The Good News

Welcome to The Good News Blogspot! The Good News is real and alive in my own life. Jesus has fulfilled in my life His promise of fuller and more abundant life (John 15), a quality of life I could not have created for myself. I invite you to share experiences with me so we can all grow into the life He offers us all.

My Photo

Catholic by call, Jesuit by nature, a preacher/spiritual conversation partner by choice. Learning about getting older, learning to live in the present moment, one day at a time. Learning to let go and laugh.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Detour to The Dakota: A Tourist Does New York

I committed an act of tourism today. Of course, I had already hit tourist spots: Times Square, Broadway, and so on. But so far I had avoided “tourism,” meaning “rushing from thing to thing, so I can ‘see’ them and check them off the list.”

The day was glorious – brilliant sun, sparkling sky, the colors rich and exciting. I was walking through Central Park, having in mind the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, which I love. Both are children of Frederick Law Olmsted, both seeming to be Nature at her most natural, though both products of much creativity and labor.

Then I overheard a passerby say to her companions, “That’s The Dakota,” and she pointed to an elegant rooftop over the canopy of trees. The Dakota! I have never been a Beatles fan nor followed John’s post-Beatle career. But even I know The Dakota.

The Siren words had been spoken, and - suddenly, unexpectedly - I headed for The Dakota. And once I arrived, I started photographing the deep archway in which John was shot and killed – like a tourist! Why was I doing this? Was I committing “tourism”?

Aristotle said that in knowing something, the observer becomes united with it. And as I come to know, I grow, because the knowing-in-union entails absorbing, distilling, weighing, and – one hopes – appreciating, valuing, and perhaps understanding the thing known. By coming to this place and so to know the place where John was killed, I became united not only with the place but also with the tragedy, this union enriching my life with its purpureal image of crazed attachment leading to crazed killing.

This unifying dynamic of knowing allows us some experience of the mysteries of human existence beyond the realm of “answers” in any scientific or data-based sense. Standing in front of The Dakota, I still could not answer questions about why someone would kill John. Standing there failed to answer questions about talent snuffed out, creative moments lost forever, and their product now never available for human enjoyment.

But standing there invited me to continue to live - and perhaps live with greater depth – in the questions and so come in time to Wisdom. Standing in front of The Dakota, I experienced the questions yet again, in all their unanswerableness. Experiencing the void of unanswerableness evokes from within us an insistent call to God to fill the void and assuage our grief. There is an answer, and it is God’s answer, and it could fill the void. But God’s answer is remote, unavailable, unknowable.

So I stand there to realize yet again that as we come to know and love God and so be in union with him (per Aristotle), we can experience that God gives love in lieu of an answer. Or, better, that God gives divine love to fill the void of loss and unanswerable questions and asks us to offer that love to help fill one another’s voids and grief.

In Catholic tradition pilgrims visit a shrine precisely to “know” the saint in the Aristotelian sense and to be filled with new measures of God’s love through the saint. My sense of being guided mystically to The Dakota was a call to pilgrimage to receive God’s love yet again, not in the presence of a Catholic saint, but in the presence of one killed mindlessly, needlessly and so whose murder reminds us all of our need for God’s love in our lives and in our world.

Visiting a shrine isn’t tourism, and it certainly isn’t “tourism.” The problem with “tourism” is that rushing from place to place prevents Aristotelian union of the knower and the known. Richness in life comes from union, not completed To Do lists. Richness in life comes in particular from union with God who fills our voids. Fortunately, - and this is the Good News – we can experience God’s answering love not only at places of tragedy, but also in surroundings of external beauty that feed us, in our daily prayer, in our friendships, and in the sacramental life of the church. Today John helped me touch the depth of tragedy even as Central Park in the beautiful sun helped me touch the heights. God filled everything I saw and experienced today, and so my life gained a richness I could not have given myself. Good News indeed!

New York City: October 21, 2006

Is There Anything Out There to Believe In?

If “religion” is the mode by which humans engage God and so begin to know something of the divine life, of moral human life, of human happiness, and so on, then the big question is, Is there someone out there with whom to engage?

