Archive for prayer

Easter is about the General Dance

Posted in Easter, Prayer, Thomas Merton with tags , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

582749main_sunrise_from_iss-4x3_946-710Thomas Merton concluded his beautiful book New Seeds of Contemplation with a chapter titled “The General Dance.” It is a powerful reflection on the reason for the Incarnation, the meaning of humanity in creation, and the time that is inaugurated by the Resurrection — if only we can open our eyes to see it.

To talk about sin in the way St. Bonaventure does is to talk about humanity’s bent-overness, that we can not look up and out, but only down and at ourselves. In a sense, this is what Merton and others mean in terms of when we cannot see, when we cannot look beyond ourselves to see the world as it really is.

Easter is a time to see and a time to join the general dance of creation. To remember not only that which has been fulfilled in Christ’s death and resurrection, but to recall also what St. Francis said in recalling that in the Incarnation we have the promise that salvation is at hand. For, as Merton writes, “The Lord made the world and made humanity in order the He Himself might descend into the world, that He Himself might become human. When He regarded the world He was about to make He say His wisdom, as a man-child, ‘playing in the world, playing before Him at all times.’ And He reflected, ‘My delights are to be with the children of humanity.'”

God has entered our world as one of us, drawn close to us out of a self-emptying desire and love, assumed all of our reality, and consecrates it completely in the Resurrection, where now creation and divinity exist eternally as one. Merton continues: “For in becoming human, God became not only Jesus Christ but also potentially every man and woman that ever existed. In Christ, God became not only ‘this’ man, but also, in a broader and more mystical sense, yet no less truly, ‘every man.'”

Merton ends his book with the following reflection, a reflection that seems to me to speak to the heart of what we are celebrating with acclaims of “Alleluia” today, a celebration beckoning us to join in and dance.

What is serious to men and women is often very trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as “play” is perhaps what He Himself takes most seriously. At any rate the Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden of His creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear HIs call and follow Him in His mysterious, cosmic dance.

We do not have to go very far to catch the echoes of that game, and of that dancing. When we are along on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet Basho we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash — at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the “newness,” the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.

For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a the wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity, and despair.

But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our good, whether we want it to or not.

Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.

Do we hear the divine music playing on the cosmic dance floor of life? Are we willing to look up, to see around us, to recognize the glorification that all of creation has experienced? Can we join the general dance?

 Photo: NASA

The ‘Unspeakable’ One Year Later

Posted in America Magazine, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 15, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Boston_Marathon_Explosions1_t607It’s difficult to believe that it has been a year since the Boston Marathon bombing. I’m not sure how the rest of the country relates to the event, but living in Boston both during those days last year and now it seems like this is something that remains a constant specter haunting the city. During these last few weeks we have been accompanied by hundreds of stories in the media about the event, about the loss of life, about those whose lives have been directly and painfully affected by the attacks, about what the future holds for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, about what it all means.

Yet, meaning and sense do not always come easily in difficult and tragic circumstances such as these. Is there meaning and sense in the thoughtless slaughter of children in Connecticut? Is there meaning and sense in the terrorist attack in an African mall? Is there meaning and sense in the big and little ways that women and men are daily afflicted by suffering and fear?

Sometimes there are no words to articulate the experience and no meaning that can explain such tragedy. Rather than  offer any attempt to articulate or explain, I thought I might just share an essay I wrote last year in response to the events in Boston we remember this week. We continue to pray for those whose lives were taken, for those who struggle daily to move forward, and for those who afflicted such senseless and needless pain and suffering on others.

The Unspeakable: The Boston Marathon and the Beginning of Christian Hope

There some events we encounter in life for which there is simply no language to describe adequately our experience or words capable of consoling the afflicted. The events last month at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and the siege of the city four days later might rightly fall into this category. Images of the explosions, biographies of the victims and interviews with the witnesses circulated through cyberspace, on television and in print with hypnotizing rapidity and emotion-dulling saturation, only increasing the overwhelming experience of those days. As a resident of Boston, my memory of that week in April will forever be marked by the surreal nature of a scene that seemed closer to an action movie than to the reality playing out in my backyard.

