Fear has Big Eyes

4th Sunday of Lent (A)

Fear has big eyes. With just four words this Russian proverb depicts the wide-eyed countenance of intellectual, emotional and spiritual blindness. Fear garners our trust and our friendship and promises vigilance against threats; it conjures the outline of the thief, murderer, or secret agent lurking in every corner. Fear is a shallow breather, a loud talker; it fortifies walls, builds bunkers, spreads untruths like Round-up on a windy day. There’s a snake under every bed. Therefore, fear never rests. Fear suspects everyone of malevolent intentions. Fear, with its myopic goal of self-preservation, shuts out light, extinguishes hope. This kind of fear has no experience or knowledge of God.

When I created the Good Disciple blog, I designed it as a space to reflect upon the Sunday readings in the context of contemporary Christian discipleship. Now, if you take a trip in the way-back machine and read my reflections from 2015, you may notice (more…)

You have heard that it was said

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

I’m tired of feeling angry. Aren’t you?

I’m not saying there aren’t plenty of good reasons to be angry and I’m not diminishing the constructive value of anger. Without a doubt, healthy expressions of anger hold a valid place in the human experience.

In fact, it is due to our outrage over injustices perpetuated by oppressive regimes against men, women and children, and greed-driven exploitation of the Earth that we work tirelessly to secure human rights and to conserve our planet’s resources for future generations.

As a Christian—like members of many faith traditions—I believe that humans carry the divine imprint: that we are each created in the image of God.

This belief is foundational to our faith: we bear the presence of God. I become so angry when I hear the words and witness the actions of professed Christians who seem to have a selective understanding of this belief. My anger and frustration has compelled me to add my Christian voice to the historical conversation surrounding basic human rights.

Constructively channeled anger is the driver behind our progression towards a more just society, but anger that does nothing but foment more anger is deadly and frankly, I’m pretty tired of it.

I’m talking about an unattended-bonfire-in-a-forest-of-dead-trees-on-a-windy-day kind of anger. I’m talking about anger that feeds off fear and seeks to destroy what it doesn’t understand. I’m talking about anger that is capable of causing figurative and literal death.

Anger is the core of Jesus’ saying against killing, which we hear on the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A). It is the first of six sayings about conduct, also known as the antitheses, included in Matthew’s gospel account of the Sermon on the Mount.

Each saying begins with Jesus introducing a known and accepted teaching of the law, “You have heard it said…” which he then follows with “But I say to you…” and an expanded command that requires greater attention.

 “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement.”  [MT  5:21-22a]

Yes, Jesus says, don’t physically kill each other. That’s pretty basic. But he adds that the kind of anger that leads to killing, that destroys relationships and causes deadly harm is to be avoided and reconciliation between peoples must always been sought.

Anger is growing, and it is wrapping its vines around every imaginable topic. While the vicious words exchanged online between people residing thousands of miles apart may not culminate in an actual murder, verbal expressions of hate wield the power to kill a person’s spirit and to shift the social dynamic away from the good.

We see this playing out in print and on television; we hear it coming from the mouths of our elected leaders. Virtual verbal combat also takes place where we live when we entertain private thoughts that diminish the dignity of another, even if we keep those thoughts to ourselves. We’re all guilty of it, sorry to say.

The other day— a particularly challenging media-saturated day—I watched a conversation between two strangers unfold into a hate-filled screed. Soon dozens upon dozens of people joined in the brawl. This kind of verbal pummeling between strangers is becoming commonplace all across the globe.

Many spirits were injured, if not slain, that day, including my own.

I took a step back and observed how anger was slowly sapping my spirit. A dark and brooding cynic with clouded vision was devouring my optimistic anything-is-possible, happy-go-lucky, creative self.

The constant reminder that the world is a mess is a self-fulfilling prophecy that like the sound of a dripping faucet can either drive us to madness or to a solution. Look, just because there is a 24/7/365 anger-inducing all-you-can-eat buffet of badness spread before us doesn’t mean we must partake in it. I think we forget sometimes that we have choices. I am choosing to push away from the hate buffet. (At least I’m trying to.)

