From the Healing Mass

healing-mass-22nov16One of my facebook friends snagged this image from last night’s Mass. My hammer dulcimer is totally obscured; I am not dozing off during the entrance song.

It’s an interesting experience, this inclusion of charismatic healing with Mass. I was given no outline or much liturgical guidance. I was a bit surprised the word came from our visiting clergy: readings of the day. There are a lot of good Scriptures in the Pastoral Care rites appropriate for a Mass in this situation, even if sacramental anointing is not part of the plan. I took the liberty of using one of the psalms (the 27th) and a Gospel verse from the Rite.

The preaching was quite good, and the post-liturgical experience of healing was different from others I’ve known. Not surprising really, as there is no actual rite for this kind of prayer. One of my choir members asked why I wasn’t going forward and if I was a skeptic.

Not a skeptic, I said. I’ve already got some good news from my physician. I’ve dropped some weight that has creeped back on since my diet of five years ago. He’s had me off my cholesterol meds for a month and I should get word in a few days on this afternoon’s blood test. He’s also asked me to do blood pressure readings for a week to see if we can tweak my hypertension meds too. I posted on facebook that I’d be one very happy camper to lose one or even two of these prescriptions.

Meanwhile, on the liturgy front, anybody with experiences of charismatic healing yoked to a liturgy? Just curious.

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Misericordia et Misera 2: The Sign of Forgiveness

john-8At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis issued an apostolic letter. The word count tips past seven-thousand, and many numbered sections contain multiple paragraphs. Follow this link for the full document, Misericordia et Misera.

Remember at the end of section 1, Pope Francis noted that “Once clothed in mercy, even if the inclination to sin remains, it is overcome by the love that makes it possible for her to look ahead and to live her life differently.” From there, we read:

2. Jesus had taught this clearly on another occasion, when he had been invited to dine at the home of a Pharisee (cf. Lk 7:36-50) and a woman, known by everyone to be a sinner, approached him. She poured perfume over his feet, bathed them with her tears and dried them with her hair (cf. vv. 37-38). To the scandalized reaction of the Pharisee, Jesus replied: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little” (v. 47).

The evangelists, certainly John and Luke were aware of the human tendency to wrap ourselves in virtue and to consider ourselves the arbiters of sin, offense, and justice. But in John 8 and Luke 7, Jesus does not side with the onlookers. In the former account, he introduces silent reflection into the picture. In today’s cited passage, he asks his host, “Do you see this woman?” Fairly often, we elder siblings fire first and aim later. The Lord invites us to open our eyes. If we did so, what would we see?

Forgiveness is the most visible sign of the Father’s love, which Jesus sought to reveal by his entire life. Every page of the Gospel is marked by this imperative of a love that loves to the point of forgiveness. Even at the last moment of his earthly life, as he was being nailed to the cross, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

Perhaps we misinterpret this voicing of forgiveness as heroic. Or godly. It is quite consistent with the entire narrative of the Gospel message when one thinks about it.

Nothing of what a repentant sinner places before God’s mercy can be excluded from the embrace of his forgiveness. For this reason, none of us has the right to make forgiveness conditional. Mercy is always a gratuitous act of our heavenly Father, an unconditional and unmerited act of love. Consequently, we cannot risk opposing the full freedom of the love with which God enters into the life of every person.

I suspect this is the underlying principle of the opening of forgiveness to the Church’s “undesirables,” those who have procured an abortion, those who have married outside of Church practice, even those who vote for the wrong political party. Pope Francis speaks of a risk. What is that danger? I would interpret that as actions that chase people away from God and alienate them from religion. In other words, proclaiming an antigospel.

Mercy is this concrete action of love that, by forgiving, transforms and changes our lives. In this way, the divine mystery of mercy is made manifest. God is merciful (cf. Ex 34:6); his mercy lasts for ever (cf. Ps 136). From generation to generation, it embraces all those who trust in him and it changes them, by bestowing a share in his very life.

How do we guard against being duped by consistent sinners? Maybe we don’t. Maybe it takes faith that God acts through concrete works of mercy and if someone, somewhere, takes advantage God may yet work through the good example given. No doubt, God will continue to pursue every wayward daughter or son. The question remains: do we want to be part of the celebration of return, or will we retreat to the front porch to nurse our anger?

