Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Jesus calls us friends. Just think about that!
Think about what it means to really be a friend.
We might have a little trouble reclaiming the true meaning in today’s culture. After all, in our world, you can be “friends” with thousands of people on Facebook, many of whom you might not even know.
On the other hand, if you have been blessed to have really good friends in your life, consider what created that friendship: love, honesty, acceptance, sacrifice, forgiveness, reverence, trust, fidelity, humor.
This is the kind of relationship to which Jesus invites each one of us – where He is part of us and we of Him..
If we listen to Jesus in today’s Gospel, we’ll see clearly what makes us a Friend of God:
We love God to the point of laying down our lives.
We obey God’s command to love unselfishly and inclusively.
We seek ever to know God more fully.
We acknowledge God’s love as a blessing and gift, not a right.
We act on our responsibility to share the love we have received.
Pope Francis has said that the saints are “Friends of God” because they loved with all their hearts. But he stresses that:
“They are like us; they are like each of us: They are people who, before reaching the glory of heaven, lived a normal life, with joys and griefs, struggles and hopes….When they recognized the love of God, they followed him with all their heart, without conditions and hypocrisies.”
Let’s spend some prayer time in thanksgiving for God’s gift of friendship, asking how we might learn to be an even better friend, to love God even more.
Poetry: Neighbor God – Rainer Maria Rilke
You, neighbor God, if sometimes in the night I rouse you with loud knocking, I do so only because I seldom hear you breathe and know: you are alone. And should you need a drink, no one is there to reach it to you, groping in the dark. Always I hearken. Give but a small sign. I am quite near.
Between us there is but a narrow wall, and by sheer chance; for it would take merely a call from your lips or from mine to break it down, and that without a sound.
The wall is builded of your images.
They stand before you hiding you like names. And when the light within me blazes high that in my inmost soul I know you by, the radiance is squandered on their frames.
And then my senses, which too soon grow lame, exiled from you, must go their homeless ways.
Music: Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Acts reveals the tensions in the Church between Jewish and Gentile believers. For the Jews, the ritual of circumcision was a key expression of covenantal faith. Some felt it was necessary for Gentile converts to undergo the ritual in order to become Christians.
Like all start-ups, the Church had many friction points which required decisions about what was essential and what was only customary. Those customs being thousands of years old, the decisions become even harder. Readings later this week describe more conflict points.
Nevertheless, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and despite the venerability of custom, the nascent Church was able embrace a new reality rooted in Christ’s inclusive love.
These kinds of philosophical and theological tugs-of-war have accompanied the Church down through history. Some of them have helped reveal deeper insights into our faith. But, as in all human communities, some of the tugs have been motivated by fear, greed, power, and other selfish interests.
Watching how the early Church handles their particular situation may give us hints about how we should handle them today.
In our Gospel, Jesus makes clear what is essential and inviolable to the faith:
I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.
I think “Remain” is a beautiful word. In the dictionary, it will be defined as ‘stay’. But it connotes much more to me. Re–main asks us not just to choose to stay with Jesus, but to choose it over and over – like reenlist, renew, recommit.
Remain means to endure with the Beloved Vine through every season – winter’s cold and summer’s heat, and all that’s in between.
Remain means “Love Me, stay beside me, even when others fall away.”
May we remain.
Poetry: The Vine – Malcolm Guite
John 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
How might it feel to be part of the vine? Not just to see the vineyard from afar Or even pluck the clusters, press the wine, But to be grafted in, to feel the stir Of inward sap that rises from our root, Himself deep planted in the ground of Love, To feel a leaf unfold a tender shoot, As tendrils curled unfurl, as branches give A little to the swelling of the grape, In gradual perfection, round and full, To bear within oneself the joy and hope Of God’s good vintage, till it’s ripe and whole. What might it mean to bide and to abide In such rich love as makes the poor heart glad?
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Acts relates the story of Matthias and his inclusion as one of the Twelve. But besides Matthias, there was another man considered just as worthy of appointment, Justus. The lot did not fall on him and we never hear of him again.
