.

He saw the friends, the lovers,
their smiles, their warm embrace,

and watching them to touch,
made within his heart to ache.

Known only as the leper,
outcast within the town,

touched only by the scorn,
where fear and hate abound,

his leper’s wealth abundant,
his lonely tears surround.

Until the day He came.
Jesus was in the town.

And when his eyes did see Him,
from his face marred and scared,

he fell, the hated leper,
before Him,  to hope, he dared.

Faith’s desperate plea escaped him,
for cleansing did he make.

At least, for words, of mercy
within his heart to place.

Amazed saw he then,
Love’s hand for him to reach...

Amazed. then in awe,
His touch, His cleansing, His peace.

Then within his heart
the words he longed to hear,

I will, be clean, and go.
 Love’s healing touch to show.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Persevering Prayer

Bible Readings for Mass 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time:  { Ex. 17:8-13; Ps. 121:1-8;
II Tim. 3:14-4:2; Lk. 18:1-8
Mass Readings

 Homily 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time  ~ 20 October 2013

Persevering Prayer

Power.   The struggles for power have flooded the news.  Whether we look to the politicians in Washington, striking workers and management, or even within families and relationships, these struggle are seen.   The grasping for power is seen as essential if we are to live with the intent of being in charge, being in control.  Our culture is obsessed with this struggle.  IF we stay in touch (especially through the pretense  of electronic media),  IF we keep on top of the information and knowledge we need..then we will have the power, we will be in charge of our lives.  
Sadly this  struggle for power is pursued on the shifting, sandy myths of the world.   Sadly our pursuit of power often neglects the most power-filled practice provided to humanity.
Our Bible readings speak directly to this struggle  as God calls us to …..prayer,  more specifically, 

Persevering Prayer.

Persevere in Prayer through Conflict:   Our shared story of Moses in the Old Testament today clearly illustrates this reality.  God had called the Israelites to the Promised Land.  Then, as now, Satan's intent was to deter and to rob God's faithful from that promise.  This battle is at the heart of the challenges of prayer.  WHY is it so difficult?   Why  is it so hard to to come to Mass and then to truly enter into the prayer as opposed to just warming a pew?  Why is it so hard to go to Adoration?  Pray the Rosary?  Pray the Stations of the Cross?  Or to, in the most simple sense…to pray with perseverance?  As Moses and the Israelites encountered, seeking the Kingdom of God is a battle.   St. Paul, millennia later, would remind us : "we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual; wickedness in high places".  Persevering prayer is a call to battle.  But it is only through the battle we come to victory.  As Winston Churchill once said: " if you are going  through hell, keep going".   We must not stop praying.  We must allow God to send us His help of His Spirit, His angels and saints that we may persevere.

Persevere in Prayer through the Weariness.  Our wine country is very popular for racing.  Walking, running, bicycling all are disciplines popularly pursued through the hills and valleys of our land.  The winners, those completing their race, must persevere.    Why is this concept so difficult for those seeking God in prayer?    Truth be told,  prayer is often wearisome.  It is, especially when real prayer is being done, WORK.   This is complicated by the extra stuff we bring with us in prayer.  We love ours distractions.  The cyber-electronic  obsession of many has not neglected prayer.  A quick Google of "prayer Apps"  brought….44,500,000 Apps in less than 20 seconds.  Now some are possibly helpful.  But are any of them necessary?   Going back to the racers we see on our roadways, what would we think if we saw someone in a race carrying loads of baggage?  We would think they are not to keen to finish the win.  Yet how often do we come to a time of prayer burdened with trinkets and stuff in hand and soul, that distract us from the goal of persevering in prayer.  The extra baggage only hastens the weariness that can deter us from completing the race.  Let us allow the Holy Spirit to lift from our hearts and hands anything that hinders us in our prayers.

