Tuesday, December 30, 2008
LUKE 2: 22, 39-40
Now it was time to open my presents that had all been returned to my stack by the Christmas Angel. Though I was quite young, I had already figured out that long, thin boxes usually contained clothes. I needed an Oscar winning performance to show how glad I was to receive a shirt or underwear or whatever appeared when I opened such a box. I avoided these boxes until later. I wanted toys. Toys came in square boxes, and small square boxes were often toys.
I picked up a small square box. My parents made us look at the card or gift label, to see who gave us the gift, before we opened it. Though Santa delivered all gifts, there was at times the name of a person who was responsible for the gift. I did not question all this. The card on the first square box I took said, “Terry, Love, Maureen.” It was a gift from my big sister. I wanted to put it back under the tree. But once touched, a gift most be opened. This was our Christmas protocol. What could this gift be from my mean sister? Coal? Rocks? Poison? When I opened the box, to my surprise, the gift was a toy soldier, one that I did not have. It had a big pointed lance too, the kind that my sister could step on when she came into our bedroom.
It took me years to figure out why she gave me a gift that might cause here some misery. In Colossians 3: 12-14 we are encouraged to practice kindness, gentleness, compassion and patience. My sister gave me this gift not to change me or make me less selfish, forgetful, or self-centered. She did it to change herself. She wanted to become more gentle, kind and patient. That is why we give a gift or respond in a certain way to another person. If we only act so as to change another we will live an unfulfilled life of frustration. We act to be changed. God always loves us even if God’s love does not seem to improve our behavior.
A Holy Family or a Holy Community is not one where everyone is just perfect, like me! It is filled with imperfect people, just like me. We become holy by how we respond to the other in spite of their response to us. I did not become a better little boy with my new toy soldier. But I think that Maureen was well on her way to becoming a very good big sister.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
LUKE 2: 1-14
Each Christmas Eve, Santa would stack my presents next to my big sister Maureen’s. One of my early memories of Christmas morning was coming into the room in our Bronx apartment where the tree and presents were stacked, and seeing my stack higher than Maureen’s. I said, “Look Maureen, Santa brought me more presents than you!” This pleased me. Maureen said nothing. I have since learned that this is a bad sign of things to come.
Just as we sat down on the floor to open the presents, Maureen said, “Oh Terry, would you please go to the desk and get the scissors, to cut the ribbons?” Being obedient to my bossy sister, I got up and went to get the scissors. When I came back to the presents, I saw that my stack had gotten shorter by a few presents. “Where are my presents?” I whined. Maureen looked at me and said, “Oh, the Christmas Angel swooped down and took some gifts away.”
“The Christmas Angel,” I exclaimed. “I never heard of a Christmas Angel.” “Oh yes,” Maureen explained. “The Christmas Angel comes to take away some of Santa’s gifts from little boys who have been bad the past year.” Oops, I had been a bit less than perfect this past year. Maureen was always after me for not putting up my toys in our bedroom after playing with them. This was her pet peeve. “Since I tripped three times over your toys this year,” she recounted, “The Angel took away three presents.” My parents were in the kitchen doing something, plus I was afraid that if I ran to them to help me, the Angel would swoop down and take more presents.
“I want my presents,” I moaned. “Well, first of all they are gifts,” said Maureen. She was my first theologian, and I felt a lesson coming on. “Gifts don’t belong to you. They are gifts,” she added. “You don’t earn them anyway. Gifts never are ‘YOUR gifts’” she emphasized. Then she went into high gear. “Do you think that Jesus is YOUR Jesus, as if you had some right to him being born into this world?” she questioned. “He is a gift, and you did not earn his coming. Jesus is not your property any more than these gifts are.” My small mind was trying to keep up with Maureen.
“Santa brought you these gifts because he loves you. The Christmas Angel did not steal your property. The Angel took gifts away to teach you something,” she said, pointedly. “What does the Angel want to teach me?” I asked meekly. Maureen answered, “That when you are bad, selfish, and not caring about others, you can lose the enjoyment of gifts. Your gifts are around somewhere, but if you are bad, you lose the enjoyment of the gifts.”
