Thursday, April 23, 2009

Easter Sunday 2009

My sister Maureen is dead five years ago this day, April 12. When I saw her dead body at the mortuary, I said, “She isn’t here.” Her body was there, but not my sister. I think Peter must have said the same thing when he ran to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty. Peter did not understand what happened, and just went home. I believe that my sister lives with the risen Jesus, no longer in her body which is very dead. What gives me some hope of this? What makes me think this way? One of the reasons is in the first few chapters of Act of the Apostles. Peter is a fisherman, a coward, a liar and a very disloyal friend of Jesus.

So what happened to make him a person who would put his life on the line and go out into the public, to a disbelieving and incredulous group of people, to proclaim to them that Jesus is Risen, and is the Christ? I think that Peter must have had a very powerful experience of Jesus alive after death. Peter knew that Jesus was dead. That is why he hid out behind locked doors. But the fears of Peter were overcome by the appearance of Jesus dead and now very much alive.

The complete transformation of Peter could only come from the appearance of the Risen Jesus. It was not an apparition of the imagination or a hoped for wishful thinking. Peter was too much of a frightened coward to even begin to want such things. No, it was very much a surprise to Peter and the other disciples. Peter has become a believer to the extent that it changed his life. He is a much more hopeful person. He is much less focused upon himself. He is aware of his faults unlike before the Resurrection, when Peter seemed so much more clueless about himself.

The challenge then comes to me, a professed believer. How does it change my life? Does the belief in Jesus Risen make me see my faults, and yet bring me to live out my belief in challenging situations? It is easy to talk about faith with fellow believers. Church can be so comfortable in that way. Baby Baptism is comforting, but the baby grows up and has to make some choices, often on a daily basis. The Risen God is trying to reveal a Presence to the world through human beings like me with all my shortcomings. If Peter can do it, I think maybe I can try to be a bit more public about my experience of the Risen Jesus.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Second Sunday of Easter

At this moment Susan Boyle is a big hit. She is a 47 year old, single woman from Scotland who appeared recently on a British talent show. Her appearance made the judges and audience begin to laugh and grimace. Susan came on stage to sing a song. She was not the typical beauty queen that you might expect to see on stage in these shows. She appears a bit “frumpy” some might say. She looked rather ordinary. People were trying to be “kind” and not to laugh at her. I guess they thought her ordinary appearance meant that she did not have any special talent.

Then Susan began to sing. She sang “I Had A Dream” from a popular musical. Her voice was beautiful. The audience stood and cheered. The judges looked amazed, smiled, cried. She got a “Yes” from all three judges.

Everyone had prejudged her according to some stereotype that is very media driven. People who look like you and me don’t have big voice talent, and go on television. Talent comes with a certain look. So many people want to look like some show biz person. Susan Boyle just wanted to look like Susan Boyle.

Jesus just wanted to look like Jesus and do what he had come to do, save us by dying on the cross and then rising. The last thing most people saw of Jesus was a bloody dead body executed by the Romans. Even in life he was too much like everybody else in appearance so that they could not see him as the Messiah, God Incarnate. Expectations of a Messianic figure were not one Jesus lived up to in the eyes of most people.

Like with Susan Boyle, Jesus had many doubting Thomases. Thomas saw disaster, and God could not be in this disaster. What about us? When life seems like so much of a mess, full of wounds, do we say that God cannot be present in the mess? Do we judge others by their appearance, and then decide they are not worth something, or have no talent? Or are we the Blessed who believe and encourage others in finding their talent before it is even shone forth? Do we believe in ourselves? Did not God gift us with fruits and gifts of the Spirit at our Baptism? God is here. Each of us has a talent or two, no matter how we look. Each of us has a bit of Susan Boyle in us. Maybe we can yet live out a dream that had never been a dream to God. It had always been a hidden talent given by God, buried within us and waiting to arise. Believe in you and believe in one another. We are the body of Christ.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cross, Not Crucifix

On Good Friday, we are invited to embrace and reverence the cross. A cross is one that does not have the body of Jesus on it. A crucifix has a body on it. There is a reason for the difference. On Good Friday, we have just finished proclaiming the Gospel of John. The Passion there ends with the burial of Jesus. The cross is empty. It now becomes our decision as to how we will relate to this cross. Will we embrace it and make it our cross, that is to say, we will believe, or accept, or see that suffering is redemptive, rather than something to be avoided at all costs?

The Passion of John has parts to be read by the congregation. These include Peter's denial of even knowing his friend, the people crying out to crucify Jesus because he upset their way of viewing their faith, the soldier who slapped Jesus during the trial before the religious leaders, Pilate who flaunted his power in front of Jesus and who asks, "What is Truth?" If we do not embrace the cross, then we might become any one of these types of people. That is why the congregation gets these lines in the missalette.

When we reverence the Crucifix, we are thanking Jesus for saving us. When we embrace the Cross, we are responding to being saved. We all love Holy Thursday when we celebrate the Eucharist. We like to be fed by the Body of God. But on Good Friday, that sacred food calls for a response.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Road Maps

I think of devotional books and novenas like road maps in relation to prayer of silence or prayer of the heart. When we are going on a trip, we use road maps, or mapquest pages to keep us focused on our destination and not to get off the path. But once we arrive at the destination, we no longer need the map.

