All Praise Be Yours For All on This Earth (or Happy Earth Day)

Today is Earth Day!  In honor, consider praying the canticle attributed to St. Francis.

All praise be yours, My Lord
through all that you have made.

And first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day…
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars;
In the heavens you have made them, bright and precious and fair.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air…

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So useful, lowly, precious and pure.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten up the night…

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother,
Who feeds us…and produces various fruits
With colored flowers and herbs…

Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks,
And serve him with great humility.

You may also enjoy a song we listened to multiple (many multiple) times when Elena was young: Tom Chapin’s Happy Earth Day.

Everything in Common

Every Easter season, we read from the Acts of the Apostles during our Masses, and in doing so, learn much about the early Christian community.

Today’s Mass reading from Acts tells us that

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.

Imagine that!  Making sure each person had what they needed.  Sharing everything, viewing all as for the benefit of all.

It is a vision we should take to heart.  It is a vision we have always needed, but one that is particularly important now as we live through this pandemic.

Are we making sure our health care professionals have what they need?

Are we making sure school children, who would have been receiving meals in school, are being fed?

Are we checking up on our elderly who live alone?

The early Christian community presents a powerful vision….particularly looked at from a world in which nearly 16 million children die every year from preventable and treatable causes and where millions live in hunger or without shelter.

Today’s reading does invite us to reflect on our attitudes about what we have and toward those who lack.  Do we view our property as our own, to do with as we will, or do we appreciate that our possessions are a gift from God that we hold (in Aquinas’ words) for the purpose of “perfecting [our] own nature and [using] them for the benefit of others”?  Do we view it as a fundamental part of who we are as Christians to care for those with less?

And as we reflect on such questions, let us pray this day in a special way for the hungry, the homeless, and those who lack access to basic health care.   As well, we pray for those on the front line of this pandemic.  May they be held in God’s loving embrace.

Go Into the Whole World

In each of the three synoptic Gospels, Jesus commissions the disciples before he departs from them. In Matthew, Jesus says, “go and make disciples of all nations.” In Luke He tells them it is written in the law of Moses that “repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in His name to all the nations.”  In today’s Gospel from Mark, Jesus tells his disciples to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.

What Jesus commands of his disciples, he also commands of us: Go out into the whole world and preach my Gospel. In his Apostolic exhortation, Christifideles Laici, Pope John Paul II wrote:

The entire mission of the Church, then, is concentrated and manifested in evangelization. Through the winding passages of history the Church has made her way under the grace and the command of Jesus Christ: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” …and “lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age”…. “To evangelize,” writes Paul VI, “is the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her most profound identity.”

This can be something of a challenge. We have all heard the expression “preach to the choir.” It is quite easy, isn’t it, to preach to the choir, to go out among the already converted. But our task is much more difficult. We are asked – no, charged – to go outside of our own small circles into the whole world and to preach Jesus, to go out and preach the Good News to all peoples. And that is an entirely different matter from preaching comfortably within our own prayer or church groups.

Wherever we are and whatever we do, our speech and our actions signify who we are.   That makes it worthwhile for us to consider:

What do my speech and actions in public signify?

Am I really doing all I can to be Christ for the world – for all the world?

How am I preaching the Gospel to all creatures?

Living as Easter People

Yesterday was Easter Sunday.  Although our celebrations were different this year from our usual large family gatherings, still we celebrated resurrection.

Easter, however, is not a single day, but continues.  And I don’t only mean for the forty days of the Easter Season on the Church’s liturgical calendar.  Rather we live always as Easter people.

So I share with you today some questions for reflection, that I have kept in one of my journals. My suggestion is that you take some prayer time today sitting with one or more of these.

What difference does the Resurrection make for my life?

What would my view of life be, if Jesus had not risen? Of what that is now important to me would I have been deprived if Jesus had not risen?

For what am I grateful because of the Resurrection?

It is so important for us to think hard about what the truths of our faith mean to us individually. Our faith has to be more than simply a set of propositions that we affirm and feast days that we celebrate with pomp and circumstances (followed by large meals). That means that we need to spend time, not simply singing Alleluia that Jesus has risen, but considering what His rising means to us and to how we live our lives.

Holy Saturday and the Tomb Day Experience

Our lead up to Easter this year has been very different than in most years.  No gatherings to participate in foot washing or veneration of the cross.  Lots of sitting in front of our computers or ipads trying our best to participate in online services.  Now, here we are on Holy Saturday.

