Sunday, July 27, 2014

Pearl of great price

A prayer based on the Mass readings
for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
[1 Kings 3:5, 7-12; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-52]

Lord my God,
Grant me a heart
full of wisdom
and understanding
so that I may
as you see,
treasure your treasure,
and then joyfully
share that vision,
that treasure,
with the world.


                                                                                --Br. Francis Wagner, O.S.B.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gradual formation

Trust in the slow work of God.
We are, quite naturally,
impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip
the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability.
And that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually.
Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don't try to force them on
as though you could be today
what time will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say
what this new spirit
gradually forming
within you will be.

Give the Lord
the benefit of believing
that God's hand will lead you.
And accept the anxiety
of feeling yourself
in suspense
and incomplete.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

When storms arise ...

Be strong and steadfast!
Do not fear
nor be dismayed,
for the Lord,
your God,
is with you
wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9

Friday, July 11, 2014

St. Benedict, pray for us

"Prefer nothing to the love of Christ."
Rule of St. Benedict, father of monks

I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

-- Ephesians 3:14-19

Sunday, July 6, 2014

"I can do all things...

... through him who strengthens me."
Philippians 4:13
You cannot do it alone. Whatever it is—a relentless addiction or compulsion, an inordinate attachment or desire for something or someone, a difficult or frustrating situation or relationship, etc., etc.—you absolutely, positively, cannot overcome or work your way through it by your own power. It’s utterly impossible.
With God, however, all things are possible (cf. Luke 18:27).

Today’s Mass readings (Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30) tell us how; and a line from the second reading, in particular, holds the key. St. Paul writes: “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). That, in a nutshell, is the Trinitarian formula, as it were, for redemption and a genuine relationship with the God who saves us. Through Christ—fully human, fully divine—God the Father confers upon us the life-giving Holy Spirit, the very breath of life.

After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and gave them new life, the Gospel of John tells us: “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:22). At that point, the fearful, uncertain disciples became equipped to do God’s work with wisdom and courage. This is an act of creation, or re-creation, just as “the mighty wind sweeping over the waters” of Genesis 1:2 tells of God’s spirit or breath (ruah in Hebrew) bringing life to what had been a dark, formless void. God’s Spirit promises and gives life to all who receive and nurture it with faith.

This is what St. Paul is telling us in today’s second reading—that the Spirit of God, the very breath of life (cf. Genesis 2:7) overcomes the death-dealing desires of the flesh. By “flesh,” he does not mean simply “the body.” Our bodies and all that comes with them are good—we were created by God in God’s image, after all. By “flesh,” St. Paul means all those inordinate attachments and desires which we typically direct away—rather than toward—the God who gives us all things for our good. Living according to the flesh, as Paul puts it, means being slaves of our misdirected desires. Only the Spirit of God can put such desires to death, breathing new life into them and re-orienting them toward their origin and end—the One and Triune God.

As Scripture scholar Diane Bergant, C.S.A., says in her commentary The Word for Every Season, “The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is the same Spirit who dwells in us, enabling us to live transformed lives. [Today’s] readings portray Jesus as a kind of intermediary between us and both the Father and the Spirit. He reveals his Father to us, and he shares his Spirit with us.”

And what kind of Spirit is this? How does God respond to our fickleness, our tendency to choose creation/creatures over Creator, and our prideful, greedy, selfish, often violent ways? “Your king shall come to you,” the prophet Zechariah foretold, as “a just savior, meek, and riding on an ass … he shall proclaim peace.” As today’s Psalm (145) recounts: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The Lord is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.”

This is the Spirit our Merciful God offers to us through Jesus, who says to us in today’s Gospel: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest … Learn from me, for I am meek [read: gentle] and humble of heart.” The God who created us, who gives us the freedom to choose but nonetheless longs for us to choose Him above all, the God who knows us through and through (with all our failures, contradictions, and misdirected desires) treats us with gentleness, humility, graciousness, mercy, kindness, and compassion. The God of all things bows before his wayward creatures to lift them up on his shoulders, and says: “My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27).

This is the only way we can put to death the desires of our flesh—addictions, compulsions, inordinate attachments or desires, trying situations or relationships—and be transformed into who God has called us to be. We must allow God to save us, to pick us up. We can’t do it alone, no matter how hard we try. We must place our trust in God, and allow the Spirit to take hold of us, to breathe new life into us, to give us peace.

And if you are simply unable or unready to do that right now, the good news is that desiring it is enough. It is enough to simply desire what God has to offer. And if you can’t yet desire it, simply ask God to give you the desire. He will—in God’s own time and circumstances, I promise. Give him an inch, and God will not only take a mile, but go the extra mile with you, whispering gently, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Friday, July 4, 2014

Lucky Lou

Seventy-five years ago today -- July 4, 1939 -- New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig made his "luckiest man on the face of the earth" remarks in emotionally charged fashion. The Iron Horse, as he was called, died less than two years later at age 37 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), now known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

To say Gehrig was a great baseball player is an understatement. He finished his career with a batting average of .340 and 493 home runs. He was an All-Star seven times, and helped the Yankees win six World Series titles. He was the first Major League Baseball player to have his uniform number retired. Over a period of 14 years, he played in 2,130 consecutive games, a record which stood until 1995, when Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr., broke it.

But Gehrig was also a model of humility, perseverance, and graciousness--qualities we can all aspire toward. I've never been a Yankee fan (and never will be!), but Lou Gehrig's story is one of the reasons I love the game of baseball, and why I think it is a unique showcase of--among other things--endurance, community, and redemption--especially in the face of heart-breaking loss.

Above is a short clip looking back at that day in 1939. Below is the entire text of his speech:
Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day?
Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy?
Sure, I’m lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice-versa, sends you a gift -- that's something. When everybody, down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats, remember you with trophies – that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.
So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.