Category Archives: spirituality

Morning Prayer: A Genesis Prayer

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We may think morning prayer is a few mumbled words or the Sign of the Cross quickly made, but morning prayer is meant to be an important part of our experience as we wake from darkness and sleep.

“Let there be light and there was light; and God said it was good.” (Genesis 1, 3-4) Light was the first thing God made. True Light, which enlightens everyone, came into our world, John’s gospel says. ( John 1, 9)

I sit on the porch for a few minutes in the early morning and watch the sun come through the tall trees lining our garden to the east. In winter it takes awhile. In summer, the sparrows and the doves and sometimes a pair of cardinals gather at the bird feeder to begin the day. Before I do a thing, the world gradually is bathed in light and comes awake.

Before I do a thing.

Morning prayer is a Genesis Prayer, an assurance we shouldn’t miss. Light comes to our world today, True Light, as it was from the beginning. Darkness is a sign of the world that’s chaotic. The psalms and hymns of morning prayer say light comes, and we pray our eyes be open to see.

The images in morning prayer are important. In the beginning God created a garden, a symbol of the world ordered and in harmony, beautiful and fruitful. God is the great Gardener, a king enthroned over creation, and all is God’s garden, the morning psalms say.

“Shout to the Lord all the earth, ring out your joy…Let the sea and all within it thunder praise, the world and all its peoples. Let the rivers clap their hands, and the hills ring out their joy. Rejoice at the presence of the Lord, for he comes to rule the earth.” (Psalm 98, Wednesday Morning 111)

The world, however chaotic it seems, is cared for by the One who made it.

Sometimes God is a Shepherd, a Great Shepherd bestriding the world: “Here comes with power the Lord God…Like a shepherd he feeds his flock, in his arms he gathers his lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care.” (Isaiah 40, Thursday Morning 111)

Sometimes we’re asked to see the world as a city, God’s holy city. “On the holy mountain is his city, cherished by the Lord…a holy city.” (Psalm 87 Thursday Morning III) We’re asked to see our world as holy, yet still to be built.

“Sing a new song to the Lord; sing to the Lord, all the earth; sing to the Lord and bless his name.” we’re told as we begin the day. (Psalm 96. Monday Morning, 111)

“Serve the Lord with gladness, come into his presence singing for joy.”

St. Justin, Philosopher and Martyr (c.100-165 AD)

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Justin Martyr

We need Christians like St. Justin, the 2nd century philosopher, we remember today. “We need to make our teaching known,” he said. Still true in our day.

In Justin’s time, philosophers were the mentors and teachers of Roman society and were welcomed in the forum and private homes of the Roman world. St. Paul addressed them in Athens with limited success.

Born in Nablus in Palestine of Greek parents, Justin studied all the philosophers of his time in Alexandria, Athens and Ephesus. It may have been in Ephesus around the year 130 that he encountered Christianity when, walking along the seashore, he met an old man who told him the human heart could never be satisfied by Plato but “the prophets alone announced the truth.”

“After telling me these and other things…he went away and I never saw him again, but a flame kindled in my soul, filling me with love for the prophets and the friends of Christ. I thought about his words and became a philosopher..” (Dialogue 8)

Justin was influenced, not only by Christian teaching, but also by the example of Christians he met:

“I liked Plato’s teaching at first and enjoyed hearing evil spoken about Christians, but then I saw they had no fear of death or other things that horrify, and I realized they were not vicious or pleasure-loving at all.” (Apology 2,12)

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Ruins of the Roman Forum

Justin championed Christianity as a philosopher as Christians were increasingly being attacked by society. Donning a philosopher’s cloak he taught and wrote in Rome about the year 150 AD. He was a new kind of Christian, a Christian philosopher engaging Roman society on its own terms. He gave Christianity a Roman face and voice.

Justin defended Christians against the charge they were atheists and enemies of the Roman state. Christians were good citizens, he wrote, who pray for Rome, though they don’t worship in temples, who had no statues of gods or who did not participate in the religious rites of the state.  Justin’s writings give us a unique picture of 2nd century Christianity and early Christian worship.

In his “Dialogue with Trypho, the Jew” Justin offered the traditional Christian defense of Christianity to a Jew antagonistic to the new religion. The Jewish prophets predicted the coming, the death and resurrection of Jesus, Justin argues.

In the documents of Vatican ii, Justin is recognized as an early example of Christian ecumenism. (Evangelium Nuntiandi 53) Through the Word of God all things came to be, he said.  The Word became flesh in Jesus Christ, but Justin linked the biblical Word to the Logos of the philosophers. “Seeds of the Word” were scattered throughout the world, Justin claimed. Every human being possesses in his mind a seed of the Word, and so besides the prophets of the Old Testament, pagan philosophers like Heraclitus, Socrates and Musonius lead us to Jesus Christ, Justin said. (Apology 1,46)

A prolific writer and teacher, Justin was an early Christian intellectual using his talents to promote his faith, Unfortunately only three of his writings come down to us. Other Christian intellectuals followed him, using the tools of philosophy, to dialogue with the Greco-Roman world.

Finally, rivals in Rome pressed charges against Justin as an enemy of the state and he was  brought before a Roman judge along with six companions. Sentenced to death, they were beheaded probably in the year 165 AD. The official court record of their trial  still survives.

May, the Month of Mary

Mary Garden, Immaculate Conception Monastery, Jamaica, NY

We celebrate Easter through the month of May. The Risen Lord stays with his church on her pilgrim way and walks with her step by step. Jesus is with us; he won’t leave us orphans. He gives us his gifts.

One of his gifts is Mary, his Mother. We honor her this month and ask her to guide us into the mysteries of Jesus, her Son. She knew him better than any of his creatures. I have been out in our Mary Garden these last few days visiting her.

In the Acts of the Apostles, our primary scriptural source for knowing how the church developed, Luke describes that development mainly through the missionary journeys of Peter and Paul. But let’s not forget Mary, a key figure in that development. She’s “embedded” in the story of Jesus’ life and in the development of the church. I like that word to describe her–”embedded.”  

After Jesus ascends into heaven, forty days after his resurrection, a group of his followers, whom we already know from Luke’s gospel, go back to the upper room in Jerusalem.  Luke describes them:

“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” 

As he says earlier in his gospel, Luke depends on eyewitnesses who not only have seen and heard what Jesus said and did, but also are given prophetic gifts for preaching and teaching in the church. They tell us Jesus rose from the dead but, inspired by the Holy Spirit, they also tell us what that mystery means for the world. 

Luke’s eyewitnesses are the eleven apostles, paired up two by two as Jesus told them for  preaching the gospel. There are also women, like Mary Magdalen, followers of Jesus during his ministry and important witnesses of his resurrection. And finally Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers, his relations, who knew him from the beginning.

Mary, who kept all these things in her heart, is the chief eyewitness.

Will the Spring Rains Come?

 April showers. Spring rains.

Cyril of Jerusalem has a wonderful sermon on water that he preached to catechumens centuries ago. Here are a couple of lines:

“Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.”

The saint goes on to say that just as water adapts itself to every creature, the Holy Spirit gives life to each one according to its needs and to benefit the common good. The Spirit’s coming is gentle, not felt as a burden, with tenderness, as a true friend, to save, heal, counsel, strengthen and console.

So back to spring rains. Will they come this year? Climate change? Is it at work with the spring? The magnolia tree outside my room hopes the rains will come, and the other trees and plants in our garden hope they will too. They’re waiting for the rain to fall on the earth to do what it always does. Like the Spirit of God, water brings life.

Send the spring rains, Lord.