In the initial silence of that Monday afternoon, as confusion ensued and victims were treated, I thought of the renowned
spiritual writer, social activist and Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. He had a term that seemed to capture this event: the
Unspeakable. There are times when we encounter something so terrible and terrifying, the experience pushes us to the edges of the effable. Such experiences of sin and violence in our world are concrete encounters with the Unspeakable. Merton explains, in part, what he means in his 1966 book Raids on the Unspeakable:

It is the void that contradicts everything that is spoken even before the words are said…. It is the emptiness of “the end.” Not necessarily the end of the world, but a theological point of no return, a climax of absolute finality in refusal, in equivocation, in disorder, in absurdity, which can be broken open again to truth only by miracle, by the coming of God…for Christian hope begins where every other hope stands frozen stiff before the face of the Unspeakable.

The Unspeakable is neither a word of comfort nor a greeting of consolation. It is a moniker that is challenging and indicting. It names a reality that most people would rather forget. James Douglass, in his book JFK and the Unspeakable, describes Merton’s concept of the Unspeakable as “a kind of systemic evil that defies speech.” However, it is not simply the object of our fear or an enemy from outside. Douglass continues: “The Unspeakable is not far away. It is not somewhere out there, identical with a government that became foreign to us. The emptiness of the void, the vacuum of responsibility and compassion, is in ourselves.”
To confront the Unspeakable requires that we face the ways we too are always already complicit in a culture of violence present in our world. This does not mean that individuals are exonerated from the particular and egregious acts of violence they commit, but it does mean that to look into the void of the Unspeakable involves looking into the mirror of our own participation in systems of violence.

Our Culture of Violence

One temptation we encounter in the face of violence like the events at the Boston Marathon or in Newtown, Conn., is to objectify the source of the violence and place it as an evil in opposition to the rest of us. This happens frequently, for example, in the use of the phrase “culture of death” (which originally comes from Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae”). There is a sense in which a Christian might claim to be “for life” and therefore make the “culture of death” an exterior enemy to be fought.

Merton’s approach to evil, sin and violence in the world is more nuanced. To begin, we might realize that “death” is not the most opportune word and recall that death is a natural part of life. Talk about a “culture of death,” while the intention is good and the meaning important, could be taken to suggest that death in itself is a bad thing. St. Francis of Assisi, for instance, has a different take on this. In his “Canticle of the Creatures,” Francis praises God for the gift of “sister bodily death,” whom all living creatures will inevitably encounter. As a people of the Resurrection, we also believe that Jesus Christ has “put an end to death” (2 Tm 1:10) and that death does not have the last word. Death should not be feared in itself.

But violence, unlike death, is not a natural part of life. Violence is made manifest in little and big ways, in words and actions, in things seen and unseen. Merton’s concept of the Unspeakable captures the significance of this reality in two key ways. First, violence is not something that is ascribable only to individuals who commit evil acts, like murder and terror. In his book New Seeds of Contemplation, Merton describes how we are often quick to blame others and acquit ourselves.

When we see crime in others, we try to correct it by destroying them or at least putting them out of sight. It is easy to identify sin with the sinner when he is someone other than our own self.

In ourselves, it is the other way round; we see the sin, but we have great difficulty in shouldering responsibility for it. We find it very hard to identify our sin with our own will and our own malice.

It is difficult to accept that all of us are somehow implicated in the finitude and sinfulness of humanity. Merton writes that “we tend unconsciously to ease ourselves still more of the burden of guilt that is in us, by passing it on to somebody else.”

Here we have the second insight about the Unspeakable, which arises from the realization that we are also sinners and participants in an unnecessary culture of violence. What makes the Unspeakable unspeakable is the masking over and avoidance of this reality in which we too are always already a part. Unlike common conceptions of the “culture of death,” which is an outside enemy to be fought, a “culture of violence” exists in the language, presuppositions, behaviors and attitudes of a population. This is what is hidden, what is reflected back to us when we are forced to look into the void or face of the Unspeakable.

Michael Cohen, a columnist for the British newspaper The Guardian, wrote a sobering piece the day after the bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been apprehended and his brother, Tamerlan, killed. He asked pointed questions that shine an uncomfortable light on a society that, in the same week, can shut down a major metropolitan city because of one suspect on the loose, yet fail to pass federal legislation to mandate criminal background checks for gun sales, a reform supported by nearly 90 percent of the population. He asked, with all due respect and sympathy to the dead and maimed in the Boston attack, how a society in which more than 30,000 deaths are caused by gun violence annually could react so drastically to the specter of terrorism when, in the past year, 17 Americans were killed in terrorist attacks.