Then the light went on for me. It was a graced moment. I said, “So Jesus is a gift still, but if I am not so nice, I can lose the enjoyment of him?” “That’s right,” Maureen smiled. Then she hugged me and said, “Jesus always loves you. His love is always here, but you lose the enjoyment of it if you are selfish and only think of yourself.” Years later I came to understand this Jesus as “Unconditional Love.”
“Now,” Maureen commanded me gently, “close your eyes and thank Jesus for coming into this world, and tell him you will try and be good this coming year by obeying your big sister.” Dutifully I closed my eyes and said a thank you prayer and made a promise to be good. I even promised to obey my sister Maureen. “Open your eyes now,” Maureen lilted. I opened my eyes. My stack of presents had grown taller again. “See,” Maureen pointed at the stack. “The Christmas Angel brought back the gifts.” That Christmas day, I enjoyed the love of three people: Santa, Jesus, and my big sister Maureen. I was very good that day! As the years went on, I never did see that Christmas Angel. I did learn to keep a close eye on my sly, but loving big sister Maureen, the teacher of memorable lessons.
My teaching/traveling schedule for the near future:
January 20-21, St. Helen's Catholic Church, Vero Beach, Florida, 20th Avenue and 20th Street.
Topic: Addiction and Recovery. 7PM each evening. Contact person: John Rorick, email@example.com
January 24, Old St. Mary's, 660 California St. San Francisco, CA. Topic is St. Francis de Sales, 9AM to noon. Contact person: Mary Wyman, firstname.lastname@example.org
January 25, St. Bonaventure, Clayton, CA. Topic: Centering Prayer, The Desert Fathers, and Recovery, 7PM. Contact: Al Schwitalla, email@example.com
February 7, Sacred Heart of Jesus, Boulder, CO. Topic: Monastic wisdom for everyday life. 9 AM to noon. Contact Michelle Anderson, 303-442-6158 ext. 112
March 2-4, Parish mission, Holy Family Parish, London, Ontario, Canada. Begin each night at 7 PM. Contact Terry Gallivan firstname.lastname@example.org
March 9-11 Parish Mission, St. Martha's, Kingwood, TX. Begin each night at 7 PM. Contact Francine Puglia 281-358-6637
March 16-18 Parish Mission, Queen of Peace, Aurora, Colorado. 7 PM Contact: Donna Marie Irwin 303-364-8359
March 23-25 Parish mission, St. Thomas More, 8035 S. Quebec St., Centennial CO 80112 7 PM contact: Jerry Allen 303-770-0531ext. 2
March 28, workshop, St. Thomas Aquinas, Boulder, CO Topic: Abhishiktananda, part II, 9 to noon. Contact Barbara Hayden, 303-494-2845
March 30-April 1, parish mission, Joan of Arc, Arvada,CO 7 PM. Contact: Fr. Joseph Cao 303-420-1232.
April 4, workshop, Old St. Mary's San Francisco, CA Topic: Monastic wisdom for everyday life, 9 to noon. Contact: Mary Wyman, email@example.com
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
MARK 13: 33-37
I have become what I said I would never be: a text message person. It has replaced the greeting card that says, “Just thinking of you.” Now I don’t go into the card shop, find a card, go home, write a note, look up the address, put on a stamp, and place in the mail. Now, all I do is take out my cell phone, look up the name of the person in my cell phone address list, type in a short note on the touch screen of my cell phone, and hit the send button. Instantly, my friend gets a note, called a text message. Sometimes, I send unkind messages, such as when I know they are in their office and I am standing by the ocean shore on a nice day. I say, “I am at the ocean, enjoying the sea. Jealous?”
But most of the time, I am nicer. Yet, I don’t always care to receive a text message. When the message comes to my cell phone, the phone beeps or rings if it is on. It is usually turned on. I am usually in the midst of something I want to do and the message disturbs my focus. I say, “Who is bothering me now?” Text messages seem to invite instant attention.
I think that God will come to me like a text message. God will come when I am busy with my own agenda. If it be the end of the world, or my own personal end, I am afraid that my first response might be, “Don’t bother me now. I am busy!” This won’t bode well for afterlife happiness. I compare this response with a teenager who has fallen in love, or admires someone special to them. They might send a text message, and wait, eagerly for a response. When their cell phone rings, they instantly drop everything and look at the message with great hope. They are in love.
