Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jn 2:1-12 

Dear Friends.

John’s Gospel always has many levels to its message. John is particularly strong in revealing the eternal in the mundane events in Jesus’ activities. Today’s text centers on Mary and Jesus’ intervention in a small crisis at a village wedding. The ordinary events of the poor planning open up into the divine reality.

There are many elements to this simple story of Cana. The most important is the identity of Jesus. He is the new wine of the long-awaited messianic age. His teachings, his proclamation the kingdom, his message of wisdom all come together to announce a new day. The water becoming wine was an opening challenge to the Jews of his day and to all of us today. The person and wisdom of God have taken flesh among us. We are challenged to respond in faith.

John goes to great lengths to present Jesus as the one replacing the Jewish rituals and teachings. He is now the way to encounter God. Jesus’ role is symbolized in the wine transformed from the water which represented all the cleansing rituals of the Jewish faith experience. In the new day, the power of God now resides in the person of Jesus. In both the quantity and quality of the new wine we see the beginning of the answer to the long-awaited time of God’s final intervention. This is similar to Jesus’ opening statement in Mark: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand!” (Mk 1:15)

The Bridge to Contemplation

The Fourth Dwelling Places of The Interior Castle 

The Interior Castle, with its seven dwelling places, enlightens how we experience God at the different levels on the journey to Paradise. The entire process is a movement to the center where God dwells. Self-knowledge, surrender, humility and love grow in each of the various stages. In the fourth dwelling places God takes on a more active role in this transforming experience. This active role by God is the bridge to the experience of contemplation. This is a radical change. This clearly is different from all previous experiences of God’s grace.

Like all the personal activity of the Castle, the processes of the fourth dwelling places are simply part of a journey of self-discovery that leads to union with God. The action of this stage moves away from selfishness in a new and intense way. There is a direct awareness of God who dwells within us at the center. The consequences are significant changes for the better.

The ego-driven and controlled actions of the first three dwelling places encounter the bridge. This crossing is the invitation into contemplation where God actively purifies and transforms us. These changes emerge in the stages leading towards union with God. It is the awesome power of the first step onto the bridge that shatters the false stability of the third dwelling places. This is the beginning of the contemplative experience. Letting go is crucial to the change. A growing awareness delivers us from being petty and thin-skinned. There is a peace that opens us up to surrender and acceptance on an unprecedented level. We experience a new freedom in the Lord.

The Baptism of the Lord

Holy Gospel according to Luke 

3, 15-16. 21-22 

Dear friends in Christ,

Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. It is very helpful to understand the rich and beautiful message of this feast if we remember it is the conclusion the season of Christmas in the Church Year.

The secular message of Christmas is all finished with the special sales in the few days after the 25th. The Church has a totally different schedule and a totally different meaning for Christmas.

“The Word was made flesh.” (Jn 1: 16) This is from the Gospel of John read in the Christmas Mass at midday. It is our invitation to truly ponder what it means that God became human. That mystery is made even more challenging in today’s Gospel when Jesus is baptized.

Through Jesus, God chose to enter our reality, to share our experience. The baptism is a symbol of that sharing because a very real part of our reality is that we need forgiveness of our sins.

Time of Deception

The Third Dwelling Places of The Interior Castle

St. Teresa of Avila wrote her classic, The Interior Castle, to explain how we experience God in life and, more specifically, on the spiritual journey. The first woman Doctor of the Church explains seven steps on this pilgrimage to God. The final goal is to be one with God in total surrender.

In the first two dwelling places, she points out how we have an initial encounter with the transcendent that opens us to the divine reality. There is a moral conversion that brings us to the third dwelling places. This is a location for most who are serious about the Christian calling.

The third dwelling places are the fount of great wisdom in pastoral ministry and in life. Most individuals of good will have difficulty in this stage of spiritual development. Teresa is insistent about the importance of this rite of passage. The temptation is to settle down and enjoy the peace. The first two dwelling places ultimately produce great progress but at the cost of much struggle and change.

In the third dwelling places, we experience relief from the consuming moral struggle of the second dwelling places. It is a very good place. The deception is to sink roots. Yet, the conflict of good and evil is never far from the surface.God’s agenda is in stark conflict with our desire to settle down. God desires the journey to proceed with all due haste. Teresa is clear that final destiny is the seventh dwelling places and union with God. The tension is between God inviting us to move on and our sense of accomplishment which draws us to put down roots. The drama of the third dwelling places takes place in the struggle to resolve this conflict.

The feast of the Epiphany

MT 2: 1-12 

Dear Friends,

Today’s celebration is commonly known as the feast of the Three Kings. An interesting observation is that the scriptural text says nothing about the number three. Likewise, the text makes no mention that they are kings. In addition, there is nothing about the racial make-up of the group. These are all additions of various cultural expressions developed centuries after the event.

Perhaps these additions have helped us understand the Gospel message of the feast which is that all peoples are invited to the heavenly banquet.

The history of the process, in which Christ’s message has been passed on over the centuries, has always been deeply ingrained with cultural and folkloric expressions. Often, additions have been enlightening and liberating to the basic message of salvation. On the other hand, the message has been deeply distorted with the overlay of pietistic exaggerations and even contradictions rooted in national and cultural prejudices.

Is that all there is?

The Second Dwelling Places 

The second dwelling places bring a new awakening. Many struggles accompany this enlightenment. The individual begins to answer the question, “Is that all there is?” The results are both frightening and enticing. As the new awareness of God’s call begins to penetrate the consciousness, numerous problems surface. In the end, there is a need for change, a call to moral conversion. The second dwelling places story highlights the conflict between the old and the new, grace and sin, pleasure and sacrifice.

The person has begun to pray with some consistency. This awakens a desire for a more trustworthy experience of life. This brings some difficult choices. As God’s goodness, mercy and love become more clear, so too, the call to let go of old ways. Worldly attachments and pleasures with their spirit of vanity and malice are not compatible to spiritual progress.

“Since they are getting closer to where His Majesty dwells, He is a very good neighbor. His mercy and goodness are so bountiful; whereas we are occupied in our pastimes, business affairs, pleasures, and worldly buying and selling and still falling into sin and rising again.” (IC II1.2)

Feast of the Holy Family

Lk 2:41-52 

Dear Friends.

It is important to cast off the plastic-statue image of Mary to discover her true beauty in the many trials in her life. She was not walking through life with a pre-arranged script. For her, as for us, life is a long, searching struggle passing through the confusion and brokenness of reality.

One of my favorite authors offered a great insight into the humanity of Mary in his description the family at Nazareth.

In the beginning there was the isolation of an overwhelmed pregnant teenager and a betrothed man who felt rejected. The birth of the child was encompassed in poverty and political intrigue. At the presentation the mother received the warning of great suffering to come. The family became political refugees in a foreign country. On their return, they were uprooted again because of fear and insecurity. The young teenager drove the parents to desperation as he began to clarify his identity in the Temple. The mother was confused by her son’s apparent indifference at Cana. Then she continued to be befuddled as his activities were in such conflict with the traditions of the village and family. He even held others as his true mother. Then he was rejected and executed in the height of his popularity. She was handed over to someone outside the family at the moment of his excruciating death.

Truly, Mary had no idea what the angel’s message had in store for her. On the other hand, most families cope with these kinds of disruptions totally unexpected turmoil. It is a demanding to walk the journey in faithful love within the confines of a broken and sinful humanity.

Love demands that the family be both the source of identity and the source of independence. This holds the seeds of the “road to Jerusalem” for all family members.