Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Returning to Galilee

The water was calm that day. I stood there, my eyes closed, forgetting where I was for a moment until a single fishing vessel cut through the mirrored surface, inaugurating a rippling dance of light, movement and sound. “Could I really be here?” I thought to myself. “The place where the Savior of the world fed the multitudes, walked on water, delivered the Sermon on the Mount?” Jesus was here. I am here. I would never be the same. The Sea of Galilee.

After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to a couple faithful followers and said, “Go to Galilee; there [my disciples] will see me”(Mt 28:10). Jesus was asking the disciples to return to the place where it all started, the place where they heard the call, the place where they dropped everything to follow the Son of God. The One who was crucified they would see again. But where? Galilee.

“In the life of every Christian, there is another ‘Galilee,’ a more existential ‘Galilee’: the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ,” Pope Francis announced in his Easter Vigil homily. This is a very important place, the Pope explained:

Returning to Galilee means treasuring in my heart the living memory of that call, when Jesus passed my way, gazed at me with mercy and asked me to follow him. To return there means reviving the memory of that moment when his eyes met mine, the moment when he made me realize that he loved me.[1]

This is not some nostalgic return to a golden age, Francis noted. “It is returning to our first love, to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world.” We return to Galilee so that we might carry in these broken vessels the very Light of the world. We return to our first love so that we might love the world and transform it through the power of the resurrection.

 “Where is my Galilee?” the pope asks. “Do I remember it? Have I forgotten it? Have I gone off on roads and paths which made me forget it?”[2] In this Easter season, might we take a moment to reflect on our Galilee, to return to the place where Jesus first touched us, and perhaps, just perhaps, know it for the first time.[3]

Lord, help me:
Tell me what my Galilee is;
For you know that I want to return there
To encounter you and to let myself be embraced by your mercy.
~ Pope Francis

[1] Pope Francis, Easter Vigil Homily, April 19, 2014 at: http://m2.vatican.va/content/francescomobile/en/homilies/2014/documents/papa-francesco_20140419_omelia-veglia-pasquale.html
[2] Ibid.
[3] Taken from the famous T.S. Eliot quote, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Top 10 Reasons to Evangelize Catholics

1. Approximately one-third of those who say they were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic.
~Pew Research Center, Religious Landscape Survey

2. Sometimes even Catholics have lost or never had the chance to experience Christ personally.
~Pope John Paul II, 1993 address to Catholic Bishops

3. Today there is a very large number of baptized people who for the most part have not formally renounced their Baptism but who are entirely indifferent to it and not living in accordance with it.
~Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World), 56

4. The New Evangelization calls all Catholics first to be evangelized and then in turn to evangelize.
~USCCB, Disciples Called to Witness, Preface

5. The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.
~Pope Francis, 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro, S.J.

6. [There are] those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. . . It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity.
~Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), 94

7. Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father.
~Jesus Christ, Mt. 7:21

8. There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.
~Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), 6

9. The best of evangelizers allow themselves to be converted and evangelized again and again and in that way grow in holiness.
~Cardinal Francis George, Archdiocese of Chicago, Spreading the Holy Fire, 11

10. The love of Christ compels us.
~The Apostle Paul, 2 Cor 5:14

OK, there are 11 reasons. . .

11. Saint Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, “immediately proclaimed Jesus.” So what are we waiting for?
~Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 120; Acts 9:20, 22:6-21

Monday, April 7, 2014

"Springing" into Selfhood

As I sat down to pray this morning I was riveted by the singular song of a bird perched near my window. I had only closed my eyes for a moment, and honestly I was hurrying to get into the Word where I anticipated the “main course” of my morning solitude with the Lord. But the beauty and simplicity of that little bird’s song gave me pause to reflect on the glory of Creation and, in particular, the poignant insights of Thomas Merton:

A tree gives glory to God by being a tree.  For in being what God means it to be it is obeying him.  It ‘consents,’ so to speak, to His creative love. . . The tree imitates God by being a tree. The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like Him.[1]

Merton applied this same intuition to flowers and fields, lakes and mountains, clumsy colts and fish of the sea, each one “a holiness consecrated to God by His own creative wisdom which declares the glory of God.”[2] As I sat down to pray this morning I began to realize that the budding signs of Spring rang out with a melodious and surprising invitation - to join the vast diversity of the created world in “being who we really are.”

Merton keenly intuited that trees and animals have no problem being who they are. The plant and animal kingdoms do not have an identity crisis. “God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied,” Merton notes. A tree will be a tree, growing and stretching, bearing fruit and providing shade. A bird will sing and gather, search and soar, and according to Merton, will glorify God by being exactly what it was created to be.

But human beings are another matter altogether.

With us it is different. God leaves us free to be whatever we like. We can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours.[3]

Human beings have the capacity to strive to be something we were never meant to be. We can spend our time doing things that, “if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for.”[4] As we all know, we can wear masks and put on garments and deny the unrepeatable beauty of our unique identity in God’s economy, our “true selves.”

While we have the freedom to do as we please, Merton reminds us, we cannot live with impunity to the consequences.

Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it![5]

“To be real or to be unreal?” - that is the question of the spiritual life. Let us take our cue from the birds of the air and trees of the forest that give glory to God by being exactly what they were created to be. “Spring” into selfhood and sanctity. God, and somewhere Thomas Merton, is smiling.[6]

[1] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (NY: New Directions Publishing, 1962), 29.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island (NY: Harvest, 1955).
[5] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (NY: New Directions Publishing, 1962), 30.
[6] I hadn’t heard too much about the “true self” before becoming Catholic. Of course, there was this vague and intuitive notion that being genuine was somehow important to the spiritual life but nothing on par with Thomas Merton’s reflections on the matter (ie. “For me to be a saint meant to be myself”). Merton subsequently deduced that “the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self." Now anyone who knows anything about Merton knows that this is not some sneaky and narcissistic play on secular humanism. Merton was NOT saying, “It’s all about me!” Merton was a Trappist monk who had molded his life around the contemplation of Jesus Christ as the pivotal saving event of human history. What he was saying is that the perennial "Who am I?" question of human existence meets up with the "Who do you say that I am?" question of Jesus Christ in the most fundamental way. Who we are is intimately and inextricably linked with "Whose" we are. Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (NY: New Directions Publishing, 1962), 29.