You Are Enough

Fr. Dale began his homily at Christ the King yesterday by recalling his moral theology teacher at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. The teacher would begin each class, Fr. Dale said, by silently mouthing, “Cara amici” – dear friends. He opened each encounter with his students by holding them in love.

Children and adults, Fr. Dale suggested, tend to believe what they hear over and over. If they are told they are defective, they are not enough, they will come to believe that and that will be the basis on which they act, the basis on which they will be who they are in the world. If they are told they are good, that they are enough, they can come to believe that, and that will be the basis on which they act, on which they will be who they are in the world.

What they – what we – need to hear over and over again is the truth. That Jesus’ love for us is not a feeling, something that can be lost. Rather we live in a constant state of Jesus’ love; that love is the ground of our being.

As Fr. Dale reminded us at the end of his sermon, what all need to internalize – and remind each other – is simply this, cara amici:

You are good.

You are enough.

You are worthy of God’s love.

You are a beloved child of God.

And none of that can ever change.


Educating our Young Adults for the Common Good

During the week I attended an interfaith clergy event at Bet Shalom Temple in Minnetonka that welcomed several Israel Defense Force soldiers from the Parallel Lives delegation to Minnesota. (Parallel Lives sends delegations of soldiers to campuses and Jewish communities in North America during April and May.) The three young soldiers – two males aged 24 and 27 and one female aged 20 – shared about their experiences as officers in the IDF, why they do what they do and why the Parallel Lives program is important to them.

I found the talk of the young people both informative and thought-provoking on a number of different levels. I was surprised to learn, for example, that the Israeli Defense Force is much less monolithic in its members than I had thought and also to learn that, the effect of various exclusions from mandatory service is that only about 65% of the population engages in service.

As one listens to the talk of these young people, who have clearly learned a lot from their experience – about serving their community, about living in diverse groups, about leading people – it is shockingly easy to lose sight of the fact that, as my friend and host of the meeting Rabbi Cohen observed, these are soldiers, young people forced to participate in military service.

Yet, as I suggested to Rabbi Cohen, if we could divorce it from the armed conflict part of it, I think there is a lot of merit to the idea of taking all of our young people and giving them an experience of community service…of living with people who are different and with whom they have to figure out a way to work together…instilling in them a sense of the common good. (One of the three, when asked why he did what he did, responded, “If not me, who else?”)

Now and again the suggestion is made that the US adopt a comprehensive national service program. I suspect there are all sorts of reasons that it unlikely to ever happen, not the least of which is that it would offend the strong sense of individual liberty and choice in our country.

But still, there is value to thinking about what values are important to convey to young people as they begin their adult lives and whether we are doing all we can to convey those values. And in particular are we doing enough to instill notions of the common good and the importance of serving others.

Prophetic Voices

As described on their website, ISAIAH, a coalition of about 100 member congregations, “is a vehicle for congregations, clergy, and people of faith to act collectively and powerfully towards racial and economic equity in the state of Minnesota.”

The other day I attended the launch of ISAIAH’s Prophetic Voices movement, which aims at uniting clergy and their congregations “to create a more just and abundant Minnesota where everyone can thrive.” It is premised on the idea that the religious community has something to say about the economy, equality, racism, politics and power. That the religious community has something to say about suffering, joy, and what human life is meant for.

There were about 250 people, including over 200 clergy of various faiths – rabbis, priests, ministers, as well as lay ministers, in attendance for this day-long program. For me, the diversity of representation was powerful to witness and to be part of. When we look at social justice issues from our own individual standpoint, the problems seem so big that they seem insurmountable. For any one individual or even single parish or congregation, they are. But united, there is much power that can be wielded by people of faith in seeking a more just society. The emphasis was on the invitation into community – a multi-faith, multi-racial community.

It is not possible to give a good summary the day and all it gave me to think about, but one of the points that was made is a reminder of the need to think about the forest and not just the trees. That is, beyond individual issues, we are talking about a way of being in the world. And that requires that we ground our social justice efforts in a narrative – faith communities need to stand up and tell a story about who we are and what we can be.

Our work on behalf of social justice needs to be covey a narrative that explains how the “logic of God’s commonwealth” differs from the “logic of Pharaoh’s empire.” Creation in God’s image vs. the commodification of God’s creation…an ever expanding circle of human concern vs. partisan politics…and church as catalyst for freedom.

We have a story to tell. And we need to tell it – over and over again until it is heard. (As one minister observed, John the Baptist preached the same sermon for 40 years.)

Learning to Rest Contentedly in Christ

This week was our last Weekly Manna gathering and the person giving the reflection was one of our students, Robyn Brown.

Before getting to her – let me begin by observing that I was blessed by having Robyn as my prayer partner this past semester. Following our vocation retreat, I randomly assign each participant another of the participants for whom they will keep especially in their prayers over the semester. Robyn was the most amazing prayer partner one could have. While I did remember to keep the person I was assigned in my prayers periodically, Robyn let me know time and time again by notes and e-mails that she had my back. I am enormously grateful for her kindness over these months, especially when she knew I was dealing with my aunt’ last days and death.