But however we are doing so, yesterday, Good Friday, we commemorated the crucifixion of Jesus, and tomorrow we will celebrate the Resurrection.

What about today?

In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius encourages us to take time in the space between Jesus’ death and His Resurrection, believing it is necessary for us to truly experience Jesus’ death and absence before we can fully appreciate the significance of His rising for us. The “tomb day” experience of the Spiritual Exercises is thus an invitation to envision a world without Jesus.

This is a lot more difficult for us than it was for Jesus’ disciples. For us, the progression from Good Friday to Easter Sunday is almost seamless. We live in a world infused with resurrection, so we never question it. The Resurrection is a given.

Do we really appreciate what we have? Do we have a sense of what life would be if Jesus did not rise on the third day?

The disciples did have a very real sense of this. For them, the death of Jesus was the end. Three years of following Jesus and it was all over. Imagine what they experienced! Fear – that everything Jesus had said and done ended at his death. Powerlessness – believing they had been abandoned by God. The finality of loss – as the stone was put in front of the tomb. Confusion – what would they do now?

Tomb day in the Spiritual Exercises invites us to get in touch with that sense of loss, to try to understand what it would mean to live in a world without Jesus.  Ignatius’ instruction for prayer during this day is to be with the disciples and with Mary in their grief over losing Jesus. To be with them as they take Jesus’ body off the cross, wash and anoint it, place it in the tomb, and watch the rock being rolled across the tomb’s entrance. To be with the other disciples afterwards, cowering in the upper room. One instruction for the tomb day experience says, “Let the effect of Jesus’ death permeate your whole being and the world around you for the whole day.”

I encourage you, amidst the preparation for your Easter celebrations, to take some time today to do exactly that: let Jesus’ death permeate your being; experience, as much as you are able, a world without Jesus.

For a different and wonderful Holy Saturday reflection, check out David Haas’ morning sharing for today.  (I have been benefitting tremendously from his morning and evening Facebook livestreams.)

A Good Friday Reflection

Here is Jan Richardson’s Still (For Good Friday).  Blessings to all on this holy day.

This day
let all stand still
in silence,
in sorrow.

Sun and moon
be still.

Earth
be still.

Still
the waters.

Still
the wind.

Let the ground
gape in stunned
lamentation.

Let it weep
as it receives
what it thinks
it will not
give up.

Let it groan
as it gathers
the One
who was thought
forever stilled.

Time
be still.

Watch
and wait.

Still.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons, ©Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.

To Love and Honor God is to Love and Honor Each Other

I have long benefitted from the writings of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.  I just read an essay of his from this past week titled The Prophetic View of Sacrifice.  Sacrifice was “central to the religious life of biblical Israel,” yet one can find frequent critique of sacrifices in the Hebrew Scriptures (and he quotes a number of those in his essay).

Rabbi Sacks points out that the real critique was not aimed at the institution of sacrifices, but of something “as real now as it was in their times.”  He writes

What distressed them to the core of their being was the idea that you could serve God and at the same time act disdainfully, cruelly, unjustly, insensitively or callously toward other people. “So long as I am in God’s good graces, that is all that matters.” That is the thought that made the Prophets incandescent with indignation. If you think that, they seem to say, then you haven’t understood either God or Torah.

The first thing the Torah tells us about humanity is that we are each in the image and likeness of God Himself. Therefore if you wrong a human being, you are abusing the only creation in the universe on which God has set His image. A sin against any person is a sin against God.

Now, as then, the idea that one can wrong another – or, indeed to fail to love another – and think one can appease God by prayer or sacrifice or otherwise, fails to appreciate that “[t]o serve God is to serve humanity.”

There is nothing wrong in true sacrifice.  The problem, Rabbi Sacks suggests, with a system of sacrifice

is that it can lead people to think that there are two domains, the Temple and the world, serving God and caring for one’s fellow humans, and they are disconnected. Judaism rejects the concept of two disconnected domains. Halachically they are distinct, but psychologically, ethically and spiritually they are part of a single indivisible system.

I believe that to love God is to love our fellow humans. To honour God is to honour our fellow humans. We may not ask God to listen to us if we are unwilling to listen to others. We may not ask God to forgive us if we are unwilling to forgive others. To know God is to seek to imitate Him, which means, said Jeremiah and Maimonides, to exercise kindness, justice and righteousness on earth.