In today’s first reading from Sirach (aka The Wisdom of Ben Sira, or Ecclesiasticus) the great sage touches upon the concept of free will—the power of choice.

“If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.” [SIR 15:15]

Ben Sira’s lesson concerns the daily choices people face and what guidance, if any, they use to make them. Isn’t it true that each day we have multiple opportunities to choose life-giving words and actions over the alternative?

The author of the much abbreviated Psalm[1] which we sing today represents sojourners like you and me who are immersed in the world, its challenges and its joys, and who strive to choose the good and who turn with hope to the Lord for guidance, strength, stamina, wisdom, and spiritual knowledge.

Our choices reflect how we view the world and all of its occupants. We mirror the divine image in the ways we treat loved ones as well as with strangers. What we put in our bodies, and what we feed our brains, what we purchase, and the ways we steward the Earth: these are not easy choices, but we put our hope in what is good and just.

Consider the death of a seed and all the secret happenings that occur beneath the soil before the first tender shoot works its way into the light. The constant shock and awe of anger and our increasingly ugly and disingenuous attempts to protect and conserve our illusions seems to want to trample any tendril of hope trying to break through. We must not allow this any longer.

While many of Jesus’ teachings were framed in eschatological (end times) language, his concern was with the way his followers interacted with one another here on earth, that they love one another as he loved them. Matthew is very clear that Jesus expected his teachings to be observed: do what the teacher says.

Hope is not a wish. It is an expression of confidence. I want to return to that hopeful side, and hold tight to the expectation that with God’s grace the goodness of humanity will prevail, and that we will continue to harness our fiery opposition to injustice and use it creatively to seek understanding, and quite literally save lives.

This is the only way for me, at least.

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Readings for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, (A)

1st reading: SIR 15:15-20
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 119
2nd Reading: 1 COR 2:6-10
Gospel: MT 5:17-37

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[1] Psalm 119, with 176 verses, is the longest in the Book of Psalms. A poem of 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, was sung or recited in worship with the goal of encouraging the faithful to walk blamelessly through life, to turn to the Lord for refuge, guidance and strength and to seek with praise and thanksgiving a greater understanding of God’s ways as found in the law, testimony, precepts, statutes, commandments, judgements, and promises.

Talkin’ bout a revolution

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

What would it take for you to leave your nets, your boat, and your father as the disciples did?

He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. [MT 4:19-20]

He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him. [MT 4:21-22]

(Long pause while we shift uneasily in our seats and decide whether or not to continue reading)

Few conversations cause more discomfort than those that begin with unsolicited advice about changing the direction of our lives. For one, it makes us feel defensive. It also threatens our sense of responsibility. It would be ridiculous, we protest, to forsake our stability (even if it is wobbly), and relinquish our control (even if that is an illusion).

Yes, for the majority of us, it would be irresponsible to quit our jobs, abandon our homes and ditch our families. But, rather than counting off the reasons why it would simply be unfathomable in the 21st century to do as the disciples did, let’s widen the aperture of our lens so we can see the bigger picture.

But just to be clear, most of us have a lot more freedom to roam than the people living in Jesus’ day. It is not unusual for our children to head off to college in another part of the country and settle in cities thousands of miles away from home and form tight bonds with “surrogate” families. In contrast, given the centrality of kinship in Jesus’ day,[1] leaving one’s family and seeking a new way of life or livelihood would have been deemed abnormal.[2] But the first disciples dropped everything to follow Jesus.

The immediate response of Andrew, Peter, James and John to Jesus’ invitation provides valuable insight to 21st-century disciples: Jesus did not work alone: then or now.

Don’t you know? They’re talkin’ bout a revolution

Matthew’s gospel tells us “all of Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan” went to John the Baptist to be baptized. [MT 3:5-6]. Clearly, a movement was afoot. No doubt King Herod and the religious authorities were less appreciative of the odd and prickly, anti-authoritarian preacher and despised him for calling them out for their sinful lifestyle and religious hypocrisy.

