Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Nuns on the Bus Discussion

When Nuns get Political

This will be one of my shorter blog posts, but with a message that I believe to be important.  I was watching Bill Moyers and Company on PBS the other night and saw a segment entitled When Nuns get political. It was about the well publicized Nuns on the Bus trip recently carried out by Sr. Simone Campbell and several other Catholic sisters to protest the Paul Ryan budget.   Paul Ryan, the Republican VP candidate is Catholic and claims to speak from the viewpoint of Catholic social teaching, as do the nuns.On Moyer's program he had Sr. Simone engaging in dialogue with Mr. Robert Moyle, A Catholic and a Ryan supporter.  You may agree with Sr. Simone, Mr. Moyle, or neither.  What impressed me most was that this exchange is an example of the kind of civil discussion between people of differing viewpoints that is so needed in our political debate.  I hope that you take the chance to click on the link above.  After watching it, whether you are Republican, Democrat or neither, I hope that you and I can learn from these two fine people.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Eat My Flesh and Drink My Blood

   Over the past few weeks we Catholics Have been hearing passages from the sixth chapter of John's Gospel, first the story of the multiplication of loaves (John 6:1-15) and then the Bread of Life Discourse (John 6:22-69).  In this discourse Jesus not only presents Himself as the Bread of Life but tells us that "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you."  Even as He spoke many found this message difficult.  Many have found it difficult throughout the ages and that is likewise the case for many in our own times.  Let's take a look at the several levels of meaning behind this statement.

   For us Catholics, as well as for the Orthodox churches and some Protestant denominations this statement of Jesus means that we truly receive His Body and Blood when we receive Holy Communion.  I will return to this part further on but let's look at what else we are presented with in this discourse.  First of all before we get to the Eucharist Jesus tells us that He is the Bread of Life.  Now any Christian will instinctively say "Yes, that's true, Jesus is indeed the Bread of Life.?"  But, on a practical day to day level is He?  Is Jesus the one we turn to first for nourishment? Do our lives and our practical decisions reflect that fact?  Or is some philosopher, talk show host or politician our real source of nourishment.  By this I don't mean the shallow and silly "What would Jesus do?" phenomenon that's going around but rather at a deeper level asking " Are our lives shaped by the Gospel message? The Scriptures are often called The Bread of the Faithful.   Do we let them nourish us and shape our lives?

   And yes we do truly receive His Body and Blood in Communion--not however His flesh as it was in earthly form, but His risen and glorified body given to us in the form of bread and wine.  When we participate in the Mass we are not just distant spectators however watching the priest make Jesus present.  We are gathered in and drawn into the depth of His love which was poured out on the cross and which rose on Easter Sunday.  It was on the cross that He literally gave His flesh for the life of the world. (see John 6:51).   After the consecration of the bread and wine there is, as it were, another consecration--of us.  We pray, in the words of the third Eucharistic Prayer, " that we become one body, one spirit in Christ."
Later on in the Mass we have the greeting of peace. Unfortunately many Catholics think that this was some nice gesture initiated by the Second Vatican Council.  It is not.  The council restored this gesture which was always present at the Solemn High Mass and which was practiced in the early Church. It is a gesture which says that in receiving Christ in Communion we are also united with one another in Christ.  We not only receive the Body of Christ, we are that Body.  To eat His flesh and drink His blood is to embrace one another as the Body of Christ and to strive to be that.

   This is even harder than believing that bread and wine are His Body and Blood.  To believe that He comes in the form of bread is one thing, but to believe that he is present in the world through this Church of very imperfect human beings.  That's a challenge.  Of course I am not saying that  we use this belief to excuse sin and imperfection. Far from it.  It calls us to strive to overcome that.  But it also challenges us not to walk away when we dislike this priest, that nun, this parish secretary, that weird person who sings off key at Mass, etc.  So many folks today say things like, "I believe in Jesus but not the Church." or   "I can find God on my own in nature."   We don't want to be part of "the great unwashed" which is the Church.  But to eat His flesh and drink His blood for me means being part of a flesh and blood Church made up of very imperfect people. It's a lot easier if I am my own Church, but Christ has chosen to work through me, and all those others too, warts and wounds and all.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Assumption of Mary

Death of the Virgin (Byzantine Art c. 950)
   We Catholics pause in the middle of the summer to celebrate the Assumption of Mary.  For myself it is a special day because on August 15, 1963 I put on the Franciscan habit for the first time in Catskill, NY.  One year and one day later, on August 16, 1964 I professed my first vows as a friar.