Cohen’s concluding comments echo Merton’s concern:

It is a surreal and difficult-to-explain dynamic. Americans seemingly place an inordinate fear on violence that is random and unexplainable and can be blamed on “others”—jihadists, terrorists, evil-doers, etc. But the lurking dangers all around us—the guns, our unhealthy diets, the workplaces that kill 14 Americans every single day—these are just accepted as part of life, the price of freedom, if you will.

Part of what makes the culture of violence Unspeakable is our strong desire not to face the reality of our complicity in perpetuating injustice through our economic choices, attitudes, language, behaviors, lifestyles, biases, support (or lack thereof ) of legislation and so on.

It is a lot more comforting to blame the “other”— whether a “terrorist” or an amorphous “culture of death”— than it is to accept our individual and collective roles in perpetuating our unspeakable culture of violence.

The Beginning of Christian Hope

On the day of the attack in Boston, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap., archbishop of Boston, wrote: “In the midst of the darkness of this tragedy we turn to the light of Jesus Christ, the light that was evident in the lives of people who immediately turned to help those in need today.” There are times—for example, when those who might otherwise run away from danger out of fear run toward others to provide care and assistance—when signs of Christian hope displace the behaviors and attitudes of the culture of violence. Christian hope is not a belief in a far-off utopia that will come from outside. It is a description of God’s presence in the world now, when, like Jesus, we love the unlovable, forgive the unforgiveable, embrace the marginalized and forgotten and heal the broken and broken-hearted.

Christian hope is a hope that withstands the challenge as it appears to us when we look into the void of the Unspeakable and realize that we can do something about violence in our world and live a different way. It is a hope that proclaims through the incarnate Word of God that what was once ineffable in the Unspeakable can be named and overcome, but it also requires our honest admission of “what we have done and what we have failed to do.” Only then do we confront the culture of violence that we would rather forget.

The Unspeakable culture of violence extends far beyond the city borders of Boston and Newtown. It is perhaps more acutely seen in the communities of Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and in places largely unknown to us. There the experience of the Unspeakable witnessed on a sunny Boston afternoon is an everyday reality: Marketplaces, buses, houses of worship, elementary schools and neighborhoods are all affected by the terror of violence and fear that we in the United States cannot begin to imagine.

In his essay “Letter to an Innocent Bystander,” Merton challenges us with a truth that undergirds the perpetuation of an Unspeakable culture of violence on the local, national and world stage: “A witness of a crime, who just stands by and makes a mental note of the fact that he is an innocent bystander, tends by that very fact to become an accomplice.”

Merton’s challenge for us in Boston and around the world is to overcome the fear that leads us to claim innocence while scapegoating the “other,” to embrace the Gospel and become more human in compassion and to look into the void of the Unspeakable so as to accept our complicity in the continuation of a culture of violence in so many little and big ways. Then we might be able move on to speak and live the word of Christian hope that begins there in the face of the Unspeakable.

This article originally appeared in the May 20, 2013 issue of America magazine.

Photo: Wire

When Prayer Becomes About Us

Posted in Homilies, Pope Francis, Prayer, Scripture, Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

pharisee-tax-collector_472_314_80The scripture scholar Luke Timothy Johnson has a very telling comment about today’s Gospel passage, which centers on the parable of the self-righteous pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). Johnson says: “For Luke, prayer is faith in action. Prayer is not an optional exercise in piety, carried out to demonstrate one’s relationship with God. It is that relationship with God.”

This is a very striking parable, one that gets me every time. It challenges the hearers to examine themselves in such a way as to confront with honesty the truth that (a) we are indeed all sinners and (b) that it is far too common a human trait to be like the pharisee, to “pray” to God by looking out of the corner of our eyes and seeing those against whom we compare ourselves with despising or scorning (exoutheneo) glances and judgments.

How often do we find ourselves in the place of “those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised/scorned everyone else?” My sense is that, if you’re like me, more often than we’d like to admit.

In addition to the offensive self-righteousness of the pharisee, we have other themes that arise in subtle yet significant ways here.