Some suggest that the gospel writer exaggerated John the Baptist’s popularity by saying ALL of Judea and THE WHOLE REGION of Jordan came for baptism. The point is that huge numbers of Jewish citizens experienced a conversion—a change of heart—which may not have jibed with that of Herod and the religious leaders. They wanted him gone.

So they did what institutions threatened by grassroots activists do, and continue to do today—they tried to shut him down. They arrested John the Baptist and eventually killed him. But they did not know it was too late to stop the revolution. That caravan had already left the stable, so to speak. John paved the way, and Jesus took the lead (or lede since it’s his story, after all).

So, here we have Jesus receiving the news that the authorities had arrested John the Baptist. Jesus lived in this culture; he knew why John was silenced. But Jesus fearlessly picked up where John left off, in Galilee, walking the radical path the Baptist prepared for him—preaching the same message in the same kingdom ruled by the same king who had just imprisoned John.

Anyone else would find a safer place to preach. Not Jesus. Matthew tells us Jesus even used John’s same words “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” —except the future event to which John referred was now present in Jesus, the Autobasileia.[3]

Jesus was not the messenger, Jesus was the message.

Let’s take Jesus out of the blue sky, sunny day pasture with the rosy-cheeked children and the baby animals and get real.  Jesus’ public ministry was inaugurated under ominous circumstances in a Roman occupied territory in which political and religious leadership were inextricably entwined.

Sure, Jesus is Love. Jesus is also steely; he is brave. He does not back down in the face of opposition; he walks steadily towards it. He does not sit in his doorway drinking tea and waiting for followers; he seeks them out and prepares them to be leaders. Jesus is forthright and smart. He narrows in on corrupt practices and shows how to correct them. He liberates the oppressed and the alienated, restores the senses, embraces the outcasts, and repairs the damage human evil has wrought. Jesus speaks the Truth with words and actions that resonate in the hearts of those who are willing to follow him. He flips the tables; he turns the status quo upside down.

He’s hot Jesus. And he’s here to set the world on fire. [LK 12:49]

The truth cannot be silenced.

Make no mistake; the threat of suppression is an ongoing and present danger today, more so than in recent times. The thing about people who work for justice is that their hearts undergo a change; their capacity for love and generosity increases and with changed hearts come changed attitudes. The last thing authorities want is a rising populous of dissenters so they’ll try to shut it down either by distraction or by force. Think about it.

The disciples eventually realized that following Jesus, learning from him, and being commissioned to preach and heal also meant following him to the cross. At the end of Jesus’ earthly life some followers, literally fearing for their lives, went into hiding and abandoned him.

But not all. The job Jesus prepared his apostles for—to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth—was taken up by brave souls like St. Paul and others who brought about the early church’s extraordinary growth. This job is passed on to disciples like you and me.

We are not asked to give up our jobs, our homes, and our families to respond affirmatively to Jesus’ invitation, although we are obliged to detach ourselves from self-serving worldly loyalties and reattach ourselves to him.

“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Work for the unity of all peoples; seek the transformation of society, mirror the courage of Jesus’ and seek the confidence that inspired countless disciples throughout the centuries, and with each step draw closer to the kingdom of God, Jesus.

Readings for the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

1st reading: IS 8:23—9:3
Responsorial Psalm PS 27:1, 4, 13-14
2nd Reading 1 COR 1:10-13, 17
Gospel: MT 4:12-23

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[1] Bruce J. Malina, and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. Second Edition. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2003) 397-398.

[2] Malina, Rohrbaugh p414: “giving up one’s family or origin for the surrogate Jesus-group family (…) was a decision that could cost one dearly. It meant breaking ties not only with the family but also the entire social network of which one had been a part.”

[3] Autobasileia, literally auto=self, basileia=royal power. The Kingdom of God and the person of Jesus are one and the same.

