Monthly Archives: April 2015

Lectio Divina, Sacred Reading

Simon Rubens
Recently, a priest in my community, Father Theophane Cooney, CP, gave me this short instruction on prayerfully reading the scriptures. The latin term for it is “lectio divina,” sacred reading. Something good should be shared. Here it is:

What is Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading)?

It is a spiritual, rather than academic, reading of the Bible. It enables the reader to get to know Jesus in a more personal way, through reading, above all through listening.

It is to experience a personal meeting of an intimate kind with the God who loves you and comes to meet you in the sacred reading. You should not feel obliged to read a complete passage, you are there to listen. God can say an awful lot in a few words.

Avoid opening the gospel at random: choose rather the gospel of the previous Sunday, or the coming Sunday.

Preparation

Time: set aside 10 or 15 minutes when you will be free from interruptions.
Place: somewhere free of interruptions, no telephone, no television, no computer.

1. Take some moments to calm down.
2. Invoke the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Pray to be enlightened with an inspiration that may inspire your life.
3. Read calmly, very slowly, the biblical text. Read it again. Take the time to listen to the Lord and the message he wishes to share with you from this reading. Don’t expect blinding revelations. God is teaching you to listen and seek him in silence.
4. Meditate: ask yourself–“What does this word of God, which I have read carefully say to me.”
5. Pray. Speak to the Lord who has spoken to you in the text you have reflected on. Let your attitude be that of the Virgin Mary: “Be it done onto me according to your word.”
6. Contemplate in silence. Remain fascinated and impressed as you calmly allow the word of God to inspire you as though it were the heat of the sun.
7. Act. Make a commitment that springs from this encounter with the Lord. Inspired and filled with the word of God you return to daily life with a renewed attitude.

If you are faithful to this practice, your life will begin to change. The word of God will lead you to a change of attitudes, values and feelings. Love the word of God. Study it and allow it to form your personality.

(Fr. Theophane Cooney, CP)

A Shepherd for Dangerous Times

good shepherd
The image of the shepherd is a favorite image for God in scripture. It is an important image to understand the Risen Jesus. He is a shepherd on the journey through life and death, a shepherd who does not walk alone. He leads his sheep through “the valley of death.” He brings them to  green pastures, to rest “all the days of our life.”

God’s shepherding takes many forms. God is the Shepherd of Israel, we hear in the Old Testament. The Lord is my shepherd, Psalm 23 says; God shepherds us on the personal journey we make in life; God is with us at every moment, good or bad. God  also shepherds his church, the new Israel, and he will always guide it, even in periods of uncertainty.

But does it end there? What about our world, which is also on a journey? If we believe Jesus Christ is its Savior and Lord, will he not be its shepherd too?

Easter time is a good time to think about the unknown in all its dimension. As we look ahead, our world faces many dangers. It’s clear our environment is endangered. What shall we do? As the nations of the earth are drawn closer through new systems of communications and economic development, violence and terror are so evident. Can we live in peace?

We’re tempted to close our eyes and lose hope. But God always tells us to face life and go on. Alone, we may see a dark valley ahead, but a Shepherd leads us, so let’s not fear.

4th Sunday of Easter: The Lord is my Shepherd

 

To listen to today’s homily, select the audio file below:

I wanted to find out on the internet recently how many people are watching the new series on Sunday night on NBC entitled AD: The Gospel Continues. Looks like a lot of people are watching it. But another story caught my eye in the Hollywood Reporter, where that information is found. It was an article entitled “Jesus in Film and TV: 13 Devilishly Handsome Actors Who’ve Played the Son of God.”

The article showed the pictures of all the devilishly handsome actors who played Jesus in the movies or on television in recent years. To tell the truth, none of them looked like Jesus to me. In his Letter to the Philippians St. Paul says that Jesus took on the form of a slave. That seems to mean that if we met him on the street, we wouldn’t recognize him. He would look like one of the crowd. Jesus may not have been particularly handsome, but of course Hollywood finds that hard to believe. We’re so sure that looks, appearances, image are everything.

“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says in today’s gospel. Now, I don’t know too much about shepherds or what they look like, but from the little I know I don’t believe they’re a particularly handsome group. They’re men who spend most of their time outside in the cold or the heat; weather-beaten, scruffy looking, with few opportunities for grooming themselves, not much to look at. It’s a tough job, being a shepherd.

But the good shepherd cares for his sheep. That’s what Jesus does; he cares for his sheep. He cares for his sheep no matter what the weather, cold or hot. He makes the journey with them, no matter how hard it is. He doesn’t abandon his sheep, no matter what. He searches for the ones who are lost and he looks for others to enter his flock.

