March 16, 2018

The Mystery of Suffering

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:38 am by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, March 18, 2018: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

To all,

In our second reading for Sunday from the Letter to the Hebrews, the author writes: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

Lately I have been in touch with people who have gone through a lot in their lives. On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to stand with some students from Detroit Cristo Rey High School who, along with thousands of other students across the country, remembered the students who died in Florida, and gave voice to their desire to an end to violence. There is indeed much suffering in our world, and we don’t have to go far at all to see it.

So, what could possibly be learned from suffering? As I have said previously over the years, I don’t believe suffering to be punishment from God. God may indeed allow us to suffer the consequences of our actions, as we have free will, but God doesn’t punish us the way we punish each other. It is not as if the Father “whupped” Jesus into submission by inflicting damage upon Him.

In the face of some suffering we stand in silence, because we can’t find an explanation or rationale for what has happened. In those situations it is understandable to say the least, to wonder where God was, or if God really cares, or even if God really exists. Sometimes all we hope for is that God will somehow bring some good out of it, as unlikely as it seems.

The world’s reaction to suffering is often denial or avoidance. But in our Gospel reading from John, Jesus paints an entirely different picture: “I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Jesus also says, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” And “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” For Jesus, the Cross represents why He has come into the world. He doesn’t run away from it, but embraces it!

This may make some sense to us when we suffer for a cause. But maybe not so much when we think of suffering we simply can’t understand. I’m not sure I can provide any answers to this, but I do think we do learn from suffering.

One thing we learn I wouldn’t call “obedience” so much as surrender. When addicts hit bottom, and they realize they are powerless over the addiction, and they find that the pain cannot be numbed anymore, then, hopefully, they turn to a Higher Power for help. They become willing to surrender their lives and wills to a Power greater than themselves. Perhaps people in chronic pain realize that they can’t even rely on their own health, but they can still rely on God. I have shared this on retreat in the past, but when I got fired in my ministry experience, I had to surrender my ego and resentments, and try to discern God’s will for me. Thankfully I had some friends who helped me with this.

Another thing we learn from suffering is compassion. Our hurts enable us to be compassionate when others are hurting. I’m not sure we can comfort the afflicted if we haven’t been afflicted ourselves. I am most successful in my ministry when I can identify with the person I’m with. And even if I don’t fully understand the situation of another, my experience of being hurt can at least help me empathize with what is going on with the other person.

Jesus had the full human experience, including pain, suffering, and even death, and has shown us the extent of His love. As we enter into the mystery of suffering, may we learn surrender and compassion, and reveal the extent of His love to the world.

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ,

Phil, CP

 

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February 16, 2018

Don’t Give Up!

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:49 am by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, February 18, 2018: Genesis 9:8-15; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

To all,

The Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent is always about the temptation of Jesus in the desert, which occurs after His baptism and before He begins His public ministry. In Matthew and Luke, there is a dialogue between Jesus and the devil. In Mark, whose version we read this Sunday, there is no dialogue, which I have always taken as a license to imagine a dialogue between Jesus and Satan.

I’m afraid that the last few times this has come up (every third year, when we are in Cycle B), my imagination leads me to the same place. I imagine Satan taking Jesus to the year 2018. I see him showing Jesus the parts of the world that will back up his argument and strengthen the temptation. I can imagine him saying to Jesus: “Jesus, I know what you’re going to tell them. You want to tell them how much your Father loves them. You want to tell them that their God is a God of forgiveness and compassion and mercy. You want to tell them to love each other; to even love their enemies. Well look at the world, Jesus. This is what it’s like 2000 years later. You see those buildings with crosses on the top of them? They’re churches dedicated to you. You hear those people singing? They’re singing your praises. Isn’t it lovely? But let me show you something else. Let me show you how they actually treat each other. There are people who are still poor and without food. There are people, people who say they believe in you, killing each other. There is still greed and lust and exploitation going on all around this world that you love so much. Why waste your time on them? They say they believe in you, but they don’t really mean it. There’s no point in giving anything of yourself for them. Leave them to me. I know their language. I know how to deal with them. I know what they want. And it’s not really what you have to offer them. Sacrifice? Love? Mercy? Forget it! You might as well give up before you start. You could be doing this until the end of this planet’s existence, and it won’t really matter to them. Go back to your Father and leave this forsaken planet to me.”

