I was in Colorado Springs for a wedding this weekend, and am now stuck in the Denver airport because of a missed connection. I haven't posted anything for awhile, so I thought I'd share some of my reflections from the homily I gave at the wedding of two dear friends. They had a lovely, simple nuptial Mass - not a lot of frou frou, but a real focus on the sacraments of matrimony and eucharist. The bride was sponsored by her husband through RCIA two years ago (they weren't dating at the time, but were friends), and she comes from a large evangelical family (although her folks were Catholic once upon a time) There were many Protestants and unchurched people at the wedding, including some folks I know from the local gym, so that had an influence on my preaching.
Here are the readings they chose: Tobit 8:5-7 Ps 85 Rom 8:31-39 John 6:44-59
Here's the homily, with a few personal bits of information excised... A few days ago Christianne (not her real name), a friend from Tucson, sent a message to me via my hated Facebook page. She suffers from a sometimes crushing depression, but I wouldn’t have known that if she hadn’t told me. She has raised a wonderful family, is happily married, and is a journalist dedicated to getting at the truth of things. But because of the depression and her desire for truth, she struggles with God. She and her husband were talking about God, and questions they had about him, including what kind of God would need eternal praise – & wouldn’t an eternity of praising God be a bit boring?
Usually our questions reveal our presumptions, more than ignorance, and I had to respond to Christianne. The God Eve and Adam (not their real names) have come to know doesn’t have self-esteem issues; God isn’t needy. In fact, the Christian scriptures, which are God’s patient self-revelation, unveil a God who is loving and inexplicably humble. It begins with creation, with all it’s beauty, diversity and mystery - which is absolutely unnecessary. Christians understand God as both unity and community: a mutually shared love of Father for Son and Son for Father, with that reciprocal, total gift of self being the Holy Spirit. God is perfection, lacking nothing, and absolutely complete in His self-effacing love.
And yet, anyone who has ever known the freedom of mutual love knows that it finds deeper fulfillment and joy in being shared with others. A love that must remain simply “me and thee,” is infected already with selfishness, and so God freely chooses to create - simply to have a creation to love. This is the heart of humility, which is self-forgetfulness. True humility does not consist in putting down one’s self, or downplaying what one has done. True humility isn’t preoccupied with the self at all, but seeks to increase the dignity of others. And God creates us, we are told, in his image and likeness. We are meant to be a reflection of God Himself. There is no greater dignity we could receive.
And yet, from the beginning, Genesis tells us, we creatures, with the freedom God gave us, chose -and continue to choose - our will over God’s. We say, “I don’t want to be just a reflection of you. I gotta be me!” But of course, we who were created out of nothing have nothing of our own, and so we literally choose non-existence: a.k.a. death.
And then the Scriptures reveal God humbling himself yet again, establishing a covenant with His fallen humanity, through individuals like Noah and Abraham, and then a whole people – albeit a stubbornly disobedient people. And this is humility – God once again increasing our dignity, making us partners in a relationship God promises to never break off, no matter how often we are unfaithful to our end of the deal.
St. Paul rejoices in this covenant love and faithfulness in his letter to the Romans you chose. Even in the midst of his own misfortunes Paul could claim, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It is in Jesus that we find God’s humility expressed once again. In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul urges us to imitate that humility. “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness…” The eternally beloved Son – God Himself – takes on our humanity and is born in time, and in the Gospel of Luke angels tell poor shepherds they will find him lying in a manger – as though he were food for animals. But again, because humility is all about looking out for the interest of others, this incarnation is for our best interests – and in so many ways.
One of them we hear in the Gospel you chose. Jesus reminds his Jewish listeners of how God gave his chosen people, whom he redeemed, - i.e., set free from their slavery in Egypt, - manna, a bread-like substance while they traveled through the desert. But as miraculous as manna was, those people still died. They were still disobedient. Jesus promises to give them a new bread from heaven, a bread which, incredibly, is his own body, and a drink that is his own blood and thus, in the Jewish mind, the very essence of his life. John, the evangelist, is always very careful about his language, and in this passage, the Greek verb for eating that he uses is odd – not the typical word for humans eating something, but the word for animals munching or gnawing. Jesus, laid in a manger at birth, offers to give his body as real food; food which will lead to eternal life: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” And his listeners rightly take him literally, and find this teaching difficult to hear. Jesus tells us his body overcomes the death that is ours because of our disobedience.
