Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Passion of St. John

Today, August 29, the Church remembers the passion of St. John the Baptist, a prophet who was put to death through beheading because he spoke the truth.
There is no Gospel that begins the story of Jesus’ public ministry without first telling the reader about the life and mission of John the Baptist. John’s preceding Jesus was clearly fixed in the Christian tradition, so much, that in two of the three Gospels that begin their story before the public ministry with Jesus’ first appearance on earth, John the Baptist is brought forth to precede the appearance as well.

John the Baptist was a man of the desert and began his preaching in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his path.”  His long years in the desert before his appearance as a preacher and teacher of repentance were the source and time for many possibilities. When the time had come, John led his own disciples to Jesus and indicated to them the Messiah, the True Light, and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus’ own testimony to John makes the Baptizer the greatest of all Israelite heroes. Jesus also testifies to John’s greatness in calling him a “witness to the truth, a burning and shining lamp.

John considered himself to be less than a slave to Jesus, “There is one among you whom you do not recognize- the one coming after me- the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to unfasten.” When John’s own disciples came to him and were troubled about the meaning of Jesus’ baptizing in the Jordan, he answered them confidently: “No one can receive anything except what is given them from heaven…” John says that he is only the friend of the bridegroom, the one who must decrease while his master increases. The Baptizer defined his humanity in terms of its limitations.

John experienced the loneliness of an authentic prophet of Israel when he was the only one willing to say a truth that everyone knew, that King Herod was living with the divorced wife of his brother. John is finally imprisoned by Herod Antipas because of his public rebuke of the tetrarch for his adulterous and incestuous marriage with Herodias. John was executed as a result of the foolish pledge made by Herod during a drunken orgy. Just as the Baptist and the Messiah are closely linked in their births so too are their fates so closely intertwined.

O God, who willed that Saint John the Baptist
should go ahead of your Son
both in his birth and in his death,
grant that, as he died a Martyr for truth and justice,
we, too, may fight hard
for the confession of what you teach.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Friday, August 28, 2015

St. Augustine -

I was familiar with Augustine, but I had never really read in depth or read about him. I now consider Augustine the smartest human being I’ve ever encountered in any form. His observations about human psychology and memory are astounding, especially given the time. What’s even more amazing is he combines it with emotional storms. He’s at once intellectually unparalleled and emotionally so rich a character. I portray him as sort of an Ivy League grad. He portrays himself in “The Confessions” as this sexual libertine, but he wasn’t really that. He was just an ambitious and successful rhetorician and teacher who found that being a successful rhetorician was too shallow for him. He felt famished inside. I think his confession is a very brave renunciation of ambition.

With him what I found so attractive, and this is more a Christian concept, is the concept of grace, the concept of undeserved love. It helps to feel religious to experience grace. Even if you’re secular person, you can always have the feeling that people love you more than you deserve and that you’re accepted.

- An interview David Brooks
by Sarah Pulliam Bailey

Thursday, August 27, 2015

St. Monica

From Serge Lancel’s Augustine, the best biography I know of the great Bishop of Hippo :

Before devoting himself entirely to Mother Church, as he approached the age of forty, Augustine had had a concubine for about fifteen years, of whom he had been very fond and who had given him a son; then, at the same time as a fleeting engagement, a second short-lived liaison. But only one woman really counted in his life, and that was his natural mother, Monica.

As we may guess from reading a few pages of Book XI of the Confessions, Patricius – Augustine’s father – had taken a wife in Thagaste from a milieu close to his own. He had married Monica, as his would describe it in a phrase borrowed from Virgil, “in the fullness of her nubility”, which means that he had not married a child, a practice that was in any case more rare then in Africa that in Rome itself. The couple had three children, in what order we do not know: a girl, who remains anonymous to us, but who, once widowed, would later become the superior of a community of nuns, and two boys, Augustine and Navigius, whom we shall find with his brother in Italy, at Cassiciacum, then at Ostia at their dying mother’s bedside. …

