Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Spirit of the living God

I’ve been practicing Ignatian Scripture meditation for some time now.  For those who don’t know what that is here is the basic principle:  You create a quiet, peaceful place.  You ease yourself into prayer.  You ask God to show you what he wants you to see.  You slowly read the scripture and then you assume a role/enter into the scene.  Don’t control it, just interact in the scene as you feel guided.  Let God move you in the scene, and when you are done talk to God about what you have felt, learned, and how it moved you.  Sounds like a pretty awesome practice, doesn’t it?  It is!  It brings the scripture to life in a way that makes it both personal and whole in your heart and mind.  I love it but I have a “problem”  it seems that I am ‘stuck’ on one particular passage.  So, stuck, in fact, I’ve not been able to change scriptures—for over a year.  It is an oft read scripture, but always overlooked.  It is important, but doesn’t impact people the way I think it should, and has me for this last year.  It absolutely connects everything with everything else.  Now, after a year, I want to share the VERY simple elegant truth I’ve discovered in this mediation way. 

Genesis 1:2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

After a year, solid of meditation on this, even as I wrote it, my hands trembled with-not exactly anxiety-more like something that has no word to describe the overwhelming nature of the impact.  That moment is vast and ancient, more than our human minds can comprehend and yet that isn’t even the key point of my sense of awe.  The key point is found in: AND THE SPIRIT OF GOD WAS HOVERING OVER THE WATERS.  Now, it took me literally months to get to that actual part of the scripture semi-comfortably as the first part, arriving in the moment of nebulous creation, so ancient and HUGE was hard enough.  Then, we get to the second part about the Spirit.  When I was finally able to get to that part there was a sense of awe while at the same time something completely unexpected.  There was a sense of connectivity.  Which, is what I want to share now. 

That same spirit that lingered over the waters of creation, in a moment so pure and still, now dwells with in you. 

Take a moment please.  Put the computer down.  Walk away.  Go to a silent place, close your eyes and just dwell in that for a moment. 

When you are able to come back here I want you to now consider this:

The Spirit that gave King David his gifts and anointed him as King-now dwells in you.

The Spirit that came upon Moses and then the group that helped Moses when he was overwhelmed with leading his people is now within you.

The Spirit that gave Elijah the gift of prophecy-now dwells in you.

And get this…

The Spirit that raised our Savior-Jesus the Messiah- from the dead- is now within you!

I could go on, but I hope you get the point or are inspired to look more instances up in the scripture, because it is important.  It is also important for us to embrace, not only because it allows us to know our God and Savior better, but because the next time you sit in Church offering the "peace be with you" that you look at the people around you in that light too.  The same Spirit that lingered over the waters of creation not only dwells within you, but those who claim Jesus as their Messiah.  We are one body of Christ, in the Unity of the Holy Spirit, forever, and ever…Amen. 

I may never be “unstuck” from that scripture in my meditation, and that is OK, it has granted me a sense of awe and the seed of understanding of God’s mighty presence in my life.  What my potential is, what our potential is, if we embrace that Spirit obediently. 

Here I am, Lord, Send me!
Lisa Lee Brandel, Kolbe Evangelization Commission Chair 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas: give the good gifts.

A woman said to me recently, “I never felt embraced by the Catholic church.”  So, I walked over and hugged her.  “Now you have been.”  I said, and we both laughed.  Here is the thing we need to think as our Holy days are now upon us: Are we first embracing God so that we might be able to embrace those around us? 

Christmas is here.  Our Advent complete in one small baby that carried all the Glory of God has arrived.  If we claim to be his followers, if we claim the sacrifice He would ultimately make as being the road of our salvation, if we claim the baptism, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit….then we have some gifts to give this Christmas that can’t be bought at Macy’s or Sharper Image.  If we claim these things, then much is expected of us because much has been given us.  (1 Corinthians 12: 4-11 and Luke:12: 48) 

We are the Body of Christ.  We are all given gifts and talents but not for our vain glory or to be hoarded like a miser, but to give to the people around us that God may be glorified in all things and ways.  That my dear friends and family, is the spirit of Christmas that you’ve been driving yourself mad trying to ready for.  Spoiler alert, you didn’t need to drive yourself mad if you have God first in your life and family.  He has already given us more than what we need.  And yet, if we aren’t letting that flow out to the rest of the people of the world, the ones who are hurt, in pain, lonely…we are no better than white washed tombs. 

Love your enemies as yourself.

Reach out into the world and be the light of God for someone now, and the rest of the seasons.

Give the gift of God’s love and when it is “returned” it will bear fruit, real fruit, eternal fruit, that will never spoil. 

Be the love you need in Church and in the world. You are His hands and feet in the darkness.