Persevere to God.  Jesus in the Gospel spoke of the woman who was frankly pestering the unjust judge until he responded to her plea.  He closes the parable with a question.  When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?    When Christ comes in glory, or, when Christ calls us to the ultimate realization that we are not in control, and calls us home will He find faith in our hearts?   God is not seeking a scoreboard of success.  God is looking to see who prays the most rosaries or attends Mass most often.  God is not looking to see how much Bible we have read or memorized.  Those are all very good things to do.  But we must remember...God is looking for …you.  If we come to Him wounded, weary, scarred from conflict He will embrace us with His healing, cleansing grace.  If we come having foolishly followed the prodigal, He will again hear and help us return to His feast.  If only we could see it isn't about power or control.  It isn't about the conflict or our weariness.  It is about the majestic joy and love as we enter into His Presence. 

And though we realize it so late we understand that in persevering into His Presence we enter the most powerful and peaceful place in Heaven and earth.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Repentance ~ A Verb of Life

[A cyber-version of my homily for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time]

Repentance  ~ A Verb of Life

In our society today there is an intense obsession for placing blame.  From politics to health care, from our relationships and even the practicing of faith the desire to point fingers of blame dictate behavior, policy and life itself.  While it is important to understand the causes of issues and problems that understanding is not helped or developed when our conclusions are infected with this pervasive virus of the soul.  To embrace the fervor for blame, while popular, is not an embrace from God.  To foster blame is to foster judgment and condemnation.    To find blame is powerfully contrasted in our Bible readings this 24the Sunday of Ordinary Time.  Our readings share another verb but it is a verb of life, the choice of repentance.

It is unfortunate that when the word  repentance is shared many people will quickly sense a strong resistance and aversion to the concept.  Repentance has a conflicted and, at times, unpleasant reputation.  Straight away let us establish what repentance is not.  Repentance is not the harsh penances practiced (often with great pride) by individuals and groups throughout the church throughout the ages.  Self-inflicted beatings, cruel depravations of self and others of care, food and solace is, again not repentance.  Nor is repentance just about sin.  Say the word and many (Christians and unbelievers) will automatically focus upon a vast array of sins of which repentance may be needed.  Strangely, though the focus often stays on the sins or the sinner.  That is not repentance.  Nor is repentance the avoidance of what some may judge to be sin (food, music, people) or the practice of perceptions of holiness, (spiritual postures and practices and appearances).  Then what is repentance?

To understand real, healthy repentance we do well to go to the roots of the word.  The word repentance is from Old French and Latin.  Repentance is  a verb of life it is simply is an intensive action of regret and being sorry.  It is a realization of a wrong course of life or action and a real (intensive)  change of heart and direction.   God would call us all to be a people of  repentance, a people of life.  Our Bible readings help us understand what that means.  We are also profoundly blessed on this September 15th (our Vigil Mass for tomorrow) to be celebrating the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross; for it is at the Cross we discover the majestic truth, the joy and power,  we find the Place, the Practice and The Person of repentance.  

The Place of Repentance is discovered as we journey on our way of the Cross.   Through the course of our life we each will face times of failure, not just in doing that which is harmful but in not doing what brings us life.  It is in our places of  struggle, heartache or woundedness that we can (if we resist the temptation to just blame) chose to enter into the path of repentance.  It may be a profound realization that we are headed in a wrong direction and we must quickly get off the off ramp and turn around, or it may be a simple adjustment of attitude and vision.  It is a paradox of faith that the power of life bringing repentance is found at a place known for death, the place of the Cross.  Yet countless believers, starting with the repentant thief on the cross next to Jesus discovered that even when circumstances have us confined the place of repentance, the Cross is a place of freedom, healing and life.  For the Prodigal Son the Place of Repentance, started at the pig sty of personal poverty and worth.  But it encompassed a journey of intense, practiced steps…home.

