Monday, January 27, 2014

3 Reasons - January 2014 edition

I would have done this post when Micaela first opened the link but we had some dear friends visiting us for a week and I didn't have the bandwidth to do a blog post late at night when everyone else was asleep. However, I got my 3 Things for this month from conversations with our friends. He is a retired Presbyterian pastor whose brother converted from the Anglican church (British family) to the Catholic Church many years ago. In addition, the pastor's wife used to be a Benedictine oblate through a monastery in Illinois, but it was too far from her home in California to continue the connection, so she had to give it up.

Anyway, while they were here we had many conversations about God, since we all started our faith journeys together in a highly committed christian community of ex-hippies in Mendocino and we share a common intense focus on our faith. One of the first things our friend Michael said is that the Catholic Church allows for much more diversity than protestant churches. This is a particularly interesting observation from a man who used to head up the U.S. Center for World Mission, and who has been involved in mentoring Chinese, Indonesian, Hispanic and other church groups (all Presbyterian) over the years. That got me thinking about how the Catholic Church welcomes diversity and expects it, where many (or most) non-Catholic groups are suspicious or afraid of diversity in faith practices or cultural expressions of worship. I'm not sure where that comes from but I can definitely attest to it from my decades in various non-Catholic faith communities. For the most part there is a fond affirmation of "diversity", but what is meant is a wide range of ages, or socio-economic conditions, and occasionally of ethnic backgrounds. But don't think you'll be accepted if you insist on a different way of "doing church" than what everyone's used to!

I suspect that one reason the Catholic Church can open her arms wide to take in all manner of expressions of faith is that - on a visible, experienced level - she relies on the commonly held Creed, the affirmation of the sacraments and the common liturgical elements to provide the necessary unity. Although some (but ever fewer) non-Catholic faith communities hold up the Creed as a central expression of their theology, almost none (other than the Orthodox) even believe that the sacraments are actually instruments of God's grace rather than simply symbols of human commitment. And especially since the spread of the mega-church model, there are few christian groups who see liturgy as anything other than "dead traditions". So they are left with the only way to share a common culture being having the same culture in common in the first place.

Another thing that my friend Michael pointed out arose as we spoke of the tragedy of denominations such as the Presbyterians and the Anglicans having given way to the culture of death because their governing bodies are composed largely of non-theologian lay people who are more concerned about being accepted by their neighbors than they are about being accepted by God. Michael noted that it must give us a great sense of security to have a strong authority in matters of faith and doctrine, and of course I agreed. However, he couldn't make the connection in his own mind that we have that precisely because we trust the popes and magisterium throughout the ages to guide us according to the Word of God, because Jesus promised us that the Holy Spirit would ensure that this would happen.

And for an example of cultural diversity within the unity of shared sacraments, here's a great photo of Cardinal Sean O'Malley with a group of Korean Catholics:

Thank you, Lord, for a Church that can be confident in its diversity because it has consistency of structure and teachings due to the oversight of the authority that you gave her through the Pope and the magisterium!

Don't forget to click over to California to Korea for more great posts on favorite aspects of our beloved Church!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The importance of the creed

When the team from our parish goes to the small community of Meliton to have mass, we are going to an agricultural village in which there is little access to books, no schooling above the age of 14, and little contact with the outside world. Many people don't have cars so have no way of going the 45 minutes to Todos Santos - the nearest "big city", although it has only 5000 people.

When we ask the people in the congregation to do the scripture readings, they don't know how to project their voices so they can be heard by someone more than 5 feet away. They also have difficulty with uncommon words, like "holocaust" (the spanish version). Spanish, by the way, is a language, unlike English, in which every letter in a word is pronounced and the syllabic emphases are consistent, so it's actually pretty easy to read aloud.

All of this is to paint the backdrop for an insight I had last time I was there: the absolutely essential role that the Creed plays in anchoring us in our faith.