Robyn began by asking us to visualize something we believe we need to make us happy…either something we want but do not have or something we already have and don’t want to lose. Then she asked if we could visualize ourselves laying it on the altar and inviting God to do with it as God pleases – to take away or leave it with us. Given my daily recitation of St. Ignatius’ Suscipe prayer, I live the visualization that essentially asks – do you really mean the words you pray? Can you really see yourself doing this.

She then offered some suggestions for developing our ability to do that, for growing in our ability to rest contentedly in Christ – to know that if we have Christ we need nothing else. (The last line of the Suscipe: Your love grace is enough for me.) She made five suggestions, each of which are worthwhile practices: gratitude, generosity, graciousness (particularly in speech), identifying lies, and surrender. For each, she talked a little about her own experience and shared some scriptural references that might aid one’s individual prayer.

It was a great way to end the Weekly Manna year. Great that the reflection was offered by one of our students. Great to know that so many of our students are so reflective about their faith. And great to focus on our need to realize that truly, all we need is God’s love and grace.

I’m grateful to Robyn, to all of the participants in Weekly Manna and to my friend Chato, the driving force behind the original creation of the Weekly Manna gatherings.

Reflections on Jesus’ Post-Resurrection Appearances: Luke

Last night was the third session of the four-part program Bill Nolan (Pastoral Associate at St. Thomas Apostle) and I are presenting on Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. The program is being sponsored by Christ the King and St. Thomas Apostle parishes in Minneapolis and each week we are focusing on the final passages of one of the four Gospels. In our first two weeks, we addressed Mark (with Bill offering the reflection) and John (with me offering the reflection.

This week our focus was Luke’s Gospel and Bill took the lead and offered the reflection. He began his talk by talking about the sources for Luke’s Gospel, when it was written and the audience to whom it is addressed. (Luke’s audience is a primarily Gentile audience; where Luke makes reference to Jewish law is it instructive, in contrast to Matthew who reminds his readers of the Jewish law they already knew.)

After we read the passage and invited participants to share a bit on what struck them as they listened, Bill focused on his remarks on the encounter between the disciples on the road to Emmaus and Jesus. He argued in a compelling (and quite beautiful way) that it was the supper at Emmaus that the institution of the Eucharist really took place. As he suggested, anyone can eat bread and drink wine, but to participate in the Eucharist is to have Jesus made known to you in the breaking, blessing and sharing of the bread.

You can access a recording of Bill’s talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 26:53. There is a break at about 6:56, where I paused the recorder while we read the Gospel passage aloud and asked participants to share a word or phrase that struck them.) A copy of the handout we distributed with some questions for further reflection and sources for further reading is here.

Next Wednesday evening will be our final session, during which I will take the lead, giving a talk focusing on the final chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. If you are in the Twin Cities area, please join us. If not, you can listen to all of the program podcasts here on Creo en Dios!

Emulating Christ’s Humility

One of my favorite passages in Paul’s letters is the “plea for unity and humility” in the Letter to the Philippians.

As I was praying with it yesterday, the reality that so forcefully hit me (in a way it had not before) is that we are never justified in saying that something we are asked to do for the common good…for the sake of love of God and our brothers and sisters – not matter what it is – is beneath us

We are often obsessed with protecting our dignity. It is easy for us to think certain things we are asked to do are beneath us….are not befitting our particular station.

What stuck me so clearly as I sat with the words of the passage – reflecting on Jesus who “did not regard equality with God something to be grasped” but rather “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness” – is that there is absolutely nothing, no matter how beneath us it may seem, that compares to what Jesus did. Nothing can be so far beneath us so as to compare with Jesus’ humbling himself by taking on human form.

This passage is something of a reality check for our reactions. If there is some good reason for us to do a particular task or put ourself in a particular position – something that helps others, that promotes the common good – we can never use the excuse that it is beneath us. Jesus took that excuse off the table for good.

Here Comes Everybody

There have been a lot of articles and other posts over the course of the last week relating to the decision of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to appoint a bishop to exercise oversight over reforms of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The CDF accuses the LCWR of “radical feminism” and “corporate dissent.”

Not surprisingly, given the breadth of views within the Catholic Church, there are some who defend the action of the CDF and others who have expressed vehement criticism of the action.

One reaction caused me to pause longer than others. One of my Facebook friends wrote, “These men are not the Church.”

As phrased, that is simply wrong. That is to say, the CDF alone is not the Church, none of us individually is. But a lot of people and groups fall under this large tent that is the Catholic Church. The parish I left at the end of this past year because it no longer spiritually nourished me, as well as the parish I joined. The people who share my vision of what Catholic social teaching says and the people who have a different understanding of what it means. The CDF and the rest of the institutional hierarchy and every individual Catholic – whether they go regularly to Mass or not. The people who say things that make me want to join hands and walk with them and the people who say things that make me want to cringe. We are ALL the Church.