I can see the devil tempting Jesus to give up hope. It’s a temptation for all of us. We hear of another school shooting. We see and hear the anguish of the families of victims. And no matter what we think the solution might be, nothing seems to change. So what do we do?

What does Jesus do? Again, Mark does not provide us with what He might have said, but we do know His response. For Mark tells us that after John the Baptist had been arrested (yet another reason to give up hope), Jesus goes into Galilee proclaiming, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Jesus does not give up, but rather tells a weary people that the fulfillment of their hopes has come! All through the Gospels, Jesus does not give up on His disciples, or the people whom he encounters, or even the Pharisees and scribes who are opposed to Him. He has not given up on us, even if we might have given up on ourselves.

If Jesus has not given up, neither can we. We can’t stop working for justice and peace. We can’t stop advocating life, especially for those pushed to the margins. We can’t stop participating in building up the kingdom. And we can’t give up on ourselves. To repent, to turn back to God, is Good News! God can heal us and lift us up, no matter what!

During Lent, there are many creative and inspiring things said and written about practices we can do during this season. A priest friend of mine shared Pope Francis’ message about Pause, See, and Return. I would add that perhaps we look this Lent at the choices we make, and see whether they contribute to despair or to hope, and then look for ways in which we can foster hope in our world.

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ,

Phil, CP

November 15, 2017

The Middle Servant

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:58 am by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, November 19, 2017: Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30

To all,

In the political climate in the U.S., it seems that being in the “middle” is deemed to be unsatisfactory. When we read books about family dynamics, being the “middle child,” seems to be fraught with its own challenges and problems. But as I reflect on the parable we hear in Sunday’s Gospel reading, I find myself drawn to the servant in the “middle,” the one who was given two talents, between the one who was given five and the one who was given one.

In the parable, a man who is going on a journey entrusts his possessions to three servants. As was noted above, one received five talents; one received two, and one received one. When the master returns, the one who received five made another five; and the one who received two made another two, but the one who received one buried it in the ground.

A lot of the parable deals with the one who received the one talent and did nothing with it. I think he did that out of fear of what would happen if he lost it. Sometimes we are fearful of using all our talents. We can be afraid of making mistakes. Or we can be afraid of what other people might think of us. Or we can simply be afraid of not being up to the tasks to which we are called.

The reason I felt drawn to the middle servant is that he avoids a trap into which I have fallen many times in my life. What’s remarkable to me about him is that he does not seem to mind that the first servant got five talents, and he received “only” two. He simply works with what his master gives him and he uses it well. There are times when I can be envious of those who seem to be more talented than I. They either do what I do better than I, or they do many more things than I do equally well.

I think one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned is that acting out of fear, as the last servant did, or acting out of jealousy, as the middle servant could have done, is ultimately a form of being self-absorbed, because when I’m concerned about how I will look if I make a mistake, or when I compare myself to others, it becomes all about me. The middle servant does not do that! He doesn’t even seem to look down upon the last servant.

So, strange as it may seem, the middle servant is the one with whom I identify, and the one I believe I’m called to emulate. God has given me love and grace. God has given me gifts. At times, they may not seem to be as profound or as important or as numerous as the ones others may receive, but they are the ones given to me, and I am called to use them for the sake of the kingdom.

If we use our gifts the best we can in doing God’s will, we need not fear “the day of the Lord” spoken about in our second reading from 1 Thessalonians. We will indeed be “children of the light and children of the day.” We need not compare ourselves to others, but instead, like the “worthy wife” mentioned in Proverbs, we can live lives of service, reaching out to the poor and the needy.

May we not waste time in fear or envy, but use the gifts we have been given for the world God loves so much.

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ,

Phil, CP

November 2, 2017

Worthwhile Burden?

