Sunday, December 30, 2012

"Where In the World Am I?"

There’s a rabbinic tale which describes a man who had such trouble finding his clothes when he arose in the morning that he was reluctant to go to bed, so daunting were the difficulties facing him when he arose. One evening he took special pains to carefully note on a piece of paper where he put each article of clothing. The next day he took the list and was delighted to find that his shirt was precisely where the list indicated it should be. He put it on, then, yes, there were his pants...just where they were supposed to be! So it went until he was fully dressed. “That’s all very well and good, but now, where am I myself?”, he asked with great bewilderment. Where in the world am I?” He searched everywhere, but without success. He couldn’t find himself.

How often do you and I wander through the world, asking “Where in the world am I?” Perhaps that’s why Scripture provides us with so many stories, among them the Christmas and Epiphany stories: to give us a clearer vision of who and where we are.

Israel, and ultimately, we as the Church are congregations formed in response to God’s initiative of grace. Adam and Eve were formed from the dust, the clay and spittle, and eventually disobeyed God. Yet they were also formed into a community which passed on it own life as well as God’s love.

The Hebrew Scriptures, particularly the Book of Exodus, are filled with stories about Israel’s plight in Egypt, its subsequent deliverance from bondage as slaves, and its long journey to Sinai where the transient wayfarers became a community which models hope out of despair, life out of death, as they’re led into the Covenant/Promise of God’s life and love.

The Christian Scriptures continue the storytelling of fishermen, tax collectors, and prostitutes being invited into a community centered on the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who, in the glorious Prologue of today’s Gospel (John 1:1-14), St. John names as God’s “grace and truth”, God’s Word of Love enfleshed.

Faith cannot exist in the abstract. It must issue forth in the way you and I live as a community in the world. According to John, as a community, you and I exist as a response to God’s gracious outpouring of love upon us. Who we are is formed around memory and identity. “ whole being shall exult in my God,” shouts Isaiah in the first reading (Isaiah 61:10-62:3), “for God has clothed me with the garments of salvation, God has covered me with the robe of righteousness...”  What we’re called to do and are doing is formed around vision and mission. “ all who received him, who believed in his name, [the Word] gave power to become children of God...From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

All that is left is for you and me to go forth and, in the light of that “grace upon grace”, to write our stories of God’s love, to pass them on to others so that they, too, might discover who and where in the world they are. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

John, the Eagle

"The spiritual bird, fast-flying, God-seeing -- I mean John the theologian -- ascends beyond all visible and invisible creation, passes through all thought and intellect, and, deified, enters into God who deifies him...

...John, the observer of the inmost truth, in the paradise of paradises, in the very cause of all, heard the one Word through which all things are made.

It was permitted to him to speak this Word, and to proclaim it, as far as it may be proclaimed, to human beings. Therefore most confidently he cried out, 'In the beginning was the Word.'...

...Behold heaven opened and the mystery of the highest and holiest Trinity revealed!

'In the beginning was the Word...and the Word was made flesh.'" 

(From a homily of John Scotus Eriugena on the Prologue to John's Gospel)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Template of Self-Giving

The word template popped into my mind this morning as I thought about St. Stephen, "a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit", and the first martyr. Webster defines template, which derives from the French templet/temple = part of a loom, as: 1) a short piece or block placed horizontally in a wall under a beam to distribute its weight or pressure; 2) a gauge, pattern, or mold used as a guide to the form of a piece being made; 3) a molecule that serves as a pattern for the generation of another macromolecule.

What a template of holiness and dedication to Jesus the Christ Stephen is for us! He was one of six men deemed qualified enough to be commissioned to address the needs of Greek-speaking widows in the Christian community. One could rightly assume Stephen's kindness, gentleness, compassion, and diplomacy in dealing with grieving women. In his ministry the Acts of the Apostles describes him as "full of grace and power", a wonderworker, one who could speak with great wisdom of the Holy Spirit, i.e., truthfully, convincingly, and unapologetically, exposing and challenging error where it existed. A group of Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others from Cilicia and Asia, who'd banded together as "the synagogue of the Freedmen", argued with Stephen, confronted him, got others to misquote him and falsely accuse him of violating the Law, stirred up the people and their leaders, and finally drug him before the Council, a kangaroo court. Isn't it ironic how, continually throughout history, close-minded, insensitive, intransigent ideologues, mostly males, will arrogantly identify themselves as "Freedmen", "Freedom Fighters", "Moral Majority", etc.  

Calmly, with great passion, and at great length Stephen witnesses to the ancient heritage and faith of the Jewish people, at the same time reminding the Council members and the crowds of their own stiff-necked resistance to God's Spirit, despite Scripture's prophecies, in rejecting the Righteous One, Jesus, by killing him. "You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it." It was far more than they could stomach, as their enragement with this man, to the point of grinding their teeth, stopping up their ears, and loud shouting displayed. Mob psychology kicks in, and Stephen is dragged off to be stoned to death. 

Even in the midst of their frantic frenzy to shut Stephen up, the holy deacon, gazing into the heavens, shares the gift of a divine vision on the spot: "Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" As they begin to pelt him with stones and rocks, Stephen offers his whole self in one last prayer: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit", culminating in a plea that his killers' actions not be held against them. 

Thus, Stephen died, with Luke, the author of Acts, continuing: "And Saul [at whose feet the crowd had laid their coats] approved of their killing him." Yet, as history would attest, Stephen became a true template of self-giving, proving that, indeed, the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. We know that Saul became Paul, a man who himself, once God got his attention, became an indefatigable witness of the Righteous One in whose defense Stephen had given his life. So much so, that the whole Jesus movement continued to grow and flourish, not only in the Middle East, but over the whole earth. Throughout that expansion of the Good News to all parts of the world, many others would, like Stephen, become "templates of self-giving" down to the present, some even with their lives.