Any thoughts from you readers?

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Amoris Laetitia 233: On The Defensive

amoris laetitia memeOur defensiveness comes with a cost:

233. Faced with a crisis, we tend first to react defensively, since we feel that we are losing control, or are somehow at fault, and this makes us uneasy. We resort to denying the problem, hiding or downplaying it, and hoping that it will go away. But this does not help; it only makes things worse, wastes energy and delays a solution. Couples grow apart and lose their ability to communicate. When problems are not dealt with, communication is the first thing to go. Little by little, the “the person I love” slowly becomes “my mate”, then just “the father or mother of my children”, and finally a stranger.

For your reference, remember that Amoris Laetitia is online here.

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Misericordia et Misera 1: Looking at John 8

john-8At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis issued an apostolic letter. Follow this link for the full document, Misericordia et Misera.

In the first numbered section, we read of the inspiration for the title, the John 8 encounter between the Lord, the woman caught in adultery, and–not to forget–the gathered crowd. Mercy and justice are not spectator sport, but as the emphasis here underscores, an opportunity for celebration and life:

1. This page of the Gospel could easily serve as an icon of what we have celebrated during the Holy Year, a time rich in mercy, which must continue to be celebrated and lived out in our communities. Mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the Church; it constitutes her very existence, through which the profound truths of the Gospel are made manifest and tangible. Everything is revealed in mercy; everything is resolved in the merciful love of the Father.

I don’t think Pope Francis overstates the case for mercy. As for us believers, the question seems to present itself: with which character do we identify? Do we come before the Lord with our sins? Is the experience of mercy part of our spiritual life? Have we moved beyond the misery (misera) of our actions and inaction?

Alternatively, do we identify with Jesus? When people come to us with their flaws, omissions, offenses, and affronts, are we prepare to withhold condemnation? Do we recall the Lord’s parable to show a mirror to the Church, revealing our attitude? Perhaps we have slipped into the role of the accusers.

A woman and Jesus meet. She is an adulteress and, in the eyes of the Law, liable to be stoned. Jesus, through his preaching and the total gift of himself that would lead him to the Cross, returned the Mosaic Law to its true and original intent. Here what is central is not the law or legal justice, but the love of God, which is capable of looking into the heart of each person and seeing the deepest desire hidden there; God’s love must take primacy over all else.

The mention of “desire” is a key point of understanding the Ignatian orientation in the spiritual life. Some Catholics find Pope Francis confusing, but he is most definitely a son of Ignatius Loyola. The spiritual life is a meeting between the human impulse of desire and the love of God. Here, the encounter is profound for the seeking soul. Jesus looks deeply into us, moving beyond our own awareness.

This Gospel account, however, is not an encounter of sin and judgment in the abstract, but of a sinner and her Savior. Jesus looked that woman in the eye and read in her heart a desire to be understood, forgiven and set free. The misery of sin was clothed with the mercy of love. Jesus’ only judgment is one filled with mercy and compassion for the condition of this sinner. To those who wished to judge and condemn her to death, Jesus replies with a lengthy silence. His purpose was to let God’s voice be heard in the conscience not only of the woman, but also in those of her accusers, who drop their stones and one by one leave the scene (cf. Jn 8:9).

Turning back to the identification of many believers with the crowd, we see the Lord’s response. Silence. Not nothing. But a lack of affirmation. If God indeed waits on the elder sisters and brothers, think about what that means for the lack of an experience of confirmation. Time to “let God’s voice be heard in the conscience … also in those of her accusers.” Would you agree?

Jesus then says: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?… Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and from now on do not sin again” (vv. 10-11). Jesus helps the woman to look to the future with hope and to make a new start in life. Henceforth, if she so desires, she can “walk in charity” (Eph 5:2). Once clothed in mercy, even if the inclination to sin remains, it is overcome by the love that makes it possible for her to look ahead and to live her life differently.

Does this explanation hold water? Does the experience of mercy give enough of an impulse to live “differently”? What else do you see in this opening section?

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Amoris Laetitia 232: Crisis

amoris laetitia memeParagraphs 232 through 238 address “The challenge of crises.” Ills befall us in the mortal realm, and marriages, though blessed by the grace of Christ, are no exception to the human condition.

