Life is a Mystery

29 November 2015 . Comments Off on A reflection for the First Sunday of Advent

A reflection for the First Sunday of Advent

Today I had the privilege of offering the reflection at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet’s Advent Evening Prayer. I am part of the Friends of St. Joseph and St. Brigid Family Faith Formation who were participating in the service in various ways. I thought I’d share my reflection here as well.

Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16 

The days are coming, says the Lord,
when I will fulfill the promise
I made to the house of Israel and Judah.
In those days, in that time,
I will raise up for David a just shoot;
he shall do what is right and just in the land.
In those days Judah shall be safe
and Jerusalem shall dwell secure;
this is what they shall call her:
“The Lord our justice.”

Reflection

Welcome to the pregnant pause of the church. This is the start of our new year, the promise of our Lord our justice to come. This is the darkness to which we welcome a single candle. Welcome to the darkness.

We feel pretty certain that next week we will light two candles and that the week after that we will light three. We are quite certain that on December 25th we will celebrate Christmas. We generally remove the darkness from Advent, we lose it in the brightness of lights and celebration that started at Lunds a few weeks ago and was prodded along this weekend with spectacular sales and deals.

We overlook the darkness. The uncertainty of the first trimester. Black Friday indeed.

Please, spend a few minutes with me this afternoon considering that darkness because I believe that without darkness there cannot be light. What would our night sky look like if it were all light? In fact, we hardly have to imagine the answer to that since we have nearly washed the darkness from our sky with the lights of our city. The less darkness in our sky, the fewer stars we see, the less we wonder at the glory of God and our universe. Without darkness there cannot be light.

Today’s readings certainly dwell on the darkness. Even Jeremiah’s prophesy echoes the darkness of his time. “The day is coming when the Lord will fulfill the promises made to the house of Israel and Judah.” That day is not yet present, Jeremiah speaks from darkness. “I will raise up for David a just shoot, Judah shall be safe, Jerusalem shall dwell secure.” But clearly those times lie in Jeremiah’s future. Before those days come, Jerusalem will fall. His was a time of darkness.

How safe and secure are Judah and Jerusalem today? How safe and secure do Paris and Belgium feel today, or Beirut, Bamako, or Bangladesh? How safe do our neighbors on the streets of North Minneapolis feel, how secure are our homeless neighbors as the winter cold finally arrives? As in the time of Jeremiah, this is a time of darkness.

Frankly, I am not convinced that this world will ever be anything but a world of darkness, and I am not even sure that our mission is to erase that darkness. Darkness is the night sky, the universe, the context. Our mission, I believe, is to not let fear of the dark drive us. Our mission is to be light in the darkness. We are to be the candle.

It is hard to be a candle in the dark. Especially the first candle in this first trimester of doubt and uncertainty. Will our pregnancy continue, or will it miscarry as has happened so often before? Can we be hopeful enough to carry this burden, or will we despair? Can we allow ourselves to fall in love again, or will the fear of the pain that love brings isolate us? Can we be a light in the dark? And if we are, will another light join us next week? And another the week after?

Stripped of our certainty, this waiting, this Advent, is a scary thing.

Dorothy Day wrote of fear in the Catholic Worker (January 1967):

“We are warm and fed and secure,” she wrote, “We are the nation the most powerful, the most armed, and we are supplying arms and money to the rest of the world where we are not ourselves fighting. . . . Woe to the rich! We are the rich. The works of mercy are the opposite of the works of war, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, nursing the sick, visiting the prisoner. But we are destroying crops, setting fire to entire villages and to the people in them. We are not performing the works of mercy but the works of war.”

What a dark and achingly familiar world she describes. But then she prays: “Deliver us, O Lord, from the fear of our enemies, which makes cowards of us all.” She goes on: “Love casts out fear, but we have to get over the fear in order to get close enough to love them. There is plenty to do, for each one of us, working on our own hearts, changing our own attitudes, in our own neighborhoods.”

Dorothy’s world is our world.

As I said, I am not certain this darkness will ever abate. In fact, I will stand naked before you, I frequently doubt the existence of a benevolent God. At those times, in that despair, in that darkness, I try to love God and neighbor without distinction because I know my neighbor exists, and maybe if I love her, I can love God.

I try to remember that we are the body of Christ. Together we can be a loving order of radical disciples. In those times I think of the Lord as the community, as all of us bound together.

And then I revisit the lesson, with that perspective in mind.

The days are coming,
says the community,
when we will fulfill the promise
and raise up a just shoot;
In those days Judah shall be safe
and Jerusalem shall dwell secure;
this is what they shall call her:
“The community of justice.”