Today, in the shadow of the crib of the newly born Jesus, we pray "that we may imitate what we worship, and so learn to love even our enemies, for we celebrate the heavenly birthday of a man who knew how to pray even for his persecutors, through our Lord, Jesus Christ..."            

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Light & Doing

Light is so plain yet so elusive in its source. We have to be content to love it in its captured forms. This is the season of that capturing: in candles, in the warm glow of fireplaces, in electrical glows, and in Jesus’ coming...” (Author unknown) 

The most obvious source of light for us in the sun. Most of us have experienced the sun’s miracles. Shivering, we seek its warmth. Because of its rays houseplants turn green and healthy; pale linens grow whiter. We dry and preserve fruits in the sun; we heat homes, buildings, and whole communities with solar energy. No wonder that for centuries the sun has intrigued humans, and often even become an object of their worship. The sun’s light and warmth are natural symbols of God’s enlightening and comforting presence.

Scripture mentions light in many places. The people of the Bible generally used oil lamps as their primary source of light. These lamps were shallow bowls with one edge pinched together to form a trough which held a wick. Even the poorest home kept a lamp burning, day and night. It signified that there was life within the house; the absence of light indicated possible trouble.

In later centuries the candle became a traditional source of light. Most frequently today candles remind us of birthdays. Perhaps some of our most vivid and treasured memories center around times when a birthday cake, covered with candles, is carried into the midst of those gathered. A hush falls over those surrounding the birthday person, and little children, mesmerized by the light, are often eager to blow out the candles as if they feel it’s his or her own birthday.

In Christian tradition, whenever the community comes together to celebrate the Lord’s presence in word and sacrament, lighted candles are used to symbolize that presence and the new possibilities which Jesus holds out to us. The dancing flames remind us, too, of God’s Holy Spirit, continually igniting fresh hope within us. Through the four weeks of Advent prior to Christmas, both in our churches and in many of our homes, we’ve burned the four candles of the Advent wreath to symbolize the longing and expectation of humankind, from the first man and woman created right down to the newest-born infant among us. On this holy feast of Christmas the candles are another visible reminder that, indeed, Jesus the Christ has come among us and will come again.

Each year’s celebration of Christ’s becoming human, and each reading of the prologue to John’s Gospel (Chapter 1:1-14) holds out to us a new awareness of what Jesus can mean for us, and new insight as to how you and I might live for others in the New Year in the light of his example of love.

On this Christmas day you and I might look at our own life, with today’s Gospel reading as a backdrop, as a candle. A candle’s flame, in the drafts and air currents, will often reach out to the shadows, even overreach itself sometimes, and extinguish itself completely. That’s so very much like you and me: when we overreach our abilities, when we try to be the all-encompassing light ourselves, through pride, through a know-it-all attitude, through our attempts to solve every one else’s problems, through accomplishments and wealth, through workaholism, through our inability to be bothered with others’ needs, especially those “different” from us. St. John reminds us today: “He [John the Forerunner] was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.

A candle can’t re-light itself: it depends on someone outside itself to rekindle the light and the warmth. Only Jesus can rekindle the light of God’s caring presence, compassion and realness in our lives. “In him was life, and the life was the light of humankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” You and I are sent to help rekindle Christ’s light in others’ lives gone dark with sickness, need, oppression or depression, and lack of love. Sometimes we need not look very far away: to someone, perhaps, in our immediate family or among our close acquaintances. In the first reading Isaiah  the prophet (52:7-10) says that we’re to bring “good tidings”, that we’re to proclaim peace and salvation.  That is “Good News” -- Gospel -- not something, but a living, caring person: Jesus the Light. 

My former wife’s grandfather, Kenneth Bolt, who lived into his 90’s, was a remarkable and astute man. While not aligned with any church community, he had his own deep religious convictions. In a Christmas note he once wrote: “So many times in life there are opportunities to do for others -- in the same way you would have them do for you. But there is more than just the doing of the doing that you do; it’s the way you do the doing...” 

His comment reminded me of a story made popular by the late Paul Harvey, a noted radio commentator of many years ago, one which well exemplifies the way in which God “did the doing” for us. The story was about an unbelieving man on Christmas Eve. There’d been a ferocious winter storm in the village where he lived on a small farm. Temperatures had dipped dramatically, to the point where he noticed that the birds ran the risk of freezing to death. The man trudged out to the barn through the snow and turned on the light. After trudging back and watching for awhile, he noticed that none of the birds flew into the lighted barn. He trudged back out, putting down bread crumbs leading into the barn, hoping this might attract them. Still no results. He reflected for a long time on how he could get them to go into the barn. The thought finally came to him that about the only way they’d come in out of the cold was if somehow he could become as one of them and show them the way in...

Just at that moment, he heard in the crisp air the village church bells, ringing in the feast of Christ’s birth.  And he, now experiencing, as it were, the light of a monumental personal spiritual insight, fell to his knees, tears streaming down his face...

In many and various ways God spoke of old to our forbears by the prophets; but in these last days God has spoken to us by a Son...” And you and I, sons and daughters of a loving God, who celebrate the birth of Jesus today: how will you and I speak and do to those who need us the most in the days and weeks of the New Year  ahead??

...there is more than just the doing of the doing that you do; it’s the way you do the doing...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Silent Night, Holy Night

This holy night is one of the greatest joy, hope and peace, for on this night Jesus our Savior was born to Mary. We have every right to celebrate with outrageous joy, as we contemplate the implications of Jesus deliberately choosing to share our humanity to the fullest. 

Yet, all of history and more recent tragic events remind us that many this Christmas are likely experiencing, not joy or hope or peace, but only grief, brokenness, loss, emptiness. I'm thinking particularly of the families, friends, and community of the 28 people who died last week in Newtown, CT. As St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross, martyred at Auschwitz in 1942 reminds us in her beautiful treatise, The Mystery of Christmas, the shadow of the Cross looms over the Crib, as we liturgically celebrate the martyrdoms of St. Stephen and the Holy Innocents in the immediate wake of the Nativity of Jesus.

