Leaning Into The Heart of God – A Reflection on John 13

I offered a reflection on John 13:21-38 at Taize Evening Prayer tonight. It was our last Taize prayer for Lent. These weeks have been a real gift. Plus tonight, my boss was able to attend and he proclaimed the Gospel for me; that was really special. The church may be a giant CF (sorry!) in some ways but it, like Rolheiser points out is also the dwelling place of saints. And those saints might be you or me.

Anyway our Evening Prayer is beautiful – the music is so sublime – you just melt into it. In fact, as I was preparing this post, I realized that is what I talked about and that is what the Taize chant invites you to do… Lean deeply into the heart of God.

The environment is lovely too and I am sorry that this photo does not do this scene justice.  My friend Chris has such a gift for environment and I stand in awe of her talent. The glass bowl containing stones and light also has some sand in the top where we have a charcoal burning; incense is put on and it is gorgeous. 

This was my typed text from last night. It was a bit shorter (although still too long- *sigh*) and I did not read it but spoke from notes, so it was a bit different. So it was not what you see here, but this is close enough and I can’t rewrite it!

Holy week – it was a tough week for Jesus. It is a tough week for us Catholics in the present moment. We need to pray and act, but that is not what I am here to talk about tonight. However, when preparing for this, I did come across this quote in reference to the current situation. It is from Ronald Rolheiser, Catholic Priest and author who writes in his book “The Holy Longing”:

“To be connected with the church is to be associated with scoundrels, warmongers, fakes, child-molesters, murderers, adulterers and hypocrites of every description.

It also, at the same time, identifies you with saints and the finest persons of heroic soul of every time, country, race, and gender.

To be a member of the church is to carry the mantle of both the worst sin and the finest heroism of soul because the church always looks exactly as it looked at the original crucifixion, God hung among thieves.” – Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing

I have been reading about Ingatian spirituality lately – the Spiritual exercises. One is encouraged to read Scripture and enter into each of the parts of the story. From where I sit, it is a lot more attractive to want to be the disciple that Jesus loved rather than to be Peter or Judas in today’s Gospel.

However, I can tell you that I don’t have to study the lines in order to be Peter or Judas however – I have a lot of practice.

In any event, we must enter into the story over and over and at some point, and meet God and ourselves in all of them.

We spent all that time in the desert and have returned to Jerusalem. It would seem a relief to be out of the dry and desiccated landscape and back into life. We leave behind the barren landscape and re-enter the lively city. However, Jerusalem is not just any city and to enter it is to know you will not leave it the same person you arrived.

Jesus gets this – the poor apostles, not so much. Have you listened to them? Jockeying for who gets to be the most important? Peter swearing that he would never deny Jesus – something we know he does in a few short hours. Judas thinking about his 30 pieces of silver and whatever else might have attracted him to betray the Lord.

Of course there is the one that Jesus loved, in the endearing image that associate with something that Fr Pat said a few years ago… At rest, with his head on Jesus’ chest. ……….. It is like our opening Taize song – Be still, Be still and know that I am God.

Silent. Listening. Leaning into the heart of God.

Just saying that scares me, I think I might rather be Peter seeking affirmation by promising to be a good boy or, Judas – transactional matters like being in charge of the money is a more antiseptic place. I might like that.

The dynamics of leaning into the heart of God and having God’s heart lean back into me seems much more frightening to me because it is to know and to be known in the most intimate way. God’s love envelops us.

And when that happens, not unlike Mary’s receptivity that we recently commemorated on the Annunciation, it requires openness, transparency and a true lack of defenses.

I’m sweating now, just at the thought of it. It does not mean absenting ourselves but rather simply being who we are, in all of our integrated wholeness. It makes me shudder, can I do that?

Can’t I just go back to managing my time and productivity? Must I really surrender into becoming the person that God has loved me into being? For me, like for Peter, jockeying in my own bumbly way to be number one comes very naturally – you can ask my boss, he’s here.

For Peter, that seemed to mean promising more than he could deliver because he was not promising out of his deep center and his integrity… he was promising out of his wounded ego. I don’t know about you, but I could write a long autobiography just for my wounded ego, let alone the rest of me.

And Judas, where was he coming from? We know that John tells us that when Judas took the morsel, he went out…. Night had fallen. The darkness had come.

