Many thanks - a lifetime of thanks, really - to Sherry and Keith Strohm, the other two teachers at Making Disciples, who let me leave early to preside and preach at Sue's funeral. The Church was full of her friends and colleagues (don't know what we would have done if school had been in session and the students were there in force...). Ten of her priest friends were there to concelebrate, as well as her mother, father, and brother from Massachusetts. I still am in denial that I won't see her again - at least in this life. She was a sister to me, even though we had what we liked to call an "interspecies relationship," since she was an OSU Beaver Believer and I was an Oregon Duck. The picture shows me wearing a gift from the Corvallis Catholic community after I preached a mission there last Lent: an OSU Beaver scarf.
I hope you don't mind if I include the homily I preached. She was a great friend and a tremendous servant to everyone. As Barb Anderson, a pastoral associate at St. Mary's, Corvallis, OR, preached at her wake, Sue's mantra was always, "What can I do to support you?" I can't count how many times I heard that from Sue - and it was always genuine.
The readings for her funeral were: Isaiah 25:6-9; 1 Thes 4:13-18; John 11: 17-27
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines… Isaiah, the prophet, the dreamer, foresees a generous God preparing a feast for all peoples, not just a chosen few. It’s quite an extravagant meal he describes, and for a people who often suffered from famine, it was the very essence of heaven. That feast on the mountain of Mt. Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, is foretasted today, in this eucharist, an extravagant feast set before us by the host who provides his own body as the main course. That feast was also foretasted by all of us who were blessed to experience Sue’s hospitality. I remember how delighted she was to learn that such a humble, often undervalued trait was actually a gift of the Holy Spirit, a way in which she participated in God’s hospitality.
And yet hospitality was at the very heart of Jesus’ culture, and Jesus himself. All we have to do is look to the meaning of word itself to see that. Hospitality comes from the latin, hospitalitem, or “friendliness to guests.” Well, that doesn’t sound very remarkable. Almost like “being nice.” Until, of course, you know that hospes, the Latin word at the root of hospitality, meant “enemy,” or, more commonly, “stranger.” That same meaning of stranger is also preserved in the Latin word hostis, or “host.”
So let’s revisit Isaiah’s vision of the final and eternal meal, for a moment. On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines
God is, indeed, the Lord of hosts, the Lord of strangers. The very first meal recorded in scripture – a snack of forbidden fruit – is accompanied by a promise “eat this, and you will be like gods, knowing everything.” For we all are estranged from God by our own strange dream of taking God’s place and becoming autonomous; by doing our will, rather than God’s. The result is described in Genesis 3: estrangement – alienation from God, from each other, even from nature. In this estrangement, death is the physical manifestation of a spiritual reality of life apart from God. The rest of the Hebrew scriptures recount God’s faithfulness to us and our continued unfaithfulness to God – what St. Paul recognized as our absolute inability to follow God’s will as described by the Jewish Law.
To remedy this intolerable situation, God did what ancient myths in various cultures dreamt of.
He came to us.
God sent His only Son, literally made him “welcome.” Like “hospitality,” the word “welcome” has interesting roots - the Old Engish wilcuma "welcome guest/stranger," literally, "one whose coming is in accord with another's will.”
Jesus was our guest – a stranger in our midst. Strange because he was like us in all things but sin – and thus full of life, not a trace of death within him. So he can truly say to Martha, “I am the resurrection" – the overcoming of death. He truly is the life who came that we might have life in abundance.
But this abundant life, expressed by Isaiah as a bountiful, never-ending meal, is found only through belief in him: “whoever believes in me, even if she dies, will live.” But this death-defeating belief is much more than mere assent to doctrines and dogmas, for “even the demons believe, and shudder.” Jesus says those who believe in him and live in him will never die. They will be so full of life that death will have no lasting power over them, and St. Paul assures us in our loss that those, like Sue, who have lived in Jesus will be among the first to rise on the last day. Why? Because she died as she lived: in Christ.
What I mean by that was, Sue showed us a particular side of Jesus. He manifested himself to us in a special way through the gift of hospitality that he gave her when she was joined to him in baptism. During his earthly ministry, he had “no place to lay his head,” yet he offered hospitality to those who were strangers to God. He welcomed sinners and ate with them; that is, he willed that sinners should come to him. That was, and is, the will of His Father. He dined with those he knew would abandon him in his darkest hour – even with one who would betray him. And he still does that today, in this eucharist, where he is found in that piece of bread-become-His-flesh we call the host – the stranger – who is in our midst.