The Place of Repentance teaches us, daily, the Practice of Repentance. There is profound power and joy that comes when one not only say but BE sorry.  Perhaps those seeds of sorrow for sin or failure may seem very small but when planted in faith and nurtured in humble love they can grow to lives of great beauty and strength.  This practice, as we have seen, isn't just about saying set prayers.  It isn't about the condemnation of self.  It is about the turning away from destructive practices, words, longings,  to those that bring life, discovery and hope.  A good measure of the strength of our repentance is the growth of peace, the realization of God's love and the sense of the joy of Heaven shared by the angels when a sinner repents. The practice of real repentance will bring a growing dawning of the Light of God's mercy as we turn our backs on whatever practices or places of darkness we may have known.  It is as we journey the places of repentance, growing in a faith-filled true practice,  that we come to discover that real repentance is about a Person.   The Prodigal in our Gospel had a long and arduous journey home, although his weak faith may have brought fears it was deep inside he longed to return home to his father. 

Real Repentance brings us to the Cross, it is there that our practices are freed from those things that cripple and deter us in our journey.  It is at the Cross we are freed to start practicing our lives for which we are created. And, it is at the Cross we discover we are destined to know the  Person, Jesus Christ and the  loving embrace of God.  Repentance is most clearly about a person discovering the forgiveness, mercy and love  God has for us.  The Prodigal son was fearful and humbly planned on living in his father's estate as a servant.  Little did he realize for how long his father had been waiting, searching the horizon for his son's return.    From the place of repentance and the faithful practices we then encounter and discover, as did the thief on the cross the embracing words of mercy of the Savior…"Today, you will be with in Paradise".  We would do well to leave our focus upon sins and sinners and focus on the scene as Jesus brought the fallen, yet repentant thief into the loving embrace of our Heavenly Father.  

God calls us to be a people of repentance.  He calls to turn away from blaming, fear, hate and judgement.  He calls us away from sin.  He calls us each to realize we are all prodigals and that our Heavenly Father longs for us.  He calls us to a life of Heavenly joy as we share in our deeds and words the practices of real repentance.  He calls us to both know and share the mercy-filled embrace of the Savior as He brings us to our Heavenly Father.  True repentance is, simply realizing God, in love is calling us.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Religion & War

Mt. 5:9  "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. "

The United States is possibly once again on the threshold of another war, this even as the longest war in our history continues on.  As a Catholic, Christian, and clergy I hear and read of many who fault all things religious and love to claim that religion is the cause of war.

YES! there have been wars and conflicts, violence and evils done in the name of any religion a person may examine, none would be exempt.  But to say religion is the cause of war expresses profound ignorance of the history of war in the world.  Even those conflicts said to be "religious", if looked at honestly, show that religion is often used as an excuse for...politics and greed.    This claim faulting religion as the cause of war ignores the role of peace, healing and mercy exercised by diverse religions in conflicts over the ages.  The actual percentage of true wars of religion is quite small.  Wars where religion is used by sides is higher.

So, what are some real causes of war?

~ Politics, power struggles among people and leaders.
~ Resources, Oil, food, water, slaves are commodities for which people have gone to war.
~ Greed.  Oil fields, watersheds, fertile lands and commercial crossroads have long been places sought, coveted and killed for, sadly sometimes in the name of religion.
~ Ignorance fueling fear.  People have long been manipulated to violence by leaders capitalizing on ignorance to fuel fear.
~ Loss of awareness of the sacredness of all life.  Hearts in conflict can lead to communities and lands in conflict.  Life no longer recognized as sacred is very easy to destroy and use for others greed.
~ Misplaced faith.  We all believe.  Some believe 'might makes right'.  Some believe that their faith equals their politics.  Some believe in themselves.  And some believe in God,  in many diverse ways.

There will be those who say that war is inevitable.   There will be those who say that waging peace is cowardly.  It takes great courage to be a peace maker.  It takes faith in something, Someone, greater than ourselves to pray for peace.   Prayer and making peace is hard work.   But it is blessed by God.
Pope Francis has asked that we Catholics, and anyone wanting peace to pray for peace in Syria and the Mid East.  May we turn to the Prince of Peace and follow in courage & love.

James 4:
1.  What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members?
2. You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. 
3. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 

3:18: And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.