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:56 am by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, November 5, 2017: Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10; 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12

To all,

This might be a bit too personal, but I wanted to share it:

The Scripture readings for Sunday are quite appropriate for Election Day coming up. Even though the readings speak about religious leaders, they speak about the characteristics of good leaders, religious or otherwise.

Although there are several characteristics mentioned, such as humility and recognizing the positive in others, perhaps the most important characteristic of a leader is being a servant. Jesus says, “The greatest among you must be your servant.” St. Paul writes in our second reading from 1 Thessalonians, “With such affection for you we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us.” A leader is willing to give of him or herself for the sake of others. This, of course, is what Jesus did for us, to the ultimate degree.

In our Gospel reading Jesus criticizes the Pharisees and scribes for laying heavy burdens “on people’s shoulders,” but not lifting “a finger to move them.” We can experience the same thing when the preacher browbeats the congregation or the red tape gets to be too much. A leader is there to help, not to hinder, when it comes to the needs of people. A leader also has the whole community in mind. In our first reading from the prophet Malachi, God speaks to the priests: “I, therefore, have made you contemptible and base before all people, since you do not keep my ways, but show partiality in your decisions. Has not the one God created us? Why then do we break faith with one another, violating the covenant of our fathers?”

Reflecting on these last two characteristics brought up something for me that is challenging. A leader is not to overly burden people, but at the same time is to look beyond a particular group or segment of the population. As a white male in the U.S., I have enjoyed advantages that other people have not. It is not that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I never had to worry about my next meal or the lack of a roof over my head. But beyond that, I never had to worry that my worth and dignity would not be recognized. But did I think about “white privilege” growing up? No.

So my challenge as I’ve gone on in my life is to listen when I didn’t want to. It can seem that being a white male is by definition characterized as being racist and sexist. When I was in the seminary, there were people who resented me simply because I was a male and studying for the priesthood. But I had to keep listening. There were mistakes I made while I was pastor in Alabama of a mostly African-American church. But I had to keep on listening. Listening when what people say can make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, or provoke me to get my defenses up, can be a burden I frankly don’t want to carry. Are white males of faith really responsible for all the evils of the world? Am I?

I may resist those who would automatically answer “yes” to the above questions. But at the same time, I need to realize that one God has created us all. I need not only to see Jesus’ love for me when I look at the Cross, but also see His love for the world. Am I willing to take up what seems to be a burden to forego whatever privilege I may have and change the status quo in order to help make the world a more just place and closer to the kingdom of God? I cannot be complacent when there are those who are deprived of their right to respect for their dignity as a child of God. I will not always agree with the characterizations that may be made about people like myself, but I hope to keep on listening, and I hope that others will be willing to listen to me.

The bottom line is, “Am I willing to serve and give of myself out of the love God has for me in Jesus Christ?

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ,

Phil, CP

October 4, 2017

All Thanks and Power to God

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:55 pm by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, October 8, 2017: Isaiah 5:1-7; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43

To all,

I am writing this several days after the shooting in Las Vegas. And when I look at the Scripture readings for Sunday, I find words that catch my mood, and perhaps the mood of others. In our first reading, God, through the prophet Isaiah, pleads His case to the Israelites. He sings a song of a vineyard that has been meticulously cared for, but only produces “wild grapes.” And so God says: “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes?” Then Isaiah says: “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant; he looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed! For justice, but hark, the outcry!” Do we not see too much bloodshed? Have we not heard the outcry? What is remarkable for me is that this is God’s lament at what was happening, and it is not too hard to imagine God lamenting now.

The parable that Jesus tells in our Gospel reading also has a lot of violence. The tenant farmers do violence to the servants of the owner who were sent to collect the produce, to the point of even killing the son! Why do they do this? In the parable, when they see the son, they say to each other (I cannot fathom the logic of this): “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.” What comes to me is that these tenants were not content to be tenants. They wanted to have the power of the owner. They wanted to be the ones who dictated the terms, and they were willing to use violence to do so. We may be shocked at the violence, but we shouldn’t be shocked at the motive. I think it is a basic temptation of humanity to want to be God. I even wonder if the shooter in Las Vegas simply wanted to show his power over others by randomly shooting at thousands of people 400 yards away with the intent of taking their lives. A friend of mine has speculated that perhaps the shooter wanted to demonstrate that others did not have power over him. We may never really know the motive, of course, but violence is almost, if not always, connected with trying to have power over someone else. Didn’t we hear in Charlottesville the desire to “take our country back?” Looking at what those groups stand for, what I hear in those words is a desire to have power over others.

