Already, Not Yet: The Eschatological Tension of Now

Posted in Advent, Homilies, Scripture, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

advent-wreathAlready, Not Yet! This is a phrase often associated with the eschatological tension that is made front and center of the liturgical season of Advent that gets underway today. If “Jesus” is the “Reason for the Season” of Christmas, as the popular expression goes (though, in truth, God’s love for creation is really the “reason for the reason,” that is the reason for the Incarnation), then “Now!” is the “Reason for the Season” of Advent.

As we kick off another liturgical year, entering into the Gospel narratives of Luke in the months to come and prepare for the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy in about a week, it is worthwhile to step back and remind ourselves why it is that we celebrate Advent, what it is all about, and what it actually means for us (i.e., “so what?”). Our readings this Sunday provide us with excellent insight into the answer to these questions.

Our First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah (33:14-16) brings us back to the early centuries of the People of Israel. According to the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the “Old Testament”), God makes four covenants, each with: (1) Noah, (2) Abraham, (3) Moses, and (4) David. The last of these is what is of interest to Jeremiah and to us here.

The promise God makes is that there will be a restoration of the unified Kingdom of Israel, which has at this time been split into two separate domains (not to mention the various capturing and recapturing of these from foreign nations). The covenant is that God will send someone from the Davidic line to restore the nation and community into one. While this is, on the one hand, about the historical reality of a divided nation, it is also, on the other hand, a prophecy that Christians believe exceeds the particular historical confines of the Davidic kingship.

God will in fact send an anointed one, a messiah from the Davidic line, who happens to be the Eternal Word made Flesh — God in God’s very self! The unity that is brought about is a cosmic unity, not simply uniting historically separated kingdoms, but the whole universe and all people.

Jeremiah is not really aware of this in his time, but nevertheless expresses in his prophetic proclamation a sense of this eschatological tension between the “already” and “not yet.”  The response is to address the question “What do we do now?” and his answer is twofold: to remember the covenant, the past, in which God made this promise and to hope in the future for its fulfillment. Meanwhile, we are to live out this memory and hope in terms of working for justice in our societies.

The Second Reading (1 Thess 3:12–4:2) likewise is concerned about the “already, not yet” theme of this season. Here the Thessalonians are deeply troubled about the length of time that it appears to be taking Jesus to return. They were expecting an immanent Second Coming, and what they got instead was a lot of anxiety about what would happen to those who might die before Jesus shows back up.

Paul addresses this head on in the spirit of Jeremiah, reassuring the Thessalonians by recalling the teaching and actions of Christ, placing their hopes in the future of God’s promise, and focusing on the present, the now. This last point is the bulk of today’s reading, an admonition to this early Christian community to not get all worked up about God not operating according to their schedules, but instead focus on how one is to live in the “now.” Paul explains:

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
just as we have for you,
so as to strengthen your hearts,
to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father…

brothers and sisters,
we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that,
as you received from us
how you should conduct yourselves to please God
and as you are conducting yourselves
you do so even more.
For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

The season of actively waiting, of living into the “already, not yet” of our present reality is a season where we should work to increase or love for one another and live in such a way as to reflect the Gospel that has been handed down to us.

Finally, in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 21:25-28, 34-36) we have within Jesus’s extended foretelling of his death a promise of Christ’s return and a presentation of what that might look like. Despite the apocalyptic imagery that so often leads to fear and trepidation in the minds of most movie-goers, Jesus’s message here is really not about fear at all. Instead there is a clear instruction given about how to live in light of the “already, not yet” of God’s eternal plan.

Jesus describes the end times (eschaton) with vivid imagery, but then offers a twofold admonition to his followers. He says that in the now we are to live in such a way as to avoid (a) drowsiness, drunkenness, a sense of “taking life for granted,” as well as (b) the unnecessary anxieties of daily life.  With regard to the former, we can easily slip into complacency and forget about the Gospel call to live in the moment, to consider the example given to us in Christ.  With regard to the latter, we can get so distracted by our own agendas, interests, and concerns that we also forget to live the Gospel. Both of these should be avoided.

The season of Advent is a season of the now, it is a season that calls us to snap out of our quotidian malaise and our anxieties and fears in order to start living what we’ve been called to in baptism: Gospel life.