That’s the way Jesus, the Risen Jesus, describes himself in John’s gospel today:

“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

He’s not doing it for pay, he’s not someone hired, putting in his time, caring little for his sheep, ready to run away when the wolf comes and the sheep are scattered.

“I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,”

He knows his sheep, Jesus says, not in an impersonal way. He speaks and they hear his voice. ‘Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father,” he says, and “I will lay down my life from them.”

Some years ago I was on a plane from St. Louis to Kennedy Airport in New York City. I opened my prayer book to say a prayer before takeoff and just then an African-American woman sat down next to me; at first, I thought she was a young teenager. “Sir,” she said, “Could I read a psalm?”

“Sure,” I said, “Let’s read the 22th Psalm together, which is the Good Shepherd psalm. So together we said that beautiful psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….”

“That’s my favorite prayer,” she said, and she told me she was going overseas to Germany to rejoin her husband in the army there. They had lost a child in childbirth some months before and she had gone home to see her mother after the loss.

When we got up in the air above the clouds, she told me that after her baby’s death she had a dream. She saw Jesus, the Good Shepherd, walking in clouds like this and he was carrying her little baby. “ I love that psalm and I say it all the time, “ she said.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me, he restores my soul.

He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,

for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.

You set a table before me in front of my enemies;You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for endless days.

Knowing Yourself

NEW YORK TIMES columnist David Brooks has gotten a lot of attention lately for his suggestion that we need more humility in our society today. We need to know ourselves. We need to look to those who knew themselves and learn from them, Brooks say.

We may thing that humility stops you from doing anything, except hide in a corner away from the storm. Just the opposite, the humble take on large challenges, because they recognize another power at work besides themselves.

St. Gregory the Great, a 6th century pope, was called great for his humble service to the Roman world that was falling down around him. Gregory ends one of his finest commentaries on scripture, called the Moralia, a Commentary on the Book of Job, with words that reveal someone not afraid to honestly know himself.

“Now that I have finished this work, I have to look at myself. We are so complex, even when we try speaking the truth. Let me go from the forum of words to the senate house of my heart, to take council about myself.

I don’t want to speak anything evil or speak poorly about what is good.

I wish my words please the One is good.  Yet, can I claim I have spoken no evil at all? Have I spoken less well than I should, perhaps? When I look within, pushing aside leafy words and branches of arguments, and examine my deepest intentions, I know I intend to please God, but has some desire for human praise crept in? Has it intruded into my simple desire to please God?

Later, much later, I may realize this. Often, our intentions to please God are joined by a secret yen for human praise. Self-righteously, we even use God’s gifts to please others.

So in my commentary I reveal God’s gifts, but let me confess my wounds too. Let me instruct the little ones by my words, but let others take pity on my weakness. I offer help to some and seek help from others. As I tell some what to do, I open my heart to others to admit what they should forgive.  I give medicine to some, but do not hide my wounds from others. My reader will have more than paid me back if, for what he hears from me, he offers his tears for me.”

A humble man.

Bread and Wine

The Easter season is a time of sacraments, the way the Risen Jesus comes to us today. It’s the time for First Communions, when little children are initiated into this mystery and we adults are reminded of it again.

I often think how impoverished we moderns are compared to generations long ago who experienced bread and wine so much more concretely than we do today. They watched bread made in their own homes and  probably helped pressing grapes for wine.

You can see that experience in the old commentaries on the Eucharist, like this one from St. Gaudentius of Brescia.(+410) Bread-making and wine-making help to understand the mystery:

“ Daily this mystery is before our eyes as a representation of the passion of Christ. We hold it in our hands, we receive it in our mouths, and we accept it in our hearts.

“It is appropriate that we should receive the body of Christ in the form of bread, because, as there are many grains of wheat in the flour from which bread is made by mixing it with water and baking it with fire, so also we know that many members make up the one body of Christ which is brought to maturity by the fire of the Holy Spirit.

“Christ was born of the Holy Spirit, and since it was fitting that he should fulfil all justice, he entered into the waters of baptism to sanctify them. When he left the Jordan he was filled with the Holy Spirit who had descended upon him in the form of a dove. As the evangelist tells us: Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan.

“Similarly, the wine of Christ’s blood, drawn from the many grapes of the vineyard that he had planted, is extracted in the wine-press of the cross. When we receive it with believing hearts, like capacious wineskins, it ferments within us by its own power.”

The Passionist Nuns from Erlanger, Kentucky, make Communion wafers for many churches and they made a video of how it’s done, for children making their First Communion.