Jesus uses the parable to challenge the religious leaders and their thinking about salvation. You could say that many of them thought they had the say over who was saved and who was not, and that they were the ones who knew the mind of God. And so when prophets came and said things that made them uncomfortable, or did not conform to their ideas, they tried to banish them (Amos 7:12-17) or destroy them (Jeremiah 38:1-11). And they conspired to kill the Son.

How are we to respond to this most basic of temptations? How are we able to not fall into perpetuating the violence that exists? We have an answer in our second reading from Philippians. The passage begins with Paul writing: “Have no anxiety at all,” and that may be inconceivable for us to follow right now. But Paul follows that with “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” When we are thankful for what we have been given, we become less envious of others. When we realize that all is gift, there is no need to “take our country back.” And then there is this eloquent exhortation: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, is there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.”

We need to do what we have learned and received and heard and seen in Jesus Christ. It is not about envy or greed or control or domination or violence! We have learned love and forgiveness and compassion for those who are hurting and in need, and even for our enemies. We have received a concept of justice and peace that does not express itself in one group having mastery over another. We have heard Jesus’ words that go way beyond the wisdom of the world. We have seen Him on the Cross out of love for us, and leaving the tomb empty to give us hope and a commitment to work for something better. May we keep working and striving and giving witness. May God’s peace dwell within us, and may we share God’s peace with others.

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ,

Phil, CP

September 20, 2017

Is It Fair or Is It Gospel?

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:42 pm by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, September 24, 2017: Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a; Matthew 20:1-16a

To all,

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book, and you didn’t like the ending? It might not have been happy enough, or it may have seemed too phony, or we just disagreed about what should have happened. I wonder if that is how some people felt when they heard Jesus tell His parables. The one we hear in our Gospel reading for Sunday is a good example.

In the parable, a landowner goes out several times during the day to hire workers in his vineyard. He tells the foreman to pay the ones who came in last, first. They receive a full day’s wage, even though they worked for a short time! So when the first workers came, they thought (reasonably so, I think) that they would get more. But they didn’t! Now we know in ancient Israel there were no such things as unions or labor relations boards. And we also know that, in the parable, the landowner is right that he didn’t cheat the workers out of anything: they got the wage they agreed to. But still, it doesn’t seem fair, and I can sympathize with those workers who went into the vineyard first.

But what these workers say to the landowner gives me pause: “These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.” “You have made them equal to us” is what catches my attention. They could have just as well said, “You didn’t make us greater than they.”

Remember last week we reflected on keeping score when it came to forgiveness. We see another variation of keeping score here. The response of the first workers in the vineyard, and my own response, brings to mind a sermon preached by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The Drum Major Instinct.” In that sermon, Dr. King preached about the all-too-human desire to be the one on top; the one out in front of everyone else. And he even related it to the presence of racism and the destructive tendencies of the arms race (The sermon was preached in February, 1968).

To follow the “drum major instinct” goes against the Gospel message we hear today. To be the best persons we can be is an admirable goal, but not to seek dominance over another. When I reflect on this and other similar lessons in the Gospels, I am reminded of something very simple. When it comes to eternal life, I hope to get to heaven. I don’t believe there will be bigger or smaller mansions, denoting some kind of hierarchy, or levels of merit. What God has done and continues to do for us is nothing I have earned!