A philosophical camp, called anti-realism, thinks that God’s existence is located in a community’s belief that God exists. Belief creates existence. Believers believe God exists, therefore God exists, because in the hearts and minds of believers God exists.

Conversely, Roman Catholicism believes that God actually exists as the Divine Creator, the Triune God, the Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans. God is really “out there” and, perhaps more importantly, God is “in here,” in believers’ hearts, in the concrete reality of our lives, and in the midst of the community gathered in prayer. The Catholic teachings on the Incarnation, the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the healing and transformative power of the sacraments, the authority of the ministerial priesthood, and the royal priesthood of all believers are grounded in the reality of God’s existence. And these teachings become a reality in time and space through God’s actual authority, power, and activity in Creation.

Moreover, the great saints go before us as exemplars to show that we can experience God in our lives. St Ignatius of Loyola records in his Autobiography that he came to know the reality of God through experiences of consolation during his convalescence at Loyola and in the subsequent months just outside Manresa. This consolation Ignatius felt – the experience of being “inflamed with love of (his) Creator and Lord…,” of feeling “all interior joy that invites and attracts to what is heavenly…by filling (the soul) with peace and quiet in its Creator and Lord” – was God’s dynamic self-revelation (Spiritual Exercises, 316). In fact, Ignatius modeled the pattern and flow of the Exercises on these experiences. In the same way my own conversion came in an experience of consolation in prayer. (See the posting “Why I Am Catholic,” October 18, 2006).

This revelation is Trinitarian: Christ present in the power of the Holy Spirit revealing the Father as love. This revelation gives rise to consolation in daily life and leads us to the fuller and more abundant life that only God – a God who really exists “out there” and “in here” – can give, a God of the living and the dead.

Mozart and Maelstrom: Mary and Martha II

I was having another Martha afternoon. (See my posting A Mary Moment on a Martha Afternoon - October 10, 2006.) I was in New York City walking along Columbus Avenue on my way to Lincoln Center for a concert, and my external life was wonderful. But my mind persisted in worrying. The worry made my stomach churn and risked overwhelming my excitement at being in New York City for the first time in 11 years – and on my way to a concert that would be wonderful.

Alice Tully Hall’s oval shape, warmly-lit wood-paneled walls and raked seats bring Mozart-sized orchestras and audiences together in satisfying intimacy. When the orchestra started playing, I nearly gasped at the richness yet clarity of the sound, the precision of the ensemble, and the music itself: two Mozart piano concertos (No. 9 and No. 27) and Symphony No. 40.

But the worries roiling my psyche would not rest, and I faced irretrievable loss: Mozart sucked into maelstrom. From experience I knew I had to focus on the beauty around me: the hall, the sound, and the music. So I listened more intently, more deeply and with ever greater focus and determination.

What won the day – finally – was Beauty. Not just the beauty of the hall, the sound, and the music, though they were exquisitely beautiful. This beauty – small “b” – is the derivative beauty of Creation made in God’s image that can be so satisfying. But what also and in particular saved me was Beauty – capital “B” – the fundamental part of God’s being by which the beautiful Creation sprang into being. The Holy Spirit carries God’s Beauty into Creation as the motive force sustaining the beautiful things of Creation.

This Holy Spirit of God – which is God and which is love - flowed into me as I opened myself – in desperation – to the Spirit’s help. Beauty, flowing to me through the beauty of the hall, the sound and the music, rescued me from worry.

This was what Mary was doing at Jesus’ feet. She chose “the better part,” that is, she chose God’s Holy Spirit of Beauty, of Truth, of Liberation, of Salvation rather than allowing herself to be dragged into the maelstrom. In inviting God’s Holy Spirit into herself she girded herself against whatever worried or constrained or hurt her.

God’s Holy Spirit saves us from what constrains us or hurts us, because by means of the Son’s Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection the Father broke the power of sin and death, raising Jesus of Nazareth into new life as the Risen Christ. Good News, indeed, for us all!

