Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Reflection: VOICE ART

Many religious communities pray some or all of the Liturgy of the Hours in common.  There is an art to such “choral prayer,” which focuses on the reading or chanting of the Psalms.

Choral prayer is different from private prayer.  The way one reads the Scriptural text alone in one’s room or elsewhere is quite personal.   Choral prayer disciplines such individuality in an attempt to create a one-voice experience.  Personal interpretations, expressed by individual preferences for pauses or dramatic accentuation in the recitation or chanting, are inappropriate in common prayer.

Communities wisely establish “rules” for their common prayer.  These include common agreements about “pace,” how fast or slow the common recitation or chanting goes.  Focusing on the natural accents of the words themselves can insure a unified flow.   The music accompanist or a designated cantor is usually charged with setting the pace, while being careful not to overpower the group.

Where pauses are to be observed is decided in advance by the community.  Depending on how the text is laid out, that might mean disregarding all punctuation within a line and pausing only at the end of it.  If pausing is preferred at certain punctuations, that must be determined by prior agreement of the group.

In choral prayer, no one voice dominates.  This requires mutual listening, with loud and heavy voices practicing restraint and timid voices increasing their volume.

A community that welcomes visitors to its common prayer needs to have a way to orient them to the prayer.  Visitors unaccustomed to common prayer, and particularly to that of this community, will have the tendency to go their own way, which can seriously disrupt the prayer.   

It goes without saying that a community's choral manner of praying is necessarily a matter of community discussion.  So is practice and periodic evaluation.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Reflection: HEART TO HEART

I recently presided at a wedding for a young couple, the bride being Latina and the groom Anglo.  The bride wanted to honor members of her family who spoke only Spanish and so she asked for, among other things, a homily in both Spanish and English.  I was able and happy to do that.

The bride’s father approached me after the liturgy with profuse thanks for the homily, expressing in Spanish his great appreciation for the content that he felt would be most helpful to the couple.  Then he asked me, “¿De donde la sacó?” meaning, where did you get it (the homily) from?  I answered quite spontaneously, ¡De mi corazón!”—“From my heart!”

I have always been careful about preaching.   It is a ministry of capital importance in the Church.  When I preach, it is always my intention to change hearts in whatever the circumstance.   That change might involve sometimes insight, sometimes attitude, sometimes feeling, sometimes behavior.  As a preacher, you are in a privileged position to cause change.  I want to do that for the sake of the Kingdom.

I did not, and probably never will, have the occasion to verify a change in the hearts of the couple whose marriage I witnessed that day.  My great hope—and confidence in the Spirit—is that, in some way, they will be married different because I was the preacher at their wedding.  And is that not what is supposed to happen in heart to heart conversation?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

TableTalk, Sunday 29 B: THE STINGING VOICE

The Liturgy of the Word on this Sunday opens somberly with the Godly Servant being crushed for sins.  The second reading speaks about the sinless One's sympathy for ever-present human weakness.  The Gospel chastises the disciples for already sinful leadership in the Church.  The subject of sin colors the Word of this Sunday.  In fact, sin is Christ's number one issue.

This is no surprise.  At the very beginning, Genesis itself teaches about the first sin being the root of all subsequent human devastation.  No wonder, then, that when Jesus goes public in his preaching, his first word is "repent."  In the Eucharist, the whole Christian community hears the reason for Jesus' death in the consecration of the chalice:  "for the forgiveness of sins."

Sin is a decision to think, speak, act or live contrary to the Word of God.  Put simply, it is a choice to do evil rather than good.  The consequences are enormously negative.  For the sinning person, personal integrity diminishes, even gets destroyed.  Sin leaves communities of family, friends, co-workers weakened, heading down the road toward disintegration.  Sin makes human society go unjust and violent.  Sin destabilizes the planet, exposing it to eventual ecological disaster.

Sin is something to take very seriously.

We begin the "Year of Faith."  Faith is not a "magic carpet" to heaven.  It is a decision to surrender to God in one's life by dying in order to rise.  But die to what?  The answer is provided by conscience, the inner voice that speaks two stinging words:  "right" and "wrong."  To grow in faith is to courageously choose right over wrong.  A "Year of Faith" cannot not take sin seriously.

Sunday Eucharist is the community celebration of being saved by the One "who takes away the sins of the world."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Retirement: Going and Staying

People ask me, "How is retirement going?"  My answer, at the moment, is that I have the retirement mentality but not yet the life-style.  In these months, I am still finishing up some necessary, left-over activity, but when that is done--soon--I will be freer to establish the new pace for my life.  I am already practicing it in my head.

I find that one of the early challenges in retiring is not just having to "let go," but also knowing exactly how "to stay."  With retirement, I am not moving to another planet.  I still live in in the midst of life as I have known it.  So, I have made a couple of lists for myself to help me think about "how to go" and "how to stay."

The first list is about what work responsibilities I will no longer assume--"how to go."  To be retired from the work I used to do, I feel the challenge to not:  Plan it; Fund it; Build it; Lead it; Facilitate it; Worry about it; Rethink it; Critique it; Fix it; Save it or Eliminate it.  Those kinds of responsibility now belong to the past for me.  These "not" tasks are not easy for me, since they gave important meaning to my active life.  So, I am still having some painful moments.  But most of the time, in not having to do them now, I am feeling wonderfully liberated.  Retirement is as much a matter of what is happening on the inside as on the outside.