So, maybe, if I can let go of envy about heaven, I can let go of envy here on earth. My value does not come from being superior to someone, or coming earlier to Christ. It comes from the love of God. I think the attitude to which the Gospel calls us is found in our second reading from Philippians (the italics are mine): “Brothers and sisters: Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” As counter to our instincts as it may be, to live in Christ is what leads me to fullness of life, not according to my ways or thoughts (as we hear from Isaiah in our first reading). And may I never put any obstacle in the way of another coming to know God’s love in Jesus Christ. And if he or she comes to a fuller understanding, or gets to heaven before I do, may God bless her or him!

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ,

Phil, CP

 

September 6, 2017

Love and Community

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:24 am by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, September 10, 2017: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20)

To all,

I’m sure that many of us have seen the devastation that was wreaked by Hurricane Harvey on Houston and other places in Texas and Louisiana. We’ve seen homes and businesses destroyed by the flood waters that almost defy description. We’ve also seen and heard stories about heroic efforts that were made to bring people to safety. And now, when at least most of the water has receded, I have heard more and more comments about how wonderful it was for people to pull together, regardless of whatever divisions that may have existed before the hurricane came. And many people, once again, are wondering why the cooperation and generosity that exists during a crisis cannot be sustained over the long haul.

I find myself wondering that, too. Because our faith calls for that kind of cooperation. Our faith calls us to community. Our faith calls us to love. In our second reading from Romans, St. Paul says it well: “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” It is love that is to guide every way in which we relate to ourselves, to others, and to the whole of creation.

I think this can be said to be the underlying principle of Christianity and most other systems of belief. Love is the lens through which we see what Jesus does and the “receiver” through which we hear what Jesus says. In our Gospel reading for Sunday, Jesus speaks about community. He offers instructions on what to do when a brother or sister sins. First, the individual who notices it or is directly affected by it is to bring it up to the person one-on-one. If that doesn’t work, then others are brought in as witnesses. And if that doesn’t work, the whole church, or congregation, is told. Scripture scholars tell us that this is only one of two times that the term “church” is used in the Gospels. Then Jesus goes further, and says that if the above process doesn’t work, then the person who refuses to repent is to be ostracized.

This then leads to Jesus granting the power of binding and loosing to the disciples. A couple of weeks ago, we heard Him give that power to Peter. But now it is given to the rest of the disciples. So, it can be seen that the binding and loosing is related to excommunicating someone. Are there times when we wish someone was kicked out of the parish? Wouldn’t we like to have the power to bind and loose, and to have our decisions about others ratified in heaven? But we need to remember the basic commandment to love. However we confront others has to be done in love. I’m not necessarily talking about “Kumbaya” moments as much as refraining from condemnation and foregoing looking for some kind of revenge, even as we speak the truth. This is why I favor the interpretation (it is not my own) that looks at Jesus’ words as telling something basic about human beings: When we hold onto anger or resentment, we do not bind the other person, but we do bind ourselves.

For me, being in a community helps broaden my perspective and helps keep me in right relationships. Jesus tells us that when any of us agree on for what to pray, it will be granted to us. Jesus’ words tell me that it is not only about what I want, but what is good for the whole. Is it possible for a whole group to pray for the wrong thing? I suppose it is, but I don’t think it’s likely if we keep going back to that pesky commandment to love. Jesus also says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” I think that’s even true if a group of KKK members got together to pray. Jesus would be there, even though, from my point of view, they weren’t listening to Him. Jesus is always there for us, even when we don’t listen.

Are we willing to let His love for us bring us into community with others? Are we willing to let His love lead us to love and care for all of creation? Are we willing to let His love lead us to support each other, even at those times we may have to confront someone? Can we come together, even when there isn’t a crisis? Could it be said that we come together in a crisis because we face a common challenge? Do we not always face a common challenge: to live true to the people God made us to be; true to ourselves? Is it not a common challenge to eradicate poverty and injustice and the degradation of the environment? Is it not a common challenge to love?

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ,

Phil, CP

 

August 22, 2017

Who Do You Say He Is?

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:15 pm by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, August 27, 2017: Isaiah 22:19-23; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20

To all,

In Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew, we hear an exchange between Jesus and His disciples when they are alone together. This exchange is also recorded in Mark and Luke, but there are some differences in Matthew’s account.

