Monday, March 31, 2008

Tuesday word, 01 Apr 2008

Easter Tuesday2 (01 Apr 2008) Ac 4. 32-37; Ps 93; Jn 3. 7b-15
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Taking Jesus Seriously

The Fourth Gospel uses irony, that use of words which expresses something other than the literal meaning. More, its words are not trapped in the page without life. They convey desires and actions of people, God and the enemy of our human nature. In all the gospels we know and understand what many people do not. That intensifies irony, allowing us to receive Jesus’ invitations, commands and healing love.

When Jesus spoke the first time to Nicodemus, the Fourth Gospel used a Greek word/1/ that can mean from above or again or both! Nicodemus, we recall, was a superficial disciple of Jesus because he was a Pharisee, and the Pharisees as a block opposed Jesus. Nicodemus took the cruder meaning of that Greek word: Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he? God has power over all things, but God does not play games with nature. God, as Easter reminds us, surpasses nature, redeeming it and glorifying us.

Two great challenges to living the risen life, of entrusting ourselves to it, are not being confined to the literal, to appearances, and to taking Jesus at his word. The first challenges us not to behave as if the divine power has abandoned us in our humanity. Catholicism, and Ignatian spirituality, which we are blessed to know, feels God at work in all things, that the world is “charged with the grandeur of God.”/2/

The taking Jesus at his word means surrendering ourselves to him.The first Christian communities demonstrated that behavior and actions supersede words: possessions were shared. The favored expression in the Acts of the Apostles is placing something at the feet of the Apostles. In modern English we might call such behavior “taking our religion seriously.” Religion comes from the Latin “to tie fast”: we are to bind ourselves to one another and to all. Only our relationship to risen Jesus allows us to to do that by being agents from above and not acting as if we are going through the motions again.

/1/ John 3. 3-4. We would have heard this on Monday had the Annunciation not superseded the Second Monday of Easter.
/2/ Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. “God’s Grandeur.”
Wiki-image of Nicodemus is used according to the GFDL.

Focus on "Public Spotlight"

Another Catholic-Islam eruption happened after the Easter Vigil baptism in Rome of Magdi Allam by Pope Benedict. Mr. John L. Allen Jr. led his column of last week with a vignette of Mr. Allam and insight about Rome's choice to baptize him at the Easter Vigil.

Mr. Allen offered this reply to the question of many:
...why did Benedict do it? At least three points come to mind:

* For a pope committed to reawakening a strong missionary spirit in Catholicism, receiving a high-profile convert during the Easter Vigil is a symbolic way of making the point. In effect, Benedict is saying that the church shouldn't shrink from receiving anyone who knocks on its door, even if there's a political price to be paid.
* Allam's baptism can also be read as a statement of solidarity with Muslim converts to Christianity around the world, many of whom suffer in various ways on account of that decision.
* Finally, the episode illustrates an important wrinkle to Benedict's personality -- stubborn indifference to the canons of political correctness. Benedict is a gracious figure, but he also refuses to sanitize what he regards as important matters of belief or practice in order to avoid PR headaches. Whether that amounts to moral courage or tone-deafness to public reaction is a matter of opinion, but the pattern is clear.
Read Mr. Allen's entire column to appreciate better his three reasons.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday word, 30 Mar 2008

Easter Sunday2 (30 Mar 2008) Ac 2. 42-47; Ps 118; 1Pt 1.3-9; Jn 20. 19-31
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Window on Risen Life

Early in the last century a chef and baker and his bride finally had the time and money. They made a delayed honeymoon to Greece, the man’s native land. Enthralled his Irish bride begged they stay and make their life there. He refused because they had too much invested in their new homeland, the United States.

Their Greek honeymoon was not entirely idyllic. The feud between Greeks and Turks erupted into war. The man’s Greek blood boiled. He took his wife to his cousins, and he enlisted in the Greek army and went to fight the Turks. He didn’t see action for long because he was wounded in the face by shrapnel. Medics removed his eye in order to replace it: he never lost his sight. His lip was gashed and required several stitches. The chef-turned-warrior rested away from the battlefields for weeks.

He grew a mustache to hide his scar. When he was hale again he returned to his cousins’ home. His Irish bride answered his knocks and opened the door. Looking she did not recognize him. She asked how she could help him. When he spoke he pronounced her name, “Leona.” She recognized him not by seeing but when she heard his voice. Joy overwhelmed her.

That touching account of my grandparents is my window on the appearances of the Risen Jesus to his followers. From the beginning, the first Christians claimed that something had happened, something that human language was, and remains, too poor to contain. Yet every experience, no matter how mean or how grand, needs the clothing of language in order for us to report it at all. On this Easter day we allow the reports of many to invade our hearts.

