February 23, 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I believe it was Gandhi who said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” These words sprang to mind as I pondered Jesus’ words from St. Matthew’s Gospel (5:38-48) this 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time; a passage that continues his teaching known as the Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one as well.
Offer no resistance. To live life without that knee-jerk need to retaliate and strike back makes no sense to many and strikes some as a bit masochistic. This teaching from the Sermon on the Mount is often overlooked. For centuries, we’ve turned a blind eye to its challenge. Let’s face it: Jesus’ words defy logic when looked at rationally, for such words spring from the illogical nature of Divine Love.
Monika Hellwig, a Catholic theologian who taught at Georgetown for years, sheds light on this rather radical notion of Jesus:
To realize God’s Reign…requires gestures of reconciliation that seem to run counter to common sense and prudence. It requires the overcoming of anger, hostility and suspicion in others not by retaliation and restraint of their power to act, but by a kind of de-escalation or defusing.
(“Gladness Their Escort”, pp. 90-91)
Jesus’ teaching is redemptive in that it offers an alternative that frees us from the blindsided, vicious cycle that traps so many within resentment and that instinctual need, lurking in most of us, to strike back. Such retaliation changes nothing, really. Instead, it deadens hope and the possibility of change.
Surprisingly, Governor Jay Inslee has taken a step toward such an alternative when recently deciding against executions while governor. There was “no light bulb moment”, as he put it. Simply, he felt that “It’s not right”; that “There’s no evidence it deters murder.”
This unforeseen decision, however, did not sit well with citizens who called it “shortsighted”; “irresponsible and disgraceful”; a “blatant disregard for victims’ suffering.” What is your reaction?
Cardinal Walter Kasper said that to follow Christ demands “a break from the status quo.” Our lives ought to look differently; lives offering alternatives that liberate, and that redeem us from imprisoning mindsets and behavior. As followers of Christ, we are “Called to be good as God is good.” (Hellwig) The Christian life is not about “making sense”. Rather, it’s about loving as God loves us, saints and sinners alike, with a love that sees something of who we are in the other.
Fr. Tim Clark
January 26, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Our life is a journey, and when we stop moving, things go wrong.
At a General Audience in the Vatican, a young student told the Holy Father that he was “searching…to be faithful”; that he was having difficulties and doubts, and wanted help “in my growth” as he put it.
Pope Francis responded, not by telling him to ‘pray, go to Mass and keep the commandments’. Instead, he responded with words that respected the honest question of this young student; words I find wise and insightful. Pope Francis said, in part:
Walking is an art…walking is precisely the art of looking at the horizon, thinking about where I want to go, and also coping with the weariness that comes from walking…there are days of darkness, days of failure, and some days of falling…Get up quickly, immediately, and continue to go on.
In the gospel of Matthew (4:12-23) this 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, we see Jesus “walking by the sea of Galilee” (my emphasis) as he calls his first disciples to follow. Jesus knew the ‘art of walking’ and was quite familiar with its weariness. He knew all too well days of darkness and failure; days of falling. Because he experienced our “footsore journey” (Buechner) Jesus is able to empathize with all that we face on this walk which is our life. Yet, Jesus teaches us, through this art of walking and way of discipleship, to keep our eyes fixed upon God, seeing everything “against an infinite horizon.”(Rahner) In other words, we must not lose sight of the destination to which we are headed, no matter what.
Jesus knew in his own flesh what we experience: the temptation to throw in the towel and give up when the wearied darkness of life overwhelms; when it seems like we’re walking in circles and getting nowhere. Yet, we are urged to learn through his example not to give up, and to trust because, “When we stop walking, things go wrong.” All that matters is that we not give up, but keep putting one foot in front of the other. From personal experience, I’ve come to see that there is no viable option. I cannot not walk if I hope to, one day, arrive.
I find it significant when calling his first disciples Jesus does not call them individually. Rather he calls pairs of brothers. Again, Pope Francis addressed to that young, doubting student words apropos to this:
But also: it is terrible to walk alone, terrible and tedious; walking in community, with friends, with those who love us: this helps us. It helps us to arrive precisely at the destination where we must arrive.
We cannot make this journey alone, and why we need the Church and her sacramental life. There, we encounter the Living One who accompanies us on this walk, this life that leads to God who is “the journey and the journey’s end.” (T.S. Eliot)
Father Tim Clark
January 19, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
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 this 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.
