Monthly Archives: July 2009

Mercy, divine and human

St. Caesarius of Arles has some thoughts on mercy in today’s readings:

There is earthly and heavenly mercy: that is, human and divine. What is human mercy? Exactly this: to have care for the sufferings of the poor. What is divine mercy? Without doubt, to grant forgiveness of sins.

Whatever human mercy gives away on the journey, divine mercy pays back when we arrive at last in our native land. For it is God who feels cold and hunger, in the person of the poor. As he himself has said: As much as you have done for the least of these, you have done it for me.

What God deigns to give on heaven, he yearns to receive on earth.

Loaves and Fish

Christ_feeding_the_multitude

The miracle of the loaves and the fish is one of the most important miracles in the New Testament. All four gospels recall it; Mark mentions it twice. The miracle, which  foreshadows the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, is about important aspects of the gospel message.

The miracle takes place as a crowd of people follow Jesus into a desert place and he blesses them with  nourishing bread and a meal of fish. According to the gospels, they’ve come from their homes, from different towns–some a distance away; they’ve made an effort to see him. Now they’re  tired and hungry.

Some may have come just from curiosity or because others brought them along, but Jesus doesn’t  multiply the bread and the fish to satisfy curiosity. People were hungry and needed food.

John says people came “because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.” So, probably some of them were sick or brought their sick with them.

Mark’s gospel says the miracle happened because, on seeing the crowd, Jesus’ heart went out to them. “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and so be began teaching them many things.” (Mark 6,34)

“Sheep without a shepherd.” They’re looking for direction, for meaning in their lives, for a sense of who they are and what they’re about. And Jesus offers them a shepherd’s care and a teacher’s wisdom.

But they’re hungry. We shouldn’t  forget the first reason Jesus gives the crowd bread and the fish. His gospel is practical; feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, care for those in need. And what he did, he tells those who follow him to do:  “What do you have, go and see?”

Let’s not forget the practical demands of this story. At the same time, we know that the hunger Jesus addresses is more than physical hunger. All of us are looking for  more than physical food; our hunger is also for the “true bread from heaven that gives life to the world.”

Unlike other miracles Jesus worked, the miracle in the desert benefits, not just one person, it benefits all.

And so, when we come to the Eucharist, we come together to a place where “the hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” (Psalm 145) We come to Jesus whose heart goes out to us.  Once again, he  takes bread and gives thanks. “This is my body,” he says. “Take and eat.”  This is the cup of my Blood,” he says. “Take and drink.”

And we are satisfied; we receive our Daily Bread. And from what we have, we give to others.

Is This All There Is?

DSCN1720In his sermons on the sacraments, which we’re reading in the Office of Readings today, St. Ambrose shows a keen appreciation of the power and weakness of signs. They signify so much, but we find them hard to accept. “Is this it?” he hears his catechumens say as they approach the waters of baptism.

Ambrose calls on stories of the Old Testament: the Israelites saved as they flee from Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea, the cloud that guides them on their way–foreshadowing the Holy Spirit, the wood that makes the bitter waters of Marah sweet–the mystery of the Cross.

“You must not trust, then, wholly to your bodily eyes. What is not seen is in reality seen more clearly; for what we see with our eyes is temporal whereas what is eternal (and invisible to the eye) is discerned by the mind and spirit.” (On the mysteries)

Remember Namaan’s doubt as the Assyrian general stood before the healing waters of the Jordan, Ambrose reminds his hearers. There’s more here than you see or think.

Still, aren’t we like those whom the saint addressed? Maybe more so, for we  likely look for proof from what our eyes see, schooled as we are in the ways of science and fact. We live in a world that tells us what we see is all there is.

Faith is a search for what we don’t see.

One Thing Leads To Another

I read Ross Douthout’s  op-ed column this morning in the New York Times about the Pope’s new encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

He welcomes the way the encyclical joins many areas of social life. “It links the dignity of labor to the sanctity of marriage. It praises the redistribution of wealth while emphasizing the importance of decentralized governance. It connects the despoiling of the environment to the mass destruction of human embryos.”

It contains a “left-right fusionism with little traction in American politics.”

The article caused a lot of comments in the online edition of The Times, many of them critical of the Church as an outmoded, discredited institution that should keep its mouth shut about what to do today. A song we’ve heard before.

“These questions, and many others like them, are the kind that a healthy political system would allow voters and politicians to explore.” Douthout says,

“But for now, at least, you’re more likely to find them being raised in Benedict XVI’s Vatican than in Barack Obama’s Washington.”

Douthout’s mother is Patricia Snow, who wrote a piece about  Anne Rice in a February’s First Things. It seems to me that Anne Rice and artists like her may be “on to something,” to use a phrase from Walker Percy.  She uses imagination, guided by the best of biblical scholarship to portray in a series of novels the life of Jesus Christ, from birth to death.