In Sue and through Sue, Jesus continued to show us that hospitality. Not just around Simple Suppers at Newman, or at her own table loaded with fresh breads and homemade soups; Mexican casseroles and always a smackeral of something sweet.
No, Jesus revealed the radical nature of his hospitality in Sue’s dream of a Church in which all were welcomed to struggle together towards genuine discipleship. The Jesus she knew and loved welcomes the obvious saint and obvious sinner; progressives and traditionalists; men and women; "people of every race, language and way of life"; clergy and laity – yes, even Beavers and damn Ducks. So that’s what she did – or, better, what Jesus did through the gifts he gave her. Like St. Paul who rejoiced that in Christ there was neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, Sue gently, persistently worked to overcome all the ways we make each other strangers of one another. And in doing that, she worked to overcome ways we make ourselves strangers to Christ.
It is so fitting – God’s providence, really - that we celebrate Sue’s life on the feast of St. Martha, the woman who shared with Sue the gift of hospitality, and who had the privilege of offering it to her Lord. In Martha’s home, as well as in Sue’s, Jesus found a place where he was not a stranger, but a friend; he relaxed before a hearth filled with gentle human warmth; a place where not only the door was open, but the door of a heart was recklessly opened to receive him.
Let us pray that Sue is “welcomed” into heaven by Martha, the woman she so resembles, and by Jesus, whose people she so hospitably served. Let us pray that her coming there is "in accord with the will of" Jesus, who loves her and gave his life for her. Let us pray that we welcome Jesus into our life, that at it’s end he may not be a stranger to us. And finally let us sing of Sue and take up her dream, which is so beautifully expressed in the song, "All Are Welcome"
Let us build a house where love can dwell And all can safely live, A place where saints and children tell How hearts learn to forgive. Built of hopes and dreams and visions, Rock of faith and vault of grace; Here the love of Christ shall end divisions; All are welcome, All are welcome, All are welcome in this place
Let us build a house where prophets speak, And words are strong and true, Where all God's children dare to seek To dream God's reign anew. Here the cross shall stand as witness And a symbol of God's grace; Here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:All are welcome, All are welcome, All are welcome in this place
Let us build a house were all are named; their song and vision heard and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word built of tears and cries and laughter; prayers of faith and songs of grace Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter: all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.
[I concluded by singing a final verse a capella; a verse I modified for this occasion.]
God has built a house where love now dwells And all do joyfully live, A place where saints with childlike hearts all know how to forgive. Fulfilled hopes and dreams and visions; Sight, not faith; a vault of grace; Where the love of Christ ended divisions;
Sue is welcome, Sue is welcome, Sue is welcome in that place.
Sue Gifford of Corvallis, Oregon. Sue had been the campus minister there for many years and was greatly loved. She had also been seriously and chronically ill for many years and was the embodiment of faith, hope, and grace under pressure for many. Please pray for Sue and her family and friends this Sunday.
And for all those attending Making Disciples this week.
Making Disciples, our 4 day seminar on evangelization, begins today here in Colorado Springs so blogging will be scarce until Friday. We have participants coming from the Detroit area, Atlanta area (a parish associate and all her leaders) , Corpus Christi, Canton, Ohio (a pastor and his leaders, 15 in total!) Tennessee, Colorado Springs, and Singapore. I spent most of yesterday cleaning and cooking (i'll be having guests) while praying, praising, and pondering.
One of the things I was pondering was our Catholic tendency not to "name the name". We use all kinds of euphemisms for Jesus ("Our Lord" is a classic. Reverent certainly, but also subtly distancing and for non-Christians, a but confusing. Just who do we mean?) but we seldom name his name unless the liturgy or the office requires that we do so. We talk incessantly about the Church. But not about the Lord, Savior, Redeemer, and Head of the Church. Not Jesus. Not by name. Not spontaneously without the liturgy to give us "cover". To do so, seems so naked, so unsophisticated, so pietistic, so what - Protestant??
I am not the only one who has noticed this aspect of American Catholic culture. A Catholic scholar friend of mine has mischievously coined a memorable phrase to describe it: Jesus is "He who must not be named".
