December 15, Thrid Sunday of Advent
During my convalescence following surgery, I did some reading. One book read is called, “Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic” by Nora Gallagher. I’ve read some of her other works and enjoy her insights and way with words. They resonate, offer meaning and give me hope. Her words are ‘real’.
In this book, she chronicles a time in her life when she and her husband are faced with a serious health issue and the possibility of losing her eyesight. She finds herself quite afraid and vulnerable: in “another country” as she puts it. What she calls “Oz”.
Through this vulnerability, she’s given a new way of ‘seeing’ which, to me, helps us apprehend Advent—this season of vision, promise and light—in a fresh manner.
At one point in the book, she recalls lines from a poem:
In his poem, “The Outpost” about being on patrol as part of his military service, Tomas Transtromer, the Swedish Nobelist, tries to stay in the present, “to be where I am and to wait.” Instead, he finds “things not yet happened” fill his thoughts. (p. 12)
Gallagher reflects on her own predicament in light of his words:
I was missing something I did not know I was missing until it came back to me…I didn’t taste my (always organic) carrots and leeks, as I ate them quickly while I made lists of things that had not happened yet. I didn’t see the tree, a beautiful Norfolk pine, in my backyard as I ducked to cross under its bough on my way to the office…
I was not here when I was here. I was always in the world of the things not happened yet, binoculars fixed on the horizon. (pp. 20-21)
“I was not here when I was here.” How hauntingly true that is for most of us living within the mad-rush of everyday. How often we find ourselves ‘elsewhere’ and not really “here”. We’re not really present to what is before us as life happens and so miss much of it. We duck through life on our way to the next thing. It’s an approach that only leaves us feeling disconnected, numb and, like Gallagher, “missing something I did not know I was missing”.
Advent wants to rouse us from such unawareness and wake us up: more alive to the present, “to be where I am and to wait.” It only is in the present—not elsewhere—where God and the mystery of Christ continue to be born.
In “The Cloud of Unknowing”, a 14th century work on contemplative prayer, we find these words:
God, the master of time, never gives the future. He gives only the present, moment by moment.
During the days that remain, may we put down the “binoculars” fixed on some distant, often elusive, horizon and learn to be more present to the here and now this Advent; where God awaits us.
Father Tim Clark
November 24, Solemnity of CHrist the King
Since the pontificate of Pope Francis began, much of the world has taken notice of his simplicity: from the simple white cassock, to deciding not to live in the papal apartments. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he lived on his own and near the poor; close to the lived reality of the Church.
As pontiff, this accessibility continues. When he broke with tradition and, on Holy Thursday, chose to celebrate Mass at a detention center and wash the feet of inmates—two of them women; one Muslim—rather than the feet of clerics at the Lateran Basilica, that simple, yet profoundly moving gesture, revealed his ecclesiology and hope for the Church.
In preparation for the Synod on the Family in Rome, autumn 2014, Pope Francis has announced to the bishops of the world that he wishes to listen to the voice of the faithful by way of a survey; another unprecedented move. The Holy Father desires to hear from you and your experience of the Church. This pontiff, who urged all pastors to have ‘the smell of the sheep’ about them, desires to do just that by way of this survey so you might make known your concerns and hope for the Church.
Some parishes in our deanery have opted to use the survey form provided by the bishops in the UK. I’ve been told that it’s “user friendly”. When looking it over, I noticed that it is more streamlined, yet they encourage participants from other countries to work off websites provided by the bishops of those countries. So, I have decided to do just that.
The questions in the survey can seem a bit ‘heady’ and presume an understanding of the church, with its teachings and documents, many Catholics do not possess. No worries. Most canonized saints didn’t as well!
So, do not be discouraged. Remember the Syro-Phoenician woman in the Gospel with her dogged persistence. Persist in answering the questions as best you can. You need not answer them all. You may pick and choose. What matters is that you speak from your experience, honestly and candidly. Vatican Council II taught that we share in the mission of Christ by baptism. This is your moment to share; to let those mysterious waters flow through us and within the heart of the Church.
The website is: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SynodOnFamilyUS
The deadline is December 15, 2013, which doesn’t leave much time. If, by chance, you do not have a computer I would encourage you, if possible, to fill out the survey online by finding a relative or friend who might do this for you. Also, we will have on both parish and school websites a link to the survey.
Let us remember Pope Francis in prayer, for his well-being and his peace. Let us, too, pray that this survey ‘bear fruit, fruit that will last’ (John 15:16)
Father Tim Clark
November 10, Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
In my Breviary, I have a photo of Abbot Bernard McVeigh who was spiritual leader of the monastic community when I entered in the autumn, 1984. As we remember deceased loved ones during November, Bernard comes to mind. He was, and continues to be, a guiding presence in my life.
A Harvard graduate and heir to one of the wealthiest families in New York, he left it all and entered monastic life after World War II. There was in Bernard a deeply genuine and transparent nature sensed in his eyes and infectious laugh. I clearly remember our initial visit at the Abbey and thinking to myself, “If monastic life does this to a person, then it is well worth the risk; a risk that attracted and frightened me all at once.
