Welcome !

Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Shadows

- a reflection on Psalm 23
by Deacon Paul Rooney

[Note: I tend to contribute "reflections" more than scripture studies. -Paul.]

We have all been intrigued and fascinated with “shadows” even before we reached the age of reason.  Surely there does not exist on our planet someone who has not been entertained by shadow puppets?  Probably it is a parent or sibling who first projects a shadow puppet of a rabbit or dog onto the wall for the entertainment of an infant or young child.  It is now quite an art, with websites devoted to showing everyone how to create these shadowy characters.

But sometimes shadows can be scary, depending upon one’s imagination.  I vividly remember my brothers and sisters telling ghost stories, and there was almost always a shadow involved in the story, with the obvious purpose of increasing suspense and scaring us.  I have another memory: I saw a really harmless movie (I think it was called “Tugboat Annie”) when I was maybe eight years old.  Annie punched someone out of exasperation, and that violence scared me.  So I told a fib to the sibling sitting next to me, saying that I had a stomach ache; then I got up and left the little rural theatre and walked home.  It was a very scary walk, with rustling autumn leaves, bats flying under the street lights, the inevitable hoot owl, and of course, lots of dark and spooky shadows.  Even my own shadow scared me once.  That four-block walk was the longest walk of my life!  (Mom made me take something for my “stomach ache,” the price I had to pay to avoid admitting the real reason I came home early.)

But there two, very special shadows that I want to mention, and they are related.  The beautiful PSALM 23 mentions one of them: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (v. 4a; NABRE; RSV).  Have you ever stopped to consider who was casting that shadow?  The psalmist knows.  It is light that causes shadows.  It is God who created the sun to give light to enable shadows to fall.  In fact, God is light, and speaking metaphorically, Jesus is the light of the world.  Thus the psalmist can pray trustingly, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”  Every shadow has a source.  We do not fear death, because we trust in the Divine Mercy and we believe in His constant presence within us.

Let’s look at one more special shadow.  First, make the sign of the cross ().  Did you notice that ever time that you make this gesture, you create a shadow?  Usually there is a light in front of us or above us, and as we trace the cross of Christ, a shadow appears.  What is the connection with this shadow, to the one mentioned in Psalm 23?  Well, the sign of the cross always reminds us of the victory of Christ over death, of God’s redemptive presence to us.  It should remove all fear from us.  In Psalm 23, the psalmist is fearless, even in the valley of the shadow of death, because he is focused and aware of God’s presence.

Our word "dependent" has a root meaning of "to hang down" (Webster's New World dictionary).  The crucifix is the ultimate manifestation of the ultimate dependency: Jesus depending upon his Father during his entire life, especially as he hung upon his cross.  There is a lesson there for you and me!

Did you know that the Church has blessed us by providing an indulgence (to remit temporal punishment due to sin, and to arouse in us a spirit of love), under the usual conditions, when we lovingly make this sign of the cross?  When we sign ourselves, we cast the shadow of the cross upon us, one might say, and that action has a deeper implication if our intentions are recollected.  We are telling our Lord and Redeemer that we accept any and all crosses that come to us, and we are joining our crosses to His for whatever redemptive value it may have for others (see Col 1:24).(1)

This is part of what the “spirituality of the cross” is all about.  As the Crozier Fathers (and others) express it so beautifully, in the cross there is hope and healing, not just pain and suffering.  Thus the cross is really the shadow of life, not just a shadow of death.  We must embrace it fearlessly, just like the psalmist; we must accept it obediently, just like Jesus.

We adore you O Christ and we bless You, because by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world!  Jesus, we join our Blessed Mother and stand in the shadow of Your cross on Calvary, and worship You!   The shadow of Your cross is the shadow of life, the sign of our salvation!  Alleluia!

*   *   *
(1) Not to be patronizing, I simply want to make sure that we do not lose the grace of the moment.  Just “how” do we join our crosses to Christ for any redemptive value?  Simply verbalize and mean what you say: “Dear Jesus, I join my cross [name it; e.g., my headache, my exasperation with my rebellious kid, my cancer, my job worry, etc.] to your cross, for whatever redemptive value it may have for others.”  It is that simple.  – Paul.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

            "The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. The Lord God gave man this order: "You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden, except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat, the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die." (Gen.2:15-17)

             "In Gibeon, the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, "Ask something of me and I will give it to you"...Solomon answered..."Give your servant...an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?"

             The Lord was pleased that Solomon made this request." (1Kings 3: 5,9-10)

             Rabbi Joseph Telushkin states that traditional Jewish Theology teaches that the meaning of the creation of people in God's image is precisely that they resemble him in being able to distinguish good from evil. (Biblical Literacy: p.8) Then why does God prohibit Adam from acquiring this knowledge, and is so pleased when Solomon asks for it?