What happened was, and remains, an unexpected rendezvous clothed in many forms. It also has consequences. First, some forms. Jesus was not resuscitated, that is, revived after near-death. Jesus had died on his cross. Resurrection is life of a totally new sort, one that locked doors could not exclude.

Eyes could not perceive this wholly new mode of existence. Eyes detected presence where before there had been none, but eyes could not contain that presence any more than a room could contain it or walls and locked doors could exclude it. This wholly new mode of existence was preposterous. Thomas deserves our respect.

My grandfather could only respect my grand-mother’s disbelief that her severely wounded husband stood at her door. Her eyes were kept from recognizing her beloved. As miraculous as she felt their reunion, my grandfather would die. Resurrected, Easter life never dies.

Risen life does not obliterate wounds. It heals them. Jesus’ visible wounds were the marks of nails and spear. However, Jesus, human to the end, carried within him, as we all do, invisible wounds. To take one: Risen Jesus never rebuked his disciples for abandoning him. His risen life healed that frightful wound. And if Jesus lives in the memories of believer and unbeliever alike as the compassionate man, then the Risen Jesus invites: Place your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side and...believe.

The consequences of this totally other encounter, this rendezvous of God in Jesus by the power of their Spirit crowns our fundamental disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, as the Acts of the Apostles told us. Prayer: Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple and to breaking bread in their homes. Fasting: They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart. Almsgiving: they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. The first witnesses became a people on mission, and their mission was marked by their devotion; their common life; the eucharist; and the awe of their common life.

We no less encounter the crucified Messiah Jesus, as the First Letter of Peter reminded us: Although [we] have not seen him [we] love him; even though [we] do not see him now yet believe in him, [we] rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.

In your 15 minutes with Jesus this week, feel the presence of risen, living Jesus within you and around you. Ask for the grace of joyful hope and endurance. They mark us as disciples of Risen Jesus. Joyful hope and endurance also hand us our mission: to live as belonging to Jesus, to let him live through us in our world that is sorely fractured and our church always in need of renewal. Converse with Jesus: asking Jesus what you can learn from your wounds, and how you can live with greater joy. Close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, which reminds us that Jesus accompanies us on mission by divine power and goodness.
Wiki-images of Thomas before risen Jesus by Caravaggio and detail of Arrival at Kythera by Watteau are in the public domain.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"A 'one-stop-shopping' guide to Pope Benedict's U.S. visit"

So Mr. John L. Allen Jr. entitled his column of last week.

He mentions the Pope and the U.N. Mr. Allen considers challenges to U.S. Catholics. Finally, looking points the Pope made in welcoming the new amabassador of the U.S. to the Holy See, Mr. Allen helps us look forward to the April visit of Benedict XVI:
Benedict XVI's February 29 address to Mary Ann Glendon, the new Ambassador of the United States to the Holy See, offers a foretaste of what he's likely to say to Americans. In just under 1,000 words, Benedict touched upon six crucial points:

* Appreciation for the vibrant public role of religion in American society;
* Encouragement for the United States to help forge a global moral consensus based on natural law;
* The need to promote security not just by combating terrorism, but also by fostering economic development and peace;
* Support for the United Nations and a multilateral approach to international policy;
* Commitment to inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue;
* Strong defense of a "culture of life," including the protection of unborn life and the institution of marriage.

All six are likely to surface during Benedict's 11 public speeches in the United States, and will probably also be on the table for his behind-closed-doors session with Bush.
Pope Benedict expresses himself differently than his predecessor, who mastered speaking in gestures.
With Benedict, it's rarely enough just to watch. One also has to listen, and perhaps equally importantly, to read. One has to sit with his texts in order to "get it," because this is a public figure who expresses himself not in sound-bites but in carefully crafted paragraphs.
Nevertheless, Benedict, like all popes, will address all people and Catholics in particular.
First, he appeals as a voice of conscience to the people of the country and region he's visiting, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, about broad social, ethical and cultural matters. Second, he speaks directly to the local Catholic community in his role as a pastor and head of the universal church.
Mr. Allen's column is a succinct guide to the upcoming papal visit to the the U.S. this April.
Wiki-image of Benedict XVI's coat of arms is used according to the GFDL.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Sunday word, 23 Mar 2008

1 Easter SundayA (23 Mar 2001) Ac 10. 34a, 37-43; Col 3. 1-4; Mt 28.1-10
Homily of Rev. Paul Panaretos, S. J.
Happy Easter!

I wish you the blessings of the Risen Lord, especially to those visiting and worshiping with us today. I want us to reflect on the centerpiece of our faith, the resurrection of Jesus. To help you I want to teach you some Hebrew. It’s very easy, this Easter lesson. I want to teach you how to say Praise the Lord! in Hebrew. It’s only one word: Alleluia! Say it. Each time I say, PTL! you say it in Hebrew. PTL! Say it with Easter feeling: PTL! Now we’re ready.