It is light of this, that I was delighted to read the homily of the new Archbishop of Omaha over at Whispers. We have done quite of bit of work with the folks in Omaha lately and will be doing more in future. I would guess that Archbishop Lucas' words delighted them.
"You and I will never be able to put ourselves on the line in our time and place – to profess our faith in Jesus – to be witnesses as well as disciples – unless we are sure that He is alive – risen from the dead. We will never be convinced of that truth unless we have a personal encounter with Him, as Peter did. The Holy Spirit makes that personal encounter with the Lord possible right where we live, in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. In our Catholic faith, we not only remember Jesus, we meet him. We are formed into His living Body by the Holy Spirit. If we are really witnesses to Christ, then we look for opportunities to bring others to Him. We will never convince anyone to put faith in the risen Jesus unless we can offer them a personal experience of Him. That becomes possible when we put ourselves on the line for Him – when it is clear to our neighbors that we will not turn away from Jesus, the living truth, no matter what.
None of us would be here today if we were not convinced that Jesus is calling us to be his witnesses. And we see that none of us have to do it alone. We are given to each other that we might strengthen each other in the midst of a culture that is often inhospitable to faith and witness. The devil tempts us to become discouraged, but we lift each other up with the hope given to the baptized.
Sherry's note: I simply love the first sentence below! (The emphasis is mine.)
Since Jesus is alive, no good thing is impossible for us. Will we who know that Jesus is risen allow ourselves to think that chaste marriages are impossible? It is not impossible to witness to the risen Christ in this way. Knowing that Jesus lives, can we give up on feeding the hungry or sheltering the homeless? Will we ever let ourselves think that it is impossible to foster a culture of life, to revere our brothers and sisters in the womb, the sick, the dying? Has it become impossible to teach the beauties of our Catholic faith to our children, including poor children?
Is it impossible to think that gifted young people would put aside their own plans to follow Jesus in the priesthood and the consecrated life? Is it impossible to accept forgiveness, even for grievous sins, as Peter did, from the crucified and risen Christ?
It is difficult now to be witnesses to the risen Christ – as it has been in every age. We are weak and we fall short. However, let us not think for a moment that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead has somehow become a smaller event over the years. Let us not think that the Holy Spirit has gotten tired over so many generations and so many miles, that we might not have a full portion of the Spirit in Northeast Nebraska in 2009."
Amen and Amen.
Gotta finish getting ready. Lets go wild this week. Let's make a point of Name-dropping as we go through the days. Name the Name. Praise the Name. Glory in the Name. Pray in the Name.
Here's a wonderful article on speaking and honoring the Holy Name of Jesus from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia:
"At the Holy Name of Jesus we uncover our heads, and we bend our knees; it is at the head of all our undertakings, as the Emperor Justinian says in his law-book: "In the Name of Our Lord Jesus we begin all our consultations". The Name of Jesus invoked with confidence brings help in bodily needs, according to the promise of Christ: "In my name They shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover". (Mark 16:17-18) In the Name of Jesus the Apostles gave strength to the lame (Acts 3:6; 9:34) and life to the dead (Acts 9:40).
It gives consolation in spiritual trials. The Name of Jesus reminds the sinner of the prodigal son's father and of the Good Samaritan; it recalls to the just the suffering and death of the innocent Lamb of God. It protects us against Satan and his wiles, for the Devil fears the Name of Jesus, who has conquered him on the Cross.
In the Name of Jesus we obtain every blessing and grace for time and eternity, for Christ has said: "If you ask the Father anything in my name he will give it you." (John 16:23) Therefore the Church concludes all her prayers by the words: "Through Our Lord Jesus Christ", etc.
So the word of St. Paul is fulfilled: "That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth" (Philippians 2:10).
A special lover of the Holy Name was St. Bernard, who speaks of it in most glowing terms in many of his sermons. But the greatest promoters of this devotion were St. Bernardine of Siena and St. John Capistran. They carried with them on their missions in the turbulent cities of Italy a copy of the monogram of the Holy Name, surrounded by rays, painted on a wooden tablet, wherewith they blessed the sick and wrought great miracles. At the close of their sermons they exhibited this emblem to the faithful and asked them to prostrate themselves, to adore the Redeemer of mankind. They recommended their hearers to have the monogram of Jesus placed over the gates of their cities and above the doors of their dwelling (cf. Seeberger, "Key to the Spiritual Treasures", 1897, 102).
