Companions in Prayer
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April 20, 2014
Our Risen Hope
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
John 20:1-9

When Jesus’ followers walked, ate and reflected with him, they saw him not just as the presence of God among them; they also saw a person like themselves sharing their hopes and dreams.

He was one of them. He struggled, as they did, to bring peace and security to those he loved. He worked hard day-in, day-out. He lived with the same pain of loss that they faced every time a friend or lover died. He knew what it meant to wonder where the next meal was coming from. He was exasperated by pain rooted in stupidity and stubbornness. He was helpless before tragedy caused by nothing more than sheer chance. Just as they did, Jesus lived with not just life’s joy and hope but its chaos.

When Jesus died on the cross, a resounding “no” to all the promise they had found in the man who personified hope, throttled their hearts. If none of the good Jesus had done made any difference, what difference would their efforts make. There was nothing for them to do but hide, waiting for their own end.

Then the women returned news from the tomb.

Jesus’ life and death reveals God’s total union with us. Jesus’ resurrection reveals that everything we do for life, no matter how small and imperfect, is treasured by our Creator and built into the Future he promises and for which he labors.

The message of Easter isn’t heard most powerfully around a lily-covered altar. It resonates most effectively in hearts wondering whether to go on with work that seems unappreciated and resisted at every turn. It rings out where love for a friend or a child is rebuffed. It echoes in lives where our own ignorance and imperfection taint our best efforts to create something good.

The gospel of Easter is that no matter the suffering and doubts haunting us, no effort expended, no care shown for the Future of life is lost. God preserves it and molds it into our destiny.

He did it for Jesus; he does it for us.

April 13, 2014
Where Love And Hope Lead
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
Palm Sunday
Matthew 24:14-27:66

During Holy Week most of us focus on Jesus’ suffering and death. Many of us even understand the goal of Jesus’ entire life to be suffering and dying in order to return humanity to God’s good grace. The first generations of Christians developed several explanations for how his suffering and death accomplished this reunion. Their commonality was in providing an answer to the scandalous question that plagued them: how could the long-awaited Messiah die a criminal?

There’s a way to understand Jesus’ life, however, that we seldom consider. Those who knew Jesus had no doubt that he uniquely represented The Father. They understood him to be the revealing presence of God among them just as The Father was the creating presence of God beyond their senses. They came to understand that when “they knew Jesus, they knew The Father.” [John 14:7]

What Jesus revealed about The Father they found not primarily in his teachings – as important as they were – but his love for them, his forgiveness, his unity with and his fidelity to them.

How far would Jesus’, and thus The Father’s, love and loyalty go? They would take him to Jerusalem where he could preach God’s love to the crowds gathered for the holy days. They would lead him there despite the fact that such highly visible activity would cost him his life. Jesus’ total identity with his people made his arrest and execution inevitable. To those who knew Jesus as God-With-Us, The Father’s commitment and loyalty became an Absolute Truth.

But the disciples saw more than God’s presence when they saw Jesus. They saw a human being just like themselves. He ate and slept, laughed and cried, worried and rejoiced. He knew exhilaration and exhaustion just as they did. They saw in him the embodiment of all their hopes and dreams. That is why, when they saw him executed, they despaired of their future. Emptiness was all they could see – until they saw an empty tomb.

April 6, 2014
Faith’s Inevitable Tension
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
5th Sunday of Lent
John 11: 1-45

“I don’t watch the news anymore. Listening to all the troubles around the world is pointless. There are too many bad things going on that I can’t do anything about. I’ve got enough with my kids and friends. I don’t need to bring myself down by looking at pictures of people being slaughtered somewhere in Africa.”

Those recent remarks by a good, caring person raise a real question. How do we balance our faith’s constant assurance of joy and peace rooted in Jesus and the reality that we are part of a world where astonishing evil and suffering are commonplace? Does the assertion of faith-rooted happiness buttress an assumed right “not to be bothered” by the suffering of others. Does it allow us to rationalize keeping it at arms length by our wealth and power?

Jesus taught, healed, lived and died to free us for hoping and loving in the face of evil. He enabled us to face squarely and struggle with the suffering and injustice of life without descending into despair over the immensity of the transforming task facing us.

Only faith in a God who’s totally involved in the process of creating a just world allows us to look with love at the beauty and promise of life while unflinchingly witnessing the suffering of so may around and resolving to do all in our power to end it.

Every Christian walks a narrow path with the wonder and promise of life on one shoulder and the immense pain of the life’s brutality on the other. Keeping our balance as we struggle toward God’s Future is difficult. We need the steadying hand of our faith community to avoid falling into a naive and self-centered pseudo-piety or a despair at our inability to make everything right . Our strength is that we journey arm in arm.

March 30, 2014
Loving Community Is The Key to Church
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
4th Sunday of Lent
John 9: 1-41

The reaction of the man Jesus cured of congenital blindness resonates with people. “I don’t know or care about his theological status. He fixed my eyes; he did something good. That’s what matters.”

Sometimes religious people confuse bringing others insights and teachings about God with bringing them the loving, physical touch of God.

Many years ago a family in a parish where I worked left the parish and joined another church community. When I ran into the mother of the family, she said that she always liked her old parish but her new church welcomed her so warmly. Many knew her name the second time her family attended services. People invited her to their homes and even gave her a list of high schoolers who would babysit. She was already helping out with a support group that the community ran for new mothers. Her oldest kids had been invited to work in a soup kitchen that the community ran in the inner city. “I’m not a big fan of everything they preach but they’re the most helpful church I’ve ever known and I love it.”

The key to following Jesus isn’t believing the correct things about him – having all our doctrines in a row and being able to quote Catechism. It isn’t worshiping him with all the correct prayers and rituals. The key is loving like Jesus loved.