Take the Long View

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Here we are again. Back to plain ole winter. Just over one week ago the Christmas season ended, and our families and friends, like the three kings, have departed for their distant lands. Like many of you, I reluctantly boxed up our decorations and my husband dragged our still-hanging-on-to-life Christmas tree out to the curb, both of us bemoaning the shortness of the season (but secretly happy to say good bye to the pine needles in our socks).

With our houses swept clean, it’s time to begin our progression through Ordinary Time, at least for the next eight Sundays, that is. Lent is right around the corner.

The Second Sunday of Ordinary Time always eases its way into a fresh and shiny new calendar year, but this year for many people agita, insecurity, and apprehension about the future have dulled that shiny newness.

At times like these the temptation is to circle the wagons, allow ourselves to complain for a while and hope for the best. Happily, most of us care too much about the future to consider sitting on our hands. I’m in that camp, or at least I strive to be. Despite my occasional “Chicken Little” tendencies, I fight hopelessness and stagnation by taking the long view and making plans.

Earlier this month I reflected on the need for restoration, specifically restorative practices. I was reminded of the work of the late Dr. Erik Erikson, the brilliant German-American psychologist of the past century, whose exploration of human psycho-social growth from infancy through death identified a motivation which he named Generativity.

Generativity resembles the concept of “paying it forward” popularized by the heartwarming movie, Pay it Forward [2000], which, through a series of events showed that the world is a much better place when we share, ad infinitum, our good fortune with others.

Still, paying it forward is just the tip of the iceberg. Generativity is more nuanced; its source is nothing less than primal and its energy emerges from an expectation of a future—a hope for humanity. It is the longest of the long views. Generativity explains why some adults will, for example, plant a fruit tree they may not live to harvest, but do so knowing future generations will be nourished by it. Our current situation and how we handle it is far greater than how it impacts us.

Taken another way, when “a concern for establishing and guiding the next generation” is contemplated Theologically, i.e. “where is God in all this?” we have to see that the compelling impulse behind generativity is love. Love of God, and love of neighbor, and love for God’s creation.

The writers of Sacred Scripture could not help but take the long view. They gave witness to the fruit of generativity; they grasped its divine source, they drank from its fountain and endeavored to illuminate the way so future generations would see God’s goodness as they did, and believe what they knew to be the truth.

The Prophet Isaiah, relaying the words God spoke to him, identified Israel as the Servant of God [IS 49:3, 5-6]. Israel’s return to their homeland after 70 years of exile was the evidence of God’s faithfulness to them. Yet, Isaiah made it clear that their survival alone was not the end of the story. “It is too little,” the prophet proclaimed. The future of all involved entailed carrying the message of God’s liberating power to the ends of the earth. In other words, Israel’s stunning transformation would be like a light to the nations: the entire world would see God’s greatness and be converted.

St. Paul understood this too. It was not enough that he had a personal experience of the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. He was compelled to take what he knew on the road and share it with the greatest number of people for the rest of his life. Paul’s “generativity” is evidenced by the colossal growth of the Christian church in his day. Today’s second reading gives us a clue to Paul’s mission [1 COR 1:1-3]. At first blush it looks to be a typically wordy Pauline salutation, but attend carefully to Paul’s words. Far more than a “Dear friend, how are you, I am fine” Paul’s salutation discloses his grasp of the divine origins of his apostleship and the enduring nature not only of his role, but that of the Corinthian church, sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, from now on, and for all to witness. Pay it forward.

Even John the Baptist understood it was too little to proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom of God. He knew it was not enough to preach a message of repentance and then baptize countless individuals for the forgiveness of sin. When he recognized Jesus, he knew there was more.

“John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” [JN 1:29]

I wonder if the Baptist’s words comparing Jesus to a sacrificial animal sent a ripple of shock through the crowd. And, as if to explain how he arrived at this astonishing conclusion John continued, piecing his experiences together until everything he had done up to that point made sense:

“I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” [JN 1:31-34].

I also wonder if John realized then that his role in preparing the way for Jesus was nearing its completion. Didn’t he later take a step back from his work, out of the first-century spotlight, saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”? [JN 3:30]

Be a light for the nations.

