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.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Moral Life and the Trenches

A friend, an American military officer, wrote me recently:

“I've been giving classes to the men these week (all the officers and staff NCOs) in preparation for Iraq, and I keep wanting to say 'Look, this is all stuff that will save your life. But at the end of the day, it's luck that will keep you alive. Make yourself as hard a target as you can but if that IED or sniper is going to get you, it/he is going to get you.' But I can't say that. I can't have that semi-fatalistic attitude. It's not fatalistic as in ‘I want it to happen,’ but fatalistic or perhaps resigned to the inherent risks this occupation takes...

“I'm looking at Iraq, specifically what it did to (a good friend), what it could do to (another good friend), what it did to (yet another friend) and his now orphaned kids, and thinking hard. I mean, I couldn't imagine doing anything other than what I am doing now. But at the same time, it's frightening what it has done to a snippet of my generation. I look at this war somewhat as Kurt Vonnegut looked at Dresden: 'a tower of smoke and flame to commemorate the rage and heartbreak of so many who had had their lives warped or ruined by the indescribable greed and vanity and cruelty....'

“My job is to motivate, control, and command (my men) in combat. That's another bizarre thing. As Robert E. Lee's character says in The Killer Angels,‘To be a good soldier you must love the army. But to be a good officer you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love. This is…a very hard thing to do. No other profession requires it. That is one reason why there are so few good officers, although there are many good men.’ Alas and alack, I suppose, as the saying goes: you signed up for this."

I share this with you all, with his permission, because my friend’s cry is clearsighted, close up, courageous, and principled - without cynicism, despair, or romance. He fixes his gaze on elevated things beyond personal convenience or gain, even as his sight engages all that is physical, concrete and real. This is what the struggle for the moral life looks like, and only good can come of it.

Best of all, my friend’s gut experience of what he doesn’t want to call “fatalism” in his first paragraph opens the door to the mystical self-revelation of God to the one needing relief and respite. “There are no atheists in the trenches.” God in the person of Jesus Christ came looking for me in my exile. And so God will for all of us.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Church a Man Can Love

The cover of the April 3, 2007 The Christian Century announces an article entitled “Why Men Say No to Church,” a review of Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. Murrow, according to Lillian Daniel, the reviewer and senior minister at the First Congregational Church (UCC) in Glen Ellyn, IL, thinks that church culture in general and worship in particular have been feminized. In Daniel’s characterization, “A chick-flick atmosphere prevails on Sunday mornings, complete with flowers, ferns and soft music, all geared toward women’s desires for safety, security, and harmonious relationships.”

Murrow opposes this new reality: “Women must humble themselves, pray and allow the men of the church to lead the body toward an adventure…Will you allow men to take risks, dream big, and push the envelope with your local church? God made men for adventure, achievement, and challenge, and if they can’t find those things in church, they’re going to find them somewhere else.” “Somewhere else,” according to Daniel, seems to be the movies, the local bar, sports events, TV, and perhaps worse.

So, what, precisely, characterizes Murrow’s remasculinzed church? Much depends, I think, on what Murrow calls the “adventure” God made men for. Do I seek adventure because in finding it I feel powerful, in-control, authoritative, self-satisfied? Or, is the goal outside myself – justice done, people liberated, human flourishing sparked?

Church at its best – religion at its best – embodies as its central premise that God calls his followers to move outside themselves in service, a move ironically that brings the follower back to herself in affirmation and fullness of life. My fear is that the men whom Murrow defends seek “adventure” that makes them feel powerful, in-control, authoritative, and so on.

Who would Murrow’s manly men hold up us their heroes and role models? John Wayne in The Quiet Man? The English kings that conquered the Welsh in the 13th century, the Irish in the 15th Century, and the Scots in the 18th Century? The English kings who tried to conquer and control French for three hundred years for no reason other than conquest?

I keep asking myself, What was accomplished by all that warfare? Was their a value outside and beyond the men involved, in particular, the leaders involved?

And, I ask myself, why should women and the feminine be disparaged because they – I – see this fighting as having no value because the fighting destroys much and produces little. Or, more precisely, the fighting produces nothing beyond the self-satisfaction of the leaders and destroys life and livelihood of those who are the raw material of the fighting.

