Jesus

Father Kevin’s Reflection – November 12, 2017

Posted on Updated on

You have to really like St. Paul this week as he speaks not only to those 2000 years ago, but to our 21st Century world, too. All too often you will hear someone out there say: “I am spiritual but not religious…or into an organized religion”. It is tempting to be attracted to such ideas because the reality of the Original Sin is so much part of our spiritual DNA. “Do you not want to be as gods…knowing for yourself good and evil.”  (cf. Genesis 3:1-5)

The philosophies of worship go off in different directions. One theory is that only philosophers…only minds qualified for higher thought…are capable of the knowledge that constitutes the “way”. Only they are capable of the ascent, of the full divinization that is redemption and liberation from finitude. For the others…for the simpler souls not yet capable of the full upward vision…there are the different liturgies that offer them a certain redemption without being able to take them to the height of the Godhead. The doctrine of the transmigration of souls (or reincarnation) often compensates for these inequalities. It offers the hope that at some time in the wanderings of existence…the point will be reached when at last we can find an escape from finitude and its torments.

For others, knowledge (in Greek: gnosis) is the real power of redemption here and therefore the highest form of our elevation…union with God. That is why conceptual and religious systems of this kind (though, individually, they are all very different) are called “Gnosticism”. In early Christianity the clash with Gnosticism was the decisive struggle for its own identity. The fascination of such views is very great; they seem so easily identifiable with the Christian message.

For example, Original Sin (so hard otherwise to understand) is identified with the fall into finitude (Armageddon), which explains why it clings to everything stuck in the vortex of finitude (death…mortality). The idea of redemption as deliverance from the burden of finitude is readily comprehensible, and so on.

In our own times, too, in a variety of forms, the fascination of Gnosticism is at work. The religions of the Far East have the same basic pattern. That is why the various kinds of teaching on redemption that they offer seem highly plausible. Exercises for relaxing the body and emptying the mind are seen as the path to redemption. They aim at liberation from finitude, indeed, they momentarily anticipate that liberation and so have salvific power.

As I have written in previous reflections, as we prepare for the end times of this liturgical year, Christian thought has taken up the idea of:  departure and a return, but, in doing so, it distinguishes the two movements from one another. Departure is not a fall from the infinite…the rupture of being; and thus, the cause of all the sorrow in the world. No, departure is first and foremost something thoroughly positive. (If you don’t believe me…look at Michelangelo’s painting of creation…it says it all.) It is the Creator’s free act of creation. It is His positive Will that the created order should exist as something good in relation to Himself, from which a response of freedom and love can be given back to Him.

Non-divine being is not, therefore, something negative in itself but, on the contrary, the wholly positive fruit of the Divine Will. It depends, not on a disaster, but on a divine decree that is good and does good.

So, as our liturgical year comes closer and closer to the end times, let’s be sure to be the wise virgins…with ample oil ready to greet Christ the King. Don’t let those who think that that can be spiritual (and not believe in organized religion), take your oil from you. This organized party…planned by the Creator for the end times…requires us to be ready to greet Him…without letting the “party poopers” and their foolishness spoil the fun.

Father Kevin’s Reflection – November 12, 2017

Posted on Updated on

You have to really like St. Paul this week as he speaks not only to those 2000 years ago, but to our 21st Century world too. All too often you will hear someone out there say: “I am spiritual but not religious…or into an organized religion”. It is tempting to be attracted to such ideas because the reality of the Original Sin is so much part of our spiritual DNA. “Do you not want to be as gods…knowing for yourself good and evil.”  (cf. Genesis 3:1-5)

The philosophies of worship go off in different directions. One theory is that only philosophers…only minds qualified for higher thought…are capable of the knowledge that constitutes the “way”.  Only they are capable of the ascent, of the full divinization that is redemption and liberation from finitude. For the others…for the simpler souls not yet capable of the full upward vision…there are the different liturgies that offer them a certain redemption without being able to take them to the height of the Godhead. The doctrine of the transmigration of souls (or reincarnation) often compensates for these inequalities. It offers the hope that at some time in the wanderings of existence…the point will be reached when at last we can find an escape from finitude and its torments.

For others, knowledge (in Greek: gnosis) is the real power of redemption here and therefore the highest form of our elevation…union with God. That is why conceptual and religious systems of this kind (though, individually, they are all very different) are called “Gnosticism”. In early Christianity the clash with Gnosticism was the decisive struggle for its own identity. The fascination of such views is very great; they seem so easily identifiable with the Christian message.

For example, original sin (so hard otherwise to understand) is identified with the fall into finitude (Armageddon), which explains why it clings to everything stuck in the vortex of finitude (death…mortality). The idea of redemption as deliverance from the burden of finitude is readily comprehensible, and so on.

