Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reflection on the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Prayer and Hearts formed by Priority, Persistence, and Partnership with God Are Always Answered

In Jesus' teaching on prayer in today's Gospel, three critical elements can be derived that are insightful for prayer and human life. When Jesus is asked by his disciples to teach them how to pray, he begins with the Our Father. The version of the Our Father handed on to us by Luke is a trimmed down version which cuts right to the chase: "Father, hallowed by your name, your Kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test." In this prayer one can discern a certain priority: holiness of God, the coming of God's Kingdom, the necessity of the basics of life, forgiveness, and being delivered from the final test (presumably despair, especially in the face of death). Prayer, it would seem, is a matter of priority. Jesus goes on to exhort the disciples to "ask, seek, and knock." From this we can derive that prayer also requires persistence. Finally, Jesus states something quite extraordinary at the end of his teaching: everyone will be given the Spirit who asks for it. At the end of the day, authentic prayer is meant to create a dynamic partnership with God in, through, and with the Spirit.

Prayer and hearts molded in right priority, persistence, and partnership are always answered or responded to by God. We'll get to why this is the case in a moment. First let's mention something about God's responsiveness. Right-smack-dab-in-the-middle of today's Gospel teaching about prayer is an interesting parable about a neighbor who makes an inconvenient visit at midnight looking for bread. At the end of the parable Jesus tells his hearers that the owner of the house will respond to this request if nothing more than because of the persistence of the neighbor. At first glance, therefore, the lesson seems to be persistence. However, according to scripture scholar William Barclay, the lesson is not persistence nor that one must bang on the doors of heaven to get God to respond! Barclay states that the lesson here is about how responsive God is to our prayer, especially when it issues from right priority, persistence, and partnership.

Barclay notes that to "get the point" of the parable, one must understand some basics about the layout of the ancient Palestinian house. The bolt that secured the door was very large and difficult to put in place. The sleeping area was also not too terribly large and the family often slept together for warmth. Hence, to wake up a neighbor in the middle of the night and request something meant disturbing the entire family. The point of the parable is that if the owner of the house will eventually be worn down and go to such lengths to deliver three loaves of bread, how much more will God go to great lengths to respond to our prayer and deliver the Holy Spirit to those who request it.

Finally, why does God always respond to hearts and prayers formed in right priority, persistence, and partnership? Very simply because such hearts and prayers do not look for intervention from above, but movement from within. In other words, when our hearts are filled with the Spirit, our prayer goes from requests that require a simple "yes" or "no" answer to prayer that aims for nothing more than to know God's supportive presence and that longs only for unity and communion with God and others.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reflection on the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Called to Dynamic Communion with Christ Through Prayerful Acceptance

Saint Paul has left the Church a treasure trove of profound theological and spiritual insights. His Letter to the Romans, believed to be the final letter he composed, still challenges theologians and scripture scholars to this day because of it's depth. Beneath the surface of the letters is revealed a dynamic and transformative communion with the Risen Lord. Paul became so closely bonded to Christ that he says in one letter "it is no longer I who live, but Christ." In another letter he remarks, "I bear in my body the wounds of the Lord." In today's reading from the letter to the Colossians he states something even more dramatic, stunning, and almost scandalous: "I am filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ."

If we really mull over these words, we can't help but arrive at the question, "what could possibly be lacking in the sufferings of Christ? After all, aren't we taught that Christ offered a perfect sacrifice upon the Cross?" Christian theology and our liturgy has focused so intently on the perfect aspect of the Lord's sacrifice that it has overlooked what is lacking and what is ongoing with regard to this offering. Certainly, Christ offered a perfect sacrifice for the remission or forgiveness of sin. But what is lacking and ongoing in this offering is our direct participation in the Lord's passion. Like Paul, we are called to regard our suffering as united to the Lord's - especially when this suffering comes as a result of serving others or bearing in our lives the values of the Gospel. In this way, our suffering becomes suffused with meaning and becomes a source of redemption for ourselves and others. It also becomes a doorway to deepened communion with Christ through the Holy Spirit. However, what is absolutely critical to uniting our suffering to Christ's and experiencing deepened communion is prayerful acceptance.