Going hard on Judas is easy sport. While he was the lynch pin in the operation of getting Jesus arrested and crucified, we should always remember that if he did not do so, we might not be sitting here

I once heard a story that in some places that Judas Iscariot is revered as a saint because at the moment of his death he understood just what he had done wrong and turned back to God in a moment of true transformation and metanoia. Who knows? I do like the sound of it although it was jarring at first and may sound bad to many.

Whatever happened with Peter, with Judas, with me or with you – its all the same. We get caught in this dyad of good or bad, right or wrong and with Jesus, it might mean just leaning into his chest to hear his heart.

I’m sweating again.

Whatever it is, the darkness does fall – it had to. It had to fall in Jerusalem on that night so long ago and it has to happen to us too.

I’m not suggesting we go headlong into the darkness on purpose and succumb to it, but that we might accept that the darkness comes and that we must stay with Jesus. It is the only way to be transformed.

At least that is what I am told. And if I return to the quote that I opened with and if I think about myself, if I think about so many people I know, if I think about the church at large, it makes perfect sense.

Jesus was not really throwing people out – he was simply pretty clear about how to follow him. The Samaritan woman, tax collectors, the woman caught in adultery, lepers, Judas and Peter himself – there are numerous characters who represent that totally not-in crowd that Our Savior was so often seen with.

And maybe that’s because he understood that you have to have a clear understanding of who you are and how God has made you. Then when the darkness falls… and it always does and more than once, it is about integrating the darkness and not just be in or out of it.

It is a kind metanoia that stretches our imaginations and our hearts to points we might not have wanted, but that we truly need. That stretch of mind, heart and body is what the cross is about.

Of course the way to do that is to lean headlong, deep into the heart of Jesus and just listen. There you will find Light and transformation – which is what Easter is about.

Night has fallen and you can go out into it or you can stay with the Lord and be transformed.

Please – lean in.

La Semana Sancta en Andalusia, en Sevilla, Espana

While I hardly ever write about it, not sure why, I could fill volumes with tales of Holy Week or La Semana Sancta, spent in the Andalusia region of southern Spain.

Do this once and it will change your life. Twice- there are not enough prayers of gratitude for it. For me anyway.

I was there for Holy Week 2001 and again in 2004.

Every city and town has processions that last all week – Sevilla having the most extravagant of them all. And part of the procession experience is to be immersed in hearing una saeta, sung from the wrought iron balcony of a Sevillan home. Las saetas have roots in Judaism and in Islam – in the complex and compelling history of that part of the world, where la convivencia once happened, albeit briefly.

I am short on time, so I will try to add to this later, but this morning, I leave you with a video of una saeta for La Esperanza Macarena in Sevilla.

God Hung Among the Thieves – With Update

Many people have asked me about the Roman Catholic Church this week. *deep sigh* Typically I do not feel embarrassed about being Catholic and I can’t say that embarrassed is the word that I would use today.

And I do not really want to write about this much, but I also have come to see that my silence may imply that I do not care or that I am at peace with things. 

I do feel angry at the larger Church for the horrible mishandling of many sexual abuse cases. In the 1990’s I had many conversations with friends who were priests who knew Rev. Thomas Doyle, O.P. Doyle, who was hardly some crazy loudmouth. He saw what was going on years back and tried to focus attention on abuse issues starting in the 80’s. None of this did anything for his once promising career in the church and the military, but he still speaks and does work on behalf of the cause of justice.

Understand that there are numerous things at work here… and none of this is meant to get anyone off the hook… The Church that you read about and the Church that is, are often two different things.

Also the voice of the USCCB on the current health care debate has been a challenge, as has been the voice of the California bishops (among others) on Prop 8 matters and of course, that most recent tragic scene of two kids being expelled from their school because their mothers are lesbians… With an Archbishop defending it. Anyone who knows me knows that I have an intention towards obedience… which means listening first. It is hard when the cognitive dissonance grows around me. Yet it is in cognitive dissonance that most life is lived, one way or the other.

I am reminded of the great men that I work with, two priests in two different parishes, who are but two of really fine men called to serve God and God’s people… and who do so with tremendous integrity and devotion, even in the most challenging circumstances.  I am reminded that church is not an institution or a building, but rather the Body of Christ, being literally re-membered, through us all.

I am not going to go on and on, although I could. Today I was reading Blue Eyed Ennis and saw this quote in her Palm Sunday post that has been on my heart all day.