So if there were two equally good men why didn’t they just widen the circle to thirteen Apostles?
This appointment of the twelfth apostle reflects the importance of the number twelve throughout Scripture. It is a number which signifies perfection, heritage, and strength.
The Book of Genesis states there were twelve sons of Jacob and those twelve sons formed the twelve tribes of Israel. The New Testament tells us that Jesus had twelve apostles. According to the Book of Revelation, the kingdom of God has twelve gates guarded by twelve angels.
So Matthias, the Twelfth, brought the circle of Apostles to wholeness.
In our Gospel, Jesus tells us that he chooses us all to be his friends. It is a friendship built on imitation of him, proven by keeping his commandments. His commandments are clear:
Love others as I have loved you
Jesus tells us that if we love like that our joy will be complete. May we be blessed by that holy joy.
Meditation: Instead of poetry and music today, a lovely meditation reflective of today’s Gospel, “No Longer Do I Call You Servants”
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Paul nearly completes his sermon in Pisidian Antioch. In this section, he is very clear about the failure of “those in Jerusalem” to recognize the Messiah when He finally came.
Paul points out, however, that this very failure was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.
…by condemning him they fulfilled the oracles of the prophets that are read sabbath after sabbath.
These resistant religious leaders had spent their entire lives sifting through the Law and the Prophets looking for their savior. But when he finally stood in their midst, they were blind to him. Where had they gone wrong?
In our Gospel, we have Thomas who is a little blinded himself. We know from other passages that Thomas is someone who likes to see for himself. Faith comes a bit hard for him. In today’s Gospel, Thomas tells Jesus he needs a map in order to follow him.
Can’t you just see Jesus looking at him, a little dumbfounded. Thomas has been with Jesus through it all – the sermons, the loaves and fishes, the walking on water, the raising of Lazarus. But he still doesn’t see with that comfortable trust which frees the heart to give itself completely to God.
Hey, I get it, don’t you! Jesus is prepping his disciples for the coming days of his Passion and Death. This is going to be the hardest time of all their lives. Fear, uncertainty, and impending danger hang in the air like a steel fog. Thomas is scared and confused.
We’ve all been there. Maybe we’re there right now.
Jesus is saying the same thing to us as he said to Thomas:
Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus is the Way. Let us find him in our daily prayer, scripture reading, and acts of mercy. Let us give him any fear, confusion or doubt blocking us from moving forward in faith.
Poetry: The Way Under the Way – Mark Nepo
For all that has been written, for all that has been read, we are led to this instant where one of us will speak and one of us will listen, as if no one has ever placed an oar into that water.
It doesn’t matter how we come to this. We may jump to it or be worn to it. Because of great pain. Or a sudden raw feeling that this is all very real. It may happen in a parking lot when we break the eggs in the rain. Or watching each other in our grief.
But here we will come. With very little left in the way.
When we meet like this, I may not have the words, so let me say it now: Nothing compares to the sensation of being alive in the company of another. It is God breathing on the embers of our soul.
Stripped of causes and plans and things to strive for, I have discovered everything I could need or ask for is right here— in flawed abundance.
We cannot eliminate hunger, but we can feed each other. We cannot eliminate loneliness, but we can hold each other. We cannot eliminate pain, but we can live a life of compassion.
Ultimately, we are small living things awakened in the stream, not gods who carve out rivers.
Like human fish, we are asked to experience meaning in the life that moves through the gill of our heart.
There is nothing to do and nowhere to go. Accepting this, we can do everything and go anywhere.
Music: Jesus Is the Way – written by Walter Hawkins, sung here by the Morgan State Choir (lyrics below).
(The Morgan State University Choir is one of the nation’s most prestigious university choral ensembles and was led for more than three decades by the late Dr. Nathan Carter, celebrated conductor, composer, and arranger. While classical, gospel, and contemporary popular music comprise the majority of the choir’s repertoire, the choir is noted for its emphasis on preserving the heritage of the spiritual, especially in the historic practices of performance.)
