God, it seems, favors the powerless, the unnoticed, children, babies, outsiders, and refugees with no resources or place to go.That’s why Jesus was born outside the city, in a stable, unnoticed, outside all fanfare, away from all major media, and away from all the persons and events that were deemed important at the time, humble and anonymous. God works like that. Why?
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What’s still unfinished in your life? Well, there’s always a lot that’s unfinished in everyone’s life. Nothing is ever really finished. Our lives, it seems, are simply interrupted by our dying. Most of us don’t complete our lives, we just run out of time. So, consciously or unconsciously, we make a bucket-list of things we still want to see, do, and finish before we die.
I live on both sides of a border. Not a geographical one, but one which is often a dividing line between two groups. I was raised a conservative Roman Catholic, and conservative in most other things as well. Although my dad worked politically for the Liberal party, most everything about my upbringing was conservative, particularly religiously.
Japan is a country on the margins of Christianity, a nation in which the missionary flame lit by its first evangelist, St Francis Xavier, for whose faith countless thousands of martyrs were slaughtered, has since sunk to a faint flicker.
I don’t recall any previous pope speaking so plainly about an issue which, for as long as I can remember, has only been talked about in the abstract. Not any more. Francis’ comments in the book-length interview he gave to a Spanish priest and publisher, for a book on religious vocation, send a crystal-clear message about gay sex and the Catholic priesthood – they cannot coexist.
Our natural instincts serve us well, to a point. They’re self-protective and that’s healthy too, to a point. Let me explain. Recently I was at a football game with a number of friends. We arrived at the game in two cars and parked in the stadium’s underground parking lot. Our tickets were in different parts of the stadium and so we separated for the game, each of us finding our own seats.
“Widows, orphans, and strangers”, that’s code in scripturefor the three most vulnerable groups within a society at any given time. And both the great Jewish prophets and Jesus, himself, assure us that ultimately we will be judged by how we treated these while we were alive.
The lessons of the upcoming Advent season and growing impatience with Pope Francis. The priests from the United States who work in the Roman Curia had not even gathered yet for their big Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday evening at the Villa Stritch when the Vatican’s annual Christmas tree was already up in St. Peter’s Square.
Shusaku Endo, the Japanese author of the classic novel, Silence (upon which Martin Scorsese based his movie) was a Catholic who didn’t always find his native land, Japan, sympathetic to his faith. He was misunderstood but kept his balance and good heart by placing a high value on levity.
I do not want to die from some medical condition; I want to die from death! Ivan Illich wrote that. What’s meant here? Don’t we all die from death? Of course, in reality that’s what we all die from, but in our idea of things, most often, we die from a medical condition or from bad luck through cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or as the victim of an accident. Sometimes, because of how we think of death, we do die from a medical condition.
Today, increasing numbers of lonely people are experiencing something close to this hell. The United Kingdom’s statistics are overwhelming. In the past two years, Childline counsellors have noticed a rise in the number of children – some as young as six – contacting them to complain of loneliness, with triggers including feeling “invisible”, feeling “ugly and unpopular” as a result of comparing themselves with others on social media, and having an illness or disability.
Richness does not lie in the structures, but in its members, with special mention to the most needy and vulnerable. It is my hope that my reflections will evoke in you a similar sense of thanksgiving and belonging without, of course, denying our flaws and lack of perfection.
Woe to chastity that is not practiced out of love, but woe to love that excludes chastity. These are the words of Benoit Standaert, a Benedictine monk, and I believe they can be profitably read in our culture today where, to the detriment of everyone, the sexually active and vowed celibates alike, sexuality and chastity are generally seen as opposed to each other, as enemies.
Sometimes all you can do is to put your mouth to the dust and wait. That’s a counsel from the Book of Lamentations and while perhaps not the best response to the recent revelations of clerical sexual abuse and cover-up in the Roman Catholic Church, it seems the only helpful response available to me as Roman Catholic priest today.
We don’t live on bread alone. Jesus told us that. Our soul too needs to be fed and its food is affirmation, recognition, and blessing. Every one of us needs to be healthily affirmed when we do something well so as to have resources within us with which to affirm others.
I believe that God exists because faith works; at least to the extent we work it. The existence of God proves itself true to the extent that we take it seriously and live our lives in face of it. Simply put, we’re happy and at peace to the exact extent that we risk, explicitly or implicitly, living lives of faith. The happiest people I know are also the most generous, selfless, gracious, and reverent persons I know. That’s no accident.
No Castel Gandolfo. No mountain or seaside vacations. In fact, he hasn’t gone on holidays in over 40 years, stretching back to his time as a Jesuit superior in his native Argentina. “I do always take a vacation – really – but at home,” he assured the scribes. “I change pace. I sleep more; read the things I want; listen to music; spend more time praying… And this helps me relax.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson calls the stars in the night sky “envoys of beauty, lighting the universe with their admonishing smile” and submits that if they appeared for a single night only every thousand years, we’d be on our knees in worship and would cherish the memory for the rest of our lives. But since they come out every night, the miracle goes mostly unnoticed. We watch television instead.