Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

"And he lifted up his eyes..."

20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples and said: "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil on account of the Son of man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. 24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets." Luke 6: 20-26.

Here is Hungarian Aurel Naray's (1883-1948) painting of The Sermon on the Mount. It is a cloudy day. Clouds in the bible always signify God's presence. Jesus is delivering a divine teaching. The little crowd appears to be listening carefully. We seem to be standing on the edge of the group, in the foreground, looking upwards. Ah, that placement suggests I have a choice—I can join the group of learners, ascending spiritually to Jesus' instruction, or not.

Notice there is a little child with his/her back to us. Maybe the little one is me/you. We are all beginners. No matter how long ago we were baptized, we're all little wannabes. I suggested this years ago in a Sunday sermon at the end of Lent, when the catechumens are preparing for baptism. I said, "We are all catechumens." A woman got me at the door, disagreeably indigent at the suggestion.. And I thought, "What a boring Christianity she must live, trying to maintain her high spiritual plateau—her business as usual Christianity. 
But then there is Judas to the right of the foreground. Poor fellow, he is staring down at the ground, perhaps in shame or contemplating the complicated connections he has to make in the future. St. Philip Neri prayed each morning, "Be careful of me today, Lord Jesus, I may betray you." Honest saint. 

Under the painting we see St. Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount. It's very different from St. Matthew's version. Matthew leaves us a back door, a way out. "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Those two words, "in spirit" leaves things amorphous. Remember Tina Turner's 1971, Rollin on the River? (Proud Mary). She begins, "Let's take it from the beginning, nice and easy." Americans love easy—the easy listening radio channel, recipes that are easy, gadgets and chemicals that make housework easy, fabrics that are easy-care. Well, there's nothing easy about the teaching of St. Luke's Jesus: "Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep...and woe to you who are rich, who are full now, who laugh now, who are well-respected."

Jesus has a different world view—God's worldview. It is an inversion of the greedy, planet ravishing culture we live in—the culture, the nation that can't stop professing its greatness. I opened up a dumpster the other day to get rid of a bag of kitchen garbage and found on top of the trash-mountain two antique brass fireplace andirons and a half dozen brand new kitchen rugs. Only in a country of super abundance ("You who are rich) do people throw away things like this.

Reading St. Luke's version of the Beatitudes—we could say, "Oh yes, God DOES have favorites. God favors the poor, the hungry, the ones who weep—trapped in crushing poverty." Some people have no idea (and don't want to know) of the world's deepest poverty—some of which is in our own nation. We just keep consuming and polluting. Coming back up the center church aisle, after saying good-bye to the folks at the door, a man (who had been waiting for me) stepped out into the aisle, blocking my way. He said, "I am so tired of hearing about them." "Who's them?" I asked. "The poor," he said. "But I didn't even mention the poor in the homily today. My text is on the pulpit; let's go look and you can show me precisely what's bothered you." Talk about an angry and raw place. Why aren't we familiar with Luke's version of the Beatitudes? 

I'd suggest that as important as charity is—that we have some special cause(s) to which we send money—St. Luke's Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount require the privileged Christian disciple to have a complete change of mind. "But we have the mind of Christ," St. Paul says, 1 Corinthians 2:16. It is change-of-mind-religion that leaves people uncomfortable. 

"Woe" is a very serious and strong word and Jesus knows what he's saying. To be perfectly honest, there have been times when I have been tempted to despair of Christianity: I don't often meet Christ-followers, Christ-professors, who allow Jesus to change their minds. Or, I am stupefied that their mind-changing is in a confounding, even horrifying direction. They allow themselves to be "fed" by persons other than Christ. They don't see themselves or hear themselves.

I can only imagine what Pope Francis experiences—whose enemies are more likely to be found within the Church than outside. And among them, sometimes there are priests.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Intercessions ~ Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mother of God Interceding ~ St. Basil's ~ Moscow

Asking for gifts of healing,/ comfort and strength,/ we pray for Pope Emeritus Benedict who is ill after his return from Bavaria/ where he visited his dying brother./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask for new hearts where people are indifferent,/ dismissive/ or willfully ignorant of the seriousness of the Coronavirus pandemic./ We pray to the Lord.

For the President of the United States/ and those who seek public office./ For the leaders of nations/ to shun tribalism,/ the purveying of fear and hate,/ the blaming of others/ and the creation of enemies./ May they be clean of heart./ We pray to the Lord.

May our nation be healed of racial hatred,/ anti-semitism,/ religious bigotry,/ entitlement and arrogant— pride./ Grant spiritual gifts to bishops and clergy,/ to be empowered  in creating and advancing reconciliation and peace./ We pray to the Lord.