First, we must ask about the pharisee — and, by proxy, ask about ourselves — according to what are others being judged as sinful, or “greedy, dishonest, adulterous” as the pharisee in Jesus’s parable puts it? The pharisee (and many of us) appears to contradict himself in his prayer. On the one hand, he’s presuming God is a judge before whom he must make his case by highlighting the ways he is accordingly righteous. On the other hand, if God is the judge, then what business does the pharisee have casting a verdict on the tax collector? See, Jesus does not deny that God is the judge, but as the Gospel from last week, which immediately precedes today’s in Luke’s account of the Good News, presents to us — God’s behavior as judge is far more generous and responsive than even the most surprising turn of generosity on the part of the so-called wicked judge who eventually hears the voiceless, recourse-less widow and grants her justice.

The pharisee wants God to be the sort of judge that fits his distorted worldview that is entirely self-serving, he wants God to render condemnatory judgment on those the pharisee has already judged as sinful, wrong, despised, and so forth. But Jesus warns his hearers, using a passive construction in the Greek that signals it is indeed God’s action and not the individual agents, that those who put themselves up like the pharisee are in for a terrifying surprise.

Second, there is some truth about what the pharisee presumes about the tax collector, at least that’s how Jesus conveys it to us through the very words of contrition and shame found on the lips of the self-acknowledged sinner. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” he says. And he’s right.

The odd thing here is that no one disputes — the pharisee, the tax-collector, Jesus — that the tax collector is a sinner. The only contentious question in this parable is whether or not anyone can stand before God and proclaim his or her righteousness. What makes what the pharisee says wrong is that he too is a sinner, he too is in need of mercy. But his prayer becomes one of misplaced self-confidence, of certitude of goodness or righteousness on account of his relative social standing to the tax-collector. But what might God have to say about this?

The Wisdom of Ben-Sira in the First Reading (Sirach 35: 12-14, 16-18) helps flesh this out for us.

The LORD is a God of justice,
who knows no favorites.
Though not unduly partial toward the weak,
yet he hears the cry of the oppressed.
The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan,
nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint.
The one who serves God willingly is heard;
his petition reaches the heavens.
The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds;
it does not rest till it reaches its goal,
nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds,
judges justly and affirms the right,
and the Lord will not delay.

We are reminded that God is not interested in a prosecutorial presentation of how great we are or why we are in need of answered prayers, admittance to heaven, or some other personal notion of salvation. No, God is interested in hearing “the one who serves God willingly,” the one who is humble and honest and truthful about where he or she stands. And the truth is, like Pope Francis himself admitted in his America magazine interview, we are all sinners, we are all the tax-collectors. But we so often act like the pharisee, if not in our direct prayers to God, then at least in our thoughts and actions.

One of the overlooked aspects of today’s readings is the true meaning of prayer and how it can be so easily co-opted for selfish and harmful purposes, used to justify judgment and discrimination that is said to have come from God but really only comes from the minds and mouths of human beings, of other sinners.

The pharisee shows us how not to pray. He makes prayer about himself and not, as Jesus taught his disciples, about God’s will being done.

Conversion, turning around, is what God calls us to do in prayer. To recognize, own, and confess to God “what we have done and what we have failed to do” so that we don’t just stay in the place of our own imperfection and finitude, but move toward action and justice. Those who admit their sinfulness, who with Pope Francis identify themselves as sinners, are able to meet the other, to extend a hand of understanding, and to offer an embrace of solidarity. Unlike the pharisee who has no need to be around “such people,” we are meant to be God’s hands and feet and heart in our world to, as the Psalm says, “hear the cry of the poor” and respond to those in need.

When the just cry out, the Lord hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them (Psalm 34).

How does God rescue the just from their distress? Through us.

But if we’re too busy making our prayer only an argument to God about how good we are, how righteous we are, how much better we are than others, we won’t be able to hear the cry of the poor and we won’t be able to be Christians. The time will come, then, when we will be humbled.

Photo: Stock

Twelve Years Later: A Prayer on the Anniversary of September 11, 2001

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 11, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Two years ago, the interfaith religious organization Odyssey Networks invited me to contribute an original prayer to their tenth anniversary of 9/11 project for their iPhone and Droid application called “Call on Faith.” Once someone downloads the app they have access to a number of prayers, reflections and interviews from a variety of sources and presented by many well-known religious leaders. In the case of their “On 9/11″ project, my contribution was solicited to be produced in a video (you can watch the video below). The video is an abridged version of the full prayer below. Odyssey Networks does excellent work and I hope that you find its smart phone applications and online resources helpful.