On the other hand, what I energetically worked in and for during my active years continues to have a life.  So, how do I relate to it in retirement--"how to stay?" That's the second list that will help teach me to:  Honor it; Be hospitable towards it; Collaborate with it; Encourage it; Pray for it and Advise it (when asked).  These kinds of tasks are a new discipline for me to practice.  They are creating boundaries that keep me respectfully close and, and at the same time, healthily detached.  They will be teaching me a new pace in a new space.

So that's how retirement is going for me at the moment.  It feels right.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

TableTalk, Wednesday 28 B: BURDENS

In the Gospel of today’s Eucharist, Jesus says to Pharisees and the scholars of the Law, “You impose on people burdens hard to carry”  (Lk 11:46).

We might be tempted to turn the question on Christ himself.  And you, do you not impose on people burdens hard to carry?  In the first reading of this day from Galatians, we hear the list of those burdens.  “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. . . . If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit” (5:22).

Live love, serving God and doing the best for the neighbor without conditions.
Live joy, celebrating with unshakeable confidence in all circumstances, good and bad.
Live peace, being in harmony with oneself and others.
Live patience, remaining calm in difficult and disturbing experiences.
Live kindness, showing sensibility and care toward others.
Live generosity, providing magnanimously for others’ needs.
Live faithfulness, dedicating self to God and to living by God’s Word.
Live gentleness, offending no one.
Live self-control, mastering the self.

Given the Christian spiritual burdens, Christ is not like the scholars of the Law who “do not lift one finger to touch them [the burdens]."  The finger Christ lifted to touch the burdens of discipleship was the act of his liberating death and resurrection.  Christians are free for the New Law by the power of Jesus’ Spirit, poured out into the world by his redemptive act.  In Christ, there is no obstacle to living the fruits of the Spirit.  Participating in his Paschal Mystery, the disciples “have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires” for a following of the Spirit.

With this, as with every celebration of the Eucharist, Christ lifts his finger again.   The community’s commemoration of his death and resurrection empowers it anew for living in the Spirit.   

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

TableTalk, Tuesday 28 Ordinary B: HEDGING BETS

The first reading of today’s liturgy, from Galatians, lingers on the difficult and controversial question of the early Church:  Christians to keep or not to keep the Mosaic Law.

A good number of converts from Judaism were promoting this practice.  Paul countered it, explaining that either Christ alone saves or he does not.   The only law to be practiced is “faith working through love.”

Why the tendency to want the Mosaic observance?  Perhaps full conversion to Christ was too overwhelming for sincere Jews who had given their religious lives—like Paul—to keeping the Law.  It is hard to break old and trustworthy habits.  Perhaps, too, under the pressure of persecution, Jewish converts to Christianity were tempted to think that they made a mistake.  How could Christ mean such misfortune for them?

The insistence on the Law on the part of these new, nervous converts tempted them to “hedge their bets on Christ,” providing a kind of religious insurance “on the side”—the Mosaic Law—to assure the salvation they were hoping for.   While this might have been understandable in the circumstances, it was a “separation from Christ,” according to Paul, and a falling from grace.

Are we really any different from those struggling Christians at the beginning?  We profess Christ but all of us have been tempted at times to “hedge our bets” on him.  We are looking for the fullness of life and fear we shall not have it.  So, we may keep a little “on the side” to assure ourselves.  For some of us, it might be investment or prestige or legacy.  For others, it might be longevity or accomplishment or even some dabbling in other religious faiths.  But we are confronted with the same article of faith as those early disciples:  either Christ alone saves or he does not.  Otherwise, what is the meaning of “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all things will be given you beside”?

Each time we are at the Eucharistic Table, we proclaim God’s salvation in Christ through his death and resurrection.  In communion with Christ, we dedicate ourselves to following this path sacrificially together.  Eucharist is always a purification of the tendency to “hedge our bets”  and avoid falling from New Testament grace.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

TableTalk, Wednesday 27 B: BEING IN LINE

The first reading of today’s Mass gives a clear picture of Paul’s relationship with the first Pope and Curia.  What can the Church today learn from it?

First of all, we can see clearly that God gives strong gifts to members of the Church who are not part of the hierarchy.  Paul received the Gospel from Christ himself, independently of the then current teaching authority of the Church.  This tells us that God is ultimately in charge of the Christian project to redeem the world and is the ultimate strategist for the Kingdom.

Second, independent or not, Paul is given a revelation to go to Peter and others of the Twelve to verify that he is teaching the same Gospel as they.  The then hierarchy agreed with Paul’s proclamation and his right to proclaim.  It seems obvious from this that God wishes one message spoken, a unity of faith in the Church, that goes beyond personality and personal charism.  Each gifted member, then, has the duty to ensure this by realizing communion with the leadership.

Within the context of the mutual handshake, Paul confronts the first Pope with his error.  Peter was living one way as a Christian (not observing the Law of Moses himself) and yet talking another way to Gentile converts (requiring them to observe the Law).  The hypocrisy was born of Peter’s fear of the faction in the community that insisted on observance of Mosaic Law as part of Christian practice.  Paul saw that Peter and his colleagues “were not on the right road in line with the truth of the Gospel” and he dared to speak up.  He boldly unmasked Peter and corrected his point of view with Gospel arguments.  It is Paul’s position, not Peter’s, that was subsequently embraced in Christian history.  All of this tells us that dissent is legitimate, sometimes necessary, in the Church as long as it speaks the Gospel truth.  And that is the great challenge of any dissenter.

The Church today, to be true to its call, should take care not to deny this Paul and Peter story in any of its aspects.