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Posts Tagged ‘Sacred Heart Schools Atherton CA’

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God Gives Us Whatever — Really?

“Whatever you ask from the Father, he will give it to you in my name.”  (John 16:23).

Whatever means whatever, doesn’t it Father?”  The question came from a friend of mine, and I could see where this was going.  He is a litigator, and one of the few things that I’ve learned about the legal profession is that litigators thrive on spirited debate.  So I knew I was in the docket and on the defensive.

The fact of the matter is, we can ask what we want from God, and God will definitely answer.  However, as often as not God doesn’t give us what we ask for but rather what we really need.  In short, then, this assurance from Jesus is not about a contractual relationship but rather is about a human relationship based on love.

C14C9541-00D0-4AEB-817F-690A85C8FF9EI like to focus on this statement of Jesus because it gets to the core of his preaching.  Time and again he assured people that he had no pretense of being a legal scholar.  He had come to do the will of his father, and that didn’t include providing an entirely new legal code.  There were already enough laws in the scrolls of the Jewish tradition, and Jesus was not the first Jew to point this out.  There was little or no need for more.

If we’re ever going to unlock the meaning behind the parables and other sayings of Jesus, then we have to appreciate one simple fact.   Jesus teaches out of the Wisdom tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures.  So it is that he doesn’t resort to legalese, but rather he gives us puzzles and enigmas to tease out the complexity of what it means to be a son or daughter of God.  “God as loving parent” is the image that Jesus prefers to work with.

That insight is key to understanding today’s reading from the gospel of Mark.  “To the one who has, more will be given;  from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”  At first blush this sounds terribly unjust.  It suggests that Jesus has put his own stamp of approval on the notion that the rich should get richer and the poor poorer, because that’s the divine will.  But economics is not what this is about.  It’s about our openness to the gift of life.  It’s about our willingness to let our light shine forth, or whether we choose to hide it under a basket.

AB6302AD-20F7-417C-BBBE-038150F05F6CThere’s one other point that I’d latch onto, and it has to do with those of us who work to nurture the talent in other people.  It’s one thing to let our own light shine, but it’s another to let other people shine as well.  So we have to check in with ourselves and ask whether we can be open enough to let our friends and children and students shine.  Can we see the talents that are latent in them?  Can we be alert to the potential within them — be they young or old?  This is part of what Jesus intends to say.

If we can be open to the Spirit working within us, then we are far more likely to be open to the Spirit working within others.  So when we can do that, God will likely give us exactly what we ask for, but far more than we ever imagine.

Let me share one last reference to my friend the litigator.  I asked him if he had won all of his cases, and he said “no.”  “Well then,” I asked, “is that because you didn’t pray to God for a win, or was it because Jesus was pulling our leg when he made this promise about his father?’’  I hope I don’t flatter myself with the thought that Jesus might have loved this answer.

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NOTES

+On January 30th I attended the meeting of the Board of Trustees of Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, CA.  Prior to the meeting I said Mass for the members of the board, and today’s post is the sermon that I gave.  It is based on Mark 4:21-25.

+On February 1st I delivered the main address at a symposium on Benedictine Spirituality hosted by The Friends of Saint Benedict, an Episcopal group with which I have had a long association.  The event took place at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.  During the luncheon that followed the symposium I was pleasantly surprised to read a flyer announcing that my confrere Fr. Michael Peterson will be speaking two weeks later at Saint Anselm Abbey in Washington.

+On February 2nd I attended choral evensong at Christ Church in Georgetown.  The choir at Christ Church is simply wonderful, and in the setting of the late-19th-century Anglo-Catholic architecture, it made for an over-the-top experience for me.

+Given that we celebrated the feast of the Presentation on Sunday the 2nd of February, the first two photos in today’s post illustrate that scene.  The painting is by the Master of the Prado “Adoration of the Magi,” and dates from ca. 1470.  It hangs today in the National Gallery in Washington, DC.  Below that is a decidedly more contemporary Presentation, done by Antonio Gaudi at the church of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  Below that is the chancel of Christ Church in Georgetown.  Finally, at bottom is a bit of whimsy that I could not resist including in today’s post.  While in the Bay Area I toured a new housing complex in downtown San Francisco.  In one courtyard of this massive development is a sculpture entitled Venus;  and while half as tall as the surrounding buildings, it just sucks the air out of the space.

