I finished reading a Christmas gift, Benedict XVI's "Saved in Hope." I had skimmed it when it first came out, but this time gave it more time, and took notes as I read it on various flights over the last week. It brought me to tears. Here's a couple of choice quotes to consider in this Christmas season in which we celebrate God-with-us:
"...to accept the "other" who suffers means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love. The Latin word con-solatio, "consolation", expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude ... Man is worth so much to God that he himself became man in order to suffer with man in an utterly real way - in flesh and blood - as is revealed to us in the account of Jesus' passion. Hence in all human suffering we are joined by one who experiences and carries that suffering with us; hence con-solatio is present in all suffering, the consolation of God's compassionate love - and so the star of hope rises." Spe Salvi, pp. 80-81, 82-83
Who in your life is suffering? Are you willing to "suffer with" them, out of love?
Watch this gorgeous visual of the universe as we know it at present.
And then contemplate this: God knows and loves each individual person, no matter how hidden and obscure, on our tiny, insignificant planet.
The God who created the universe you have seen above, loves each of us so much that he would have become incarnate as a human being and died and risen again for each of us.
As C. S. Lewis put it in The Weight of Glory:
You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations-these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.
We scrubby, broken, frazzled men and women are immortals. The unfathomably immense and beautiful universe in this video is not. Lewis could have as truly said:
The life of the universe is to ours as the life of a gnat..
We are immortals with a profound responsibility for the care and nurture of a glorious work of divine art called earth. But it is not because the earth is immensely old and we come and go like the grass.
It is because we are immortals who have been given the unspeakable and completely undeserved privilege of participating in the eternal life and loves of God himself. And God created, loves, cherishes, and holds in being our terrestrial home at every moment.
How can we take such a reality in?
Enough! the Resurrection, A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, ' joyless days, dejection. Across my foundering deck shone A beacon, an eternal beam. ' Flesh fade, and mortal trash Fall to the residuary worm; ' world’s wildfire, leave but ash: 20 In a flash, at a trumpet crash, I am all at once what Christ is, ' since he was what I am, and This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ' patch, matchwood, immortal diamond, Is immortal diamond.
"...whoever desires greater action needs better contemplation; whoever wants to play a more formative role must pray and obey more profoundly; whoever wants to achieve additional goals must grasp the uselessness and futility, the uncalculating and incalculable (hence "unprofitable") nature of the eternal love in Christ, as well as of every love along the path of Christian discipleship. --Hans urs von Balthasar
It is the start of a new year, a new decade. Many of us have set goals, made resolutions and prepared action plans. We may want to write a book, read more, earn more, be on time. Perhaps with all of our self improvements and increased efficiency we can be more productive at work and at home.
Do we also have the desire to be disciples of Jesus? Von Balthasar urges us to live lives of greater contemplation so that our actions may further the Kingdom of God. As intentional disciples we know that living the life of eternal love may appear as foolishness to the world. However, our love is not calculated to please the world but is offered in gratitude to our Lord and for all of his children.
Whoever wants to command must have learned to follow in a Christ-like manner; whoever wants to administer the goods of the world must first have freed himself from all desire for possession; whoever wants to show the world Christian love must have practiced the love of Christ (even in marriage) to the point of pure selflessness.--von Balthasar
Here von Balthasar offers us a great challenge for to follow in a Christ-like (love immersed) manner may be to follow on to death. Do we trust the Lord (or anyone) enough to obey when everything we have may be demanded? Are we capable of freeing ourselves of all desire for possession? Only with the grace of God can we even conceive of why this may be desirable. Many of us may ask ourselves if we have ever felt a love so great that we would even consider this level of selflessness.
One might think that what our Lord asks is too much. Maybe to live the beatitudes is beyond human capability. Let's not be radical. After all, moderation in pursuit of supernatural virtue is no vice, is it?