Because the manner in which St. Bernardine preached this devotion was new, he was accused by his enemies, and brought before the tribunal of Pope Martin V. But St. John Capistran defended his master so successfully that the pope not only permitted the worship of the Holy Name, but also assisted at a procession in which the holy monogram was carried. The tablet used by St. Bernardine is venerated at Santa Maria in Ara Coeli at Rome.
The emblem or monogram representing the Holy Name of Jesus consists of the three letters: IHS. In the Middle Ages the Name of Jesus was written: IHESUS; the monogram contains the first and last letter of the Holy Name. It is first found on a gold coin of the eight century: DN IHS CHS REX REGNANTIUM (The Lord Jesus Christ, King of Kings). Some erroneously say that the three letters are the initials of: "Jesus Hominum Salvator" (Jesus Saviour of Men). The Jesuits made this monogram the emblem of their Society, adding a cross over the H and three nails under it. Consequently a new explanation of the emblem was invented, pretending that the nails originally were a "V", and that the monogram stands for "In Hoc Signo Vinces" (In This Sign you shall Conquer), the words which, according to a legendary account, Constantine saw in the heavens under the Sign of the Cross before the battle at the Milvian bridge (312).
Urban IV and John XXII are said to have granted an indulgence of thirty days to those who would add the name of Jesus to the Hail Mary or would bend their knees, or at least bow their heads when hearing the Name of Jesus (Alanus, "Psal. Christi et Mariae", i, 13, and iv, 25, 33; Michael ab Insulis, "Quodlibet", v; Colvenerius, "De festo SS. Nominis", x). This statement may be true; yet it was only by the efforts of St. Bernardine that the custom of adding the Name of Jesus to the Ave Maria was spread in Italy, and from there to the Universal Church. But up to the sixteenth century it was still unknown in Belgium (Colven., op. Cit., x), whilst in Bavaria and Austria the faithful still affix to the Ave Maria the words: "Jesus Christus" (ventris tui, Jesus Christus).
Sixtus V (2 July, 1587) granted an indulgence of fifty days to the ejaculation: "Praise be to Jesus Christ!" with the answer: "For evermore", or "Amen". In the South of Germany the peasants salute each other with this pious formula.
Sixtus V and Benedict XIII granted an indulgence of fifty days to all as often as they pronounce the Name of Jesus reverently, and a plenary indulgence in the hour of death. These two indulgences were confirmed by Clement XIII, 5 Sept., 1759. As often as we invoke the Name of Jesus and Mary ("Jesu!", "Maria!") we may gain an indulgence of 300 days, by decree of Pius X, 10 Oct., 1904. It is also necessary, to gain the papal indulgence in the hour of death, to pronounce at least in mind the Name of Jesus."
What a great idea to affix the monogram for Jesus' name above your door! Would it be great if you knew that you were at the door of a Catholic home because the Name was above the door?
This past Sunday, it is possible that more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so-called “Christian Europe. Yet in 1970 there were no legally functioning churches in all of China; only in 1971 did the communist regime allow for one Protestant and one Roman Catholic Church to hold public worship services, and this was mostly a concession to visiting Europeans and African students from Tanzania and Zambia.
This past Sunday more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain and Canada and Episcopalians in the United States combined and the number of Anglicans in church in Nigeria was several times the number in those other African countries.
This past Sunday more Presbyterians were at church in Ghana than in Scotland, and more were in congregations of the Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa than in the United States.
This past Sunday there were more members of Brazil’s Pentecostal Assemblies of God at church than the combined total in the two largest U.S. Pentecostal denominations, the Assemblies of God and the Church of God in Christ in the United States.
This past Sunday more people attended the Yoido Full Gospel Church pastored by Yongi Cho in Seoul, Korea, than attended all the churches in significant American denominations like the Christian Reformed Church, the Evangelical Covenant Church or the Presbyterian Church in America. Six to eight times as many people attended this one church as the total that worshiped in Canada’s ten largest churches combined.
This past Sunday Roman Catholics in the United States worshiped in more languages than at any previous time in American history.
