Presence

Life is complicated: without partners and friends, it is also incomplete.  Relationships reveal what is most sacred in human life: the connections to what is greater than self.  It allows for scaling the mountain of learning to love and delving the depths of capacity for love.  And yet, it is both tender and fragile.  Relationships require courage and commitment, purpose and promise.  Alternately treasured and taken for granted, relationships shape the worlds we choose to live in.  They provide parameters and possibilities, and allow for growth.  In the same way that relationships create, they can also destroy.  Therein lies the choice.  And it is complicated.

Forging a relationship with God, with the Divine Presence, is no different.  It requires the element of risk, to take the chance to explore.  It demands the humility of  learning how to be with another, of acknowledging one another.  It means trusting, in a world harnessed to data and neuroscience, that there is something as mysterious as the Divine, something that truly exists and inhabits this human space as something entirely  “other”.

It is lived out in as many ways as there are persons.  The capacity for it varies, but the nature of it is visible in the lives of those who dare to embrace it.  It is transformative and genuine, challenging and purposeful.  Most of all, it is extremely simple.  It is in the small acts of everyday kindness that convey a deep trust in life and goodness of others.  It is in the ability to seek something more, something more meaningful, in the most simple of acts: washing a floor, sweeping, gardening, greeting a neighbor.

To live a life in the Presence of God means knowing flaws and failure are partners on the path, and continually learning more about self is a necessity.  Like any relationship, it is a lifetime’s work.  But it is work worth risking for, worth doing and becoming.  The pathways are there:  there was Francis and his long weeks in the hermitage at the Carceri.  It was time apart, doing what Cal Newport might term today “Deep Work”.  But for Francis, it was deep work about exploring the intricacies of his relationship with God and allowing that to inform the choices and decisions he made when he left.  There was Benedict and the exhortation to “pray and work”, to know in the practices of everyday that there can be a divine rhythm.  There is Merton who reminds us of the humanity, the sinful and the flawed that ride that tide.  There is Clare who shows the benefits of being attentive through choosing to be poor and simple.  There is the wisdom of Teresa of Avils’s prayer that the Divine dwells within each one of us:  “Christ has no body now but yours. no hands, no feet on earth but yours.”  Centuries past provide the foundation for exploring the Divine Milieu proclaimed by Teilhard de Chardin.   In an age pcokmarked by shrinking attention spans and reliance on Artifical Intelligence, there is still something to be said for the reality of Divine Presence.

 

 

 

The Best

This morning hosts crickets and quiet; there is a tenderness in emerging color and an honesty in the changes.  This morning I heard a Gospel I have heard so many times before, and this time, the homilist opened a new path for hearing and seeing the Gospel.  This morning, I was listening.

There are Gospel readings that invite disagreement, even dissent.   My mom, for instance, never agreed with the one about turning your back on your family or the one about the buried talents.  This one was about the steward threatened with losing his job.  In a clever twist, he salvages the situation by cutting the promissory notes owed to the boss by a percentage.  He created an indebtedness to himself and so longer term opportiities for business.  Always before, I heard the final lines about dishonesty and trustworthiness.  Today, with help, I was able to hear it as a call to be the best you can be.  For years, I had missed the part of the story that shows the steward was actually rewarded for using his skills and his dishonesty to advantage.  He was rewarded and did not lose the job.

Taking that step back now, realizing that part of the message can be about using your gift, whatever it is, for the good of self and others is a function of the Christian message. It made so much sense on two levels: first, each of us are gifted.  Second, sometimes we need help to begin to understand what that means.   Catholicism and the community within it makes that possible: it is a collective as well as an individual and personal experience.  It may not happen every week, but communal celebration can offer the challenge and possibility of understanding self and others so much more fully.

In other ways, it is part of the process of holding one another accountable to share those insights.  Thinking about it like this, learning that no one of us is perfect or whole, means thinking that each of us must be striving to be the best we can be, most faithful to sharing our gifts and using them for the benefit of one another.  For that to happen, communication with one another would be essential.  Communication in the deepest, most honest sense of the word.  It would mean sharing the good moments, inquiring in the painful, supporting in the confusion, wondering in the opaque.  Most of all, it means stepping away from the idea that the idea that it is all about self, about gratification, comfort and ease.