Let’s focus on the first ones to go to the tomb, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. They went to Jesus’ tomb and did not find things as they expected. PTL! They expected a tightly closed tomb set in solid earth, but the earth quaked and an angel opened the tomb, PTL! They expected a corpse, and they met an angelic messenger, instead. PTL! The angel’s glory stunned the guard.

The women expected to finish their customary burial action, but they grew amazed and alarmed instead. They expected to whisper in reverent tones to each other, and all they witnessed stunned and frightened them; but they were not frightened to death. PTL!

The angel reassured them and transformed them into apostles, people sent to announce the greatest Good News PTL! Come, see the place where the Lord lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’ PTL! They departed quickly not completely shedding their fear, and they encountered Jesus, truly risen, PTL! who changed their fear into boldness to proclaim him, PTL!

We’re a lot like the two Marys. They didn’t understand. We’re not able to understand the empty tomb any better. Our purpose is to live wholeheartedly, not go through life as if we were wooden and cold. Scripture, church- living and sharing faith together warm our hearts, purify our intentions and guide our acting. Living wholeheartedly is a challenge many of us here glady undertake, PTL!

We truly are a lot like the women at Jesus’ tomb, PTL! They expected to see the corpse of their Lord and finish anointing his body. But there was no dead body of Jesus to anoint as they expected PTL! Holy Spirit raised Jesus, PTL!

We Christians serve one another and the world when we get up each day and expect to see Holy Spirit at work. A friend calls this expectation of God’s unexpected energy miracle watching. Easter celebrates our Christian iden-tity as miracle watchers without ceasing. We are miracle watchers, PTL! My purpose, our purpose, is beholding the unfolding of God’s miracles in everyone. No easy task, and the two Marys went to death’s door to behold the greatest miracle. PTL!

We are so very much like the two Marys. They arrived to see a corpse but encountered a heavenly messenger instead. PTL! Now let’s be real: not about heavenly messengers; they are very, very real. Let us be real and honest about ourselves.

If we saw a heavenly messenger, no doubt we’d be amazed; no doubt we’d be alarmed about our own sanity. And we wouldn’t tell anyone because we would be afraid: afraid of what people would think; afraid of what people would say about us; afraid of how people would treat us; afraid that we would have lost our futures. How so very like the two Marys at Jesus’ tomb: they left the tomb quickly with fear....

In the face of the miracle, with all its other-worldliness, the Marys did not drown in their fear, PTL! The Marys let go their terror, PTL! They found their voices, PTL! And finding, they became the angel’s echo and Jesus’ voice: go, tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me: PTL! Yes!

Others have echoed heaven’s Easter-messenger down to 10:30AM, March 23, 2008. That’s why we’re here, can be here at all PTL! How the Marys overcame their fear we cannot know. We can only know our own fears. Overcoming their fear, moving through it, was the most impor-tant work of their lives. Their most important work they did before they died: they believed & faith eclipsed their fear PTL! They encountered Jesus again and again PTL! They lived, moved, witnessed and rested in Holy Spirit PTL!

Their second important work the women left us to do: not just to believe; not just to live in awe of Holy Spirit’s loving power rather than our own; not just to be miracle watchers who take into our hearts more than the unexpected. The women’s legacy--our work--is to tell each other and the world that the Lord Jesus lives and goes ahead of us and remains with us even when we do not feel his presence. PTL!

Easter, friends, celebrates the work of the two Marys. Easter celebrates the work begun by our baptism. Our work is to PTL!: PTL! in speech; PTL! in action; PTL! in worship; PTL! in illness; PTL! in rest; and to PTL! with our deaths. Easter commits us to do our work well so that others will put aside even great things and echo what we have seen and heard and believe. PTL! for University Heights is become Galilee. PTL! for Holy Spirit given to us. PTL! because we are the voices of the Risen Jesus. PTL!
Wiki-images of della Francesca's Resurrection is in the public domain.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Puzzle of Holy Saturday

With Lent coming to a close, one way to make a quick review of Lent and the events and people it commemorates is with this interactive puzzle.

Wiki-image of Henner's Jesus entombed is in the public domain.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday word, 21 Mar 2008

Good Friday A (21Mar2008) Is 52.13-53.12; Ps 31; Hb 4. 14-16, 5. 7-9; Jn 18.1-19.42
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Tree of Life

The advice of St. Ignatius of Loyola, to help us appreciate Jesus’ suffering and death, is both perceptive and helpful: “[when I consider Jesus’] Passion, I should pay special attention to how the divinity hides itself so that Jesus seems so utterly human and helpless. I should make every effort to get inside the Passion, not just staying with external sufferings, but entering into the loneliness, the interior pain of rejection and feeling hated, all the anguish within Jesus.”/1/

What can and has been overemphasized are the “external sufferings” Jesus underwent. I am not saying we ought ignore or pay little attention to them. I follow St. Ignatius, who realized Jesus endured much more pain than strangers witnessing his crucifixion noticed, or that people like us, so far removed from Jesus’ time, place and culture, can notice.