Can we be a candle in the dark?

23 April 2013 . Comments Off on Twenty Five Years

Twenty Five Years

I made the best decision of my life on a snowy April morning in 1987. Mary and I had been living with one another for several years and she had suggested a few times that we might make a commitment to do so for the rest of our lives. I was reluctant. I was afraid of becoming my father, of being unable to live out such a commitment without an alternate life and harbors of secrecy. I was afraid that saying I’d do anything for the rest of my life was a bit insane when I was only 24 years old.

We were living in Ohio at the time, and I woke up one April morning to find the world covered in white. An April snowstorm had transformed spring to winter overnight. The bright light of spring on the carpet of snow, the thick sticky white on the branches of the trees, struck me dumb with wonder. What a crazy spring. What a topsy turvy world. As I looked at the transformation outside I realized I could transform inside. I decided if God could be so impulsive as to drop snow on us in April, I could be crazy enough to say yes to Mary. We decided that morning to get married a year later, in April, whatever the weather.

We had a beautiful day, of course, no snow, many friends, and a wedding we structured so that our vows could be shared by many friends who were not (yet) allowed to be married. Saying yes to Mary and this path was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Mary and I have been blessed with two wonderful children and a wonderful journey together. Whatever the future holds, I am grateful to be on this road with Mary. It has not always been smooth sailing and I’ve railed at God (easier to believe in God when I’m angry) plenty of times for the awful and oppressive. But I’ve never been alone, because I find God in my nearest neighbor every day. As our rings say, “journey is reward.” Just being next to one another through thick and thin has been such a great reward.

So today, our twenty fifth anniversary, is a magical morning not for any of the grand plans we’ve made (it looks like we will simply be home together) but for the gift of a snowy April morning outside. This very gift 26 years ago helped me say “yes” to the partner of my life. I give thanks for another April snow, and for the reminder that life is full of the unexpected, transformations are possible, and even beneath the cold white blanket likes the promise of spring. I give thanks for Mary in my life. I love you, Mary!

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22 September 2010 . 3 Comments

Catholic Archbishop Campaigns Against Gays and the Poor

I am a Roman Catholic. There are times, like today, when I really wonder why. Again and again I shake my head in shame and frustration at the message coming from my leaders. I guess I bother because I don’t believe they are the church, rather we, the people of God, are the church. While I listen to and consider what my leaders say, I also know that as a faithful catholic I can also disagree and be part of a church that moves away from their bitter ways. But I need your help, I think we now have to take an action together, as the people of God, to let our church know they are on the wrong path.

Today I read about our Archbishop John Nienstedt’s plans to send a DVD to over 800,000 400,000 catholics in all Minnesota parishes to “rally the troops” against gay marriage in this election year.

Think about that. Whether you support or oppose gay marriage, I suggest that as a catholic Minnesotan this is offensive. There is only one race where gay marriage is even an issue this year: the race for governor. Mark Dayton and Jack Horner support gay marriage, Tom Emmer opposes it. But this is a fringe issue, the real issues in Minnesota as in most states is our budget. How will we trim? How will we raise revenue? The answers to these questions are life and death issues for some, especially the poor. Our candidates differ drastically on these issues too, and the candidate opposed to gay marriage is also opposed to extending many services to the poor.

Our Archbishop is telling us to make a decision based on a single fringe issue when it could cost us the opportunity to care for the most fragile and vulnerable in our society. Is this really what the gospel calls you to do?

I don’t really care to convince you one way or the other right now about the election, though I do have strong opinions and feel free to ask me or read the rest of my blog to see them. But I do want to convince you to stand up and tell the Archbishop that this is an offensive use of his pulpit. Return the DVD.

Here’s what I suggest. If you get this DVD in the mail, take it to church and put it in the basket at collection time instead of a financial contribution. Attach your envelope, if you like, or don’t. But let your parish and your Archbishop know that you are offended at a church that turns its backs on the poor in order to “rally the troops” around an issue that we can take up in many other venues.

Give the DVD back to the Archbishop in the collection plate. Make a contribution that really says something this week.

Archbishop John Nienstedt

23 August 2009 . Comments Off on Harry Christ

Harry Christ

Well, not quite, but not far off. In the Boston Globe this week, The Book of Harry.

Eisenstadt sees Dumbledore and Harry, in different ways, as Christ figures – perhaps Harry representing the human Jesus, and Dumbledore the divine. And she posits that the New Testament depiction of elements of the Jewish community is represented by the goblins (unappealing bankers) and the Ministry of Magic (legalistic and small-minded).