Have Murrow and his men seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ? Is what happens to Jesus of Nazareth no less masculine a fate than, say, William Wallace’s, portrayed in Braveheart by Mel Gibson? Jesus lived a life of great risk. Was this not enough risk for today’s manly men? Was Jesus a girlie-man who defended no more than values of housekeeping and family?

Jesus’ life cost him the persecution Gibson portrays in his movie, and Jesus’ goal was not his own sense of being a manly man, a love of excitement and thrill. Its goal was human liberation, fullness of life, and complete joy.

The reviewer notes that “Murrow is right to point out that when our top prayer request is ‘God, keep us safe. Keep our kids safe. Watch over us and protect us,’ we are not being faithful to the fullness of the gospel and the cost of discipleship…In Murrow’s world it’s not only the men who are slighted when the church becomes too safe.” She concludes the review: “Surely there are ways of being a godly man that do not involve kicking ass. The cross stands out as one.”

Friday, April 13, 2007

Please Vote Today!

A note from Adoro Te Devote on her blog today told us all to get out the vote. Bloggers' Choice Awards offers voting possibilities in many categories. In the religion category, one of the top vote getters is an atheist's blog! So vote today, and, as we say in Chicago, vote often! Click either on the above title or the following:

And visit for a wonderful read. If we all had faith like that!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

In Him Our Wounds are Made Glorious

Once he has lit and blessed the fire to begin the Easter vigil, the presider marks the Pascal Candle with the sign of the cross, then places five grains of incense in the candle, saying,

“By his holy and glorious wounds may Christ our Lord guard us and keep us.”

He then lights the candle from the fire and says,

“May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.”

As Christ rises in glory, the Father makes his wounds holy and glorious. As Christ helps us rise into new life from the places in our lives where we are entombed, he makes our wounds holy and glorious. The readings of the Easter Vigil help us remember that God has loved us and all humanity from the Creation, from Abraham, through the great Jewish prophets, to Jesus of Nazareth, now the Risen Christ in glory. The reality of the divine love becomes explicit when that love makes our wounds holy and glorious.

A friend of mine, a person who loves the Lord and who knows the Lord’s love for him, has suffered deep inner turbulence from childhood misfortunes. Just recently, though, he began feeling the Lord calling him into healing. And, right on schedule, in fact a little ahead of schedule, on Holy Saturday, he began to feel inexpressible joy. “I’m so happy!” he kept saying to me, waving his arms, smiling ecstatically, and jumping into the air.

Medieval tradition believed that during the three days in the tomb, Jesus descended into hell, took Adam and Eve by the hand, and led them and the other dead into heaven. This tradition, called the Harrowing of Hell, built on Matthew’s Gospel: at Jesus’ death, rocks split apart, graves opened and the dead rose.

My friend rose from a grave on Holy Saturday. His childhood wounds still marked his psyche and soul, but now the Master Healer had drained away their toxic hurt and healed them. His wounds were made holy and glorious, and he enjoys new life.

“Light and life to all he brings,
Ris’n with healing in his wings…
Born to raise us from the earth,
Born to give us second birth…”

I too have experienced this rising to new life, this profound inner healing. And so I say to you, “Alleluia! He is truly risen!”

May the blessings of the Risen Christ be on you and those you love!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Mourning a Friend

There is nothing so sad as Good Friday night. The Memorial of Our Lord’s Passion is over, and we are alone. The Western church, though its tradition is already rich, needs a burial service for Jesus.

I attended such a service some years ago with the Community of the Beatitudes, who live in a former Cistercian monastery in Mortain, a small town in the Normandy region of France. The community’s ample stone church and cloister, the Abbeye Blanche, reflect the austere late-12th Century French style. Those who live here, perhaps 60 men and women, some married, some single, some priests, some nuns, dedicate their lives to perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and service to the poor.

On the Good Friday night of my visit, we shared an ascetic meal of tasteless broth during which our only conversation was to tell our faith stories. Then the community invited us guests to join them in the “salle capitulaire” below the main altar. Originally the monks met in this formal room, sitting in stone benches, still present, built into the walls. Slender pillars and arches supporting the structure above broke the sightlines of the spacious “salle,” though the room housed us easily. A stone sarcophagus stood with dignity in the center of the room, its carvings now indistinct from age.