“To be connected with the church is to be associated with scoundrels, warmongers, fakes, child-molesters, murderers, adulterers and hypocrites of every description. 
It also, at the same time, identifies you with saints and the finest persons of heroic soul of every time, country, race, and gender. 
To be a member of the church is to carry the mantle of both the worst sin and the finest heroism of soul because the church always looks exactly as it looked at the original crucifixion, God hung among thieves”.  – Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing

That is it for me – the very worst and the very best. That space in between that is where things happen. This is why I am not a dogmatic ideologue, this is why I can live with tremendous ambiguity. I was born of this gray space and I occupy it today, even when it is a challenge to do so.

Also –  we are all human beings. We can keep defining into smaller and smaller, self-identified groups, but at the end of the day our humanity is shared, even if it does not seem like it.

There is no other spot for me besides hanging among the thieves. I am one myself.

(I also recommend my dear friend Mike Hayes’ post from today about why he remains Catholic. I am also adding a link to Deacon Greg Kandra’s homily, a very well-written piece from Fr. James Martin, SJ at Huffington Post, and to Fr. Austin at Concord Pastor, who also writes about this today._

Leaving Lent – Entering Holy Week

The Judean Desert, November 2004, photo by me.

I wrote about Lent quite a bit at the beginning, but I have not really kept up with it. So it goes. I really wanted to focus on forgiveness this Lent and to write more about The Forgiveness Project – I told you that.

But that did not happen.

 Signs of green in the desert. My workplace, photo by me.

And suddenly – here we are! There are signs of green in the desert as we work our way to Jerusalem. We may leave the desert behind, but I can assure you, death is on the way.

And then new life.

There is a lot going on in the Church right now that says death is on the way, but even at my worst, I am pretty sure that new life will not be far behind.

The desert has been what it needed to be. I have not really moved as far as I would have liked around forgiveness. I have made some inroads, slight ones, towards reconciling some broken relationships.

However, I have astoundingly broken other ones. *sigh*

 Jerusalem, from the Mount of Olives, May 2006, photo by me.

Anyway, the desert gives way to the city. I am reminded of what a short distance it is from the Judean desert to Jerusalem and how quickly… and starkly, the landscape changes.

And I know, from experience, you can’t go to Jerusalem and leave unchanged. If it doesn’t kill you, it does transform you. Metanoia.

Now to enter Holy Week. Jerusalem, here I come.

¡Presenté! Reposar en paz, Oscar. Uno de mis héroes, un santo de la gente y un hombre de Dios.

Thirty years ago today, Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated while presiding at liturgy in San Salvador.

He was a “beacon of hope” for so many and his life was cut short by violence. Here is an account given by someone who was there when it happened.

“When he finished his sermon, he walked to the middle of the altar; at that moment, the shot rang out,” says Sister Luz Isabel, who was among the congregation at a private chapel in El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador.

Romero’s blood is on many hands however. As much as I have respect for Jimmy Carter, he too ignored the many pleas made by the Archbishop. Pope John Paul II had a deep mistrust of the liberation theology that was part of Romero’s defense of the poor. Sadly, this caused him to not really “hear” Romero who was in Rome not long before his death. Later, the Pope was seen praying at Romero’s grave and promoting Romero’s still unmet cause for sainthood. Canonized or not, Oscar Romero is a saint for many.

By 1980, amidst overarching violence, Romero wrote to President Jimmy Carter pleading with him to cease sending military aid because he wrote, “it is being used to repress my people.” The U.S. sent $1.5 million in aid every day for 12 years. His letter went unheeded. Two months later he would be assassinated.


“If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people.” - Archbishop Oscar Romero
Born August 15, 1917- Assassinated March 24, 1980

And from today’s Inward/Outward:

No one can quench the life that Christ has resurrected. Neither death nor all the banners of death and hatred raised against him and against his church can prevail. He is the victorious one! Just as he will thrive in an unending Easter, so we must accompany him in a Lent and a Holy Week of cross, sacrifice, and martyrdom. As he said, blessed are they who are not scandalized by his cross.

Lent, thus, is a call to celebrate our redemption in that difficult combination of cross and victory. Our people are well prepared to do so these days: all that surrounds us proclaims the cross. But those who have Christian faith and hope know that behind this calvary of El Salvador lies our Easter, our resurrection. That is the Christian people’s hope.