Or perhaps for you this is not just the start of a new year or decade. Maybe now is the beginning of a new life in Christ. A life of radical love and radical commitment. Maybe this is the year when I love more than I have ever loved before. This could be the year when I live a life of gratitude and gift. Gratitude for the love of the Father and the sacrifice of his Son. Gratitude for the Holy Spirit who opens my eyes to the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
And this may be the beginning of my new life of sharing the love of the Lord with everyone I touch. Loving in a new way, with boldness and beauty. Maybe this is the beginning of loving without fear of rejection. Fear rejected and love embraced so that I am in communion with God and all his creation.
Yes Lord, please immerse me in your grace. Thank you Lord for your love. Thank you for your peace. Please Jesus help me to be more like you so that your light shines through me. I love You. Help me to love You more. Amen.
Read the whole of this wonderful (and funny!) story of a completely unchurched woman's (who calls herself Robin of Berkley) first experience of a Catholic church on Christmas Eve. Even though I grew up on the far side of the religious universe, her description of the first time rings so many bells. Courtesy of the American Thinker\.
"In the bathroom, a woman smiled and introduced herself as Cathy (everyone was so nice and friendly, a radical departure from typical Berkeley life). She asked me whether the other priest was feeling better. The following conversation ensued:
Me: I don't know. I've never been to this church before.
Cathy: Oh, really? Where do you usually worship?
Me (stammering) Well. Actually. I've never been to a church before.
Cathy: (puzzled) Oh. Are you here to see one of the children perform?
Me: No. (I want to give her a clear explanation, but given that I don't know why I'm here, my mind goes blank.)
Cathy: (thinking deeply) So, you've never been in a church but decided to come here on Christmas Eve.
Me: Yes. (Her explanation was simpler than the one I would have given: "I'm a cultural Jew who's never been to a temple and then I practiced Buddhism for twenty years, but that left out the God part. And then I became a conservative and now I have all these beautiful Christians in my life, so I decided to attend a mass, and the Berkeley Episcopalians didn't want me, so here I am.")
Cathy looked at me strangely, but finally uttered an enthusiastic "Good!"
LOL! Oh those tortuous explanations to kindly Catholics who look at you with stunned incomprehension. You mean, you haven't been doing this all your life?
Now think of those thousands of Catholics and spiritual wanderers responding to the Catholics Come Home ad that are filling the airwaves. We can do better than stunned incomprehension. We don't live in a ghetto anymore and millions of people all over the world are making this journey. How about we start thinking of ourselves as friendly tour guides for inquirers?
Robin ends her tale this way:
"Beyond the music and pageantry, what moved me the most was being with hundreds of people who loved God. Maybe some were questioning his presence or feeling abandoned. But they showed up, and that's half of life.
It was a stirring night for this wandering Jew who has traveled from east to west, from Left to Right. As the Sufi poet Hafiz wrote, "This moment in time God has carved a place for you," and sitting in the sanctuary, I felt that place.
Even though I didn't know the right words, or the hymns, or how to pray, it didn't matter. All the differences among people -- race, class, politics, even religion -- vanished. Faith, I realized, is the ultimate uniter.
And in a heartbeat, I understood why leaders from Marx to Mao try to keep people away from God, and why they will always fail. I flashed to an image of those mothers who somehow find the superhuman strength to lift up a car and free their children.
On Christmas Eve, I learned that this same unstoppable power exists inside all of us, especially when we stand together. As Jesus himself taught, faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain."
Welcome Robin. God has carved a place for you - and me - and many, many other seekers.
We will be going back to our traveling ways in January. Since the calendar on our new website is still wonky (although we hope to have that fixed soon!), I thought I'd post the information here for interested readers. We are really covering the country this month!
Today, Fr. Mike is at the Newman center in Eugene, offering a retreat on charisms while I'm working furiously away on upcoming events.