New York City: October 22, 2006

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Good News of Our Lord Jesus Christ

1. God exists. God created all things and saw that they were good.

2. God created us in God’s own image and works actively with us in all creation to build the Kingdom. The Incarnation was the full, complete and particular manifestation of God to creation in creation, a manifestation of the love of the Creator for the Created.

3. God confers on us life itself and a fundamental, inalienable dignity, which is the foundation of all moral behavior, that is, how we must treat ourselves, one another and God our Creator.

4. God confers meaning, significance, and value on our lives. We are unable to confer, create, or obtain these qualities for ourselves, God being their sole source. When we know that God has given us these qualities, we can come to live in peace and joy. Without these qualities, we cannot find such peace and joy (cf “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you” St Augustine).

5. God reveals Godself to us in our individual prayer, in community prayer, in the sacraments (notably the Eucharist), and in the concrete events of our lives. God always takes the initiative in inviting us into relationship, since God’s love is prevenient – it always comes first. God communicates with each one of us in terms that are clearest and most meaningful to us individually, and his central message is invitation to relationship.

6. God’s self-revelation to us invites us into a loving relationship: “I call you friends…love me as I have loved you” (John 15). This love constitutes the foundation and opportunity for fuller and more abundant life as well as serving as a cushion against whatever challenges and difficulties our lives hold for us.

7. God invites us into a state of life – married, committed life, celibate in religious or clerical life, or single. God also invites us into a life’s work (or works), which may be our career in the marketplace, in the home, or both. Or, it may be in vowed life in the church. This work is our vocation. God offers this vocation as an invitation, not a requirement, because God always respects our free will.

8. As part of our vocation God gives us gifts (for teaching, preaching, healing, care giving, leading, parenting, and so on) by which to serve God, the church, our families, communities, and the world (I Corinthians 12 – 14.). God asks all people to express a special concern for the poor. We contribute to the Building of the Kingdom of God as we live out our vocation.

9. As we undertake the responsibilities of our vocation in our state of life, the forces of evil – envy, anger, resentment, prejudice, lust, small-mindedness, self-centeredness, deceit, and so on – begin to rise in opposition to our efforts. These forces often lead us to worry, to be fearful, to be hurt and discouraged. This opposition may make us suffer, and we may find our work at an impasse. Like Jesus of Nazareth and in partnership with him, we have our times in the Garden, we stand accused and humiliated before the authorities, and we are crucified before all the people.

10. When we face hostility in living out our vocation, God gives us peace, hope and courage in the face of our suffering and so gives our suffering meaning. The peace, hope and courage God gives us is the rock upon which we can stand, the foundation that allows us to face hostility and to continue the work of our vocation. As we continue to commit ourselves to the Father, he strengthens us. Our model and assurance is the Father who gave Jesus hope and courage in the Garden of Gethsemane, empowering Jesus to face his Passion and Death, as Jesus continued to commit himself to the Father’s work (Luke 22).

11. When we face opposition in living out our vocation, God “makes a way out of no way” through the obstacles and the hurt, so that the opposition – possibly exacerbated by our own sinfulness and weakness - fails to halt the Building of the Kingdom.

12. We are able to feel hopeful and courageous as we face hostility and opposition because through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, Jesus of Nazareth in partnership with the Father broke the power of sin and death to hurt us ultimately and to prevent the Building of the Kingdom. “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life…” In the Eucharist Jesus’ body is broken and his blood poured out yet again, the power of sin and death broken yet again for us, and the Father’s love and new life sent out among his people through descent yet again of the Holy Spirit.

13. God offers us forgiveness for our own sins and healing of the pain we experience through the world’s sin visited upon us. “Lord, I am unworthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.” God’s love poured into our relationship with him dissolves our sin and our pain. God heals our memories, heals the current pain of our past hurts. God also curbs the power of addictive behaviors. We can therefore come to live increasingly in a new freedom and peacefulness with ourselves and others. “By your cross and resurrection you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.”