How? Once again, it is because of God’s humility. St. Paul revels in it in his letter to the Philippians, “found human in appearance, Jesus humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” God our Father, knowing that we, his fallen, yet beloved creation, will never be able to be obedient, sends his beloved Son to be obedient – as a human – for us. And we brutally rejected him, nailing him to a cross because his obedience only highlighted our disobedience. In God-made-flesh hanging on a cross we finally reach the deepest expression of God’s humility and love for us. God did not spare his own son, but handed him over for all of us. God keeps the covenant for us; and in Jesus, God-made-man, man is finally obedient. So death has no power over Jesus, who is raised from the dead by His Father.
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, on the night before he dies, Jesus takes bread and wine, blesses them, and gives them to his disciples, saying, “Take, and eat, this is my body; this is my blood.” His body, which will be the final sacrifice on the altar of the cross for them; his blood poured out upon the thirsty ground as obedience in place of their disobedience. Adam and Eve, in a few moments we will remember what Jesus has done for us. As Catholics, you believe that his one perfect sacrifice is made present, and his body and blood given to you as true food and drink. God loves you so much, He wants you to be like him. Jesus loves you so much, He wants to be a part of you – and you a part of Him – in the most profound intimacy. Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” You cannot become like Jesus unless He remains in you and becomes the beating heart of your marriage.
Now there’s a reason I went through all this explanation. Because just as Tobiah and Sarah married for the noble purpose of bringing life into the world, so too, you, Adam and Eve, may be raised by God to the dignity of being co-creators of new life with Him. St. Paul says that anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword will not separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Just so, God is raising your dignity by allowing you to promise in a few moments to love each other in good times and bad, in sickness and in health – with his help. And only if you remain in Jesus, you will be able to keep that promise and imitate the faithfulness and love and humility of God.
Humble yourselves each day. Do not look after your own interests, but each other’s. And not only for the interests of your spouse, but the interests and well-being of any children God may give you. And not only their interests, but the interests of the people with Alzheimer’s that you serve, Eve; or the homeowners who employ your carpentry skills, Adam. And then, in your humility, you will be imitating the God who is humble, self-forgetful love. You will truly be a living image and likeness of God; an icon of God, a light in darkness.
Can there be anything more pleasing to God than seeing his children learning to be like Him? This is the greatest praise we can give Him, who is love, both in this life, and eternally, in the next. Be humble enough to love. That's one experience I've never heard described as boring.
"The first characteristic that the Lord requires from his servant is fidelity. He was given a great good, which does not belong to him. The Church is not our Church, but His Church, the Church of God. The servant must account for his management of the good that has been entrusted to him. We must not bind men to us, we must not seek power, prestige, esteem for ourselves. We must lead people to Jesus Christ and thus towards the living God."
Pope Benedict, homily for episcopal ordination, St Peter's Basilica
Here's a novel approach to evangelization, Korean style (H/T Peter Kim at Totus Tuus)
<?? ???> reported that a book of Catholic Catechism has been so popular among Korean soldiers for years. <??? ? ???>, the Catholic Catechism for Korean military services was published by the military ordinariate of Korea. The book got so much attention from Korean soldiers because of the picture on the cover. The prayerful person wearing the veil in the picture is Tae-Hee Kim, one of the top actresses in Korea. The news reported that even Protestants and Buddhists go to Catholic Church on the day when the books are distributed.
Korean soldiers live in a very much restricted environment and religious services are usually allowed only in the Sunday morning. During 26 months of military services, religious services on Sundays are the almost only chance to get out of military camps other than official vacation. Their motive was silly but the military ordiniariate has succeeded in fishing a lot of soldiers into Catholicism.
Padre Marcelo Rossi's Mass for tens of thousands of Catholics in a glass factory. Allen writes:
"I realize this is a bold claim, but I'm going to make it anyway: If you haven't been to Mass with Padre Marcelo Rossi, you haven't really been to Mass.
Theologically, of course, that's ridiculous, because every validly celebrated Mass has the same spiritual value. Sociologically, however, I guarantee that a Mass with Padre Marcelo is an experience you won't soon forget."
In some ways the Mass was like an emotional roller coaster ride, repeatedly building to a fevered crescendo, only to come back down for moments of deep reverence. People were respectful of the key moments, such as the proclamation of the gospel and the eucharistic prayers, but they also seemed to know when it felt right to send up a chant of "Hey, Hey, Hey, Jesus is King!" (which sounds much more lyrical in Portuguese) and when to offer raucous applause.