In our own times, too, in a variety of forms, the fascination of Gnosticism is at work. The religions of the Far East have the same basic pattern. That is why the various kinds of teaching on redemption that they offer seem highly plausible. Exercises for relaxing the body and emptying the mind are seen as the path to redemption. They aim at liberation from finitude, indeed, they momentarily anticipate that liberation and so have salvific power.

As I have written in previous reflections, as we prepare for the end times of this liturgical year, Christian thought has taken up the idea of:  departure and a return, but, in doing so, it distinguishes the two movements from one another. Departure is not a fall from the infinite…the rupture of being; and thus, the cause of all the sorrow in the world.   No, departure is first and foremost something thoroughly positive. (If you don’t believe me, look at Michelangelo’s painting of creation…it says it all.)  It is the Creator’s free act of creation. It is His positive Will that the created order should exist as something good in relation to Himself, from which a response of freedom and love can be given back to Him. Non-divine being is not, therefore, something negative in itself but, on the contrary, the wholly positive fruit of the Divine Will. It depends, not on a disaster, but on a divine decree that is good and does good.

So, as our liturgical year comes closer and closer to the end times, let’s be sure to be the wise virgins with ample oil ready to greet Christ the King. Don’t let those who think that that can be spiritual (and not believe in organized religion) take your oil from you. This organized party, planned by the Creator for the end times, requires us to be ready to greet Him without letting the “party poopers” and their foolishness spoil the fun.

Father Kevin’s Reflection – October 22, 2017

Posted on Updated on

The Church, in its liturgy now begins to wind down now (or maybe wind up)…depending on your perspective. You will begin to notice a movement to the end of the year of grace of 2017 as we look forward to the celebration of Christ the King! Jesus reminds us in our readings and prayers…He is the “all in all”…the Beginning and End…the A to Z…the Alpha and Omega.

For me the best way to reflect on this week’s readings: they remind me of fishing on the river. In the boat, everyone sees the surface of the water. Thanks to physics and buoyancy, we have the ability to travel on that liquid surface with little consideration of what is really around us (or, better, under us). It takes the scuba drivers and their cameras to bring to our reality what is really there: on, in and around the river.

Such is the case in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah this week as Isaiah (the scuba diver) has to give Cyrus the king a reality check. Cyrus is the kind of man who travels on the surface without even caring or taking into account the physics (or, if you like, the metaphysics) that keeps him afloat. The same goes with the Herodians who question Jesus about the trivial matter which actually goes to a deeper reality as to what is due to God. (A real Force that Star Wars movies attempts to bring into conceptual reality.)

A French scientist and philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin (and friends) in the early 20th century proposed a concept called: “Noosphere”. (He is kind of like the character Obi-Wan Kenobi [in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd movies]…the scuba diver). The idea behind “Noosphere” was that creation (or, if you like, evolution) can be explained by a metaphysical higher force (spirit and its understanding) embrace the physical whole and are blended into a kind of living organism. (Invoking the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, Teilhard looks on Christ as the energy that strives toward the Noosphere and finally incorporates everything in its “fullness’.) I know it is kind of deep water here…but…from here Teilhard went on to give a new meaning to Christian worship: the transubstantiated Host is the anticipation of the transformation and divinization of matter in the Christological “fullness”. In his view, the Eucharist provides the movement of the cosmos with its direction…it anticipates its goal and at the same time urges it on.

Yes, even the modern scientist (and movie makers) attempt to grasp what is owed rightfully to this world…but at the same time…give honor and worship to God for His reality in our fundamental lives. They themselves move towards the ultimate evolutionary reality of Christ the King too.

Father Kevin’s Reflection – October 1, 2017

Posted on Updated on

I enjoy this week’s reading from Ezekiel. How often do I, in my heart of hearts say to myself, “God, Your way is not fair! Look at all the things I have to do as a Catholic and how I am expected to live in my daily life. Look at how everyone is living…why do I get stuck being the token Christian?” And God’s response: “Listen, My goal for you is heaven and eternal happiness with Me. Get over what you think is unfair. I made fair. And believe it or not, I know what I am doing.”

But that is the issue for us…“believe it or not”…do it the hard way…do it the easy way… just do it God’s way and we will make it. And as Blue Eyes sang so well…that’s life. You may be a puppet, a pauper, a pirate,  poet, a pawn and a king…been up and down and over and out…God is the great equalizer…pick yourself up and get back in the race.

This is what the concept of the Old Testament Sabbath is all about. Sabbath is a vision of freedom. On this day slave and master are equals. The “hallowing” of the Sabbath means precisely this: a rest from all relationships of subordination and a temporary relief from all burden of work. (A reminder of what heaven is all about.)