Jesus Christ Is The Way
When I think about the hour Then I know what I must do When I think about, what God, has done for me Then I will open up my heart To everyone I see, and say Jesus Christ is the way!
No one knows the day nor the hour Maybe morn, night or noon But just rest assured Time will be no more He is coming (I know he’s coming) soon Coming soon
And I will open up my heart To everyone I see And say Jesus Christ is the way Then I will open up my heart To everyone I see And say Jesus Christ is the way And say Jesus Christ is the way
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, and for much of this and next week, we travel with Paul on his first missionary journey. Acts 13 and 14 make for some interesting historical reading, revealing how the early Church took form, how leadership emerged, and how various congregations sparked the spread of the Gospel.
These passages also offer at least two important thoughts to enrich our faith and spiritual life:
They recount a compact synthesis of Salvation History, the story of God’s faithfulness to Israel and, through Jesus Christ, to us. It is a truly marvelous story. Praying with it can make us amazed and grateful that we are now a living part of its continuing grace.
They clearly establish the Christian life as a missionary life – one meant to receive but also to share the Good News of the Gospel.
In our Gospel, Jesus, by washing the feet of his companions, clearly demonstrates the key characteristic of a true missionary disciple — sacrificial love rendered in humble service.
Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.
John 13: 16-17
Jesus commissions his disciples to imitate his love. He promises to be present with them as they minister in his name:
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.
Our service of the Gospel may take us on exciting journeys like Paul. Or we may be missionaries of prayer and charity, like Thérèse of Lisieux who, though she never left her cloister, was declared Patroness of the Missions by Pope Pius XI.
“O Jesus, my Love, my Life … I would like to travel over the whole earth to preach Your Name and to plant Your glorious Cross on infidel soil. But O my Beloved, one mission alone would not be sufficient for me. I would want to preach the Gospel on all five continents simultaneously and even to the most remote isles. I would be a missionary, not for a few years only but from the beginning of creation until the consummation of the ages.”
Thérèse of Lisieux – Story of a Soul
In our prayer today, perhaps we might ask Paul, Barnabas, Thérèse or another of our favorite saints to help us see more clearly our own call to carry the mission in our lives.
Poetry: HERE I WILL STAY – Sister Carol Piette, M.M., also known as Sister Carla, entered Maryknoll Sisters in 1958. She was sent to Chile, where she was a teacher and a pastoral care worker and continued to serve the poor during Chile’s military coup in 1973. In 1980 she was assigned to El Salvador to accompany internal refugees who were fleeing violence. Piette died on August 24, 1980 while crossing a flooded river in an attempt to help a father return to his family. “Here I Will Stay” was published in her biography, Vessel of Clay: The Inspirational Journey of Sister Carla (2010), by Jacqueline Hansen Maggiore. (from https://vocationnetwork.org/en/articles/show/599-word-as-witness-to-the-word)
The Lord has guided me so far And in His guidance, He has up and dropped me here, at this time and in this place of history. To search for and to find Him; Not somewhere else, But here.
And so HERE I WILL STAY, Until I have found that broken Lord, in all His forms, And in all His various pieces, Until I have completely bound-up His wounds and covered His whole Body, His People, with the rich oil of gladness.
And when that has been done, He will up and drop me again— Either into His Promised Kingdom, or into the midst Of another jigsaw puzzle of His broken Body, His hurting People.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings have a global, even universal, feel to them. By the power of God, the Apostles begin to go out and preach to the whole world.
Acts tells us that:
… the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, completing their fasting and prayer, they laid hands on them and sent them off.
Our Responsorial Psalm gives us this universal prayer:
May God have pity on us and bless us; may he let his face shine upon us. So may your way be known upon earth; among all nations, your salvation.
And Jesus assures us in the Gospel:
I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.
For our prayer, we might want to place before God’s Radiance all those places in the world, and within ourselves, which long for Light. The whole world shares at least one dark shadow in the global pandemic. That shadow has emphasized some of the tenebrous corners in our own hearts where fear, loneliness, loss, and doubt cower and now want to creep out in our required isolation.