During Compline, chanted at the end of the monastic day, Bernard would begin, “My dear Brothers, we are one day closer to our heavenly homeland…”
Abbot Bernard anticipated this “heavenly homeland”; what he termed the “Great Reality”. It baffled me to discover that he had no real fear of death, though he did fear how he would die. He had this practice of crossing out the date on his wall calendar once the day passed; a practice that annoyed me whenever I visited his office. Years later, however, and during a brief visit home before my solemn vows, I discovered my Dad did that very thing to his calendar hanging above his workbench in the garage!
Now, Bernard was not one to sit around, contemplating the “eternal verities” and waiting for grim death! On the contrary, he loved life and lived it with presence and engagement. I’ll never forget my first beach outing when we novices had the chance to go to the Oregon coast for the day. The Abbot was invited to join us and he did so, gladly. After Mass at the house, we sought out a restaurant nearby for breakfast. Entering, I noticed that the bar was open and remember thinking to myself, “Only an alcoholic would be drinking at this hour!” The waitress approached our table and asked, “Would anyone like something to drink?” I was thinking coffee, but before I could say anything the Abbot responded, “I’ll have a Bloody Mary!” I was shocked. A Bloody Mary! It seemed so not monastic and hardly Trappist, caught up as I was in my first fervor. One of the novices joined in saying, “I’ll have one, too.” I sat there in disbelief. She then turned to me and said, “And you, sir?” I succumbed, saying, “I’ll have a Blood Mary.” Thankfully, I was able to climb off my “high horse” and enjoy the day rather than sitting in judgment. That day was pivotal and enlightening, not because of a Bloody Mary. Hopefully, I’m not that shallow. Rather, it was Bernard who taught me in his down-to-earth way that an intoxicating blend of humanity and holiness can exist in one person which, over the years, has left its indelible mark. Do we not see such a blend in Christ: the admixture of the human with the divine?
At his funeral Mass years later, the crowd overflowed and beyond the abbey church; a palpable testimony to the many lives he touched. As he lay dying in our Infirmary, I was on staff and so tended to his needs. One afternoon, he said, “Do you see the campesinos (Mexican farmworkers) kneeling around my bed?” I thought, “It must be the morphine”. Then I remembered in a flash how our monastery is under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe, “La Morenita”. It became no longer the effects of a drug, but a sign ‘from above’; a premonition of the “Great Reality”.
Now, let’s return to that beach day. No matter the weather, Bernard, after changing, would always make his way to the beach and plunge into the frigid Pacific Ocean with a few of us tagging along. The memory now lives on as an unforgettable metaphor of his earthly life that long ago involved breaking free and taking the plunge. And, Bernard kept taking that plunge faithfully, sometimes in over his head, buoyed only by his utter trust in God. For he believed we are, all of us, immersed in that deeper Reality: the ebb and flow of Divine Love that cannot die. “Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine et lux perpetua luceat ei.”
Fr. Tim Clark
October 20, Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
A young seeker approached a wise, old monk and asked, “Abba, how did you become so wise?” “Wisdom comes from good judgment,” the monk replied. “And how did you get good judgment?” the questioner went on. “From experience,” was the reply. “And how did you get experience?” the seeker asked. “From bad judgment,” said the wise monk.
(adapted from “Life lessons From The Monastery” by Kodell)
This monastic saying sheds light on the book I’m currently reading: “Pope Francis, Untying the Knots” by Paul Vallely; a fascinating read on Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Bishop of Rome. It chronicles his early years as a Jesuit, marked at times by bad judgment, and the transformation that takes place during his ‘exile’, what Pope Francis describes as a time of “humility and humiliation”; a transformation that began to bear fruit during his years as Archbishop in Buenos Aires, and that continues in his ministry as pontiff.
Bergoglio describes those years of “bad judgment” in these candid and honest words:
I don’t want to mislead anyone—the truth is that I am a sinner who God in His mercy has chosen to love…
From a young age, life pushed me into leadership roles—as soon as I was ordained, I was designated the master of novices, and two and a half years later, leader of the province—and I had to learn from my errors along the way, because, to tell you the truth, I made hundreds of errors; errors and sins.
Bergoglio lived thru the dictatorship and the “Dirty War” in Argentina; a terrible time that often pitted him between “a rock and a hard place;” (at least he was not playing tennis with the dictator as did the papal nuncio, Pio Laghi, during that sad episode.)
What I find so edifying is that Bergoglio was willing to learn from this excruciating experience, painful though it was. Knocked to the ground by this humiliation, he began to change, and to see differently as the scales of conversion fell from his eyes. His Argentinian friend, Rabbi Skorka, describes the change in these words:
He’s very open-minded. He can dialogue with anyone who speaks with honesty and respect even if he doesn’t agree…
He’ll listen to a woman tussling with abortion and suffer with her. He has empathy.
