Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Jesus Calls Religion To Its Truth

So they came to Jerusalem, and he went into the temple and began driving out those who bought and sold in the temple He upset the tables of the money-changers and the seats of the dealers in pigeons; and he would not allow anyone to use the temple court as a thoroughfare for carrying goods. Then he began to teach them, and said, 'Does not Scripture say, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations"? But you have made it a robbers' cave.' The chief priests and the doctors of the law heard of this and sought some means of making away with him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came he went out of the city. Mark 11:15-19

A rabbi told me that at the time of Jesus, Judaism had been corrupted. We get a window into that corrupted religion in these gospel verses. Jesus is angry. The temple is noisy, smelly and dirty with all these animals being sold for sacrifices. Who can pray? And since Jews couldn't use Roman coins, which bore Caesar's image, the money had to be exchanged for temple money. And we all know that when one currency is exchanged for another, someone is making money off the deal, leaving someone else cheated. Yes, Jesus is angry.

But there's still more to it. Listen to what God has to say through the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah about the way religion can go.

Hear what Yahweh says, you rulers of Sodom;
listen to what our God teaches, you people of Gomorrah.
'What are your endless sacrifices to me?' says Yahweh.
'I am sick of burnt offerings of rams,
and the fat of calves.
I take no pleasure in the blood
of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come and present yourselves before me,
who has asked you to trample through my courts?
Bring no more futile cereal offerings,
the smoke from them fills me with disgust.
New Moons, Sabbaths, assemblies - I cannot endure solemnity
combined with guilt.
Your New Moons and your meetings I utterly detest;
to me they are a burden I am tired of bearing.
When you stretch out your hands I turn my eyes away.
You many multiply your prayers, I shall not be listening.
Your hands are covered in blood,wash, make yourselves clean.
take your wrong-doing out of my sight.
Cease doing evil. Learn to do good,
search for justice, discipline the violent,
be just to the orphan, plead for the widow.'
Isaiah 1:10-17

This same rabbi told me that the temple was effectively a slaughter house. I like the photo up-top here, probably taken from a Jesus movie, because the sheep have been set free. I personally think by this action, Jesus evolves religion, putting an end to all the killing of animals: birds, sheep, lambs, goats and calves.

In the Isaiah prophecy God is repulsed by all the temple blood-letting and burning, especially when offered by a people of unclean heart, guilty of violence, injustice, cruelty and indifference to the weak ones. The ancient priests were also paid to operate in the service of the Roman occupiers. It's a nasty scene and God won't have it.

But of course, every religion needs to take regular stock of itself in this regard, religion so prone to commercialization, always selling something, raffling off something, even pricey high-end items - ironically, all in the name of the one who said, "Own nothing." 

We might read again the Isaiah verses above. They essentially say: You don't sing Sunday hymns while you militarize the planet. You don't burn incense and leave children without adequate health care. You don't light gilded candle sticks while the damaged war vetereans are left untended. We shouldn't doubt it: this Gospel is about us too.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Psalm 139 ~ A Personal Psalm

Psalms are the sung  poem-prayers of ancient Israel. Most of them were composed and used for communal worship, but some, like Psalm 139 are very personal to each of us. Click on the photo above to listen as I read the Psalm. Some reflections follow here.

Verse 1. God knows me in the details of my life...even my thoughts...not to catch me out like a spy or to make me blush, but that my existence matters to God. God is interested in how I'm doing, much as a good parent would a child who's perhaps been away from home for a time: "What have you been up to?" "What have you been thinking these days?" Some of us were taught that God is an irritable and suspicious super spy. It isn't like that at all.

Verse 2. God knows my life is a journey where I stop along the way because the trudging is often difficult and tiresome. God is acquainted with my ways: my strengths and weaknesses, my shortcomings and gifts - everything that characterizes me in and out.

Verse 3. God knows the words that come from my lips before I speak them. I'm thinking of the little cross we draw on our lips before the Gospel at Mass: That I would speak the words of Christ. We live in talkative times. There's little silence. A priest from Ukraine said, "Where there are many words, sin cannot be avoided." 

Verse 4. "You lay your hand upon me." I'm always within God's reach. God's gesture seems to say, "This is one is mine." What a lovely thought - God doesn't just have an eye on me, but a hand.

Verse 5. This knowledge is wonderful. I can't comprehend it, but we might try. We know so much about diets, TV shows, movies, politics, games, sports, where to find the best places to eat or shop, but so little knowledge of how God is with each of us.

Verse 6. "Where can I go from your spirit?" Sometimes we try to hide from God. Remember in school, hiding behind another student, to avoid being called on by the teacher? I wonder if we're afraid God will call on us. What might God ask? Maybe God would ask me to be better informed about what's going on in God's world? Or God might ask me to do something for someone else, something I'd rather not have to do?

Verse 7. "If I go up to the heavens, you're there. If I go down to the grave, you're there." God keeps popping up. Sometimes it's very inconvenient. We might prefer to keep God confined to the the one hour (or less) of weekend Mass or keep God confined to the tabernacle or the time it takes to go around a rosary. Can God appear on the television screen during the news?

Verses 8 and 9. "Wings of the morning" - going off to the farthest east, where the dawn of each new day begins for me. God will lead me and keep a hand on me in the far and wide of my life. Can you name that for your own life? Indeed, God holds me the way the Mother of God holds the Divine Child in the icon. 