   Besides the special meaning that the feast has for me it is good to ask why we celebrate this feast. What meaning does it have for us?  Unfortunately many folks think that both the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are some sort of special reward given to Mary that separates her from the rest of us.  Let's take another look though and ask, "How does it apply to us?" 

   On August 15, 1950 Pope Pius XII declared that belief in the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven was a truth to be believed by Catholics.  Did the pope just decide one August morning that he would make this an obligatory belief for Catholics?  No. Of course not.  he was affirming a truth that goes way back in Christian tradition, one known in the West as the Assumption and in the East as the Holy Dormition (sleeping) of Mary.   Pius XII chose that particular time in history to declare this doctrine as truth because the world was just coming out of the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II.  Millions had been killed, maimed and mutilated and Europe and Japan were in tatters.  It was a way of proclaiming that the salvation that Christ came to bring was not just a spiritual one, but a bodily one as well.  What is given to Mary immediately, a glorified soul and body, is the hope for every human being.  The Gospel text for the feast tells the story of the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth in which Luke places on Mary's lips the canticle known as the Magnificat in which she proclaims that "the hungry will be filled with good things and the rich will be sent away empty." (Lk 1:53).   This gives us a clue as to what this feast means for us and what its challenges are. In the creed we proclaim to believe in the resurrection of the dead.  This means that in some way we have the hope that we will live in eternity not just with a redeemed soul but with a glorified body as well.  In the meantime in this life we are challenged to strive to correct and heal with God's grace all the terrible things that degrade the human body and which degrade earthly human existence--from sexual abuse to sexual promiscuity, to violence in any form which destroys the human person, to helping the poor, especially those who live in the most abject poverty, to striving for peace and an end to war in the face of those who tell us that it is too idealistic, to healing the sick and making sure, as the Church teaches, that all have access to affordable health care.

   The news in recent weeks underlies the importance of this feast.  We are seeing people maimed and mutilated and tortured in Syria and elsewhere.  We see people killed in movie theaters and Sikh temples.  We debate about poverty and health care. We also have witnessed the tremendous feats of the Olympic athletes, not only of the medal winners, but all who worked hard to use their talents and give glory to God through their bodies.  When we get past metaphors which too often betray an understanding of modern science and plum the deeper meaning of this feast we are both affirmed and challenged and can say with St. Iranaeus whom I quoted in my last blog entry that "The glory of God is the human person (Man and woman, body and spirit) fully alive. Mary, assumed into heaven, pray for us!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Glory of God

St. Irenaeus
   Over these past few weeks I have been struck by contrast between the absolutely wonderful things that we humans are able to accomplish and the horrible evil of which we are capable as well.  During this time the horrible conflict in Syria moves on and we have been stunned by more senseless acts of violence in Aurora, CO at the movie theater and here in Wisconsin at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek.

  Against the backdrop of that horror I have been catching glimpses of the Olympic Games and have been amazed not only by the actual feats that the various athletes have been able to accomplish, but by the hard work and striving for excellence that has gone into their achieving their goals even when they fall short of winning a medal.  When I see that I am motivated myself.  No, I will never manage to go on a balance beam or run 100 meters in less than 10 seconds, but it does inspire me to live my life as a priest and friar with ever more dedication and to take even better care of this body that God has given me.  The saint whose image appears at the beginning of this article, St. Irenaeus, one of the great theologians of the early Church said, "The glory of God is the human person fully alive."  What a wonderful statement.  God is glorified when you and I are alive by using all of the gifts and talents that God has given us.

   Speaking of giving glory to God through what we do how about the landing of that rover The Curiosity on Mars.  To me that represents the desire of the human person to reach out and to explore new things. Some will argue that with our present economy that such enendeavor is a waste of money.  That is understandable but also, I believe, short-sighted.  I beleive that it represents something of the best in the human spirit that desires to explore this vast and wonderful universe that the Creator has given us and that such efforts will bear fruit in the long run, not only economically but for the good of the human race and the glory of God.

   Back to the shootings and the violence I wonder if the Olympic athletes and the great scientists of NASA might not inspire us to use all of the talents at our disposal to build a human race that respects one another in spite of our differences and that builds bridges of peace between people.  That would truly be the human being fully alive and give glory to God.

Moving Out and Moving Ahead Cautiosly