This past Sunday the churches with the largest attendance in England and France had mostly black congregations. About half of the churchgoers in London were African or African-Caribbean. Today, the largest Christian congregation in Europe is in Kiev, and it is pastored by a Nigerian of Pentecostal background.
This past Sunday there were more Roman Catholics at worship in the Philippines than in any single country of Europe, including historically Catholic Italy, Spain or Poland.
This past week in Great Britain, at least fifteen thousand Christian foreign missionaries were hard at work evangelizing the locals. Most of these missionaries are from Africa and Asia.
And for several years the world’s largest chapter of the Jesuit order has been found in India, not in the United States, as it had been for much of the late twentieth century.
In a word, the Christian church has experienced a larger geographical redistribution in the last fifty years than in any comparable period in its history, with the exception of the very earliest years of church history. Some of this change comes from the general growth of world population, much also arises from remarkable rates of evangelization in parts of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the islands of the South Pacific—but also from a nearly unprecedented relative decline of Christian adherence in Europe.
The result of population changes—in general for the world, specifically for the churches—is a series of mind-blowing realities: More than half of all Christian adherents in the whole history of the church have been alive in the last one hundred years. Close to half of Christian believers who have ever lived are alive right now.
First of all, Clara, our Australian team director, shares this fun story. The new Master Chef of Australia, Julie Goodwin, is a 38 year old mother of three who openly talks about her Catholic faith in a culture where that is much less common than it is in the States. Master Chef is a reality show and national competition for home cooks who want to become professionals and the winner gets $100,000.
"BEFORE the final verdict was read MasterChef Australia finalist Julie Goodwin was saying a little prayer with her family. The mother-of-three enjoyed time with her family and friends from her local Catholic Church on the NSW Central Coast yesterday.
"All of us have had our battles to fight in this competition and a lot of my philosophies are grounded in my faith," said Goodwin, who met her husband Mick through a St Vincent de Paul youth group 20 years ago.
"I've missed going to mass and seeing my friends and the people there, I've missed that a lot. I think the greatest thing about it was knowing that the community was supporting my family while I wasn't there. There have been lots of casseroles brought around and people coming to help clean the house. It's a real beautiful community thing."
"Rein and Rudd's regular worship in the Anglican Church is a novelty for an electorate schooled in the tradition of keeping church and state on either side of the private and public divide. Rudd's 2006 essay Faith in Politics sought to free God from conservative clutches, and a new study has confirmed that politicians of all stripes are making more mention of religion than MPs in the past.
Faith and family define the contours of Rein's life. Raised by her mother, Elizabeth, to be the best she could be, this creed also helped lift John Rein, her wheelchair-bound father, to seek out milestones and dreams often denied to permanently and totally incapacitated people."
Far from being a traditional political spouse, Rein is the most successful female entrepreneur in Australian history. While Michelle Obama was touring Tuscany during the G 8 summits, Rein was
"in Australia, juggling business meetings with the portfolio of social campaigns she has agreed to champion: most notably the homeless, victims of child abuse, indigenous children, and the Paralympian movement that engaged her father as an athlete and volunteer coach.
"I've spoken with a number of people about this role (of Prime Minister's spouse) and what they all say is that you bring your passions, interests, and strengths, your family and who you are," she says. "Everyone will do this job differently."
I was walking (on the Sabbath) around the Sea of Galilee from Tiberius to Capernum. The Galilean mud caked my shoes and I had to repeatedly knock it off. Suddenly all the stories of foot-washing in the Gospels took on a whole new meaning. Galilean crabs apparently have a death wish since I found so many of them inland and was constantly tossing them back in to the sea.
About half way along, in the midst of these amusements, I found myself in the midst of a banana plantation. Suddenly I began to notice that the rocks littering the landscape no longer looked like mere rocks. They looked like ruins. Just as this dawned upon me, I saw a sign in three languages (English, Hebrew, Arabic) that read
"This is the site of Magda, the home of Mary Magdalene."
I stopped short in awe, trying to trace in the heavily farmed area a trace of my heroine's home.
Today is her feast day. She who is titled by the Orthodox "Equal to the Apostles". I have an icon of her bringing the new of Christ's resurrection to the Apostles on the wall above me as I write.