It means looking at the reality of human beings and addressing that with a clear sense of self-understanding and openness to others.  Most of all, it is all about what it means to be human and to be alive. Choosing to hear the Gospel, to begin to understand, to realize limits and recognize resonance are key factors in what it means to be a Catholic.  Most of all, it is all about growing.  Everyday.

 

Quiet Beckons

Autumn is slowly stealing summer’s deep greens, re-painting with a vibrant palette and deepening the contrast with shifting shades of sky.  Summer holidays are buried in the business of everyday. Traffic rumbles past now with purpose and power.    Schedules burst with obligations and responsibilities, activities and celebrations, social media and entertainment.  In the wild surge of it all, quiet beckons.  

It might be when stress swells from a wave to a tsunami.  Maybe it is that “last straw” moment when frustration creates a breach.  Maybe it is the spilling of tears or an exhaustion that cannot be satisfied.  It may simply be loneliness as opposed to the sense of “alone-ness”.  Whisper or wonder, that beckoning finds each of us at different times.  And when it does, we stand just at the very edge of the mountain, in the crosshairs of an intersection, at a place to choose.

That place is ideal for taking a step back, practicing attentiveness, lingering in awkward uncertainty with the conviction that it is meant to be.  “Quiet” can take the shape of silence, the rhythm of the Pachebel Canon, the touch of the softeest breeze.  Emptying cares and stress, fears and anxieties, hopes and dreams into that Quiet creates the chance to connect with the something greater than self, to know the mystery of the mystical in a very real physical world.  It literally mirrors first steps in the age-old practice of contemplative prayer. 

That space, too, offers a place to drill deeper.  Firm and confident repetitive words and phrases, even the most familiar of prayers, can re-focus a heart and soul from what is fearful to what is impossibly wonderful.  Language, words, re-package the mediocre and ordinary into steps on  a life journey.  Language links the secular and the sacred, engages the fullness of self in the world.

In the Quiet, it is possible to see the interfacing of the human and the divine, the secular and sacred.  There are fewer distractions; engagement with something greater is possible.  Catholic culture offers a wide continuum of possibilities for those private and communal moments.  Best of all, it is not a success or failure continuum.  It is far more than that.

Quiet is about the fullness of freedom to be human.  And so is Catholicism.  In so many ways, it is a “judgment-free zone” that offers options and opportunities, examples and role models.  But the key is for each person to find the way, the tools, and the time, that enables and empowers them to grow and develop.  There are no promises about comfort or ease, but there is the consistent message that living offers challenges socially, morally, politically, and personally.  Growth and journey are continual; plateaus may be reached, but the stretching and demands of living diminish only with death.  Catholicism, in philosophy and practice, is about the integrity of doing the best you can with what you have  at the moment….and trusting that others are doing the same.  To breath deeply in the quiet spaces makes it all possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fully human

Does the soul exist?  Is “divine” something truly other or a function of neural phenomenon?   Is it possible for a human being to experience the divine in another person, in the environment?  Are there elements of life that transcend realities shaped by neuroscience and research?  Are human lives embedded in truth or ensconced in fantasy?  Is science the new religion?  Are research findings another name for God?  Or is there a detectable divine presence in human life that drives, allures, and motivates persons towards genuine goodness?  Is it possible that there is an equal force compelling or impelling persons towards the very opposite of goodness?  Is all of it hidden by delusions?  Is truth itself an illusion?

Questions are the true fodder of life and living, a function of who and how we are as beings.  Questions are as unique as individuals, focused as each person on interests ans worries, wonders and concerns.  And here, in the existential space that both  unites and defines generations, those questions hover and haunt.   The responses, chosen and scripted, will shape both the future and perceptions about the past.  So both the questions and the responses make a real difference.

