Sunday, February 28, 2010

2nd Sunday of Lent (Gen. 15:5-12, 17-18; Phil. 3:20-4:1; Lk. 9:28b-36): The "Transfiguring" Space Between

If one were to read or hear today's readings from the Third Sunday in Lent with a critical ear or eye, one might arrive at an apparent contradiction. In the first reading from Genesis, God makes a covenant with Abram and promises to bestow upon him and his descendants a large tract of land as a perpetual heritage. In a subsequent covenant with Moses, God again promises to lead the Israelites into a "land flowing with milk and honey." In the book of Leviticus there are a number of laws laid down by God regarding the possession of the land and care for it (c.f., Lev. 25). Without a doubt, the land and this world figured prominently in the Jewish faith. In the second reading from Paul's letter to the Philippians, Paul declares to his readers that "our citizenship is in heaven." The apparent contradiction is this: how did the Judeo-Christian covenant, beginning with Abram, go from being a "land based" covenant to a "heaven based" covenant? Another, more practical way of posing the question might be "should we be committed to this world or to heaven?" To grapple with this difficulty, one must begin with the principle that "God does not go back on God's Word". Therefore, one must hold that the promises made to Abram are not annulled in the Christian covenant but, rather, reach their fulfillment. In looking for a key to "unlock" a possible answer to this dilemma, we need look no further than today's Gospel reading of the Transfiguration.

Prior to Jesus' Transfiguration on the mount in Luke, Jesus had been a virtual dynamo: preaching, teaching, healing, and constantly communing with the people who came to him or whom he encountered. There is no question that he was resolutely committed to persons of this world and the transformation of this world (hence, his proclamation that the Kingdom of God is "at hand"). However, in the transfiguration event, the prophets Moses and Elijah meet with Jesus and speak to him of his "exodus" or death. In other words, they reveal to Jesus how he is to depart this world. I know, I know, for some this is too much of a stretch! Some might be thinking, since Jesus is the "son of God" he already knew what was going to happen. However, Jesus was also the "son of Man" or, fully human, and therefore, could not have possessed a blueprint of his entire life. This would definitively rule out his being fully human. Besides this, when heavenly beings arrive on the scene in Luke they come as messengers. After the Transfiguration, Jesus puts his faith in the God who alone can ensure the continuation of his life and ministry after his "exodus". In a sense, he "becomes a citizen of heaven." This gives us the key to answering the question of whether we are to be committed to this world or the next: like Jesus, we are to commit ourselves to this world and the possibility of it being transformed while placing our final hope on the God who awaits us after our own exodus. Simply put, our own transfiguration occurs in the tense "space between" our commitment to this life and our hope in the next. Pat, TOR

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Lenten Season: Sharing our story, breaking the bread, and knowing our rising from the dead

Lent is a time for sharing in the great stories of salvation history and allowing our own stories to be drawn into this larger drama! Today's first reading from Mass (Est. 12: 14-16, 23-25) is a great example of someone who models for us how a personal story can transcend an individual and become a part of the great drama of salvation. Queen Esther finds herself and her jewish people between a rock and a hard place and appeals to the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph" for deliverance. She speaks of how she has heard the stories of her fathers about God's marvelous deeds and calls out to God as an "orphan." What Esther is doing, in essence, is pulling at God's heartstrings! She knows well that the great stories she has heard about God describe God as one who has a deep and abiding concern for "the alien, the widow, and the orphan." What Esther is also doing that should command our attention is modeling for us how we should approach the Lenten Season.

A great deal of emphasis is often placed on Lent as a time of penance, fasting, sanctification, and reconciliation. However, while all of this is true, what may be of even greater importance is participation. In other words, we enter into this great season of Lent year in and year out not to merely carry out acts of penance and reconciliation but to allow the "tributaries" of our lives to be more drawn into the "sea of salvation history". Like Esther, we are called to so identify ourselves with scriptural personas (i.e., the orphan, prophets, psalmists, Jesus, Apostles, etc...) that their great stories will become our own stories. Through the drawing of our stories into salvation history, new and deeper modes of communion with God, others, and all creation are realized. There's a wonderful refrain from a Christian hymn that perhaps sums up best what the Lenten Season is about: "We Come to Share Our Stories, We Come to Break the Bread, We Come to Know Our Rising From the Dead." Through the uniting of our stories to salvation history this Lenten Season, may all of us come to know more and more our rising from the dead through Christ, crucified and risen. Pat, TOR

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Decorating the Care for Creation (C4C) Center

In discussing how we wanted to decorate the Care for Creation Center at St. Bernadine's Monastery in Hollidaysburg, PA, we decided on art that reflected the natural beauty and culture of Central Pennsylvania. The Care for Creation Project has inspired a number of participants to donate such artwork or to create it. In the above pictures, two painted gourds are displayed and held by the artist, Cathy Schwartz (if you look carefully, you can see that one of the gourds is decorated in a Franciscan Habit!). These gourds take nearly two years to cure and are hand painted. They are wonderful additions to the C4C Center and we are greatly appreciative of Cathy's contribution and for all who have helped to decorate the C4C Center. Pat, TOR

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Vocation Homily: "Breaking Out of the Familiar and Dreaming the Dream of God."

This past weekend I had the opportunity to preach and preside at the Sunday Masses for St. James the Greater Parish in Charlestown, West Virginia. To my mind, the readings for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time lent themselves to a reflection on the theme of vocation in general and a vocation to religious life and Priesthood in particular. The reading from the book of the prophet Jeremiah has God declaring that "before I formed you in the womb I knew you." This suggests that Jeremiah (and all persons by extension) are known in the bosom of God's creative imagination and heart long before they begin gestating in the womb. If we allow our imaginations to mull over such a prospect, it suggests that God, in a sense, "dreams" us into being and has a dream for our lives. Note carefully that a "dream" is much different than a "blueprint." Some Christians might believe that God has in mind all the things that God would like for us to do down to the minutest detail. The problem is that such a notion doesn't gel well with the idea that humans are endowed with freedom. On the contrary, when God "dreams" our lives into being, God, in a sense, "infuses" our being with creative potential and than partners with us in creatively "unlocking" this potential to live as fruitfully as possible for the world, others, and ourselves. Very basically, when persons strive to "unlock" their potential so as to serve others and God, this is what is meant by "vocation."

God's call and dream for all persons is that they share in the "something greater" of God's plan for their lives and for the world. This implies opening ourselves more and more to the dream that God has for the world and "breaking out" of the often times constraining, familiar, and limiting vision of what society thinks constitutes "greatness." A contemporary example of someone who recently "broke out" of the limiting vision of society in order to share in the dream of God is a young man named Grant Desme. Last week Yahoo! news announced that Grant set aside a potential future as a Major League Baseball player to pursue the Catholic Priesthood (,215238). In his own words, he felt called to "something more." Is God calling you or someone you know in a similar way? Pat, TOR

Monday, February 1, 2010

Province Chapter

This past week our community held its quadrennial Chapter deliberations at Priest Field Pastoral Center in West Virginia. At this meeting a new Provincial Council was installed (see pictures above) and the community laid the groundwork for the next four years. It was a very good experience and gave ample evidence to the fact that we are alive and well and forging ahead with hope and vision as we continue to address the changing needs of the Church and the world! May God bless our newly installed Provincial, Fr. Patrick Quinn, T.O.R., and the Provincial Council as well! Pat, TOR