Monthly Archives: January 2016

Friday Thoughts: Playing Around

Bruegel, Children's Games, 1560

Bruegel, “Children’s Games”, (1560)

 

…and a little child will lead them.

—Isaiah 11:6

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It’s the simple moments. It’s playing hide-and-seek. It’s pretending that what isn’t is.

Like a game made-up as we go, with only a single rule: It has to make us laugh.

But not the kind of laughter that hurts anyone or anything. No, it has to be true laughter, the kind that comes from and through kindness, through truly wanting to be with one another—so much so that we’ll make up just about any old game, just as long as we wont have to go our separate ways.

“Life” then becomes one big beautiful “excuse” to stay together, and our “actions” take on a tremendously meaningful fashion. They become like soft pieces of colorful clothing gently placed upon our joy-filled affections.

Little children know this through and through. They’re constantly changing and tailoring their “clothes”, adapting and accessorizing as they go, with only one goal in mind: for the “fun” to continue. But the fun they seek is not the kind that you and I normally desire—for little children know what few adults remember. They’re not so easily tricked. They know that fun, true fun, has very little to do with the actual game being played, in and of itself. For little children it’s all about what the game, as a mere instrument, allows them to experience—the freedom to let out love.

That’s why the type of game they play can turn on a dime. It just doesn’t matter.

Rules? Scores? Time-limits?

Who cares about stuff like that?

Are we “laughing”? Are we having “fun”? Are we still “with each other”?

Are we still in love?

These are the only questions that matter to a small child!

And with prayer it is much the same. Saints make up all kinds of “games” in order to “excuse” the time that they want so desperately to spend with God. They play all kinds of little games. They slide beads, they sing little songs, they pretend to be statues while playing hide-and-seek with the Lord, and some—the ones that the world most often calls crazy—even dream up little tales and fanciful stories, imagining along with God what could be if only everyone in the world would join in and play together.

But this is no big secret. All saints in one way or another come to say the same thing: Every technique, every approach, every means of entering into prayer…each and every one…they’re all part of one giant “excuse”, one seemingly never-ending “game”. For at the end of the day, techniques and approaches are at best a mere prelude to divine laughter—that infant-like sound composed of pure joy, that only the Love of God can bring into being.

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He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

—Mark 10: 14-16

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—Howard Hain

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The Mass Readings after Epiphany

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It may not seem that the gospel readings at Mass for the week after the Feast of the Epiphany are closely connected to that great feast, but they are.

The Magi who come to find the King of the Jews represent the nations, the gentiles, to whom Jesus will come as their Savior.  In our readings for Monday Jesus, grown in wisdom and age and grace, begins his public ministry after his baptism by John, going into Galilee, “the Galilee of the Gentiles,” Matthew’s gospel calls it. Jesus brings  light “to a people who sit in darkness.” Galilee is where he first fulfills the promise made to the Magi.

Baptized by John, Jesus continues his mission, repeating the very words John used to define his ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” But Jesus goes beyond John, who acknowledges “I am not the Messiah; I am sent before him.(Saturday, John 3,22-3)  Jesus calls a gentile world as well as a Jewish world to turn to God; he is the kingdom of God at hand.

Humanly speaking, it wasn’t a good time for Jesus to begin such a mission. It’s “after John was arrested,” a dangerous time. Galilee, when Jesus began his mission, was ruled by Herod Antipas, who imprisoned John and then beheaded him. (Matthew 4, 12-25)

But God’s time is not our time. It probably wasn’t a good time either for the Magi to come to Bethlehem, in the days of Herod the Great. But God’s ways are not our ways. It’s important to remember that. We can easily miss the time of grace and its opportunities when we think of our time in too human a way.

God could not possibly act now? Why not?

Accounts of the miracle of the loaves and the  crossing of the Sea of Galilee from Mark’s gospel  are read on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Commentators note that Mark uses the Sea of Galilee as a stormy path Jesus takes to reach the gentile world of his day, where he will also give them the same banquet of Bread that he provided for the children of Israel.

It’s to “all of Galilee” that Jesus goes and “as a consequence of this his reputation traveled the length of Syria, They carried to him all those afflicted with various diseases and racked with pain: the possessed, the lunatics, the paralyzed. He cured them all.” (Matthew 4, 23-25)

 

The Epiphany

Audio version of homily here:

 

Today, the Feast of the Epiphany, we remember the mysterious visitors from afar who came seeking the new-born King of the Jews. (Matthew 2,1-12)

Years ago, I remember wandering through the catacombs of Rome where early Roman Christians buried their dead. On the burial places of their loved ones they scratched the name of the deceased, little symbols and prayers, sometimes a picture from the bible.

 

In the catacombs of Priscilla there’s a 3rd century grave that belongs to a Roman woman named Severa. Her simple profile appears with an inscription that reads, “Severa, may you live with God.”

Beside the inscription are figures of the three Magi coming with their gifts to the little Child sitting on Mary’s lap. Over the Child is a star and the figure of a man, probably Balaam, the prophet who predicted a star would announce a new king in Judea. (Numbers 24,15-19)

What did this mean to her, you wonder? Surely Severa believed the Child brought eternal life to her and others like her. Perhaps she was baptized on the feast of the Epiphany, the oldest of the Christmas feasts, the most important day after Easter for baptisms in Rome and other western churches.

 

 

Her faith, which she would have expressed in the Apostles’ Creed, is the same as ours today. God made this world and guides it to its destiny. Jesus Christ is God’s Son, born of Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. On the third day he rose from the dead.

Severa believed in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

The Roman woman knew, too, the story of the Magi and Herod, the powerful king, who threatened the life of the new born Child. The power emperors who ruled Rome then were so much like the ruthless king, but Severa knew the Child was more powerful than them all. He would bring her to another world, God’s world.

“Severa, may we live with you in God.”

 

Friday Thoughts: Not Worthy

Albrecht Durer Saint Peter

Durer, “The Four Apostles” (1526), detail of St. Peter

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When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.

Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.

—Luke 5:8,10,11

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It is our job, perhaps our only job, to continually put ourselves into a perspective—in a relation to Christ—that causes us to truly believe with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds that we are not worthy of His sacrifice, His gift, His love for us as embodied in the Crucifixion and His glorious wounds—and then to share that “divine unworthiness” with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds with every brother and sister of Christ we cross.

For it is truly the most “unworthy” of news that best delivers the Good News.

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“The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”

—Matthew 8:8

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Howard Hain

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