We benefit more from “mak[ing] every effort to get inside the Passion, not just staying with external sufferings, but entering into the loneliness, the interior pain of rejection and feeling hated, all the anguish within Jesus.”

Such efforts do not speculate, romanticize or, worse, spiritualize Jesus’ passion. We get inside Jesus’ passion when we call to mind our own rejection, feeling hated and refusing to acknowledge our own weaknesses and limitations.

Precisely when we call to mind our own rejection, feeling hated and when we acknowledge our own weaknesses and limitations we are in touch with Jesus and his passion. Moreover, sufferings that mark our inmost selves affect our physiques as well. Our bodies reflect our inmost selves. That allows us to appreciate St. Paul’s conviction, I bear the marks of Jesus on my body./2/

Not only did St. Paul reflect on Jesus from his personal experience, his body was marked by his apostolic efforts: proclaiming Jesus as crucified Messiah was not only tiring it got him stoned, flogged, abandoned and maligned. For him those were not misfortunes or hurdles to overcome as much as they marked him as belonging to Jesus. He wore the body of his Lord. Paul was crucified to Jesus.

While we find it difficult to imagine crucifixion, other forms of state-sanctioned killing persist. I don’t know if hanging remains on the books in any state. Most states now opt against electrocution. The favored method is, ironically, anti-septic: lethal injection. That irony lays bare how we insulate ourselves against others’ suffering. Think of it: we blame victims when juries find no one guilty; we soon forget the guilty once they are incarcerated. The sufferings of guilty and innocent people alike mark them, change the contours of their physical presence and affect the ways they are in the world.

What we miss when we gloss over others’ suffering or when we deny our own is that we are being put to the test, as Jesus closed his prayer, which he gave us as our perfect prayer. Luke’s memory of Jesus’ prayer helps us pray the Lord’s Prayer. Put to the test is not some moral or psychological temptation. “It is a cataclysmic trial in which [an] individual’s entire vocation and faith is tested.”/3/

Cataclysmic trials are prevalent today. “Manifestations of this cataclysmic test in the modern world include victims of violence, the physically or mentally disabled, persons suffer-ing the harsh effects of aging, the unemployed and underemployed, victims of tragic accidents, and persons impeded from fulfilling their vocations in various ways.” These trials and others test “our entire calling and vision of life.”/4/ Intense suffering often is interior.

This intimate connection of suffering and life is part of faith. “[Christian] faith helps [those]... who feel and experience pain [and anxiety] grasp more deeply the mystery of suffering and to bear their pain with greater courage.”/5/

Bearing pain isn’t the ultimate goal. Surrendering to the One who will restore, whole and entire, the divine image in whom each is created is the goal and our Christian hope./6/ Though we can’t do that ourselves, we have Jesus, our high priest, who transformed his cross by his death, giving it to us as our Tree of Life. We, too, “wear the body of our Lord.”/7/

/1/ Spiritual Exercises 195-197, paraphrase of David L. Fleming, S.J.
/2/ Galatians 6.17.
/3/ Karl A. Schultz, Where Is God When You Need Him? (New York: Alba House, 1991), p118.
/4/ Ibid., p119.
/5/ Pastoral Care of the Sick, General Introduction, 1.
/6/ Cf. The Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et spes, 18.
/7/ “Tree of Life,” words and music by Marty Haugen, Anthology I: 1980-1984, (Chicago: GIA Publications, Inc., 1997), Track 13.
Wiki-image of Jouvenet's descent from the cross is in the public domain.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Naming What's Changing in the Church

Mr. John L. Allen Jr.'s weekly column is particularly enlightening. It offers a taste of a "category-bending synthesis of left and right."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Passion Sunday word, 16 Mar 2008

Passion Sunday A (16Mar2008) Mt 21. 1-11; Is 50. 4-7; Ps 22; Ph 2. 6-11; Mt 26.14-27.66
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Invited To Follow

Our procession with palms recalled for us that Jesus was hailed as king. We know the leaders of those who hailed him considered Jesus unworthy of any kingdom, and soon would have their way. It was a trumped up affair, to be sure. Indeed, in the overreaching divine plan, Jesus’ fall from human charm had to take place. That divine it must take place will always remain a mystery, and I don’t want to attempt to resolve what I nor any human cannot resolve.

Instead, as we inaugurate this Great Week, I’d ask us to consider our own inclinations to hail Jesus as king one moment then turn our backs on Jesus in another. We easily deny, or at least ignore, the one we just hailed as blessed and approaching in the name of the Lord.

