Monthly Archives: October 2012

Venice–October 19th

We began our pilgrimage to Italy on October 19th in Venice, the ancient maritime republic on the Adriatic Sea.  Venice, now part of Italy, was once an independent global power, and like other small maritime states–England, Holland, Portugal– was skilled in using the sea. Even today, the region around Venice is economically better off than other regions of Italy, largely because of Venetian economic acumen.

But now the city  is largely a museum. Crowds of tourists everywhere. We were fortunate to celebrate Mass in the crypt of St. Mark’s, the great basilica, which began as the private chapel of the Doge of Venice, but was destroyed by fire in 976 AD.  The present basilica began to be built from that date.

For centuries, the Venetian republic was linked to the Byzantine and Muslim worlds through the sea and much of its wealth and many of its treasures, like the relics of St. Mark, come from that part of the world. Its buildings and its art are also strongly influenced by the building and art of its trading partners.

An excellent new book on the history of Venice,  (City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas,  by Robert Crowley,  2012) offers a vivid description of the part Venice played in the Crusades and its relations to the Muslim and Byzantine empires. Its history can throw light on our relationship with the Middle East today. For example, the sack of Constantinople during the 4th Crusade has poisoned the relationship of the eastern and western churches from that time on.  War can poison the relationships of people for centuries.                                                                  

The best commentary on the art of Venice and Padua I’ve found is John Ruskin’s, The Stones of Venice and Giotto and his Works in Padua, both available free at Apple’s iTunes on the internet. Ruskin has a beautiful description of the art in St. Mark’s Basilica, one of the great wonders of the world.

Ruskin points out that the church built next to the Ducal Palace was a reminder to the Venetians that their business and politics, as well as their private lives, were subject to the judgment of God. Whether they liked it or not, when they returned from their great voyages of business and war, they faced this church.

We seem to be lacking that perspective today in government, business and private life. 

A Lump of Clay

 

 

 

A Lump of Clay

 

 

 

I feel like a lump of clay

lying shapeless on a board

waiting for the sculptor

to shape me into what

he sees in his mind’s eye

 

The sculptor is perfect

but the clay is not-

it can be stubborn

resistant, uncooperative,

free-willed

 

It does not always mold

into the sculptor’s vision

but prefers to take shapes

that his hands have not

intended

and so, many times

it has to be scooped up

and shaped into the lump

it once was

 

With infinite patience

and love

the sculptor starts again

and shapes over and over again

 

until the clay realizes

it is gradually, willingly,

becoming the sculptor’s vision

 

Gloria Ziemienski

September 29, 2012

Stupid Galatians

We read portions of the scriptures from our lectionary each day, but it’s good sometimes to look at an overview of a gospel, or an epistle, or an Old Testament book the readings are taken from. There’s something to be said for reading it all and reflecting on it.

Our first readings this week at Mass are from the Letter to the Galatians, who were pagans St. Paul converted probably on his second missionary journey through Asia Minor. When Paul left, some Jewish Christians arrived and were enticing the new converts to adopt Jewish practices, especially that of circumcision. They also called Paul’s authority into question, saying he wasn’t among the original witnesses to Jesus’ life and resurrection.

Paul responds in this emotional letter written in 54 or 55 AD in which he voices amazement that the Galatians are listening to the newcomers and losing sight of the faith they’ve learned. Paul begins by giving an account of his own call; he defends his authority to preach the gospel and his communion with the other apostles.

But the theme of his letter is belief in Jesus Christ, who was crucified. “Stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” ( Gal 3,1) Don’t lose sight of what’s most important, what’s central to your faith–Jesus Christ! Of course, losing sight of what’s most important isn’t only a characteristic of the Galatians; we do it too.

Some of the most beautiful expressions of Paul’s personal faith are found in this letter.  He describes his own conversion as a “revelation of Jesus Christ,” a grace by which God “revealed his Son to me.” It wasn’t through a book he read or a blinding light.  Jesus was revealed to him and that revelation continued. “I have been crucified with Christ,yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Gal 2,19-20)

Living in Christ means living in his Spirit, Paul continues. The Galatians are enticed by practices of the Jewish law; Paul reminds them of the law Jesus taught. “The whole law is fulfilled in one statement,’ You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Gal 5,14) Bearing one another’s burdens is the way you fulfill the law of Christ, by sharing good things with one another you fulfill his law. Don’t tire of doing good, keep doing it, Paul says to his children in faith. (Gal 6,2;6:9)

Paul doesn’t give the Galatians a book he wrote once about Jesus, he speaks to them from his own faith in Jesus which is living and constantly growing. He’s likely just read the verse from the Old Testament about the curse one bears who hangs on the tree. The Son of God took on that cursed condition of hanging on a tree! What greater love can there be? Paul’s thinking too of the promise Abraham embraced who lived long before the mosaic law existed. That was the promise Abraham saw in faith and that’s the revelation the gentiles see in the Crucified Christ.

The Letter to the Galatians is about essentials that have been forgotten or replaced by something else. Paul recalls the essentials. “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”

 

 

Rejected By His Own

“And as for you, Capernaum, ‘Will you be exalted to heaven?

You will go down to the netherworld.” Luke 10,13-16

St. Luke, at the beginning of  his gospel, tells Theophilus and other readers that he’s going to give an orderly account of Jesus Christ and his church. Using sources available to him–among them Mark’s gospel and a collection of sayings Matthew also used and some other traditions– Luke’s “orderly” account aims, not just for historical accuracy, but for his readers facing the world they live in.

