Category Archives: Reflections

Our Civil Religion Tradition

The Bridges column of the July 2017 Sojourners magazine gave me pause to think more deeply about how we, as Americans, expect and embrace leaders in our nation who “draw freely from religious language to sacralize national symbols.” On this Independence Weekend my attention was drawn to what is for me, the single most inspiring example of civil religion. It occurred during a time of great peril that threatened our civil society… an event marked by unprecedented carnage and what appeared to be in irreparable division in our nation — the Civil War.

Gettysburg_AddressThe short speech that President Abraham Lincoln delivered on that battlefield of enormous human loss remains, in my mind, the peak expression of civil religious tradition against which all other forms of the tradition must be measured. The words “consecrate”, “hallow”, “devotion”, and “resting place” evoke a firm faith, an unwavering trust, and a God-given resolve to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. And while he only mentions “God” a single time, in the manner of the great documents created by the founding fathers, Lincoln’s reflection is thoroughly infused with the language of civil religion.

At a time in our country when too many leaders invoke the “religion card” in an effort to claim popular support or to criticize the faith of those not of the Christian tradition, President Lincoln’s address stands as a true measure of a civil religious tradition that “creates what Justice Felix Frankfurter referred to as “cohesive sentiment”. On this Independence Day 2017, let us strive to work toward a tradition that enables us to be in harmony with others in all that we say and do.

Bridges, Author Eboo Patel – Sojourners Magazine, July 2017 https://sojo.net/magazine/july-2017/can-civil-religion-save-us

 

4 Spiritual benefits…

A post on aleteia really made me pause to think about our relationship to the natural world. The article 4 Spiritual benefits of modern homesteading hit close to home. Here in verdantour rural area of upstate New York, nature in all its wonder is right outside our door: lush green fields, flowing streams, verdant hills, views uninterrupted by city buildings, highways… the stuff of man’s creation.

The author, Philip Kosloski, cited four benefits to modern homesteading:

  • Fulfills God’s call to be a steward of the earth
  • Provides more time for silence and contemplation
  • Creates a renewed sense of gratitude
  • Fosters a healthy attitude of humility

After prefacing his thoughts with an apt quote from Pope Francis’ Laudato si, he briefly

deaconspeaking

Chicken coop and bee hives

explains each spiritual benefit, weaving in both Hebrew Scripture references and his thoughts about our closeness to God when we “cultivate” a close and personal relationship with his natural creation… a creation that provides an abundance for our needs, if only we are attentive to it.

When was the last time you planted and tended a flower or a vegetable plant? Have you ever thought about having chickens or bees for your own natural or organic food? Is it even possible where you live? If not, do you support others who are, through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or even a farmers’ market?

Good questions for any of us… especially as we consider the goodness of our God in His great love for us!

Saints

In the “Moment”

Mark_MomentOur rollout of the @deaconspeaking Twitter Team account in the diocese has been proceeding smoothly. We have received good recognition: retweets, likes and profile visits by many Twitter users.  Each day we explore new features:  Lists, Hastags, Tweet Requotes.

One of the best features has been the Twitter Moments… an opportunity to combine related tweets into a single tweet that pulls a strand of thoughts together. Two in particular, “Celebrating St. Mark” and “Trust in God” have enabled many more users to interact with our evangelization message.

Why? For one, the “Moments” package can be visually compelling, as with this painting of the Apostle Mark that was an element of a requoted tweet. Most of all, by combining two our three related tweets together, we have the opportunity to present a message that really communicates a point. And that’s often a challenge to accomplish in 140 characters!

Check them out for yourself and let us know what you think!

Celebrating St. Mark:  https://t.co/iOZ4vI0HYX

Trust in God:  https://t.co/WtMf4QqoBc

The Perfect Prayer

Many years ago, while still a member of the laity (in fact, the diaconate wasn’t even on my radar), I had settled into my pew a few minutes early before Mass, finished a brief prayer, then read the readings for the day in the missal. As I turned the missal over to set it on the pew, the prayers on the back cover caught my attention.

Lord Jesus Christ, take all my freedom, my memory, my understanding and my will. All that I have and cherish you have given me. Your love and your grace are wealth enough for me. Give me these, Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more. Amen.

I was familiar with many of them, but this day, a prayer I’d never noticed popped out at me:  The Dedication to Jesus. As I read the prayer, I felt it resonate deep within my heart… these words spoke to me in a way that no prayer ever had. When I’d finished reading, I noticed the attribution to St. Ignatius of Loyola.