Good people like you and me do that all the time. Our humanity is imperfect. We don’t always follow our deep desires. We need Jesus’ help. During his ministry Jesus helped his disciples understand one of his parables, the sower and seed. Jesus explained that seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away./1/

That becomes clear in this, our Great Week. Jesus did not fall away. Jesus was equally human and equally divine. That complete combination embarrasses us. As St. Augustine noted, “we hesitate” around Jesus’ humanity. “It is as though we were doing him an injustice” if we consider him equally human as well as divine; “we are usually at a loss and try to change the meaning.”/2/ The meaning is that Jesus did not dissemble nor dissolve in the face of his sharpest tribulation and persecution.

To admire that is not enough. Before he discovered his true self Peter admired Jesus, even acknowledged him as Messiah and Son of God. He also denied having anything to do with Jesus in the high priest’s courtyard. Peter demonstrated that admiration isn’t enough when it involves truth and love. Peter’s bitter tears after he denied Jesus witness that he did love Jesus, his Truth; and Risen Jesus, confirming Peter as the one who would strengthen his brothers, verified that.

Good people like you and me can take heart from Peter. Our human nature is imperfect, but Jesus and his risen life grace it when we acknowledge our weakness. Peter testifies that grace does not eliminate our weakness. Graced weakness is stronger and more resilient than we could ever be on our own. Our weakness invites us to follow Jesus not admire him.

A Danish philosopher, was very concrete about this.
If you have any knowledge at all of human nature [he wrote], you know that those who only admire the truth will, when danger appears, become traitors. The admirer is infatuated with the false security of greatness; but if there is any inconvenience or trouble, he pulls back. Admiring the truth, instead of following it, is just as dubious a fire as the fire of erotic love, which at the turn of the hand can be changed into exactly the opposite, to hate, jealousy, and revenge. Christ, however, never asked for admirers, worshippers, or adherents. He consistently spoke of “followers” and “disciples.”/3/
Our Great Week, Holy Week, affords us opportunities to follow Jesus more closely, to stand by him in his suffering and death, and to consider how he suffers all of this for my sins and for my salvation./4/ In your daily 15 minutes this week be with Jesus. Ask Peter to stand with you. As you are with him notice your reactions. Do you pull back? Or do you draw nearer to Jesus, whom everyone fled save his mother and beloved disciple? Do not be embarrassed. Above all don’t change any meaning--of Jesus, his passion or yours, or your imperfect discipleship. Let Jesus be your Truth and resolve to love him more deeply and follow him more closely. Close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, which reminds us to begin and to continue loving Jesus in each other and in those who offend us.
/1/ Matthew 13. 20-21.
/2/ Commentary on Psalm 85, Liturgy of the Hours, Vol 2, pp. 367.
/3/* Soren Kierkegaard at
/4/ St. Ignatius, Spiritual Exercises [197].
Wiki-image of palms and flowers by Aneta S. is used under Creative Commons AttributionShareAlike 2.5. Wiki-image of a Passion Sunday procession is in the public domain.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Saturday word, 15 Mar 2008

Because 19 March falls during Holy Week, this solemnity has been transferred to this date.
Solemnity of St. Joseph 2Sm7.4-5a,12-14a,16; Ps89; Rm 4.13,16-18,22; Mt 1. 16,18-21,24a
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Unexpected and Unimagined

In my own prayer, and more importantly, in the prayer of others, which I’m privileged to over-hear as a spiritual guide, I’m more convinced of the complete gift God’s love is. God’s self-gift has many textures, many manifestations and as many concrete effects as there are people. We can name some we’ve experienced. I’d like to reflect with you on one of those many textures, that of surprise.

Perhaps in a moment of your prayer and reflection, when you did not expect it: you noticed with greater clarity; you entertained a memory dwelling deep within; you desired relationship with your Creator and Redeemer in a way you hadn’t before. Whatever your experience, the strains of surprise--at your clarity, your memory, your desire for God--probably mark it, or at least stain it. Grace very often functions that way.

Grace, God’s self-gift, lets us know that God has a sense of humor. We speak that phrase not a few times: God has a sense of humor. True enough; however, what kind of humor?

The reading from the prophet Samuel lets us see that God’s humor isn’t whimsical, capricious, hilarious or sarcastic. King David had fallen into the trap power and security offer. David wanted to build a house for God. God promises to build for David a house: no building but both a kingdom and David’s line of ancestors. God’s humor is indulgent favor, and God desires to lavish it on all.

God’s house is God’s loving kindness incarnated in God’s covenant. God’s humor is giving us what we neither expect nor deserve. It is the righteousness of faith which we heard Paul extol. Moreover, God’s indulgent favor abided among humanity from Abraham to David before Jesus, God’s greatest favor.