If I were more in love with God, and less in love with my own self-centered plans, I suspect that a sudden God-coming into my life would be met with great hope and joy. Advent is such an embarrassing time. It says, “Be alert!” Well, thank God for this season to check out my priorities.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Mt 25: 14-30
When I was growing up with my sister Maureen, she used to get an allowance of 50 cents, and I got 25 cents. She was four years older than I, and did more, so it seemed fair enough to me. Each week that I received my quarter, I put it into my plastic treasure box, which I kept under my bed. I did not lock the box, for a feared I would lose the key. One day Maureen said to me, “Terry, give me your money.” “What?” I asked. Maureen demanded, “Give me your money. You don’t do anything with your money but keep it under your bed. Jesus says it should be taken from you, and given to me.” I stood against my bed, protecting my treasure and asked, “Where does Jesus say this?” Maureen took down the bible and opened to this gospel. She read the part to me about the fellow burying his money and having it taken away.
“I don’t want to be a Catholic anymore! I complained. “ I will be a pagan and keep my money.” Maureen took my treasure box anyway. I went to my mother and complained about Maureen and Jesus. My mother said to take it up with my father. When Dad came home from work, I confronted him with my loss of money and faith. Maureen showed him the bible. My father was silent for a moment. Then he said to us, “Terry, what if, when your treasure box allowance adds up to $3.00, you take a quarter and put it into the collection basket on Sunday? That way you will be sharing your money and spreading joy to someone who needs it.” He added, “Jesus wants us to be loving, right Maureen?” Maureen gave me a nasty look, but also gave me back my treasure box.
She would check the box now and again. When I would accumulate $3.00, she would announce to the apartment, in her booming voice, “Terry has $3.00, and it is time to pay up.” I never had to worry about missing a collection basket with Maureen around. From time to time, I believe an extra 25 cents might have found its way into my treasure chest. I think it was my Dad. Anyway, I was only a pagan for one afternoon, until my Dad taught me how to be Catholic with my treasure.
Mt 16: 21-27
I had just completed a summer in a monastery, and was walking into church on Sunday morning to say mass, at peace with the world going my way, when my friend Karen stopped me in the parking lot and told me that her sister, my friend, Elaine had died suddenly two days before. Elaine was only 49 years old. I was shocked, but then the thought came to me, “Oh I don’t want to hear this.” My happiness plans for a nice day were being ruined by the unfortunate and tragic news of Elaine’s death.
I was being like Peter in the gospel. I am a Satan! Peter was a friend of Jesus, and thought that life was going pretty well for them. Jesus upset Peter’s plans by telling him about Jesus’ suffering and death, which would come all too quickly for Peter’s taste. Peter did not want to hear this news. It interfered with Peter’s plans for a nice life.
My deceased friend Elaine was a person who gave up a lot of her life to have a deeper life in service to others. She lived what Jesus talked about in the gospel. Let go of your life plan for happiness, that is so often self-centered, become a follower of Jesus in love, and you will find your real life, the one that goes on all the way through death to eternity.
Peter and I both have the right belief in Jesus. We know our catechism if you will. But the gospel says that the Son of Man will come with his angels to repay us according to what we have done and not according to what we have believed. Elaine tried to teach all her friends how to let go and let God into our lives. It is called the Way of love.
The presenting problem is that the daughter is possessed, or “tormented by a demon.” Jesus says nothing to the mother. I understand this response. I have had mothers come to me and say that their daughter is a devil, or possessed, or some such description. I wait. I sense that there is more. I find out that the mother has diagnosed her daughter based upon the behavior of the daughter, which goes counter to what the mother wants.
I believed that Jesus sensed the real issue was the mother’s overarching need to control her child so that the child will become the image the mother wants for her. The mother tries nagging the disciples and Jesus. She probably nags her daughter too, to get what she wants. The disciples, like the daughter, get upset with this woman and wish she would go away.
Jesus is working on the mother’s issue of control. He is trying to wean her of trying to get her way. He gives an evasive answer about being sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. The mother persists, but now she is down to “Lord, help me.” She is a little less focused on her daughter. Maybe the mother is getting the sense that she is the one who needs help. Jesus wants more from her. He refers to her as a “dog” which is the term for pagan gentiles.