Oliver Treanor, in his book Seven Bells to Bethlehem: the O Antiphons, spells it out: "Nativity is in service of Holy Week and Easter-tide. Christ was born to suffer and to die. His birth is the prelude to his death, just as his crucifixion is the prelude to his glorification. The mystery we are dealing with is not fragmented. It is one. The fact that the secular celebration of Christmas is often devoid of any reference to Good Friday or the resurrection is perhaps why people frequently complain about the over-commercialization of the Christian feast. Are they not (rightly) reacting to the anomaly of a world that contradicts the holy purpose of the festivities by gross indifference to the spiritual values it announces? Once the shadow of the cross is excluded from the illumination of the crib, such indifference is actually inevitable."

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent 4: "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting..."


I was months into the heaviness
Of child-carrying,
swaybacked and swollen, and my husband
Mute as an old stone—
So that I heard it all the louder when Miriam’s shout
Reached me from the dust-choked road outside.
I raced out to see her standing there,
Glowing with sweat, her body just beginning
To take on a mother’s curves beneath her robes.
And then the child that nestled sweet
Beneath my heart
Leapt—not a simple turning, not a kick,
But jumped as if some new and secret joy
Had set him dancing: and it was then I knew—
Knew who it was she bore within herself.
Later some would call it solemn, grand; but truthfully,
We laughed as we embraced: breast to breast,
Cheek to smiling cheek,
And I know that both our sons
were laughing too,
in that way of old friends meeting
after years,
when all time seems as nothing,
and the space
between lives collapses
into grace.

-Anne Giedinghagen
(From Spiritus Abbey - A Monastery Without Walls)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday In Advent 3

The second reading of this morning's Divine Office (2 Peter 1:1-11), for me, complements and summarizes a workable response to the question posed by Luke's Gospel yesterday, the Third Sunday of Advent. There, the people, puzzled and confused at John's challenge to "bear the fruit of repentance", called out: "What, then, should we do?" The writer of 2nd Peter says:

"Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:  May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

How precious did that grace appear when we first believed, says the old hymn, Amazing Grace: a faith undeserved, yet given freely to us by the One who created us, through Jesus, "the One who saves" out of sheer love.  

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.

In knowing Jesus, sharing his identity and life, we're equipped with everything needed to live, in the fullest sense, and to share the holiness of Godself. God's promises, God's "tender mercies" are unfailingly given to us every day of our lives, so that we may live in the light rather than the darkness.  

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.  For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For anyone who lacks these things is nearsighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.

Notice the deliberate progression of the elements which strengthen faith: goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection, love. Imagine a world wherein each person was making "every effort", intentionally, to think, speak and act according to those principles!  

Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble.  For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you."

Only you and I can validate the free pass of being selected and called by name to enter the wonderland of the reign of God.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

In Memoriam: Bevan Corbin Alexander (1928-2012)

(Homily given at Bev's memorial service, December 15, 2012)

First of all, I offer my prayers and deepest sympathy Bev’s sister, Timmy, and to you, Alison & Melissa, as well as to your husbands, children and grandchildren, and to all your friends and your mother’s friends. Thank you for the honor of being part of this celebration of your mother’s life and memory, as I was also honored to do for your father, Dave, 20 years ago this year. 

My thanks also to Deacon Cindy Long for so graciously welcoming us all back to St. Matthew’s, and also for assisting the family in this celebration. St. Matthew’s is very special to me because it’s here where I began my priesthood in this Diocese 30 years ago, and where I first met Bev and her family. 

The playwright Stephen Dietz poses a twofold question “What do we affect during our lifetime? What, ultimately, is our legacy? I believe in most cases our legacy is our friends. We write our history onto them, and they walk with us through our days like time capsules, filled with our mutual past, the fragments of our hearts and minds. Our friends grant us the chance to make our grand, embarrassing, contradictory pronouncements about the world. They get the very best, and are stuck with the absolute worst, we have to offer. Our friends get our rough drafts. Over time, they both open our eyes and break our hearts. Emerson wrote: ‘Make yourself necessary to someone.‘ In a chaotic world, friendship is the most elegant, most lasting way to be useful. We are, each of us, a living testament to our friends’ compassion and tolerance, humor and wisdom, patience and grit...” (Quoted in The Anglican Digest)

For 35 years I had the privilege of sharing with Bev the good and the bad “fragments” and “rough drafts” of our hearts and minds. We stayed connected periodically through the best of times and the worst of times in our lives. From the time I met her and Dave in 1977, the image which came to mind in thinking of Bev was that of “Auntie Mame”, as portrayed by Rosalind Russell, which is probably why my kids always spoke of her as “Auntie Bev”. For me, Bev was elegant, urbane, witty, confident, and refreshingly earthy at times. I remember her as honest, direct, and God help you if you got on her wrong side! Yet, strong personality that she was, there were also times when she was vulnerable and perhaps not so sure of herself. I’m sure that, for every recollection of Bev which I have, each of you could raise many more, and I do hope that you’ll share some of those memories later. I’m going to limit myself to relating just one experience I had with Bev.

In September, 1980 I led a “Little Course in Christianity” weekend, popularly known as a Cursillo. Bev served as our head cook and, gifted as she was in that area, did an outstanding job. She and her team devised many funny skits, and such creatively-titled names, for the sung grace before meals, as: “Bananas For the Lord” and “I Don’t Feel Noways Tired”. Planning, coordinating, cooking and keeping 68 people happy for three days is no mean feat, and Bev and her team were exhausted at the end. But I noticed Bev’s last entry on her cook schedule which read: “And, how to thank you at this point is beyond me but rest assured, you will be hearing from me. God bless each of you WONDERFUL people. Bev

Little could Bev have known how “prophetic” those words would be 32 years later. When Alison and I were going over possible readings for today, she suggested some verses from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (4:4-9), included in the words of the second reading. It’s almost as if Bev herself could be speaking to us, through God’s words: “Rejoice..rejoice...don’t worry about anything. Just pray and give thanks and tell God what you need.” Not only by the way Bev lived, but also from our many
conversations together, usually over a highball or a glass of scotch, I was impressed by Bev’s solid faith in Jesus which was so genuinely apparent. Using the image of Stephen Dietz, quoted earlier, Bev and Dave, I believe, wrote that “history” of Christian faith and compassion, of dedication and love, especially on both their children who have grown into such beautiful and mature women, and are now passing down that same legacy to their own families. Bev also reflected that living spirit with others of her family and friends, so that we could all “walk through our days as time capsules” of the Christ-like goodness and love which she shared.

