Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Spirit Of Life: Spirit Of God

l sometimes wonder, when we celebrate a baptism, what the people involved think when the priest say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Most people imagine God the Father creating the earth and stars.  Most know Jesus as the Son revealing God’s love and being executed for his efforts.  But few imagine God the Spirit beckoning them to love beyond their comfort and safety for a future beyond imagining.  Yet, it’s God in that intimate union with us that we name The Holy Spirit.

God’s Spirit gave Jesus life, it revealed his work to him at his baptism, it gave him the courage to carry out his mission and the joy he experienced when he saw it succeed.  It was the presence of God’s Spirit that Jesus promised his disciples to guide them in continuing his work.

People frequently ask where God is in their lives.  If Jesus’ life is the pattern for Christian living, it’s the Spirit of God that leads us to search for God.  It’s the Spirit that urges us to hope in life, whatever adversity we face.  It’s the Spirit that motivates us to commit our time and energy - even our individual lives - to the future of life. 

Our longing for and commitment to God in the present are inseparable from living for the world of God’s future.  It’s no different from our love and care for children now that’s inseparable from our hope for their future. 

 A danger of being mortal is that we tend see everything in terms of our own lifespan.  God, however, is bringing about something that can’t be realized in such a few years.  When we say that we believe in Jesus, his life, his promise and his resurrection, we are saying that we view our destiny not in terms of our individual lives but in terms of God’s Future that will embrace us all.  Living baptism means responding to God’s Spirit urging us on toward that reality.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Thinking About The Spirit

Few Christians I know spend much time thinking about the Trinity.  They don’t deny or disdain it, they just find teachings about it to be of little help to their lives and aren’t concerned with it.  So what can we make of Jesus’ promise to ask the Father to send the Spirit of Truth to his disciples?  Jesus’ word advocate, a supporter or backer, explains a lot.

John’s gospel portrays Jesus’ last supper as a summary of his message to the disciples and a final encouragement of their faith.  As his execution loomed and the passage to his Father neared, he promised that the God he represented to them would never abandon them.

Making God’s love present to the world was an immense task for the disciples but God’s Spirit of Truth would forever inhabit their efforts.

The Spirit of Truth is the source of hope for the ultimate triumph of love and justice when we find no proof or even obvious chance for such a future.

The Spirit of Truth is the source of our deep desire to do the just and loving thing for all. 

The Spirit of Truth moves us to see the good in those those who oppose values that we hold.

The Spirit of Truth urges us to love and pursue justice beyond the limits of safety and self-preservation.

The Spirit of Truth gives us the courage to question our assumptions and be open to change.

The urgings of the Spirit of Truth were the hallmarks of Jesus’ life and unite the Christian community as it strives to be Christ’s presence in the world.

Ignoring the attitudes and behaviors that the Spirit of Truth urges betrays not only our Creator but our very selves.

While we may or may not find the concept of a Trinity useful in speaking of God, these deep urges which have long characterized discussions of the Spirit are central to what human beings and, in particular, what Christians are and long to be.  We pray for the the faith to follow them.

Friday, February 5, 2016

God's Unquestioning Love

“God saw that it was good.”  The first chapter of the Jewish and Christian scriptures repeat this divine judgment of creation several times.   We are so accustomed to attestations of life’s value that we assume everyone agrees.   Usually they do - at least in the abstract.

Looking deeper, the issue gets murkier.  It is not uncommon to hear people voice enjoyment of living while doubting that their lives make a lasting difference.  Setting aside for the moment avowed atheists and those who explicitly deny any continuing human existence after death, many otherwise convinced Christians wonder how we who seem so insignificant in the immense universe can claim the Creator’s attention for more than our few moments.

We might think this hesitant faith is only an individual concern but it’s more.  Decades ago Schlitz beer had an advertising tag line that went, “You only go around once in life so grab all the gusto.”  It sold a lot of beer; it also captured a nagging sense of angst before a universe beyond our imagination let along our control.   Live in the moment can be a focusing and freeing motto.  It can also lead us to protect me and mine at all costs because it’s all we have. 

“In my Father’s house there are many mansions,” Jesus said.  He also said, “Don’t you know that you are worth many sparrows.” [Matt 10:31]  We can take take these words simply as reassurance that God cares for us through thick and thin - and of course it is.  But it’s looking towards something much larger than our individual welfare whether temporal or eternal. 

Jesus revealed God’s reliable care so that we would dare to give the same care to others.  How far will God go to love us?  If it’s the cost of loving, he’ll accept rather than run from a cross. 

Look, there’s a room waiting for you.  God cares for tiny birds; he won’t overlook you.  Don’t be afraid.  If you have infinite meaning to your Creator, you have infinite meaning, period.   Give yourself to life.  Give yourself to others. Love all the way.  Together, you, in the Spirit, with The Father and with me are creating a New Future.  Take the leap with Us.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Faith Asks: How Far Will You Go?

Behind the conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees, a movement of strict reform in the Judaism of the day, there lay an issue more important than whether to pick grain on the Sabbath or wash hands before eating.  Some have seen the issue as the Pharisee’s belief that obeying rules was the central religious obligation while Jesus placed love first.  But every knowledgable Jew understood that love was the most important principle of the Law.  Something more crucial was at stake.

Because peace and justice didn’t break out during Jesus’ lifetime and the world didn’t end, we forget that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher.  Jesus knew that God’s love for humankind was total and unconquerable.  He was certain that divine love was about to conquer the world of hate, greed and indifference.  Jesus preached his hope wherever he went.  It was the soil in which his followers were to root their very lives. 