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Saint Martin of Tours:  A Survivor

Modern visitors to the cathedral of Utrecht may find it slightly odd that Saint Martin of Tours is there to greet them.  It’s odd because this church built in his memory has been Dutch Reformed since 1580.  How in the world did Saint Martin make the cut?  Why is it that he’s still around when the Dutch Republic pulled his peers down from their pedestals and banished them into exile?

Martin is a survivor in part because he was unconventional.  First, Martin had been a soldier in the Roman imperial legions.  After his baptism he resigned his commission because he would only fight for Jesus Christ and no longer for the emperor.  Coincidentally that’s what the Protestant Dutch were doing when they rebelled against the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor.  Did their devotion to Martin serve double duty as an ironic poke in the eye of their modern emperor?  Probably.

328E7938-1A4F-4C2C-B011-68564A604136Then there is Martin’s identification with the poor.  In an act that made him a favorite for artists for centuries, Martin cut his cloak down the middle and shared half with a beggar.  The story is that Jesus came disguised as the beggar, and it underlined the notion that what we do for the least of people we do for Christ.

Martin eventually became a hermit, and to his hermitage flocked droves of young people.  So great was his reputation for holiness that the local Christians drafted him as bishop.  Reluctantly he accepted, but he did so only on his own terms.  Forced to be bishop, he still lived in his monastery, surrounded by his monks.

All this sounds like just another innocuous life of a saint, but embedded in it is yet one more poke in the eye.  By Martin’s time many of the bishops in Gaul were aristocrats who preferred life on their estates.  Martin’s way of life was a deliberate affront to them.  What rubbed salt in their wounds was one item that’s easily overlooked.  Many of those who joined Martin at his hermitage were the sons of those same aristocrats.

So there is in Martin’s story all sorts of countercultural symbolism.  He was a military man who swore off allegiance to the emperor.  He was oblivious to his own creature comforts and preferred to tend to the poor and suffering.  And while he finally caved in to the demand to become a bishop, on some things he would not compromise.  Power and luxury and aristocratic status were okay for other bishops, but that was not the kind of bishop he felt called to be.

EAAB366E-39B4-4C23-8B8F-514A7CA6AB45I used to wonder why Saint Benedict dedicated a chapel at Monte Cassino to Saint Martin.  Eventually I concluded that it was Benedict’s nod to Martin as a monk who was willing to combine service to the people of God with life in a monastery.  But now I think there’s more to it than I had thought.  Could his respect for Martin be a veiled warning to his own monks to be wary of both secular and ecclesiastical power?  It’s entirely possible.

Today I regret Saint Martin’s relative obscurity in the Catholic world.  If Martin had so much to say to Saint Benedict and to some Dutch Protestants in the 16th century, has he nothing to teach us today?  I certainly hope not, because what Saint Martin had to say then is what we need to hear now.

NOTES

+On November 11th we celebrated the feast of Saint Martin of Tours.  Quite by chance this year November 11th happened to fall on the Monday when we celebrate Veterans Day in the US.  Today’s post was not a sermon I gave that day but rather comes out of my memory as a teacher who has learned quite a lot since I left the classroom.

+On November 12th I celebrated the Eucharist for the annual meeting of the San Francisco area of the Order of Malta.

+On November 15th I attended the meeting of the Board of Directors of Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, CA.

+The photos in today’s post show the cathedral of Utrecht in the Netherlands, which I visited many years ago.

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A Perfect End and a Great Beginning

As funerals go, George’s had more than its share of joy.  Of course his family and the crowd of friends that filled the church were sad to let him go.  He had touched the lives of many.  He had been involved in a full schedule of activities.  He had reached out to the sick and the infirm in his decades of service in the Order of Malta.  He had done so much;  and yet, if there was one regret, it was this.  George still seemed to be at the top of his game.

There were lots of wonderful stories exchanged that day, but one struck me especially.  On the day he passed George called his wife to say that he had just had the best day of his life.  Then, less than a minute after hanging up, he slipped into the arms of the Lord.  Totally unexpected was his leave-taking.

34B85D1E-F685-4B63-8717-0A0D0BD16DADIn the service of compline we pray for “a peaceful night and a perfect end.”  Not many say those words at the end of the day, but everyone should.  For one thing, who doesn’t want a restful night?  It’s why collectively we pay a fortune for beds and bedding.  It’s why we buy truckloads of pills and various sleeping aids to put to rest the anxiety or pain that can grip us at the end of a day.  And yet we sometimes forget that a key ingredient for a peaceful night is a day filled with purpose.

As for a “perfect end,” I’m not sure many want to think about that and fewer still pray about it.  It’s a topic best pushed to the margins of our imaginations.  And yet, as surely as the sun rises and sets, death comes to us all.