Having lived by the faith that her “Redeemer lives”, and that after death “in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side and my eyes shall behold”, and having now tasted the promise of “eternal life” Bev continues to speak to us today through God’s words, encouraging each of us to walk bravely through the human sorrow of losing her presence with us here below, to: “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

People who’ve participated in one of the Cursillo weekends, to which I referred earlier, have a simple motto: “Make a friend, be a friend, lead a friend to Christ.” As each of us continues our life journey, we thank you, dear Bev, for showing us that “friendship is the most elegant, most lasting way to be useful.” 



Advent: What Should We Do?

In May, 1970, a priest friend of mine asked for assistance on a retreat for the Sisters of St. Joseph in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. I recall the unsettling shock of flying in over Sudbury: the whole landscape was an utter wasteland: barren, grey, and lifeless. 

The land which became Sudbury had been hit over a billion years ago by a falling asteroid, some 6-12 miles in diameter, creating a crater approximately 12.5 miles deep, melding the rocks together to form a kidney-shaped basin, and producing a mother lode of nickel, copper & platinum. People stumbled upon these remnants and began mining them in the 1880‘s and 1890’s, continuing through the present. Some of Sudbury’s nickel was used in constructing the Statue of Liberty in the 1930’s, as well as for the roof of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. 

It was mining pollution, over the previous century, which had killed off wildlife and made the denuded landscape look like a lunar surface, a “moonscape”, up until the 1980’s. When I visited Sudbury in 1970, it had the reputation of being the biggest producer of acid rain-causing chemicals in North America. Significant changes in the 1980’s, however, led to a phenomenal restoration of the environment there. 

You might think of the area surrounding the Jordan River in which John the Baptizer preached as something like the old Sudbury. It was desolate, ugly, the water full of silt, surrounded by marl hills, dry scrub brush, extremely hot and arid, with little life. There were lots of sly, venomous, deadly vipers or asps carrying poison in their systems. And lots of rocks and stones. In a play on words, Luke (3:7-18) records John the Baptizer shouting, “I tell you, God is able from these stones (abanim in Hebrew) to raise up children (banim in Hebrew)”.

In this desolate setting John the Baptizer and preacher prepares the people for the revelation of God’s glory, which for John, of course, is Jesus. John’s message is: don’t be like vipers, crafty and deadly with the poison of malice and evil. Don’t be like the scrub brush, but bear fruit, the fruit of repentance, charity and justice.

The repentance which John the Baptizer preached was conversion (Greek = metanoia): radical change of mind and heart. It’s what the Rule of St. Benedict calls conversatio morum, as Sr. Joan Chittester notes in her book Wisdom Distilled From the Daily (p. 143). It means conversion of life, change of one’s habits, of one’s way of doing things. Our English word conversion doesn’t bear the richness of meaning of the Latin word, conversatio. The Latin word comes from con + vertere = the idea of circular movement, turning around, transforming, 
being reversed in order, relation, or action. The core meaning, as used by John the Baptizer and St. Benedict, amounts to fidelity in living how God wants us to live, which is another way to say following Jesus. 

John the Baptizer tells the people not to be like the rocks and stones, prideful followers of Abraham, but to be children of the Father who sent Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One, as the model of devotedness to God. John insists on interior holiness, not racial descent, or, in our case, baptismal descent! God can beget the spirit of Abraham, the father of faith, more easily in humble Gentile penitent sinners than in self-righteous children of Abraham. John insists on the need to bear fruit, good fruit. He predicts that out of all this desolation, if people are willing to open their hearts to the Holy One, a new beginning can blossom.

The crowds, perhaps unsure and a bit confused, ask John, “What, then, should we do?” We, too, in our Advent journey ask the same question. How do we change our hearts and bear fruit? John advises his hearers, in general, to do the basic works of charity and justice: if you have two coats, share one; from the abundance of your own food, share with others who have little or none. He tells the tax collectors to take only what they’re supposed to, and not to scam people or extort interest from them. Soldiers are not to misuse their power through violence or false accusation. They’re to stop griping about their wages: after all, they’re “civil servants”, government employees in service of the people.

So, what about you and me? What are we to do? Whether a person is a teacher, a secretary, a contractor, a student, a priest, a housewife, a salesperson, etc., you and I are to convert our lives, adjust our mind-set, to “bear the fruit of repentance” in the same way in which John advises his hearers. We, too, are called to do the ordinary tasks of life, but with extraordinary love. The Gospel words try to help us recognize the depth of our weakness in doing this, our desperate need of a savior: Jesus, Jeshua, “The One who saves”.

John’s message suggests our need to open our lives and ourselves to Jesus’ saving presence. His preaching stirs up in us a longing for the promised, long-awaited salvation, and his baptism with water, as noted in last Sunday’s Gospel, is a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”, a baptism for changing our hearts. Jesus baptizes us with Holy Spirit and fire, synonymous with God’s powerful, purifying presence. When we come into God’s presence through Jesus we’re seen as we really are. Like a winnowing fan, blowing chaff away until only the wheat is left, so all our insincerity, hypocrisy, and cover-ups are blown away by the breath of God’s Spirit.

In being baptized himself by John, Jesus isn’t confessing that he’s a sinner, but rather that he, the Holy One, has arrived, that he’s here, that God is here, Emmanuel: “God with us”, that he’s present to and united with sinful humanity in every aspect of our lives.