Meditating on the life of Christ has always been a way of prayer for Christians, but I’m afraid it’s less practiced today. One of the reasons may be that we’ve become intimidated by biblical scholarship and all the “findings” of archeologists and historians we see periodically on The History Channel and National Geographic.  We distrust our own imagination.

But think about it. Those stories we read in the scriptures are real, about real people, in real places. They are about a world like ours (but without computers and  internet). And they only tell us some things. Can we fill in some more? Let’s get the best scholarship and take a look. I like the advice from the medieval Meditations on the Life of Christ. “Go in there and look around, stand with the holy people there, especially Mary the Mother of Jesus, and let your imagination speak God’s wisdom to you. What’s it saying?”

Maybe Anne Rice can “revert” us to meditation.

The pope ends his encyclical with a reminder that social thinking has to be joined to prayer. Another “left-right fusionism” we shouldn’t neglect.

The Petrine Ministry

DSC00242One of the best known statues of Peter the Apostle is in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The apostle, seated on a chair, has his hand raised, not just in blessing but to make a point. He’s teaching the church.

The popes continue the teaching ministry of Peter and one way they do it is through encyclicals, letters sent to bishops and people throughout the world. On June 29, 2009, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Pope Benedict XVI issued Caritas in Veritate, an encyclical on socials issues affecting our world today.

It took me a week to read through it and I can’t say I’ve grasped it all, but I’ll be back to it.

If you read this extensive, densely packaged work, remember that the word “encyclical” is close to the word “encyclopedia.” Our world isn’t simple, it’s big and complex, and the pope–certainly helped by advisors– tries to analyze it and provide a vision for living in it.

It’s a lot to digest. The letter is a long banquet table, not a quick snack for one gulp.

But that’s the challenge I like about it. Love, the gift we have from God, calls us to look at big things and be engaged in them. We tend to consider love mostly in interpersonal dimensions, but the letter speaks of a love that reaches into the mystery of God and enrolls us in work at building our earthly city.

It’s not a letter of pat answers but of many questions which arise from the reality of the world we live in now. A love based in truth calls us to think about the world as it is and creatively work for its good.

It’s about the development of the human being, the whole human being and all human beings. As Christians we’re charged to work for this development, which has now taken on new global dimensions through the advance of technology.

Politically, it calls for international structures more responsive to the situation of a global society and technological advances. The stumbling G 8 meeting just concluded in Italy is evidence of the need. Hard to believe for some, but nation states alone are not the answer.

It urges the human family to respect the rights of the natural world, which must be part of the development of an earthly city. It warns against untrammeled technological advances that don’t take into account human rights, the rights of creation, as well as the divine law. It recognizes greed and lack of oversight behind the present world financial crisis.

The pope’s encyclical is not a view from a small cloistered world.

There’s a consciousness in the encyclical that weariness and loss of hope can stop our efforts to engage our world as it is, but love refuses to be conquered. It endures. Importantly, our efforts are not simple human efforts:

“Development needs Christians with their arms raised towards God in prayer, Christians moved by the knowledge that truth-filled love, caritas in veritate, from which authentic development proceeds, is not produced by us, but given to us. For this reason, even in the most difficult and complex times, besides recognizing what is happening, we must above all else turn to God’s love. Development requires attention to the spiritual life, a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God, spiritual fellowship in Christ, reliance upon God’s providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace.” (79)

Caritas in Veritate

I’m reading Pope Benedict’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” –Charity in Truth. Not easy going, because he’s trying to address something that’s not easy going–the situation of our world today.

The pope begins with love, not intimate, confined love, but love engaged with truth. A love found in Jesus, God’s gift made flesh, who engaged his world and gave his life to raise it up.

Jesus calls us to love our world and work for its development.

“Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.

It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth…To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity.” (1)

So love calls us to more than an intimate relationship with friends, family or small groups, the pope says; it must be part  of our personal relationship with God, and the “macro-relationships” of society, the economy and politics.

By its nature, love desires someone’s good and takes effective steps to secure it. Besides the good of individuals, “there is the good that is linked to living in society: the common good.

We must desire the good of “the earthly city,” not just through respect for rights and duties, but also by offering it gifts of “gratuitousness, mercy and communion.” We must love the world we live in.

Tight reasoning, long sentences, much content. The subject is large, like the world itself. Yet, as the pope says,  love’s “exacting” task is to take it on.

Web Videos

Today’s NYTimes (July 6,2009) has an article called “Rise of Web Video, Beyond 2-Minute Clips” by Brian Stelter.

With faster Internet access, people are watching more video on their computers.

“While online video is not going to replace television anytime soon,” Stelter says, “ it is now decidedly mainstream. About 150 million Internet users in the United States watch about 14.5 billion videos a month…

“Much of the video innovation is coming from people who — empowered by inexpensive editing equipment and virtually no distribution costs — are creating content specifically for an online audience.”

Here’s one of my efforts to join the crowd. I have a number of web videos on Vimeo.com and YouTube.com

I’m going to do some more.

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