So Monica had been born into a Christian family and was, as we would say today, a practicing believer. The religious practices of Christians at that time, in North Africa, sometimes included aspects that would be surprising to us, such as the custom of taking offerings of food to the tombs of martyrs, for agapes that only too often degenerated into orgies; an obvious survival of the pagan festival of the Parentalia. Of course, Monica did not indulge in those excesses. If the baskets she brought to the cemetery contained, besides gruel and bread, a pitcher of unadulterated wine, when the time came to share libations with other faithful, she herself would take only a tiny amount, diluted with water,sipped from a goblet in front of every tomb visited. Was this sobriety a memory of some experience in her early youth? Augustine tells this story which he says he heard from the lady herself. Raised in temperance by an old serving-woman who enjoyed the complete trust of Monica’s parents, she had fallen into a bad habit. Well-behaved girl that she was, she was sent to the cellar to fetch wine from the cask, but before using the goblet she had brought to fill the carafe she would just wet her lips with the wine, not because she liked it, says Augustine, but out of childish mischief. But gradually she had acquired a taste for it, to the point where she was drinking entire goblets of it with great gusto. Fortunately she had cured herself of this incipient liking for drink in a burst of pride: the maidservant who accompanied her to the cellar, having fallen out one day with her young mistress insultingly called he a “little wine bibber.” Stung to the quick, Monica had immediately stopped her habit.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Founding thoughts

Image result for Chaminade Mary
According to our Founder, Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, faith was to be taught, nurtured, and sustained. But that was only half his plan. If the Marianist communities were to be the birthing places for the new life of Christ in the Church and the world, their members must form other communities with the same zeal, energy, and new language that characterized the community of Jerusalem in Acts of the Apostles. To use an expression from a later age, the community gathered in order to be sent.

This grand project would only work, Chaminade understood, if his followers were holy. Then, peo­ple would be drawn to Marianist community as they witnessed the “spectacle of a people of saints.” Father Chaminade understood holiness to be the continual and gradual transformation from the old person who sins into the new person who embodies the virtues and very life of Christ. This effort to be holy is the touchstone of Marianist spirituality and prayer. Chaminade felt that the community's support, prayer, and nurturing of faith would be especially effective and sustaining in this spiritual transformation.

Because our communities are dedicated to Mary, the spirituality of Marianist communities is most fundamentally about Mary forming us to be Christ for our world today.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tuesday Tunes

There’s no doubt you’ll feel God’s never-ending presence with this incredible song. Kari Jobe teams up with Cody Carnes for ‘Holy Spirit’ and it’s absolutely amazing. What a way to give glory to our Lord!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Marianist Monday

Marianist Brother Peter and Brother Patrick moderate a group of Chaminade High School students yearly at Nazareth Farm. The reflection below is from one of the participants from this year's program.

The Nazareth Farm journey, from the arrival on Sunday night to the closing prayers on Saturday morning, takes the unsuspecting volunteer through a unique and unforgettable experience. Having been a first-time volunteer this summer, I fell right into that unsuspecting and unforgettable category. I quickly realized though, in the Catholic mission of Nazareth farm, from its four cornerstones to its daily provisions of small miracles, that one of its central pillars that encompasses the total experience is a theme of "encounter." By "encounter", I mean a theme of meeting. Simply put, in my time at Nazareth farm I believe I, along with all the other volunteers, met three people or groups of people throughout the course of the week: the community in the farm, God, and myself more deeply. These three "encounters" made my experience at Nazareth Farm what it was, and I think it at least played a role in the other volunteers' experiences.

From the beginning to the end the farm is a social experience. I had the blessing of meeting many new people throughout but the most outstanding group of people to affect me were the other volunteers, staff members, and sojourners. Once I arrived they were all over me and they brought such a welcoming feeling that remained throughout the week. This warm welcome truly helps a volunteer get through a week in the rural and almost foreign land of West Virginia. The kindness of the other farmers has remained a defining reason as to my love for the farm after I left.

