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.

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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, November 02, 2006

They Eat Roadkill

In captivity they eat roadkill and dried rat bones. In the wild they eat carcasses of deer, antelope and small mammals killed in avalanches – but only after foxes, wolves, eagles and other vultures have eaten the flesh. The bearded vulture is immense: adults range from 12 to 16 pounds, the size of a Thanksgiving turkey with a 10 foot wingspan. A native of the highest reaches of Alpine Europe, many bearded vultures never mate, preferring lives of solitude. Those who mate do so at five years of age or older, late by bird standards. Their diet is 90% bones, the African hyena being the only other animal with this restricted diet. To digest bones their stomach bile registers nearly 1 on the pH scale, and the vulture is able to swallow whole vertebral bones of cattle.

God had the option to create any sort of bird he wanted. So, why create the bearded vulture? “How odd of God/To chose…’ the bearded vulture.

We can never know the mind of God. Yet, it is very clear that these vultures hold pole position in a line of raptors that include foxes, wolves, and eagles, all of whom clean the environment of carrion. The bearded vulture, consuming mostly bones, completes the cleaning process. In God’s creation nothing is wasted. “Energy may neither be created nor destroyed. Therefore the sum of all the energies in the system is a constant,” says the law of the conservation of energy.

In the rural town in West Africa where I lived as a Peace Corps Volunteer, there was little litter. Everything was used: old tin cans, plastic bottles, paper bags, everything. Very poor people have very little, and what little they have they use, and nothing is wasted.

Mother Teresa’s fundamental insight, the foundation of her world-wide ministry was that the homeless remain fully human, children of God, and worthy of respect and care, despite their poverty, misery, age, and disease. No human being is wasted. All human beings are equally precious in God’s eyes.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth. It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.(Isaiah 55:10-11)

So God asks us to recognize this fundamental dynamic in Creation and to live with greater comfort in the reality that God is in charge. God is bringing Creation into new life in him.

(Information on the bearded vulture came from an article “Mighty Vulture Back from Near Extinction,” The Boston Globe, October 31, 2005.)

And God Shall Wipe Away All Tears

Remember me as you pass by.

As you are now, so once was I.

I am now, so you must be.

Prepare for death and follow me.

From an ancient tombstone in a north Jersey cemetery, I no longer remember where.

The ghostly lines speak without reproach or dire warning, but with a voice of welcome and the matter of fact reality of death. The lines speak of our need to prepare, not in fear but in joyful expectation of a new world of relief, healing, rest and renewal, unknown in this life.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals…He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1, 3, 4, the latter two verses quoting Ezekiel 37:27)

My parents are buried in the Bay Street Cemetery in Glens Falls, New York, companions of Hawleys back to Amos and Achsah, who died in 1825 and 1832 respectively. My mother’s parents are buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts as are my father’s uncle and aunt.

I visit both sites whenever I can. I go as if drawn in a welcoming way and afterwards am always glad to have made the visit. The visits tell me that the dead are now at rest. Having known their struggles, I sense their relief. I know that their “mourning and crying and pain” have passed away.

Consecrated in 1831, the 175-acre Mount Auburn Cemetery was the first in America to be landscaped to make it a place of natural beauty: hills, glens, ponds, trees of many varieties (each tagged with date of planting, some 150 years ago) give the cemetery the feel of a park, an arboretum, a bird sanctuary, a place to which the living can retreat from their busy lives and be refreshed. Intended for the living as well as the dead, Mount Auburn early on became a popular site for outings, its focal point being the granite Washington Tower, built in 1852 on the highest spot in the cemetery, offering a panoramic view of Boston. Today one commonly encounters people in Mount Auburn walking alone or with friends, taking photos, watching birds, and – best of all – being renewed in the midst of the living and the dead.

This seems so right to me, that we the living should find peace and recreation – re-creation – among the dead. We might miss them, but how greatly they merit the relief and peace they now enjoy. And, I expect, how greatly they hope that we can experience some of their peace in our own lives. God shall wipe away all tears, and the process begins in this life as soon as we make the choice to invite God into our lives. As we seek God’s active participation in our lives, we grow into the “fuller and more abundant life” that only God can give, in this life and in the next.