232. The life of every family is marked by all kinds of crises, yet these are also part of its dramatic beauty. Couples should be helped to realize that surmounting a crisis need not weaken their relationship; instead, it can improve, settle and mature the wine of their union. Life together should not diminish but increase their contentment; every new step along the way can help couples find new ways to happiness. Each crisis becomes an apprenticeship in growing closer together or learning a little more about what it means to be married. There is no need for couples to resign themselves to an inevitable downward spiral or a tolerable mediocrity. On the contrary, when marriage is seen as a challenge that involves overcoming obstacles, each crisis becomes an opportunity to let the wine of their relationship age and improve.

So much for the old adage to “offer it up.”

Life offers enough opportunities to lose things of importance: health, youth, employment, friends and loved ones, houses, wealth, status, privileges, etc.. Spouses suffer in isolation far too often. This is a great sadness: losing one’s closest ally in the mortal life. We’ve heard this advice before, to get counsel from people of experience:

Couples will gain from receiving help in facing crises, meeting challenges and acknowledging them as part of family life. Experienced and trained couples should be open to offering guidance, so the couples will not be unnerved by these crises or tempted to hasty decisions. Each crisis has a lesson to teach us; we need to learn how to listen for it with the ear of the heart.

I like the reference to “apprenticeship” given above. I like “lesson” somewhat less–but that’s just me. I treat the obstacles of marriage as opportunities. They provide opportunities to go deeper, to encounter more intimately and more fully.

For your reference Amoris Laetitia is online here.

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Misericordia et Misera, Introduction

john-8Was this a surprise to anyone? At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy yesterday, Pope Francis issued an apostolic letter. Follow this link for the full document, Misericordia et Misera.

Like other documents we’ve read here, we’ll take it one section at a time over the next several weeks.

TO ALL WHO READ THIS APOSTOLIC LETTER

MERCY AND PEACE

MISERICORDIA ET MISERA is a phrase used by Saint Augustine in recounting the story of Jesus’ meeting with the woman taken in adultery (cf. Jn 8:1-11). It would be difficult to imagine a more beautiful or apt way of expressing the mystery of God’s love when it touches the sinner: “the two of them alone remained: mercy with misery”.[On the Gospel of John, XXXIII, 5] What great mercy and divine justice shine forth in this narrative! Its teaching serves not only to throw light on the conclusion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, but also to point out the path that we are called to follow in the future.

My hope this year has been that mercy would not get eclipsed by some new concern. Or worse, the next program. It may still be that way in a lot of parishes and dioceses. I suspect we’ll still see evidence of confusion and dismay among our elder sisters and brothers. Resistance to mercy is a sad reality among the religious self-righteous. The purpose of this series is to provide a continuing counter-narrative. And hopefully, as the Holy Father suggests in this brief introduction, to cast some light.

Comments?

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Amoris Laetitia 231: Casting Light on Crises, Worries, and Difficulties

amoris laetitia memeWe continue in Chapter Six, “Some Pastoral Perspectives (sections 199-258) and the fourth and longest subsection (231-252) which will begin to address the challenges of marriage in today’s world.

Marriages evolve past that initial state of “honeymoon,” as the metaphor suggests (and is often extended to other human relationships).

231. A word should also be said about those whose love, like a fine wine, has come into its own. Just as a good wine begins to “breathe” with time, so too the daily experience of fidelity gives married life richness and “body”. Fidelity has to do with patience and expectation. Its joys and sacrifices bear fruit as the years go by and the couple rejoices to see their children’s children. The love present from the beginning becomes more conscious, settled and mature as the couple discover each other anew day after day, year after year. Saint John of the Cross tells us that “old lovers are tried and true”. They “are outwardly no longer afire with powerful emotions and impulses, but now taste the sweetness of the wine of love, well-aged and stored deep within their hearts”.(Cántico Espiritual B, XXV, 11) Such couples have successfully overcome crises and hardships without fleeing from challenges or concealing problems

Obstacles not concealed or avoided: I would say this is one aspect of a fruitful marriage. Not the absence of crisis, but a direct confrontation of the challenges every marriage will face, regardless of any circumstances.

Thoughts on that? For your reference Amoris Laetitia is online here.

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