SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

John 14:23-29

These fifty days of Easter animate our journey of faith. We are invited to enter more deeply into the Pascal Mystery, the saving Death and Resurrection of Jesus. We are asked to bring this message of love into our hearts. In this experience, we continue to answer the most fundamental question in our lives, who is Jesus for us?

In today’s gospel passage from John, Jesus is talking about his return to the Father and the double gifts of the Paraclete and peace. He does this in the context of his general invitation into love.

The peace Jesus is talking about in not the absence of conflict or struggle with life’s many manifestations of evil. The peace Jesus offers is the presence of God bringing us salvation, a basic harmony within the depth of our being. It is the power to live life to the full no matter the circumstances. Jesus’ peace, so different from the world’s sense of a peace in prosperity and indulgence, begins and ends in love. Even in the midst of tension and turmoil, love can pass through the dark valley and, even in the dark valley, bring peace.

Today’s gospel is taken from the message of the Last Supper. Jesus is calling the disciples and us to trust in him in spite of the impending horror of the Passion and Death. He is telling us that love will win out. He will reveal the fullness of God’s love, God’s presence and God’s peace in the gift of the Paraclete. This Spirit will help us to both understand and embrace more deeply all that Jesus has taught us. Through our openness to life and with the guidance of the Paraclete, the truth of the gospel will unfold in our hearts. Jesus will truly become our way, our life and our truth. A commitment to deep personal prayer is the most reliable means to stay in touch with the Spirit.

As the power of the Resurrection emerges in our hearts, we can take in the daily events of evil and corruption with an awakening sense of hope. Gun violence and denial of climate change, racial and sexual prejudice, the dehumanization of migrants and the isolation and neglect of the poor and ever-present trial of deep conflict with our loved ones will remain the stuff life. The unrelenting faces of evil will not leave the headlines any time soon. However, we have received the gift of God’s peace and the Paraclete. Now we can bring a heart energized by hope to these certainties. We will feel empowered to enter the struggle for a better world, the coming world of God’s kingdom.

Driven by the Spirit, in the footsteps of Jesus, we can face the challenges of a sinful church and a broken society. We can indeed be the instruments of peace in the midst of the social upheaval of immigration, continuing racial change, and the shattering of comfortable but often blind definitions of sexuality. We bring our hunger for justice no matter the depth or complexity of the forces of evil.

God has spoken in Christ Crucified and Christ Risen. Love will prevail! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
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CONTEMPLATION


In the fourth dwelling places something different happens. There is a profound but subtle change. The experience of God in prayer at this new level is totally different. Up to this point, the mind and imagination have played the critical role to get us in touch with God. Now, God takes a new role. This means the new resident of the fourth dwelling places needs to let go. This new experience is often confusing and frightening.

The senses, the mind, the heart, and the entire being need to be prepared for this new reality. Our perception and, even more, our experience of God, must undergo a radical makeover. Our self-understanding begins a deep-seated renovation. The mysterious and pervasive changes flowing from contemplation lead us to begin to see as God sees and to love as God loves. This happens as we let go of our deepest attachments and addictions. The false self fights to maintain our illusions and deceptions. The false self sets loose an entire range of mind-games to undercut this passage into the darkness that produces the freedom and light of contemplation.

The immediate result of this whirlwind of change is a feeling of turmoil. Our sense of clarity and security in things spiritual is crumbling before our eyes. This is why surrender and acceptance are the way forward. The question of who God is and how God responds to our expectations is at the heart of this confusion and darkness.

Contemplation evokes deep personal changes leading to a dramatic makeover of the person. This radically new experience is beyond anything possible by mere human effort. In contemplation, God acts in the soul in ways that are totally new. This presence is silent loving communion without images. It is totally beyond our usual manner of reflecting and thinking in prayer. St. John of the Cross says, “Contemplation is none other than a secret, peaceful and loving infusion of God, which if the soul allows it to happen, infuses a spirit of love.” (Dark Night 1.10.6)

God is taking a specific initiative in our prayer through a silent inflow of loving knowledge. Since the mind is as yet unconditioned for God it reacts with confusion to a conversation that takes place in silence. While our thoughts may wander about in the fringes of the castle, Teresa reminds us, ‘the soul is perhaps completely joined with God in the dwelling places very close to the center.’” (Interior Castle IV.1.9)

This new action of God moves one away from the ego and the false self with its blinding control and persistent deception. The journey to the pure heart escalates with novel and unimagined discoveries. In this initial experience of contemplation, there is participation in the life of God never experienced before.

