Last Wednesday, my seminary students composed and preached homilies for the Easter Vigil. Andrew Hoover began his homily with these words, "The proof of the truth of Christianity is found in the ministry and lives of the apostles after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Nowhere else in the course of history has such a rag-tag group along with the other men and women who followed Jesus, led such a widespread population of people to a new way of life, and so quickly, as they set the word ablaze with the fire of the Lord’s teachings. What is even more remarkable is how clueless the apostles were initially." That last line caught me up short. These early followers of Jesus were clueless. They totally misunderstood Jesus' mission all the way up to and including the passion.
As mentioned before, I often learn from my students. Last week, Eric Garris preached a postil on the reading concerning the three young men in the fiery furnace. He was drawn by the courage of these three young men who just might have been around his own age. He pondered deeply their courage, he told us, and wondered if he faced a great ordeal, if he could stand strong. It was evident that he was greatly touched by this Scripture passage. I share a selection from his brief preaching that caught my attention:
Preparing for today's seminary class, I was going over the material from Cathy Hilkert's book Naming Grace: Preaching and the Sacramental Imagination, that I had assigned them to read. Immersed, too, in readings on the new cosmology with its emphasis on our connectedness to one another and all in the cosmos, the following paragraph from Cathy's book hit me with force. Preachers can and must preach that God is active in human history, but not in neat patterns or uninterrupted narratives. What is most amazing about the sacramental imagination also remains most troubling. The promise is given, the power is given, but the enfleshment of the vision in history depends on human beings. If preachers are to point to God's continued action in human history, the incarnational principle remains central: God is active in and through humankind.
The Akron Congregation is focusing this Lent on learning more about theology in relation to the new cosmological discoveries. Many of you may be watching the new episodes of Cosmos on the National Geographics channel. This series leads us to an understanding of the vastness - and that is a weak term! - of the universe. Robert Barron's description of God as somehow else not somewhere else, for me, becomes more and more real. I know of no other term to use for our God but awesome but it too is weak. Franciscan sister Ilia Delio, professor of religion and science and author of several books on cosmology and religion, speaks to this awesomeness in the following: "A foundational love undergirds all forms of evolution. God is not the divine mechanic above but the power of love within...God is beyond us, within us, around us...moving us to a new ultra humanity.
My thanks to Dominican Sister of Peace Mary Catherine Hilkert, OP, Professor of Theology at Notre Dame University, who wrote The Enlightened One, a wonderful reflection on Sunday's scripture - John 4:5-42. The reflection originally appeared on Notre Dame University's "FaithND" site. Click here to read more.
"Widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty" —Einstein
In my seminary classes we have been focusing on the lens through which we see our world. We don’t see reality as it is; we see it as we are. During Lent, I am trying to see all people, things, and events through the eyes of God: a God we have come to know through Jesus the Christ as bent on liberating, healing, and inclusive loving. Is my first response one of inclusive loving or is it one of judging? I am finding it is much easier to do the latter. The call for me this Lent is to fast from judgment and to feast on inclusive loving.
Ilia Delio's presentation on Christ and the cosmos to the LCWR has so intrigued me that I have begun reading other material in the area of cosmology. Robert Barron's development of God as "not somewhere else but somehow else convinces me that all of us—meaning everything ever created—is lovingly surrounded by, held by our Trinitarian God. Fashioned in the image of God, we humans are thus made according to the Trinity, meaning that we are created for relationship. Not only for relationship but we are actually connected deeply not only to one another but to all of creation." Michael Crosby, in the chapter titled "The Way of Connectedness" in his book Repair My House, cites the following by Albert Einstein. "A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts, and feelings as something separate from the rest.
This past Saturday, I was at in Wooster, OH, preaching a retreat for the women of St. Mary Parish. We were dialoguing on our call to being the daughter of God that each of is created to be. One of the women, an RN, offered the following: "In medicine, health is simply defined as being and becoming. Good health is to be the best we are able to be yet daily aiming to becoming more. Day to day it is being and becoming, being and becoming.” Can we not apply that to spiritual health as well? Being each moment as God's image through the personality God gave me yet always open to becoming more than the moment before. Openness to the God who is always present for "in God we live and move and have our being" moment by moment. Every moment we are offered a choice, in the words of Shakespeare's Hamlet, "to be or not to be" God’s daughter, God's son.
As many of you know, I am an Adjunct Professor of Homiletics at St. Mary Seminary in Cleveland, OH. I know that they learn much from me; however, in turn, I learn much from them. Last week, my students had their first preaching practicum; their homilies were drawn from the scriptures of the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time. One student, Robert McWilliams, began with the following question: "Does being a Christian, a temple of God, one belonging to Christ, color and highlight every facet of our lives in a way that the world knows that we believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are made for more, that we are made for love?" Wow! that sat us up straight! He went on to develop that what we do is important but it is not the defining characteristic of being Christian. What defines us and makes all the difference is the lens through which we view the world, our lives, each other.
Watching the Olympics always affects me in two ways: a sense of awe at the feats performed and an uneasy, almost guilty, feeling engendered by the athletes' focused and terrible dedication to their sport. I say terrible because the athlete is not to be dissuaded from his/her intent on becoming the best, no matter the price. In that awareness, I am forced to ask myself: Do I have that same terrible dedication to living the Gospel? to being at all times a living preaching of the Gospel? The Olympics always serve as an examination of conscience for me.