--Pope Francis, interview in “La Civilta Catolica”
This past Sunday, I was with my sister Anne as, together, we visited Mom and, together, fed her. During our conversation, she brought up the situation at Eastside Catholic High Scholl and the resignation of the vice-principal and swim coach, Mark Zmuda due to his civil marriage to another man this past summer. Piqued, my sister, a woman with strong opinions, finds the situation unjust, and a clear example of the “double standard”. “If that’s the case,” she said, “they need to remove any teacher in a Catholic school who is using contraception or who has been divorced and remarried without the marriage blest.” I could only agree, though I’m not privy to all the details on this difficult and thorny issue. I mentioned that “hands are tied” right now, so what else could have been done? Yet, Anne makes a valid point. Perhaps the situation could have been handled differently. I thought of our parents who, in the 1960’s and beyond, dissented from church teaching and practiced contraception while practicing their faith: good Catholics who loved the church, yet saw their decision, that I learned about years later, as morally necessary.
As I mull over this painful decision and messy situation, what has me most concerned is the ‘lens’ through which Mark Zmuda has been perceived. With the light of Church teaching as guide, we zero in on his sexual orientation and civil marriage and see nothing more, it seems. It is this way of seeing that strikes me as limiting and lacking in context. Like every other person, Mark is far more than his sexual orientation; this ‘given’ within his personal life. Did not segregation laws in this country carry out something similar: focusing only on the color of a person’s skin and nothing more? When we choose to view others through such a lens we see only the surface and not that deeper mystery inherent in all. We fail to see with that gospel vision Jesus espouses on nearly every page. We must begin with the person and see the person in context so as to avoid the pitfalls of a one-dimensional approach. That seems to have happened at Eastside Catholic and happens within the Church-at-large when dealing with these complex, moral issues today. Look, again, at the Holy Father’s words:
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.
Such accompaniment rarely is clear sailing, nor made with black and white certitude. When lived with integrity and depth, much of life is uncertain, and an experience with a mysterious God “who writes straight with crooked lines” much of the time. That is why we must accompany one another with respect, acceptance and mercy.
The decision regarding Mark Zmuda does not seem all that merciful, nor does it set his situation in context. To me, it “misses the weightier matters of the Law”, as Jesus puts it. It focuses only upon one aspect of his life. As I said, he is far more than his sexual orientation. From what I’ve heard, Mark was an effective vice-principal and coach, very much liked by students and faculty. His presence had a positive impact. So, this decision only cripples the Church’s authority in the eyes of many—young people, especially— already lacking in trust due to the humiliating sins that have marred the church in recent years.
In the Gospel this 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus is recognized as the “Lamb of God” by the Baptist when he’s willing to see Jesus for who he is, though there was a time when he did not see, nor know him. The word “behold” found in this passage means, “To look, and look again.” May we learn to behold each other and so consider each person, not through a lens that limits, but in a way that accepts each other as God’s own; a God who never rejects nor condemns what His hands have made, but endorses each person with love.
Father Tim Clark
January 12, Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Following Christmas, I began reading Philip Yancey’s book, “Reaching for the Invisible God”; a good read. In chapter 13 he writes:
Toward the end of his life, Henri Nouwen said that prayer had become for him primarily a time of “listening to the blessing.” “The real ‘work’ of prayer,” he said, “is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me.” That may sound self-indulgent, he admitted, but not if it meant seeing himself as the Beloved, a person in whom God has chosen to dwell. The more he listened to that voice, the less likely he was to judge his worth by how others responded to him or by how much he achieved…
He sought the radical freedom of an identity anchored in a peace “beyond all human praise and blame.” (p. 166)
This idea of prayer as “listening to the blessing”; “to the voice that says good things” helps fathom what occurs in Jesus at the Jordan River and described in St. Matthew’s gospel on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord:
And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
I am reminded of other words, apropos on this feast and penned in the 12th century by St. Bernard of Clairvaux who said, “This voice still speaks, even if no one is listening”:
May I suggest, then, that you prick up the ear of your heart in order to hear this inner voice…to hear God speaking within?
Even when this voice goes silent in the darkest hours of the Passion, Jesus finds the bare-boned willingness to cling to the memory of the voice that washed over him in the Jordan and that revealed a nature and goodness anchored in God. We share in this by our baptism; by the sheer gift of existence, for Christ now “holds all things together in himself.”