An example and icon of prayerful acceptance is Mary in today's Gospel. William Barclay, a renowned scripture scholar and author notes that this story takes place on the "journey to Jerusalem." Jesus is on his way to embrace his destiny. The storm clouds are gathering over Jerusalem and many of his followers are likely doing their best to either dissuade him or deny the disturbing word's that Jesus is sharing with them regarding his passion. Barclay states that what Jesus is in need of right now is quiet, understanding companionship and not a lot of fuss. Mary is able to prayerfully accept the "one thing that is necessary" and Martha, through her frenetic activity, cannot. Through prayerful acceptance, Mary's connection and communion with Jesus is deepened.

I don't know about you, but I for one identify more with Martha! When I am disturbed or faced with my own suffering I find that I often busy myself to the point of distraction, conveniently overlooking the angst that is there. However, prayerful acceptance means acknowledging all of what makes up our lives, including the angst, brokenness, failures, failed and strained relationships, and allowing them to be drawn into the life of Christ through prayer and worship. When we do this we discover, like Paul, that we bear in our body the very wounds of the Lord and make up in our lives what is lacking in the suffering of Christ. In so many words, we discover that we do not bear our suffering alone but that the Risen Lord bears it as well in, with, and through us.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Community Gardens and Care for Creation (C4C) Garden in Full Bloom!

The Community Gardens and Care for Creation (C4C) garden are in full bloom at St. Bernardine's Monastery! Despite the fact that the late blight fungus was discovered in the gardens earlier this spring, all of the vegetables seem to be growing quite nicely thanks to the summer heat. Now we just need a bit more rain! For more information on the C4C project, please see our website (the C4C project is in the "About" us section). Special thanks to Cathy Schwartz and Robin Magee-Kroft for doing such a nice job with the C4C flower garden! Pat, TOR

Monday, July 12, 2010

Praying with the Canticle of Creatures

“Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God”
St. John Damascene).

After my first year in Religious vows, I am continuing to understand more and more the importance of prayer. I am also continuing to "experiment" with different prayer styles in order to deepen and enliven my relationship with God. Last summer, following my profession of first vows, I started to pray more with art, particularly through creating art. Now, I am not, in any stretch of the imagination, an "artist". I cannot draw, paint, or sculpt. But I do enjoy things that involve strategy and imagination. So, I started to make collages from various pictures and images that I take myself or find.

Below is a collage that I made to visually reflect the Canticle of Creatures by St. Francis of Assisi along with my reflections on the symbolism of the images that I used. I make these collages primarily for myself and for my own prayer life. However, I do not mind sharing them with anyone that might find them beneficial to their own prayer life. - Bro. Jeffrey, T.O.R.

Canticle of Creatures Collage[1]

(click on image to enlarge)

Canticle of Creatures (by St. Francis of Assisi)

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honor, and all blessing,
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no human is worthy to mention Your name.

Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor;
and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the
stars, in heaven You formed them clear and precious and

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every
kind of weather,
through whom You give sustenance to Your

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces various fruit with colored flowers
and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon
for Your love, and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily
Death, from whom no one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most
holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.


“While the sun, moon and stars, wind, water, fire, and earth may be seen as instruments of praise or as reasons for praise, praising them also implies praising the God who created them and acknowledging that they are symbols of their Creator.”[2]

Brother Sun: Brother Sun is represented by the image of the sun in the top left corner.

Sister Moon: Sister Moon is represented by the image of the moon in the top right corner.

Stars: The stars are represented by an image of the Milky Way galaxy which is superimposed over a background satellite image of the Earth.

Brother Wind: Brother Wind is represented by a light breeze that is blowing the camp fire and carrying away the dandelion seeds on the left side of the collage.

Sister Water: Sister Water is represented by the lake at the bottom of the collage. The water is superimposed over the continent of Antarctica.

Brother Fire: Brother Fire is represented by the camp fire to the left of Francis.

Sister Mother Earth: Sister Mother Earth is represented by a satellite image of the Earth in the month of October (October 4th is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi).

Those who give pardon for God's love; those who endure in peace: Those who give pardon for God's love and those who endure in peace are symbolized by lack of human made political/country borders in the background image of the world.

Sister Bodily Death: Sister Bodily Death is represented by the skull at the base of the vine to the right of Francis. Growing from the bottom of the skull is a green plant and a shoot with three leaves reaching up to the heavens, specifically, Jesus. The green shoot symbolizes our bodily resurrection.