For those whose grief is raw,/ who mourn the loss of loved ones,/ who suffer through disasters and wars,/ who are unemployed./ We pray for those who are being evicted for their inability to pay rents during the Coronavirus./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for our families,/ friends,/ neighbors,/ fellow parishioners and colleagues,/ who are feeling stressed these days or who are in any danger./ Strengthen the sick,/ and us/ where we feel anxious,/ impatient,/ frustrated or despairing./ We pray to the Lord.

And let us pray for the people of Lebanon/ where a tremendous explosion destroyed much of Beirut,/ killing dozens and injuring many thousands./ Grant healing,/ comforting and international help./ We pray to the Lord. 


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Crucified Between Two Thieves

The Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung (1875-1961) wrote, "Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside awakes." That sounds like something Jesus might have said. But what could it mean? Perhaps, to discover (awaken to) my true self, I need to go inside my heart. If I live only in the outside, surface-world, it's like dreaming. Dreaming someone else's idea of how to live my own unique life: what the culture says, what the "authorities" say, what the radio talk-show guy says, what the preacher says, even what the spouse says. Some people never make their own life; they never ask, "What do I really believe?"

For maybe the hundredth time, someone recently asked me the names of the two thieves who died to Jesus' left and right. Is that a real spiritual/religious question? One Armenian tradition says their names were Dismas and Gestas. But you know what? So what! That's a pious distraction. The question is asked, the official answer is given, and the inquirer goes off feeling somehow better. But that kind of religious inquiry (What was the name of the Samaritan woman at the well? What were the names of the three kings? What was the name of the Prodigal Son? Did the groom at the wedding at Cana leave his new wife after the wedding to become a monk? Was there really a Bethlehem star?) keeps us feeling safe in outside religion. One can spend an entire religious lifetime and never leave the shoals. So, am I curious about the names of the two thieves? By all means — but name them personally, in such a way that the names take me inside, into my heart, where their naming can help me to grow and evolve?

I would suggest, even before we hear them speak from the gospel page, the Calvary thieves have something to tell or ask us. Fulton Ousler (1893-1965) was an American editor, writer and journalist. He must have had the gospel account in mind when he said, "Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves — regret for the past and fear of the future." 

Regret and Fear are real thieves, robbing us of energy and the possibility for personal insight. They steal away our attention and focus. They deny us real and full life. They leave us depressed and useless. 

Not a few people still fret over the mistakes of long ago. They don't trust the words of absolution spoken over them. They effectively don't trust the crucifix — as if the blood-mercies of Christ are for everyone else. They can't see or accept how God might use the sad tales and poor choices  of the past to a good end. They stay outside, dreaming a nightmare of being lost eternally, because someone else has deemed or threatened it.

The other life-stealing thief is fear. We're an anxious culture. Name it.  Fear is that thief which leaves us enervated, suspicious, sleepless, irritable and perhaps addicted. We can't trust that the God who has had a hand on us from the very start, who watches over us maternally, who has even perhaps staved off death and the worst possibilities, will just as surely see us through into tomorrow. 

"Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves — regret for the past and fear of the future."  What about it? Seriously address the question takes me to an entirely new religious/spiritual place.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Intercessions ~Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We pray for the thirteen Felician Sisters who died of the covid virus this month at their Detroit Motherhouse./ We pray for their religious family who are overwhelmed with sadness./ Grant peace and healing to all who mourn the loss of loved ones during these long months of sickness./ We pray to the Lord.

With grateful hearts,/ we pray for scientists,/ researchers,/ lab technicians,/ doctors,/ nurses and all who staff hospitals./ May they be kept safe and well in their important and helpful work./ We pray to the Lord.

At the start of August,/ we pray for those who celebrate birthdays,/ anniversaries and other days of remembrance./ For our families and friends/ and for any who are suffering loneliness or stress these days./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday is the Feast of St. John Vianney,/ the patron saint of parish priests./ We ask for the renewal of priests,/ for priests who are troubled/ whose morale is low,/ who are sick,/ or whose inner life is un-evolved./ We pray to the Lord.

Thursday is the Feast of the Transfiguration:/ Jesus in a blaze of light,/ anticipating the Resurrection./ It is also the day of remembering the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima,/ and days later,/ the dropping of another weapon on Nagasaki,/ claiming the lies of upwards of 70,000 children alone./ We pray to know and embrace a new way of living peacefully on this earth./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the President of the United States,/ our Congress and all who are in positions of authority around the world/ May they elevate the people they serve,/ being freed themselves,/ of blaming,/ name-calling,/ lies,/ self aggrandizement,/ power-quest,/ material profit and vanity./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask blessings for those who humbly strive for self-awareness/ and do inner battle with hatred,/ racism,/ suspicion,/blaming,/ fear,/ meanness,/ bitterness and cynicism./ We pray to the Lord.