Sr. Joan Chittester, in her book, says: “We are not to be our own law; we are not to be the centers of our own universe; we are not to be unaware, unconcerned, unlistening to all the others...(p. 143) Conversion, in other words, is a willingness to let go, to be led beyond where we are, to where we can be. Conversion is an invitation not to cling to past works, to past relationships, to past circumstances...the idols of our lives...the places where we have passed along the way. Conversion opens us to new questions.” (p. 144)

How this personal conversion is to work itself out in each of our lives, Sr. Joan suggests, is through receptiveness, unboundedness in welcoming others, in hospitality. This has been described as “an act of the recklessly generous heart.” I was telling my confessor just a few days ago how I struggle at times with extending to others what I call “selective generosity”. I suspect that we all grapple with it. Sr. Joan wisely observes that the “question is not whether what we have to give is sufficient for the situation or not...”, but rather “simply whether or not we have anything to give.” (p. 123) St. Benedict, in his Rule, says that anyone who presents themselves is to be welcomed as Christ. That requires a heart without boundaries, as Sr. Joan says, “a place where truth of the oneness of all things shatters all barriers” (p. 128). It means that we must learn “to take our own sense of home to others” (p. 130) realizing that, even in our uncertainty or ineptitude about exactly what to do for another, that we at least do something, that we, in Sr. Joan’s words “go out of ourselves for someone else at least once a day.” (p. 132)   

Advent spurs us on to hope for this reality. A new beginning can happen in your life and mine; we’re not imprisoned in our desolation and helplessness forever. Farmers are well acquainted with the necessity of periodically burning back the stubble of their agricultural fields in order to keep the soil naturally rich. Our life, too, is like a field needing to be burned back through selfless service to one another. Christian living isn’t so much an arrival as it is a search. Jesus is calling you and me during Advent to search, to look at ourselves and our lives with new eyes, and to make changes as needed. And that can, indeed, be frightening. But our hope lies in the reality that Jesus has come to be “God with us”, to be present and at work in our lives, beside us and in us, modeling what servanthood might look like. 

Fr. Gerard Sloyan, whom I was privileged to have as a theology professor at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 1966, in commenting on this gospel of Luke speaks of John’s practical advice on how to prepare for the coming of the One mightier than ourselves. Fr. Sloyan notes: “Sharing clothes, sharing food. We know we should do it but out of negligence we fail to. Avoiding the crooked little deals (and the crooked big deals) that are a way of life with us. Abjuring violence, the psychic more than the physical. Being content with what we have. A better list for ways of reform than John’s is hard to imagine. All the lies, the bullying, the wanting something for nothing that make us a mean-spirited rather than a free people are there in his brusque replies: ‘Let go of it, give it back, don’t go for it.’” “Bear the fruit of repentance”: conversion, letting go, cultivating hospitality, an unboundaried and generous heart. 

At first glance Advent’s message, perhaps, isn’t a comforting one. It isn’t a warm and cuddly time, but a rather serious and somber reality. Scripture says that the Prince of Peace is “set for the fall and rising of many”. Nevertheless, you and I are given a chance in this brief season to rearrange and reset our priorities, to bear the fruit of genuine repentance, to open ourselves and allow ourselves to let go, to welcome the Holy One of God who can change our hearts in his coming to be among us.

"For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended..."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

On his way to Mass one morning in the winter of 1531, Juan Diego, a poor Aztec Indian, age 57, experienced an unusual encounter. He heard music coming from Tepeyac Hill, then heard a woman's voice calling out his name. Juan Diego made his way up the hill on to discover a young woman, apparently, from her appearance and clothing, one of his own people. She told him that she was la Virgen Maria, and said that he must go and ask the Bishop of Mexico City to build una iglesia on the hill, whose purpose was to help in the conversion of the nation and bring comfort and consolation to the Mexican people. 

Exercising faith, Juan Diego obeyed her request, but the message which he relayed to the Bishop met with great skepticism, even though the Bishop discerned that Juan Diego was well-meaning and a humble Catholic man. Juan Diego returned to the site of the apparition on Tepeyac Hill and reported the Bishop's reaction to Nuestra Señora. She asked that he return to the Bishop and try again, with the same message. The Bishop patiently heard him through, but this time he sent Juan Diego back to ask Nuestra Señora for a sign to verify that, indeed, it was she who wished that a church be built. 

Returning obediently to the hill a second time, Juan Diego relayed the Bishop's request, and, surprisingly, Nuestra Señora agreed to do so. To Juan Diego's astonishment, a variety of roses which, at that time, didn't even grow in Mexican soil, especially in winter, appeared on Tepeyac Hill. Juan gathered roses into his tilma or cloak, and Nuestra Señora carefully arranged the roses in the tilma with her own hands. When Juan Diego returned to the Bishop, he released the tilma, letting the flowers fall at the Bishop's feet. Not only that, but the Bishop was taken aback to find an image of Nuestra Señora imprinted on Juan Diego's tilma.

Falling to his knees, the Bishop believed Juan Diego's story and gave his consent to Nuestra Señora's wishes. In time, a church was built on the site of the apparition, and some 9 million people eventually were baptized as Catholics in a short period of time, upon hearing about or viewing the miraculous image of Nuestra Señora. 

A great amount of testing and modern research has been done on Juan Diego's tilma, which was woven out of coarse cactus fiber and would have been expected to deteriorate within 20 years. In the image, the pupils of Mary's eyes reflect the faces of Aztec people and clergy present at the time the image was first revealed. It appears that no paint was used, and chemical analysis hasn't been able to identify the color imprint. Studies have also demonstrated that the stars on Nuestra Señora's mantle match what people would have seen in the sky in Mexico in December, 1531.

The natives of North America, in relating their stories, often say: "I don't know if this actually happened, but I do know that it's true." The Church has always been deliberate in affirming miraculous occurrences. Nevertheless, whatever happened there on Tepeyac Hill in 1531 struck a note in the heart of the indigenous people of Mexico, and that devotion to Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe today is visibly as strong, perhaps stronger, than it was then.