Over the last few weeks, thousands have come across this prayer at DatingGod.org after searching for a prayer for 9/11. On this twelfth anniversary of that event, I repost the prayer below. Those looking for some additional spiritual resources, particularly from the Franciscan tradition, might want to check out a book published last year for the Amazon kindle: Franciscan Voices on 9/11 (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2011).

God of Our Memories: A Prayer

God of our memories,
You have so blessed us with the gift of recollection:
To call to mind our joys and hopes, our griefs and anxieties.
As we live our lives, it is You who journey with us;
As we remember the people, places and events of our lives, it is You who stand by us;
And as we commemorate the lives of those who have gone before us, it is Your Spirit that unites us to one another.

At times Your blessing of memory seems like a curse.
The remembrances we carry weigh us down like burdens
rather than lift our hearts to You.
The tragedies, the violence and the sin of our world threaten our ability
to see Your presence among us,
to experience the breath of life You give us,
and to recognize the working of Your Spirit in our lives.

Your Spirit, scripture tells us in the opening of Genesis,
moved over the face of the Earth and the chaos of the waters
to bring order, life and peace.

Ten years ago we experienced chaos in our lives that stemmed
from the reality of sin in our world;
Sin marked by violence and hatred and fear.
We pray that Your Spirit, which marks the presence of You in our lives,
continue to move over the face of the Earth and the chaos of our history.
We ask that we might be open to being led by Your Spirit to help
renew the face of the Earth, inaugurating order, life and peace.

The memories we carry from ten years ago call to mind the
griefs and anxieties, suffering and loss, violence and hatred
that reflect that sinful side of our human condition.

Yet, we know that we are more than our limitedness and imperfection.
We know that we are called to do more than burnish the mirror of vengeance,
or repay hatred with discrimination,
or inflict suffering to assuage our own pain.
We know that You created us out of love and call us back to our origins.
We know that what it means to be created in Your image and likeness
is to be peacemakers and lovers in our world.

May we indeed be instruments of Your peace,
offering love, pardon, faith, hope, light and joy to the world.

May Your Spirit move over the chaos of our memories
and renew the face of our hearts as You continue to renew the face of the Earth.
May our memories, the gift you have given us,
recall ones once called “enemies” as friends
and call to mind those whom we’ve loved and lost
until we share with them the joy of your presence in the life to come.

AMEN.
– Daniel P. Horan, OFM (2011)

Photo: File

The Wisdom of God and Syria

Posted in Homilies, Prayer, Scripture, Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 8, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

VATICAN-SIRYA-POPE-PRAYERThis Sunday is a difficult time to reflect on the readings we have from Scripture. Like most Sundays, like most close examinations of the Gospel and the Word of God in the Hebrew Scriptures, there are challenging exhortations, instructions, and means according to which we must evaluate our lives and commitments. However, the international reality and tension of the humanitarian crisis in Syria with its accompanying specter of war rests heavily on our global shoulders. I have not written here about Syria so far without a few exceptions for encouraging prayer. There are reasons for this, not the least of which being not knowing where to begin in my comments. I have spoken informally to many friends and theological colleagues, read numerous articles and op-eds, and reflected on the commitments of Christian life as presented to us in the Gospel and the tradition of a living community that spans millennia. Today’s readings might help make some sense of what to do and how to think.

If we begin with the selection from the Book of Wisdom (9:13-18b), we see how it is amazingly poignant today. This is the end of a pericope known as “Solomon’s prayer for wisdom.” The leader of the People of Israel appeals to God for the guidance, wisdom, and inspiration that he recognizes human “wisdom” does not offer. As Michael Kolarcik, SJ, writes in a commentary on this passage:

Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. Solomon’s recognition of his need for wisdom is a paradigm for humanity, particularly for our own time, when our technical knowledge has grown exponentially. There is a fundamental distinction in Solomon’s prayer between knowledge and wisdom. Solomon is acutely aware of both the limits and the strengths of his knowledge. Knowledge represents the human familiarity with the world that enable people to move or act within it. It bestows the power to act. But how will Solomon act?