Merry Christmas and know that  God loves you and so do I.  The people of Champaign County Catholics wish you all a loved and Holy holiday.

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Lisa Lee Brandel, Kolbe Evangelization Commission Chair.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Have Hope, Be Hope

If you cannot find hope-be hope for someone else. In doing that, you have found hope and you are also walking in faith.  This is the hope of God and in living the Christian message through your life, deeds, and words.  This last year has provided challenges to everyone I know, myself included.  It would be the easiest thing possible to lose hope.  We are challenged in this through the scriptures to have Hope when all hope seems lost because that is FAITH.  Faith is not the hope that things will turn out as we want, but the desire and understanding that all things be as God our Father would have them.  We say it at every Mass at our Saviors’ command: THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.  (Matthew 6:10)

Part of His will is that we have this hope and that we be this hope for the people around us, dare I say even the world. 

I was teaching a class and my pupils were a group of incarcerated folks.  The exercise in the class was that I put their names in a bucket and drew two at random.   They then had to come up in front of everyone, sit across from each other, and say a thing that they would give the other person. After the first two, who knew each other, the second two, who did not know each other, said, “This would be easier if I knew the person.”  This was the teachable moment I was looking for.  It is easier to give hope to the people we know sometimes, but as Christians we aren’t called to just that.  We are called to reach out into the dark cold needy world and be the Hope, empowered by the Holy Spirit.  "Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)  That is the key to unlock what we should or could do for those we do not know, how to give them hope, in faith. 

We aren’t called to give hope just to our family and friends.  We are called into the darkness, to the strangers, to the lonely, to the widowed, to the addicted, to the lost, to the__________.  (Fill in the blank with those people your eyes see that perhaps no one else does.)  If you can’t figure out what to do then do for them what you’d want if you were in their situation.  That is faith, hope, and action, and that is the charge of everyone who would call themselves a Christian. 

Have more than joy this season of Christmas, have hope. 

Here I am, Lord, send me!
Lisa Lee Brandel, Kolbe Evangelization Commission Chair

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Pray and do things too

Prayer is a powerful thing if you are a believer.  It is not just something we should be doing it is something we are told to do in obedience.  (1 Thesselonians 5:17-18, Ephesians: 6:18 come to mind.)  We pray for many reasons, not the least of which is that all good relationships involve good communication.  If we are not praying then we are also not listening, nor are we expecting from the Lord.  (Both of which are another blog posts I’ll probably write later.)  So, prayer is indeed a powerful and needed thing in the life of every person who would call themselves a believer. 

That said, I believe it is also important that we become the answer to prayers when we can.  Pray AND do a thing.  We are (supposed to be) saints in training and if we have (can) learn anything from the lives of those who have gone before us it is that prayer and action almost always go hand in hand.  Our Lord will always answer our prayers in one way or another, but since he also commanded that we “Love each other as I have loved you.”  AND “Do unto others as you would have done for you.”  I believe He is also calling us to action.  Pray obediently, yes, but reach out a hand if you can.

You cannot cure cancer, but you can pray for the sick AND visit them, their family, give comfort for their caregiver.  You can pray for the lonely, AND actually visit/be with those who have no one.  You can pray for the hungry AND feed someone who is hungry.  You can pray someone gets the information they need AND teach or connect someone who can teach them.  You can pray for the homeless AND give someone in need a home. Fill in the blank with the possibility, because they are endless.   If you need ideas, it’s easy to get some and here is how:  Think about what you might want if you were walking in their shoes and then do that.  If you aren’t totally sure it would be appropriate, then ask someone with greater knowledge than you AND pray for guidance. 

This isn’t just a ‘cute suggestion’ or ‘nice idea’ I have about how life should be.  The Messiah himself said in Matthew 25: 31-46. 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Pray and be the answer to someone’s prayers today.

Here I am, Lord, Send me!

 Lisa Lee Brandel, Kolbe Evangelization Commission Chair

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What can scripture really tell us about Jesus? Part 2: discerning the unity of scripture

As I mentioned in part 1 of this reflection, the academic world has largely lost sight of the real contribution of scripture to an understanding of who Jesus is and what he accomplished. While acknowledging the historical reality of Jesus' public life nearly 2 millennia ago, there is serious and widespread disagreement about what can truly be known about what he taught and what authority he could legitimately claim in advancing his teaching. Our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, has written a three volume series on Jesus of Nazareth in which he accepts the challenges laid down by scripture scholars and advances important arguments to support the claims of faith. Thus, Benedict argues, the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith are one and the same person. Or, to put this another way for the claims of faith, the historical Jesus was who scripture says he was, the Son of God, the Word made flesh, who dwelt among humanity, who was anointed by the Holy Spirit to carry out a mission of salvation and who suffered, died and rose from the dead in fulfillment of the Father's plan.