God of power and mercy, you blessed the Americas at Tepeyac
with the presence of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe:
May her prayers help all men and women to accept each other
as brothers and sisters. Through your justice present in our
hearts may your peace reign in the world.
We ask this through our Savior Jesus Christ, your Son;
who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,
one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent 2

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hope In His Coming: the Key to Justice & Peace

Storms of fierce rain and wind came through Northern California this morning. I arose at 6 AM and turned on the patio light to see how bad it was. Just after turning the light off, I noticed a quick glow out in the distance and the electricity went off: a blown transformer. Things died down in the next few hours, but when I arrived at church I found that they had the same problem: no electricity. By then the sun had begun to rise, and making do with candles and flashlights the service ushering in the Advent season commenced. It was interesting standing together in the semi-darkness and praying, “Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light... 

The very origin of Advent is somewhat obscure. Apparently it came from Spain or Gaul where the Christian community observed a six-week fast, beginning with St. Martin’s feast on November 11. Gradually it was reduced to a four-week period. The Eastern Church, for the most part, prepares for Advent with fasting, beginning on November 15 and continuing through Christmas Eve.

Originally, the Christmas event wasn’t associated with God as a child. Rather, a close connection was made between the coming of the Word made flesh and the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. You get a hint of this if you look at the Collects and Scriptures of the three Sundays prior to our Advent 1. Christ’s incarnation brought about redemption. The Son of God, the Father’s Word, became flesh according to the Father’s will, leading eventually even to his ignominious death upon a cross. The birth at Bethlehem began the journey to Calvary.

Even the images associated with Christmas, as it was first celebrated in the 3-4th centuries, are more severe than tender. Jesus is shown to be the true and all-victorious Sun. The prophet Malachi writes: “For behold the day comes, burning like an oven...the day that come shall burn them up...But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings...” (4:1-2) The liturgy’s first reading today from Jeremiah (33:14-16) echoes that, referring to a “righteous Branch” which will spring up  to “execute justice and righteousness in the land...Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

Jesus who came in the flesh is viewed as the Sun, the shining out, of God’s righteousness. Though introduced to angels, shepherds and the wise among the Gentiles as an infant, Jesus would grow to manhood as the Holy One who establishes God’s reign of righteousness. Part of his growing and maturing necessarily involved human and personal suffering and death.

Advent celebrates our waiting in solid hope on God’s coming, in the person of Christ, to reign at the conclusion of human history. St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes: “We proclaim the coming of Christ: not just a first coming but another as well that will be far more glorious than the first...At his first coming, he was wrapped in linens and laid in a manger; at the second, light shall be his robe...Let us therefore not stop at his first coming but look forward to the second...” (Catechesis 15:1)

Nevertheless, we need to be realistic about Advent’s full meaning: we do wait for and celebrate Jesus’ birth with all its tenderness, beauty and majesty. At the same time we take seriously the liturgy’s assurance: “Christ will come again.” In the meantime, there’s the painful necessity of the cross in each of our lives as in Jesus‘ life.

During Advent we become vividly aware of two frustrations. 1 Thessalonians (3:9-13) alludes to one of these. Paul prays that God and Jesus may bring Paul back soon to his beloved Thessalonian community. He prays that they may “abound in love for one another and for all”, in other words, for the Lord’s true and tangible presence among them until his final presence, his “coming = parousia: return/advent/presence...with all his saints”.

Advent invites us, calls us, to enter into an expectation and longing which you and I may never, or rarely, have actually experienced. Such Advent hope can’t be feigned. Neither can we replicate the longing which Paul had and which he prayed the Thessalonian Christians would have in exactly the same way.

Perhaps you and I can come to this kind of longing and hope by living, particularly through the next three weeks (Christmas is early this year!), in deep prayer for one another. Think of how often we’re physically present to each other, but not really present in Christ. The aim of our Advent discipline is to experience God-with-us, Emmanu-el, God’s coming to us in the very people and context in which we live day to day, and especially through our mutual ministering to one another.

God’s Word is a surrogate for God, and, as people of faith, you and I are its designated bearers. Advent reminds us that there will  be another advent, a coming of our God, in which God will be present to the world in a way it has never experienced: through Jesus the Christ in the fullness of God’s glory. Paul’s reference in the Epistle to “the coming of our Lord Jesus with all the saints” echoes the prophet Isaiah: “For as the earth brings forth its shoots and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” (61:11) When Christ comes on “the day of the Lord”, humanity will finally have an inkling of what true justice and peace is.

Which brings us to the second frustration of which Advent makes us aware. This waiting upon the future, this attempt by the Lord that “he may so strengthen [our] hearts that [we] may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus” has everything to do with longing for a God who will vindicate and “comfort all who mourn”, as Isaiah says: a God who works justice and peace.

But only a follower of Jesus out of touch with reality today can presume to be called “Christian” without taking personal responsibility for the work of justice and peace in the world. The commitment we make in Baptism requires it: to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ”; to “seek and serve Christ in all persons”; to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being”. That’s a demanding process for each of us. Doing justice and seeking peace in the 21st century, as one writer expresses it, “rest[s] ultimately in the disarmament of the human spirit to God, who alone can give authentic peace. Indeed, to have peace in the world, we must first have peace within ourselves...” The alternative to true justice and peace is violence to body, mind and spirit, violence which has many faces: exploitation and oppression of the poor, especially women and children; deprivation of human rights; economic greed; neglect and abuse of the aging and the helpless; and innumerable other acts of inhumanity.

Just as our Thessalonian sisters and brothers long ago, you and I understand justice and peace to be gifts of a compassionate and loving God. Hopefully this awareness will prompt us to pray constantly, personally and together, and through commitment to the Scriptures, to Tradition and using our God-given reason, will aid us in acquiring the wisdom to search for justice and peace in our times, as the Thessalonians must’ve done in theirs. 

