As a Massachusetts resident and a part-time history buff, and in light of Friday’s inauguration, this past week I went back to President Kennedy’s inaugural address of 1961, the famous “Ask not what your country can do for you…” speech. In this speech Kennedy lays his vision for the country. A vision of “unwillingness to witness or permit the slow undoing of… human rights.” A vision of the “survival and the success of liberty,” here and around the globe. A vision committed to those “south of the border,” and our “special pledge… to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty.” A vision of support for the United Nations, “our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace.” A vision of a world in which “civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.” A vision of “both sides [exploring] what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.” A vision of “a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.” Anybody remember? It was – and is – a stirring, hope-filled speech. Continue reading →
Sermon for Sunday, June 19, 2016
The text for the homily this morning is not so much today’s gospel text itself as it is the text around today’s gospel text. In particular, Jesus’ rhythm of mission and prayer – Jesus going out on mission, then withdrawing to deserted places to pray – that Luke set up three chapters earlier, in chapter 5:
Many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray. – Luke 5:15b-16
The context of today’s gospel is Jesus’ rhythm of going out on mission and then withdrawing to deserted places to pray; Jesus’ mission leads to prayer, Jesus’ prayer leads to mission. Mission and prayer is the rhythm of Jesus’ ministry in Luke.
But I don’t want to begin there. I want to begin rather with President George W. Bush’s “faith-based initiatives.” Continue reading →
Pentecost can be a difficult day for contemplatives. Contemplatives know about the Holy Spirit, to be sure. They can probably identify ways in which the Spirit is breathing life into “these bones;” they can probably point to places in their lives where they sense the flame of the Spirit alighting. But they may not always be sure what to do with the Spirit’s gifts for service, or being commissioned, or being sent out, or preaching the gospel or winning converts. Contemplatives tend to live or worship in monasteries and convents like here and have great focus on the interior life; but Pentecost is “out there,” concerned with opening the way of eternal life to every race and nation. How might a contemplative make sense of a life of prayer alongside the feast of Pentecost and preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth? Continue reading →
This morning’s sermon is about a kind of prayer called “mystical prayer.” “Mystical prayer” may seem a little much for a beautiful May morning, but I know we’re up to the task. I’m going to begin by reminding us about Wile E. Coyote and gravity.
Where would Wile E. Coyote be without gravity? If you’ve seen the cartoons, you know how many of the coyote’s attempts to catch the roadrunner rely on gravity: Now the coyote sets up a boulder to push off the cliff and onto the roadrunner below. Now the coyote pours a pile of birdseed over the bridge and bungees down to catch the roadrunner. Now the coyote dons roller skates to skate down the hill after the roadrunner. Even if we haven’t seen the show, because we’re familiar with gravity, we can guess how the coyote fares in each of his attempts: The road runner appears at the cliff’s edge with his signature, “Meep, meep!” and, instead of the boulder, the startled coyote plunges with a whistle to the canyon floor. The coyote bungees off the bridge toward the pile of birdseed and catches, not the roadrunner, but the front end of truck. The coyote with roller skates sees the sign, “Bridge Out Ahead”… but can’t stop, and plunges with another whistle to the canyon floor.
Where would Wile E. Coyote be without gravity?
If we knew nothing about the Holy Spirit except what we read in the Acts of the Apostles, we might well ask, “Where would the Holy Spirit be without gravity?” Continue reading →
We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them; we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good. But this is only a secondary end. The one end that includes all others is the love of God. The truest solitude is not something outside you, not an absence of people or of sound around you; it is an abyss opening up in the centre of your own soul. And this abyss of interior solitude is a hunger that will never be satisfied with any created thing.
The only way to ﬁnd solitude is by hunger and thirst and sorrow and poverty and desire, and the one who has found solitude is empty, as if he had been emptied by death. He has advanced beyond all horizons. There are no directions left in which he can travel. This is a country whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. You do not find it by travelling but by standing still.
Yet it is in this loneliness that the deepest activities begin. It is here that you discover act without motion, labour that is profound repose, vision in obscurity, and beyond all desire, a fulfilment whose limits extend to inﬁnity.
— From New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton
This morning’s sermon is for those who know they are loved by God, but who want not just to know but to feel that love. The rest of you are welcome to listen in.
Call of the Disciples by Buoninsegna
There must have been something more going on in this morning’s Gospel lesson, something that the scriptures don’t tell us about. Like maybe Jesus had already met Simon and Andrew, and James and John, at an earlier point in time. Or maybe Jesus exercised his divine powers on them and somehow compelled them to follow. Or maybe the disciples had had a particularly bad night of fishing and were especially susceptible to Jesus’ invitation to “Follow me.” We know that normal people just don’t get up and leave family and friends and a stable living to follow a stranger who appears out of the blue and says, “Follow me.” There must have been something more going on in this morning’s Gospel lesson, something the scriptures don’t tell us about. Continue reading →