Who is expected to carry this light today? Look in the mirror. It is the Church—you and me—it is our prophetic role to be a light so that God’s goodness is visible to all, so that all may receive it and be transformed.

That’s generativity, that’s paying it forward. That’s how we keep moving forward, despite the darkness.

Happy New Year, light bearers.

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Readings for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

First Reading IS 49:3, 5-6
Responsorial Psalm PS 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
Second Reading 1 COR 1:1-3
Gospel JN 1:29-34

What actually will make America great again?

sad-rain

I have to forgive these people? I have to pray for them?  After what they have done?  So many dark thoughts. Not Christian thoughts at all. Thoughts I normally would reject with all of my might.

Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness and prayer are repeated throughout the gospels and are frequent themes on this blog. But I was in a dark place that day. Even my dog knew it. She turned away from me when I picked up her leash. Instead of an exuberant response to her favorite activity she stood still, her long tail pointed down as I snapped on her harness. The date was 11/9, the day after the presidential election, but in some ways it felt like 9/11 to me.

Like many Americans, I felt my home was now located in a strange, inhospitable land. Throughout the day I experienced some of the fear, shock, insecurity, and disorientation that haunted me and others for many months after the events on that terrible September morning 15 years ago.

About mid-day I decided to deactivate my Facebook page. Earlier I huddled with my friends online, while others gloated and thumped their virtual chests as if the presidential election was part of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The words “drain the swamp” and “how’s it feel to be a loser?” and an undisguised blood lust filled my news feed, because electoral victory was not enough.

Others offered snarky shoulder-shrugging comments about “change, finally” interspersed with suggestions that poor losers should get over themselves. There is nothing quite as menacing as a vindictive winner, and this, following the most hostile, hate-filled campaign on record threatens to be the kind of contest where every citizen will be the loser.

It is my firm belief that there is a life-giving aspect to every experience, no matter how dark, but hard as I tried I was too broken up to locate it. So, before disabling my Facebook account I reached out to my friends and asked them to share their wisdom on the subject.

The idea of forgiveness worked its way into my thoughts and later, umbrella in one hand, dog leash in the other I worked my way up the street and began my silent rant. Forgive? Forgive who? Doesn’t forgiveness first require someone asking for it? Does forgiveness even come into this conversation? And who should be forgiven? Forgive us Lord, for we know not what we do.

fall-sadnessI picked up the pace, walking faster and more fiercely than I ever had, slogging angrily through piles of leaves littering the sidewalk—unraked fiery gold and persimmon leaves, their wet fragrance rising towards me. I walked along streets shiny with rain and reflected red maples, my poor dog moving as fast as she could behind me. I was surrounded by the colors and scents of fall’s glory. Look up, look up. I saw it all and I didn’t care.

I was angry with God. I was angry with the church and the 51% of Catholics who from my point of view voted against the full teachings of Jesus Christ. I blamed the Bishops for their inconsistent teaching on Catholic social justice issues and their failure to demonstrate God’s mercy in this Jubilee year of Mercy. I blamed those who willfully ignore the words and example of pope Francis whose eyes are trained, as ours should be, on the Lord.

Pray for them.

I stormed past the grand home of a wealthy neighbor and whipped the bag of still warm dog poop at the political sign taunting me from their lawn. Maybe they will need to learn how to mow their own damn grass and clean their own damn house and take care of their own children after their help is deported.

Sigh. Oh Susan.

Oh God. 

Remember, I never claimed to be The Good Disciple. I only strive to be.

The heaviness in my chest slowed my gait, and the sky opened with my tears which stung as a reminder of their source—the perception that The United States’ slow but steady progress towards a more inclusive and just society had just been halted.

I didn’t want to pray for these people, but I did go back and retrieve the bag of dog poop from their lawn. And as I stood up to continue walking home in the receding daylight and porch lights began their timed announcement of the days end, I became aware of the silence. No cars, no planes, no dogs barking, just the patter of the rain, my dog’s nails tapping on the pavement, and my sniffing. I offered a prayer for healing and asked for forgiveness. We are all mourning our country in some way. Forgive us Father; we know not what we do.

