Identity

Identity. Gender. Love. Chastity. The world is a difficult place for teens, and young adults.  It has become increasingly hard for parents and educators to help teens and young adults discover the truth about their bodies, their sexuality, and their unique call to love.

In an age of “selfies” and egocentrism, YOU: Life, Love, and the Theology of the Body, cuts through the noise to present an authentic view of the human person. It presents all people with the extraordinary story of their creation as unrepeatable individuals. But the program doesn’t stop there. This series introduces teens to the truth that life is not, in fact, all about them; it is about going out of themselves to be a sincere gift for others.

This post presents everyone with an opportunity to hear from someone who has struggled with the gender identity. In Hudson’s Story, we hear about how those who have homosexual attractions are still sons and daughters of God first. While not shying away from the reality of his feelings, Hudson shares how he has found his true identity in Christ.

This is a wonderful program that touches today’s real-life challenges in an appropriate and relevant manner and is one that I recommend all parish formation teams investigate.


Another Way

Each week we look back at the past week’s Sunday homily and spotlight one of the nuggets to help us re-connect to the message as we seek to stay focused on the Lord.

This week, our Mission Connection comes from Fr. Michael Rubeling (with a little assist from singer James Taylor) on his talk given for The Epiphany of the Lord. Fr. Michael shares his thoughts on the Magi and their returning home “another way.”  How might that apply to our lives?

Let’s take a listen.


Something Out of Nothing

 

If you are like I am then you most likely act out a certain cycle every year. Each Jan. 1, you make New Year’s resolutions, keep them for a while, and then, eventually, sometimes by Jan. 2, break them and fall back into old habits.

If you are like I am then you also have a certain sense of why this is going on . . . even as you are seemingly powerless to change things. Old habits, especially bad ones, are hard to break.

Aristotle said that habit is second nature, it replaces instinct. Augustine, who knew more than most about the difficulty in breaking old habits, once put it this way: “I longed to give myself wholly to you, Lord, but I was bound by my own will, as by a chain. Because my will was perverse it changed to lust, and lust yielded to become habit, and habit not resisted became necessity. These were like links hanging one on to another—which is why I have called it a chain—and their bondage held me bound hand and foot.”

In a former time, before we had psychological words such as obsession, dysfunction, and neurosis, this was called being possessed by a demon. There was more wisdom and accuracy in that than our age sees fit to acknowledge. In our bad habits, we are indeed possessed!

Given all of that, it is no big wonder that we so easily break new resolutions. The wonder is that we continue to make them, knowing our own histories. Why do we? Why do we continue to want to make new resolutions when we know that, barring miracles, we will not, in the end, succeed in keeping them?

Robert Frost says that there is something inside of us that hates a wall, that wants it down. That is also true for the wall of bad habit and the part that wants it down is the best part of us. Stated positively, there is something inside us that hates our own moral fat, that refuses death, even in this sense.

There is something inside of us that is driven to the higher, that refuses to settle for second best, that wants to sing the new song that the psalmist speaks of, that believes in the possibility of resurrection. There is something inside of us that needs to keep on keeping on.

Thus it is a sign of health that we keep making new resolutions, despite a life-long history of failure. Why? Because in striving to renew ourselves in the face of our own falling we are making an important act of faith:

First of all, in making new resolutions we are saying: “I believe in a God who continues to love me, even when I can’t live up to it.” Every time I pick myself off the floor after a fall and begin again with some hope in my heart looking for a new start, I am saying the creed in a way that is considerably more radical, in terms of expressing actual belief in God, that is my too-easy Sunday recital of it.

To make a new resolution is to believe in God.

But it is more. To make new resolutions is to express faith in the God of the resurrection. To try for a new life, for a fresh start, precisely when bad habit has kept me so long in a certain helplessness, is to say: “I believe in the resurrection and the life!”

Why do I say this?

Martin Luther once put it this way: “Just as God in the beginning of creation made the world out of nothing, so his manner of working continues unchanged.” For anything to really change, including our capacity to live beyond our own wounds and selfishness, God still had to defy the impossible.

Our inner world, akin to the physical world, is, to all outward appearance and to our own feeling of it, a closed system, determined entirely by history, by cause and effect. Within it, certain things are possible and certain things are impossible. What has been will continue to be.

There is, it seems, and so says Qoheleth, nothing new under the sun. The case for the impossible is pretty strong, especially when the judge knows the history of failed resolutions.