It upsets me when “conservative” (for lack of a better description) want to tell me I’m not the Church, suggesting I go elsewhere if I disagree with them. It upsets me equally when those at the opposite end of the spectrum suggest that those with whom they disagree are not the Church.

There is something to James Joyce’ description of the Catholic Church as “Here Comes Everybody,” an acknowledgement of the variety of people that make up the Church. An essential aspect of Catholicism is precisely that. I think we would all be better off if people were less quick to suggest that anybody is not part of everybody.

Being Prophets in Today’s World

This past Wednesday I had the reflection spot at our Weekly Manna gathering and I spoke on a topic I’ve written on and spoken about before: our call to be prophets and to (in John Neafsey’s words) cultivate our capacity for prophetic imagination.

I used one of my great heroes, Oscar Romero, as my starting point and ending point. Romero was someone who possessed a deep understanding that prophets are not special people who are different from the rest of us, but rather that the people of God “are a prophetic people” by virtue of the presence of God’s spirit within us.

Romero also illustrates the painful reality that there is a cost to living a prophetic life. Shane Claiborne (another of my heroes) observes wryly that “prophets usually get killed,” and Romero was assassinated for speaking the truth to power.

In my talk I spoke about what it means to be a prophet and to possess a prophetic imagination…and about what that means in our world today.

You can access a recording of my Weekly Manna talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 13:30.)

Actions vs. Things

Todays’s Gospel from St. Luke picks up at the tail end of one of my favorite stories – that of the two disciples who encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

Almost all of us can recount their encounter with Jesus by heart. Two disciples are walking along, trying to make sense of the last few days – the torture and execution of Jesus, what it means that he is gone, the strange stories of an empty tomb. They start talking to a man who approaches them, telling them all about what has been going on. And he starts explaining scripture to them. They invite him in and it is only when he breaks and blesses the bread that they recognize that the man is Jesus. They immediately go (and this is where today’s Gospel picks up) and tell the other disciples what they have experienced, including “how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

During the consecration at Mass, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. It is, of course, fine (not to mention a central aspect of Catholic faith) to recognize Jesus in the bread.

But I read an article recently that prompted me to ask: do we focus too much recognizing Jesus in the bread rather than recognizing Jesus in the breaking of the bread?

The article referenced Martin Luther criticism of the Mass as turning an action into a thing, the Church having by that time determined the exact moment during the consecration when bread and wine became Body and Blood. As the author observed, “things” can be “precisely determined.”

Actions, he suggests, are a completely different thing:

Can you isolate the precise point during a birthday party in which someone’s birthday is actually celebrated? Is it the moment we finish singing “Happy Birthday,” the candles are blown out, the gifts opened, or the cake eaten? When do we “genuflect”?

On the other hand, an “action” obviously implies some sort of interaction with something or someone. In this situation, Luke’s Easter Sunday disciples on the road to Emmaus came to recognize the risen Jesus during the interaction of the meal they shared with a stranger they’d encountered on the Emmaus road. It was precisely while they were breaking bread that their eyes were opened and they discovered someone sharing their meal whom they hadn’t noticed before.

The lesson for us today is to be attentive to the interactions that help us recognize Jesus. If we recognize Jesus only in the bread and not in the breaking of the bread, we are missing out on a whole lot of the presence of Jesus in the world.


Last night I saw a fabulous performance of Handel’s Messiah. The Lawrence University Symphony Orcheestra, Viking Chorale, Cantala (the choir Elena sings in) and Concert Choirs all deserve congratulations for their tremendous work.

Although I’ve seen the Messiah performed on any number of occasions, it has always been during the Christmas season, which has become the traditional time for performing it. Last night I saw it almost at the same time as Handel’s first audience, who saw it first performed 11 days after Easter.

Seeing it like this during the Easter season was a very powerful experience. For me, it had something of the same flavor of the Easter Vigil, during which we hear readings that chronicle our salvation history. In the glow of the Easter season, I listened to the prophesy and realization of God’s plan of redemption through the coming of the Messiah (Part One of Handel’s work), the accomplishment of that redemption through Jesus death and resurrection (Part Two), and the hymn of thanksgiving at the final defeat of Death (Part Three). It is hard to describe – but there was a special beauty and power in hearing the story told yet again, coming so close on the heels of the Triduum and Vigil.

It is the tradition that audiences stand during the Hallelujah Chorus of the Messiah, and last night’s audience did not depart from the tradition. (The tradition reputedly dates to the first London performance of the work.) I don’t know why others in the audience stood. Probably many or most did just because they know it is the tradition. Probably some stood because they saw others doing it and figured they were supposed to.

I know why I stood. I stood to honor the King of Kings to whom my life belongs. I stood as an expression of joy at the resurrection. I stood in awe of what God has done and continues to do in the world. And I stood to express my embrace of the truth of the words of that chorus.

Hallelujah! for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord,
and of His Christ;
and He shall reign for ever and ever.
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.