The March night was cold, the room was dark, and we shivered despite our coats as we sat in rows of chairs around the sarcophagus. After a time in silence, candles were lit, and the music began, a chant in medieval style, in French, the leader singing, the rest responding. A pair of community members approached the sarcophagus, covering it with a heavy linen cloth which they smoothed carefully and lovingly. From time to time other community members approached the sarcophagus as the singing continued. Some sprinkled fresh rose petals, both red and white, on the cloth. Some sprinkled rose water. Then more singing, readings in French, and more singing until the cloth had disappeared under the petals.

The music was mournful, thought sweet with our grieving. The brightness of the rose petals and the fragrance of rose water gave weak relief to the cold and the darkness of what might well have been a tomb. After a while the singing ceased, and we remained in silence until we each felt the desire to return to our rooms. The cold became unbearable at one point, so I left numbly, but feeling a great sense of joy that we had mourned the death of our friend and Lord.

For more on Abbeye Blanche and the community, visit The Beatitudes. Then click on "Europe," then "France."

The Tabernacle is Empty

How stark is the empty tabernacle after the Holy Thursday mass! What a brilliant symbol of what we honor: the one who was our hope has been betrayed, and we who want to be hopeful could well be lost.

At Gesu Parish in Detroit, a Jesuit parish, the ornate brass cube of the tabernacle – weighty in appearance and symbolism - sits in an opening in the wrought iron screen behind the main altar. On the other side of screen and tabernacle is the daily mass chapel, and in this chapel too the same tabernacle sits behind the altar. A pair of the tabernacle’s brass doors faces the main altar, and an opposite pair face the daily mass altar. Following the Holy Thursday mass both pairs of doors are opened, the sanctuary lamps extinguished, and the altars stripped.

Seeing the empty chamber of a tabernacle tears at my gut. But when I first looked through the tabernacle at Gesu Parish – and saw nothing but the same world I inhabit on this side – the sight doubled, tripled, quadrupled the symbol’s wrenching power.

This is the genius of Catholicism: to create symbols that embody meaning beyond words. This is why I love being Catholic. At a glance the voided tabernacle says, The man we loved as friend and Lord is taken from us by those who hate and revile him. And we are left here alone, with only our fears to aggravate us to discouragement and despair. At the level of symbol, we don’t know and can’t know the end of the story.

So, what can we do? We wait in silence, in prayer, and at midnight must leave the church. Then go to bed, hoping yet fearing tomorrow. We know God has been good to us, and this man said he was one with the God who loved us. Will this God act on our behalf?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A New Kind of Love

My mother (left) died of bone cancer in February, 1979. I worked in Washington, DC at the time and used to visit her and my father (below with my step-mother) in New Jersey once a month. On one visit I found my father in the kitchen making breakfast for my mother – soft boiled eggs, with a little butter and salt – a major comfort food in my family. She was in bed upstairs, and he asked if I would feed her.

I said I would and took the dish of eggs upstairs. As I sat down on her bed, we began to talk as we always did. We had a wonderful relationship, and I was always happy to see her.

But on this day something unexpected happened. It happened when I held out the first spoonful of eggs for her to eat.

A realization hit us – no words, but an experience as we looked into one another’s eyes:
I, the adult, was feeding my own mother, the adult who had given birth to me and had fed me for years. I was feeding her because she was too weak to feed herself.

This unsettling experience called something new out of me and her, a new kind of love, a new way of loving. The call disturbed me at first, perhaps her too, but it deepened and enriched the love we had built up over the 31 or so years of my life.

This was the disciples’ experience at the Last Supper when Jesus washed their feet. Him washing their feet! The symbol and the reality shocked the disciples, because it represented a breadth and depth of care, of compassion, of service they had never seen before. And the shock registered deeply: Peter cried out, “You will never wash my feet!” and we can just see him jumping back in horror.

An expression of deep love can shock all of us, because we feel that “…, I am unworthy to receive you,…” But this is the love that liberates – when Jesus offers it to us, and when we offer it to one another. And so, it is good and even necessary that we take him up on his offer: “…only say the word, and I shall be healed.”

On this Holy Thursday, the Lord wants to show us a new kind of love. We all have the choice to accept it, this most precious gift, and then share it with one another. Receiving it and giving it heals us and saves us. This is the Good News.

(The photos: my mother on the left, nine years before she died; my father and step-mother, several years after my mother died.)