That is where faith and the resurrection enter in. As the angel Gabriel tells Mary: “For with God nothing is impossible.” Somewhere, deep inside of us, in that place where we want to make New Year’s resolutions, we still carry that faith. In that place, we still say the creed and still believe in the resurrection. Because of that belief, because of new year’s resolutions, God can still make something out of nothing!

– Fr. Ron Rolheiser

Reflecting Reflections – Day Nine

St John Abby

Someone has put it memorably: “Nothing is so rare as the moment when we want to be where we are, doing what we are doing.” Attention, being truly present, can transform even the simplest moments of life. The present and what we are doing deserves respect. Our talk gives away how little we prize the present: We ‘catch’ a bus; ‘grab’ a bite to eat; ‘dash off’ a letter or a report; ‘run’ to the store; ‘get through the week.’ But this present moment and place are where God and others are, where real life is. Diana Eck says: “To be aware, alert, attentive is the greatest spiritual challenge we ever face, even the only one.” Could be.

Living Faith

Come to me. Matthew 11:28

How do I come to Jesus? Do I seek to run with the task and fail to be one with him in that task? I know that when I accept his initiation to come, he brings me into a personal relationship with him, where I enter an inner place of peace he has promised all will receive. It is the kind of peace that quiets the mind and heart and surpasses human understanding. It doesn’t tell me that I won’t continue to experience frustration, trials, and suffering, but I know that with him, these burdens become lighter and more bearable.

Henri Nouwen

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.  Isaiah 11:6

The marvelous vision of the peaceable Kingdom, in which all violence has been overcome and all men, women, and children live in loving unity with nature, calls for its realization in our day-to-day lives. We must remind one another constantly of the vision. Whenever it comes alive in us we will find new energy to live it out, right where we are. Instead of making us escape real life, this beautiful vision gets us involved.

Magnificat

Come to me. Matthew 11:28

Ann Voskamp brings another perspective to the above statement: “Jesus will go to impossible lengths to rescue you.” Sin is many things but most importantly it is separation from God. It is a willful movement away from him. And what does God do about this action on our part? He hastens to have us return. He unceasingly calls us back to communion with him through repentance, that opposite path of distancing. Stop running from him – stop – for he seeks to embrace you in his love.

Give Us This Day

In working for the Church, I often find myself fighting to do the good and realize that it’s too much about ‘me.’  As Dr. Carolyn Woo so clearly noted in her service for Catholic Relief Services, we have to put away our pride and anxiety and realize we are not only working for God, but we are also working with God.    Eventually, through prayers of pleading and frustration,

Psalm 127 reminds us that all is in vain if God is not part of our endeavors. When our work or other worries weigh us down, we can learn from the wisdom of St. Pope John XXIII, who at the end of a day would say: “I’ve done the best I could in your service this day, O Lord. I’m going to bed. It’s your church. Take care of it!”

Richard Rohr

How can my life be a reflection of divine love in this time and place? The classic Christian phrase for discipleship—the imitation of Christ—means that we were made by God to become like God, loving all others, loving universally. —Sallie McFague

Jesus told us, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” He called us to a presence that is a broader and deeper kind of knowing than just cognitive thinking. Thinking knows things by objectifying them, capturing them as an object of knowledge. But presence knows things by refusing to objectify them; instead, it shares in their very subjectivity. Presence allows full give and take, what Martin Buber called the “I/Thou” relationship with things as opposed to the mere “I/it” relationship. Buber summed it up in his often-quoted phrase: “All real living is meeting.”

Reflecting Reflections – Day Five

Living Faith

After the man, Adam, had eaten of the tree, the LORD God called to the man and asked him, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself. Genesis 3:9-10

We just finished taking our second graders through their first reconciliation. It is always a beautiful time as you watch them go through the natural hesitancy and fear as they are unsure of the how they will ‘perform’ in the process and no matter how much you remind them of the love that will be displayed by the priest, fearful of having to tell someone they sinned. Isn’t the behavior of Adam very reminiscent for today’s adults? Don’t we shy away from reconciliation because we have a hard time acknowledging our failures in front of someone else? We have to stop hiding and believe in the grace that awaits us in reconciliation.

Henri Nouwen

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.  Revelation 21: 1 (NIV)

Our final homecoming involves not just ourselves and our fellow human beings but all of creation. The full freedom of the children of God is to be shared by the whole earth, and our complete renewal in the resurrection includes the renewal of the universe. That is the great vision of God’s redeeming work through Christ. Does God’s promise of a “final homecoming” for you and all of creation give you hope?