And, spread across our world, there are so many other darknesses famished for Light! War, gun violence, gender violence, economic oppression, a global sacrilegious inhumanity to other human beings.
Together, let us give all of these shadows to God’s power as we pray. May that power release us and all our sisters and brothers into its glorious resplendence. Like the Apostles, may a brilliant, steady energy go out from our hearts, convinced of and empowered by the Light of the Gospel.
Music: Two lovely pieces of music suggested themselves today. I hope you enjoy them.
Eric Whitaker – Lux Aurumque (“Light and Gold”) is a choral composition in one movement. It is a Christmas piece based on a Latin poem of the same name.
Lux, Calida gravisque pura velut aurum Et canunt angeli molliter modo natum.
Light, warm and heavy as pure gold and angels sing softly to the new-born babe. Edward Esch, b.1970 (Translated to Latin by Charles Anthony Silvestri)
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our three readings make one thing very clear – we are ALL invited to membership in the Body of Christ. We are ALL welcome in the Beloved Community.
In our first reading, Paul and Barnabas preach to Jews, converts to Judaism and to Gentiles – to the effect that:
All who were destined for eternal life came to believe, and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region.
In our second reading:
John, had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb.
And in our Gospel, Jesus says:
My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
These readings describe the family of God to which every human being has been given entrance through the Death and Resurrection of Christ.
Think about that:
when you look into people’s eyes today
when you see their stories on the news
when you people-watch at the airport or the mall
when you drive by a cemetery where lives are remembered in stone
when you look at your children, your friends, your foes
when you take that last look in the mirror tonight before you fall asleep
This person has been invited, with me, to the family of God. How might that thought influence my choices and actions each day?
All of us – ALL OF US- are welcome; all of us, equally loved.
Poetry: O Shepherd of Souls – Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179)
O Shepherd of souls and o first voice through whom all creation was summoned, now to you, to you may it give pleasure and dignity to liberate us from our miseries and languishing.
Music: Come Worship the Lord – John Michael Talbot
Come, worship the Lord For we are his people The flock that he shepherds Alleluia Come, worship the Lord For we are his people The flock that he shepherds Alleluia
And come, let us sing to the Lord And shout with joy to the rock who saves us Let us come with thanksgiving And sing joyful songs to the Lord
Come, worship the Lord For we are his people The flock that he shepherds Alleluia Come, worship the Lord For we are his people The flock that he shepherds Alleluia
The Lord is God, the mighty God The great King o’er all other gods He holds in his hands the depths of the earth And the highest mountains as well He made the sea, it belongs to him The dry land too, was formed by his hand
Come, worship the Lord For we are his people The flock that he shepherds Alleluia Come, worship the Lord For we are his people The flock that he shepherds Alleluia
Come, let us bow down and worship Bending the knee for the Lord our maker For we are his people We are the flock that he shepherds
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Peter is a headliner in both our readings.
I really love Peter. Can’t we relate to him on so many levels as he stumbles and shines through his growing relationship with Jesus?
Some of my best prayers with Peter have been:
when he tries to walk on water to meet Jesus in the sea
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Mk.14:28
when he gets slammed for trying to stop Jesus from talking about his death
Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. “Far be it from You, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to You!” But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me!” Mt. 13:41
when his name is changed to Rock and he’s foretold his future
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Mt. 16:18
when he cowers in denial outside Jesus’s trial
Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mk. 14:72
when he recognizes the Resurrected Jesus on the shore and swims to him
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. Jn.21:7
In today’s first reading, we see Peter in his full authority as the Vicar of Christ.