             In Solomon's case, God knew that this knowledge, this ability to be a judge for his people was necessary for his role as king. He also asked for an "understanding heart", or, wisdom. And that is why God gave him so much more than he asked for. Jesus will later speak similarly when he tells his disciples that the Father knows what they need, but to "...seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you besides." (Mt.6:33)

             So why deny this knowledge to Adam? It doesn't sound like a sin.What would happen if we all knew good from bad? The answer to that is right in front of us. It creates the very judgmental mind that Jesus  would warn us about: "Stop judging that you may not be judged...Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?...You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye." (Mt.7: 1,3,5)

             We lead off with our judgments. We make moral judgments on everything, and we're convinced that we are right, and "they" are wrong. Franciscan Father Richard Rohr, wrote concerning God's attempt to keep Adam from eating the forbidden fruit, "I guess God knew that such would be the direction [we] would take. So God said, "Don't do it. Don't eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil." What he's trying to keep us from is a lust for certainty, an undue need for explanation resolution and answers. Frankly, it makes Biblical faith impossible." (Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality p.38)

              A judgmental mind never begins with love. A judgmental mind, as we see over and over, leads to divisiveness and violence against those who do not agree with us. A judgmental mind does not lead to a transcendent heart, and it is only with a transcendent heart that we will encounter the Risen Christ.

              Finally, I'd like to look at a familiar parable in a different way. We all know the story of the Good Samaritan.(Lk 10: 29-37). The young man asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?", then after the parable, responds himself, " The one who treated him with mercy." It's pretty clear cut that within this context anyone in need, is our neighbor. But I'd like to suggest something.

               Many Bible scholars now believe that the young man's question was a later addition to the gospel.
If the young man is part of the original story, why wouldn't Jesus have made a Jewish layman the one who shows mercy to an injured Samaritan? After all, Jesus is Jewish, speaking to Jews in a Jewish setting. So Jesus is saying that Jews must show mercy to even those they hate. Basically, everyone is our neighbor. But doesn't making the Samaritan the good guy, change the story? I believe it does.Isn't it possible that this parable is more about judging others, than who our neighbor is? A priest and a Levite, both respected and honored men of the community, leave their fellow Israelite to die. But their enemy, a Samaritan, someone they consider no better than a dog, whom they avoid like lepers, is the one who shows care, mercy and love to a Jew. Could they be wrong about Samaritans?

                 We were warned about this original sin from the very beginning. God told us we would die if we ate the forbidden fruit. But He sent us His Son to give us back our life in Him. I pray for the humility to live in the Mystery, to abide in faith and in complete surrender, to the One in whom I hope to live, now and forever.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Get Outta Dodge!

- a reflection on John 12:24-26
by Deacon Paul Rooney

I have an unfortunate history of hospital stays, as well as an unresolved medical problem.  Yesterday (August 9), three related medical issues coincided at one time, and affected my spiritual journey.

I was waiting in my vascular surgeon’s office, biding my waiting time (1-½ hours) by reading about St. (Padre) Pio.  St. Pio had advised a woman in one of his letters that a cure for her medical problem “would not be for God’s glory,” and therefore he “cannot demand from the divine heart” that He heal her.  I pondered how sad the woman might have felt, because God always answered Pio’s intercessory prayers.  Then I felt compassion for the woman in pain, because memories of my own heavy-duty pain on an earlier hospital stay this year were still vivid in my imagination.  At that point the surgeon walked into the room.  He told me that my abdominal aortic aneurysm, which had been diagnosed a couple of years ago, was continuing to grow at a faster pace, and that an operation was inevitable (probably in two years).

Those three issues—the thought of no intercessory healing, my pain memories, and my future surgery—came together for me during my scripture meditation this morning on today’s gospel, John 12:24-26. This gospel pericope is chosen by the Church for use during Lent, and also on the Feast of St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr (which is today, as I write this).  It speaks of the absolute need for the grain of wheat to die before it can bear fruit.  Jesus immediately linked this seed-parable with the parable of hating your life in order to keep it for eternity.

What does it mean to “hate your life” in order to save it?  My meditation took me to the history of the Hebrews.  They had to get out of Egypt and experience the desert, trusting entirely in God.  That reminded me of the old Gunsmoke series that began in 1952 on the radio (TV in 1955).  It was the origin of the idiom or phrase “get outta Dodge” – a warning from the sheriff to the villains to leave town quickly or face imprisonment, possible death, or both.

Using it as a metaphor, the phrase takes on spiritual meaning when we look at our spiritual radar and see what ought to cause us to leave a dangerous environment with all haste.  The sad news is that some folks decide to stay in Egypt.  We all know someone like that: an older teen or young adult, for example, who chooses to remain in the Egypt of an immoral relationship.  They claim their independence to think for themselves, but actually avoid venturing into the desert of reality where they must die to Self in order to find their true God-image.  They “remain in Dodge,” blinded by their invincible ignorance to the perilous situation they have chosen.