But I am much more attracted to a quote near the end of the article.

“Rather than decrying as wicked certain elements of the series – as far too many Christians have done – we ought to be inviting our communities into deeper appreciation of both the similarities and the contrasts between the stories and our Christian faith,” Mary Hess, of Luther Seminary in Minnesota, writes in the journal Word & World.

Mary in the mainstream! And in an article linked to one of her favorite blogs no less. Yeah, Mary!

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4 June 2009 . Comments Off on In awe: substance

In awe: substance

Somewhere in 2007, when I was not yet blogging again, I began to articulate my hopes for an Obama presidency. One foundation on which my hope for change rested was the simple symbolism of his name and skin color. I wanted to be able to hold his image before the world as a concrete demonstration that the US was changing course. He hardly had to do more than exist, I imagined, to make the world a better place.

Today that vision became real, and so much more. Barack Obama not only exists, he invites, engages, and challenges the world. He calls us all to be better than we have been. His speech in Cairo makes me feel like we are not in Kansas anymore (so to speak). We have entered a new era.

Without leadership painting a vision of the world we want it is very hard to act together toward a constructive end. Obama is laying that vision out, and the world he envisions is a world I want to live in. It is a world I want to work to create. I doubt I am alone. I think we are in the presence of true leadership.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort — a sustained effort — to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It’s easier to start wars than to end them. It’s easier to blame others than to look inward. It’s easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There’s one rule that lies at the heart of every religion — that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. (Applause.) This truth transcends nations and peoples — a belief that isn’t new; that isn’t black or white or brown; that isn’t Christian or Muslim or Jew. It’s a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the hearts of billions around the world. It’s a faith in other people, and it’s what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

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26 May 2009 . Comments Off on Blessed be the net, for it connects us

Blessed be the net, for it connects us

Ars Technica covering Catholic news? Surprises never cease. But then, when the head of the Vatican press office calls the internet “truly blessed!” how can the techies turn away. The internet connects us, and gives rise to “an omnidirectional flow of transversal and personal communications,” says Frederico Lombardi SJ.

But the Catholic eye toward the plight of the poor also reminds us…

The “problems” of the Internet are many, but Lombardi is particularly concerned with the way that something as vital as the Internet is distributed so unevenly. “From the Church’s point of view, leaving those with fewer possibilities on the margins is simply not an option,” he said. “For us, the poor and developing countries are at least as important as the wealthy, if not more.”

Amen.

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11 May 2009 . Comments Off on Not so holy

Not so holy

Apple seems to think religious folk can’t take a little ribbing by an iPhone app. In order to avoid offending religious sensibilities, Apple has rejected the “Me so Holy” app from the iPhone store.

This app lets you use the iPhone camera to place your friend’s face into a picture of Jesus. Or a nun. Or other religious figures. Is Mohammed among them? Good thing Apple does not publish comics.

I think Apple is getting seriously off course by putting itself in the position of policing what uses tools might be put to. Of course “Me so Holy” could create something offensive. But so can virtually any drawing or photo collage application. What makes religious content so sacrosanct? (Um, ok, maybe that’s a dumb question.) Are we really so thin skinned? What makes apps like “iFart” OK, but “Me so Holy” taboo?

Apple needs to back off this policing kick. It is a no-win situation for Apple and will only inspire covert shenanigans that will serve nobody. The only criteria for App Store rejection ought to be concern that an app damages the system or itself contains illegal media (child pornography and the like). Otherwise, open the doors.

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16 April 2009 . Comments Off on A secular prayer

A secular prayer

Yesterday on Midday I heard an unusual prayer. A secular prayer. A prayer in layers of theater and law. But still, it was a prayer. If you have ten minutes or so, give it a listen. Tony Kushner wrote this prayer in memory of 9/11.

I have not listened to the rest of this interview with Kushner, it may well be a great show. But this prayer/play caught my attention.

17 November 2008 . Comments Off on Wiener Christkindlmarkt am Rathaus

Wiener Christkindlmarkt am Rathaus

One of the nice things about visiting Vienna as Advent nears is that the Christkindlmarkts start to open up. One of the more colorful is this one at the Wiener Rathaus, but there are many variations on this theme around the city. I like to grab a langos (a kind of garlic elephant ear) and Nathaniel enjoys the hot dogs and schaumbecher (a chocolate-covered marshmellow cone).

9 May 2008 . Comments Off on Playing with Feautor

Playing with Feautor

We are still working on the Feautor site that Mary brought into being during her sabbatical. It is coming along nicely. It even offers video embedding! Check out this video I found there.

Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 / efc@clst.org