For example, Luke’s gospel offers references implying that the temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed. That happened in 70 AD. It’s one clue that Luke’s gospel was written from 80-90 AD, about 50 years or so after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem shocked Jews and Christians alike and caused many Christians to think that the world was coming to an end.  One reason Luke wrote his gospel was to remind his hearers about living  in the present moment, and so he recalls how often Jesus tells his disciples to take advantage of the time they have, to live “each day.” (Luke 9,23; 11,3; 16,19; 18,9-14; 19,1-10; 21.1-4)

I’m sure some of Luke’s gentile readers (He wrote with them in mind) were also wondering what was going on in the land where Jesus was born and taught and died and rose again. What was happening in Capernaum, Nazareth, Bethsaida– centers of Jesus’ life and ministry?

Those areas changed after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Galilee, in particular, where Jesus lived most of his life and years of ministry,  had become the center of Pharasaic Judaism. Jewish Christians were being displaced from Galilean  synagogues and towns by exiles from Judea, and Jesus was considered an enemy.

Luke’s “woes” are directed to this land where Jesus grew up and ministered. It’s a land that has rejected him. Luke says that even in his lifetime, Jesus experienced rejection here.  It’s a mystery of God.

The rejection of Jesus by his own people was a mystery that Christians could not understand then. “He came to his own and his own received him not,’ John’s gospel says. Paul writes extensively about this mystery in the 9th chapter of this Letter to the Romans. Hope in the mystery of God’s mercy, Paul writes, Israel will have its day of belief.

But rejection of Jesus goes on in other towns and places; we don’t understand his rejection now.  Why can’t people believe in him; why do they turn away from him?  We ask this today especially  as we see people abandoning Christianity and its churches. We wonder about the future of Christianity, especially among the young.

The mystery of unbelief is a mystery which calls us, not to believe less, but to believe more strongly. Believe in him with all your strength, preach him as well as you know how, Luke’s gospel says. Live like him, and you will enter into the mystery of his cross and resurrection.

The Son of Man

We can make Jesus Christ too small sometimes and thus limit his mission and power. That’s what his disciples seem to do in Mark’s  gospel.

“John said to Jesus,

‘Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name,

and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.’”(Mark 9,38)

Someone is doing good, but the disciples don’t know him. He doesn’t belong to their “church.” He’s doing what Jesus would do–in this case casting out demons. We might say he’s acting like a Christian, but he’s not Christian.

“Whoever is not against us is for us,” Jesus says. In other words, anyone acting as I would, thinking as I would, belongs with me, and “they will surely not lose their reward.”

Is this a reminder today for us  who so often fail to recognize the goodness and truth in others because they don’t belong to our church, or nation, or political party, or school, or are just not like us?  It’s seems so, especially in our polarized world, where we increasingly define others by differences instead of what we have in common.

Jesus tells us, as he did his disciples, to see how others are with us, rather than against us.  Look for the truth we share, even in someone we may oppose, for we  share a common nature and a common humanity. We’re human beings made in the image and likeness of God.

That’s what Jesus did. He welcomed others, even those people shunned– lepers, tax-collectors, sinners– outcasts in their day. He was open to all, even his enemies. He welcomed them and was at home with them.

It’s interesting to notice in the gospels how often Jesus seems to shy away from titles that could distance him from others.  “Who do people say I am?” he asks his disciples at one point. “They said in reply, ‘John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ Then he said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter said in reply, ‘The Christ of God.’” (Luke 9,18-22)

Yet, Jesus is hesitant to accept these titles for himself publically.  The one title he seems to prefer is “the Son of Man.”

“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9,22)

“ The birds of the air have their nests, the foxes have their dens, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Scholars can’t say exactly what Jesus means when he calls himself “the Son of Man,” only a couple of references are found in the Old Testament (Daniel) and in Jewish literature, but not enough to indicate its precise meaning. There seems to be no doubt, however, that Jesus did indeed refer to himself as “the Son of Man.”

Some say the best approach is to look at what the words obviously say. “I’m the son of man,” Jesus says;  in other words “I’m a human being.” Can we say that Jesus preferred to present himself in his humanity, rather than his divinity? He came to live among us, not as a divine being, but as a human being, someone like us. Human, he experienced life as we do; he knows suffering and death as we do. To restore our humanity, to show what it means to be human, Jesus became “the Son of Man.”

There’s a beautiful crucifix in the chapel where I live now, in Jamaica, New York, a five foot wood carving of Jesus from 15th century Germany.  It bears the wear and tear of the years. Jesus is clearly human, stripped of any sign of his divinity, his head bowed in death. It’s hard to see if he’s white, or black or Asian. He could be any of them. To me he’s the “Son of Man.”

The crucifix has an interesting history. It was given to one of our priests by the Catholic bishops of Germany and Austria after the 2nd World War when Germany was in shambles, its cities in ruins and its people crushed. They were our enemies. The crucifix was from the ruins of a German church.

The priest was in charge of Catholic Relief, one of the agencies that helped get that country on its feet again, and to me the crucifix seems to represent the bishops’ thanks for this recognition of our common humanity. The Son of Man came to reconcile and restore, not to destroy.  That’s what Jesus did.