In our Gospel, we see Peter’s unequivocal confession of faith, voiced for the Church, voiced for all of us:
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
Poetry: Simon Peter – John Poch
There are three things which are too wonderful for me, Yes, four which I do not understand. The way of an eagle in the air, The way of a serpent on a rock, The way of a ship in the heart of the sea, And the way of a man with a maid –Prov. 30:18, 19
I Contagious as a yawn, denial poured over me like a soft fall fog, a girl on a carnation strewn parade float, waving at everyone and no one, boring and bored There actually was a robed commotion parading. I turned and turned away and turned. A swirl
of wind pulled back my hood, a fire of coal brightened my face, and those around me whispered: You’re one of them, aren’t you? You smell like fish. And wine, someone else joked. That’s brutal. That’s cold, I said, and then they knew me by my speech. They let me stay and we told jokes like fisher- men and houseboys. We gossiped till the cock crowed, his head a small volcano raised to mock stone.
II Who could believe a woman’s word, perfumed in death? I did. I ran and was outrun before I reached the empty tomb. I stepped inside an empty shining shell of a room, sans pearl. I walked back home alone and wept again. At dinner. His face shone like the sun.
I went out into the night. I was a sailor and my father’s nets were calling. It was high tide, I brought the others. Nothing, the emptiness of business, the hypnotic waves of failure. But a voice from shore, a familiar fire, and the nets were full. I wouldn’t be outswum, denied this time. The coal-fire before me, the netted fish behind. I’m carried where I will not wish.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our Gospel is serious business. In it, Jesus reveals the lynchpin of our sacramental faith.
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.
John 6: 53-54
It is a stark and shocking statement. The listening Jews “quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his Flesh to eat?’.”
Down through the ages, struggling believers have grappled with the same question. Or, perhaps less preferable, complacent believers have never even considered it.
I think Jesus wanted us to consider it, absorb it, be changed by it, live within it, because “unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, you do not have life within you.”
As Catholics, we believe that Christ is truly and fully present in Eucharist and that, by Communion, becomes fully present in us, the Church.
When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of her Lord’s death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present and “the work of our redemption is carried out”. This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there. Each member of the faithful can thus take part in it and inexhaustibly gain its fruits. This is the faith from which generations of Christians down the ages have lived. (ECCLESIA DE EUCHARISTIA, Encyclical of John Paul II)
For me, it is a truth only appreciated when approached with more than the mind. It must be apprehended with the heart and soul. God so loves us in the person of Jesus Christ that God chooses to be eternally present with us, and in us, through the gift of Eucharist.
Praying with this truth over the years has led me to read authors like Edward Schillebeeckx (Christ the sacrament of the Encounter with God), Diarmuid O’Murchu (Quantum Theology), and Pierre Teilhard De Chardin (Hymn of the Universe).
Still, despite all the Eucharistic theology, every time I receive the Eucharist, I let this simple hymn play in my heart – one I learned for my First Holy Communion. It still unites my heart to my desired faith which is, at once, both cosmic and intimate.
Poetry: “On the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar” by St Robert Southwell
Saint Robert Southwell (1561 – 1595) was an English Roman Catholic priest of the Jesuit Order. He was also a poet, hymnodist, and clandestine missionary in Elizabethan England. After being arrested and imprisoned in 1592, and intermittently tortured and questioned by Richard Topcliffe, Southwell was eventually tried and convicted of high treason for his links to the Holy See. On 21 February 1595, Father Southwell was hanged at Tyburn. In 1970, he was canonized by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. (Wikipedia)
His poetry, written in Early Modern English, demonstrates deep devotion to the Eucharist. Although most of us can interpret the English of the 16th century, the translation below is modernized for convenience. It’s a long poem, but it is well worth your time.
“On the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar” by St. Robert Southwell From The Poems of Robert Southwell, S.J. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), edited by Fr James H. McDonald and Nancy Pollard Brown
In paschal feast the end of ancient rite An entrance was to never ending grace, Tips to the truth, dim glasses to the light, Performing deed presaging signs did chase, Christ's final meal was fountain of our good: For mortal meat he gave immortal food.
That which he gave he was, O peerless gift,
Both God and man he was, and both he gave,
He in his hands himself did truly live:
Far off they see whom in themselves they have.
Twelve did he feed, twelve did their feeder eat,
He made, he dressed, he gave, he was their meat.