My favorite image of her is Giotto's portrait of her reaching toward Christ after his Resurrection. Noli Me Tangere. Her face is both radiant and utterly intent.
Two years ago, on the Institute's 10th anniversary, I wrote a very long post on the Existential Cost of Love. Since a large part of the post quoted Rolland and Heidi Baker (featured in the amazing video below) on the cost of answering God's call, I am going to reprint part (not all!) of my original post:
All vocations and all gifts, however wonderful and divinely empowered, demand sustained sacrifice and growing dependence upon God to bring to fruition. They always involve saying "no" to other good things. Many of us don't think long and hard enough about the cost of bringing any work of love to completion in a fallen world. To answer the life-long call for the sake of others that comes with a charism is both joyful beyond words and very demanding.
Perhaps it is because the Institute just celebrated her 10th anniversary but I've been meditating upon the experience of the past 17 years since I received my call. My conclusion would have to be Dickensian: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
I can hardly put into words how astonishing, fulfilling, fruitful, and graced a journey it has been overall or how demanding, relentless, exhausting, and heart-breaking large parts of it have been. People are sometimes surprised that I don't answer with simple one word enthusiasm when asked how I'm doing. That's because "good" or "fine" doesn't begin to cover the waterfront.
In this, I don't imagine that I am different from most intentional disciples (and/or parents!) in mid-life, maxed out and overwhelmed by our commitments and vocation(s). (Most of us have more than one vocation or work of love to which we are called).
It is always infinitely more complicated and cross-grained to actually live a vocation than to dream about it or even say "yes" to it at the beginning. And how many of us begin to withdraw our "yes" in small or large ways when the inevitable, chronic struggles and pain associated with any significant work of love begins to rear its ugly head. How many of us feel that there is something wrong with us, with our discernment, with our situation, with our faith, when the price of love in a fallen world comes due? (Here I am not speaking of the sort of suffering which is not an intrinsic part of our vocation(s) and should move us to appropriate change.)
Rolland and Heidi Baker of Iris Ministries are intimately familiar with this reality. In my 11 part article on Independent Christianity that I blogged in May, I wrote briefly about their remarkable work.
In 1995, the Bakers, who both have PhD's in theology, moved to Mozambique – the poorest country on earth. They were offered a crumbling orphanage by the government but no other support. The Bakers took it and 10 years later they care for over 6,000 orphans. In their spare time, they have planted over 6,000 congregations among the poor in 10 African nations.
Rolland wrote movingly in July of their personal and spiritual poverty in the face of the staggering challenges of their call:
Our four years in Pemba have been tumultuous, intense, filled with demonic attacks, violence, threats, opposition from the government, discouragement, theft, loss, disappointments, failures, staff turnover, and the constant, unrelenting demands of extreme poverty and disease all around us. It almost always seemed that our capabilities and resources were no match for the challenges we faced every day, resulting in a level of chaos and stress that literally threatened our health and lives. Intense witchcraft and a lack of exposure to familiar standards of right and wrong made our work in this very remote part of the world seem all the more impossible. Heidi and I remember many times when we did not know how we could continue, often wondering if we really had good, lasting fruit that was worth the sacrifice.
We are often asked what the overcoming key to our ministry and growth is. We don't think in terms of keys or secrets, but in the simplest truths of the Gospel. We have learned by experience that there is no way forward when pressed to our extremities but to sacrifice ourselves at every turn for His sake, knowing nothing but Jesus and Him crucified. We must die to live. It is better to give than to receive, and better to love than to be loved. We cannot lose, because we have a perfect Savior who is able to finish what He began in us, if we do not give up and throw away our faith.
In years past we did not think we could identify with Paul like this, but now we understand more of what he meant: "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead" (2 Cor. 1:8-9).
A witness to a 2005 presentation by Heidi Baker in Toronto summed up her message this way:
She took the passage of the angel Gabriel's message to Mary and preached on the inherent difficulty of carrying God's call on your life to its completion. Using illustrations from her own life and ministry, she effectively made the point that God's calling is neither easy nor comfort-laden but is filled with great difficulty and the humanly impossible. Thus it is a burden which God asks you to carry, a seed which he places within you which you must then carry and nurture to its completion regardless of the cost to you, your relationships or your reputation. When the Holy Spirit overshadows you (or Mary or I), and places within you the seed of God's Word for your life, you can bet that the cost and inconvenience will be significant and that the path to its completion will require utter reliance upon Him.