What is life-giving about this experience and other similar situations throughout the world? Dear readers, it emerges from the fact that this cuts us so deeply. We mourn our broken union. But our progress towards a more inclusive and just society has not been halted, we just have to work harder at it. We need to insist on being community with one another, to console and listen and work to build bridges across our painful divides.

The life-giving element—what actually will make America great again— is our collective agreement to act on behalf of one another because we are human beings. We know what to do.

This is the wisdom of my friends who responded from both sides of the debate.

 “The America that we know and the rights of every community of Americans will remain sacrosanct. The darkness will lift – the weight of this enormous shock will lift and our faith will sustain us.”

“Activists will be born today.”

“But life-giving for me is the truth that God will use this experience to strengthen the resolve of those who stand for true social justice, across the board, from womb to tomb. Love always wins. Love always wins. Love always, always wins.”

“Love, reason, and compassion are the antidotes to the hatred of the campaign. We have to continue working for the common good.”

“People who normally would be passive will now be activists for justice. We need to be vigilant now more than ever.”

“Let’s reflect (St.) Paul’s words, “where abounds sin, over abounds grace” Rom 5:20… let’s be positive … and get involved, and claim “our” country back, with kindness, love, charity, mercy, all those Christian virtues that tell who we are!”

“Feeling despair does not help and does not change anything. Instead, continue to raise the important issues – whether that is through getting involved in politics or volunteering with an organization.”

What is your response?

The Kingdom of God and the Cost of Discipleship

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

A guest post by Fr. Joel Fortier

“Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.”Rev. 19:9

“Foxes have dens and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”Matthew 8:20, and Luke 9:58

Christ is the image, the Logos, mind and heart of God and as such manifests for us the plan of God for all creation. Christ’s manifestation…incarnation…is to establish the rule and reign of the Kingdom of God in our experience, in our time, in our place; to open us to and for us a way to enter the Kingdom of God; to be married in covenant love to one another in God. That is why the Kingdom of God is described as a Wedding Banquet. [Rev. 19: 6-9].

The Kingdom of God is not a time or place. It is beyond time and space. It is “relatio”, a relationship, a state of Being…Presence, a matter of the heart. Time and space are subsumed and held in it…held in Love.

When we are in love, we are in relationship and we experience God as Trinity, the ground of our being, the template of all creation; to Be is to Be In Relationship.

The Kingdom of God transcends all of creation and yet everything subsists in it. It is a place of Presence, Peace, and Love. It is entered into wherever and whenever there is love, reconciliation, healing, and compassion…as well as the celebration and sharing of life in joy and love…as in a grand marriage celebration.

Presence is what makes life and the sharing of life, sacramental. We bear a Presence, The Presence of God…Christ…to one another in and for our world…for others, even our enemies and especially the poor and those in need of mercy, which includes all of us.

That is how and why Jesus could say, “the kingdom of God is within you…in your midst!” [Luke 17:21].

Because it is not limited to or geographical place, Jesus could say, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” [Luke 9:58].

To follow Jesus requires that kind of freedom and detachment, in the Kingdom we are not limited or tied down by geography, time, or space. It is a way and disposition of the heart. When Jesus told Thomas, “Where I am going, you know the way…” To which Thomas replied “we don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way.” Jesus told him effectively, Thomas, I’m not talking about geography; I’m talking about a way of Being, of Presence, a way of the heart… “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life” [John 14:4-7].

No one enters the Kingdom, into the heart of God, where there are many dwelling places and room for us all, except thru that “Way”…the Way of the Cross, Mercy, Peace, and Reconciliation…a way of the heart, the way of selfless sacrificial Love.

We are People of the Way…followers of Jesus of Nazareth, who was before time, in time, and now beyond time and has brought all of us along with Him into the Heart, Presence, and Kingdom of God.