One difference that grabbed my attention right away is how Jesus asks His disciples about what the people are saying about Him. In Matthew, Jesus refers to Himself as “the Son of Man.” In Mark and Luke, He simply asks what the people are saying about Him. When He asks the disciples about what they say, He says, “But who do you say that I am?” Is there something to note in the different way Jesus asks the question? I didn’t see anything in the commentaries that I read, other to than to affirm that Jesus did refer to Himself as the “Son of Man.” But I can imagine the difference having to do with a more personal relationship with the disciples. I can imagine Jesus saying, “But you guys; you who’ve been with me everywhere I’ve been, and heard everything I said, and seen everything I’ve done; you who know me better than anyone else, except maybe my mother, who do you say that I am?”

As in Mark and Luke, Peter is the one who replies. But here again, there is a difference. In Matthew, Peter confesses that not only is Jesus the Christ, but “the Son of the living God.” After this, Jesus affirms Peter as the “rock” on which He will build the church. He speaks about giving Peter the keys to the kingdom and gives him authority to bind and to loose. Then after this, He tells the disciples “to tell no one he was the Christ.”

For me, the times in the Gospels when Jesus tells His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah has to do with being aware of what the people generally expected the Messiah to do: get rid of the foreign occupiers and the corrupt leaders and restore Israel to the glory days of David and Solomon. In fact, the disciples didn’t fully understand what Jesus was about (we’ll see that in next weeks’ Gospel reading) until after His death and resurrection. I also wonder if Jesus had an idea that people thought of the Messiah as one who was there to magically remove all their problems.

And that is why Jesus’ question of the disciples is important for us to ask ourselves? Who do we say Jesus is? What I’m trying to get at is, do we have a relationship with Jesus, or do we have a relationship with what we hope He can do for us? It’s hard to separate the two, but if I can simply be about loving Him and following Him, and not so concerned about what He’s going to do for me (hasn’t He given Himself up for me already?) then I think I’m getting closer to holiness. We can’t get there on our own. We need God’s grace.

And if I can come closer to Jesus, I may see a difference in how I answer the question, “Who do I say you are?” I then value another person, and by extension all of creation, not in terms of what he or she can do for me, but by the fact that he or she is beloved by God. And the implications of that can be far-reaching, if we let them. Can I hold onto prejudices and stereotypes if I’m willing to love as Jesus loves? Can I turn a blind eye to injustice and exploitation and discrimination? Am I willing to let His love cast out my fear?

Who do we say He is?

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ,

Phil, CP

June 22, 2017

Love Casts Out Fear

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:28 am by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, June 25, 2017: Jeremiah 20:10-13; Romans 5:12-15; Matthew 10:26-33

To all,

When I was looking over the Gospel reading for Sunday, several phrases from various places came readily to mind: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself;” “Relieve me of the bondage of self;” “We have met the enemy, and he is us;” and “Perfect love drives out fear.”

I think part of the reason those phrases came to mind is that in our fairly short Gospel reading, Jesus tells His disciples three times not to be afraid. He tells His disciples not to be afraid to proclaim the Good News: “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light.” And if the disciples are fearful about the persecutions that will probably come, He says: “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” Do you remember that young girl who was attacked in the Middle East (Was it by ISIS?) because she dared to be educated? They attacked her body, but they did not damage her soul!

When Jesus speaks about “the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna,” I thought He was talking about the devil. But the Scripture commentaries tells us that Jesus is telling His disciples to be concerned about God’s judgment (See Matthew 18:8-9). What came to me is how efficiently we can be destructive when it comes to both soul and body. Most of us know people who suffer from some form of addiction. We may know others who are stuck in some kind of spiritual rut. And we know all too well how capable human beings can be in using violence and manipulation against others. Very often our own worst enemy is us.