Papa Benedict (as he prefers to be addressed in informal circumstances, accepting the unofficial Italian title of all popes) wrote that two key arguments needed to be advanced in support of the claims of faith, one positive and one negative.

The positive argument is that scripture as a whole, including both the Old and New Testaments, has an underlying unity of vision involving a demonstrably coherent meaning and purpose. Discovering this unity of vision and the true coherence of scripture requires a starting point. That starting point, Benedict argues, must be the content of faith, itself.

So it is with all developments in the hard sciences. So it must be in the development of a coherent biblically-based theology. (What is theology, after all, but a coherent understanding of faith?) In the case of scientific theories, a new theory must be tested against existing and new scientific observations. In the case of a coherent theology, it must be tested against historical studies, including archaeology, and scientific observations, as well as individual human experience. Above all, it must be tested against scripture as a whole and the traditions that undergird scripture since these bear the weight of recorded divine revelation.

Papa Benedict describes the key to discerning the unity of scripture, founded on faith in Christ, as "a Christological hermeneutic". Here is what he says, in describing the process of discovering/discerning the unity of scripture.

This process is certainly not linear, and it is often dramatic, but when you watch it unfold in light of Jesus Christ, you can see it moving in a single overall direction; you can see that the Old and New Testaments belong together. This Christological hermeneutic, which sees Jesus Christ as the key to the whole and learns from him how to understand the Bible as a unity, presupposes a prior act of faith. It cannot be the conclusion of a purely historical method. But this act of faith is based upon reason—historical reason—and so makes it possible to see the internal unity of Scripture. By the same token, it enables us to understand anew the individual elements that have shaped it, without robbing them of their historical originality.

(Emphasis mine.) I will say more in the next installment.

Monday, December 12, 2016

This light of mine

The Christmas season is very hard for a great many people.  As much joy as it can be, it can also be an equal part sadness.  I am not even talking about people who can’t afford gifts for their children, but that is and can be a part in sadness too.  I am talking about the feeling of disconnect that feels so prevalent in our society.  There are people who do not feel ‘a part’ of anything. For those outside of the Church, and even those inside the Church who come but do not feel unity with either the people around them or God.  It is odd to me, in a time when we can know each other’s thoughts instantly, that the spirit of divide and isolation is so rampant.  At few other times in the year is this more obvious than the season we are in now. 

The last thing you say to someone before leaving their presence is oft times the thing we want them to remember most.  Before you walk out of the door leaving the babysitter with the kids, you might remind them where the emergency contact numbers are.  Before getting on a plane you may tell the people you are leaving behind that you love them, you know just in case.  One of the last things Jesus said (John 13:34-35)  was : "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."  Now, I ask myself and you this…If we (Christians) are the largest religious group in the world right now, and this was his new command, and we are supposed to be living like Saints in training, disciples here on earth-then why should anyone feel isolated and lonely at this or any other time in the year? 

We cannot fix lonely, but God can through us.  We cannot heal the lost or sick, but God can through us.  We cannot love our enemy, but God can through us.  We cannot live in and BE light and love of the nativity and crucifixion, but if we offer ourselves to Him, God can through us.   So, I ask us all today, for whom and how are we living?  To whom are we resolved to allow God, through us, to be His light?

Are we reaching out in love to those people who only fill the pews at Christmas and Easter? Are we showing them a better way?  Are we giving of our time, talents, and gifts to those who may not know the abundance found in Christ’s love?  Are we living what we say we believe?  Through Him, with Him, and in Him, are we living the light of the Christmas spirit every day? 

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Lisa Lee Brandel, Kolbe Evangelization Commission Chair

Thursday, December 8, 2016

I surrender all

As we celebrate this Holy Day of Obligation, the feast of the immaculate conception, we contemplate all that it means.  Mary was a young, unmarried, betrothed woman in a culture that held the highest of expectations of their women.  And yet, when the angel came to her she did not hesitate in her answer to the Lord.  (Luke 1:38) Mary answered, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let everything you’ve said happen to me.”  She surrendered her all to the Lord.

There are no degrees or levels of surrender.  We cannot ‘almost’ surrender in war.  We do not ‘sorta’ give up our will to the Lord.  Mary did not say, make me ‘kinda’ pregnant or I will go along with the whole baby thing but after that I’m out.  None of that is/was possible.  We either surrender or we do not. 

In a culture that values doing whatever YOU want this part of the gospel teaching is probably the most overlooked-and under desired of all the teachings.  We may be able to get behind someone else taking the punishment for us.  We may be able to embrace the unconditional love given to us by God.  But for true holiness, dare I say peace in our life and time, we must also surrender our all to the Lord.  That is the sticky wicket in which we seem to get stuck. 