Verses 10 and 11. ""Surely the darkness will cover me." But for many people the darkness is interior: the inner darkness of depression, the dark cynical attitude, the dark view of other people, the dark view of the future. Christianity is all about light. The Christopher motto is: "Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." Is it possible to discover God even in the inner darkness?

Verses 12 through 14. These are splendid lines telling of how we are made. What amazing cameras now take photographs of the baby's development in the womb: the teeth are formed as little buds, how the child's face takes shape, even the appearance of finger prints. We watch not only the physical individuation but when the baby begins responding to sounds outside the mother's body. 

I was on the New York City subways a lot in the 1970's when the metal wheels of the train against the metal track made the most god-awful sound. I remember seeing a young pregnant woman standing on the platform and when the screeching train approached the station she took the sides of her open overcoat and folded them across herself and her arms to hold the coat in place so to protect her developing child from the unnerving sound. She seemed to know how marvelously we are made.

And I must remember that we are all marvelously made - not just the people I like, or who are like me, or who believe the things we believe.

Verse 15: God has my development in his book. This isn't a list of my good deeds on one side of the page and my sins on the other - ready to whip out on judgment day, so God can decide whether to admit me to heaven or punish me. This is naive. Maybe the book is God's mind, delighting in you (me) in our individuality and the uniqueness for which God created each of us. "You are one of God's thoughts; you are one of God's heartbeats," Pope John Paul II told a group of students while visiting a very gray part of the world.

We need to remember this - God delighting in us! A lot of  people hate themselves because someone has told them they're not acceptable: your color, nationality, legal status, sexual orientation, religion, family history, athletic ability, physical beauty, sexy-ness, intelligence - is wrong!

Verse 16. Here the psalmist pays God a compliment: "Your thoughts are great, God." This is why in an icon, Christ's head is large (especially the forehead) - because it is filled with divine thoughts.

"What imagination created the trillion, trillion galaxies?" the astronomer asked his colleagues. And what imagination created the nearly 18,000 different species of birds, each with its own structure and color, voice, nest type, egg design, habits and habitat. What imagination created "that"?

I never want to tire of these things - our minds so drawn to and filled with worrisome things, foolish things, petty, angry, resentful, obsessive things. I want my mind filled with the imagination of God, the loveliness of God, the attentive care of God.

And the final verses 22,23. "Search me out...know my heart...look well...lead me." We invite God into the interior place of our hearts from where (biblically speaking) our thoughts originate. Is the door wide open? "Search...know...look...lead me in ways everlasting."  And for the Christian these words, "in the way that is everlasting," are the way of Christ-love. Father Alexander Men wonders aloud: Is it possible when I am going up an escalator or walking along the subway platform, do I look at and love all the people I see coming from the opposite direction? The "opposite" direction? Get it?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Intercessions ~ Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ordinary Time ~ Returning to the Green Time

Returning to the long weeks of liturgical green/ we ask to grow in personal goodness,/ and that our worship would green and grow out of a clean  heart./ We pray to the Lord.

Summer Solstice was observed this week;/ the longest day and the shortest night./ We pray that our spiritual lives would be lived in the full light of mercy,/ inclusion,/ compassion and  justice./ We pray to the Lord.

Strengthen and comfort those who live in fear and  gloom everyday:/ fear of terrorism,/ corruption,/ power abuse,/ wars,/ job loss and family disintegration./ We pray to the Lord.

The United States is suffering an epidemic of drug abuse claiming countless lives./ We pray for a new national sobriety/ and the blessing of every effort to restore the nation to inner freedom./ We pray to the Lord.

We are being quickly reduced by new depths of nastiness,/ non-cooperation and wasteful partisanship./ We ask for a national restoration of all that is best in us./ We pray to the Lord.

Bless the sick and those who care for them/ mindful of medical staff which is overworked and paid unfairly./ We pray with grateful hearts for those who help around the world where terrorism kills and destroys./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the turning of hearts to those who die unwanted,/ untended,/ unseen,/ or by the wars and terrorist violence which claim so many lives today./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Mother of God Who Looks In On Her Children

This Mother of God reminds me of the woman who returning home at night says to the sitter, "I'll just look in on the children." She goes beyond the door and up to each bed. What is she looking for? That the child is not agitated, wet, anxious, cold, uncovered, fevered, in need of a touch or whispered word.

It's all an invitation to prayer. Mary's eyes are wide-awake, totally open to me as she enters my own shadowed, inner room. Her mouth is small; no idle word, saying only what I will need to hear.

Mother of God, who looks in on her child,
in my dis-ease and frustration,
spiritual hunger and thirst,
fear of uselessness and failure,
yet eager to begin again.

Mother of God, who looks in on her child,
where I feel an impending collapse,
where patience is tried and often short,
where I fear I have stopped growing.

Mother of God, who looks in on her child,
here unmasked,
between the rock and the hard place,
going under.

Mother of God, who looks in on her child,
in my complaint,
on the brink of tears,
in the darkness of my mind.

Mother of God, who looks in on her child,
in my foolish distractions,
poor choices,
resentments and fatigue.

Mother of God,who looks in on her child,
in the hurt of unhealed wounds,
fears un-addressed,
the energy drain of pride and stubbornness,
the un-knowing -  even of my self.

Mother of God, who looks in on her child,
in my soul-room,
on the edge of this bed
speak the re-assuring word,
Everything will be alright.

Father Stephen P. Morris