Within Catholicism, there is real latitude for questioning and discernment.  History points out the multiple layers and dimensions of debate that characterize Catholic dialogue.  It is equally undeniable that abuses, bigotry and cruelty emerged to squelch, divert and limit debate in misguided and epic movements like the Inquisition.  The remarkable piece is that while the horror can be stemmed, and debates over celibacy, ordination of women and distribution of funds  may be moved to a sidestage,  those ideas simply do not die.  Rigorous conversation and meaningful exchanges continue among the disaffected as well as the faithful.  So it has always been.  Catholicism, after all, is not about monolithic harmony.

It is about the celebration of real community in ordinary lives with a focus on the daily choices and personal responsibility of every being.  That responsibility is rooted in the significance of each life, a sense drawn from the Gospel and rooted in the teachings of Jesus.  Every life matters; every person matters.  To live with a profound and abiding respect for one another is a demanding process.

Catholicism offers the tools for that journey:  communal celebrations of Mass tell us in form and purpose that no one is alone, no one unaccompanied on the journey.  Part of each one’s task is to travel with others.  Practicing responsibility demands reflection; the sacraments offer mechanisms for support in striving to become a better person.   There is an implicit understanding that none of us is perfect;  all of us grow better together.  Life in every age has a roller coaster element of victory and loss.  Seasons and celebrations of the Church punctuate those periods; all are invited to moments which are simulataneously known and brand-new.  Standing before the stable or sitting outside the tomb are human moments to be re-visited, to open new phases of life growth.  They are moments of identity with those who have gone before and those who will come after.

In the real world. Catholicism exists as a comfort and context more than an insitutional structure.  Catholicism itself is consigned not to the clergy, but to believers.  It is an invitation to be fully human, to entertain questions and to discover what is the best of us as human and how we can become better.

 

 

Tranquil life

“….aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands…”          1 Thes 4:11

To be Catholic is to be a learner, to be continually aware of the ebb and flow of life, of choices and consequences, of success and failure.  It is to be able to embrace the core of Jesus’ message and to nurture faith as an inidividual and as a member of a community.  There are a myriad of pathways, devotions, leaders and mentors, and traditions to choose from, and there is always the possibility of forging a new way.  All of it is aimed towards the simplest of messages: to live a tranquil life.

To be alive in the 21st century is to be caught in the tsunami that is social media.  Overwhelming by nature, that wave is contouring the culture in a whole new way.  New patterns of behavior are emerging as devices become necessities rather than accessories; even small children carry phones, use them for games and entertainment and access information.   To be marginalized now means to to be without the internet, a device or social media.

To be a 21st century Catholic means negotiating these realities.  Catholicism is age-old, but it is lived out by each prson within a generation, a historical context. Today, that offers so many opportunities to focus on what it means to live, to choose life, to be purposeful and intentional.  It means taking the time to deeply consider beliefs and how belief informs actions and choices.  It means thinking about how the world fits together and who fits where.  It means opening to the possibility that what can be learned from one another is actually greater than what is given to one another.  In other words, it is about understanding self and others.  It all requires, demands, focus.

Believing that the Beatitudes are an invitation to softly shape perspective, that the Letters of Paul are hints about how to live and the Gospels capture the essence of Jesus’ message is empowering.  But it also means learning those words, taking the time to visit and re-visit, to re-discover depth and explore new layers of understanding.  It means very consciously knowing how there is always more to learn in every arena of life.  There is a humility to the process, and a forgiveness for each failure.  There is movement to this kind of faith and discovery and resilience and courage are required to sustain all that.

Choosing how to live this out in the contemporary environment  links to  action steps, to making deliberate choices about how to spend and share time, how to relate and interact with each other, how to reach out and how to receive.  That includes dealing with social media and digital devices in a broad and deep  context of  faith.  It means approaching each challenge with the confidence that the best of Catholicism can endure to the next generation in our care and sustain us in the waves of uncertainty.  Aspiring to the tranquil life, embracing the work before us and minding every choice makes it possible.