Relationships are always a two-way street and it is that way with our Lord too.  We cannot claim a good relationship if we are willing to take all the Lord offers and give nothing back.  Granted, our ALL does seem like a lot, but we cannot out give our Lord.  Mary gave her all to God, she held nothing in reserve. She surrendered in obedience, showed us devotion to her Son, and in doing so gained the fullness of God and Heaven.  What she received was more than tenfold what she gave.  That is the richness of surrendering all.  That is the reward of obedience.   
Elizabeth exclaimed: (Luke 1:45) 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”  She surrendered, believed, and was indeed blessed.  In that example, we see obedience as the key of holiness.  Let us all surrender today so we might begin to unlock the joy and mysteries of faith. 

Here I am, Lord, use me,

Lisa Lee Brandel, Kolbe Evangelization Commission Chair. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

What does (and what can) scripture really tell us about Jesus? (Part 1)

A couple of months ago, a close friend of mine told me about a special program on Jesus that was due to air on (as I recall) CNN. I told him I was not that interested, and I was too busy at the time to devote attention to it. He tried to convince me that it was worth my attention and I would probably be interested, etc., etc.
The event reminded me of the hoax about finding the grave of James, the brother of Jesus from a couple of years back and the rage over Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code from about a dozen years back. In each case, people got very excited about "new facts" or "new theories". None of that interested me very much, because I had already seen how pathetic most contemporary studies of Jesus were.
It's not that there haven't been serious studies of the historical background of Jesus, or serious efforts to uncover documentary evidence of the life of Jesus apart from the bible, or even interesting and suggestive archaeological discoveries. Finding the really meaty stuff among the contemporary weeds, however, is no easy task. The problem is not that modern and post modern society has not devoted enough attention to who Jesus is, really, the problem is that too many people who have no credible claim to a connection with the subject matter have beclouded the discussion. You can find the wheat, but you have to first clear away the weeds, and the weeds in our contemporary secular world, have overrun the landscape.
It is for this very reason that Pope, Emeritus, Benedict XVI wrote his landmark three volume study, Jesus of Nazareth. In the Forward to his first volume, From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, he noted in a discussion of historical scholarship beginning in the 1950s,
The gap between the "historical Jesus" and the "Christ of faith" grew wider and the two visibly fell apart. But what can faith in Jesus as the Christ possibly mean, in Jesus as the Son of the living God, if the man Jesus was so completely different from the picture that the Evangelists painted of him and that the Church, on the evidence of the Gospels, takes as the basis of her preaching? [See the first page of the Forward.]
As an example of this "falling apart" phenomenon, the efforts of the so-called "Jesus Seminar" of the 1980s and 90s to uncover the "actual sayings of Jesus" (which they termed the ipsissima verba) ran into insuperable methodological difficulties. They could not develop a consensus except on a rather minimalist "lowest common denominator."
Our Pope Emeritus points to two things that can help to put back together what has been rent asunder through the workings of academic ambition. They are (1) the underlying unity of scripture, both Old and New Testament, as revealed in the tradition of interpretation, and (2) exposing the limitations of the historical, critical method, particularly as it has been practiced over the decades. These are deep matters, and I will treat them in the next post.

Your partner in the journey for the truth,
Fr. Larry Gearhart

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Selah-a moment of pause in the season of Advent.

Selah-It is a word that appears 74 times in the Hebrew scriptures.  While the meaning is unknown it's generally thought to mean-stop and listen or pause and reflect. So, as the season of Advent gets in full swing, as the madness of the busy schedule of parties surrounds you, as shopping, cooking, travel, and gift exchanges push you to the limits of your endurance I ask you now: Selah. 

Now is a time of great anticipation, that is the season of Advent.  We are anticipating the arrival of our Lord and Messiah, Jesus.  For us it is the beginning of, not just the greatest story ever told, but the only story worth telling.  The moment in time when all things changed for we struggling to know God in a personal way. As we anticipate, we remember the journey of Mary and Joseph, putting ourselves in their shoes as we think about the hardships they endured.  Perhaps though, we are in the wrong shoes? 

Perhaps this year, as we consider the story of the nativity instead of focusing on the Holy Family we might, even for a little while, become the innkeeper.  Ultimately, that IS who and what we are! Jesus knocks at our door every day asking if there is room within us and it is our choice whether we ask him to come.  Selah.   

In Mass we pray: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, 
but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. (Matthew 8:8)  We say these words with great reverence, but today I ask us all-are we living that reality?  In word and deed are we the Innkeepers that open our doors to give our Christ, our Savior, the home he so richly deservers and desires with us?


Thursday, December 1, 2016