These words were spoken the week before Archbishop Romero’s assassination in El Salvador 30 years ago today, March 24, 1980.


The Same Angry Faces – The Same Chance for Peace

I don’t want to be angry all the time. And usually I am not. Sometimes anger serves us well, but constant anger is a slow burning fire that destroys from within.  I should have an honorary Ph.D. in anger at this point in my life and I am pretty clear about its seductive lure for me and its toxicity if overdone. It all boils down to the fact that everything in life is at once an enormous disappointment and yet complete bliss, all at the same time.
Yesterday I took the dog out for a walk, even though I did not feel so well. I had my iPod and decided to listen to Pema Chodron in the audiobook version of Practicing Peace in Times of War.  
It turns out to have been timely as I reflect on the health care legislation this Monday morning. Taking the Facebook temperature reveals that some folks are furious, citing constitution shredding, the end of freedom, getting in trouble for not having insurance and the destruction of children’s futures. Some folks are angry that Hyde prevailed and are also annoyed that single payer/public options did not emerge. (I would consider myself among those wanting single payer, but I lack the resolve to be so angry right now.) Lots of people hate Bart Stupak, from all sides. If I hear the words “baby” and “killer” in the same sentence again, I may have to return to anger. I wish I could be more like Scott and remain a conscientious objector in the culture wars, but I do not have his depth on that one.
BTW, I do not think that Jesus was a big, fuzzy, lovey teddy bear either. Jesus understood anger – and expressed it. Jesus understood the non-dualistic, Jesus is the great non-dualistic and I resist both the fire and brimstone and the kumbayah places that are all around me.
It exhausts me and I think about Pema talking about Jarvis talking about anger.
From a talk given by the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron, from Practicing Peace in Times of War (p. 18)
Jarvis Masters, who is a prisoner on death row, has written one of my favorite spiritual books, called Finding Freedom. In a chapter called “Angry Faces,” Jarvis has his TV on in his cell but he doesn’t have the sound on because he’s using the light of the TV to read. And every once in a while, he looks up at the screen, then yells to people down the cell block to ask what’s happening.
The first time, someone yells back, “It’s the Ku Klux Klan, Jarvis, and they’re all yelling and complaining about how it’s the blacks and the Jews who are responsible for all these problems.” About half an hour later, he yells again, “Hey, what’s happening now?” And a voice calls back, “That’s the Greenpeace folks. They’re demonstrating about the fact that the rivers are being polluted and the trees are being cut down and the animals are being hurt and our Earth is being destroyed.” Some time later, he calls out again. “Now what’s going on?” And someone says, “Oh, Jarvis, that’s the U.S. Senate and that guy who’s up there now talking, he’s blaming the other guys, the other side, the other political party, for all the financial difficulty this country is in.”
Jarvis starts laughing and he calls down, “I’ve learned something here tonight. Sometimes they’re wearing Klan outfits, sometimes they’re wearing Greenpeace outfits, sometimes they’re wearing suits and ties, but they all have the same angry faces.”

Put The Stones Down.

Yesterday I posted something about Sunday’s Gospel and great friend of the blog Tim posted the money question as a comment.

Tim’s question inspired me to write this for my church blog and to also present it here.

I do not like to get political here… In fact, I have not done so before and I really don’t want to now.

But I guess I will. The Gospel demands it.

Today we hear the Gospel of John and the story of the woman caught in adultery. We have all heard this story so many times and we have no doubt heard so many homilies about it. There is so much to ponder and to pray with.

However, we are also called to act. That always is the hard part, isn’t it?

So what about politics?

In case you have not noticed, our nation is in the midst of a ginormous health care debate, with a vote in the House coming up today. It is beyond contentious, even causing rift and division in our own Roman Catholic Church. (I am not taking a side here, I am simply pointing out that an unprecedented rupture.)

As part of this discord and disagreement, we hear from not only Catholic sisters and the USCCB, but we also hear and see so much vitriolic exchange on our television sets, computers and frequently at our own dining room tables.

It is heartbreaking.

And to go further, the rhetoric often becomes very, very ugly.

I don’t know about you, but I find that video sobering… well actually, I find it chilling.

What have we become?

It doesn’t matter what side of the health care debate you are on, when we lose our humanity we are truly lost because it means we are losing our Divinity as well.

In today’s first reading, Isaiah is very clear…

Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

God is always doing something new.