Coming to the point of actually hearing the Holy Spirit's (specific) Word for your (specific) life is a very important journey in itself. But once that (specific) Word is received an entirely new journey begins. And that journey promises to be the most difficult and exhilarating of any you can possibly take in your lifetime. It is the journey toward utter reliance upon the power of God and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit's ministry to others through that dependence.
Many lay Catholics, in my experience, regard this sort of language and life experience as “non-Catholic” or “Protestant” or at best, only for saints. But aspiring to great things for God and others is for all the baptized and a great virtue in Catholic understanding. As I wrote in “The Disciplines of Hope” for the Siena Scribe in 2003:
Magnanimity is the aspiration of the spirit to great things. St. Thomas Aquinas called it the “jewel of all the virtues” because the magnanimous person has the courage to seek out what is great and become worthy of it. Magnanimity is rooted in assurance of the highest possibilities of our God-given human nature.
When I first encountered the idea that “aspiring to greatness” was a Christian virtue, I had difficulty taking it in. Aren’t Christians supposed to be humble and to avoid trying to be something special, to minimize and even belittle our abilities and achievements, to avoid ambition, and to prefer anonymity? Even the idea of having charisms distresses some Catholics. Believing that God might do something really important and supernatural through them somehow seems to lack humility. One 84-year-old Scot told me in his lilting brogue, “I couldn’t have charisms; it wouldn’t be humble!”
To allay such fears, we can recognize that humility is magnanimity’s necessary partner, the attitude before God that recognizes and fully accepts our creaturehood and the immeasurable distance between the Creator and his creation. But neither does humility stand alone: without magnanimity, we don’t see the whole of our dignity as human beings. Magnanimity and humility together enable us to keep our balance, to arrive at our proper worth before God, to persist in living our secular mission, and to persevere in seeking our eternal destiny despite apparent frustration and failure.
Magnanimity empowers us to aspire to whatever remarkable vocation God calls us to but the virtue of fortitude ensures that we finish the journey well. As Fr. John Hardon, SJ put it:
Fortitude is “the important commodity of enabling us to carry to successful conclusion the most difficult tasks that are undertaken in the service of God. There are two forms of courage implied in this gift of fortitude: the gift to undertake arduous tasks and the gift to endure long and trying difficulties for the divine glory.
At every Called & Gifted workshop, I quote Venerable John Henry Newman’s words: “God has determined . . . that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, he calls me by my name. He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness and he means to give it to me.”
I believe every word as did Newman. But, outside the Garden, our journey to that greatest happiness, always requires the Holy Spirit’s gifts of magnanimity and fortitude, no matter how blessed or apparently awful the particular circumstances of our unique journey may seem to outsiders.
When I encounter adult Catholics who seem strangely unmarked by the existential cost of love and mission, I can’t help but wonder if they are in a state of arrested spiritual or personal development. Have they truly said “yes” to Christ? Have they truly said “yes” to the loves and calls that God has given them?
At the heart of every life long, God-given vocation is the same mystery of love, joy, and pain that Christ himself embraced:
‘For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.’
"I always wanted to live and believe the Sermon on the Mount, but usually got told that it did not mean all that I thought it meant, and that I needed to be practical. I would read the Scriptures longingly, trying to imagine how wonderful it would be not to worry about anything, safe and secure in the presence of Jesus all the time. Miracles would be normal. Love would be natural. We could always give and never lose. We could be lied to, cheated and stolen from, and yet always come out ahead. We would never have to take advantage of anyone, or have any motive but to bless other people. Rather than always making contingency plans in case Jesus didn't do anything, we could count on Him continually. We, our lives, and all that we preach and provide would not be for sale, but would be given freely. . . .There would always be enough!"
I've thought about posting the following video for several weeks now but my nerve failed. I've showed it to a few very theologically savvy Catholics and they were all blown away. So I've changed my mind. I think It is enormously valuable for us to get some sense of the breadth of what God is doing in our generation.
So with that mysterious introduction, I'll just urge you to watch the video - which is part 7 of a very low budget ($20,000) documentary, The Finger of God, filmed around the world. This section begins in China but quickly moves to Africa where the section I'd like you to watch takes place.