God the Father: God of the Father is represented by an image of the hand of God from Michelangelo's Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. God the Father’s hand is reaching down toward Francis's outstretched hand and is reminiscent of the posture between God and Adam in Michelangelo's work. Jesus is the New Adam and Francis is the Alter Christus, the other Christ, “a man who passionately sought Christ” and “was entirely conformed to Him”.[3] The hand as a symbol for God the Father also represents the anthropomorphic[4] depiction of God as a potter and gardener in the Old Testament scriptures especially the Yahwist creation story in Genesis. “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. And God planted a garden in Eden” (Gen 2:7-8).[5] “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa 64:8). “I am going to... pluck up what I have planted--that is the whole land” (Jer 45:4). The image of the hand is translucent representing that creation reveals God, the Creator. However, the image of Jesus is more visible than the image of God the Father symbolizing that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).

Jesus: Jesus is represented by an image of the resurrected Christ from a stained glass window. The face is illuminated by the sun shining through the window symbolizing that Jesus is “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12). The imagery of Jesus as light reflects Francis' insight that the sun bears a likeness of the Most High One (verse 4) and his use of the sun as “an image and metaphor of Christ”.[6] The image of Jesus is blended into the background symbolizing that Jesus participates with creation through His human nature, for “the Word became flesh and lived among us” (Jn 1:14); and He is our brother, for “Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (Heb 2:11). The image of Jesus is positioned between Francis and God the Father symbolizing that “no one comes to the Father except through [Jesus]” (Jn 14:6).

Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit is represented by a flame of white fire on top of Francis’ head. “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:3-4). The Holy Spirit gives Francis, who is not formally trained in theology, the grace and revelation to preach the Gospel and to understand that God is revealed through His creatures.

St. Francis: St. Francis is represented by an image of Francis taken from a stained glass window at St. Bernadine Monastery, the Mother House of the Franciscan Friars Third Order Regular, Province of the Immaculate Conception. Francis is preaching to the birds and directing them to Jesus.

Birds: Many stories portray Francis preaching to animals. He literally followed Jesus' instruction to “go into the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). While birds represented the common person and the poor in Medieval artwork, the birds in the collage represent all of us who continue to be inspired and taught by Francis. There are two birds representing the two genders of humanity. “So God created humankind in His Image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27).

Vine: The vine on which the birds are perched symbolizes our life, of which, we are totally dependant upon God. Jesus instructs, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). The vine’s growth from the ground represents our physical birth and growth. At the end of life, the vine, like ourselves, will return to the ground; “all go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again” (Ecc 3:20). Hence, the skull, Sister Bodily Death, is placed at the base of the vine. The three leaves growing from the top of the vine have a twofold symbolism. First, they represent our spiritual rebirth when we are Baptized in the name of the Blessed Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Second, the three leaves symbolize the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love which “dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity”.[7] They allow us to act as God's children and to be found in God's most holy will so that the second death shall do us no harm. The four flowers on the vine symbolize the four cardinal virtues: prudence (right reason), justice, temperance (self-control), and fortitude (courage). “If anyone loves righteousness, [Wisdom's] labors are virtues; for she teaches self-control and prudence, justice and courage; nothing in life is more profitable for mortals than these” (Wis 8:7).

Dandelion: The dandelion on the left side of the collage has three flower stalks in different stages of development (flower, seed, and empty stalk) symbolizing the different stages of life. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecc 3:1-2). “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). Also, there are seven dandelion seeds symbolizing the completeness and goodness of creation. They are floating towards Jesus demonstrating that all creation comes from Christ and He will “gather up all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10). He is “the firstborn of all creation; for in Him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible... all things have been created through Him and for Him. He Himself is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:15-17).

Light and Darkness: For Francis, darkness stands for sin while light stands for grace.[8] The collage depicts Francis preaching in a dark night scene recounting Francis' life of preaching conversion and penance to a world of sinfulness. In contrast to the darkness, Francis is illuminated by the light and grace of God which he metaphorically symbolizes in the Canticle through creatures of light: sun, moon, stars, and fire.

[1] The images of the sun and earth are from NASA/courtesy of

[2] Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Vol. 1 - The Saint . Eds. Regis J. Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., J.A. Wayne Hellman, O.F.M. Conv., and William J. Short, O.F.M. New York: New City Press, 1999. p. 113.

[3] General Audience On St. Bonaventure: “All His Thought Was Profoundly Christocentric”. H.H. Benedict XVI. March 3, 2010.

[4] Definition: described or thought of as having a human form or human attributes.

[5] All scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

[6] Vettori, Alessandro. Poets of Divine Love. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004). p. 85.

[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church. paragraph 1812.

[8] Vettori, p. 83.