How do people in isolated communities or those who can't read hold onto faith? How did the early christians, not all of whom had copies of the Hebrew scriptures (the only scriptures available at the time)? How do the christians in countries where they are forbidden to assemble together, or to have Bibles? The Creed. Either the Apostolic or the Nicene creed will do, although of course the Nicene creed has more content.

Anyone can memorize the Creed. And when they don't have access to any other sources, the Creed alone (with the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which we can be sure of) can give them clarity about what they have put their hope in. It serves as a mini-Bible, describing the key truths of Christianity (as understood by the Apostles and the Church Fathers).

I have noticed that christians who don't come from a tradition that incorporates the Creed as part of worship tend to be more easily drawn into strange doctrines and confusion. People who have the Creed embedded in their souls may not live by it, but they are not so easily confused about what is true.In the case of the faithful in Meliton, they all know the Creed. There is no stumbling over words; there is no mumbling. They speak it with the strength that comes from assurance. And in my eyes, that is the evidence that God is at work among them.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Give us priests after Your own heart...

Last Friday we went to an ordination mass where 3 seminarians were ordained to the diaconate. One of the three, Martin, is currently serving in our parish, so quite a number of us drove the hour to get to La Paz where the ordination was taking place in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The reason that ordination masses aren't held in the cathedral is that the cathedral is no larger than the church in our town of 4500 souls - clearly not big enough to contain all the people for an important event.

This is the cathedral. It was built in the second half of the nineteenth century when so few people lived here that they couldn't even imagine needing something that would accomodate more than 150 people!

Some decades ago, in response to this logistical dilemma, the diocese undertook the project of building a cathedral-sized church. It has been complete enough to hold masses there for about 5 years: the roof (with a huge dome) has been completed and basics of the interior are in place. Since the last time we were there (a year ago, for ordinations to the priesthood) the wall behind the altar has been completed and the crucifix and image of Our Lady of Guadalupe have been installed.

There are still no windows and none of the interior walls and columns have had their facings put on. But it is an inspiring testament to the desire of the faithful in this diocese that so much has been accomplished in so little time. Every time we go there - about once a year - something significant has been completed compared with the hundreds of years that it sometimes has taken to build large churches. The work on the sanctuary in our diocese can only proceed as fast as it receives donations from the people of the diocese for that particular purpose. Happily, there is a lot of enthusiasm for this project.

At every mass in every parish in our diocese, just before the final prayer, the congregation recites a prayer that I believe our bishop wrote. It goes like this (but in spanish):

"O Jesus, who taught us to ask the Lord of the harvest
that He would send workers to the fields,
we ask that You give to Your church
in this diocese of La Paz and throughout the world
many holy priests and consecrated men and women
who, in conformity with your holy will,
dedicate their talents, strength, and zeal
to the glory of the Father and the salvation of mankind.
Oh Lord, call a member of our family as a priest, monk, or nun,
and may it be that all those who have been baptized
live with a commitment to our calling to serve,
in the heart of the church and in the entire world.
Lord, give us priests after Your own heart."

Martin, our seminarian who was ordained on Friday, had given the Pirate and me a printed invitation to the ceremony, and on the front was engraved (in spanish): "Lord, give us priests after Your own heart." This young man is so humble and enthusiastic, and clearly has won the hearts of the young people in our parish, a large contingent of whom came to his ordination and cheered him at the end. What grace the Lord pours out on his faithful!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Spiritual "seasons"

Rather than thinking about what my "word for the year" is, for many years I have been aware of the specific seasons of grace that I move through. God generally guides me with repeated illustrations of the virtue or lesson that He wants me to learn - with scripture, with circumstances, with interior visions, etc. Right now I'm in a season of learning more deeply how (as numerous saints have reminded us) "ALL is grace". I have been led to pray every morning - before I even get out of bed - that I would be able to see more clearly all the gifts He has given - the ability to cook meals and to enjoy them; the ability to see things in color; the songs of the birds; the great service that buzzards and banana slugs and microbes do in getting rid of nature's trash; and on and on. ALL is grace.