14. As we live out our vocation, God blesses us with richness of life, with opportunities we cannot give ourselves, opportunities that include challenges (Mark 10:29ff).

15. God leads us through physical death into newer and fuller union with God in the next life. Death cannot harm us. In fact, it is the entry point into the deepest possible love and the fullness of life (Revelation 21).

This is the Good News of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Good News fulfills God’s promise to us, proclaimed by Jesus during his public ministry and described by Jesus in the Gospel of John as fuller and more abundant life (John 10) and complete joy (John 15).

Why I Am Catholic

I am Catholic because I found God in the Roman Catholic Church in the person of Jesus Christ, and I continue to find God there daily. To my surprise once I found God, I discovered that God had been looking for me. It just took me a while to learn God’s vocabulary and so to see how God had been inviting me into relationship for a long time. Since then God has given me a life of hope, joy, healing and peace – a new way of living and working - that I could never have created for myself.

It was not always so. From the time I was 22 in 1969 to August, 1986 when I was 39, I attended no church, looked to no god, sought nothing “religious,” though I lived what I think was a moral life of honesty, generosity and service. But by August, 1986 my life had become burdened and empty. On one day that August I experienced a moment of panic, a conviction that I was hopelessly lost, that I could see no way forward nor any hope for future happiness. I know in retrospect that this was an unconscious cry to God.

A series of twists and turns over the next 20 months took me through meditation, bits of the New Age, and an unexpected foray into Catholicism. One day in April, 1988 I found myself in St Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, DC praying to Jesus: “If you’re there, do something!” Intuitions and unexplainable stirrings in me, especially during the Mass, had been suggesting that something very real but unknown was going on – and I wanted to know. At that moment I was filled with what St Ignatius calls consolation, “an interior movement…aroused in the soul by which it is inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord…an interior joy that invites and attracts to what is heavenly…by filling it with peace and quiet in its Creator and Lord” (The Spiritual Exercises, 316).

A short time later on the basis of this experience Fr John Gigrich, a priest of St Matthew’s Cathedral, confirmed me in a side chapel on the Cathedral’s upper floor, just inside the archway at the center of the accompanying photo to the left of the organ pipes.

And so I am Catholic because I found God in the Roman Catholic Church, in its sacraments, and in its people. And I continue to find not only God there, but I also find my vocation, my life’s work. I find healing and peace, and I find protection, comfort, and courage when doing my life’s work brings challenges, obstacles, and hurt. I am experiencing the Good News of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

I invite you to seek God, if you do not already know God, and to be surprised as I was that God has actually been looking for you all this time.

But, you might ask, Why should I look for God at all? Why should I be religious? Excellent questions, but questions for another blog.

October 18, 2006 St Mary’s Hall, Boston College

Click here to see more pictures of St. Matthew's Cathedral.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Dry Prayer? Ask! Ask for Him Alone!

People frequently ask me what they can do to give their prayer lives more richness or to feel a deeper sense of faith or to experience God more fully in their lives. They complain of prayer that is dry or of a daily routine that doesn’t seem to help them live out their faith. My own experience has taught me that to jumpstart my prayer or enliven my sense of God in the events of my life I need to make a new and yet more explicit commitment to the Lord and to ask him with new ardor and love to be in my life.

St. Ignatius of Loyola begins the Spiritual Exercises with a statement that summarizes our lives in Christ. Ignatius based this statement – the First Principle and Foundation - on his experience of discovering Christ in his own life. David Fleming, SJ has translated Ignatius’ 16th Century prose into modern English. I’ve rewritten Flemings’ text as a prayer to Jesus. You might find praying it helpful in inviting the Lord more deeply into your own life.

The First Principle and Foundation as I speak it to Jesus

The goal of my life is to live with you, Jesus, forever.

You, Jesus, who love me, gave me life.

My own response of love to you

allows your life to flow into me without limit.

All the things in this world are your gifts to me,

presented to me so that I can know you more easily

and make a return of love to you more readily.

As a result you ask me to appreciate and use all your gifts to me

insofar as they help me develop as a loving person.