It is the same when we are moving to the prayer of silence in the heart. We use our prayer books to keep us focused and directed. But once we sense an inner quiet and stillness, why keep reading the book? Put down the book. If you came to sit in front of the blessed sacrament and saw a book in front of the host you might think it strange. God does not need some devotional book to keep God focused upon being with and loving you. Your presence is enough for God.

Isn't God enough for you?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Priestly Running Connection

(This post is reprinted, with permission, from the Boulder Road Runners Newsletter, April 2009)

Editor’s Note: Father Terrance Patrick Ryan, (good Irish name don’t you think?) is a Paulist Catholic Priest and currently resides at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church on 14th Street (very close to the Casey Hill on the Bolder Boulder course). He does workshops and seminars on contemplative prayer for the church when he's not out training. Our personal connection is primarily through running as he’s trained with me and the BRR off and on for almost 30 years. He was a member of our 60-69 team at the 2007 USA XC Championships and ran on a BRR team during a 24 hours indoor relay back in the 80’s. It’s also tough to argue with him about missing workouts since he always claims to be doing “God’s Work”. He represents one of the many facets of the Boulder Road Runners and if you have someone we should meet please send me their story. Here’s his story in his own words:

I began to run on my own for fun in the seventh grade. I was good at running distance as my legs were strong from growing up riding a heavy Schwinn bicycle all over my neighborhood. When I went to high school I joined the cross country and track team. I went on to run in College at Fordham University. Cross country was my best sport. After college, I gave up running for about two years while I attended Columbia Graduate School of Business for my MBA. Few people ran as recreation back in the 60's. I moved to Chicago where it was too cold to run in the winter, but in the spring I began to run for exercise along the lake front. I needed some release from an indoor desk job. I found that running seemed to energize me,and clear my head. It was the latter 60's and there were few joggers in the Chicago parks. Then I moved to San Francisco where I could run all year and there were races like the Bay to Breakers. So I began to train and race some. I pretty much used the same kind of training I was taught in school. Running kept getting me refocused on doing healthy things. It gave me some purpose and meaning in my life while I asked the deeper question, "What is the purpose or meaning of my life?" Working for a corporation that sold some product did not seem to have enough depth for me. I kept coming back to the spiritual, as much as I kept coming back to running.

Running and spiritual questions connected for me, as both had to do with the outdoors and nature. I was never an indoor runner. Living in Northern California, I kept experiencing the grandeur of Creation in the outdoors. I found myself getting closer to my Catholic roots of quiet masses and sitting in silence with the God of my understanding who was unconditional love. This experience led me to want to talk about this loving God that I was experiencing. The priesthood seemed like a good place to be for sharing this experience.

I ran in the seminary. Running and the relaxing in the Silence of the Presence of Love seemed to go together as sharing a healthy way of life. I competed in races in the seminary. I was seeing more people jogging in the mid 70s as long distance running became popular. I have run every place I have worked as a priest. Houston was the hardest place to run both because of the weather and lack of places to run. I came to Boulder in 1980 to St. Thomas Aquinas Church where Rich and Patti Castro found me when they were looking for a running priest to do their wedding. As part of Rich's running group I met some good friends and enjoyed my most social years of running. There is nothing like a running group to keep me going. As I get older it is harder to self-motivate. But the thought of hammering another person in a group run gives a chance for my dark side to be exorcised, so that I can be nice as a priest the rest of the day.

Though people know that I run, from my sermons, I don't think that they treat me in any different way than any other priest or runner. In Boulder, it is not unusual for a person to be a runner. Another connection I find with running and my faith is in "oil". I am anointed with oil in becoming a priest and in baptism. Oil is used on athletes in the past to massage, loosen up muscles before or after a competition. My priesthood is a long distance run in which I have to show up each day, and do my best with whatever I got for that day. We have our plan for running but our plans don't always work as we would like. But we are faithful to the program and to my priesthood.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Community is food and low blood pressure. We gather to eat and visit with one another. Since we feel comfortable with one another and open to the newcomer in our midst, we enjoy a lack of stress. We feel relaxed, at ease, be it sharing stories, worshipping or in a learning situation because we trust the process.

The mass is celebrated in a way that fits the people who are gathered. There may be little local customs that have developed over time. The theology of worship is understood and accepted. As I travel around to different parishes I see little customs that have taken hold in that particular community. The social gatherings have an openess to newcomers because there is a sense of security and comfort among the "regulars" that connects to mission.

Where the "in" crowd does not open itself to the newcomer in the room, be it a social dinner, coffee and donuts or parish meeting, then it is a "clique" closed in upon itself, and not a community. We must remember that everyone was new at some time in the past. A community has a mutual support so that it is willing to risk being open to people who feel like outsiders. Teenagers, adolescents, young adult singles, divorced are examples of people who are not sure if and how to fit into a community.

Where outreach is always being done by paid church workers, instead of the community member's volunteer ministry, you fail to connect worship to ministry. The parish becomes "our" parish", the people’s parish, when the worshippers do the outreach ministry. Otherwise, how do you connect people to the mission of the parish? Financial support alone does not build community. Prayer, fun, learning and mission are all part of the same package.