Photo: Stock



A Thanksgiving Day Prayer

Posted in Prayer, Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 26, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

I heard about this prayer last week on the NPR radio program “On Being with Kristen Tippett.” It was written by a twentieth century theologian and reformer within the Baptist Church. I share this with you today because of its beauty and originality. In place of the usual, “bless us, O Lord,” may this enliven your spirit of gratitude for God’s many gifts, and may you have a blessed thanksgiving day!

Thanksgiving Day Prayer
by Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918)

For the wide sky and the blessed sun,
For the salt sea and the running water,
For the everlasting hills
And the never-resting winds,
For trees and the common grass underfoot.
We thank you for our senses
By which we hear the songs of birds,
And see the splendor of the summer fields,
And taste of the autumn fruits,
And rejoice in the feel of the snow,
And smell the breath of the spring.
Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty;
And save our souls from being so blind
That we pass unseeing
When even the common thornbush
Is aflame with your glory,
O God our creator,
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

This post was originally published on in 2013.

Tweeting the Gospel: Review of ‘The Tweetable Pope’

Posted in Book Review, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 17, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

y450-293Michael O’Loughlin, the national reporter for the Boston Globe’s web-based publication Crux, has provided the church and world a new way of viewing the Petrine ministry in the twenty-first century. Twitter. That odd social media platform that limits posts to 140 characters (at least for now) is oftentimes misunderstood and not well explained. Even I, who have and use a twitter account @DanHoranOFM have a difficult time explaining what exactly it is to others who may not be familiar with how it works. In truth, I’ve never been able to explain it well because it has always struck me as more experientially valuable than rationally necessary. It is a means by which lots of news and information is shared in real time, but sui generis and incomparable with other means of communication.

It is for this reason that, although Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have both had at least a nominal presence on Twitter (@pontifex), it can be especially difficult to understand the value or significance of evangelical ministry by way of Tweeting. That is, until O’Loughlin’s book.

Early in his introduction, O’Loughlin identifies exactly this sort of incredulous approach to twitter.

Some people dismiss Twitter because of the limit to the number of characters allowed per thought.  There can’t be much deep thinking going on, they say. But critics miss the point. Figuring out how to distill a complex message down to the essentials, to capture someone’s attention in a busy, rushed world, and to convince them to consider how they live their lives is a lot more difficult to do in a few words than it is in an essay or op-ed. But do it well, and you will leave your audience with something powerful to reflect on throughout the day. Do it really well, and you might even change the world (3).

Hyperbolic claims about “changing the world” aside, O’Loughlin’s point is well put. And I believe he captures part of what is so elusive about the role of Twitter in our world today.

Pope Francis’s presence on social media platforms is a mediated presence, but one that the pontiff has complete approval over and supervision of, O’Loughlin explains. One of the great things about the succinct messages that can be conveyed to millions of people via Twitter is that they are often messages that must be concentrated and focused, with each word and letter deliberately chosen. Whereas anyone can rant for thousands of words, offering a verbose pile of written extroversion in hopes of discovering a point, a successful Twitter account must be direct and simple.

Like Pope Francis’s consistent call for Christians to return to the simplicity of the Gospel without the self-interested gloss often applied to the sacred text, his Twitter account offers direct and accessible messages of hope, challenge, solidarity and, sometimes, humor.

O’Loughlin organizes his book thematically, categorizing Pope Francis’s tweets according to sixteen themes ranging from the predictable “Prayer,” “Mercy,” and “Creation,” to the less expected “Gossip,” “Sports,” and “The Devil.”

Each chapter includes both sample tweets as well as commentary from a journalist whose full-time job is to be deeply immersed in the daily workings of the church and its  leadership. What we get in turn is a fuller appreciation for the significance of this social-media ministry and a model, from the Bishop of Rome himself, of how to engage what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once called “the digital continent” into which we must venture in order to proclaim the Gospel.

O’Loughlin’s book is an interesting read, even for those who may not be active on Twitter. However, it strikes me as required reading for those who do venture into this mysterious land of social media with the desire to minister and proclaim the Gospel. We can learn a lot from Pope Francis, even if it’s 140 characters at a time.