The Mass proceeded, punctuated by the same alternating cycle of pop-music exuberance and deep reverence. At the end, Rossi and the priest with whom he concelebrated placed a large host into a gleaming monstrance.
All the lights were turned off as people lit small candles, producing a shimmering sea of light. As a haunting ballad played in the background, Rossi slowly came down from the stage and made the rounds of the hall, holding the monstrance aloft. It was the most spiritually evocative moment of the evening, with the vast crowd silently riveted on the monstrance as it followed its course back to the altar.
As Allen sums it up:
Hearing about all this second-hand, I suppose it's possible to look askance, regarding what I'm describing as more Lollapalooza than liturgy. In the moment, however, one can't help but sense a spirit that's incredibly powerful. In the first blush afterwards, my unreflective reaction, voiced to no one in particular, was: "There's a church that's alive!"
I've heard very similar stories from those who were there about Masses in Africa where thousands of worshippers sing and sway and pray with great intensity for hours.
Allen has gone out on a limb on this one. "A church that's alive!" What an evocative way for a man who has experienced the Church's life in such breadth and who has lived and worshipped for years in Rome itself, to respond.
Why is it that so many American Anglo Catholics, especially bloggers, seem incapable of listening thoughtfully to a positive description of such a Mass, of regarding Fr. Rossi as anything more than the worst kind of manipulative showman, or of believing that it is possible for "exuberance" and "deep reverence" to co-exist in the same liturgy?
So cut off are we from the reality of Catholic life in Latin American or Africa where half the Catholics in the world now live. So absorbed are we in re-fighting the battles of the 60's while the global Catholic south, whose struggles are much more fundamental - hunger, poverty, basic human rights - dances and sings during the liturgy with exuberance.
Yesterday was given over to planning full scale implementation of Making Disciples for a large archdiocese in anticipation of a committee phone call last night. The plan was approved all round and everyone (all 8 of us) seem happy.
Now all Fr. Mike has to do is produce an incredibly moving, witty, and compelling two minute video for pastors that will bring them to their feet with tears to their eyes, asking "What must I do to be saved?"
Okay. Maybe not exactly like that.
But the next little bit is up to the committee and Fr. Mike and I can turn my attention to other things.
Like taking pictures of the newly finished waterfall which has truly transformed the whole garden Here's the upper stream running beside the path:
One of the most interesting aspects of this past weekend in LA was that I got to eat with and listen to the stories of leaders (priests, abbots, sisters, lay leaders) whose names I'd heard for years. They were very unpretentious and down-to-earth and remarkably candid.
One leader shared one Bishop's memorable quip on how the Gospel of Jesus Christ so often gets lost in the midst of our ecclesial insider baseball.
Fr. Mike is in Tucson caring for his parents this week while I am busily trying to get prepped for a number of upcoming commitments.
Getting more of our wonderful teachers trained to train others. Planning a large scale implementation of Making Disciples for a large archdiocese. Trying to figure out to squeeze an introduction to spiritual thresholds into two half hour segments for a cathedral. Revising our two weekend version of Making Disciples yet again. Talking through an invitation to establish CSI teams in Hong Kong and Macau. Revising our elegant but old website in the midst of it all.
All good problems to have. The bright side is that I'm home this weekend! Even though I love teaching and really enjoy the chance to meet so many great people and see new places, my heart sinks at the prospect of packing for yet another trip. For some reason, packing is the part of traveling that I dislike the most. With the exception of having my six foot frame wedged into a little bulkhead seat in the little regional jet where the curved walls left little space for my legs like last weekend. Cause the airline had booked me and a mother with her child in the same seat.
I just read an article on non-profits in the U.S. Could hardly believe there are 2 million of 'em out there. The Catherine of Siena Institute is but one of them. We're a bit different in that we make about 85% of our income through goods and services: workshops, seminars, parish missions, talks, and the like. Our website, which is being redesigned, includes a bookstore, through which we sell a variety of discernment resources and books having to do with the lay spiritual life, charisms, and other topics related to our mission.
This organization, begun by lay Catholics, matches sponsors with children, youth, aging and their families of all religious and nonreligious backgrounds so they may live with dignity and achieve their desired potential. “CFCA is a movement of people as much as it is an organization,” said Paco Wertin, CEO of the foundation. “Our relationships are based on integrity and accountability, which permeates all of our behavior.” As a result, “the accountability ratings are very important to us, to our sponsors and our sponsored,” Wertin said. The foundation offers donors comfort by being rated by the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator (four stars) and the American Institute of Philanthropy (“A+”) -- top of the class in terms of governance, management, and financial accountability.