These words are true always, but they are an especially good reminder in the time in which we are currently living.  We surely need prayer to sustain us in these times.  But it does not honor God

…for large numbers of people to gather in churches, risking infecting each other

…to suggest that certain groups, such as Asian, are responsible for the Covid-19, thus putting them in physical and emotional jeopardy from others

to fail to help those who are struggling more than we are from the effects of the virus.

 

 

 

Be Consoled

This morning I “attended” Mass at St. Ignatius of Loyola Church in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, presided over by my friend Joe Costantino.  Like many of you, I attended Mass from my home via internet.  It is not the same as being there, but it felt good to be at Mass together.

I thought today’s readings were particularly apt for the time we are living in.  But even more comforting was the song sung at communion, Joe Wise’s Be Consoled.  You can listen to a version of the song here.  Here are the lyrics; as you read or listen, hear God’s promise.

Be consoled, my people, Be consoled and hear:
I will not leave you homeless To live alone with your tears.
Hold your head up with hope now, Don’t surrender your years.
Dawn will break on your nighttime, All the darkness will clear.
Be consoled, my people, Soon the sun will appear.
Be consoled, my people, Be consoled, I am near.

Can a woman forget her child, Life she knew in her womb?
Turn away from the one she nursed, Would she not find the room?
Yet even if she should forget, I will never let go.
Be consoled, my people, Be consoled, my people,
Be consoled, my people, Be consoled, I am near.

Be consoled, my people, Be consoled and hear:
I will not leave you homeless, To live alone with your tears.
Death is not what I saw for you, Chains are not my design.
Love alone is your birthright, not the fears that confine.
Be consoled, my people, Soon the sun will appear.
Be consoled, my people, Be consoled, I am near.

Yet even if you should forget, I will never let go.
Be consoled, my people, Be consoled, my people,
Be consoled, my people, Be consoled, I am near.
Be consoled, my people, You were mine from the start.
Be consoled, my people, You’re too close to my heart.
Be consoled, my people, You’re too close to my heart.

What Does My Yes Look Like?

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Annunciation, and today’s Gospel reading is the familiar account from the Gospel of Luke of the encounter between the angel Gabriel and Mary. It is a scene many of us have prayed with often, and one I have spoken or written about on any number of occasions.

The two things that came up in my prayer this morning on this reading were these.

First,  God consistently asks for human participation in his plan of salvation.  God has done so from the beginning of time.  God doesn’t need our help, but could do everything without us.  And God could have created us with no will to do anything other than that which he demanded.  But God didn’t.  Instead, God created human beings capable of consenting to or deviating from God’s plan for salvation.  And while God desires our consent and cooperation, he will not force it.

Second, Mary’s yes to what must have seemed like an outlandish request, invites us to ask where am I being invited to say yes today?

In the midst of this crazy time in which we are living, what is the invitation?  Perhaps it is to find ways to reach out to support family, friends or strangers.  Perhaps it is to grow in patience in dealing with the difficulties of work and schooling from home.

And so the questions I ask, and we all can ask, are

What am I being invited to say yes to today – in the concrete situation in which we find ourselves?

And what is my response?

 

St. Joseph, Pray for Us

St. Joseph, the human father of Jesus and husband of Mary, is honored on two days by the Catholic Church.  Today is one of those days – The Solemnity of St. Joseph.  (The other is May 1, the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker, a memorial instituted by Pope Pius XII and dedicated to the dignity of labor and to honoring workers.)

Although I had no particular devotion to St. Joseph growing up, or even in the early years after my return to Catholicism in my early 40s, today he is one of those who figure prominently when I visualize the communion of saints.

St. Joseph is an inspiration in so many ways.  First, he reminds us to give people the benefit of the doubt even when their stories seem strange (read: completely unbelievable).  Her never had any proof Mary was not unfaithful to him, yet he listened to the dream/vision that told him to take her into his home.

Second, he helps us remember that we can trust God, even when the world seems upside down.  Surely that is a reminder we can all use right now, as we face this pandemic.

Third, and by no means last, like John the Baptist, Joseph reminds us that one doesn’t have to have the starting role to play an important part.  We get very little mention of him in the Gospels, yet we know this human father of Jesus was my Mary’s side helping raise Jesus.  A quiet presence that protected them and formed a family with them.  He wasn’t flashy, he didn’t get a lot of accolades, but he was there, and he played his role.  He reminds us that all that matters is that we take our part in God’s plan, not worrying if someone else’s role is bigger.

St. Joseph, pray for us!