The Homelessness of Faith

“When Paul had finished speaking he knelt down and prayed with them all. They were all weeping loudly as they threw their arms around Paul and kissed him, for they were deeply distressed that he had said that they would never see his face again. Then they escorted him to the ship.”

As the gospel spread to all nations, we seldom see scenes in the scriptures like Paul’s farewell to the presbyters at Ephesus, described in our reading for today, but there must have been others like it. Peter biding farewell to his family at Capernaum; James and John parting from the mother who wanted so much for them; others who left the places and people they knew for the sake of the gospel. Goodbyes are hard, even when they happen for noble purposes.

There’s a homelessness in every human life. The Carmelite poet, Jessica Powers describes it so well in one of her poems:

“It is the homelessness of the soul in the body sown

it is the loneliness of mystery;

of seeing oneself a leaf, inexplicable and unknown

cast from an unimaginable tree;

of knowing one’s life to be a brief wind blown

down a fissure of time in the rock of eternity.”

This is the homelessness that touches us all, even as we believe.

The elders of Ephesus would miss Paul who had been with them for three years and become part of their life, and he would miss them. The disciples of Jesus at the Last Supper must have been touched as he told them he was going away. They had to feel loss.

Only the promise of a spiritual union and a homecoming tempered their sense of loss. Only the promise of reunion of another day.

Reflections on AD:The Gospel Continues

AD

There’s a lot on television about Jesus Christ and the gospels this easter season. I watched most of CNN’s series Finding Jesus Christ: Faith. Fact. Forgery; now I’m watching NBC’s AD: The Gospel Continues.

The two programs are very different. CNN’s Finding Jesus Christ. Faith. Fact. Forgery might have been better titled “Looking for Jesus Christ” because that what it does–it looks for proof that Jesus really existed and whether evidences of him, like the Shroud of Turin, stand up to scientific scrutiny.

NBC’s AD is sure he existed, died and rose from the dead and it wants to tell you more about what happened in the last crucial days of his life and afterwards.

I liked AD’s opening segments, in general, but questions arise. AD expands on what the New Testament says about Jesus’ last days. It does what artists, Christians teachers and mystics have been doing for centuries. You might call it a meditation, a speculation, on the life and times of Jesus and leave it at that.

I wonder, however, about the appearances of Jesus risen from the dead in the series, always a crucial question. AD pictures him as artists have long done–he’s the same as before, but now dressed in white. That doesn’t fit the way the scriptures picture him, however, or what we mean when we say “We believe in the “resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”

Jesus’ disciples have trouble recognizing him risen from the dead, the gospels say. Does that mean they’ve developed poor eyesight or that belief he’s living is too much for them? The Risen Jesus is unlike Lazarus who’s clearly recognized when he comes from the tomb and then dies again.

In the resurrection, Jesus enters a new way of existence and dies no more. He may still show his disciples the wounds in his hands and his feet; they recognize his voice; thy eat with him. But his resurrection begins a new creation, a new step forward. Paul calls Jesus “the first fruits” of a new era, and we follow him into a new life.

The mystery of the resurrection of Jesus and our participation in this mystery, then, goes beyond our imagination and experience. There’s a danger to thinking that heavenly existence is the same as our present human existence, that Heaven is life on earth, only better.

“Life is changed, not ended.” Our present world will not remain the same; we are not meant to “cling” to it. As N.T. Wright states in a previous blog:

“What is more, the meaning of his resurrection cannot be reduced to anything so comfortable as simple regarding him as ‘contemporary’ in the sense of a friend beside us, a smiling and comforting presence. Because he is raised from the dead, he is Lord of the world, sovereign over the whole cosmos, the one before whom we bow the knee, believing that in the end every creature will come to do so as well.”

I must admit I had that reaction to the “smiling and comforting presence” of the Risen Jesus in AD.

I have other, minor questions about AD’s historical perspective. I don’t think Pilate and his Roman legionnaires were as heavily involved in Jerusalem in Jesus’ day as they’re depicted. The Romans were more comfortable in their headquarters at Caesarea Maritima than in Jerusalem and left local rulers like Herod Antipas and the temple leaders in control of the city. But that would demand another story line from AD.

Some of the connections AD makes are interesting. I can see the Centurion Cornelius appearing again. I also wondered about Peter’s children. Nice to see his daughter following along. Peter’s mother in law was already a follower, according to Mark’s gospel.

All in all, though, AD can’t beat the gospel story-tellers. Last week, for example, Sunday’s gospel was from Luke’s account of the resurrection, with its fascinating portrayal of the role of women in the resurrection story. They believed; the men didn’t. I’m still thinking of the implications of that.