Photo: HarperCollins

My Birthday Request in the wake of Paris and Beirut

Posted in Social Justice with tags , , , , , , , on November 15, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 8.22.27 PMThis is a video expression of my gratitude for all the kind wishes and greetings on my birthday along with a birthday request or plea to join in prayer with not only the victims of the terrorist attacks in paris and Beirut, but also prayers that we do not allow this horrific violence to harden our hearts to the needs of others who are refugees and migrants fleeing violence and unrest. Let us not abandon them, but open our hearts and borders to those who need our love and support. As Thomas Merton notes, drawing on his Christian faith, it is only love that can overcome the fear that is at the root of all war.

The video is embedded below, or you can go to the YouTube channel to watch it here:

Jesus, John Oliver, and the Widow’s Mite

Posted in Homilies, Scripture, Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , on November 9, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

widows-mite2When I hear Jesus in today’s Gospel (Mark 12:38-44), I think about the comedian John Oliver.

The reason I think of him has to do with an episode of his television program Last Week Tonight that aired earlier this year. In August, Oliver and his team did a segment unveiling what began as critique of perceived abuse of the religious tax exemption provided by the IRS. It highlighted the personal wealth that certain televangelists accumulated while ostensibly fleecing their virtual congregants, many of whom were poor and even physically ill.

What we witness in the clips highlighting the practice of wealthy preachers calling viewers to donate their money to them in the name of God is indeed appalling, particularly in light of the stories shared by family members of deceased individuals who refused to seek medical treatment and instead sent what remained of their money to these charlatans using the name of God for personal profit.

The reason I think of John Oliver is because what he identifies by way of his condemnation of this practice is awfully similar to what Jesus does in today’s Gospel, though perhaps Jesus does so with fewer jokes.

As I mentioned some years back in a popular blog post on this Gospel, far too often this passage (and its analogs elsewhere in the synoptics) have been misunderstood or at least misrepresented in way that portrays a very different picture than the one I believe Jesus wants us to have.

Typically, the observation of the widow’s donation of her livelihood in the form of two measly mites (think pennies) is hailed as a sign of complete dedication and trust in the Lord. To be sure, this is certainly the case. From this particular woman’s perspective, we might imagine that this is exactly what she is thinking. As a result, preachers often claim that she serves as a model for us in how we should donate to the church, giving completely from our livelihood and not merely from our abundance. We should give, these same preachers imply, even when it hurts — just like this poor widow.

However, what is far too often not considered in this accounting of the narrative are the lines immediately preceding this observation of Jesus about the poor widow.

In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds,
“Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes
and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
seats of honor in synagogues,
and places of honor at banquets.
They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext
recite lengthy prayers.
They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

How quick we are to forget (or to project our own interests into the Gospel).

The passage begins with Jesus’s condemnation of the religious leaders who benefit from the convincing poor widows with “lengthy prayers” to pass over their livelihoods, their financial resources. In a way, we might imagine those who seek places of honor at banquets and want to be greeted with important titles to be like first-century televangelists (minus the TV of course).

When we read this passage in its entirety, though, we should begin to see a bigger picture and recall that Jesus’s mission is one of justice and peace, announcing the love and mercy of God in word and deed. His condemnation of the religious leaders of his time followed by the observation of this poor woman surrendering all of her resources to the temple treasury should elicit a deep and troubling reflection.

Instead of admiring the poor widow, we should ask ourselves two questions:

  1. How did this woman come to be so destitute in the first place? Jesus notes that she’s a poor widow and that two mites are all she has, at all, to offer. What are the social conditions and structures that allow for such a reality?
  2. Why would she think that God wanted her to give up all that she had?

To the first question, we can look to First-Century Mediterranean culture. Women had very little standing in the deeply patriarchal society. Widows, especially, along with orphans and poor children had little to no recourse and no legal standing. A poor widow is a person facing a dangerously precarious reality, whose very life is always on the brink of complete ruin.

To the second question, the answer is found implicitly in Jesus’s condemnatory remarks. The sin of the scribes and other religious leaders at the time is the predatory practice of convincing the poor and disenfranchised that they needed to give what little subsistence money they had to the religious institutions in order to find favor with God.

This is not something we can simply relegate to the past. It is a practice that exists today, something that is highlighted in the extreme by John Oliver’s exposé of the predatory practices of televangelists. And yet, it happens in so many other ways, too.

