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Jack Levison, author of Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life and 40 Days With the Holy Spirit (which I wrote about here and here) has just had another book published by Paraclete Press.  The book, Holy Spirit, I Pray, is a book of prayers to the Holy Spirit.

A slender, beautifully bound book, Holy Spirit, I Pray contains a series of prayers divided in categories – prayers for morning, prayers for nighttime, prayers for discernment, prayers for crisis and prayers for anytime.  Each prayer is accompanied by the Scripture text that inspired the creation of the prayer.

As I observed to parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes when I led a book study of one of Levison’s earlier books two years ago, it seems to me that the Holy Spirit often gets short shrift. We know that we get the gift of the spirit at Pentecost, some of us can even list the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but we don’t spend a lot of time focusing on that person of the Trinity.  Levison observes in his introduction to this book, citing St. Basil,  the Holy Spirit is often seen as a medium of prayer and worship rather than as an object of prayer and worship.  (Clearly there are exceptions, and there are some well-known prayers to the Holy Spirit.)

There are many beautiful prayers in this book.  I thought I’d here share one of those that immediately resonated with me.

Holy Spirit
Spirit of Jesus
Spirit of Truth:
Ignite in me a passion for the truth
Instill in me a craving for knowledge
Inspire in me a hunger for wisdom.
Not just any truth, random knowledge, indiscriminate wisdom
But the truth about Jesus
who barked at his mother
who cried like a baby
who wore the towel of a servant and washed feeg
who prayed the night away
who broiled fish on a spring morning.
Come to me as
the Spirit of Truth
the Spirit of Jesus
Holy Spirit.
Amen.

You might consider this book as part of your Lenten prayer.

Four years ago today – the day on which we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. – I wrote the following post.  I reprint it here in its entirety because the words he uttered to American Christians in 1956 are not less necessary to hear today than they were then:

Today we commemorate one of the great leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr. We remember him for his commitment to work for the end of racial segregation and other forms of racial discrimination through nonviolent means.

King was a powerful speaker and, on any number of occasions I have quoted from one speech of his or another. One that I think is particularly salient to us today is his 1956 imaginary letter from St. Paul to American Christians. Here is an excerpt of what King imagines St. Paul might have to say to us today:

…America, as I look at you from afar, I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress. Your poet Thoreau used to talk about “improved means to an unimproved end.” How often this is true. You have allowed the material means by which you live to outdistance the spiritual ends for which you live. You have allowed your mentality to outrun your morality. You have allowed your civilization to outdistance your culture. Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood. So America, I would urge you to keep your moral advances abreast with your scientific advances.

I am impelled to write you concerning the responsibilities laid upon you to live as Christians in the midst of an unChristian world. That is what I had to do. That is what every Christian has to do. But I understand that there are many Christians in America who give their ultimate allegiance to man-made systems and customs. They are afraid to be different. Their great concern is to be accepted socially. …

But American Christians, I must say to you as I said to the Roman Christians years ago, “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Or, as I said to the Phillipian Christians, “Ye are a colony of heaven.” This means that although you live in the colony of time, your ultimate allegiance is to the empire of eternity. You have a dual citizenry. You live both in time and eternity; both in heaven and earth. Therefore, your ultimate allegiance is not to the government, not to the state, not to nation, not to any man-made institution. The Christian owes his ultimate allegiance to God, and if any earthly institution conflicts with God’s will it is your Christian duty to take a stand against it. You must never allow the transitory evanescent demands of man-made institutions to take precedence over the eternal demands of the Almighty God. …

It is worth spending some time reflecting on whether the indictment in these words are true. If so, some examination and reformation of our behavior is in order. We all need to ask ourselves: what is my particular responsibility as a Christian in the environment in which I find myself? Are there places I am called to take a stand? And what graces do I need from God to be able to fulfill that responsibility?

I’ve prayed with today’s Gospel reading  – St. John’s account of the Wedding Feast at Cana – any number of times.  What struck me in my prayer this morning, however, was not the miracle.  Rather, it was Jesus’ response to his mother when she tells him their hosts had run out of wine.  “What has this to do with me?”