But if any of these gifts become the center of my life,

they displace you and so hinder my growth toward my goal,

namely, to live with you forever.

In everyday life, then, I choose to hold myself in balance

before all these created gifts,

insofar as I have a choice and am not bound by some obligation.

I choose not to fix my desires on health or sickness,

wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.

For everything has the potential of calling forth in me

a deeper response to your life in me.

My only desire and my one choice should be this:

to want and choose what better leads

to your deepening your life in me.

Original text by St Ignatius of Loyola

Original paraphrase of Ignatius’s text by David L. Fleming, SJ

Additional paraphrase by Ben Hawley, SJ

A Mary Moment in a Martha Afternoon

I was having a terrible afternoon. My bank was assessing me a $32 penalty for a 61 cent overdraft – my fault to be sure, but the “fault” of a long-standing customer. Companies charging my credit card for services I no longer wanted made me fight my way through phone menu after phone menu before finding a human being to speak with me. My budget refused to be reconciled. Worst of all, this trying, exhausting work began to generate in me a sense that my life had no meaning apart from this work, that I was doomed to do this depressing work forever, and that my frustration marked me as a failure at the business of life.

It was a Martha afternoon (Luke 10:38ff). She had begun to see herself as no more than the tasks of her daily life, their frustrating routine draining her of joy and peace. Jesus described her accurately as being “anxious… about many things.” But his invitation to her was not to leave undone this necessary work of life, work that in fact was a benefit to herself, to him, and to Mary. Instead, he invited her to undertake her work as part of relationship, in this case with her sister Mary and in particular with him. When she can feel herself part of his peace and joy, he says, then the difficult work of life – and even the hurts and challenges of life – cannot overwhelm her nor discourage her. He will give her peace and will give meaning to her work, despite her frustrations and suffering.

I found - on my Martha afternoon – that, as I was able to pause at my desk in the midst of the clamor, I could feel that deeper peace cushioning my frustration. The peace reminded me that the challenges I faced could not negate the value of my life, because my life comes from him. Even better was to leave my desk at the end of the afternoon to preside at our community’s daily Mass where – surprise! – the Gospel of the day was the story of Mary and Martha. We gathered to participate once again in Jesus’ victory over sin and death. This victory places sin and death, which include frustration and discouragement, under his feet and gives us hope and freedom. “By your cross and resurrection you have set us free! You are the savior of the world!” He filled me with his peace as I invited him into my afternoon’s frustration, so that I could enjoy the fullness of life that only he can give.

St Mary’s Hall, Boston College, Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Amish Show Us the Way

“But as for me, I know that my Vindicator lives, and that he will at last stand upon the earth…” Job 19:21ff

“On entering any house, first say,‘Peace to this house.’ If there is a peaceable man there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will come back to you.” Luke 10:1ff

On a bright sunny afternoon we stopped our car – a Jesuit friend and I - at the edge of an ample field where a dozen Amish men and boys were cutting the glowing hay. As we stood there watching them work under the broad blue sky, we were filled with a sense of peace. This peace wasn’t the relaxed aftermath of a good meal nor the laziness of a day off. It was a deep assurance of a fundamental goodness resident in that place. The Amish hay cutters were peaceable men (and boys), and in this Pennsylvania Dutch farm country their peace came to rest on us.

We have all seen this peace on display recently as the Amish reacted to an anguished and desperate non-Amish man’s attack on their community. A New York Times reporter wrote that “Throughout this ordeal, the Amish,…have been the object of fascination not just because of their old-fashioned dress…, but because of their stoicism, faith and capacity for forgiveness.” The reporter quotes a non-Amish neighbor and friend: “Any outsider would have said, ‘What’s wrong with these calm people?’ I mean, we were crying, we were praying, but we weren’t hysterical.” (The New York Times, Thursday, October 5, 2006)

“Hysteria” is the natural reaction of those who have no interior life to counter or cushion a tragedy. Hysteria is a clanging of a rock thrown harshly into an empty garbage can. The Amish reaction, the reaction of faith to tragedy, is the same rock falling on a bed of pine needles. The falling rock creates damage, hurt and disruption. But the pine needles remain part of a rich, fertile soil that continues to give life.