They saw, they heard, they felt him sitting near, Unseen, unfelt, unheard, they him receiv'd, No diverse thing though diverse it appear, Though senses fail, yet faith is not deceiv'd. And if the wonder of the work be new, Believe the work because his word is true.
Here truth belief, belief inviteth love, So sweet a truth love never yet enjoy'd, What thought can think, what will doth best approve Is here obtain'd where no desire is void. The grace, the joy, the treasure here is such No wit can with nor will embrace so much.
Self-love here cannot crave more than it finds, Ambition to no higher worth aspire, The eagerest famine of most hungry minds May fill, yea far exceed their own desire: In sum here is all in a sum express'd, Of much the most, of every good the best.
To ravish eyes here heavenly beauties are, To win the ear sweet music's sweetest sound, To lure the taste the angels' heavenly fare, To soothe the scent divine perfumes abound, To please the touch he in our hearts doth bed, Whose touch doth cure the deaf, the dumb, the dead.
Here to delight the wit true wisdom is, To woo the will of every good the choice, For memory a mirror shewing bliss, Here all that can both sense and soul rejoice: And if to all all this it do not bring, The fault is in the men, not in the thing.
Though blind men see no light, the Sun doth shine, Sweet cates are sweet, though fevered tastes deny it, Pearls precious are, though trodden on by swine, Each truth is true, though all men do not try it: The best still to the bad doth work the worst, Things bred to bliss do make them more accurst.
The angels' eyes whom veils cannot deceive Might best disclose that best they do discern, Men must with sound and silent faith receive More than they can by sense or reason learn: God's power our proofs, his works our wit exceed, The doer's might is reason of His deed.
A body is endow'd with ghostly rights, A nature's work from nature's law is free, In heavenly Sun lie hidden eternal lights, Lights clear and near yet them no eye can see, Dead forms a never-dying life do shroud, A boundless sea lies in a little cloud.
The God of Hosts in slender host doth dwell, Yea God and man, with all to either due: That God that rules the heavens and rifled hell, That man whose death did us to life renew, That God and man that is the angels’ bliss, In form of bread and wine our nurture is.
Whole may his body be in smallest bread, Whole in the whole, yea whole in every crumb, With which be one or ten thousand fed All to each one, to all but one doth come, And though each one as much as all receive, Not one too much, nor all too little have.
One soul in man is all in every part, One face at once in many mirrors shines, One fearful noise doth make a thousand start, One eye at once of countless things defines: If proofs of one in many nature frame, God may in stranger sort perform the same.
God present is at once in every place, Yet God in every place is ever one, So may there be by gifts of ghostly grace One man in many rooms yet filling none. Sith angels may effects of bodies shew, God angels' gifts on bodies may bestow.
What God as auctor made he alter may, No change so hard as making all of nought: If Adam framed was of slimy clay, Bread may to Christ's most sacred flesh be wrought. He may do this that made with mighty hand Of water wine, a snake of Moses' wand.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, in our reading from Acts, we meet the Ethiopian eunuch who served the country’s Queen. The man was sitting in a chariot reading the prophet Isaiah. Philip asks him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” Philip’s instruction results in this faith-filled man’s Baptism.
It’s a bible story I’ve loved since I was a novice and read the excellent book by Alexander Jones, “Unless Some Man Show Me”. That long-ago era in my life was a time when Vatican II opened up to the faithful the power and beauty of scriptural study and prayer.
The 1960s were a wonderful time to be committing myself to a life-long spiritual journey. Over the next few years, I devoured the published documents of Vatican II which included the one on sacred scripture, the “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation” (“Dei Verbum”).
Here’s a great description of the document.
Before Vatican II, like many Catholics, I had had limited experience with scripture. Mainly, we had it read to us at Mass. We had a Bible in my childhood home, but we used it mainly to record familial births and deaths inside the front cover.
Part of the reason for this scriptural vacuum was the long-held belief that most Christians were not theologically astute enough to interpret scripture on their own. Vatican II initiated a blessed change in that perception.