All of us can learn from this experience, baptized as we are into Christ and called to this same empathy. Pope Francis’ life lesson speaks of the grace of conversion, grace that “builds on nature”, and of that experience which leads to wisdom. Such wisdom is not found in books, though our heads wish us to think so. Rather, it is done to us. When we allow ourselves to be brought ‘low’—to that place of “humility and humiliation”—then grace unties the “knots” of egoism and sin, setting us free. We begin to live for God, not occasionally or perfunctorily, but daily.
From what this book reveals, what is seen on the world’s stage and before our eyes as his ministry unfolds, is that, for Pope Francis, the person matters and that “dogmatic principle (does) not overcome pastoral concern.”
With this empathy in mind, there is a lesson for us all, and for those Representatives in Washington, D.C. who seem more concerned with their political careers and ideology rather than the greater good.
Father Tim Clark
September 29, Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
In a recent interview with Pope Francis—the interview that has caught the attention of many, both inside and outside the church (http:/americamagazine.org/pope-interview)—the Holy Father was asked, "What kind of church do you dream of?" He responded in the following words:
I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…
After this compassionate response and use of the down-to-earth image of the church as a field hospital, the Pope articulates what that might look like from his own experience:
In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are 'socially wounded' because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them.
During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge.
A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: 'Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn the person?' We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.
To me, such graced, life-giving words towards those who've felt marginalized, due to their situation and 'given' within their God-given existence helps us fathom Jesus' parable this 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time in a fresh manner. Jesus tells the story of a rich man and someone named Lazarus who is covered with sores. Even though Lazarus is found lying at the door of the rich man, and even known by name, there's found neither one scrap of concern, nor the "nearness", the "proximity" of compassion. Lazarus is far from the rich man's mind, caught up as he is in his own sumptuous comfort. He's no malicious person; only self-centered and immune to the lived reality outside his door; to the wounds and sores of another; to what ultimately matters. Such insensitivity creates a chasm that cannot be bridged, as well as a hellish existence that torments the rich man to no end. In death, the situation is reversed, revealing in a chilling manner that the way we treat one another in this life has lasting consequences.
Let us make Pope Francis' dream for the church our own, that we might exist as a people more concerned with the lived situation daily outside the door of our hearts. May there be found inside us the willingness to heal the wounds of others. As the Holy Father said, "We must always consider the person." That happens only when we recognize something of ourselves in the other for all of us are wounded; all of us in need of the nearness, the proximity of compassion and grace. Such healing enters into the mystery of who we are through the understanding and accompaniment of another.
May we wake up to the lesson in this parable, and to the humanity and warmth of Pope Francis' words so that, as a church, we might be found less judgmental, and more merciful; more like Christ.
Father Tim Clark
September 1, Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
In an Audience for Italian students, one of the students came to the microphone and said that he doubted his faith and asked Pope Francis for words of encouragement. The Pontiff likened faith to a long walk and said to the young man:
To walk is an art…To walk is the art of looking at the horizon, thinking about where I want to go but also enduring the fatigue. And many times, the walk is difficult; it is not easy…There is darkness; even days of failure. One falls…But always think this: do not be afraid of failure. Do not be afraid of falling. In the art of walking, what is important is not avoiding the fall but not remaining fallen. Get up quickly; continue on…
In the early church, people who followed Christ and believed Him to be alive—wounded out of love; a love undying—were called people of the Way. Many mystics have borrowed the metaphor of journey when speaking on what it means to follows Christ. It's an 'ascent': a 'long walk' and movement beyond self that can be fatiguing.
What counts when on this way and path of transformation is to just keep going, despite the falls, darkness and difficulties. We must take our eyes off ourselves—or those we harshly judge and do not understand—and fix our eyes on Christ, the true horizon; to see everything "against an infinite horizon". In other words: don't lose sight of the larger picture. Such perspective gives us hope and keeps us going when tempted to throw in the towel. I'm reminded how my Dad would tell one of us getting car sick during a long ride to keep our eyes on the horizon. That made the trip possible and the nauseous feelings pass…most of the time!
Can we not identify with this young man doubting his faith? I know that I can. It's difficult to believe sometimes; to trust there is a God and that love remains beyond this sad and tragic world where things seem to be unraveling and where circumstances seem so unfair.
As I've said before, the word "faith' is a verb and not a noun in Hebrew, and it means 'to lean'. Last summer I stood amid the ruins of Fountains Abbey on a blustery evening: a 12th century Cistercian monastery I was visiting with friends and a place I love. For whatever reason I felt empty, with little faith in God; in myself. I felt lost as I stood at the back of the roofless nave open to the evening sky with swallows in flight. Unintentionally, I leaned against the portal and words from the psalms palpably came to mind: "On you I have leaned from my birth; from my mother's womb you have been my God." These words Christ himself must have prayed consoled me in a way I shall never forget. The words gave birth to a deeper trust and helped recover faith inside me.
Sometimes, while holding the Eucharist in both hands during that silent, suspended moment in the Mass, I sense myself being held. The moment is fleeting; yet it nurtures trust, a belief that won't let go of me in the moment.