I have been very impressed with this organization from the beginning. I have sponsored two little girls (now young adults!) from the Philippines, and encourage you to consider sponsorship. Your donation of $30.00/month helps provide young people around the globe with education, food, medical care. CFCA also connects people with elderly folks, too. They have serious medical needs as well.
CFCA is an excellent example of lay Catholics seeing a need, and asking themselves, "what can I/we do about this?" Armed with a love and knowledge of Catholic social teaching, three brothers, their sister, and a friend decided to do something about the effects of poverty on the most vulnerable: the very young and the very old. Here's a bit of their history:
CFCA began in 1981 through the visionary leadership of the Hentzen brothers Jim, Bud and Bob, their sister Nadine Pearce and their good friend Jerry Tolle. Both Bob Hentzen and Jerry Tolle had been missionaries in Central and South America for many years. When they returned to the U.S., they had a desire to continue helping the people they once served.
Early on they decided upon sponsorship as the perfect opportunity not only to provide ongoing help for the poor, but also to allow the poor to share their gifts with people in the United States. Both Bob and Jerry emphasized sponsorship as a "two-way street" that preserves the dignity of the sponsored person and depends on personal outreach from sponsors. The mission statement CFCA follows today conveys the same ideas and principles.
CFCA's first office was in the basement of Bob Hentzen's home. Within a few years, the small staff moved to an abandoned farmhouse in Kansas City, Mo. Finally, in 1991, CFCA purchased an old warehouse in an industrial district close to downtown Kansas City where CFCA could also be a visible presence in the local community.
It's now a $100 million/year non-profit, and nearly 99% of their income goes to meet the needs of the needy. Here's how CFCA describes themselves: "We don't see poverty. We see potential. CFCA believes in the potential of the poor to effect change in their own lives and in our world. We help families in developing countries put food on the table, send their children to school, access health care and have a decent place to live so that together, we can end the cycle of poverty."
What's also great about CFCA, is that it's not just about handouts. They are doing some really innovative things to help people become self-sufficient in the production of their own food. Here's an example:
In addition, education is key in helping the next generation have more opportunities than the previous one. I am happy that my sponsor child, Jeny, who is 19, has finished school and has been given job training as well. She writes to me excitedly about the responsibilities of her job, and how proud her family is of her. I'm proud of her, too.
What might God do with you, if you're willing to listen to Him, look around you, examine your gifts and passions, and take a step in faith?
I got home just in time to catch the Colorado Balloon Classic, this morning. It is a staple of Labor Day weekend here but today the weather was simply spectacular. The smoke of LA has blown away, it is cool, sunny, and clear as a bell. A perfect Labor Day.
Even after 8 years here, i still find the open display of faith here a bit startling. To wit, one balloon crew's truck:
And the event Lost and Found (Don't try this in Seattle!)
There was one handicapped pilot in a wheelchair who had a custom made basket.
And the large economy size basket when you want to throw a party in the air.
One the special qualities of our balloon festival is that fact that ordinary by-standers are allowed up close and personal exposure to the whole process of getting the balloons airborn. There are helpers of all ages.
The balloons go up in waves and the goal is for each balloon to successfully "dip" the bottom of their basket into nearby Prospect Lake and then go up again. The water of the lake was so clear and still that I got some great double images:
Yesterday, i could smell smoke around here - LA smoke! On Monday and Tuesday, the haze of the huge fires in the LA almost obscured the mountains which is bizarre for us. But then this has been an usual weather year. Normally the thunderstorms are gone by the time of year and our autumn skies become incredibly luminous and clear with gorgeous sunsets.
I am so grateful that the triple digit temps in LA have ended and it will have dropped into the 80's while I am there.
Fr. Mike was in town very briefly and then flew off this morning for Seattle where he will be doing another day of consultation with the staff of Blessed Sacrament Church as they wrestle with becoming a truly evangelizing parish.
We have so many events scheduled for the next two months and they keep rolling in. We can hardly keep track, much less get them all up on the website:
11 Called & Gifted workshops 5 C & G interviewer/facilitator trainings 1 Making Disciples 1 parish mission and numerous one-of-a-kind special presentations that keep multiplying like rabbits.
Two months ago, we thought we were going to have a quiet fall. Ha! We not complaining, believe me, but thank God for our traveling teachers around the country!