Like Jesus, baptism asks that we leave behind the ‘terra firma’ of our certitudes and logic and allow ourselves to wade towards the mysterious depth of God’s will: to ‘take the plunge and get wet’ as the writer Anne Lamott describes it. What keeps us afloat within life with its unfathomable demands is the willingness to listen to this voice that still speaks. Because there lurks within us a fallen tendency to attune ourselves instead to those other, darker voices that keep God at bay; voices that feed in us a ‘lie’.
Yancey describes such voices as undermining hope because they want us to believe that “we are unworthy, we have failed, we fall short.” Such is the ‘lie’ we succumb to time and again and that sinks us, leaving us unmoored; adrift. In Christ, God has decided to ‘take the plunge’ and fix his heart on us for good. Such desire wants only to buoy us within life’s turbulence; its joys, fears and hopes.
On this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, may there surface within us the willing desire to listen to the blessing we are, in spite of the clay feet of sin. Let us wade towards the One whose heart is open to us, like a Father; who sees us all as Beloved and whose voice still speaks to anyone willing to become silent within the flow of life and listen to that voice, awash in love.
Father Tim Clark
December 25, Christmas Day Homily
In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was God.
In the beginning: these three words call to mind the first words of scripture, in the Book of Genesis. By borrowing these words and using them at the beginning of his gospel, the evangelist John wants to impress upon us that, in Jesus’ birth, God is creating something new.
By this birth, God speaks—as God did in the beginning—irrevocably. God speaks a word that remains;
a Word without which “nothing came to be”. A Word, like light, that shines in the darkness; that darkness has not overcome.
In the beginning was the Word…
What is the meaning of this Word God speaks and that becomes flesh in the birth of Jesus we celebrate today?
Recently, I read “Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic” by Nora Gallagher. At one point, she explains to her father why she writes. Allow me to quote the passage here:
Writing, I said, was the way I made sense of my life and discovered what I was thinking…Writing is certainly a voyage of discovery. It is sometimes a shipwreck.
I tried to find the right word, I told him, for the thing it signified. The right word is like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that perfectly slips into place. The right word leads to the next word and makes things and ideas spring to life. The wrong word…deadens and destroys. In the beginning, John’s gospel says, was the Word. (pp. 48-49)
The right word is “like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that perfectly slips into place.”
My friends, Christ is the right Word, a timely Word and missing piece which holds things together. While Jesus walked this earth and sojourned within our footsore journey, his words puzzled some—especially the religious authorities—yet found a receptive home in the hearts of so many more. Hopefully, such words—provocative and life-giving—find a home in us as well.
For Christ is that Word who makes sense of life; who helps piece together our jigsaw existence, leading us on—“grace in place of grace”—though we can’t see the whole picture much of the time, nor understand what is happening, or why.
Christ is that Word become flesh, who slips into our world to save us from those wrong words that distort minds and twist hearts; words that deaden and destroy.
We remember Christ’s birth, not like some sentimental repast—though the mystery of his birth has been sentimentalized to the point that it misses the point. We remember Christ’s birth to let that Word, born of God in the beginning, inside our own skin so that we might speak this Word by our lives; a Word making sense to those who trust; that pieces together our scattered existence when we dare to dream that all find a place in Divine Love; Love that excludes no one and embraces all by the mystery of this birth.
If Christ’s birth ever hopes to be delivered from empty sentiment and to make a difference within this puzzling world of ours, then we must become the Word. That is the challenge of this birth.
St. Teresa of Avila captured this well in words when she wrote:
Christ has no body now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.
Centuries ago, one of the Patristic writers—St. Augustine, perhaps?—said that each of us is a word spoken by God that God speaks into existence at our beginning.
Paradoxically, this does not mean there are many words; only one Word that God continually speaks and through whom we, though many, are one. All of us, with our uniqueness and gifts, express in a variety of ways this one Word Christ embodies. Christ is that revealed Word which offers meaning and makes sense of this voyage of discovery we make together.
Since his pontificate began, Pope Francis has spoken words that have puzzled some, yet have shed light and offered hope for countless others. For many, inside and outside the Church, Pope Francis is speaking the right word at a crucial time, and within a world—and sometimes a church—that has a penchant for uttering rash and judgmental words; wrong words that only deaden and destroy; words not born of God.
When asked about the Church he dreams about, the Pope responded that what the “Church needs most is the ability to heal wounds” and likened the Church to a “field hospital”. “Heal the wounds,” he said. “Heal the wounds. You have to start from the ground up”;
A pope who said,
God accompanies persons and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.
A pope who said that those who shepherd the Church ought to “have the smell of the sheep about them.”