In order to follow Christ we must learn to “let go” of our ego, our false self, to let go of time and space, of all things, to be detached, to die a lot of little deaths before the final “letting go” of death itself; to take up our cross daily, dying to our false selves so that we may discover who we truly are alive in Christ and Christ in us. As St. Francis learned and said with St. Paul, “In possessing nothing, I possess all things!” [2 Corinthians 6:10].

Christ is our life! We are in Christ a new creation; we share in the glory of the resurrection and Christ’s own life in God. We are not our bodies, or our minds, or the personas which we have created for ourselves. We inhabit a body, we have a mind, we have a personality, and yet we are so much more. We are incarnate body persons who bear a Presence. Our soul, our true self is hidden with Christ in God [Colossians 3:1-4].

That is the cost of discipleship, of following Jesus, to follow and learn from him, who is the Way, Truth, and Life. In being so detached we find and enter through the narrow gate into the Presence and Kingdom of God which is beyond time and space; Eternal Presence, Eternal Peace, the Eternal Now which is within you…in your midst wherever and whenever there is Love in the midst of all things and people encountered in time and space.

Imminent Presence is the window through which we enter the transcendent eternal Presence of God. The Kingdom is here and now, within and without, wherever and whenever we connect, heal, reconcile, and live in love with one another and God. As that happens the Kingdom and Will of God is manifest… done on earth as it is in heaven!

Now is the acceptable time, this is the day of salvation, this is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it! We live in the Presence, in the Eternal Now, in God, in Love! Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! Let us follow Christ with Joy into the Presence and heart of God now and forever! Amen.

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Born in 1942 to French Canadian parents, Fr. Joel Fortier, along with his three siblings grew up in an environment steeped in Catholic spirituality and practice. He entered the University of Illinois before seminary to study Psychology, Education, and Philosophy. In 1969, Joel was ordained with a Master of Divinity from St. Meinrad Seminary for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois with extensive work and training in inner city parishes, and peace and justice movements. Joel received his Doctor of Ministry from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He has worked with Marriage Encounter, Cursillo, and Charismatic movements integrating with parish pastoral ministry. He is the Founding Director of the Center for Family Ministry for the Diocese of Joliet. Fr. Joel was the Pastor and founder of The Lisieux Pastoral Center of St. Theresa Parish in Kankakee, IL, the Pastor of St Isidore Parish, Bloomingdale IL, and most recently the Pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in Naperville, IL. Now retired from full-time parish ministry since 2013, Fr. Joel continues to live out his core statement: “To help make love happen, wherever and whenever possible.”

ART: Visual reflections ©Vonda Drees. https://vondadrees.wordpress.com/

It’s really not so very complicated, is it?

7th Sunday of Easter (C)

Immediately before his arrest Jesus prayed to the Father on behalf of his disciples. He prayed for their mission, for their unity as a group, and for their unity through him and with the Father. The final part of this prayer is read on the Sunday before Pentecost. It is one of those mind-bending scriptural passages that tend to make peoples’ eyes glaze over. Some readers simply scan it, not absorbing a word, or they turn the page in search of something Jesus says that is easier to understand, something like “love one another.”

But this prayer from Jesus to his Father on his friends’ behalf is beautiful and enlightening and deserves to be read slowly. Jesus’ words challenge us to wade into our deepest spiritual waters in order to contemplate this union we share with God and with one another. Sitting with this reading can help us make sense of our Christian mission.

As part of my own study of the text, and to feed my logic (which is illogical) I attempted to diagram Jesus’ words. Pencil in hand, I began to draw circles.

In my mind this “you in me, and I in you, and they in us, and we are one, and I in them and you in me, and I know you and they know that you sent me, and your love for me is my love for them, and therefore, our love is in them,” (deep breath) takes the form of concentric circles that expand and recede and shift to accommodate the fullness of the described union in an endlessly twirling helix.

My first attempt was to place God at the center of the Jesus circle, which I put at the center of the disciple circle, in which both the Father and Son dwelt. Hmmm.

Dissatisfied, I drew another set of concentric circles with disciples in the center of the Jesus circle, who was in the center of the God circle. But no.

