The Astonishing Language of Love

Happy Pentecost Sunday!  On this day, day that ends our “official” celebration of the Easter season, we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Christ.

We hear in Acts that
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

And what is it that the Spirit enabled them to proclaim?  In his book Walking With Jesus: A Way Forward for the Church, Pope Francis writes

The Church born at Pentecost is an astounding community because, with the force of her arrival from God, a new message is proclaimed—the resurrection of Christ—with a new language, the universal one of love. A new proclamation: Christ lives, he is risen. A new language: the language of love. The disciples are adorned with power from above and speak with courage. Only minutes before, they all were cowardly, but now they speak with courage and candor, with the freedom of the Holy Spirit.

Thus the Church is called into being forever, capable of astounding while proclaiming to all that Jesus Christ has conquered death, that God’s arms are always open, that his patience is always there awaiting us in order to heal us, to forgive us. The risen Jesus bestowed his Spirit on the Church for this very mission.

Happy Feast of Pentecost!  Celebrate by proclaiming the message of love.

 

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St. Brendan, the Navigator

Today is the feast day of St. Brendan.  I confess this one would have passed me by, but for the fact that I went to St. Brendan’s Diocesan High School in Brooklyn (many years ago) and one of my former classmates posted a portrait of Brendan on our old school’s Facebook page this morning.

Brendan, who lived during the sixth century is remembered mostly for his legendary journey to the Isle of the Blessed – a place considered an earthly paradise in Greek mythology.  Many versions of the story of his voyage exist, describing his Atlantic Ocean voyage with a number of pilgrims in search of this earthly paradise.

Did Brendan really see the island during his travels?  Did he really encounter a sea monster along the way?  Was the voyage really seven years long?  Who knows.  But for years (and perhaps still today) pilgrims flocked to Ardfert, one of the places at which Brandan built a monastic cell and the place from which he set out on his voyage.

Whatever the truth of his famous journey, we remember Brendan as a patron saint of sailors and travelers.  (Doubtless my high school’s alma mater contained lyrics that would tell more of this saint, but I can’t remember a word of it.)

St. Brendan the Navigator, patron saint of sailors and travelers, pray for us.

 

 

Paul and the Ephesians

Today’s first Mass reading from Acts is one that never fails to move me.  It is part of Paul’s farewell address to the people of Ephesus.

Paul had been living among the Ephesians, teaching them in public and in their homes, and clearly developing close relationships there.  Yet, he is now “compelled by the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem.  And Paul seems to know this is no quick vacation from which he will return to his friend; he tells then that the Holy Spirit has been warning him that  imprisonment and hardships and his likely death await him in Jerusalem.   Paul thus is aware that he is speaking to the Ephesians for the last time, knowing he will never see them again.

Part of what moves me in this passage is imagining how hard I would have found it to be in Paul’s position.  I find it difficult enough to say goodbye to close friends when I know several months may pass before I see them again.  But to say goodbye knowing it is the last time your friends will throw their arms around you and kiss you (as the Ephesians did to Paul after they prayed together), let alone knowing you are headed toward likely death, how hard must that be?

But the other part of what moves me is Paul’s absolute clarity about what matters.  “I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace.”

As I sat with the passage this morning, I had to acknowledge that I don’t always have that same clarity of vision.  As committed as I am to my ministry and life in Christ, sometimes I get a little distracted and give importance to things that don’t deserve it.  Sometimes my anxieties take time and energy away from what really matters.  So I pray for the clarity and strength evidenced in Paul’s words today that I may “bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace” in all I do.

 

I’ll Be Right Here

Today is the feast of the Ascension.  (Yes, I know, some Roman Catholic diocese celebrate it on Sunday, but this will always be “Ascension Thursday” to me.)

I spent some time this morning in an Ignatian Contemplation of the Ascension, standing with the disciples as Jesus was preparing to leave.  I felt strongly the desire that he stay.  In the midst of that feeling of impending loss, and the wish that it could be otherwise – that he would not leave, two images came to mind.

The first mirrored the final scene in ET, when the creature puts his finger over Elliot’s heart and says “I’ll be right here.”  Those are the words I heard, and that, indeed, was Jesus’ promise.  That that everything would be easy. (In fact, quite the opposite.)  But that he would be right here with us.

The next image was of a baby bird being pushed out of its nest by its mother.  As though to say: “I’ve nourished you and taken care of you, but it’s your turn now.  Go fly.”  As tempting as it would be to sit back and let Jesus do it all, the command is to take what we have learned and go out and be as Jesus in the world.

As I sat there, I was reminded of the answer an adolescent boy gave to a priest friend of mine when the latter asked the boy, who was an athlete, how he understood the message of the Ascension, the boy’s response was: “The ball’s in your court now.”

The ball’s in your court.  What are you doing to do with it?

 

Credo for Relationships

I was at Christ the King Retreat House yesterday giving a retreat day for women.  During a break, I looked through a binder of art work by one of the recently deceased priests on the retreat house staff.

One of the items was a drawing accompanying Virgina Satir’s Credo for Relationships.  it is not something I had seen before, but I thought it worth sharing.  It describes well the ingredients of a healthy, loving relationship between partners and friends.

I want to love you without clutching
Appreciate you without judging
Join you without invading
Invite you without demanding
Leave you without guilt
Criticize you without blaming
And help you without insulting

If I can have the same from you
Then we can truly meet and enrich each other.

I know where my growing edges are as I read those lines.  You might consider where among those lines is the challenge for you.

Describing God And Your Relationship to God

I decided that I need to spend some time going through all of the piles of paper in my office that I have accumulated over the years – prayers I found and liked, extra copies of handouts I gave in talks or retreats I gave, articles, etc, etc and so forth.

One of the things I came across (from who knows what year!) was a description of an exercise the then rector of an Episcopal church in Minneapolis had invited participants of a forum he held to engage in.

The instruction was simple:  Write a poem that describes either God or yourself in relationship to God, following this pattern:

one noun
three adjectives

four verbs

phrase

one or more words that connect with the first noun

The rector gave some examples on his blog (the link to which I can no longer find – suggesting how long this sheet of paper has been on a shelf in my office).  They included:

Aslan

powerful, quiet, watching

protects, understands, forgives, guides

the one I trust

Lion of his people

Jesus
direct, truthful, unsettling

descends, embraces, loves, forgives

exhale and breathe
the Holy Spirit 
present

Shepherd
gentle, compassionate, kind

leads, protects, shelters, carries

I am safe

Father

Why not try it yourself?  You can use his suggested format or another.  But in a prayerful, centered space, try to come up with some words/expressions that work for you.

We Are Related

I spent several days this past week at the annual conference of Spiritual Directors International in St. Louis.  I was very taken by one of the opening prayers we used each day at the gathering.  It is a Lakota greeting – Mitakuye Oyasin,  which translates as All My Relations, or We are all Connected.  Here it is:

Good morning, good morning, good morning.
If nobody has told you today that you are loved,
Well, let me tell you my relative:
You are loved, cared for, wanted and needed.
This world is a better place because you are in it.
Thank you for who you are, and remember, you are loved.

What would it be like if we were to greet everyone this way?  Perhaps  not with these exact words, but at least with some version of the sentiment, and with that idea in our hearts.

What a difference that could make!