A pope who said, in response to the puzzling nature of human sexuality, that
If a person is gay, seeks God and is of good will, who am I to judge?
A pope without the red shoes, without pretense; who refuses to be sequestered within Vatican walls and out of touch; who knows well in his own flesh, as did Christ, the press of the crowd and their thronging need. To my eyes, Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air, revealing the mystery of the Incarnation in a deeply human and compassionate manner.
Recently, he had a birthday, turning seventy-seven. To celebrate, he did something I found amazing and which makes the birthday of Christ we celebrate down to earth and accessible, void of sentiment and utterly real.
On his birthday, the Pope invited three homeless men—one with his dog in tow—to Mass, with breakfast following. “Actions speak louder than words” as the adage has it. Pope Francis walks his talk.
In this morning’s Gospel, we hear the stunning promise of Christ’s birth:
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
On this Christmas Day and in the months ahead, may we live out this Word Christ embodies, a Word which, above all, is a word of hope and of mercy. Christ is that Word making sense of life with its puzzling nature; a correct word which holds life together and without which nothing came to be. When we are willing to live this Word, the pieces fall into place, and the world slowly saved from those wrong words which only deaden and destroy.
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
Our Lady of the Lake Parish
Seattle, WA 98115
December 24, Christmas Eve Homily
“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
This question with its probing words was recently posed by Pope Francis; words written, not from some ivory tower within the Vatican, but fleshed out from his own experience for, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires he “was known to sneak out at night and break bread with the homeless, sit with them on the street and eat with them as part of his aim to share the plight of the poor and let them know someone cared.”
How can it be that it is not news when the homeless die, but news when the stock market loses points?
It is this kind of ‘news’, sadly, that grabs the world’s attention much of the time; where money markets, position, and what we possess seem more real than the reality of God. Yet, Christmas past, present and yet to come announce a rather different kind of news: proclaimed by an angel who, like some luminous, falling star in a night sky, startles fear-struck shepherds huddled in the dark with the
Good news of great joy for all the people…
About an infant newly born; why's this news? What can this mean, these words heard Christmas after Christmas, that sound in one ear and exit the other; words which no longer grab the attention of an incredulous world; a world intent on what seems more tangible, more real like iphones, and Facebook…anything to distract us from the inner plight we sometimes experience: where I find myself in darkness. No different, really, than those shepherds when the angel grabs their attention with words born of light; that change the direction of their lives as, in haste, they leave their flocks behind to see this sight, this news of a homeless infant in a manger which was nothing more than a feeding trough for animals:
You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
The message is like some clue that contestants on television’s “The Amazing Race” hastily tear from an envelope and that, initially, leaves them stymied as they make their way.
Yes, the angel’s message is a clue that hints at how God now chooses to move within this spinning world of ours: in disguise. No different, really, than that bishop—now pope—who would sneak out at night to break bread with the homeless. To share their plight and let them know someone cares. This, my friends, is the good news of the Incarnation that happened once, and happens still.
It is such news the world needs, so often out of touch and forgetful of God. It takes a swaddled infant—what is helpless and small—to bring us back to earth and close to what really matters within this driven, calculating age of ours. This news within our sometimes clueless lives is what we need to hear; news that is vastly more important than any stock market; news that God, in whom we live, move and have our being, was willing to become flesh and embrace our human condition. It’s beyond words, really, and cannot be logically understood for such news brings to light the illogical nature of Divine Love.
You who are parents, did not the birth of your child forever change you? Holding your daughter or son for the first time and swaddled in your arms, did you not feel close to something miraculous? Falling in love with your child, did you not—perhaps for the first time—sense yourself close to something bigger; to God?
If so, you’ve begun to master the clue and glimpse with the eyes of faith why God would choose to become small in infant flesh: because it has the power to move hearts. The news of Christ’s birth, revealing the human face of God, has the power to save us from ourselves when, like a newborn, we hold close the Mystery and take it to heart.
In her most recent book, “Stitches” Anne Lamott writes:
What a paradox: that we connect with God, with divinity, in our flesh and blood and time and space. We connect with God in our humanity. A great truth, attributed to Emily Dickenson, is that “hope inspires the good to reveal itself.” This is almost all I ever need to remember. Gravity and sadness yank us down, and hope gives us a nudge to help one another get back up or to sit with the fallen on the ground, in the abyss, in solidarity. (pp. 18-19)
And Lamott continues:
When we agree to (or get tricked into) being part of something bigger than our own wired, fixated minds, we are saved. When we search for something larger than our own selves to hook into, we can come through whatever life throws at us.