Now the mother lets go of all demands, and in a deep sense of humble acceptance, the doorway to Christ union and holiness, says she is a dog, and will take scraps fallen from the table of the master. She will accept whatever Jesus chooses to give her. She accepts whatever Jesus wants to call her, and whatever he wants to do for her. She is changed from the woman who tries to manipulate people and situations to get her way.
What great faith she has now. So Jesus says, “Let it be done for you as you wish.” But now she no longer wishes to change her daughter’s behavior. Her focus is now being open to the will of God, and seeing herself as not so important. And in this she has realized her true importance. She is a child of God, but had to have her ego a bit crushed by accepting the title “dog.” She is not dog.
So now the daughter seems healed at that moment of change in the mother. The daughter did not change. The mother did. Now the mother is much more accepting of people and situations. She has less need to control. Her daughter picks up on this change, and now there is more harmony between them.
We bring our presenting problems to God in prayer. God seems silent. Does God not care? Maybe the problem is in the one asking for help. Often it is we who need to change first before we try to change those around us.
Now and again we experience some one in a way that has us saying, “That person walks on water.” They seem to have that “something” that draws us to them. In the gospel, Jesus walks on water, but then he is God. But he seems to do things that we mere mortals could do, that might result in our “walking on water.” First, Jesus put aside his own agenda to be alone in solitude and silence, in order to respond to the needs of others. He had gone to a deserted place in the gospel before this one, and found it full of people who wanted something from him. So he taught them and healed the sick, and then he fed them with a few loaves of bread and fish. The key is he dropped his agenda to care for others. Second, after he sent the people home, he went off to pray alone in silence and solitude.
We could put aside our own agenda to be helpful to others. We could find a quiet place to be alone with God, I think. These may be prerequisites to walking on water. The disciples on the other hand are in a boat. See this as the community of the church gathered together. We gather for sacraments such as the mass. The community can have its troubles, but as long as we stay centered around worship and sacrament we are safe enough. But we won’t walk on water.
Peter wants to come to Jesus across the water. For a brief moment Peter experiences Deification, that is, he realizes his own inner divinity. “God became human so that we could become God”, says St. Augustine. But fear wins out and Peter sinks. Fear can cover up our knowing who we truly are, all that we are. Faith ebbs and doubt fills its place. We sink.
In the prayer of silence and solitude we can have moments where we feel so united with God that it seems like walking on water. But then thoughts, anxiety, fears, plans for accomplishments distract us, and we sink away from that sense of God’s presence. God is still present but we are too much focused on self to realize it. Lately I have seen a shift in my prayer life. I believe more and more that God is present and at work in me even though I have no felt sense of this presence. It is a bit like looking at the stars on a cloudy night. Two planets are going to be in conjunction this week. They will seem to merge into a big star in the sky. It will be spectacular. Will I see it? If it is a cloudy night, I will see and experience nothing. I will look up at the dark sky, and see no stars. Does that mean the planets are not coming into conjunction? Of course they are, but I cannot see it.
So it is in my prayer. I don’t pray that I have a good experience of God in prayer, any more than I look at the sky to see the stars. I simply show up. Just because I look up at the sky, and see nothing but darkness, does not mean nothing is there. The universe is very active. I just don’t see it. God is very present in prayer, actively loving me, but I may experience, or “see” nothing. So I show up to look at the sky, cloudy or clear in the middle of the night and show up to look at God in the middle of the night or middle of the day. I don’t need to see or feel anything to trust and know that God is present. I may flounder at times like Peter in fear and doubt. But I trust that God is here and reaching out to me. Maybe someday I will walk on water, with a lightness of being, free of fear and doubt. Prayer of silence and solitude is my way of getting out of the boat. Jesus says, “Come” each day.
No one would buy my field that I irrigate at the monastery. It is full of rocks, lumpy, dried out in many places, and overall not very attractive. It would be an excellent place to hide a treasure. No one would be going there for any reason. Certainly no buyer would be inspecting it. A cattle rancher would not be out there with the livestock. Not much to graze on in that field. A treasure would be safe there.