The second person I truly encountered in a deeper way was God. It is easy to say that I met God in Eucharistic prayer on Monday and Friday. Sure he was really there, but I felt that I saw Christ more fully in those I served: the poor and lowly. When I went on my first work site trip to repair a roof, I saw Christ in those I worked for. These people in particular, anyone could tell, truly needed the help and were extremely grateful. So grateful that they gave of what they had, which was very little. Seeing the appreciation and gratitude in the eyes of these people truly was like looking into the eyes of Christ.

Finally, I met myself in a way I had never imagined. Being put in the environment of Nazareth Farm, I was removed quite a bit from my comfort zone of relative luxury and my own social circles of home. Since I had never experienced anything like this before, I didn't know how I would react in such different situations. The farm though helped me bring about my best qualities to cope and deal with these various given situations and I now know how I reacted on impulse. In the future I can learn from my reactions and dealings to form my personality to always be more welcoming and kind.

In the end, Nazareth farm helped me meet the "big three" categories of people in my life: Others, God, and myself. Knowing these three major influences on my life more deeply, Nazareth Farm has satisfied me in these matters and I can honestly see myself back at the farm in the very near future.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Sunday Word

Image result for bread of life matthewComplaining and grumbling is as old as the human race. Before we even have language, our cries and yells are what get us what we want. Maybe we never outgrow those habits completely.

Our Sunday Gospel has Jesus' followers grumbling. He has been telling them, and us, that he is the bread of life, the bread that will let us really live. A few verses earlier, Jesus even tells them, “'Stop murmuring' among yourselves.” But of course they don’t – and neither do we.

We want to complain and whine when Jesus asks us to do something challenging, following in his footsteps. Over and over he asks us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and care for the poor and marginalized. And, what he first wants to do is to give us himself as food for our mission.

Our Psalm today reminds us that the Lord has ears for the cry of the poor and from all their distress he rescues them. The line that follows reminds us of the heart of Jesus’ message, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.”

What Jesus asks us as Christians is not easy or simple; we just want it to be. We are basically good people. We give to charity, we pray and we are busy, busy, busy... Jesus is asking a LOT of us, it seems.

So to our grumbling Jesus responds to us today, “Does this shock you?” Do we find it difficult to accept the gift of his self-sacrificing love? Does his call to make his life the center of our lives shock us into realizing that we may be far from following his way? Jesus knows us and understands, “The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” And, the gospel reminds us, “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

But for those of us who really want to follow the teachings of Jesus, we can pray to discover who in my world, in my life, is marginalized? Who needs my forgiveness? How can I love my spouse and family better? How can I stop judging others so severely and simply remember how very loved I am by God?

Am I following the call of Jesus or am I following the world’s call to succeed at any price, to ignore those people who are inconvenient to me and to fill my life with the things and signs of my success? Who or what am I going to decide to follow? As the prophet Joshua reminds us today, “If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve.”

At this moment of deciding whom we will serve, Jesus asks us, “Do you also want to leave?” It is Simon Peter who answers for us, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” adding, “We are convinced.”

We need convincing many days as we live our lives on this Christian journey. But, Jesus doesn’t ask us to take this challenging path alone. He is with us at every moment, offering himself as the bread, the central food for our lives. He is also sending us out into our world to love others and be the support and ‘bread’ for those around us.

It’s this love, a dying to myself and loving others more freely that seems to be what Paul addresses when he writes of husbands and wives. Though he writes through the lens of his own culture, Paul sees love in a marriage as a love that mirrors the love of Jesus. In my own marriage, I know that I can only be self-sacrificing in my life if I first feel the love of God deeply in my own heart. Then I can love my husband the way Jesus loves me – by dying to myself and my own needs.

This week we are invited to see Jesus as bread, a food which is universally regarded as the staff of life. We can ask him each day to help us make him the our daily bread, our main source of life today, giving us the courage to follow in his footsteps and to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”