The long canticle of praise from Daniel chapter 3 (sorry, protestant friends, it's not in your version of the Bible) is part of my reading every morning and recently I have had the revelation that all of creation is delightful to God (of course, the Bible tells us that, but now I see it). For instance, one of the lines from that canticle [BTW, a canticle is simply a psalm that is somewhere other than in the Book of Psalms] is "Bless the Lord, mountains and hills/sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him forever". Now of course it doesn't make sense that the mountains and hills need exhortation like that, as though they don't already praise Him and now should begin. No, what's really being communicated there is that the existence of the mountains and the hills blesses God. Their very existence is an act of praise to Him.

Twenty years ago or so God gave me a word and an accompanying picture. It was a call to walk out into the ocean of God's love, and keep going until I drowned. Drowning in His love - at that point there's nothing left of your ability to hold yourself up, to preserve your own sense of what's safe or right. There is nothing left for you to cling to. There is no thought of self-preservation. There is only trust in God's love.

How perfect it is that the current missal readings include the first letter of John, in which we are reminded over and over of how much God loves us. How perfect that Pope Francis is emphasizing God's love as the main theme of all creation. If you're having a hard time trusting God, develop a habit that will remind you of all the ways His great love is made manifest to you every day.

Here's one simple way of doing this: I just discovered that Jenny at Plain Grace has a Friday linkup named "Moments of Grace". It's a way of reflecting on and sharing the many graces that God has poured out on us in the past week, and it only takes a few minutes once a week. May you discover how rich is His love that surrounds you always.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Musing on blogging

After reading WAAAY too many blog posts looking back on the past year and considering what to focus on in the year ahead, I have even less desire to put together my Five Favorite blog posts, or 13 Best Photos or a list of What I Learned in 2013.

The Pirate asked me the other day what the highlights of the past year were for me, and I couldn't turn my mind around to look back…without his help. Turns out that this past year contained some VERY significant events, but I've always been terrible at thinking backwards, and I couldn't remember them (Sold my business! oh yeah! Went to the mainland with our priest! Hmmm, how could I forget such an exciting trip? etc. etc.)

Ah well, this propensity to "forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead" (Phil. 3:13) is probably why I've never been interested in taking photos. The only reason I take them now is to "illustrate" my blog posts so they won't be overwhelmingly black and white (do you remember the first time you read a book without illustrations? Very intimidating!)

Today is starting out VERY slowly since the Pirate is sick in bed - something which has happened fewer than 5 times in our life together. Saturday is a good day for me to write a blog post, since it's generally a reflective day without any commitments. I haven't been very motivated to blog recently, I think primarily because I realized a few weeks ago that I probably have a greater chance of encouraging others by leaving comments on their blogs than I do by writing my own posts, since I don't have many readers (as far as I can tell). So I have been spending my computer time reading other people's blogs and posting comments.

Yesterday one of the bloggers I read faithfully, Kendra at Catholic All Year, said something about how the point of trying to generate a lot of comments on a post is to get a conversation going. For some reason that never occured to me. Whenever I read a post with more than 10 comments, I refrain from adding my two cents' worth, since it seems to me that the poster has already been inundated with comments. I know I would be stressed to find more than 10 comments in my inbox in one day, feeling like I have to read and answer them all right away. I'm very much a one-on-one conversationalist: the more people there are in the conversation, the less I participate (I go into listening mode and let everyone else hash out the topic under discussion).

Of course, I love to receive comments on my blog posts, especially since most of the time there aren't any. So don't take this musing as a warning to not comment!

The Pirate has just gotten up so we can go to the house of our friend the doctor (she really is a good friend!) so she can figure out what's the matter with him. So I'll sign off with a photo of our "Christmas tree" (the traditional one of the flowering stalk of an agave). Two more days before Christmas season is over, when we have El Dia de los Reyes (the 3 kings). Feliz ano! (I can't make the tilde over the "n" happen in Blogger).