The Spirit Works in Green Time

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Green is the liturgy’s color for ordinary time. Not white, the bright light of Eastertime, or red the color of blood and fire. or purple the color of penance. Green is earth’s color, color of slow growing trees and grasses, of ordinary time.

An unknown 4th century spiritual writer describes the ordinary ways the Holy Spirit works in us. “In varied and different ways” invisible grace leads us. Ordinary time doesn’t mean that every day’s the same.  Sometimes we find ourselves sad at the state of things; sometimes we joyfully hold the whole world in our arms. Sometimes we feel helpless; sometimes we think there’s nothing we can’t do. Sometimes we’re brave; sometimes we escape into the supposed safety of ourselves looking for peace.

“… The soul becomes like any other human being.” Which means, I guess, that we don’t feel spiritual at all.

Far from taking us away from the human condition, the Spirit leads us by human steps in human time. Ordinary time is the natural roller-coaster of life, all right, but the Spirit leads us on.

That’s why the psalms are such wonderful prayers. They’re the great prayers of ordinary time. They take us from one human experience to another. If you don’t experience what a certain psalm describes, wait awhile–you will.

Green is the Season

Green is the season after Pentecost.
The Holy Ghost in an abstracted place
spreads out the languid summer of His peace,
unrolls His hot July.
O leaves of love, O chlorophyll of grace.
Native to all is this contemplative summer.
The soul that finds its way through Pentecost
knows this green solitude at once as homeland.
Only the heart, earth held and time engrossed,
dazed by this unforeknown and blossoming nowhere,
troubles itself with adjectives like “lost.”

Jessica Powers, 1954

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Trinity Sunday

 

 

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A story’s told that St. Augustine, the great philosopher and intellectual, was walking along the seashore one day when he saw a little boy playing in the sand, taking water from the sea in a small bucket and pouring it into a hole he had dug. Back the forth the boy went.

“What are you doing?” Augustine asked, “Do you think you can put the whole sea into that little hole?”

“No,” the little boy answered, “And neither can you put God into that small mind of yours no matter how smart you think you are.”

The story reminds us that our minds are limited before the mystery of God, even the smartest, most brilliant mind. God is beyond us. The Feast of the Holy Trinity is, first of all, a reminder of our limits before the mystery of God.

And yet, this feast also says that God invites us to know him, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Father, God is the creator of heaven and earth. All creation ultimately comes from God’s hand. Creation itself is God’s gift;  through the created world we come to know God.

God has also invited us to known him in Jesus Christ, who was born of Mary over two thousand years ago, who walked this earth and died on a cross, who rose from the dead and remains with us.  We have his words, his actions, his promises. He’s our Savior and Redeemer, a sign of God’s love;  he’s promised us life eternal..

The Holy Spirit also is God with us, within us, guiding us and our world to our common destiny.

Yet, though God reveals himself, we’re still like the little boy on the seashore. We’re looking at an unmeasured sea that we approach with the little buckets of our minds. We can’t grasp it all. Even the most accessible person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, remains a mystery to us.

Remember the story of the conversion of Paul the Apostle. Saui, the unbeliever, was on his way to the City of Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus, when suddenly a blinding light throws him from his horse. “Who are you, Lord?” Paul cries out. “I am Jesus whom you persecute, “ the voice from the blinding light says.

Jesus Christ is like the blinding light of the sun. Yes, he is human like us, but he shares in the nature of God, who is brighter than sunlight. He blinds us when we try to see him. God dwells in light inaccessible, the scriptures say, and so even though we know much about Jesus, even though the scriptures and great saints and scholars describe him, he’s still beyond anything we can know.

Like the sun, Jesus is a blinding light, and yet, paradoxically, his light shines into the darkness of creation to give life and light.  St. John says: “No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.” (John 1,18)

As people of faith we’re not like those who say you can’t know God at all or like those who say God doesn’t exist because my mind cannot grasp him. Yes, we have to admit that we are children of the Enlightenment, that movement in our western world that says there’s no need to pay much attention to God. Pay attention to the world at hand. Pay attention to yourself. That’s what’s important.