On this solemnity, I find myself considering less the regal images of Mary and her infant King-God-Son, and the more human images of her. Mary, the young girl-become-mother;
Mary, whose unexpected and untimely pregnancy could have led to her being stoned to death;
Mary, who had to face Joseph's questions and doubts prior to his revelatory dream;
Mary, whose own saintly parents must have initially been horribly disappointed in her - and who never received any signs from God to change their minds, as far as we know;
Mary, who, with Joseph, probably had to endure gossip, jokes, and judgmental stares from the people of her village who knew everybody else's business;
Mary, who made a dangerous journey to help her older, pregnant cousin, Elizabeth - and then made the return journey while very pregnant;
Mary, who, with Joseph, had to make a five- to seven- day trip from Galilee to Bethlehem just prior to giving birth;
Mary and Joseph, unable to find shelter, welcoming the King of Kings into the world as a homeless, cold, babe - far from extended family and friends;
Mary, who soon after giving birth found herself a political refugee, along with her husband and newborn.
It's too easy to forget the dangers that surrounded Mary, the virgin Mother of God, when she was simply Mary, the unwed mother - the butt of jokes, perhaps despised and condemned by some who had been friends. The honor we give her now was unknown to her then, and we might well have looked askance at her as her contemporaries probably did.
We must never forget that God may well ask us to do things that go against the grain of the world, since his ways are not our ways. The more our local parish and our families are "of this world," the more difficult it is to hear God's voice, the more difficult it is to answer His invitation to do His will with an affirmative, and the more difficult it is to do it.
Mary had tremendous faith: faith in God's ability to act in the world - and especially in her, someone who would have counted for nothing in her day. She had tremendous trust in God's love for her, or else how could she take such a huge, life-threatening risk? She had to believe that God's ways are not our ways, and that although she couldn't see where God was leading her, it would be for good. You have to admit, the promise given her by Gabriel, "you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, 11 and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" is pretty short on details in the timeframe that most of us would be interested in - like, say, tomorrow, the next week, and the next month or so.
Mary is not only Mother of God, she is our mother, too. Part of the reason we are adopted sons and daughters of God. Let's pray as we begin this new year that we might take after her, who is the image of the Church as well as the mother given us by her son, Jesus.
This news story caught my attention over my bowl of mini-wheats this morning. The headline in the "Dispatches from all over" section of December 20th's Christian Science Monitor read, "Shopping-free Sundays." That sounded like required reading to me. Here are a few snippets:
Germany's highest court this month took a stand against consumerism, ruling that, as of next year, stores will have to remain closed on the four Sundays preceding Christmas. Attacked as a "slap in the face for Christmas shopping," as Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit put it, the ruling was also hailed as an important step toward safeguarding one of the most sacrosanct principles of German society. For many Germans, Sunday is when family and friends go on walks and sit together for coffee and cake. Shopping on Sunday would only erode those traditions, some feel. "The message of this ruling is that tradition can't be the victim of business principles," says Karheinz Geissler, a professor of time culture and management at the Armed Forces University in Munich..."Going shopping doesn't foster togetherness - the focus is on money and competition; that has priority, and money isolates people," says Mr. Geissler. "Without Sunday, there is no society."
The Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches challenged a Berlin government's exception to a federal ban on Sunday store openings in constitutional court, and the judges agreed, "ruling that Sunday shopping goes against Sunday as a day of rest."
It's interesting that in increasingly secular Germany, the consequence of a Christian past (Sunday as a day of rest, family and friends) has been divorced from its root. Without Christianity, and the effects of Christian principles on labor and how we look at work, there would probably not be such a "day of rest." How long will this vestige of cultural Christianity stand against the encroachments of consumption, I wonder?
Why will it never happen here (although I wish it would)? We don't have a tradition of resting on Sunday anymore, for one - other than to gather around the TV and watch NFL. Our cities aren't designed for walking around, people watching, and enjoying one another's company; at least not since the downtowns were abandoned for the suburbs. There are movements, however, that want to re-invigorate urban centers. But I suspect, rather cynically, that there's a commercial reason behind that, as much as a "livability" reason.