In 1966, the same Alexander Jones, in the company of 27 colleagues, edited the magnificent Jerusalem Bible. My parents gave me this revered book as a gift for my Religious Profession and it has accompanied my prayer for more than a half-century.
Reading the phrase in Acts today, “unless someone show me”, brought the whole sacred journey back to me.
I offer this brief reminiscence to confirm how precious and important it is to build our prayer life on scripture. It is also important to educate ourselves continually by reading good commentary and spirituality. Such thinkers are like Philip in today’s passage. They are the ones who will “show” us, opening to us new understandings for our prayer.
Brother David Steindl-Rast
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
I would love for some of you (even though you are a shy audience) to list some of your biblical and spiritual guides in the comment section, if you feel so inclined.
Poetry: Give Me a Name – Emily Ruth Hazel, a New York City-based poet and writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Socially Engaged Literature, Kinfolks: A Journal of Black Expression, and Ruminate Magazine. In 2014, she was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship to develop a full-length poetry book manuscript during a residency at The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts & Sciences.
The way home is a desolate road through the desert. Only my driver and I roll through the noonday heat. Ahead of us, the air shimmers. Then out of a cloud of dust, a man runs up behind us. He calls out, Who are you reading? A poet’s vision unfurls in my lap. I’m thirsty for company, someone to walk between these lines with me, clear a path through my own wilderness. The stranger says he’s well acquainted with this writer. If he knows who I am, he doesn’t let on. He climbs in and we plunge beneath the words. Whose story is this, anyway? The one who takes a vow of silence, an outcast whose most loyal friend is heartache—is this a portrait of the poet or of another? I hold the words like water in my palms, my face reflected in them. Back in Jerusalem, I was an unexpected guest in God’s house. There I was dark enough that I’d never pass as a native. In a land of divided rooms, neither side claims me. Smooth chinned, voice unchanged, even among my own, I am always other. My educated tongue surprises. I read the way my people envy and despise me in the same blink. The jewel of Ethiopia, our warrior queen, trusts me with the nation’s treasure. But power of the purse came with a price. Still a boy when I was taught my body could not be trusted, I was like a lamb that hears the metal scraping hot against the stone. When they came for me, my gut churned. A boulder sealed my throat. Only mangled moans escaped. They carved me into a loyal servant ashamed of my own voice. Deep in my chest liquid rage threatened to erupt. I tried to swallow the unspeakable. Learned to amputate everything I felt. Any part of me that trembled was a danger best denied. All the boys I knew marched into manhood believing courage hung between their legs. But I’m my mother’s child. Long after the men who tore me from my home washed my blood off their blade, I remembered my mother had shown me how to be brave.
Wherever I go, I’m described by my difference, defined by what I cannot do or be, haunted by echoes of violence known but unnamed. Never to look into a young face and recognize my likeness, I’m tired of being seen as an absence, a shadow that merely calls attention to what is touched by light.
Here in this barren place, riding with a stranger, I feel like I belong. The wheels of my world slow to a stop. I step out of the story I’ve been told must be mine. The man I’ve just met stands beside me as we wade into a river. He holds my shoulders. Dips me into the muddy water. Not as I was held down years ago. This time, I’ve chosen to be held. I feel the muscles in my back relax against his arm. Memory stirs, half-awake: my mother’s gentle hands bathe me as a baby. Raised up again, my body breaks the surface. Bright sky overwhelms. Boulder rolled away, my tongue unguarded now. Laughing and coughing, mouth full of water and silt and suddenly a song in a language I’ve never heard. God of the unsung, God of the present and the missing, God who translates phantom pain, who holds the map of all my scars, may this body be your temple. Some say my branches died before they bloomed, water too precious to be wasted on me. Don’t let me wither under the blistering sun, cursed for bearing no fruit. If I can offer shelter to someone called to walk a lonely road, maybe that’s enough. God of the forgotten, God of the never begotten, will my story, at least, outlive me? Give me a name worth remembering, a name that will never be cut off.