Always doing something new.


Human cruelty and judgment are as old as the hills… God is doing something new.

In the Gospel, the woman is about to be stoned. If you have not watched the short video above, maybe you should take a look. Is there a connection between the man being mocked and the woman caught in adultery?

God is always doing something new.

“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”

In the Gospel, because Jesus is present and answering the questions that were asked of him, the woman does not get stoned. Not so for the man with Parkinson’s in the video.

However, was Jesus not present at that scene too? I am going to say that I believe that Jesus was very present there. He just may have been ignored.

Maybe it is the man with Parkinson’s. Maybe it is a woman in adultery. Maybe it is your relative who has hurt or offended you. Maybe it is your boss, who eliminated your position. Maybe it is your neighbor, the one with the dog that won’t stop barking. Maybe it is a politician you loathe – be it President Obama, Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner or Eric Cantor. Maybe it is abortion providers. Maybe it is feminists. Maybe it is LGBT people. Maybe it is Hitler. Maybe it is George Bush. Maybe it is the Pope. Maybe it is Glenn Beck. Maybe it is the religious sisters who have broken with the USCCB. Maybe it is Keith Olbermann. I could go on and on.

Maybe it is your own self, as it so often is with me, who has hurt me so deeply, offended me so many times, that I can’t forgive myself or accept the forgiveness of God or others.

Whoever it is that occupies your field of vision, the field of vision where the rocks are in your hand, poised to thrown with enough force to hurt or kill… Stop for one moment and consider what is happening here.

God is doing something new, can we not perceive it?

The question to ask today, is this… can we do something new too? Can we put down those stones?

Jesus is clear about condemnation:

Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

How can we put down the stones and be part of something new?

What Springs Forth?

What springs forth here? In our first reading for this Fifth Sunday of Lent we are told this:

Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

Remember not the events of the past… God is doing something new. Now I know lots of folks who would say, “See, things have to change!” And indeed they do, but maybe not in the way that you think.

I think that what is new is that God is always trying to reach out to us and transform us. Well – that is always happening. What’s new? We might actually notice. And respond. Maybe.

If we don’t see it, feel it – well then we cannot perceive it.

And today’s Gospel? Well we know that John does not waste one single word. God’s forgiveness was always available, but that is not how people perceived it. 

“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”

And then this…

“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

I was reminded of all of this when I watched the video below, from Thursday’s Colbert show. It is both funny and not funny at once. The media is alive with this and that, who is at fault and who to blame and who is condemned, who is in and who is out.

Jesus is pretty clear – we have another chance. Go and sin no more. If you read the Gospel and think that he is just talking about adultery… read it again. He is talking about a lot of things.

Find 7 minutes or so and watch this very funny and very not funny video of Fr. James Martin on the Colbert Report. I think it is unlikely that Glen Beck will become Pope, but if he does, I’m with Jim Martin!

Happy Spring!

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Glenn Beck Attacks Social Justice – James Martin
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Health Care reform

Feast of St. Joseph – Some thoughts about inner authority, obedience and discernment

I must admit that I sure do love me some St. Joseph. St. Joseph never utters a word in Scripture, but he is known. He is called to act against his own instincts more than once and in ways that are very challenging indeed.

As a result, St. Joseph always reminds me that there is much to be known when we explore what is woven into all the ambiguity of life. I also like that he is very obedient to the law of his time, yet he is guided within in knowing when and how to respond to contradictions there. The choices of St. Joseph remind me of a quote from Isaac Hecker, founder of the Paulists (and yes, that is friend of the blog and real life, Mike Hayes in that photo!) :

“External authority without the internal life, the inward spirit, produces servility, weakness, on the part of the subject and usurpation, tyranny on the part of authority.

Internal illumination without the external criterion of authority gives birth to pride, self-sufficiency and rebellion, the destruction of legitimate authority and all government.”

The other day when I was on retreat with my co-workers (as opposed to my personal retreat last weekend) I saw the amazing image of St. Joseph that you see at the top of this post. It is not the flight to Egypt, which you might think it is. It is actually called Joseph’s Consent and refers to the Gospel of Matthew from today.

Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.

The intersection of internal authority and conscience, of hearing God’s voice from within and hearing our own is tricky business. Obedience means to listen and not just to react by rote. May we all have the discernment of St. Joseph in the dealings of our lives, today and always.