As people of faith we know God is important. God reveals himself to us little by little. God is the most important reality we can know and love.

The Feast of the Holy Trinity is a reminder of God’s invitation to know him, to serve him in this life, to pray to him and to be with him one day where we will know him much more. It’s an invitation God extends every day, all our lives. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
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Friday Thoughts: Grace

Water and Wine, oil on canvas—Richard Baker (Born 1959)

“Water and Wine”, oil on canvas—Richard Baker

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So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

—John 6:28-29

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It’s all grace.

God’s mercy.

His will.

Us?

Our role?

Yes, we certainly have one.

We need to cooperate.

We need to participate.

We must partake.

And we do so thru acknowledgment.

The acknowledgment that it is all grace, God’s mercy, His will.

A mystery made flesh each and every time we acknowledge our utter dependence on Him.

And yet we are free to choose.

Free to choose not to acknowledge.

Let us then say “yes” to acknowledging Him today.

“Lord, You are real. You are the source of all. You are Kindness beyond comprehension. Your plan is perfect. I love You. Forgive me for not believing. Forgive me, Lord, for not using Your gift properly. I need Your grace to choose to acknowledge You, to not doubt You, to believe that You can and really do forgive me time and time again. I need You. I need You to love You. Come to me, please. Come, Lord, come to me—to me—Your little creation in this little part of Your little world. You are so big. I am so small. O, Good Lord, help me! Help me truly accept Your awesome gift of faith!”

Amen.

Thank You, Jesus.

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“By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

—Liturgy of the Eucharist, preparation of the altar and the offerings

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—Howard Hain

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The Letter of James

James,_the_Just1We’re reading from the Letter of James for a week or so at Mass. The letter, commentators believe, was written for Jewish-Christian exiles living in a foreign land after being driven from Jerusalem. “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings.”

James, a relative of Jesus, leader of the Jewish-Christian church in Jerusalem, was stoned to death in the mid 60s, as the Jewish establishment turned against the followers of Jesus and forced many of them to flee. Jerusalem itself fell into revolutionary turmoil; in 70 AD Roman armies destroyed the city and crushed the Jewish revolt.

That meant Jewish-Christian exiles were not only exiled from home, but they could never return. Some commentators believe this letter contains an original letter of James sent to support the exiles and other material later added to it.

The letter opens with words of support. It’s tough to be thrown into exile, but tough times test your faith, so be brave, your faith will become stronger. God will give you the wisdom to know what to do; keep asking for it.

If you wonder what happened to the original Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem, the letter seems to tell us.There’s some consoling words for the exiles, but not many. So much of the letter is challenging, no relaxing of standards or permission for self-pity. Keep your standards high, the letter insists and as the old song says: “When you’re down and out, lift up your head and shout: There’s gonna be a great day.”

Father Henry Free, a missionary for 40 years in the Philippines, died last Saturday and his funeral Mass was yesterday in our chapel here in Jamaica, NY. Missionaries like Henry are “voluntary exiles” who leave their own countries to bring the faith to others. We have a thriving province of Passionists in the Philippines now and a number of them have become “voluntary exiles” in places like East Jerusalem, Sweden, Vietnam, the United States and Canada. Some of Henry’s spirit passed on to them.

 

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The Wisdom of Ordinary Time

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The readings in today’s Mass point to the wisdom of ordinary time. “Whoever is not against us is for us,” Jesus says to his disciples who complain there are others “who do not follow us” driving out demons. (Mark 9,38-40) Wisdom is not just in our tradition; it’s there everywhere in ordinary time.

I like the hand in the picture above of Bernini’s famous window in St.Peter’s. Who’s hand is it, anyway? A believer’s hand. Yes, for sure. But also the hand of all who walk this earth searching for truth.

“Wisdom breathes life into her children” (Sirach 4,11 ) Like much of the wisdom literature in the bible (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, Psalms) the Book of Sirach, one of the readings at the beginning of ordinary time, draws much of its content from the culture of the middle east which influenced the Jews at home and in their exile in other lands.