Jesus’ unshakable belief that God was about to transform the world gave rise to his radical morality.  Matthew’s gospel summarizes Jesus’ moral compass in the “You have heard it said . . . but I tell you . . .” passages. (Matthew 5) 

When the authorities executed Jesus and even after his disciples experienced his resurrection, they were left with the obvious fact that God hadn’t yet transformed the world.  The Monday after Easter looked the same as the Friday before Easter.  The challenge for the early Church was to live the sweeping hope Jesus preached and the unflinching life Jesus lived without knowing when the new world he promised would arrive.

How could they give love as though their hearts couldn’t break?  How could they share as though their purses had no bottom?  How could they risk their lives for peace and justice as though they were immortal?  The issue was never whether to love, share and risk (every Jew agreed about that); the issue was how totally to embrace these behaviors. 

That’s decision is still the most important one that we have to make.  It’s the meaning of the question: Do you believe in Jesus?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Easter: The Triumph Of Hope

Christians have treasured the Easter story of two disciples meeting Jesus as they walked the few miles from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus.  That trip and its events changed the despondent  travelers’ lives.  The last  scene of breaking bread with Jesus deserves reflection by all who celebrate Eucharist in a Catholic or any other setting.

When Jesus broke bread with the two disciples, their hopes and dreams, untenable just moments before,  became not only possible but inevitable.  Jesus, who embodied such promise, was not only alive, he was with them, once again caring about and caring for them. 

The Jesus they had followed and come to know was a man of immense vistas.  He was not a theological test demanding humble assent, he was a man who brought hope, who made hope conceivable by forgiving and reflecting the Father’s forgiveness of their weakness and failings.  In Jesus they had discovered that the future was not determined by human limitations but by God’s boundless love.

These disciples knew Jesus lived when they ate bread with him.  In the nurturing, sharing community of a meal they recognized that their dreams and hopes hadn’t died on a Roman cross three days before. 

It wasn’t simply the awareness that Jesus hadn’t succumbed to the evil of Rome’s self -centered ruthlessness and Judea’s self-preserving fear.  The one they had hoped would redeem Israel and beyond hadn’t been driven from life.  The gift of knowing that renewed their courage and determination.  It was that renewal within themselves as much as the living presence of Jesus that filled their hearts.

Easter isn’t a remembrance of something that happened to someone else two millennia ago.  Easter is a belief in life and its future.  Easter is courage and excitement for life grounded in faith.  Easter is the joyous assurance that God’s Future is alive and growing in our world.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

God's Love Is God's Forgiveness

The gospel this week tells two stories: Jesus appearing to the disciples telling them to forgive sins; then one of The Twelve, Thomas, refusing to believe that Jesus lived until he sees him with his own eyes.  The reason for the tale of Thomas seems obvious.  The reason for including Jesus’ instruction to forgive sins isn’t.  But it belongs here.

The Resurrection demonstrated that God’s desire to give us life is stronger than the damage our failures do to his gift.  Our Creator’s commitment to us isn’t just more powerful than our moral failures; it’s more powerful than our mistakes and our ignorance as well.  Our weakness can’t separate God from us.  Our Creator doesn’t get fed-up, bored or tired of us. 

We don’t have to convince God to stick with us.  We don’t have to prove to him that we’re worth caring about.  We don’t have to dampen his ire.  We don’t have to flatter is ego or attract his attention. 

We know we exist: we know God is with us.  Each statement contains the other.  If we understand Jesus, we understand this. 

The incidents that the gospels narrate about Jesus after the Resurrection center around his sending his disciples out with his message to the rest of the world.  Luke wrote in the Acts of the Apostles, Don’t stand there waiting for me to do something.  Go do for others what I have done for you.  Show everyone the God I’ve shown you. [Acts 1:8 & 11]

Jesus’ entire life demonstrated the God who forgives.  We can miss how central forgiveness is to our Creator’s relationship with us if we think of forgiveness as only referring to sins in the juridical sense of breaking some rule.  God sticks with us not just in the face of broken commandments.  No weakness, whatever the type, turns him away from us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Our Risen Hope

When Jesus’ followers walked, ate and reflected with him, they saw him not just as the presence of God among them; they also saw a person like themselves sharing their hopes and dreams.

He was one of them.  He struggled, as they did, to bring peace and security to those he loved.  He worked hard day-in, day-out.  He lived with the same pain of loss that they faced every time a friend or lover died.  He knew what it meant to wonder where the next meal was coming from.  He was exasperated by pain rooted in stupidity and  stubbornness.  He was helpless before tragedy caused by nothing more than sheer chance.  Just as they did, Jesus lived with not just life’s joy and hope but its chaos.

 When Jesus died on the cross, a resounding “no” to all the promise they had found in the man who personified  hope, throttled their hearts.  If none of the good Jesus had done made any difference, what difference would their efforts make.  There was nothing for them to do but hide, waiting for their own end. 

Then the women returned news from the tomb.

Jesus’ life and death reveals God’s total union with us.  Jesus’ resurrection reveals that everything we do for life, no matter how small and imperfect, is treasured by our Creator and built into the Future he promises and for which he labors.

The message of Easter isn’t heard most powerfully around a lily-covered altar.  It resonates most effectively in hearts wondering whether to go on with work that seems unappreciated and resisted at every turn.  It rings out where love for a friend or a child is rebuffed.  It echoes in lives where our own ignorance and imperfection taint our best efforts to create something good.

The gospel of Easter is that no matter the suffering and doubts haunting us, no effort expended, no care shown for the Future of life is lost.  God preserves it and molds it into our destiny.