Magnificat

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. Luke 1:38

The Gospel shows us the Blessed Virgin as a perfect model of purity, humility, candor, simplicity, obedience and lively faith. Following her example of obedience to God, we can learn to serve delicately without being mindless. In Mary, we don’t find the slightest trace of the attitude of the foolish virgins who obey thoughtlessly. Our Lady listens attentively to what God wants, ponders what she doesn’t fully understand and asks about what she doesn’t know. Then she gives herself completely to doing the divine will. The Blessed Virgin shows us that obedience to God is not subservient.

The Word Among Us

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:3

Holy Scripture very often invites us to praise God our Lord. This is not a matter only of verbal praise as our actions should prove that we mean what we say. St. Augustine affirms this: “He who does good with his hands praises the Lord, and he who confesses the Lord with his mouth praises the Lord. Praise him by your actions.” What better example do we have today than Mary. She shows us humble trust in God yet a willingness to question Him. We see a reflective heart that embraces God’s answers wholeheartedly. We don’t see perfect peace, but we do see perfect faith.

Give Us This Day

God has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

There is truly so little historically that we know about Mary. But what we do know about her life was the purity of her consent to the will of God. How much more would we need to know from her life than that? How many of us would give anything to be half as capable as the Blessed Mother is serving God in this way?

St John’s Abby

Otherwise, you might yield to grief, like those who have no hope.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

The young are shocked by the death of people their own age in accidents, from suicide, even from cancer. The elderly hear daily of the deaths of people they’ve known. Grief at such deaths is only appropriate. Those who have no hope of eternal life certainly are in a different situation than the believer. But for the believer, too, hope in the resurrection cannot simply erase the loss we feel. While we celebrate funerals full of hope and even joy in the resurrection, we cannot bypass the time necessary for grief. Beliefs do not simply obliterate emotions.

Reflecting Reflections – Day Four

Henri Nouwen

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”  And let the one who hears say, “Come!”  Whoever is thirsty, let them come; and whoever wishes, let them take the free gift of the water of life. Revelation 22:17 (NIV)

One thing we know for sure about our God: Our God is a God of the living, not of the dead. God is life. God is love. God is beauty. God is goodness. God is truth. God doesn’t want us to die. God wants us to live. Our God, who loves us from eternity to eternity, wants to give us life for eternity. How can you give your full ‘yes!’ to God’s love today?

Living Faith

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Matthew 7:21

Did you ever wonder who Jesus was talking about? He is speaking to those who say or do something in the Lord’s name but their hearts tell the Lord something else. If we publically profess our faith in the creed but our hearts have never been truly given over to the Lord and that intimate relationship established, then our profession of Jesus as Lord is not a true submission to his lordship and our relationship and profession are out of alignment.

Magnificat

Thy will be done.

Thy kingdom come as if he didn’t come. But the kingdom of God has come, since you have obtained his grace. For he himself says: The Kingdom of God is within you.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. By the blood of Christ, all things were pacified both in heaven and on earth; heaven is hollowed; the devil is cast down. He turns there, where the man also is whom he deceived. Thy will be done, that is. let there be peace on earth as there is in heaven.” – St. Ambrose

The Word Among Us

The Lord is God, and he has given us light. Psalm 118:27

Light gives us insight. If we are irritable with someone and possibly hurt them, the light of God can show us the root of that irritation and also show us the pathway of love that may have been hidden but now changes the way you look at that person. What has the light of God shown you in the areas of those you may have hurt? Advent is a wonderful time to seek reconciliation.    

Give Us This Day

The Paradox and the Promise

Advent reveals our search for Jesus. We all receive the Word, sometimes with deflecting hearts and hardened attitudes. Jesus invites us to be humble enough to accept the rock-like nature of love, forgiveness, and peace. This is the promise of Jesus, the paradox that forms our lives. We are to become humble believers in Advent. When we follow out of our need and longing, we are certain to find our way to the manger again, where hope for our lives becomes a sure thing.
Fr. Ronald Raab

Richard Rohr

[We need] a Christian identity that is both strong and kind. By strong I mean vigorous, vital, durable, motivating, faithful, attractive, and defining. . . . By kind I mean something far more robust than mere tolerance, political correctness, or coexistence: I mean benevolent, hospitable, accepting, interested, and loving, so that the stronger our Christian faith, the more goodwill we will feel and show toward those of other faiths, seeking to understand and appreciate their religion from their point of view. —Brian McLaren

How can we learn to draw from the deep aquifer, the common Source of Love for all religions, without denying the goodness of our own small spring? This is the marriage of unity and diversity.