Last Sunday after feeding my Mom who cannot feed herself and who no longer seems to know me, I noticed a tear falling down her left cheek. I wiped the tear away and, suddenly, was conscious of the times she dried my tears. Even in the face of this useless disease I could see that God is; Mom is; and Love remains.
When we learn to 'lean' into life, to get close to what's before us and honestly feel what's happening inside then we learn the 'art' Pope Francis mentions, despite the fatigue and struggle. May we not remain fallen but "Get up quickly", continue along the way and so learn the art of walking; the art of faith.
Father Tim Clark
August 25, Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the book, "Dear Theo" (the collected letters of the artist Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo) van Gogh writes:
Many people care more for the exterior than for the inward life…Society is full of that: people who strive to make a show instead of leading a true existence.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus exposes the hypocrisy he sees and that blinds us to what matters and what brings us to God; the hypocrisy in those who make a show of religion; who "care more for the exterior". Much of the time, Jesus sees this as a 'pose' full of self—what today we'd call egoism—and lacking in substance, where I am the center of attention instead of God.
We've all "been there, done that" in a variety of ways that keep us far from the "inward life" and, by God's lead, living towards a "true existence". This is how I understand Jesus' words in the Gospel passage this 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 13:22-30) when addressing those knocking at the door and wanting to enter. Jesus responds with those chilling words: "I do not know where you are from. Depart from me…" What can Jesus mean by these words and what can they mean for us today?
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus addresses the heart by calling us away from a life that is "exterior"; lived at the surface and lacking depth. God wants only to know us, and this happens only when we are willing to delve inside and know ourselves from that deeper place within us all. For God cannot exist in shallowness.
No religious observance, however good and necessary, can fully bring us to that place—" We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets." Only the awareness of my innate poverty and our profound need for God can open that door. All of us, sometimes painfully, must come to the awareness that we are not strong enough to save ourselves; not unlike St. Paul who says, "When I am weak, it is then that I am strong." What a strange and paradoxical way is this spiritual search; this way to God that opens for us in Christ.
In the Gospel passage this Sunday, Jesus warns: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate." This striving is quite different from what van Gogh points out: "people who strive to make a show instead of leading a true existence." As the birth canal is narrow—the way most of us came into this world--so the way to God asks that we be born again, and again, and again until we learn to live a more "inward life", delivered from ego and empty show. Only then, will we have a "true existence" and find ourselves alive for God who wants only to know us from the heart. St. Augustine puts it in his "Confessions" (Book X): "Let me know You, O Lord, who knows me: let me know you, as I am known." It is such 'knowledge' that lets us in; into the Love that is inward, true and full.
Father Tim Clark
August 11, Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
--Mary Oliver, "Sometimes"
These basic and to the point instructions all of us could heed and take to heart: essential, really, for living life with any depth, and from that 'inward place' with meaning.
Just the opposite happens only too often when looking at my log-jammed calendar; doing this, doing that; running from one thing to the next, at times anxious and frustrated, yet always hoping for what's best and longing for light.
With such a frenetic pace, this world of ours becomes blurred, our lives inattentive to God who is ever with us and in the midst of all that happens. We're all so grown-up which, sadly, leaves us lost to the astonishment of children that we no longer can tell what's going on: our lives adrift and cut off from that 'inward place' where God abides.
In the Gospel this 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 12: 35-40), Jesus gives the disciples basic instructions very much akin with the poet Mary Oliver. Jesus instructs us, saying:
Gird your loins and light your lamps…like servants who await their master's return
from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.
In other words, pay attention. It's as simple as that, but rarely easy for it involves taking hold of the life given me and not wishing for another life elsewhere. That is a beguiling trap, leaving us without moorings and far from God. It is here, in this life given us where the One I desire "comes and knocks". When we're willing to take hold of such truth and make it ours, then we're home and at peace with ourselves. Then, we become real.
I've been re-reading the journals and letters of Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman and aspiring writer who tragically died at Auschwitz, along with her entire family. In one entry, she writes:
I would live chaotically in the future, because I refused to live in the here and now.
I wanted to be handed everything on a platter, like a badly spoiled child…
I had the feeling that nothing I did was the "real" thing; that it was all a preparation
for something else, something "greater", more "genuine". But that feeling has dropped
away from me completely. I live here and now, this minute, this day, to the full, and
life is worth living.
Hillesum penned such words as chaotic darkness loomed ahead, her barbed-wire existence bleak; her tomorrows uncertain. Nevertheless, she learned to live today from that 'inward place' which, inexplicably, opened her to an immeasurable hope no one could take from her. May we learn, little by little, to live with attention this life we all too often squander and shove aside; to be present here and now, this minute, this day so as to be astonished: our lives telling, hopeful, awake to the One who comes and knocks where we least expect.
Father Tim Clark
August 4, Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
During his recent visit to Brazil, Pope Francis spent time in one of the most impoverished (and until recently, violent) slums in Rio known as the Varginha community. Once again, and with such genuineness, the Pope mirrors the face of Christ by his compassion for the poor, and they in turn mirror Christ to him. In light of the Gospel, it's a win/win situation.