 Theodore Ferris has written a beautiful prayer for this Advent season of hope and work which we begin today:

Sharpen our minds, O Lord;
humble our spirits, and open our hearts
to take in the love that once became flesh, 
that comes amongst us again and again,
that we may not only take him in,
but show him to others
and let others see him in us.
And we ask it in his name,
and by his power, 
and for his sake.”       

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Candle of Hope

On this eve of the first Sunday of Advent, we light a candle recalling the hope we have in Jesus the Christ. The prophets of Israel all spoke of his coming, of how a savior would be born, in the line of David the king. They spoke of how he would bring wisdom to people and bless all humankind. The Christmas feast celebrates the reality of hope which took human form in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. On Good Friday the Christ of our hope chose to die for us, only to rise again from death and to return to the presence of the Living Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. At the end of human time our hope will draw us definitively into his presence, into the full reign of God. Our purpose in lighting this first Advent candle is to remind ourselves to be watchful and prepared and to use our time well in anticipation of his final coming to us.

Loving God, thank you for the hope which you give us in Jesus the Lord.
Help us prepare our bodies and hearts for his final coming.
Bless our worship. Help us live holy, wise and righteous lives.
We ask this in the name of the Holy One born in Bethlehem. Amen.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Setting Aside Our Nets

I'd never heard of Mark Frank until coming across a portion of one of his sermons, on St. Andrew, in Celebrating the Saints, a collection of daily spiritual readings which follows the calendar of the Church of England.

Mark Frank or Franck (1613–1664) was an English churchman and academic, Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge. Baptized at Little Brickhill,  Buckinghamshire, he was admitted pensioner of Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1627, elected to a scholarship in 1630, and to a fellowship in 1634, having become M.A. the same year. In 1641 he became B.D., and was chosen junior treasurer of his college, and senior treasurer in 1642. He had attracted the favorable notice of Charles I by a sermon he preached at Paul's Cross before the lord mayor and aldermen in 1641, which the king commanded to be printed. In 1644 he was ejected as a malignant by the parliamentary visitors, because he refused to take the Solemn League and Covenant.

Frank was re-established in his fellowship in 1660 after the Restoration, and was rewarded by ecclesiastical promotions. In 1661 he was made D.D. by royal mandate, and was chosen master of his college in 1662, succeeding Benjamin Lany. Archbishop William Juxon appointed him one of his chaplains, and he held the office of domestic chaplain and ex-officio licenser of theological works to Juxon's successor, Archbishop Gilbert Sheldon, by whom he was presented to the archdeaconry of St. Alban's, and to the treasurership of St. Paul's Cathedral in 1660. He was also presented to the rectory of Barley in 1663 by Matthew Wren. He died at the age 51 in 1664, and was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. His Course of Sermons for all the Sundays and Festivals throughout the Year was published  in 1672, and was later republished in the library of Anglo-Catholic Theology.

Here is the portion of his sermon on St. Andrew which first attracted me: "And alas what have we, the best, the richest of us as highly as we think of ourselves and ours, more than Andrew and his brother: a few old broken nets? What are all our honors but old nets to catch the breath of the world? What are our estates but nets to entangle us? What are all our ways and devises of thriving but so many several nets to catch a little yellow sand and mud? What are all those fine catching ways of eloquence, knowledge, good parts of mind and body, but so many nets and snares to catch others with? The rational soul itself we too often make but a net to catch flies, petty, buzzing knowledges only; few solid sober thoughts. And our life itself, what is it but a few rotten threads knit together into veins and sinews, its construction so fragile that the least stick or stone can unloose it or break all to pieces. O blessed saint of this day, that we could but leave these nets as thou didst thine; that nothing might any longer entangle us or keep us from our Master's service! Follow we St. Andrew as he did Christ; follow him to Christ, cheerfully and without delay, and while it is today, begin our course...let Christ be your business, his life your pattern, his commands your law..." (Celebrating the Saints, compiled and introduced by Robert Atwell, Norwich: Canterbury Press, 1998, p. 453)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Never Call Me A Saint"

Dorothy Day spoke those words, I believe, out of her great humility and distaste for worldly honor. She was the first to admit some of her glaring human faults, even in the midst of those whom she helped, as her diaries [The Duty of Delight, Robert Ellsberg, ed., Marquette University Press, 2008] well attest. Somehow, I suspect that, in God's eyes, the magnitude of suffering she experienced during her life more than made up for them.

Dorothy died on November 29, 1980, and on a card found in her final journal St. Ephraim the Syrian's Prayer of Penance summed up her deep religious spirit: "O Lord and master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power and idle talk. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother, for Thou art blessed from all ages to ages. Amen."

Despite her strong feelings about not wanting to be considered a "saint", the U.S. Catholic bishops decided recently to push her cause for canonization. A long-time admirer of Dorothy Day since my college days, I'm with the bishops on this one. Her very human life and example can only give tremendous inspiration to many thousands of us ordinary folks who have known spiritual failure as well as abundant blessing. Join me in praying for the time when we can ask the intercession of "Saint" Dorothy Day.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Reign of God is NOW!

The liturgical lessons for today (Daniel 7:9-10; 13-14; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37) bring to a conclusion once again the cycle of the Church Year. As we now stand at the brink of a new year, with the start of the season of Advent, the coming of Jesus, next week, two images come to mind: today, that of the reigning Christ, the One who’s been given “dominion and glory and kingship”, the One “who is and who was and who is to come”; and beginning next Sunday, that of the infant Jesus about to be born. We celebrate Christ’s ongoing reign over the entire universe: “all peoples, nations, and languages”, and in our everyday lives in the world; and we anticipate Jesus’ being born in the flesh, an infant lying in a manger, to initiate that reign.  In either case, “the time has arrived; the reign of God is at hand.