Reflecting Reflections – Day Three

St John’s Abby

“God heals the broken-hearted,
and binds up all their wounds.
God fixes the number of the stars;
and calls each one by its name.”
Psalm 147

As we often struggle with resolving life’s difficulties, we seem as Christians to ignore or disbelieve the words of the psalm that God truly carries about our individual lives. How can a God of such immensity really be concerned about me and my worries? But the incarnation tells the true answer to that doubt. The existence of Jesus Christ, the Son of God in human flesh, tells us that God does care about our problems. Turn it over to Him, place your cares and worries at the feet of the Lord.

Henri Nouwen

“Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us.  This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”  Isaiah 25: 9 (NIV)

In the transition from earthly life to eternal life, the whole concept of time becomes mute. beyond death, there is no before or after, no past or present. The resurrection of the body is separated from time. For us who still live in time, it is important not to act as if the new life in Christ is something we can comprehend or explain. God’s heart and mind are greater than ours. All that is asked of us is trust. When it comes to matters of life and death, do you find comfort in knowing that “All that is asked of us is trust?”

Living Faith

“Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?’ “Seven,’ they replied, “and a few fish.’ ” Matthew 15:34

A beautiful thought today: do we practice the reliance on Jesus that the early disciples did? The disciples provided a small amount of fish and bread and Jesus miraculously multiplied them to feed the thousands. What small and insufficient thing can we offer Jesus that we will trust Him to work miracles within our lives?

Magnificat

My heart is moved with pity” Matthew 15:32

“Remember that I raced in love to be close
and found you and put my bleeding arms around you;
and now I feed you,
now with bread that is me and wine become me,
and we are so close now;
don’t try to imagine, just remember,
in all your time now
this is my body my blood,
my life my soul my breath,
my pure love that will never die,
And it is all
in human hearts (yours)
from human words (mine).” – Fr. Harry Cronin

The Word Among Us

“How many loaves do you have? Matthew 15:34

An interesting aspect of the reading today details the disciples bringing their resources to the Lord and he did wondrous things with them. And just as we gather today at Mass, the Lord does not desire us to merely be spectators. We can come hungry for His Word and thirsty for His touch. Do you know that when the offertory is brought forth, its intention is to represent the real needs of those gathered? We should actively participate in bringing our gifts and needs to Him during the offertory. Then after Jesus has transformed the gifts, we can come to the altar and receive more than enough to satisfy us.

Give Us This Day

“I do not want to send them away hungry” Matthew 15:32

“Maybe we think that Jesus didn’t really multiply the fishes and loaves; he just inspired the people to share the food they’d brought. We like to explain the Bible away, to turn every miracle into metaphor, draining the Scriptures of their power and meaning.  The point isn’t to reduce the idea of miracle, but to expand it. The point isn’t to drain the Bible of its power, but to show that this power is present in our time, too, in every moment.

In Jesus, the difference between matter and spirit has been forever transcended. What’s miraculous isn’t the walking on water, but the water itself, the lake, the Sea of Galilee, thirteen miles long and eight miles wide, with the sun rising over it in the mornings, and every lake . . . because God is everywhere, lovely in ten thousand places. The miracle is life itself, the ordinary.” – Deacon Chris Anderson

Richard Rohr

As Thomas Merton reflected, “We are already one.” We just need to start becoming what we already are. —James Finley

God is otherness and diversity, a pluriformity. The basic problem of “the one and the many” is overcome in God’s very nature. God is a mystery of relationship, and the truest relationship is love. Infinite Love preserves unique truths, protecting boundaries while simultaneously bridging them. While these two tasks seem initially like opposites, and impossible to reconcile, oneing is God’s essential task and the goal of all authentic spirituality.

Reflecting Reflections – Day One

As we begin a new liturgical year, I begin a new effort to share my reflective thoughts from the daily practice of reading spiritual and devotional texts and the corresponding impressions gained in the hope that some may enliven your day.

Henri Nouwen

“The knowledge that Jesus came to dress our mortal bodies with immortality must help us develop an inner desire to be born to a new eternal life with him and encourage us to find ways to prepare for it.”

Isn’t this the conversion of life we speak of? Isn’t this the focus of our mission efforts – to accompany others in their seeking a new life in Christ? Jesus makes this a very simple truth, either you’re for him or you’re against him. Our discipleship should be one of living the light of his love that draws the lost to seek the reason for our hope.

Living Faith

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed” Mt 8:8.

I am a point in my life when death is closer – for me and those I love. I have watched close friends go through the pain of faithful prayers for healing not being answered with the continuation of life. But was the prayer answered? Was the prayer answered in a way that our loved ones suffering ended – but only with their passing from this earthly existence? How does this affect my prayers today for those needing the Lord’s healing touch? Is my faith strong enough to believe in what I cannot see? Do I trust that in all things He is there?