Well, I also remained “in Egypt,” or “in Dodge” for a while yesterday.  When I got home from the surgeon and reflected on those three medical issues above, I slipped into a time of desolation, and I allowed them to shift my focus from God to Self.  I even changed a recent decision about fasting from ice cream for a month, rationalizing that my self-pity party demanded some comfort food.  Oh, how fast we forget!  Those of you who know Ignatian Rules of Discernment will remember Rule 5 – never to change a decision during a time of desolation.  It took a few hours to remember that, and then to “get outta Dodge,” away from my pity party.  Then I was able to shift from “myself in desolation” to a position of “myself-reflecting-on-myself-in-desolation.”  I was enabled to get outta Dodge.

The metaphor to “hate” or “save” our life means we must die to a life of selfishness, the natural tendency to make the Self the center of our lives.  Instead, we must “die” to that life—in effect, we “get outta Dodge,” a self-centered life.  We choose to surrender our true inner core, our true self, to Jesus.  We desire that HE be the center of our life; we desire that our will accord with His will, and we trusting pray that he will transform us into his image.

There is a true sense of freedom and peace that comes when we truly surrender our situations, our flesh pots of Egypt, to the Lord.  I am a witness to that fact.  The Lord is Good!
Now and Forever!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Assumption of Mary

Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem

This beautiful scene depicting Mary's Assumption into heaven can be found in the Church of the Dormition in Jerusalem.  It uniquely shows Jesus holding (a small, almost child-sized) Mary as He carries her up to heaven.  In the lower part of the scene, her lifeless body is on a bed, surrounded by the mourning Apostles and disciples.  In contrast, most artwork in the Holy Land depicting the earthly life of Jesus and Mary, Jesus is usually an infant or boy being held by Mary.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Jesus is Calling You to Become a Mystic

Jesus is Calling You
to Become a Mystic
by: Deacon Paul Rooney

I suspect that most people think that the mystical life is for “those other folks,” I.e., that amorphous group of holy people that our imaginations connect with a halo, a starry far-off look, and perhaps a prie-dieu.  I also think that it would surprise those very same “most people” to discover that everyone is called to the mystical life.

I have been meditating on these words of Jesus: “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3, NRSV; Wednesday, 19th Ord. “B”).  Certainly he is talking about both the physical life and the spiritual life.  Jesus is calling us first to convert from our life of selfish inclinations, and abandon ourselves to Him.  It is a path to eternal life easy to describe; but it is also difficult to persevere on such a path.  Yet that is precisely what the spiritual life is all about: seeking and surrendering to the God who dwells within us.  Thus the advice of Jesus translates simply into conversion and new life (cf. CCC 2784-5).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Paul_de_la_croix.jpgI desire to share with you in this short article some pertinent words and thoughts about this mystical life.  They really originate from the great Italian mystic, St. Paul of the Cross (d. 1775), as well as members of his religious order (the Passionist Fathers).  They resonated with me too much to keep them for myself.
We all know that birth comes before death.  Nevertheless, in the life of the spirit, it is just the opposite: mystical death comes before mystical life!  You will remember that even the Martyrs are remembered on the anniversary of their physical death, not birth.  For St. Paul of the Cross, death is not an end, but a beginning.  Mystical death was the fullness of detachment, from all that is created, all that is not God.  Mystical life is the new life that begins after our death to self-gratification.

Then comes the logical question: aren’t we supposed to love everyone, as Jesus taught us, and love the world that God created, and take care of it so that it will serve the needs of all?  Mystical language tries to describe what is experienced, and does not always use terms that are explained for everyone’s understanding.  Mystics like Paul of the Cross speak of the goal of living in the uncreated Good, God himself.  When we abandon ourselves, totally detached from the contentment found in things of the world, we are in the area of pure faith.  We seek His divine pleasure, not our own contentment.  As you can see, Paul of the Cross focuses on true detachment: not so much from creatures or people, but from our own satisfaction from them, from our own instinctive self-seeking.

Paul of the Cross connects both mystical death and this new mystical life with the concept of spiritual childhood (Matt. 18:3 cited above).  He asks each of us to choose to surrender ourself to the divine will, abandoning ourself like a baby on the loving bosom of God.  What a wonderful image: becoming a baby!  Babies are docile: they let themselves be carried everywhere by their mother.  They also have total freedom from care; they know and expect that the mother will take care of absolutely everything they need.  Such is our God!

Then comes the surprise: Paul connects spiritual childhood with the Passion of Jesus; he says that we can understand the Passion only if we are childlike.  Non-Christians think the cross is folly (1 Cor 1:21-24); but a childlike spirit “catches the message of love and doesn’t look for any other reasons” than love.  So Paul urges us to become like trusting little children.  God will “nourish us with the milk and most sweet wine of holy love, which inebriates” us with a “holy drunkenness.”

How can I react to such love?  I can respond to God’s invitation to become a mystic.  I must willingly die to the selfish satisfactions that I seek every day, become like a little child, and drink the milk and wine of His love.  I can also pray daily to the Holy Spirit that He transform me into the image of Jesus, an image and reality that is also one of a childlike mystic.  That prayer is in accord with His will, and therefore it will be answered!

Deacon Paul Rooney with his lovely wife Patricia
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