You and I can’t know the glorified Christ without also knowing the Jesus of Bethlehem.  It would, however, be a mistake to let oneself be seduced by a “sweet-Jesus-in-the manger” image.  The Carmelite St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), martyred at Auschwitz in 1942, in her magnificent spiritual essay The Mystery of Christmas. which I’ve read annually for some 53 years, observes: “Darkness covered the earth, and He came as the Light that shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend Him...This is the bitterly serious truth which ought not to be obscured by the poetic charm of the Child in the manger. The mystery of the Incarnation is closely linked to the mystery of iniquity...The Child in the manger stretches out His small hands, and His smile seems to say even now the same as later the lips of the Man: ‘Come to me, all you that labour and are burdened’...These Child’s hands say ‘Follow me’ just as later the lips of the Man will say it...Ways part before the Child in the manger. He is the King of kings, the Lord of life and death. He speaks His ‘Follow me!’, and if [one] is not for Him, [one] is against Him. He speaks also to us, and asks us to choose between light and darkness...” ("The Mystery of Christmas", pp. 22-24, Writings of Edith Stein, Selected, translated and introduced by Hilda Graef, The Newman Press, 1956)

I once saw a cartoon depicting a little man with long hair and a  beard who’s carrying a placard with the words: “Repent: the end is near!” One passerby with a worried look on his face stops to inquire: “When?” The little man replies: “Oh, in a billion years or so!”  In today’s liturgy the Church is a little like the man with the placard, reminding us of the urgency to give serious thought to ultimate matters, even though we don’t know when “He is coming with the clouds...” Several Christian liturgies use the proclamation: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” (And, by the way, if I may interject a pet peeve, the emphasis in that last phrase is not on “will” ["Christ will come again"], as if we’re dictating what Christ should do, but on “again” ["Christ will come again"]!) It’s this reality that we’re bidden to contemplate today, even as we liturgically anticipate Christ’s coming in the Advent/Christmas mystery.

The whole question of “when” the Christ will finally appear has been the favorite focus of self-proclaimed prophets and doomsayers for centuries.  It happened as the year 1000 A.D. approached, throwing people into mass confusion and terror. People sold their possessions and fled to the hills to be safe. Our generation heard a little of that as the year 2000 approached, but, of course, the new year came and passed without incident. More recently the prophetic pundits are at it again. The 2012 prediction encompasses a range of beliefs about the end of the world, according to which cataclysmic or transformative events will occur next month, on December 21. Some regard this as the end-date of a 5125-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. 

A New Age interpretation claims that this date marks the start of time in which earth and its inhabitants may undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation, marking the beginning of a new era. Others, mostly fundamentalists, suggest that the date marks the end of the world, or a similar catastrophe. Scenarios suggested for the end of the world include the arrival of the next solar maximum, an interaction between Earth and the black hole at the center of the galaxy, or Earth's collision with another planet.

Scholars from various disciplines have summarily dismissed the idea of such cataclysmic events. Professional Mayanist scholars tell us that predictions of impending doom aren’t, in fact, found in any existing classic Mayan accounts, and that the idea that the Long Count calendar "ends" in 2012 misrepresents Mayan history and culture. Astronomers and other scientists have outright rejected the proposals as pseudoscience which conflict with simple astronomical observations and amount to "a distraction from more important scientific concerns, such as global warming and loss of biological diversity". Such predicting is little bit like the Charlie Brown-trying-to-kick-the-football syndrome, with Lucy inevitably pulling the football away at the last minute. Jesus’ simple message to you and me is that “The reign of God is within you”. The “when” of Christ’s coming isn’t the central focus. Faith bids us to be busy about the real work of loving God and one another.

The other temptation during these next four weeks as the holidays approach, of course, is to lose ourselves in getting and spending. The surrounding society is already playing upon our national addictions and our inability to delay gratification, bombarding us with the glitter and tinsel and talk of the “bottom line”. This year Wal-Mart and other purveyors of mostly non-essential “things” didn’t even wait for Thanksgiving to be over, but enticed folks away from the dinner table with the turkey and trimmings fairly unswallowed in their mouths, much less digested! Buying into all this senseless foolishness, is a colossal distraction and diversion from the urgent, pressing reality of the needs of real people all around us: Palestinian people in Gaza and Jews in Israel dodging live rockets and real people dying; the approximately 12 million people who are jobless; those who are routinely ignored and shuttled aside in the health care system; our LGBT sisters and brothers who continue to be victimized by proposed legislation, such as that in Uganda; those who in just two states, New Jersey and New York, have lost homes and possessions, and live not only without power or clothing or food, but many times are alone and in despair. We can also be sidetracked even, from our own inner needs for genuine renewal, spiritual balance, and God’s healing grace.

Today’s liturgy and those during Advent bid us to enter into a deeper, more serious reflection on what’s truly ultimate in our relationships and in our living, both with others and with God. ”I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven... To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come...who loves us and freed us by his blood.” “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

You and I are called to promote and participate actively in the reign of Christ, to enter into it intentionally, and from today through the Advent season ahead is as good a time as any to begin doing that. The reign of Christ bids you and me to live each day as if it were our last, to realize that there is only the “day of the Lord‘, and that that day is every day.

The late Fr. Karl Rahner, great Jesuit theologian, says this in his book The Eternal Year (Helicon Press, 1964, pp. 15-16): “...Christ is in a mysterious way already present in the believer as his future. This future has already come into the believer in a hidden way; he is already, in a hidden way, what he will be when all that is now hidden is unveiled. What will one day be our complete perfection has already begun. And this reality begins precisely because we believe. It is by faith that we are the people of God and children of eternal life, in whom the strength of eternity has already become an operative reality. This one event that is ‘now‘ taking place in the world began with the incarnation of God’s Son...This event will be completed with Christ’s ‘Second Coming,‘ which is not so much a second arrival as a bringing to perfect completion God’s own life already established in the world by the Christ event [emphasis mine]. This event permeates the believer to the extent that he believes and loves. The believer already possesses his future because his future is Christ...”