After thanking them for their welcome "with such love, generosity and joy!" he offered these words of hope:
(W) hen we are generous in welcoming people and sharing something with them—some food, a place in our homes, our time—not only do we no longer remain poor: we are enriched. I am well aware that when someone needing food knocks at your door, you always find a way of sharing food; as the proverb says, one can always "add more water to the beans"! And you do so with love, demonstrating that true riches consist not in material things, but in the heart.
These words of our Latin American Pontiff are timely, set next to the parable of Jesus from Luke's Gospel for this 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 12:13-21). Through this parable Jesus, friend of the poor, points out what makes us truly rich and what matters to God.
We've heard the story hundreds of times: about a rich man with a bountiful harvest and nowhere to put it. So, he tears down his barns to build bigger ones. We, too, know the rest of the story for such hoarding and selfishness has deadly consequences. This shocking end to the parable is not meant to scare us, but only to wake us up to what matters before our opportunities, like the sands of time, run out. I'm reminded of the poet William Blake's words: "We are put on this earth a little while that we might learn to bear the beams of love." But the man in the parable seems to love only himself, self-preoccupied as he is with his own comfort as he says to himself: "rest, eat, drink, be merry!"
Pope Francis also said these words during his visit to Varginha that capture the kernel of meaning in this parable and for all who wish to follow Christ with any seriousness:
The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world: it is the culture of solidarity that does so, seeing others not as rivals or statistics, but brothers and sisters.
Let us learn, both from Jesus' words and Pope Francis, as to what truly builds up and enriches life that we might allow the pull of grace to root out from our hearts the individualism and the selfishness that impoverish.
Father Tim Clark
June 9, Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the Gospel from Luke this 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus journeys to a town called Naim. It is there he encounters the grief of a widow whose only son has died: a dire predicament for any woman living in Palestine at that time. There's no one to protect and support her. She is completely vulnerable.
Seeing her, Jesus is moved with compassion. He touches the bier upon which the young man is carried; unthinkable for any observant Jew since it renders Jesus unclean and ritually impure. Nevertheless, Jesus breaks with convention, motivated as He is by Divine Love which of its nature puts the other first rather than self. In Jesus there is no ego, nothing in the way of such love. We find only selflessness.
Touching the bier, Jesus says without words that He is in touch with the human predicament and all we face. Nothing human is foreign to God because of Christ. This is meant to bring us hope.
This Gospel, too, is a summons for us all: to become more alive to Christ who draws close and who walks with us, in step with our "footsore journey" as the writer Frederick Buechner has it because, too easily, our lives are deadened, insensitive; unaware of the One-with-us and ever in our midst.
In his journal, Thomas Merton sensed this stagnating situation within his own monastic life and puts it in these words:
The battle against inertia. In life and in myself. This is the great thing. The constant
struggle to break through illusion and falsity and come to Christ… And how often we
I have not even begun to write, to think, to pray, to live, and that only now am I getting
down to waking up…by God's grace…to be genuinely free.
(June 27th 1958, III 206-7)
May Christ touch our lives so that we might find ourselves, by God's grace, more alive, awake and genuinely free.
Father Tim Clark
May 26, Trinity Sunday
We are, each of us, individuals. We are people, too. So, what makes us persons? Delving into this question can help us fathom the Trinity—three Persons in One God—a Solemnity we celebrate today.
Now, this talk of numbers when defining the Trinity does not mean God is like some mathematical equation, nor like some thought problem that can be figured out. Rather, such language is meant to convey to the human intellect a God that is personal, relational; alive. Mathematical equations are meant to be thought-out and worked-through, but not God. In his book, "God In Search Of Man" Rabbi Abraham Heschel points out that God cannot be comprehended, only apprehended. My Abbot, when describing the Trinity, would say that at the center of God there is relational life, there is community; and monastic community—indeed every Christian community—is called to mirror the very nature of God by its plurality and singleness of heart, for God is relational and one at the same time. God is the One in whom we live and move and have our being, as St. Paul put it to the people at Corinth.
Now, back to the question with which I began, "What makes us persons?"
In his book, "Turn my Mourning into Dancing" Henri Nouwen shows that, at its root, the word "person" means, to "sound through". He then goes on to point out how impersonal we can be towards one another sometimes; how we tend to label, categorize and manipulate one another, seeing each other, not as persons who find their origin in God, but more like "chess pieces" prone to our strategies. (Did we not do just that to Blacks in this country who, for years, were considered "non-persons"?) But the people and individuals we encounter day in, day out are much more, no matter the differences. They are persons who have "something of the eternal" in them, to quote a letter Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo as he described what he wanted to accomplish through his portraits of individuals (and which I quoted in my homily last week).
For Nouwen, it is prayer that helps us make the leap; where we learn to see others as persons. He writes:
In prayer we discover that people are more than their character, and when we
become persons to each other, we "sound through" a peace greater than we
ourselves can make and a love deeper and wider than we ourselves can contain.