I took the missal home, memorized it over a period of a few months; it became my “go-to” prayer. A short, meaningful rededication of my faith and trust in Jesus.

Ignatian spirituality has become a central theme in my prayer life since then. I was content… at peace in my acceptance of Christ the King. And then Sr. Faustina crossed my path. She hadn’t been canonized… her cause was certainly an active one, but I’d never encountered The Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. And, as you might expect, one aspect of the Chaplet clung to my heart just as tenaciously as the Ignatian Dedication:  The Our Father bead prayer… coupled with the 10th Hail Mary bead prayer.

For me, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, I am thankful for this prayer which has a singular place for me outside of the Chaplet:  just before the reception of the Holy Eucharist, I offer all that Jesus is giving to me in His Holy Body & Blood to our Heavenly Father. It centers me… provides me with a powerful focus for reception of the sacrament. Most of all, year-round, I commemorate His Passion for salvation of the whole world.

Mercy… Yes!

The lost… and that which survives

An April 13th article by Fr. Benedict Kiely, Catholic Herald caught my attention this week. Entitled “The Cross ISIS couldn’t destroy”, the piece transported me back to so many parts of Syria that we traveled in during the 2011 “Arab Spring”.  He writes in

Photo: Fr. Benedict Kiely

the article:

As we entered the Church of St Addai, the full hatred for the “followers of the Cross” was revealed. The Islamists had attempted to burn the church. A smashed statue of Our Lady was on the ground. The altar had bullet holes in it. Everywhere – in that church and the others we visited – the Cross was defaced, destroyed or in some way vandalised.

Even if a wooden door had a Cross on it, at least one arm would be broken. [..] All across the Nineveh Plains, the home of Christians for almost 2,000 years, the same thing has happened: Islamists cannot bear the imagery of the Cross.

Suddenly, Steve Rasche, an American who works for the Archdiocese of Erbil and was coordinating our visit, knelt in the rubble and picked up a Cross. Brushing off the rubble and dirt, he saw it was unbroken – the corpus had been removed, but the Cross was intact. Then Rasche, whom I later christened “the Crossfinder”, told us the story of the miraculous Cross of Baqofah – which ended up on display during the weeks of Lent in, of all places, Westminster Cathedral.

During out time in Syria, we encountered many Christian and Muslim

Evening over Saidnaya from the Monastery

areas that no longer fared as well as that crucifix. In the city of Saidnaya, a mere 17 km north of Damascus, we enjoyed the hospitality of the the Orthodox sisters at Our Lady of Saidnaya Monastery, one of the oldest monasteries in the world. We participated in Lenten Friday evening services, roomed overnight in the rooftop quarters for guests and gazed out at night in a city where Christianity and Islam coexisted peacefully.

 

IMG_1829

On the Monastery rooftop.

The monastery has been badly damaged during the six year Syrian conflict, and, with the fall of a stable government, Christians and Muslims no longer share this magnificent resource, where an icon of Mary, attributed to St. Luke, was reverenced daily by both Christian and Muslim pilgrims. Is all lost? Hard to know, but in prayer, I find that the echoes of that time still move my heart and soul to consider how we must, more than ever, treasure our traditions, our heritage… our faith.

Table Fellowship

Holy Saturday… we wait, anticipating Christ Jesus’ glorious resurrection. And we prepare: homemade breads and cakes, handcrafted butter, eggs from our hens and honey from our bees. All done in preparation for that first meal on Easter Day. Food crafted with loving hands for gatherings that we take for granted:  coming together as family, friends, even acquaintances and strangers to break bread… to share in table fellowship.

PaschalBlessing

A basket of food prepared for the Paschal Blessing.

The Paschal Blessing of food before the Easter Vigil confirms our faith in God’s generosity. He has given us so much! In the Book of Blessings, the Paschal Blessing suggests a number of readings for the long form. This year I chose Isaiah 55:1-11, “An Invitation to Grace”.

Only listen to me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Pay attention and come to me; listen that you may have life.

Jesus, in the Upper Room, sharing the Passover Supper with his Apostles… table fellowship that was transformed by His Word into the Eucharistic Banquet. And at the center of it all:  food from God’s bounty. For the Jews, the lamb, bitter herbs and the unleavened bread. For the Apostles, soon to be heralds of the Gospel, it was the bread and the wine. Bread and wine transformed into the body and blood, soul and divinity of their beloved teacher.

Table fellowship. Never again to be taken for granted or treated lightly. Transformed at table for all eternity.