Magnificat

“Lord, I am not worthy”

It’s a challenge that continues to raise its spiritual head in vocational service, the self-induced shackles of unworthiness we often face in the interaction with the miseries of life. The meditation from Archbishop Luis Martinez encourages us to fight the good fight: “Our miseries are no obstacle to Jesus’ repose in our souls, for in his merciful love he takes the sins of the world as he accepted the straw of the manger . . . our miseries give a fragrance of earth to the place where Jesus rests. He loves this fragrance . . . let nothing deter the soul then from inviting the divine Spouse to rest within her.” Let us rest in the tender, caressing love of the Lord.

The Word Among Us

“they shall beat their swords into plowshares” Is 2:4

What are our swords? Maybe not a metallic object this verse embodies but an even sharper one – our tongue. Have our words fostered peace and grudges? Do they uplift or tear down? Advent is a time of hope, faith, joy, and peace. What a wonderful path of grace and mercy is found in reconciliation. This is a path that will allow us to surrender our behavioral swords that hurt others so we can take steps towards making peace in our relationships.

Give Us This Day

“Truly, I have not found such faith in Israel” Mt 8:10.

Archbishop Oscar Romero speaks directly to the focus of our Christian lives – a heart and action for the least, the lost and the forgotten. Speaking from his city of San Salvador, he said, “I know that the Spirit is not the monopoly of a movement, even of a Christian movement; of a hierarchy, or priesthood, or religious congregation. The Spirit is free, and he wants men and women, wherever they are . . . I know that some people come to the cathedral who have even lost the faith or are non-Christians. Let them be welcome.” Shouldn’t that be the daily message in every church and home?

Richard Rohr

“The Perennial Tradition includes truths within Catholic, Franciscan, Episcopalian, Calvinist, Lutheran, and other Christian denominations and orders. It also embraces wisdom within Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam.”

Martin Luther King noted, “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”

Thomas Merton challenges our thought of singular truth as he repeats the statement of the great Doctor of the Church, Thomas Aquinas, “if it was true, it was always from the one Holy Spirit.” Merton warned us that religion could not survive if it remained “clannish.”  We need to remain open to the truths of life. Doesn’t loving one another dictate a need to listen to them? This practice would seem to be in line with Christ’s command to “love our neighbor.”

Brokenness

When love is torn and trust betrayed,
pray strength to love till torments fade,
till lovers keep no score of wrong,
but hear through pain love’s Easter song.

When Love Is Found

We completed a two-part homily series on Marriage this past weekend and I was taken back by a particular verse in a song we sang and how it spoke in such a piercingly beautiful way to the challenge of marriage and the evolving nature of our lives as couples.

Take a moment and reflect on that verse and remember that true healing comes from the Lord.  I invite you to view the video adaptation of Casting Crowns song Broken Together.


God and Community

Life is more than just us. Individualism, while not bad in and of itself, misses the essence of what love was created to be lived in – community. God is a flow of living relationships, a trinity, a family of life that we can enter, taste, breathe within, and let flow through us.

Scripture says, “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in them.” Too often, we miss what that means because we tend to romanticize love and can easily miss the sense of what this text means. It might best be rendered this way: “God is community, family, parish, friendship, hospitality and whoever abides in these abides in God and God abides in him or her.”

God is a trinity, a flow of relationships among persons. If this is true, and scripture assures us that it is, then the realities of dealing with each other in community, at the dinner-table, over a bottle of wine or an argument, not to mention the simple giving and receiving of hospitality are not a pure, secular experiences but the stuff of church, the place where the life of God flows through us.

God can be known, experienced, tasted, related to in love and friendship. God is Someone and Something that we live within and which can flow through our veins. God is a flow of relationships to be experienced in community, family, parish, friendship, and hospitality. When we live inside of these relationships, God lives inside of us and we live inside of God. Scripture assures us that we abide in God whenever we stay inside of family, community, parish, friendship, hospitality – and, yes, even when we fall in love.

This has huge consequences for how we should understand the religious experience. It means that in coming to know God, the dinner-table is more important than the theology classroom, the practice of grateful hospitality is more important than the practice of right dogma, and meeting with others to pray as a community can give us something that long hours in private meditation (or, indeed, long years spent absent from church-life) cannot. Finally, importantly, it tells us that, God is community – and only in opening our lives in gracious hospitality will we ever understand that.

(Adapted from excerpts of Fr. Ron Rolheiser, Finding God in Community, 2001)