Faith is God’s gift to us, and as we grow in faith, we grow in interior peace. Faith after all is the belief, the conviction that God’s power is greater than the power of sin and death. As we grow in faith, we learn to live more confidently in the assurance - based on experience - that this divine power will envelop the difficult and challenging events of our lives. These events may retain their hurtfulness, but God’s peace counterbalances and cushions the pain. We come to feel comforted in our grief.

“Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life, Lord Jesus, come in glory!” we Catholics say at Mass when the priest asks us to “proclaim the mystery of our faith.” In His Passion, Death and Resurrection Jesus of Nazareth in partnership with the Father broke the power of sin and death to hurt us ultimately. He is the Vindicator who will stand upon the earth and give us mercy and peace.

Texts taken from Thursday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, October 5, 2006

Thursday, October 12, 2006

His Vest Said, Blind Runner

A blind man ran past me today. He wore a cotton vest over his plain-colored T shirt – Blind Runner, the vest said in florescent yellow. He carried a white cane, not tapping it on the ground but holding it point-downward ahead of him.

The blind man ran past me today - from behind on the winding drive, then disappearing around a bend ahead. A quarter of an hour later he reappeared, passing by me again, still running his own confident path. He ran past men and women, walking and talking their way along, he as confident as they. He passed children too on bicycles, as easily as I might, if I ran as easily as he.

How, I wondered, did he become a blind man who runs? Once he must have been a blind man who did not run. Then, he discovered that people ran, that these people, called runners, wore special shoes and special clothing that they bought somewhere. And that must have appealed to him too. But did his friends and family say to him, “Blind people can’t run. How can you run?”

Deep inside him he must have carried on the debate: “Blind people don’t run; but I could run. I want to run. But can I run?” Maybe he went to an athletic goods store and said, “I want to run. I want running shoes and running clothes.” Did the salespeople say to him, “You are blind. Blind people can’t run.” Or did they just think it, while staring at the blind man who wanted to run? Did they sell him the running shoes and clothes?

When he finally said to himself, “I will run!” what did he do next?

What was he thinking when he put on his running shoes and running clothes for the first time? Was the debate still going on inside him: “Blind people don’t run; but I could run, and I have the shoes and the clothes. So now I will run.”

“I will consider how God works and labors for me in all creatures upon the face of the earth, that is, he conducts himself as one who labors…I will consider all blessing and gifts as descended from above. Thus, my limited power comes from the supreme and infinite power above…” (The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola, paragraphs 236, 237.)

God was surely acting in the blind man who ran past me today. Perhaps the man knew God’s action explicitly, or perhaps the man felt only what he thought was his own desire and determination. Nonetheless, God acted, God conducted himself as one who labors, and the blind man ran.

October 9, 2006: The Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts

Why this blogspot?

I write as a convert to Roman Catholicism (1988) and late entrant into the Society of Jesus (1991) and relatively newly ordained priest (2000). In the mid-1980s I faced a life crisis as I was about to turn 40. I had committed myself to life and career as our world understands these things, and everything had failed me. The Lord revealed himself to me and invited me into relationship with Him and into priesthood in His Church. Consequently, I write as a Roman Catholic and live as a Roman Catholic, receiving the Lord not only in personal prayer, but in the sacraments and fellowship of the Church.

I hope this blogspot will help you in your journey as a Catholic disciple of the Lord, and as well if you follow Him in a different Christian denomination. It may be that this blogspot might help you if you are a faithful follower of a non-Christian tradition. In particular, I hope these reflections will help you if you have chosen to be on leave-of-absence from the Church or if you have chosen to pursue no religious path in this part of your life.

“We are pilgrims on a journey,/We are friends along the road./We are here to help each other/Walk the mile and share the load.” Others have helped me. I hope I can help you. Please let me hear from you.