Tag Archives: Divine Spirit

5TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME 2018

Personal statement from Dick Rento

Pope Francis has often spoken of the church as a very wide tent with room for all persons of good conscience and good will. Father James Martin is an American Jesuit priest who has written and spoken about welcoming homosexual persons into full and active membership in the church. A talk was scheduled for February 15 in Readington, NJ, but has been canceled because of angry protests from objectors.

People like me, who have friends and family members who are gay and lesbian, know how hurtful such an attitude can be.

I suggest and request that you keep this matter in your mind and heart as we begin this Sunday liturgy, praying that we may soon become the truly inclusive Christian community that Jesus wanted us to be.

RGR

Nine years ago, I received the following letter from an elderly parishioner, now deceased–

“Dear Father:

“Please ask God in your prayers to restore to me full recovery from a stroke I suffered many years ago. I need my left hand badly and have been praying 11 years and 6 months without results. So, if you favor me with your prayers, the Lord may just listen to a man of the cloth (!!). I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a penance and punishment from the Lord. If I knew that, I certainly would not do it again.”

Just think how revealing those words are. We learn that this good man believes that the troubles that have befallen him were given him by God. He also tells us that he hasn’t any idea why he has been so punished. He ends with the sad statement that, if only he did know what sins he committed to deserve his penalty, he would never commit them again.

He was a modern day Job, whose identical thinking was presented to us in today’s first reading. The saddest thing is that he is by no means unique among Christian believers. Dozens of times in my life as a priest I have been asked the very same thing: “Father, why is God doing this to me?” Or, “I know I must accept this cross, because it is God’s will for me.” And I have answered time & time again that God had nothing to do with their misfortunes, that God does not fashion our crosses or punish or reward us.

The truth is that life is full of accidents and human violence and disease in addition to the irrational, often deadly, forces of nature, enough to produce a climate in which all living things, including us human beings, are only too likely to get hurt — not occasionally, but often.

Unfortunately, as our first reading clearly shows, we are still stuck with a long and strong tradition that would have us believe that the Creator is in charge of what happens in this world, when actually there is not a bit of truth in such a belief.

There are reasons why we are so quick to assign to God responsibility for our troubles: to begin with, we get comfort from assuming that there is a rational cause for the terrible things that happen to us, and that the cause is God. That belief enables people of faith to shrug their shoulders, grit their teeth and say that God must have caused or allowed the tragedy for a reason that they cannot comprehend. Something deep inside them tells them that they could not survive in a world of pure chance; someone’s got to be in charge, there must be some sort of intelligent design, otherwise this is an absurd world, and we are all its hapless victims.

The truth is that our strength and consolation come from the presence of the Divine Spirit, the Creator, within us in both good times and bad. We need nothing more than our own personal resources, the support of those who love us, and the unfailing presence of the one and only God Creator, who lives within us every second of our existence.

Good men that they were, Job and my letter writer friend, they did not know that. As a result, their sufferings were needlessly made worse because they viewed them in a false context. We ought to pay close attention and be determined never to fall into the same error.

Last week’s first scripture reading, you may recall, ended with the words, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts. We might end this Mass with the silent, simple prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, and heal our broken hearts.”

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4TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Readings like the three we just heard require so much background information in order to be understood that they are far better handled in a classroom than in a six- or seven-minute homily on Sunday morning. Take as an example today’s brief excerpt from St. Paul’s long letter to the new Christians in Corinth. Interpreted on its own merits the message seems to be that marriage is an inferior way of life for the really committed Christian. Paul says that to have a husband or wife pulls one away from devotion to God. That’s one of the standard arguments, you know, against a married priesthood: that the priest who is married could not possibly at the same time devote himself adequately to his ordained ministry. I’m among the many who do not subscribe to such thinking.

And how different that line of reasoning is from what an Episcopal priest said to me many years ago. He told me that his wife is so much a part of his personal and professional life that if she were removed from the equation, as he put it, he would not know how to be a priest.

But actually St. Paul was not denigrating marriage; he was only trying to establish an order of priorities in the lives of his fellow followers of Jesus. Remember, as we mentioned last week, that Paul thought that the world was about to end and that this was no time to be concerned about things of this life — no time to be thinking about marrying or starting a business or traveling or whatever. All that should be done now is to prepare as best we can for the triumphant return of the crucified and risen Jesus, which could occur even as soon as tomorrow.

Well, we know that Paul was mistaken about the second coming of Christ; it hasn’t happened yet, 2000 years later. But that doesn’t strip his words of relevant meaning, not if we see in them a more general plea that we take seriously becoming more & more attentive to the voice of God within us.

I grant you that that is very subjective: two persons can hear the voice of God very differently, as is the case right now among good people who are concerned about grave moral issues like abortion and wars in the Middle East and various sexual matters.

But to say the “voice of God” is to speak in metaphor. The Second Vatican Council, over 50 years ago, said that we discover in ourselves a law in our consciences which calls us to love and to do what is good and that we will be judged on how we observed that law. That means that we are to be guided constantly by an inner compass which gets its orientation from the Spirit of God. Each of us is to use that compass so as to deal successfully with the persistent distraction and competition that we encounter along the way.