Now some people conclude from this that the Old Testament makes no connection between creation and worship, that it leads to a pure vision of a liberated society as the goal of human history, that from the very beginning its orientation is anthropological and social…indeed revolutionary. But this is a complete misunderstanding of the Sabbath.

God is a fair God. The account of creation and the Sinai regulations about the Sabbath come from the same source. To understand the account of creation properly, one has to read the Sabbath ordinances of the Torah (the first five Books of our Bible). Then everything becomes clear. The Sabbath is the sign of the covenant between God and man; it sums up the inward essence of the covenant. If this is so, then we can now define the intention of the account of creation as follows: creation exists to be a place for the covenant that God wants to make with man. The goal of creation is the covenant, the love story of God and man. The freedom and equality of men, which the Sabbath is meant to bring about, is not a merely anthropological or sociological vision; it can only be understood…theologically. Only when man is in covenant with God does he become free. Only then are the equality and dignity of all men made manifest.

If, then, everything is directed to the covenant, it is important to see that the covenant is a relationship: God’s gift of Himself to man, but also man’s response to God. Man’s response to the God Who is good to him is love, and loving God means worshiping Him. If creation is meant to be a space for the covenant (the place where God and man meet one another) then it must be thought of as a space for worship.

Father Kevin’s Reflection – September 3, 2017

Posted on Updated on

In last week’s reflection, I was speaking of how we tend to want to do things our way instead of following “rules” and “guidelines”…when it is so much better to rule by anarchy.  Ahh…“freedom”…telling Jesus, off to the side, how things would be better in the world (like Peter in this week’s Gospel).

What does this mean for the question we have been considering? We were looking at the two goals of the Old Testament Exodus experience. I have been attempting to demonstrate that the issue was ultimately about the nature of the liturgy (how we worship individually and as a group for the glory of God). I hope it has become clear that what took place on Sinai (and in the period of rest after the wandering through the wilderness) is what gives meaning to the taking of the Promised Land. Sinai is not a halfway house (a kind of stop for refreshment on the road to what really matters). No, Sinai gives Israel, so to speak, its interior land without which the exterior one would be a cheerless prospect. Israel is constituted as a people through the covenant and the divine law it contains.

Israel has received a common rule for righteous living. This and this alone is what makes the land a real gift. Sinai remains present in the Promised Land. When the reality of Sinai is lost, the Land, too, is inwardly lost, until finally the people are thrust into exile (again). Whenever Israel falls away from the right worship of God, when she turns away from God to the false gods (the powers and values of this world), her freedom, too, collapses. It is possible for her to live in her own land and yet still be as she was in Egypt. Mere possession of your own land and state does not give you freedom; in fact, it can be the grossest kind of slavery. And when the loss of law becomes total, it ends in the loss even of the land.

Like Peter had to be reminded by Jesus to remember his place if he is to serve God, we can be so attached to this world that we lose the Promise Land of Heaven: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”

The “service of God”, the freedom to give right worship to God, appears, in the encounter with Pharaoh, to be the sole purpose of the Exodus…really… its very essence. This fact is evident throughout the Books of Moses. This real “canon in the canon” (the very heart of Israel’s Bible) is written and set entirely outside of the Holy Land. It ends on the edge of the wilderness, “beyond the Jordan”, where Moses once more sums up and repeats the message of Sinai. So we can see what the foundation of existence in the Promised Land must be…the necessary condition for life in community and freedom. It is this: steadfast adherence to the law of God, which orders human affairs rightly, that is, by organizing them as realities that come from God and are meant to return to God. Or…(when someone is in slavery: “what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.” Remembering what was stated last week…worship, law and ethics are inseparably interwoven.

Father Kevin’s Reflection – August 13, 2017

Posted on Updated on

I know some of you have been thinking: “The Fr. Kevin Reflections are going off into areas that I have a hard time grasping…what is he doing?” Well, that thought goes right along with this week’s readings at Mass. God is constantly reminding us: It’s His reality…not ours…that counts. As Elijah understands…God is not in the wind storm. Nor the earthquake, nor the raging fires that make mankind tremble in fear…it is in the whispering sound that causes Elijah to hit the ground. The same is true with Peter…he gets in trouble when he allows “earthly reality” to cloud his thinking.

With the reflections for the next few months, I am going to ask you to suspend the “practical” way of reading the reflections…and be a little impractical. Let the mind escape from the way the world thinks…and focus on the “rules of the game” that God sets before us in the practice of: our worship, our liturgy…our faith.