As the heir of Joseph, that righteous man and David’s ancestor, Jesus incarnated God’s promise, no building but very much a home. The beginnings of Jesus’ infant life made clear that no building was the point; relationship was the point: the relationship of Mary and God, Mary and Joseph, Joseph and God. They suggest we look at our relationships. Mary and Joseph suggest that we look at our praying as our relationship with God, which gives birth to and sustains all other relationships.

Humor has us look at something else. Humor connects one thing with another in an unexpected way. God respects human nature more than we do. Consider Joseph’s dream, which involved both humor and human nature. God expressed the divine desire in Joseph’s dream. Human language limps to describe the gracious surprise of God, yet the experience of a dream makes sense because we all know dreams. Plus, we all know that dreams make twists toward surprising new connections. We only need to act on those connections, which make us more important than the dream.

Joseph realized the humor, God’s intention, with which we so often are at odds. We do well to pay attention to our own dreams, both our sleeping dreams and our waking ones.

Joseph imagined God to be that wholly Other, the blessed One for whom he and numerous people longed. Joseph did not rule out the unexpected way God chose to intervene in human history. Do we do that? If we do, then we ought to turn often to Joseph and beg him to obtain for us the grace to be more open; and the grace to keep our opening spirits ever supple. More often we will not imagine how God will do that for us. Do not be afraid, friends: that’s how grace often registers in us: unexpected and unimagined.
Wiki-images of King David and of St. Joseph's dream are in the public domain.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Monitor Poverty Series Closes Today

Mark Lange, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, concludes his series on global poverty today.

He began today's column, noting
In this series, we've unpacked popular myths about extreme poverty. We've looked at how we've gotten stuck. We've laid out some key levers for change. And we've considered the consequences of success. The developed world, well-motivated governments, and civil society among the last billion poor clearly have the means to eliminate extreme poverty in one lifetime.

So, provided we have the will, where would we begin?

Begin reading his answer.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Monitor Poverty Series, Installment 4

Can we fight poverty too well? Mark Lange, in today's installment of his series looks at some of the risks.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Monitor Poverty Series, Installment 3

Fighting poverty requires thinking differently. Moving people from aid to self-sufficiency is a goal.

Thinking differently challenges accepted ways. Here's an example from today's installment of the Christian Science Monitor series on global poverty:
Micro- and small-business lending challenges the idea that enterprise is a uniquely "Western" value. When ingenious nongovernmental organizations and lenders such as Grameen Bank in Bangladesh make small loans for small-scale garment and food-processing businesses, generally to women, self-sufficiency flourishes. The loans are audited and community-based, with default rates a fraction of the International Monetary Fund's tragically bad big-loan performance. For self-sustaining enterprise, small really is beautiful.
The founder of microcredit offers this definition of it and its several "categories."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Monitor Poverty Series, Installment 2

In the first installment, yesterday, of its series on global poverty, the Christian Science Monitor introduced the phrase "the last billion." The phrase returns in today's installment; it may reappear throughout the series. The phrase refers to those in the global population, who "are the world's poorest – the last billion people who barely survive on the equivalent of less than $1 a day."The reason, author Mark Lange argues, that "so much aid for the poor has made so little difference" is because
Humanitarian aid budgets aren't focused on the last billion, where the average person has an income one-fifth of those in mid-tier developing countries. Seventy percent of the last billion live in Africa, yet in 2008 only a third of all US government direct aid will go there. (This is progress: In 2001 it was only 8 percent.) Instead, Israel and Egypt together get 10 times the US direct aid that Darfur does. Russia gets as much as 20 sub-Saharan nations combined. Ireland gets 167 times what the Central African Republic does. These may be rational political transfers – but they're not life-saving assistance.
The wealthy nations need to redesign how they help. Their help is necessary, but the ways they helped in the past are no longer effective today. Plus, helping people help themselves is another crucial layer. Mark Lange promises that tomorrow's installment will "look at the best levers for helping the last billion help themselves."

A related story yesterday about "food security" reported on the Holy See's address to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Agency.

The text of the address was released by the same day.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Monitor Series Begins Today on Poverty

The Christian Science Monitor begins a series to help readers better appreciate global poverty. Journalist and former presidential speechwriter Mark Lange initiates the series. His begins "by separating fact from fiction."

One myth is that "more aid is better":
more funding isn't the most critical issue.

While humanitarian assistance has saved millions, consider this startling conclusion from a recent study by the Center for Global Development: When aid rises to 8 percent of a recipient nation's gross domestic product, it has zero effect on economic growth. Above that, it has a negative effect.

The serious challenge is one of coordination.
Within the site is a link to a conversation with the author, Mark Lange.