(Monuments, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"The Devil Made Me Do It!"

“Oh, really! Did he have a tail and horns, a black body suit and a pitchfork?!”

No, evil doesn’t look like that, and evil doesn’t make us do things. But evil exists, and we must learn to identify it accurately. Identifying evil, which St Paul calls testing the spirits and which St Ignatius calls discernment of spirits, requires practice, experience and sometimes the formal gift of discernment from God (see I Corinthians 12).

St. Ignatius of Loyola often refers to evil as the “enemy of our human nature.” Our human nature is oriented to God and to a desire for the fuller and more abundant life that only God can give. But, our human nature has weaknesses by which we can be deceived, and we must be on our guard.

To identify evil, remember that evil’s mode of deceit is to suggest to us that the false is true and the true false. So, for example: I tend to worry about the future. “This bad thing has happened before. It’s going to happen again!” I think to myself, and the evil voice encourages me to continue thinking this way and to worrying more.

Worrying isn’t planning. Planning entails weighing costs and benefits, risks and probabilities. This is a necessary rational process. But it is not worrying, which is always unproductive. “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Jesus asks in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:27).

Or, I make a major decision about my life, to enter the Society of Jesus, for example, and in a short time my human nature starts to second guess my decision. The evil voice, always alert, encourages this second guessing, and soon I am worried and fearful. Or, I begin a new job or a new initiative in my current job. Then my human nature starts to worry that I have made a mistake, and the evil voice, always alert, encourages my anxieties. St Ignatius warns us against evil’s “fallacious reasoning” of just this type. For a humorous account but very accurate account of this process, read CSLewis’ The Screwtape Letters.

Or, much worse, some people who are worried or fearful turn away from God to seek relief in pornography, gambling, alcohol or drug use, and the evil voice encourages their choice.

What saves us always is God’s presence in our lives to help us unmask this evil and protect ourselves from it. Be attentive to the events of your day. Pray the Our Father with new fervor each day, “…deliver us from evil.” Pray to St Michael the Archangel to “defend us in battle…”

What saves us ultimately is that the Father has broken the power of evil through the Death and Resurrection of his son Jesus of Nazareth, now the Risen Christ who sits at his right hand. But we must cooperate with this saving power: learn to recognize evil and invite the Lord to repudiate its appearance in our lives.

Jesus Invites You into New Relationship

Several postings ago I offered the text of a prayer for those who complain that their personal prayer feels dry or that their daily routine that doesn’t seem to help them live out their faith. The text gives you words for prayer, speaking to Jesus. It is equally important, though, that we hear Jesus speak to us. The following revises the earlier text, inviting you to ask Jesus to help you hear him say these things to you.

The text of this and the earlier posting come from St. Ignatius of Loyola as the statement initiating the Spiritual Exercises. This statement – the First Principle and Foundation - summarizes the dynamic of our lives in Christ. Ignatius based this statement 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. I hope you find it helpful.

First Principle and Foundation as Jesus speaks it to you

The goal of your life, (fill in your name), is to live with me, Jesus, forever.
I, Jesus, who love you, gave you life.
Your own response of love to me
allows my life to flow into you without limit.

All the things in this world are my gifts to you,
presented to you so that you can know me more easily
and make a return of love to me more readily.

As a result please appreciate and use all my gifts to you
insofar as they help you develop as a loving person.
But if any of these gifts become the center of your life,
they displace me and so hinder your growth toward your goal,
namely, to live with me forever.

In everyday life, then, please hold yourself in balance
before all these created gifts,
insofar as you have a choice and are not bound by some obligation.

Do not fix your 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 you
a deeper response to your life in me.

Your only desire and your one choice should be this:
to want and choose what better leads to my deepening my life in you.

Original text by St Ignatius of Loyola
Original paraphrase of Ignatius’s text by David L. Fleming, SJ
Additional paraphrase by Ben Hawley, SJ