Then I drew two concentric circles, one with Jesus at God’s center, and then God at Jesus’ center which was just as confounding as my earlier attempts because each one resulted in a picture of a picture of a picture, and so on. This is known to visual artists as mise en abyme, which translated from French means “placing into infinity.” In painting and photography mise en abyme can continue only so far as the artist is able to depict it; eventually, the image becomes too small to be perceived. Although it is theologically intriguing, the mise en abyme was inadequate. Or, was it?

My final attempt involved two overlapping circles, one for the Father and one for Jesus, with the disciples in the intersection of the two. This sketch I tossed out immediately because the union of the father and son was more representative of a mutual giving between two persons whose “product,” for lack of a better word, is revealed in the giving, such as in a family. Hmmm. Not perfect, but not bad, either. I sketched it again.

These attempts to diagram a satisfactory translation of Jesus’ prayer were inadequate precisely because the relationship between the Father and Jesus and Jesus’ followers cannot be contained or reduced to a concept of fractal geometry or artistic theory. So, you see, I have not added any clarity to the discussion. I apologize.

However, inadequacy is not the same as fallacy. The mise en abyme, the overlapping circles and the endlessly twirling helix each hold a portion of the truth.

  • Jesus is and always has been in the picture of the picture of the picture of God. In today’s second reading from Revelations, which we have been reading throughout Easter, John tells of hearing a voice that self-identifies as “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” and as “I, Jesus,” the “root and offspring of David, the bright morning star.” Jesus’ death was a departure, a transition; he returned to the Father where he has dwelt since “before the foundation of the world.” [John 17:24c].
  • And of his friends, Jesus says “Father, they are your gift to me.” [John 17:24]. It is a mystery why seekers begin and continue to search for God, or, in the case of the poet Francis Thompson (1859–1907), who wrote about the divine pursuit in The Hound of Heaven, why they attempt to resist their spiritual stirrings. But Jesus’ words acknowledge that Peter and James and John, and all the other apostles, and every disciple and follower throughout Christian history, including you and me have found our way to him because of the Spirit’s urging, inspiration, and nudging; we have accepted the invitation to know God through Jesus.
  • The fullness of our union with God and Jesus and with one another is very much like an endlessly twirling helix. Christians understand that Jesus—the Word made flesh—made God known through his teachings and actions and love. Jesus remains, he dwells within the hearts of his followers, not so they can hoard Jesus for themselves but so they can share him. Jesus has made God known, and it is now the task of the disciples to do the same—this is the work of the evangelist—you and me.

mise en abyme

And here is the message about our mission. Unlike Jesus’ actual disciples, none of us can claim to have known the man, Jesus. We only know what has been passed on to us and what we have experienced with Jesus.

It is that experience—our interaction—that we share. We can spout off bible verses and tell people what the church and theologians say about Jesus, but without a heartfelt expression of one’s own experience, these things are dry, inconclusive, and unconvincing. Jesus expressed his loving relationship with God with his words and works and his love for God and his followers. Our job is no different.

Looking at my sketches now I began to notice something resembling a seed within a seed within a seed, and it occurs to me that this “seeding” is the work of God, the work of Jesus, and the work which we have been commissioned to fulfill. This is the union. We in them, them in us, Christ in all, Christ in God, God in all things.

We receive the gift of life-giving water which Jesus offers us and we accept our Christian mission: to make God known to future generations through our unity. “They will know we are Christians by our love.” This is the way of being that has the power to change the world.

In my mind, I imagine hearing Jesus speak to me, “I wish you could experience what I know about the Father. I want this for you, for you to know this. Because, if you knew God as I do, you would love one another as I have loved you. But the world does not know God, and this is why loving is so difficult. This is what you do know: you know that my works are of God, you know that I am of God. All that I say and do, these words and works are not my own, but God’s. It all comes from God. Listen, if you know me and you know these things about me, you know God. God’s love for me is my love for you. It is one and the same.”

It’s really not so very complicated, is it?

Today’s readings can be found here.