I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?"
Since part 7 ends abruptly, I've added part 8 so you can hear - and see - some of the rest of the story. Watch both if at all possible. It will be a 20 minutes you'll be thinking about for a long time.
Healing on the streets’ is an initiative that has come from a Vineyard Church in Coleraine, Northern Ireland and has spread throughout the UK. Permission to be on the streets has to be sought from the local council and the police and then the methodology is quite simple. You meet for prayer and praise for one hour before going out, then you claim the ground through prayer on the street before you set up your banner and chairs and then hand out leaflets telling of our belief that Jesus healed 2000 years ago and that He still heals today.
For many people the Church has become institutionalised and so non-believers can pigeon hole Christians. ‘Healing on the streets’ allows us to challenge this perception and offer a personal touch of the love of Christ through our face-to-face contact, the laying on of hands and the building of relationships. People need to see and experience prayer. In St Albans city alone the statistics of those permanently ill, disabled or with a limiting long-term illness are staggering. Others have lost faith and are disillusioned with life, so being out on the streets meets them exactly where they are, without putting any pressure on them to attend a church. Many of us will continue in the week to pray for those we have met and we keep a record of conversations and prayers so that an intercessory team can continue to pray for the needs for those we have made contact with.
We have been amazed at the things we have seen. One remarkable incident was when a large group of teenagers started to congregate and we thought they were going to start some trouble or at least mock us. But they started coming forward for prayer in full view of their friends. A couple of lads asked the Lord to bless their footballing ambition, which was great, then one asked the Lord to take away his tendency for violence. This absolutely stunned us. Last week a lady came back to us and thanked us as she no longer has to have a cataract operation as the Lord had healed her. Then minutes later someone else came to tell us that following our prayer for her husband he was now much better. One man, who has come back week after week, wasn’t able to speak at all at first, and now he is beginning to say a few words. We have laid hands on people whose back and leg pain has lessened as we have prayed. They have been amazed.
As the months have passed I have prayed with many people and have been so humbled at the words God has given me to speak right into their hearts. I have found that He often leads me to those who have left the Catholic Church and I have been able to listen to the pain they have suffered or the frustrations they have had. Recently I prayed for a young man who felt he was not worthy of prayer as he had left the Catholic Church after his Confirmation. He had not been back for about 5 years. We talked for a short time and then he allowed me to lay my hand on his arm and pray for him.
Very well done. Winsome, thoughtful, and curiosity-inducing, I'd say. Spiritual ecumenism of the best kind.
As the website puts it:
Rejesus has a single focus - it goes to the very heart of Christian life and faith - the person of Jesus Christ himself. Its aim is to reach people who have little previous knowledge of Jesus or the Christian faith and to encourage a step or two of faith. Every visitor has the opportunity to delve into engaging material and respond to it by giving their opinion, praying a prayer or asking a tough question. Friendships are created in the Community section and people are taking steps of faith.
Keep this website in mind for your friends and family who seem to be spiritually open or seeking. Could also be very useful for those in Inquiry or considering entering inquiry - especially from a non-Christian background.
If you go to the NASA website today, you'll be greeted with the iconic moment of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon. Forty years ago today.
And if you go to this immensely cool site: We Choose the Moon, you can experience the whole event in real time!
My father was one of the men and women who made that possible. I grew up barefoot, a blue eyed baby Baptist on a Mississippi beach, because he was overseeing the invention of processes that made the space program possible. My dad later received a special issue coin containing a bit of Apollo 11 and inscribed with the words "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind". My father was too shy to return purchases for a refund at the local hard ware store but he had the right stuff.
In light of Walter Cronkite's death yesterday, it is moving to witness his spontaneous joy in the old footage. Before Star Wars and its endless imitators made space travel seem blase, this was the real thing. A moment of wonder and triumph, not tragedy, that drew the world together.
A man's reach should exceed his grasp or what's a heaven for . . .
I'm back. My retreat time was very illuminating and I'll share more in a bit.
Fr. Mike is a very busy man in Tucson this morning, what with a 5 am (his time) interview on Relevant Radio, three appointments back to back and being the only OP in the place at present. So we won't be hearing from him for a bit. It's monsoon season in Arizona, the humidity is high, and the living anything but easy!
I need to draft a letter and then you'll hear from me.
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