When we become persons we become transparent to each other, and light can
shine through us. God can speak through us…and bind us into a community.
We become transparent. (p. 85)
Like every person we meet, God cannot be figured out for God is mystery; each of us, too, a mystery. There is in each of us a uniqueness (fingerprints attest to this) that mirrors the uniqueness and the oneness of God. Simultaneously, we are made for others in that we cannot exit alone; it is not good to be alone. Only in relational life do we come alive; made transparent. Only in relational life does God take on flesh.
Simply, the Trinity reveals who we are essentially: unique and relational at the same time. This Mystery of the Triune God speaks, simply, on the nature of Love: the to-and-fro of mercy, of grace, and of life.
At the center of God, there is found relational life and the oneness of Love ceaselessly spending itself. In this Solemnity we celebrate, not only God's life-giving nature, but ours as well, created as we are in God's image and likeness.
Father Tim Clark
May 19, Solemnity of Pentecost
During a recent homily at daily Mass, Pope Francis spoke of a tendency in many of us that tries to "tame the Holy Spirit". That caught my attention.
Why would we try to tame, to domesticate the Holy Spirit; this Spirit of God? The Pope continues:
The Holy Spirit upsets us because it moves us, it makes us walk, it pushes the
Church forward…but many find this upsetting and prefer the comfort of the familiar.
To "prefer the comfort of the familiar"; the ways we play it safe. That, too, caught my attention.
In that first Pentecost descent of the Spirit, when the disciples "were all in one place together", the Holy Spirit was experienced "like a strong, driving wind"; and "tongues as of fire." Nothing tame there! Clearly, God's Spirit cannot be caged nor controlled by anyone, even though we spend a lifetime doing just that as we vainly procrastinate and resist the transforming nature of Divine Love within our lives.
This desire to tame the Holy Spirit betrays our need for control—which is nothing more than our fear of death, that final letting-go; to manipulate God which has ancient, primordial roots in the Garden, at the beginning. This leads only to a barren, fruitless existence that tries to control those others in our lives as well.
What prompted the Pope to speak of this perennial reaction to the Holy Spirit in our lives was the 50th anniversary of Vatican Council II, presently being commemorated throughout the world. Blessed John XXIII, the pontiff who inaugurated the Council, prayed for a "new Pentecost" as he convened it. And, during this recent homily, Pope Francis called the Council "a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit" and asked: "Have we done everything the Holy Spirit was asking us to do during the Council?" Pope Francis answered, "No"; then spelled out why:
We celebrate this anniversary, we put up a monument but we don't want it to
upset us. We don't want to change and what's more there are those who wish
to turn the clock back.
Amazing; prophetic words!
Not only within the Church and our world, but right inside our own duplicitous hearts we vainly try to tame the Holy Spirit by resisting its discomforting push and that "Living Flame" which burns and transfigures. Too often, we prefer the comfort of the familiar. Is it any wonder lives stagnate; burnt-out and lived at a great distance from God?
This Pentecost, let there descend, like a "strong, driving wind" and "tongues as of fire", God's Spirit into our hearts and minds so that, pushed beyond ourselves and aflame with the Spirit, God might renew through us all the face of the earth.
Father Tim Clark
May 12, Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
In a journal passage Thomas Merton writes:
When you are beginning to be old, and I am beginning to be old, for I am
fifty, both times and places no longer take on the same meaning.
When I look back on the times and places of my life, I often see what I was unable to see when living through a particular time, my life in a certain place. Now, that I am older—and hopefully wiser—I see those times and places, when looking back, as alive with meaning; even those painful scenarios of my life. With the eyes of faith I perceive, when looking back, the hand of God and work of Providence much of the time. Sometimes, when looking back on this journey which is my life, I feel like Jacob who, waking from sleep and after his dream of ascending and descending angels, exclaims:
Truly the Lord is in this place, although I did not know it…
This is nothing else but the abode of God…the gateway to heaven.
Or, like the poet William Stafford who, on most evenings and over the years, kept a journal in which he reflected on the times and places of a given day:
More important than what was recorded, these evenings
deepened my life: they framed every event
or thought and placed it with care by the others…
when everything recognized itself and passed into meaning.
--from "Keeping a Journal"
We now celebrate the Solemnity of the Lord's Ascension: Jesus taken from sight, His life now hidden in God. In this mysterious event, Christ no longer is held back, limited, bound to one time; one place. Instead, Christ is found for all time and in every place when we trust the promise that the One who lives is now with us until the end of time.
When we let this promise of Christ's hidden, yet abiding presence —like yeast kneaded into dough—seize our imagination and lift our hearts beyond those nagging doubts we all face, then we will begin to see the times and places which make up our lives with deepened awareness. We will slowly glimpse the hand of God and work of Providence. When we let this happen, Jesus' Ascension becomes real within this limited, time-bound world of ours and hope will imperceptibly begin to frame every event and life pass into meaning; into God our only hope.