This, too, is our question: How will we act?

Perhaps more importantly, this is the question that haunts the civil leaders of our world at a time when some call for a response to violence with more violence. The desire to intervene in the attacks of the Syrian government on its own people is, I have no doubt, rooted in a good intention. However, war — even “tailored, strategic strikes” — doesn’t provide a solution to the most fundamental concern at the moment. As Drew Christiansen, SJ, said on PBS this week, “the missile strike doesn’t do the most essential thing, which is saving the people of Syria. And we could do more if we spent the money we’re spending on bombs on caring for the refugees.”

I believe that our commandment to love our neighbors, to care for our sisters and brothers demands of us some intervention in what is happening to those who suffer such injustice and atrocity around the world. But must we always see solution through the lens of military action?

While I am not a politician or an expert on international policy and therefore unable to offer the sort of constructive suggestions that so many are clamoring for when the question of military intervention is taken off the table, I nevertheless believe that the “easy answer” of strikes will not solve the problem. Reports from the region have also suggested that this is not the course of action the people who are being attacked in Syria want either. Something must be done, but not from the drone-control centers located safely around the United States nor from the weapon stores aboard the Naval Fleet poised for attack in the Mediterranean.

The Wisdom of God for which Solomon prays is the wisdom we need to pray for today.

Today’s Gospel is a continuation of this summer’s Ordinary-Time series of difficult passages, which offer a sober reminder to all the baptized that we are de facto in for a difficult time when it comes to following in the footprints of Jesus Christ. In other words, Jesus doesn’t advocate arbitrary hatred of one’s family and friends in the sort of way that a cult-leader might siphon off the familial ties of potential adherents. No, Jesus is really just stating the obvious about the care and consideration that must be taken in responding to God’s call to follow Christ.

Like someone who is planning a construction project, like a civil leader planning a military intervention, Christians must consider what it means to follow through with what they’ve committed to and how they’re to live in this world. Like Solomon, our challenge is to recognize that living in this world according to the Gospel means eschewing the wisdom of the world for the wisdom of God. And, in doing that, we might upset those around us — even, at times, those close to us.

I don’t have all the answers, nor does Pope Francis or anybody else. But we do have the Gospel. We have the call to live in the tension that beckons us to seek peace in the world, but a peace nevertheless that “the world cannot give.” The peace of Christ, which comes not from bombs or poisonous gas, but from the love of peacemaking, reconciliation, and support. We must oppose any more violence, while at the same time working — seriously working — to end the violence and injustice in Syria (and elsewhere!) according to peaceful means.

Photo: wire

The Sun Rises Over the Sinner

Posted in Prayer, Scripture, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on August 23, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

sunrise-beach

Every Friday morning the church together prays the penitential Psalm 51 as the first psalm in the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the “Divine Office.”

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.

It can be easy to read this Friday morning confession of one’s guilt and sinfulness, a truth professed by all human beings whether they pray this ancient Hebrew prayer each week or not, as a negative and self-deprecating exercise in humiliation, loathing, and penance.

My offenses truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.
Against you,  you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.

It might also be seen as a cathartic practice of confession and acceptance, humbling one’s self before the Creator and acknowledging what we carry in our hearts that needs to be expunged.

That you may be justified when you give sentence
and be without reproach when you judge.
O see, in guilt was I born,
a sinner was I conceived.

But there is something else that strikes me about this powerful psalm. It is, indeed, partly reflective of both those ways of looking at its being prayed, yet there is something more — something hopeful.

Indeed you love truth in the heart;
then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean;
O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.

It is perhaps no coincidence that my brother friars and I prayed this psalm this morning as the sun rose over the Atlantic coast. Sitting in the chapel of the friary the beams of light shot through the window, the ocean breeze flowed through the window, joggers and bikers stirred in the distance, and the sound of coastal birds announced the day had begun.

Make me hear rejoicing and gladness,
that the bones you have crushed may revive.
From my sins turn away your face
and blot out all my guilt.

Like the sun that rises in the East, bringing all within our horizon into light, so this psalm shines light on the darker parts of our lives. It doesn’t do so with the self-flaggelating masochism that could wrongly be associated with confessing one’s sinfulness. It brings to light the good and the bad, the sadness of sins committed and the hope of redemption.