Where does this destructive behavior come from? I’m not going to presume I have a definitive answer, but since we hear in the Scriptures so often the encouragement not to be afraid, perhaps fear is a major factor. Many people fall into addiction trying to numb themselves or run away from some great pain in their lives. Sometimes we can find ourselves suspicious of people who are different because we fear what changes they may bring, or we fear losing something (dominance, perhaps?). And sometimes this fear turns into bigotry and discrimination and violence, which destroys the body of the victim and the soul of the perpetrator. As long as people fear that others having more means having less for themselves, there will be destruction of body and soul.

We can be fearful in our relationship with God, too. We can be afraid of actually abandoning ourselves totally to Him. We can be afraid that completely turning our lives over to God will mean losing ourselves, or that our surrender may change our lives to an extent with which we are uncomfortable. So, perhaps unconsciously, we hold back in our willingness to surrender to God’s love and will, and try to put some fine print in our relationship with Him. And I wonder if that does not hurt our soul.

So maybe the greatest things to fear are “fear itself” and “the bondage of self.” When we live out of fear and selfishness some sort of destruction follows. What’s the answer? Living in God’s love. After Jesus says, “…rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna;” He also says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So, do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” As we hear in our second reading from Romans: “But the gift is not like the transgression [the sin of Adam]. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for many.” The more we let God’s love in, the more that love “drives out fear,” and the less we get caught up in ourselves. And instead of contributing to destruction, we are contributing to life!

May we let God in and let go of fear, and proclaim God’s love “on the housetops!”

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ,

Phil, CP

June 7, 2017

The Mystery of Relationship

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:07 pm by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, June 18, 2017: Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9; 2 Corinthians 13;11-13; John 3:16-18

To all,

On Sunday we celebrate not only Father’s Day but Trinity Sunday, in which we are reminded of the doctrine of the Trinity, that we believe God to be Three Persons in One God. It is a doctrine which is not so easy to understand, and so when we try to grapple with it, our default response is to say, “It’s a mystery.”

As I was reflecting on this, I thought to myself, “Why does that surprise us?” For me, the doctrine of the Trinity does not so much speak of theological concepts and philosophical definitions of the word “person,” as it speaks of love and relationships. The idea of Three Persons in One God denotes a Supreme Being of perfect relationship. And God, out of love, created the universe and revealed the Divine Self in the Son of God becoming one of us in Jesus Christ.

Have I lost you, yet? I’m about to get lost myself. But if we see God as a God of relationships, then it shouldn’t surprise us that we cannot fully understand or know God. Look at our own human relationships. There are people whom we love dearly. We know them well, and there might even be times when we say we know them better than they do themselves. But we cannot know them absolutely 100%, because they are ultimately distinct from us. But we love them, and we are in relationship with them. God chooses to be in relationship with us, and indeed, God does know us better than we know ourselves. And still, God loves us! In our first reading from Exodus, Moses asks God to accompany the people, even though they (and we) are “stiff-necked.” And God does!

The challenge of this day for me is the connection between love and relationship. Can I really love someone in the abstract, or do I need to be in some kind of relationship with him or her or them in order to love them? The reality of the Trinity seems to call for the latter. But then what does that mean when Jesus calls us to love our enemies, or love the “least of these,” or love the ones who cannot repay our love? Can we be in relationship with them?

Can we let ourselves be that vulnerable? I think we do when it comes to family or good friends. And again, the challenge may be to increasingly broaden the circle of relationships we have, even to those who are so different from us, in order to follow the commandment to love. One thing that might be helpful to remember is that God has been willing to be that vulnerable with us. How can I say that? God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present. How can God be vulnerable? Is it not a willingness to be vulnerable when the Son of God becomes one of us in order to save us? Our Gospel reading says it well: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Is it not a willingness to be vulnerable when we are given free will and are thus free to turn our backs on God and ignore the Holy Spirit?

Are we willing to be vulnerable with God? Are we willing to surrender to God’s love and will? Are we willing to be in relationship with others? It can seem impossible, but we know there are people who do; the ones who can see the good in everyone, or who can make friends with just about anyone. I think (maybe hope is the better word) that this is true for even the quiet and shy ones among us.

This day invites us to enter into the mystery of love and relationships, trusting that God, who is love, will show us the way.

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

Phil, CP

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