Father Tim Clark
April 21, Fourth Sunday of Easter
At a grade school recital years ago and when I was in 7th grade, I remember having to sing the Negro spiritual, "He's got the Whole World in His Hands." I've come to see over the years that there is a great simplicity to those hymns that continue to bolster the Black community. Such spirituals say everything and attune us to a truth we too easily let slip from memory: that all of us, from the "itsy bitsy baby" to the "you and me a brother…a sister" are in God's hands; everything held by God, "held, held fast by love" (Annie Dillard).
The image of hands we find in the Gospel this 4th Sunday of Easter where Jesus likens himself to a shepherd and all of us to sheep. To those attuned to the sound of his voice he says:
No one can take them out of my hand…no one can take them out
of the Father's hand.
(John 10: 27-30)
This voice that calls to us even now is the "voice of love" (Nouwen); it's as simple as that, and we must not let this voice slip from our minds.
Now, fast-forward to my Ordination in St. James Cathedral, September 6, 1980, and at the hands of the beloved Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen. The First Reading was from the Book of Sirach, chapter 2 and chosen by me. The last line of the passage reads:
Let us fall into the hands of the Lord and not into the hands of men,
for equal to his majesty is the mercy that he shows.
The hands of the Lord are merciful hands. How easily this truth slips from us and is forgotten. How merciless we can sometimes be when it comes to others; when faced with ourselves?
This understanding of mercy brings to mind words Pope Francis spoke recently, both in an Angelus address during Lent, and in his Urbi et Orbi message Easter Day. In his Angelus address he said:
To feel mercy, this word changes everything…
It changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and
more just. We need to understand this mercy of God, this merciful
Father who has so much patience…
On Easter Sunday, the Pope said:
Jesus is risen, there is hope for you…Love has triumphed, mercy has
been victorious! The mercy of God always triumphs!
May the triumph of mercy take hold and not slip from sight, especially when faced with such dark and merciless acts of violence just witnessed at the Boston Marathon. The mercy of God always triumphs for "He's got the Whole World in his Hands". May we believe it and hold on, no matter what.
Father Tim Clark
March 31, Easter Sunday / Resurrection of the Lord
In her book, "And Morning Came" Megan McKenna writes:
What we learn from the Resurrection is…astounding and powerful: the
face of God is turned always towards us, the face of God is life-giving, life-enhancing,
life-renewing; the face of God is freedom; the face of God is love…
Resurrection says that no matter what is happening in the world, no matter what we
have done or anyone has done; the love of God is always stronger and it is always
coming towards us in the person of Jesus… (p. XIV)
Ever since the Resurrection of Jesus happened over 2,000 years ago—that unprecedented turning-point in history—we've yet to learn the lesson and put it into practice: that the face of God is turned always towards us. If only this world of ours and each of us here would live with such awareness, then we would find ourselves less alone, less in the dark; our lives less buried under the debris of ignorance and sin.
Nevertheless, Christ's Resurrection dawns year after year and within each moment of our lives. This is the luminous hope in which we stand this Easter Day: that no matter what, the love of God is stronger.
In the sacramental life and within the substance of everyday we encounter the flesh and blood existence of the Risen One. It is there we learn to believe and take to heart this prevailing truth: that He lives and is in our midst…always coming towards us.
May we learn to 'practice Resurrection' and sense such Presence; such Love.
A joyous Easter to all!
Father Tim Clark
March 24, Palm Sunday
In his book, "Rumours of Another World" Philip Yancey writes:
Following Jesus complicates life, often inviting hardship. I know Christians
who have adopted emotionally and physically damaged children, bringing
a permanent disruption into their lives. I know a man who resigned his
position as president of a Christian college in order to care for his wife
afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. (p. 215)
And he asks the question, "Why would anyone choose to follow a man who promises more hardship, not less?" Good question. Following Jesus the way Yancey describes certainly complicates the "pursuit of happiness" driving this nation of ours, not to mention our own personal lives. He answers his question with words by St. Paul:
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory
that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what
is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (II Cor. 4)
Following Jesus 'forces the issue' in that it wants to wake us up; to see that we are here for much more than the pursuit of happiness. Following Jesus opens us to what is unseen; to what lasts. Following Jesus with any seriousness will pull us out of our shell and ask for some response.
Yancey mentions Bono (lead singer for U2) who, at the time of writing, was touring the U.S. to raise awareness about the AIDS pandemic happening in Africa. He quotes Bono saying, "God is waiting for us to act. I think he is on his knees begging us to care as he does." (p. 215)
It is Palm Sunday. This week, the journey and the journeys' end meet. Despite the dark suffering, the dereliction, Jesus is fixed on what is unseen as He cries out from the cross, begging God to care. It is a cry that lives on in the human family; within every heart and all that is. Following Jesus complicates life because it asks that we make room for this 'cry'. It asks us to trust in that unseen impulse of grace and of mercy that wants to take hold of us in ways that make us belong to the vision Christ offers; and the hope that outweighs what we suffer in this life. The one who follows Jesus begins to see that "there is more to life than meets the eye". And this something 'more' is glimpsed even now on this side of things when we learn to trust the words Jesus speaks; learn to believe in the everlasting nature of Love Christ embodies.
