31 Mar

The Prodigal Son

This posture of the prodigal son in prayer, from John Macallan Swan's 1888 painting, is one no person should be ashamed to make.  It is a posture of authenticity.  The boy is in "dire need" (Lk 14:14). He has hit 'rock bottom.'  Does he suppress his agony?  No.  He admits his life has become unmanageable and enters into the depths of the abyss.  He bundles his darkness, shame, and uncertainty into a little gift the outline of his fists, and lifts that gift to God.  He cannot see it, as he raises his meagre offering in trusting torment, but the Father delights.  A heavenly light shines on the prodigal son's exposed back.  In the desolate, early spring landscape, flowers have bloomed.  There is beauty in the vulnerability.

The prodigal son "comes to his senses." He makes the decision, in the words of the Third Step, "to turn his will and his life over to the care of God."  He does not know how his story will end, but he trusts God.  There is no greater experience of love than remaining with the Father in pain.  This sets him on the path to awakening—to resurrection.  He will journey home.

It was only because the prodigal son entered into the fullness of pain in prayer that he could be healed.  We might not have 'watershed moments' on the level of the prodigal son or a recovering alcoholic, but there are experiences of darkness we all face.  The choice is to suppress the situation or embrace it.  When we embrace it, we turn it over to God.  He will accept our gift.  What exactly he will choose to do with it and make of it, we are not sure.  It turned out well in the prodigal son's case.

 

31 Mar

Secrets of the Interior Life

Dear Parishioners,

In his classic spiritual text from the middle of the 20th Century, Secrets of the Interior Life, Archbishop Luis Martinez refers to "the Divine Paradox."  To reach God, we have to lower ourselves.  To ascend, we have to descend.  He writes,

It seems to me that God in His own way feels the dizziness of the abyss: our miserableness, when it is acknowledged and accepted by us, exerts an irresistible attraction on Him. What, save misery alone, can attract mercy? What, save emptiness, can appeal to plenitude? Whither shall the infinite ocean of Goodness pour itself except into the immense abyss of our nothingness?
25 Mar

The Feast of the Annunciation

The Feast of the Annunciation

The feast of the Annunciation marks the visit of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, during which he told her that she would be the mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is celebrated on 25 March each year.

More importantly, since it occurs 9 months before the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day, the Annunciation marks the actual incarnation of Jesus Christ - the moment that Jesus was conceived and that the Son of God became the son of the Virgin.

The festival has been celebrated since the 5th century AD.

The festival celebrates two things:

  • God's action in entering the human world as Jesus in order to save humanity
  • Humanity's willing acceptance of God's action in Mary's freely given acceptance of the task of being the Mother of God

The Annunciation and the Liturgy

The story of the Annunciation has produced three important liturgical texts, the Ave Maria, the Angelus, and the Magnificat.

  • The angel's greeting to Mary, which is traditionally translated as "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee," (in Latin Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum) is the opening of the Ave Maria, and a part of the Rosary prayers.
  • The Angelus consists of three Ave Marias, together with some additional material. It is said three times a day in the Roman Catholic Church.
  • The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) is the poem with which Mary responds to the Annunciation and celebrates the power of God.

Mary, a woman who makes a free choice to accept God's task for her - a task she could have refused. Mary's accepts of the role of servant - the handmaid of the Lord. An example of the disciples. They see Mary, through her act of faith, exercising her right to believe what she wants and to cooperate with God in his plan of salvation - a plan that he cannot carry out without her.

In the Magnificat, Mary becomes the herald of Salvation, and takes Christianity into the spheres of politics and justice as the first spokesperson for the marginalised people who were the focus of Jesus, and are now the focus of Christians and the Church.

 

The story is told in Luke's Gospel, 1: 26-38.

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary.

The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you."

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God."

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

Luke 1:26-38, NIV Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society

 

 

24 Mar

God is Fire

Dear Parishioners,

I'm like a Neanderthal when it comes to fire.  I'm mesmerized by it.  Now, I'm not saying I'm a pyromaniac.  All you firefighters in the parish, don't give me the evil eye when you next see me.  I'm just saying there is something so primeval and fascinating to me about a burning fire.  Am I that crazy? I'm sure you all enjoy sitting in front of and staring at a fire in your fireplace.  I know the Boy Scouts enjoy making fires--they did so at their Webelos Crossover Event (when Cub Scouts enter Boy Scouts) last week. 

I don't think I'm in horrible company with this fascination with fire.  Moses liked it too. See the burning bush from the first reading (cf. Exodus 3).  This theophany ('appearance of God') had to be incredibly fascinating. Not only is God fire, which is intriguing in itself, he is fire that does not consume. 

This is more than just a fake fireplace (I hate fake fireplaces by the way...I want to build my own fire!).  This is something 'remarkable', as Moses himself commented. 

God is fire.  He is mesmerizing, appealing, and heartening.  And he does not consume.  There is nothing we lose when God comes more fully into our hearts.  We only gain. 

Firefighters should love this image of God.  Think of a fire that does not destroy.  What more could you want!

24 Mar

The Edge of Sadness

The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1962.  Set in a New England town, it is a story of priesthood and an Irish-American family scenario with which most people could probably resonate.