“Larger” can mean a great cause, a project of restoration, or it can mean a heightened, expansive sense of the now…
Larger can mean a six-pound addition to the family—nothing is larger than a newborn… (p. 91)
In the birth of Jesus, we become part of something bigger and much larger. A birth that saves us from our “wired, fixated minds” when we allow the mystery of it all to captivate and change us so much so that we begin to live out of a hope that helps “one another get back up” or that sits “with the fallen…in solidarity.”
Christmas reveals that we need the eyes of children and of the poor to see the ‘clue’ that hints at the meaning hidden in Christ’s birth: when heaven is wedded to earth with “the skies sparkling like diamonds.” For children and the poor naturally sense their need for God. For them, God is real and no fantasy nor opiate.
The Divine Birth we celebrate, this dawning of light, wants us to see the face of God as well as something of ourselves in the other; to see in the One born for us no distant God, but one who is close, who is flesh, who is where we are. For each of us, with our uniqueness, our differences, quirks and givens are not all that different, really. All of us are ‘kin’: sisters and brothers children of God because of Bethlehem’s birth; all a divine trick, this clue in flesh.
When we allow such vision to have its time, then the elderly and homeless dying of exposure will grab our attention and be seen as far greater news than any stock market point.
Such vision alone saves us, bringing to birth within the hearts of us all Christ who walks this earth even now: who lives in our flesh and within all that is, like a clue to be deciphered and found.
In her book “The Reed of God” Caryll Houselander writes:
What we shall be asked to give is our flesh and blood, our daily life—our thoughts, our service to one another, our affections and loves, our words, our intellect, our waking , working and sleeping, our ordinary human joys and sorrows—to God.
My friends, on this Christmas night let us hasten, with the shepherds, to Bethlehem; to that place of birth now happening within the ordinary and every day. Like them, let us believe in the light, beheld in the infant born of God and swaddled in smallness and in need, like a clue. Let us see, revealed in it all, something of ourselves. For such a birth and such light is good news. Its hope nudges us to believe in the light of such presence which can save us from the plight of darkness riddling our world, if only we learn to hold close this good news and bundled joy, like a child.
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
Our Lady of the Lake Parish
Seattle, WA 98115
December 22, Fourth Sunday of Advent
At the 9:30 Mass most Sundays and during the school year, I invite the children forward after the Opening Prayer and just before the Readings. I ‘set the tone’ before they go off to CLOW (Children’s Liturgy of the Word) and look at the scriptures for the day from their perspective.
One Sunday, as I recall, I pointed to Jesus as our “Teacher” and asked, “What did Jesus teach us?” To my right, a young girl raised her small hand and said, “To dream good dreams.” I stood there, amazed! “Out of the mouth of babes”…
To dream good dreams: from Joel, who prophesied a day when the old would “dream dreams”, to a Baptist minister who announced “I have a dream” from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and within a nation torn apart by the nightmare of racism, the vision of the Gospel and that dream fulfilled in Christ continues. This dream, for those who believe, continues to bear fruit and radiate, within a darkened world, luminous hope.
To dream good dreams: this dream Christ espouses seems to be too good to be true and more a pipedream than anything within a world ravaged by countless atrocities, where hope and the dream for a better world go up in smoke. Yet, the dream persists. It presses on within the hearts of a Nelson Mandela and Pope Francis. It presses on every Advent, year after year, and won’t let go; whose joy is glimpsed in children’s faces each Christmas. I’m reminded of words by the poet Rilke; words of hope written as if spoken by God to us:
I am the dream you are dreaming.
When you want to awaken, I am that wanting:
I grow strong in the beauty you behold.
And with the silence of stars I enfold
your cities made by time.
The “dream you are dreaming” is real and no phantom of the imagination. And this dream that continues to “grow strong” is that God is with us for good and wedded to our lives. For in the fleshly existence of Christ, hidden now in God and, mysteriously, within our own flesh, the Divine empathizes with our struggles, hopes and fears. Because of the birth of Christ in time, we have a God who understands; whose Love is near.
Years ago, I memorized words by the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner; words I call to mind each Christmas:
We have no distant God, but one who is close; who is flesh; who is where we are.
During the celebration of Christ’s Birth, may we believe with greater conviction that Jesus is that ‘dream come true’, a dream that presses on within the mystery of our own flesh; into the light.
Father Tim Clark
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 "