What immediately came to my mind was Scrooge in the Christmas Carol when solicitors come seeking a contribution for the poor.  “It’s not my business.  It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s.”

And that, too often, is the response – consciously or unconsciously – to the pains and suffering of others.  The fact that some lack adequate housing, food or medical care.  The reality that many in other nations lack access to clean drinking water.  The plight of refugees.  What has this to do with me?

Mary’s response to Jesus, effectively, is: You’re here and you can do something about it, so do it.  That’s the response to Scrooge and that is the response to us.

As I sat with that thought, I heard John Donne’s lines: “Every man is a piece of the continent…Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind.”

Jesus Gets Baptized

Today the Catholic Church and many Protestant churches celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. In the Gospel we hear St. Luke’s account of the event. Jesus goes down to the Jordan, where John the Baptist is baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus allows himself to be baptized by John, after which “the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'”

Why does Jesus allow himself to be baptized? He was sinless and thus had no need of the healing power of the ritual. Indeed, in Matthew’s account of the event (although not in the Luke account we hear today), John tries to argue with Jesus that it is John who should be coming to Jesus for baptism, not he other way around. But Jesus is insistent that John baptize him.

The answer has to do with the voice from heaven. In the words of one commentator, Jesus submitted himself to baptism “in order to invite us to share in his relationship with the Father announced from the heavens.”

St. Paul says that at our baptism, we are baptized into Christ. When we are baptized into Christ, we receive the same Spirit who descended upon Jesus from heaven. And just as God declared Jesus to be His beloved son, we are the beloved sons and daughters.

It is worth spending time praying with this Gospel passage. And not just hearing God speak to Jesus, but hearing God say to you: “You are my beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

I can’t remember a time when I’ve gone this many days without blogging! But I’m teaching two “J-term” courses – January term courses, each of which meets for six hours a week for the four weeks of January – an undergraduate honors seminar called Heroes and Heroism at University of St. Thomas and a graduate Theology course in World Spiritualities at St. Catherine University. Suffice it to say that 12 hours of teaching and the related course preparation are taking a lot of my energy!

I’ve managed to pay enough attention to things outside of my two courses to watch Pope Francis’ first video message for the traditional papal prayer intention for the month, in which he calls on people of different faiths around the world to work together for peace and justice. The reaction to the video has been sharp and varied, with some expressing joy and admiration for the Pope’s words, and others questioning the Pope’s catholicity.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to interfaith dialogue is how to reconcile Christianity’s faith in Jesus Christ as the universal Savior with the positive meaning in God’s plan of salvation of the other religious traditions and their saving value for their adherents. To quote one commentator “How to make sense of the universal mission of Christianity for the whole world without having thereby to depreciate and undervalue the significance of other religious faiths for their adherents?”

It is not a small challenge.

Here is the video, which I plan to show to my World Spiritualities class this evening before we begin our discussion of Judaiam:

Today we celebrate the World Day of Peace. The theme of Pope Francis’ message for this year’s World Day of Peace is Overcome Indifference and win Peace.

In his message (which you can read in its entirety here), Pope Francis wrote

There are many good reasons to believe in mankind’s capacity to act together in solidarity and, on the basis of our interconnection and interdependence, to demonstrate concern for the more vulnerable of our brothers and sisters and for the protection of the common good. This attitude of mutual responsibility is rooted in our fundamental vocation to fraternity and a life in common. Personal dignity and interpersonal relationships are what constitute us as human beings whom God willed to create in his own image and likeness. As creatures endowed with inalienable dignity, we are related to all our brothers and sisters, for whom we are responsible and with whom we act in solidarity. Lacking this relationship, we would be less human. We see, then, how indifference represents a menace to the human family. As we approach a new year, I would ask everyone to take stock of this reality, in order to overcome indifference and to win peace.

What will you do to help overcome indifference as we begin this new year?

As we come to the transition between one year and the next, I can’t think of a better poem to share than T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi. Here it is:

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kiking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

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