You may remember me referring to the liturgy and the worship of God as a “play” or “game”. There are rules that come with playing any game. To play it right, you have to suspend our day to day routine and join the rest of the team. This is similar to the liturgy. We “play” as God wants us to “play the game”. This application of the “play-theory” distinguishes the liturgy by its essence from the ordinary kinds of playing (which doubtless always contain a longing for the real “game”) for a wholly different world in which order and freedom are the same (compared to the superficial, utilitarian, or humanly vacuous aspects of ordinary play.) The “play-theory” of our liturgy brings out what is special and different about that “play” of Wisdom the Bible speaks about, (the actions found in the Bible that can be compared to the liturgy). I have to admit…this analogy still lacks something, something essential. The idea of a life to come appears only as a vague assumption. The reference to God, without Whom the “life to come” would only be a wasteland…remains quite uncertain. Let me try another approach, this time starting from specific biblical texts.

Those particularly who have been at the Bible study on Tuesdays may remember the accounts of the events leading up to Israel’s flight from Egypt (as well as in those that describe the flight itself)…the Exodus appears to have two distinct goals. The first, which is familiar all of us, is the reaching of the Promised Land, in which Israel will at last live on its own soil and territory (with secure borders, as a people with the freedom and independence proper to it). But we also hear repeatedly of the second goal…God’s original command to Pharaoh runs like this: “Let my people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness” (cf. Ex 7:16). These words—“Let my people go, that they may serve Me”—are repeated four times, with slight variations, in all the meetings of Pharaoh with Moses and Aaron (cf. Ex 8:1; 9:1; 9:13; 10:3). In the course of the negotiations with Pharaoh, the goal becomes more concrete. Pharaoh shows he is willing to compromise. For him the issue is the Israelites’ freedom of worship, which he first of all concedes in the following form: “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land” (Ex 8:25). But Moses insists—in obedience to God’s command—that they must go out in order to worship. The proper place of worship is the wilderness: “We must go three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the Lord our God as he will command us” (Ex 8:27). (In other words…telling the government and its leaders…we have to worship the way God wants it…no one else…no other power). After the plagues that follow, Pharaoh extends his compromise. He now concedes that worship according to the will of the Deity should take place in the wilderness, but he wants only the men to leave: the women and children, together with the cattle, must stay in Egypt. (He is assuming the current religious practice, according to which only men are active participants in worship.) But Moses cannot negotiate about the liturgy with a foreign sovereign, nor can he subject worship to any form of political compromise. The manner in which God is to be worshipped is not a question of political feasibility. It contains its measure within itself…that is, it can only be ordered by the measure of revelation, in dependency upon God. That is why the third and most far-reaching compromise suggested by the earthly ruler is also rejected. Pharaoh now offers women and children the permission to leave with the men: “Only let your flocks and your herds remain” (Ex 10:24). Moses objects: All the livestock must go too, for “we do not know with what we must serve the Lord until we arrive there” (10:26). In all this, the issue is not the Promised Land: the only goal of the Exodus is shown to be…worship, (which can only take place according to God’s measure and therefore eludes the rules of the game of political compromise).

Like Elijah…most would see the storms, the earthquake, the fire…but ignore (in ignorance) the whisper of God.

Father Kevin’s Reflection – July 23, 2017

Posted on Updated on

All too often, we (as Catholics) will come to Mass or in a common prayer without understanding why. (How often do you hear from a non-Catholic: “Why do you, as Catholics do (blank)?” (Make the sign of the cross, say memorized prayers, use incense, stand, sit…you can fill in the “(blank)”. And our response is something like: “I don’t know…it’s just what we do.”

The “great prayer of the Church” the Mass (or the Liturgy of the Hours), I want to give the parish unique insights on many areas of the Liturgy to help everyone to rediscover the hidden spiritual wealth (and transcendent grandeur) of the Liturgy as the very center of our Christian life (our Catholic life). While other denominations express prayer in their own method, the Liturgy is distinctively ours (given to us over 2000 years). It is not to be seen as a museum piece that is viewed from a distance…or just walked by as painting on a wall done by a famous artist. Our Liturgy is something we touch, see, smell, hear…taste. It is ours to take and experience.

Among the many liturgical areas we are going to look at in the next few reflections, I hope we can  discuss fundamental misunderstandings of the Second Vatican Council’s intentions for liturgical reforms (renewal), especially the focus of prayer at the Mass, the placement of the tabernacle, the  posture  of kneeling, etc.

Other areas of interest: the essence of worship • Jewish roots and (2000 years old) new elements of the Christian Liturgy • sacred times and places • the historic and cosmic dimensions of the Liturgy • the relationship of the Liturgy to time and space • art and music…and the Liturgy • (the often misunderstood concept even among religious and clergy) – “active participation” of all the faithful • gestures, posture, and vestments. I hope…in the reflections to come…when you are asked to fill in the “(blank)”, each of us will be so excited to explain the “(blank)” – others will want to learn the steps of the Dance with us and join the music and the excitement. And, even more important, when you are tempted to think (or worse … say out loud): “Does God really care?  Does what we do at Mass only get in the way of worshipping God?” …you will have the knowledge to expel that demon.