Father Hugh Kennedy is the protagonist of the story.  He and his best friend, Father John Carmody, are middle-aged pastors.  They battle their demons of darkness, both related to their fathers.  Kennedy slipped into alcoholism after his father's slow and painful death, and Carmody a general misanthropy stemming from his father's challenging nature that meant a difficult upbringing.  You might already be thinking, 'This sounds depressing. Why would I read this?' Because it is a beautiful story that provides profound psychological insights.

Kennedy realizes that a genuine prayer life was non-existent in his active life as a young priest.   He was not tapped into the "continuing current of love," as he describes it.  Kennedy says:

What the priest may not see is that he stands in some danger of losing himself in the strangely engrossing business of simply 'being busy'; gradually he may find that he is rather uncomfortable whenever he is not 'being busy.' 

The problems of priesthood are not all that dissimilar from the married or single life.  The heart of a priest's identity is his love of God.  Everything else in his ministry comes second.  If he falls away from his heart, his life will begin to disintegrate.  Likewise, if a married couple falls away from the essence of their love and is swept up into the current of 'busyness', their relationship will deteriorate. 

The story is hopeful, for Kennedy is able to re-center himself in God and persevere in the priesthood.  If we find ourselves on the edge of sadness, may we do likewise.

 

17 Mar

The Contemplative Life

Dear Parishioners,

There are some who think there is no place for the contemplative life in Christianity.  Quiet, interior prayer is an aberration.  To be a Christian, they would say, means to serve our brothers and sisters.  Jesus did remark, after all, "whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:31-46).  When we are just praying like monks, we are not serving anyone.  Hence, there is no room for recollected prayer.  That takes us away from the mission of Christ.  Such is the claim.

I brought up this argument in my first talk on prayer a couple weeks ago.  There are many flaws in that argument; many ways to rebut it.  The Transfiguration, which we read about this weekend, is one such way.

Jesus climbs Mount Tabor with his apostles, Peter, James and John (the three whom he will take apart with him in the Garden of Gethsemane). He is elevated and experiences a mystical encounter with Moses and Elijah.

Yes, Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets, but they also both represent interior, contemplative prayer.  Moses for 40 days was on Mount Sinai, communing silently with God.  He was immersed in a sort of luminous cloud, which the Hebrews called the shekinah.  When Moses comes down the mountain after 40 days, his countenance is changed.

17 Mar

Create Your Own Prayer

It can be beneficial, every now and again, to create your own blessing or prayer.  We do not always need to rotely recite the ones provided by the Church.  Creating your own prayer, which is certainly a valid thing to do, puts you in the company of the Trinity.  God, of course, is a creator and a ‘blesser’.  If we are called to be like God, then we can create our prayers.

Here is an example of someone's created prayer.  Maybe it can inspire you.  It is "A Blessing for March's Saints" by Andrew Greeley:

May you dance a reel for St. Paddy's sake

And toast the many united in one

May St. Joseph guard you as soon as you wake

And safely lead you home when day is done

From Aquinas may you learn wisdom and truth

And from Gregory tradition's faithful way

May Casimir teach you courage and hope

And Gabriel surprise you each new day

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Or, "A Blessing for March Seventeenth" by the same:

May it be a grand day for all of you

Be ye Irish or as Patrick as you'd like to be

May your jars be limited to just a few

May you revel in God's great diversity

In a land where Moslem, Protestant, Catholic, Jew

Enjoy a constitutional variety

Modestly raise a quiet cry and hue

To give thanks for peaceful ethnicity

And praise for pluralism's brightest jewel

Drink joyous toasts, in all sobriety

To the one from many ‘neath red, white and blue

And may God bless you this glorious day

The Father who holds the world together

The Son who walked among us

And the spirit who makes each of us unique

17 Mar

Barb Ernat

Throughout one's spiritual journey there are often significant life-events that test our relationship with God. Often times when we are faced with a devastating setback we think that God has abandoned us and often get angry with God.

6 years ago I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s disease, and as so many caregivers experience, the journey was very challenging for our family.  As I cared for my mother I was dealing with some challenges of my own.  I often found myself asking: Why me? Why us? Why, God, are you giving me more than I can bear?

I found comfort from Robin Roberts, of Good Morning America, in her book “Everybody’s Got Something”.  She reminds readers that everyone carries burdens and hardships.   For her it was a harrowing medical diagnosis and the subsequent difficult journey through it.  Her journey was hard but there were so many that gave her hope.  In her words, everyone’s got something, but everyone’s got something to give as well.  

What I realized as I looked back at my own challenges is that all the times that I thought God wasn’t there he was actually revealing himself through so many people in my life.  It was my circle of friends, family and even strangers who gave so much; they made me realize that God was indeed everywhere around me.

As Christians we are called to carry out God’s work so that in someone’s darkest days they are able to see God through us and have hope that there are better days ahead.

A faith community brings a sense of kinship, a comfort of knowing that we are all in this together.  Maybe this Sunday you came to church with something to give or maybe you came to find hope.   Each Sunday we get an invitation to receive a smile, a kind word, an uplifting scripture, a heartfelt homily.  Sometimes we don’t even realize we need these unintentional gifts.  But they are here for the taking. 

Barb Ernat, a mom to St. Juliana preschoolers Tom and Jack, works in corporate marketing and together with her husband Ray have been members of St. Juliana for the last two years.