Rightly we all are anxious about death, but we as Christians strengthen ourselves with a bedrock conviction.  Death is not the end, because the Lord reaches out to us as we step into the greatest adventure of our lives.

Saint Benedict in his Rule for Monasteries reminds his monks to “keep death daily before their eyes.”  That’s not an invitation to live in terror or paralysis.  Rather, it’s his unique way of reminding us that every day is a gift, and it’s a gift that we would be wise to make the most of.

Benedict also speaks of life as “something of a truce”.  In the expanse of eternity our few years are our chance to accomplish something creative and wonderful.  They are the interlude when we can be artists with all the talents and opportunities that God has given to each of us.

06EFDE6B-2260-4D57-B2DB-230D92B1780EI was struck by George’s last words.   Perhaps he saw the Lord coming for him, but the Lord’s appearance was no surprise.  George had already seen him many times in the faces of the poor and the sick.  And just maybe for one brief moment George appreciated the coincidence that the best day of his life also happened to be the day when the Lord took him by the hand and welcomed him into the new Jerusalem.  In that moment George had both a perfect end and also a terrific beginning.

NOTES

On September 23rd I attended the annual meeting of the Friends of the Malta Study Center at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at Saint John’s University.

+On 26 September I attended the board meeting of Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, CA. I opened the meeting with a prayer and followed with a reflection on the importance of the virtue of respect for all people.

+On 27 September I concelebrated at the funeral of George Kiesel, which took place at the Church of Our Lady of the Angels in Burlingame, CA.  George and his wife Charlotte have been long-time members of the Order of Malta and also members in Obedience in the Subpriory of Our Lady of Philermo, of which I am a chaplain.

+I’ve always enjoyed the funerary monuments in medieval and Early Modern English churches, and in today’s post I’ve included several photos that I took at York Minster several years ago.

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What’s in a Name?  Perhaps Integrity

Recently, in the space of one afternoon, I visited Milan (not in Italy), Montevideo (not in Uruguay) and Nassau (not in The Bahamas).  I did all this as I and a colleague drove around western Minnesota on the way to Madison, which is just a short drive from Appleton, unlike in Wisconsin.  And just in case all of that was not enough, there was the South Dakota border, a tantalizing ten miles away.  But we resisted because we did not want to overdo it.

I’d never been to that part of Minnesota.  While I had heard of Madison, MN, these other towns came as a complete surprise.  So I had to wonder what possessed those otherwise sober Norwegian settlers to concoct such an eclectic urban mix out on the prairies.  Did they mean it as a long-range urban plan?  Was it meant to be a joke?  What were these people thinking?

D1A0F8EC-752B-4BB8-9AD7-9DC4E453EE10Perhaps they did it with a nod to their neighbors in central Minnesota.  Within a stone’s-throw of Saint John’s there are nice German towns like Saint Anna, Saint Wendel, Saint Stephen, Saint Joseph, Saint Augusta and Saint Nicholas.  There’s also New Munich and Uppsala, the latter of which is an outlier in anybody’s book.  So if people in central Minnesota longed for a bit of Germany, maybe the Norwegians of western Minnesota thought they could do better.  They didn’t leave Norway just to replicate it on the prairies.  No, perhaps they were inclined to be a bit more adventurous.  Perhaps thoughts of South America and the tropics and the Mediterranean may have been coursing through their minds.  Perhaps it was no coincidence that all of these places happened to be warm places.  Maybe they also thought warm.

Anyway, names bring in their train all sorts of baggage.  Well or poorly chosen, they can evoke aspirations that we set for our communities and ourselves.  And much like place names, the names we attach to people serve the very same purpose.  Names tell others who we think we are and what we hope to become, and they remind us of the dreams which we fashion for ourselves.

When there’s a disconnect between who we claim to be and who we really are, then we generally fool no one, except maybe ourselves.  In the gospels Jesus railed against the hypocrisy of those whose personal disparities were so glaring.  These were people who cut themselves lots of slack but expected an awful lot from the people around them.  Some of these people even accused Jesus of hypocrisy as he hung on the cross.  “He saved others, but he cannot save himself.”

2998EA26-8183-409A-AC86-380029599DC3Given all that, in the Easter season it’s paramount that if we claim to be Christian then we should actually give it our best shot.  We need to align our name with the reality of our lives.  So it is that if we believe that what we do for the least of people we are doing for Jesus himself, then we should act that way.  If the Beatitudes are the Christian equivalent of the Ten Commandments, then it might be nice to read up on them every now and again.