A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
no deprive me of your holy spirit.

There is for me a sense of hope and of honesty and of love present within this psalm. It flows from the outright expression of guilt, ownership of sinfulness, and confession of transgressions committed toward a prayer of petition that God might renew in us the heart created to and for love, so often turned off by the desire for fulfilled self-satisfaction.

Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervor sustain me,
that I may teach transgressors your ways
and sinners may return to you.

Like the sun that rises each morning, this psalm appears on the lips of the members of the Body of Christ each Friday. And like the sun that rises each morning, we are reminded of God’s constant love, forgiveness, and desire for us to be more and more authentically human, which is to be more and more like Christ.

O rescue me, God, my helper,
and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise.

This is a prayer of renewal and hope. It provides the opportunity for us to stand in the liminal space between our selfish world of isolation and the conversio of Christian discipleship — the turning toward Christ.

For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice, a contrite spirit.
A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.

God wants nothing more from us than to be our true selves, those women and men acting in accord with our authentic identity as created in the image and likeness of God. Our honest confession, petition, and praise is the desire of God, not other acts of sacrifice.

In your goodness, show favor to Zion:
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will be pleased with lawful sacrifice,
holocausts offered on your altar.

Photo: File

Who Do We Say That We Are?

Posted in Homilies, Scripture with tags , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Jesus-and-disciplesWhat is the meaning of today’s readings from scripture? On the one hand, there appears to be a clear confession of faith in the Gospel when Peter, speaking on behalf of Jesus’s followers, proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth is “The Christ of God” in response to the question, “Who do you say that I am?”

Yet, this is not simply a one-way street. The confession that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the anointed one of God, cannot happen without at the same time our confessing something about who we say that we are. Most simply put, proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ carries with it certain aspects of what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be a human person.

What we have in today’s readings is a pattern or something of a guide for understanding who Christ is, while at the same time understanding who we are.

First, we cannot overlook that the whole exchange between Jesus and his disciples begins with prayer. Luke’s Gospel always has Jesus praying before some major event, revelation, or disclosure. Think of the desert before the proclamation of the reading from Isaiah, think of the garden before the Passion, think of the praying he does before the disciples ask him how they should pray, and so on. To be able to ask the question: “Who do you say that I am?” which is the desire to be known by our true identities, just as Jesus sought to be known by his followers, begins with a spirit of prayer.

We are under so much pressure today to conform our lives to the images that arise from others, focusing on “who do others say that I am,” rather than looking deep within to ask: Who does God say that I am? The starting place for that search for the true self begins with prayer.

Second, we cannot overlook the absolute necessity of relationship in this confession of faith. Peter and the other disciples were able to proclaim Jesus the Christ because they knew him, not just knew about him. We, too, are called to know Christ, to live a life of prayer that draws us every more closely to the one who already knows who we are and calls us to know God in return. So often we think we “know Jesus” — the question is often posed in evangelization moments, “Do you know Jesus?” — yet, this is often phrased in such a way as to really suggest knowledge about Jesus rather than a deep relationship with God that exceeds knowledge about the bible, facts about the church, and so on.

Third, in proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, we are also proclaiming something about ourselves. We who bear the name Christ — Christians — have our identity with Him. This is what Jesus says to us at the end of the Gospel today.

Then he said to all,
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

To proclaim Jesus as the Christ means that we call to mind the self-offering love of Christ, that toward which we strive to live, that after which we have been shaped and changed in baptism.

That we are members of the Body of Christ by virtue of our baptism means that our identity is not simply “Who others say that we are” but, as St. Paul says in the Letter to the Galatians, we are children of God, brothers and sisters to one another, and heirs to the Reign that is truly the peaceable kingdom. Paul explains:

Brothers and sisters:
Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus.
For all of you who were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither slave nor free person,
there is not male and female;
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And if you belong to Christ,
then you are Abraham’s descendant,
heirs according to the promise.

It isn’t always easy to live up to our identity as children of God, brothers and sisters of Christ and one another. It is difficult and challenging and tiring at times. But to proclaim that Jesus is the Christ calls us to flip the coin and look on the other side to see the perennial question: “Who do you say that you are?”

Photo: Stock
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