Probably, the present owner of the field did not even know there was a treasure there. The wanderer just happened upon it. The gospel says that the person, out of joy, goes and sells all to buy the field. It is not out of greed. So I doubt that treasure is a pile of money. It is something that makes the discoverer joyful. The owner is probably quite happy to find anyone who would buy that field and for a good price. In that ugly expanse of field, something joyful is discovered buried right there. Someone with a messy life of addiction would be joyful to discover a recovery process or program that changed his or her life for the better. For that they might give all else.
I think of my faults, bad habits, defects of character, sins, as like a rocky field that seems to give little life. I would love to be rid of these parts of myself. But many spiritual writers say that it is important to be aware of our bad habits and sins. Why? Because that is precisely where God is hidden within us. Genesis says that the light came into the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. The light of God has come into the darkness of myself to love me, unconditionally, in spite of my faults.
Too often people get caught up in earning God’s love, by their good behavior. But God’s love comes first. It is unearned. Maybe we will change when it sinks in that God is in the field of the worst parts or ourselves. God is the hidden treasurer. God is merciful and forgiving. Unless we know that we need mercy and forgiveness, we cannot discover, much less enjoy this treasure of God’s presence that is within us.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
I am a hydrologist, a hydraulics engineer. This sounds like a good title. It satisfies my ego. In fact, what I do here at the monastery this summer, as I did last summer, is move water. I dig ditches, haul heavy rocks and shovel dirt and mud to build and tear down dams, as I irrigate my field to provide grass for cows and horses. But I have learned a lot from my field. When I first started on it last year, the ranch monk told me that all the canals and ditches that I see are interconnected. I took it on faith. I had no experience. As I worked on and explored the field, I found the intricate connections. Over the years past, others had started and added to these ditches until much of the field could be watered. I then added on my small contribution, the latest in a long line of ditch diggers.
I find that the church is the same way. It is a series of canals of grace that are brought over the centuries to the field of the human condition. The canals are all interconnected started from the time of Jesus and his Apostles. A child takes this all on faith, and then explores for itself to learn the connections. Some canals are well traveled, such as catechism for First Holy Communion and Confirmation. But over the centuries new canals of grace are added in art, theatre, music and dance. Religion and science find ways to bring God's grace to a person. I don't so much reinvent the Church as I discover it in my own lifetime. When I try to teach someone, I am adding my own little canal of grace in the modern world in which I live.
Some people try and climb out of the canals of grace and do it on their own. Their lives become laborious and burdensome. They grow weary in search of rest. This monastery works especially in that part of the field devoted to contemplative prayer. The monastic world is connected to all other parts of the church, but devotes a lot of time to silence and solitude. It is God's meek and hmble way to draw close to us in our search. Some discover this prayer through the monastery, or maybe some other way. Some see in silence and solitude only boredom and prefer to go back to their gadgets to stay occupied and distracted.
We at the monastery believe that the field of the human condition is called union with God, a union so deep that it transforms us. The lack of this union is what makes us so weary and restless in our search to lift the burdens of our life. What is burdensome is to try and live our lives without spirit in our bodies. To take upon ourselves the discipline of solitude and silence in prayer each day, is to wear the yoke of Christ and to let Christ gently lead us to fullness of life.
Once upon a time I was a kid in the Bronx. I used to like all things Catholic, but especially sitting quietly in Church when no one was around. I did not say much and God did not seem to say much, but I knew I was not alone. I moved to the suburbs, White Plains, went to high school there and then returned to the Bronx for Fordham College. I never lost that sense of ease whenever I was alone in church. I went into corporate business, partying, travel, living in various locations, Chicago, San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, but nothing seemed to make me feel so comfortable in my own skin as this being alone somewhere in the silence. I never left alone in those times.
I have been a Paulist priest now for over 30 years. I have discovered that this sitting is called Contemplative Prayer. All the good works I have done, the preaching, teaching, helping others, presiding at sacraments and other public events, have gone well to the extent that I take time away, with me and God, as I have come to know God.
So now I teach about this Contemplation. I give missions, workshops and retreats. I hope that I have some "stuff" to say that will help a searching person. I continue to learn. I continue to be surprised. I am not really in control of this relationship. I do try to show up each day to the meeting with God. I don't always feel the Presence, but I know that I am in the right place, and am not alone.