Sunday word, 09 Mar 2008

Lenten Sunday5 A (09Mar2008) Ez 37. 12-14; Ps 130; Rm 8. 8-11; Jn 11.1-45
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Aroma of God’s Spirit

Lent prepares people to be baptized and confirmed at Easter. The primary minister in that enterprise is the parish community, because Christian initiation “is the responsibility of all the baptsized.”/1/ To do that well we renew our own baptisms as well as the grace of our confirmations: to be conformed more to the image of our Messiah. Lent encourages us to live the life of our Messiah Jesus.

Lent challenges us to align with God’s desire: O my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may live. ...I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord. We tend to make our ways in the world as if that promise of the Lord were not real, or at least not as real as other things that claim us: sleeping and waking; eating and drinking; going to school, going to work.

We tend to consider them more real, more substantial, than the Lord’s promise. Some even mock the Lord’s promise and shake us as if to rouse us from our dream-world. If it doesn’t tire me or rest me; if it doesn’t satisfy my hunger or thirst; if it doesn’t teach me skills to succeed and put money in my pocket, then the Lord’s is no promise, it’s a ruse.

After we’ve slept, aren’t we still restless in ways hard to name? When we’re not hungry or thirsty, don’t we still long to be satisfied in ways food and drink can never satisfy? While we’re in school, don’t we long to inhabit our futures? When we earn paychecks from work, don’t we long for more lasting wealth? Perhaps the dream-world, as some call it, is our waking world, and what eludes our senses turns our certainties into conundrums and our facts into faith.

If we’re open to more than what we know and measure, then we may be reaching for our Lord’s promise. We may even count it more substantial and more real than our meager lives, which we exalt so highly.

The Lord’s promise is not abstract, and it’s certainly no delusion. It is the Lord’s Spirit, the very divine life and personality God. The Spirit registers differently than our needs for food, water, academic learning and salary. Jesus’ Spirit is not opposed to them or any other needs we have. Jesus’ Spirit vibrates on different frequencies which we name compassion, kindness, plenteous redemption, indwelling, immortal and glory of God--to list a few from the scriptures to which we have listened.

These frequencies of God’s Spirit register in us as humans. “How can that be?” one might ask after hearing St. Paul’s opening line given us in the second reading: Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Flesh and spirit had particular meaning for him. St. Paul did not mean flesh as body. Flesh meant all the ways of living and measuring reality apart from God or even opposed to God. On the other hand, spirit offered humans a new experience of power by the one who raised Christ from the dead.

St. Paul’s flesh-spirit distinction isn’t easy to accept because it clashes with our experience: death does not appear to be vanquished; graves still get dug; the Lord does not seem to pay attention or to heed our cries. Again scripture summarized these and other clashes with experience. Its words are Martha’s reaction to Jesus’ command to “take away the stone” from her brother’s tomb four days after Jesus arrived: “Lord, by now there will be a stench.”

Jesus recognized the clash with experience and invited her to believe him. Jesus invites our belief. It’s not to have ideas of God. Belief takes in the aroma of God’s Spirit even though it may not seem logical. Martha overcame her resistance--“Lord, by now there will be a stench”--and gave herself to the aroma of God’s Spirit, who stood with her in the person of Jesus.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week become more aware that God is in you, around you, above you and beneath you, surrounding you with divine love. Ask Martha to help you let go of the ways you resist God’s creative love of you. Converse with Jesus about how you experience his presence in your life, and how you desire to experience his presence more powerfully. Close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, which reminds us that God is the measure of all human existence, beckoning us to make the gifts of life, compassion and kindness the atmosphere in which we live and breathe.

/1/ Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 9.
Wiki-images of Ezekiel's vision and of Isakson's Jesus' raising Lazarus are in the public domain.

Friday, March 07, 2008

About the Pope's Visit Here and 7 More Questions

What might we expect to hear from Pope Benedict during his visit to the United States in the Spring? One thing to look for is
In terms of the pope's own agenda, I expect variations on what has become a key theme of his papacy: "affirmative orthodoxy." By that, I mean a tenacious defense of the core elements of classic Catholic doctrine, presented in a relentlessly positive key.
Mr. John L. Allen Jr. wrote that in his weekly column, Eight Questions American Catholics Are Asking. He gives some examples of "affirmative orthodoxy" in rehearsing Question 8. The other 7 are, as usual, insightful and enriching.
Wiki-image used according to the GFDL.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Key to Lent and Appreciating It

The Second Vatican Council taught that
Lent both prepares people for baptism and renews the baptismal vocations of the faithful [Decree on Liturgy, 109], who are the primary ministers of Christian initiation [Decree on Missions, 14, which the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 9, recalled].
Fr. Lawrence Mick, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, looked at Lenten Customs and noted how baptism saturates all of them. His contribution to Catholic Update half a dozen years ago is good an annual reading. It is a good way to monitor one's practices thus far during this most important liturgical season.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Link From Down Under

The New Zealand site Liturgy That Works--Spirituality That Connects: Virtual Chapel has linked to it, Spiritual Exercise for the Week, which is the sister to this site. Many thanks to Bosco Peters, who manages "Liturgy That Works."

