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Posts Tagged ‘Liturgical Press’

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God’s Favorite People:  Deeply Flawed

In the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah chapter 20 we read something that we wouldn’t normally expect from a prophet.  Jeremiah had preached the message God had asked him to preach, and for that effort his friends turned on him.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise.  But what Jeremiah in turn asked of God certainly was.  He prayed for vengeance on his former friends.

In her reflection on this passage that appeared on April 3rd in Give Us This Day, Sr. Mary McGlone draws attention to this unfortunate flaw in Jeremiah’s character.  Unlike Jesus, who prayed for forgiveness for his persecutors, Jeremiah prayed for revenge.  He wanted to gloat as he watched his enemies suffer.

Whatever this may say about Jeremiah, this passage says something profound about God’s willingness to choose flawed people to do his work.  Among others, God called Moses, who didn’t speak well at all and also happened to be a murderer.  Then there was David, who was a philanderer and abused his power.  Later came Mary, who was a young girl with little in the way of power or connections.  Certainly to be counted among these stars was Paul, who had been a persecutor of Christians.  And then, as people called out of time, God most recently has called us.

Despite our flaws and in spite of our sins, God has plans for us.  It’s why God gathers us around the altar.  And so in the Eucharist Jesus Christ feeds us and then sends us out to do his will.  Much like the apostles, we go, ready or not.

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NOTES

+On April 3rd I celebrated the community Eucharist at Saint John’s Abbey, and today’s post is the reflection that I delivered that day.  Give Us This Day, which I reference in the sermon, is a monthly publication of The Liturgical Press at Saint John’s Abbey.

+Just as was the case the week before, this week my furthest journeys were walks on the abbey grounds.  It was wonderfully quiet, and despite a dusting of snow on one day, the weather was largely pleasant.

+After much technical difficulty, the live-streaming of the abbey liturgies finally seems to be on track.  To view the liturgies of Holy Week, including that of the Easter Vigil on Saturday at 9:00 pm, please visit http://www.saintjohnsabbey.org.

+My major task this past week was the composition of a prayer that I was asked to prepare for members of the Order of Malta.  Because of restrictions on public gatherings, this will be for most members the first time in their adult lives when they are unable to attend Easter services.  The prayer, appended at the bottom of today’s post, is meant to accompany the lighting of a candle at sunset on Holy Saturday.  Please feel free to share this text with any who might wish to participate and proclaim from their homes that Christ is their light and the light of the world.

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AN EASTER VIGIL PRAYER

Loving Father,

We gather around this candle whose flame pierces the darkness and proclaims by our faith that Jesus Christ is the light of the world.  We thank you for your Son, our Savior, and ask You to bless us and grant these petitions:

May this candle be our Easter candle in troubled times.

May Christ’s light warm the poor and heal the sick.

May Christ’s light caress the lonely and embrace the lost.

May Christ’s light reach into the corners of our hearts and dispel our darkest fears.

May we, by our charitable words and deeds, be Christ’s light to others and so light up the world.

And may we draw ever more closely to Jesus Christ, our light and risen Lord.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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imageAdvent: Pious Purposelessness?

Fr. Daniel Durken has not been gone from our midst all that long, so memories of him are still quite vivid in the monastery.  During a long and productive life he taught scripture to undergraduates at Saint John’s University, was editor at The Liturgical Press, and for a while served as novice master.  He excelled at all, but we remember him best for his love of the English language.

As a preacher Daniel had a unique style, and we looked forward to his displays of wit in the pulpit.  What was most remarkable was not just what he had to say, but how he said it.  For one thing, alliteration was the signature element in all of his homilies.  Effortlessly he could string together phrases and even sentences that hung on a single vowel or consonant.  I’m guessing he was predisposed to this, since his initials were DDD.  But his expertise didn’t end there, and many a well-crafted sentence became grist for thoughtful meditation.

A friend of mine reminded me of this last week when she wrote about the onslaught of work as Christmas approaches.  She knows from experience that the season can be too much for her, and that’s when she pauses to glance at a note that Daniel penned to her long ago.  “You can’t do everything altogether at the same time at once right now.”

imageObviously this points up the major shortcoming of multi-tasking.  We mere mortals can do one thing at a time, and if so we can do it pretty well.  Or we can try to do a bunch of things at the same time, and the results likely will be shoddy.  Less obviously, this is also a reminder of the impact of deadlines that come nearer and to-do lists that lengthen.  Ironically, those lists tend to grow longer at the very time of the year when the days grow shorter.  It’s a recipe for panic.

On the 2nd Sunday of Advent John the Baptist makes his entrance into the Advent story.  The gospels portray him as a voice crying in the desert, and his message is striking for its simplicity.  “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths.”  It’s all a very nice thought, but do any of us really have the time to add one more thing to our to-do lists?  Could this be the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back?

The interval between Thanksgiving and Christmas is not a good practice run for the “peace on earth” that Christmas promises.  Actually, for most of us it’s a crazy time of frenzied shopping, congested traffic, holiday parties and the like.  It’s a high-stress time when people and events can push many of us to the breaking point.  We do it all to promote goodwill and build community, yet some of us still find ourselves lonely and depressed.  We can often feel like we walk the paths of life alone.

It’s important to realize that John the Baptist is not asking us to add one more item to our to-do lists.  Rather, he suggests that this may be the best time to set everything aside for as long as it takes to make some sense of it.  Where is all this mindless activity taking us?  Do we even know what we want to do with our lives?

imageJohn the Baptist offers a way to deal with the season and the pressure, and it’s a matter of sitting down and sorting things out in the light of our gospel calling.  If tasks do not have some ultimate meaning or purpose, then chances are they lead to dead ends.  If hyper-activity leaves us dazed by mid-day, then it’s possible we’ve become little more than hamsters on a wheel.

Making straight the way to the Lord is not just another job.  It’s not pious purposelessness, to use some of Fr. Daniel’s alliteration.  A focus on the Lord gives perspective, and it helps us prioritize all the stuff we think we need to do.  A focus on the Lord provides the criteria for effective triage.  If something contributes to personal peace as well as to goodwill among family and friends, then it can stay on the to-do list until it finally gets done.  But if it doesn’t help us realize a vision of Christ in our lives, then off the list it should go.

So John the Baptist is not trying to choke us with one more assignment.  Rather, he urges us to simplify our lives.  Focus on the Lord, he suggests, and all the pieces will come together — eventually.

This Advent, then, if we have too much to do and we’re doing it all poorly, then let’s try to do at least one thing well.  Let’s heed John the Baptist and get a grip on ourselves and go out and get lives.  Preferably we should get lives rooted in the Lord; and if we do so, all else will come our way besides.  Of course this is easier said than done, until we finally start to do it.

image.Notes

+On November 30th we celebrated the lighting of the Christmas tree in the Great Hall.  This year it was different for two reasons.  First, after umpteen years we finally had to dispense with a live tree in the Great Hall.  Our insurance company and the fire department had badgered us for years to stop dragging in a live tree, for fear of fire.  Because of that, long ago we stopped decorating it with lights.  This year we finally went with an artificial tree that should last us for years and years.  But with that came the opportunity to decorate it once again with lights.  So it really is a sight to behold.

+On December 5th the choirs of Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict performed their annual Christmas concert at the Basilica of Saint Mary in downtown Minneapolis.

+John the Baptist has been a favorite subject for artists for centuries.  At Saint John’s images of him abound, including the stained glass in the Great Hall and the sculpture by Doris Cesar in the abbey church.  The third photo is a mosaic from Lourdes, and at bottom is another mosaic, from the cathedral of Orvieto in Italy.

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