This Holy Week, God waits; the heartrending, disruptive cry from the cross begs for our response.
Father Tim Clark
March 17, fifth Sunday of Lent
The wonder of being brought, by God, around a corner and to
realize a new road is opening up…And that there is no way of
traveling it but in Christ and with Him…whatever happens.
This experience Merton describes "of being brought, by God, around a corner" is what conversion involves. Much of the time it is a blind corner in that we do not see where it leads. We walk by faith, not by sight this side of life. On this journey which is our life it is necessary not make this turn happen ourselves. To be brought around this God-given corner must be done to us. So, we need to 'unlearn' this ingrained tendency to always be in control. As a new road opens up within our lives we must allow ourselves to be led by God, whatever happens. Such surrender involves great trust since, much of the time, we cannot fathom what is happening or where we are going. Sometimes, it feels like walking in circles, or coming to a dead-end.
When my Abbot's mother was dying, her daughter-in-law leaned close and said, "Agnes, you are going to a better place." Agnes, with her wry sense of humor and who prided herself on having the last word said, "Honey, I don't know where I'm going!" Merton's well-known prayer comes to mind; words I've quoted before:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see
the road ahead of me…Therefore I will trust you always though
I seem lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you
are ever with me…
--"Thoughts in Solitude"
This 5th Sunday in Lent, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb as they roll away the stone that's in front of the opening. Emerging from death into the light of day, Lazarus must have felt like "being brought, by God, around a corner". He 'turns a corner' in his friendship with Christ; as they unbind him and let him go free. He is changed for good, never to be the same. It's all the work of love this road to conversion. It is what ought to happen to us who, like Lazarus, are bound and buried in a number of ways; our lives shrouded in ambivalence; unfree.
A favorite Lenten hymn of mine is "What Wondrous Love". It's all about Love, this journey towards God: the wonder of being brought, by God, around a corner where we learn to trust whatever happens; trust the One ever with us….
Father Tim Clark
March 3, third Sunday of Lent
But what is life but reaching for an answer?
And what is death but a refusal to grow?
--Mary Oliver, "Magellan"
Daily, we are faced with questions: from the simplest such as, "What should I eat tonight?" to those deeper ones.
"What has happened to my life?" my Mom asked my sister Anne some months ago. Anne had been slowly paging through a shutterfly book of family photos she had put together—from my parents' wedding day to more recent happenings—and was showing it to Mom. The woman we had known, loved, and feared was lost to us momentarily surfaced.
Startled by her question—since, when she talks, does so in jumbled consonants—there was felt a trickle of hope within the 'parched landscape' of her dementia. Amazingly, she was not lost to us but there, alive, and "reaching for an answer".
In the Gospel this 3rd Sunday in Lent (Cycle A), Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the Well: her landscape, too, parched due to her having been shunned by the townspeople. Yet, there Jesus sits: tired from his journey, and as the woman approaches to draw water at midday. Jesus, to the woman's surprise, initiates a conversation; and, as words between them begin to flow and as she lets down her guard, she finds herself reaching for an answer. Gradually, there begins to well up from within a thirst for more than water.
Something happens as she begins to fathom, not only her own predicament from a deeper, more honest place, but as she plumbs a depth of compassion never encountered before in another man. Leaving her bucket behind and awash with hope, she hastens into town and there evangelizes the people—the very ones who shunned her—in words which must have startled them all. Her life changes and forever deepens because of the love she encounters, pooling in the eyes of Christ.
Like the woman at the Well and my Mom with dementia, all of us thirst for more than water; all of us reaching for an answer. This Lent, my hope and my prayer for us all is that the presence and unfathomable love—that all-embracing acceptance of Christ—encountered at the Well becomes our discovery, too. This Lent, may our lives deepen…
Father Tim Clark
February 24, second Sunday of Lent
In 7th grade Sister Cordelia Mary, SNJM taught art at Holy Redeemer School where I attended. Hers was an artistic approach to life, and she tried to instill such vision in those of us taught by her.
I clearly remember her leading us outside on a warm, spring afternoon to sketch a stately Maple tree in front of the rectory, near the church. Sitting on the green grass and tracing on paper and in charcoal the canopy of branches, its weathered trunk and gnarled roots I felt close to nature; close to God. Without realizing it at the time it opened me to what the Jesuit poet G.M. Hopkins has called its "inscape".
In class she would highlight certain artistic styles. For example, Claude Monet and the school of Impressionism; Georges Rouault and his 'stained glass' way of painting.
One afternoon, and with the assistance of room mothers, Sister organized a field trip to the Portland Art Museum since Monet's "Water Lilies" was on exhibition. This artwork made a deep impression on me, pardon the pun! Yet it did. Since then, Monet and the school of Impressionism I've preferred when it comes to art. Also, I vividly remember her slides on Rouault and his painting called "Christ on the Cross". Years later, I purchased a copy of it and had it with me during Seminary.