Effectively loving friend and foe, neighbor and stranger, the attractive and the repugnant, the ones we judge worthy and unworthy – that’s the core and touchstone of faith in Jesus.

We all know this. God’s Spirit speaks it in our hearts. It’s not a secret and it’s not complicated. It’s just difficult. It’s much easier to focus our energy on correct theology or beautiful liturgies.

The gospel is so clear. “I don’t know about your arguments and worries. I just know that Jesus made me see and that was from God.” That’s what people are looking for.

March 23, 2014
The Focus Of Faith Is The Work Of Love
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
3rd Sunday of Lent
John 4:5-42

The social, political and ethical arenas of our lives are often contentious. But it’s within our own Church that, for many of us, the fighting is most painful. As an area of our lives where we hope to experience unity and renew our focus on what matters, faith ranks right with family. Yet the battles for control and the narrowness of vision in our religion often seem as destructive as everywhere else.

The number of Catholics who’ve given up involvement with Church in disgust with our dogmatic and liturgical battles runs to the millions. The work God is trying to accomplish cannot afford this bleeding of good, solid, talented people. We need their experience and their encouragement and they need ours.

My mom had an axiom that she impressed on her often quarrelsome kids: the sure way to stop a fight is not to fight. A wise seminary professor frequently reminded us that the best strategy for dealing with out of touch and overreaching authority is laughter and benign neglect.

The crucial issue isn’t who reads the gospel; it’s whether we bring the gospel’s hope and promise to all we meet. Our central concern can’t be how the communion bread is made; it has to be whether we are God’s nourishment for all who hunger for food and respect. What ultimately matters isn’t who stands at the altar saying the prayers aloud; it’s whether we are filled with the awareness that the unstoppable Spirit of Christ is reliably present in our efforts to accomplish God’s Future. Our essential need issue isn’t for preachers who present the most current theology or always speak the gospel in ways that enrich our lives; our biggest need is the courage to apply the basic faith that we already know to the needs of a longing world.

If we can keep our focus clear and remember what the faith is truly about, we can make this Church of ours the reliable, supportive community that we need it to be. It will also be the community that others with the Spirit of Christ will want to join. That matters.

March 16, 2014
So Many Faiths,Yet One Before God
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
2nd Sunday of Lent
Matthew 17:1-9

No one ever asked me why Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus during the Transfiguration nor did anyone speculate with me about what the great liberator and the great prophet discussed with Jesus during their visit. Luke has them pondering Jesus’ approaching execution and resurrection;” Mark and Matthew don’t say. Of course, I don’t know what the three discussed but what’s always struck me is how different these three people were. With lives encompassing nearly a millennium and a half years of Jewish history, they represented very different experiences of faith. Yet an overriding concern united them. A crisis in God’s process of creating humanity was taking place and all three had dedicated their lives to that process.

Our faith – this may be true of all faiths – runs the danger of thinking that “it’s all about us.” Sometimes we speak loosely of salvation coming only from Jesus. Sometimes we speak of God’s love bathing the earth only from the spigot of our Church. For my entire childhood, we divided the world into Catholics and non-Catholics. It was the Second Vatican Council that finally voiced the growing realization that God’s process of bringing the world to fullness involved all people and every religion, not just ours. That was a hard pill for many to swallow. For many it still is.

A united destiny ties all people together regardless of who or how they worship and even whether or not they worship at all. From our perspective, God works with and within all people regardless of their thoughts about him. After all, none of our concepts of God comes close to capturing The Reality. Our faith knows and admits that even if it rarely talks like it. The ultimate goal isn’t that we develop a perfect theology or single way of speaking of our Creator, it’s that we all to open ourselves totally to the gift of life.

There is so much division among people, so much tension between differing schemes of human advance that we easily lose our common purpose. The image of the very different Moses, Elijah and Jesus engaged in the advancement of their common dream can help keep that purpose before our eyes.

March 9, 2014
Begin With Jesus’ Assumption
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
1st Sunday of Lent
Matthew 4:1-11

When I was growing up, my siblings and I had a simple understanding of right and wrong: you couldn’t do something bad to someone else unless that person had done something bad to you. We considered, “He hit me first,” an iron-clad justification for anything short of permanent maiming. And any grown-up who didn’t accept this reasoning was grossly unfair – even incomprehensible.

There are days when I wonder if my moral instincts have advanced much in 65 years. Whereas the weapons of most of my currant battles are social and emotional blows rather than the bloody noses and black eyes of playground days, the rational for my violence is about the same: “I can’t let him make a fool of me . . . I have to stand up for what’s right . . . If I let this (whatever the offense) go, he’ll think it’s alright . . . For evil to triumph all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing.”

Jesus faced the temptation to accomplish his good goals by whatever means would succeed. He lived in an acutely evil situation where Rome afforded Judea no more humanity than was necessary to keep its hatred from exploding. The right person could have easily set a match to this hatred and Jesus had that capability. Who, but the Romans, would have questioned his right – even duty – to lead his people in rebellion.

The Satan in Matthew’s story of Jesus’ temptation isn’t a horned, personified evil. Satan is the urge to use the very behavior that keeps the world in an uproar to rescue the world from uproar. Use violence to stop violence. Use force to promote justice. Use hate to spread love. Use ridicule to nurture respect. Use the methods of the world’s history to bring about God’s Future. It all seems realistic – until we think deeply about it.

The Satan that Christians need fear isn’t a red, pitchfork-toting demon; it’s the idea that we can further the world Jesus promised without living the way Jesus lived. Our temptation is to believe that, if we pray correctly and believe correctly, we can do everything else our way. That temptation is real, it’s now and it’s huge.

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