As the gift of God breathed into ordinary time, the Holy Spirit “renews the face of the earth.” The Spirit’s wisdom is everywhere.

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Ordinary Time

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The Easter season is over after the Feast of Pentecost and we’re into ordinary time in the church year. Unlike other feasts, Pentecost has no octave; ordinary time is its octave. Truth to be told, most of the church year, like most of life, is ordinary time, and that means it’s the time of the Holy Spirit.

The best place to look for the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives in ordinary time is probably the scriptures at Pentecost. Some of them recall the Spirit’s dramatic appearance, but others remind us that the Spirit comes quietly, when we’re hardly aware.

“Their message goes out to all the earth,” to Asia Minor, to Rome, Africa, Asia. Occasionally, the Spirit works like this in the church and in the world.

But more often the Holy Spirit comes quietly as an everyday gift. We may prefer strong winds and tongues of fire, but the Spirit mostly comes quietly, in ordinary time.

We’re tend to minimize ordinary time. So ordinary. Nothing’s happening, we say. Yet, day by day in ordinary time the Risen Lord offers his peace and shows us his wounds. Every day he breathes the Spirit on us. No day goes by without the Spirit’s quiet blessing.

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St. Gemma Galgani

SONY DSCGemma Umberta Pia Galgani
(1878-1903)

Gemma Galgani should have died unnoticed, for she left no children or family, no hospitals, schools or any human achievement bearing her name. Often sickly in her 25 years of life, disappointments marked her life at every turn. She never got her wish to enter the Passionist Nuns or any other religious community.

Yet, at the news of her death on Holy Saturday, 1903, in the city of Lucca, Italy, neighbors gathered quickly in the city’s ancient streets proclaiming “A saint has died.” Today we’re celebrating her feast.

Gemma died appropriately on the eve of Easter, for she lived a life of intimacy with the Risen Jesus and shared in his passion and death. The young woman spoke familiarly with him in prayer and bore his wounds in her body. Many think the spiritual world faraway; for Gemma it wasn’t faraway at all– saints and angels, Jesus himself, were ever at her side.

“Poor Gemma”, she called herself; but she was not poor. Frail in body and mind, she was no failure. In declaring her a saint, Pope Pius XII said that Gemma experienced what the great apostle Paul experienced: “I have been crucified with Christ and the life that I live is not my own: Christ lives in me.”

Gemma said of herself: “Often I seem to be alone; but really I have Jesus as my companion…I am the fruit of your passion, Jesus, born of your wounds. O Jesus, seek me in love; I no longer possess anything; you have stolen my heart.”

In Gemma’s time, “enlightened” thinkers like Freud and Jung saw only human answers to the mystery of the human person. Little concerned about God’s presence in human life, they would probably have dismissed Gemma and her spiritual experiences as delusional. Some of Lucca’s “enlightened” people had that same opinion of her.

But Gemma’s Passionist spiritual director, Father Germano, saw God working in her, and the church concurred in his judgment by declaring her a saint in 1940.

As humanity today defines itself increasingly in human terms and sees success here on earth as our ultimate goal, Gemma is a strong reminder of God’s presence in ordinary people, even in unsuccessful, imperfect people. Devotion to the Passion of Christ gave Gemma a deep sense that Jesus loved her and lived in her. She saw her life fulfilled in him and his promise of life beyond this.

We’re not alone. Jesus Christ is our companion as well.
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You can get St. Gemma’s Autobiography or a The Life of St. Gemma Galgani by writing to the Passionist Nuns, 1151 Donaldson Highway, Erlanger, Kentucky 41018
(859)371 8568

“Then one day I became very discouraged because I saw that it was impossible for me to become a Passionist, because I have nothing at alI: all I have is a great desire to be one. I suffer much seeing myself so far from realizing my desires. No one will be able to take this desire away from me. But when will it come about?” Letter to Germano

Gemm’a buried at the Convent of the Passionist Nuns in Lucca, Italy. The house where she lived before she died has been turned into a museum honoring her. Both places worth a visit.

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