In theory, of course, this sounds easy;  but for all of us there are days when it’s a real challenge.  It’s a comfort to know that we’re not alone in this struggle, however.  As the Acts of the Apostles relate, it took the followers of Jesus years to come to terms with who they would be called and how that name would shape their lives.  Only in time did they realize they would be Christians and not Jews and that they would have to translate this into a way of life.

Selecting a personal brand is the fad of the moment, and in one sense that’s okay.  However, if our brand is only veneer-thin it advertises the shallowness of our lives to all whom we meet.  But choosing to be Christian is more than putting on a mask or adopting a veneer.  Our name and our very lives must feed upon one another.  They must give rise to a deep and ongoing self-examination.  And the product of that exercise is the joy that comes from being truly authentic.  We become Christian not only in name but in word and deed.

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+On May 14th I drove with one of my colleagues from Saint John’s University to meet an alumnus and his wife who live outside of Madison, MN.  In the course of the trip we passed through the other towns noted in today’s post.  It left me realizing that there is so much of Minnesota that I have yet to see, including the town of Ghent, which was just beyond our reach.  As you might expect, it was settled by immigrants from Belgium.

+On May 15th I flew to San Francisco, and on the 16th attended the board of directors meeting of Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, CA.

+On May 17th I said Mass and gave a talk to members of the Order of Malta who live in Monterey, CA.

+The photos in today’s post show glass made in the 15th and 16th centuries from the cathedral in Milan (in Italy, not Minnesota).  At top is Saint Matthew, followed by Jonah preaching to the people of Nineveh, a view of the city of Betulia, and the Tower of Babel.  At bottom is an interior shot of the cathedral of Milan.  For the record, unlike its namesake in Italy, Milan, MN, is pronounced just as it is spelled:  MY-lan, with the accent on the first syllable.

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The Gift of Wisdom

As I’ve grown in experience I’ve come to appreciate the Wisdom literature of the Bible more and more.  Perhaps it’s the result of living by the Rule of Saint Benedict, which is deeply rooted in that tradition.  Perhaps too it’s the result of coming to terms with one reality in life:  many of life’s decisions are nuanced, complicated, and not at all easy.

To people who crave black and white answers, wisdom can be a major inconvenience.  It admits that some of our choices fall between shades of gray, or they’re a matter of opting for the greater or the lesser good.  Lives beset by these sorts of dilemmas require deep reflection.  They require wisdom.

If we examine the sweep of the Old Testament there is the Torah and the clarity of the Ten Commandments on the one hand.  At another point is the Wisdom literature.  Between the two is a world of Jewish experience.  When we read a passage like Proverbs 3, then, we get a glimpse into that evolution of thought.  Each verse of Proverbs makes sense, yet each makes reference to a complicating reality.  If, for example, it says that “the curse of the Lord is on the house of the wicked,” we also recall the rhetorical question of the Psalmist who wonders why it is that the wicked always seem to prosper.

744B9A93-24D5-40FF-8CE4-669A0EFD94ADThese sorts of conundrums still puzzle us.  We prefer the easy answers for their clarity, and so we set up the Ten Commandments as a kind of idol.  But we know that Proverbs teaches us to demand more of life and more from ourselves.  To that deeper self-examined way of life Jesus also calls us.  And so today we could do no better than to pray for the gift of wisdom and for the patience to make the most of it.

NOTES

+Today’s post is a sermon that I will deliver at the abbey Mass later in the day.  It is based on the first reading, Proverbs 3: 27-34.

+On 20 September I attended the meeting of the Board of Trustees of Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, CA.  For the current school year I’m serving as a board advisor.

+I’m not sure whether it was allergies or a response to a flu shot, but for two and a half days over the weekend I was out of action and unable to do much of anything.  I did finally manage to go to a small bit of Homecoming activities at Saint John’s University, but missed most of the football game and was a no-show at the dinner for the Friends of the Malta Study Center at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.  For better and for worse, I also had to sit on the sidelines for my birthday, which was on Saturday.

+In the Benedictine tradition monks pray for wisdom when we gather for deliberation in the chapter house.  Today’s post illustrates the 12th-century chapter house from the Cistercian abbey of Notre Dame at Pontaut in Bordeaux.  Today it is housed in the Cloisters Museum in New York.  Note the seating in the interior.  There were no cushions, perhaps on the assumption that wisdom comes a little faster when you’re sitting on stone.

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