Thinking about the systems at work that socialize people to operate against their own best interest for the sake of benefiting a select few. For example, health care in the United States. First, why do we live in a society that hasn’t provided this fundamental element of basic human flourishing to all people? And why do those who go without health care support ideas and even politicians who want to ensure that this is not a universal right?  Or what about the issue of income inequality, the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots,” the latter people which are encouraged to support and defend the “haves” as heroes without critical reflection on the reason that they themselves have not.

Today’s Gospel is a call not for us to idealize the poor widow who finds herself giving everything she has to the religious establishment, but it is a challenge for us — like Jesus — to identify the scribes and others of our own time who are fleecing the poor and perpetuating the conditions of structural injustice, and then do something about it. Each of us has been given different gifts and skills that can be used in this work of the Gospel. Perhaps some, like John Oliver, may even use comedy. However we proceed, we should proceed for the sake of justice in the name of God.

Photo: Stock

Episode 7 of ‘Understanding Laudato Si’ Now Online!

Posted in Laudato Si, YouTube Channel with tags , , , , , on October 27, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

UnderstandingI send this note out from the West Coast of the United States – Santa Barbara, California to be specific – where I have the privilege to lead a retreat this week on Thomas Merton. Not only is it wonderful to be in such a beautiful location, but also the organizers of the retreat have arranged for me to stay in the very room where Merton stayed when he visited here, La Casa de Maria, back in 1968 on his way to Alaska and then Asia. Because of limited Internet access and the time-zone difference, this video was a little late being released this morning. But I hope that it’s better late than never, as the expression goes.

In this latest episode of Understanding Laudato Si, we explore the first half of Chapter Three. The two subheadings of Chapter Three examined here include the themes of: (A) Technology: Creativity and Power; and (B) The Globalization of the Technocratic Paradigm. Stay tuned for next week’s episode in which we will explore the second half of Chapter Three!

All of the Understanding Laudato Si episodes available so far:

Episode 01 — “Models of Creation”

Episode 02 — “Situating Laudato Si

Episode 03 — “What is Happening to our Common Home?”

Episode 04 — “Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor”

Episode 05 — “Back to the ‘Beginning'”

Episode 06 — “A Universal Communion”

Episode 07 — “The ‘Technocratic Paradigm'”

Preview Trailer for “Understanding Laudato Si”


Five Episodes and Counting!

Posted in Laudato Si, Social Justice, Uncategorized, YouTube, YouTube Channel with tags , , , , , , on October 13, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

UnderstandingOver the last month it’s been exciting to share with everybody a new ministry project, a free video series online that introduces Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si by providing theological and scriptural background, context, and explanation in language that is accessible.

The idea for the series arose over the summer of 2015 when I was traveling to a variety of cities around the United States to give lectures and lead retreats. Only a handful of those events were directly related to Laudato Si, but there was nonetheless an increasing interest expressed at each location for more information and easily accessible resources to aid understanding this new encyclical letter. People were fascinated with all the news coverage about the encyclical, but were having a difficult time situating the text and understanding its content (in truth, few are especially inclined to read the whole document). So after some conversation with people in North Carolina and Texas in August, this YouTube Channel was launched with the hope of meeting some of the need previously expressed.

Subsequently, additional videos have been added to the channel and more diverse content related to themes such as theology and spirituality is forthcoming. In the meantime, the primary focus is still on the series “Understanding Laudato Si,” the fifth episode of which was released today! You can find links for all the currently available videos below. At this time, we’re anticipating about 15 videos in total for this series, so there’s still more to come. Each episode of ULS is released on Tuesday, so be sure to subscribe to the YouTube Channel to get it directly as soon each new episode comes out!

Thanks for your support and enthusiasm, which has been tremendous so far! Please pass along your comments, suggestions, and questions. Feedback is very helpful — this whole endeavor was the result of the consistent feedback of people all around the country.

Understanding Laudato Si

Episode 01 — “Models of Creation”

Episode 02 — “Situating Laudato Si

Episode 03 — “What is Happening to our Common Home?”

Episode 04 — “Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor”

Episode 05 — “Back to the ‘Beginning'”

Preview Trailer for “Understanding Laudato Si”


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