How many times I have heard distressed parents agonize over a son who is gay or a daughter who is divorced and remarried, for example. I respond first by asking two questions: 1) Is your child a good and loving person? Invariably the answer is Yes. 2) Is it clear that he or she has acted, not thoughtlessly or selfishly, but in good conscience after a long period of consideration? Again, I have rarely heard anything but a resounding Yes.

A moral decision can be costly for the person who makes it when it disappoints those that he or she loves. But, if it comes out of heart and mind and conscience, it is perfectly in accord with the time-honored tradition that we are to be directed ultimately – in the final analysis, as we say — by the Divine Spirit present within us and speaking through a well-formed conscience.

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

ASCENSION 2017

Our ancestors concocted wonderful and enduring stories about the mysteries of faith, taking them from what they saw around them. For example, they marveled at how a potter makes a beautiful vase out of a lump of clay, and they said “That’s how God made us!” The facts were wrong, but the message was right: that God is the creator of all that is, and that human beings were created to resemble that God in ways not possible for any other creature.

It is the meaning of what they thought and said and wrote that counts, not what facts it contains or doesn’t contain. They didn’t have access to those facts, as we do today. But fundamentalists even now insist that the Bible can make no error of any kind, and they calculate, therefore, that the universe is only 6,000 years old – while solid science tells us that the universe is some 15 billion years old!

What is written in the Bible about the feast we are celebrating today is a significant case in point. Consider that, of the four gospel authors and St. Paul, out of those five, Luke is the only one who has left us with a step-by-step account of the events of Jesus’ life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension. Nowhere else in the Bible will you find the purported “facts” that he offers. John bunches up the Resurrection of Jesus, his Ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples into one brief day. Mark and Matthew make no mention of an Ascension; they tell only of Jesus’ Resurrection. And Paul, the first New Testament writer – before Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — treats the two events, Resurrection and Ascension, as if they were one and the same.

So, we’re not going to get much in the way of factual reliability from those five! But who should care about a little contradiction here & there? Like a good spice, it makes the story tastier!

It is the meaning of what is passed on that is the important thing, not whether or not it is historically or scientifically accurate. The scriptures, let us say again & again, are not history books; they are not biographies; they are expressions of faith.

There’s a message for us in these Ascension accounts and references; namely, that we who have heard and accepted Jesus as the ultimate life-giver, the ultimate expression of the mystery that we call God, are called, not only to believe, but to imitate! We are to carry on what he began: a ministry of love, healing, forgiveness, and peacemaking. We are to do that, not depending on our limited human resources alone, but on the Divine Spirit whom God would share with us always. The story of his “Ascension,” even though it may not have been the lifting of his living body skyward, implies that he is with God in a total union of the most intense love and that we are here to be him to others by allowing the Spirit that worked through him to work through us.

He has left us — only to be with us always!

HOMILY FOR FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY, 2014

Without eyewitnesses or histories or biographies to inform us, there’s so little that we can know about the family life of Mary and Joseph and their son Jesus.  So much of what we believe is from conjecture; we have only a very few incidents taken from their life, and occurring at great intervals, to give us some insight into the character of their relationships.

So we are left to rely on the minimal facts we get from the Scriptures in trying to learn whatever we can about that family we call our model.  As I reflect on those documents, I find two most significant traits of their shared life that we would do well to emulate in our own family and community life, whatever form it may take.

First: Notice the very explicit and dominant recognition on the part of all three members of that family that their destiny was ultimately rooted in the love of God.  Joseph interprets certain dreams at critical moments in their life as the voice of the Divine Spirit directing them toward safety and survival.  Mary, at the outset of the unfolding drama, says, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let what you have said be done to me.”  And even Jesus as a boy of 12 is keenly conscious of another Father, the Creator, whom he recognizes as the leader in all that transpires.

This awareness of an intimately present, loving, acting God was obviously the foundation of everything these three persons thought and said and did.  It gave them a single and undisputed direction.  It made them peaceful and confident when nothing else could.  It enabled them to trust each other.  It protected them from the unbalancing effect of the unpredictable.  It enlightened them to see beyond the failures of the moment to the victory that was assured.  They were a prayerful family, “holy” in the sense that their orientation was always, no matter what was happening, toward the unseen God.

Today’s families, I feel sure, would find that many of their fears and tensions would melt away if they cultivated reliance on the Lord who saves.

From a female friend and collaborator I received an email a few weeks ago.  I had expressed to her my doubt about the next step to be taken in a project we were involved in.  Her response was, “We’ve done all we know how to do.  Enough.  Let’s leave it to the Divine Spirit from here on.”  And so we did.

The second characteristic of the Holy Family that I see as necessary for us today is their use of silence.  In several places in the Scriptures we read of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph keeping silent about some important matter that was of great concern to them.  Not silence meant as judgment or rebuke or disinterest; but silence that heals — or silence that surrenders to God the whole troublesome situation at hand, with no further addition of human words and human logic.

In a world that is having a field day in the multiplication and storage of words, it seems more necessary than ever before that families learn the beauty and effectiveness of loving silence.  Silence can mean, “I may hurt you with my hasty, ill-chosen words; I offer you my silence instead as a way of healing.”  Silence can mean, “Let’s leave our concern in the Lord’s hands and wait for a miracle.”  Silence can mean, “May the Spirit of God bring from my heart to yours what my tongue cannot express.”