Liturgy That Works--Spirituality That Connects: Virtual Chapel is only part of a much larger site. It seeks to inform, to educate and to equip users to grow more adept in deepening their relationships with God and through them to be of greater witnesses for the gospel of Jesus.

The last night's celebration of Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours at Gesu Parish in University Heights, Ohio, was a reminder that people desire a good introduction to the church's official prayer of the church, which hallows each day. Look no further! A simple introduction to praying the Liturgy of the Hours is one of the most concise.

For drivers, an automobile-metaphor, and for non-drivers, a shoe-metaphor, ease people into the experience of the Liturgy of the Hours in order to give God greater praise.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Sunday word, 02 Mar 2008

Lenten Sunday4 A (02Mar2008) 1Sm 16.1b,6-7,10-13a; Ps 23; Eph 5.8-14; Jn 9.1-41
Second Scrutiny 2008
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Logic of God’s Heart

Again I direct my reflection to our Elect, and invite everyone to listen. Why? Lent prepares people to be baptized and confirmed at Easter. As we pray for our Elect and offer them our friendship and example, we renew our own baptisms as well as the grace of our confirmations: to be conformed more to the image of our Messiah. Lent encourages us to walk in the brilliant light of our Messiah Jesus.

Shortly, the church will call upon the “Source of unfailing light” to empower you, Elect, to let go of the “darkness of hatred and lies” and bathe yourselves in the “light and truth of love” of our our dead-and-risen Messiah Jesus./1/ That’s your vocation: to let go of what makes you less humane and to allow our risen Lord to make you more humane than you could be on your own.

That’s the vocation of each of us here. Lent calls us to remember more clearly our Christian vocations and to reorient ourselves in the light and life of our crucified and risen Messiah.

Lent is a “joyful season”/2/ because we prepare people to be reborn and to renew our baptismal vocations. St. Paul reminded us that this time is joyful because we were once darkness, but now [we] are light in the Lord. Darkness--that is, the absence of every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth; as well as human actions, which frustrate God’s justice; marginalize the poor; and injure creation and humans--darkness always encroaches on us. Christians don’t cringe at darkness; they shine by words and, especially, deeds as beacons of life, Jesus’ risen life. We are not merely beacons of hope, but of Jesus’ risen life. Hope helps us navigate through darkness and through lights contrary to Jesus’ gospel. Our lives radiate our Messiah’s risen life.

In practice that means we are different and that we live differently. People do note our different way of living. Our difference as Christians is not our making. Christians share in the dying and rising of Jesus. Jesus calls each of us because Jesus desires to continue his saving work through us. Imagine that! Coworkers and co-heirs with Jesus! We might ask, “Why us?”

I bet we would not choose one another, which makes our question, “Why us?” valid. Jesus’ answer is astonishing: Not as humans see does God see, because humans see the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart. All we humans see is external; but our way of seeing and measuring is not the only way. God sees what is most real--our innermost--which scripture designates with the phrase, the heart.

Humans exalted their limited sight. Ancients attributed human privations and limitations--for example, poverty and blindness--as the result of angering the gods. Jesus’ Jewish predecessors and contemporaries named that sin. One cannot fault their logic: if people transgressed God; and if someone was blind from birth; then who else but that one’s parents sinned?

Jesus came so that people would not follow that human logic but God’s logic and God’s desire. Jesus noted that the man’s blindness conducted another light: that the works of God might be made visible through him. The details--a formerly blind beggar, who claimed Jesus restored his sight on a sabbath, with saliva-mud no less--the details conspired to entangle his neighbors and Pharisees in their exalted logic.

The once blind man refused to get entangled. It was obvious to him that a prophet--a link to God--had opened his eyes. The invitation to us is clear: to which logic do we wish to cling? Our human ability to see only the appearance? Or, God’s ability to see our innermost, and more, God’s desire to invite us to join God’s son, Jesus, and extend his work?

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week become more aware that God is creating you to make God’s desires visible through you. Converse with the beggar, who was blind, to help you recognize Jesus’ logic more than your own. Ask Jesus to replace your logic of externals, expedience and self-concern with his logic of dying and rising to live for others. Close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ prayer reminds us of divine logic and enlightens us to produce[] every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.
/1/ Second Scrutiny, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 168B.
/2/ First Lenten Preface.
Wiki-image of the Greek acrostic, "Light and Life" is used under the GFDL. Wiki-image of Bastien-Lepage's Blind Beggar is in the public domain.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

In Common

What do the word "tribune," a South American cardinal and the expiration of a set of trade preferences have in common?

Mr. John L. Allen's weekly column explains.

NASA image is in the public domain.