Contemplation is a new and different presence off God, that penetrates one’s whole spiritual life. It enhances every aspect of life: personal social, communal and pastoral.

The Carmelites of the Ancient Observance have this description of contemplation in their Constitutions #17: “Contemplation is a transforming experience of the overpowering love of God. This love empties us of our limited and imperfect human ways of thinking, loving, and behaving, transforming them into divine ways.”

One way of understanding contemplation is that it is a full and generous following of Jesus Christ. It comes from a deep generosity in hearing and responding to the gospel message.
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THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER


JOHN 13: 31-35

Dear Friends, As I never tire of repeating, the Church gives us seven weeks to celebrate, ponder and pray over the reality of the Resurrection. This event taps into the most basic human realities, life and death, sin and grace. We tend to miss the profound message.

In today’s second reading from Revelations (21:1-5) we read this, “Behold God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” (Rev21:3-4)

This is just one more way of expressing the beauty and the wonder of the Resurrection. God has spoken and the last word is not pain and suffering, but healing. The last word is not injustice, poverty and war but reconciliation, peace and justice. The last word is not hate and division but love. The Lord has conquered death and called us to eternal life.

This message of eternal life engulfs the entire Easter message. This is what the passage from Revelation is telling us. We find it so hard to believe when we face the reality of our daily life and our world or simply read the front page of the LA Times.. This is why we have to move slowly and steadily into this great event of our faith, this great final expression of God’s love, this final word of life and love and healing. This is what we mean that Chlrist is risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Last week, we were invited in the Scriptures to embrace the greatest of the gifts of Christ’s victory, eternal life. Today, we are called to realize with new insight and wisdom that that eternal life for us begins right now. When we love as Jesus did, we are living the Pascal Mystery of the Death and Resurrection. We begin eternal life now when we love. When we love as Jesus did, we break loose of the bonds of sin and death and give expression to that seed of life that is Christ within us. We begin our eternity now when we walk in the way of love with Jesus. “As I have loved you, so should you love one another. (John 13:34)
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CHRISTIAN MEDITATION


Christian Meditation enriches but does not replace other prayers such as Lectio Divina, the liturgy, spiritual reading and devotions. Christian Meditation is the foundation of a rich and committed spiritual life. If practiced daily over a period of time, perceptible changes in one’s life will occur. More patience, more reconciliation, more enthusiasm for the liturgy, more openness to areas of blindness and prejudice, a new openness to the demands of justice – all of these and more are the fruit of this prayer. Faithfulness to Christian Meditation is an anchor for a spiritual life that opens one’s heart to surrender to God. Most often, God responds in time with the gift of acquired contemplation.

Christian Meditation is not magic. If you are looking for the easy fix, you will not find it. However, whatever leads you to purity of heart and surrender to God will be major factors along the road. Christian Meditation, if practiced faithfully and with generosity, can contribute significantly to walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

The most important thing to learn about meditation is to meditate. It is extraordinarily simple. That’s the problem. Very few, on first hearing about it, can believe that the simplicity can be so powerful.

This is how to meditate. Sit down. Sit still and upright. Close your eyes lightly. Sit relaxed but alert. Silently, interiorly, begin to say a single word, maranatha. Recite it as four syllables of equal length. Listen to it as you say it, gently but continuously. Do not think or imagine anything – spiritual or otherwise. If thoughts or images come, these are distractions at the time of meditation, so keep returning to simply saying the word. Meditate each morning and evening for between twenty and thirty minutes.

We have three simple goals to guide us in our twice daily meditation.
  1. We say the mantra for the complete time of the meditation. This is a skill and it will take time to create a steady habit.
  2. We say the mantra throughout the meditation without interruption. The task here is to continually return as soon as possible from the relentless distractions which are the ego’s hunger for control.
  3. In saying the mantra consistently, we let it draw us into the depths of our being beyond thought, imagination and all images. We rest in the presence of God dwelling in the depth of our heart. Merton calls this depth of the heart The Hidden Ground of Love.
People are often interested in what meditation can teach them about themselves. It is easy for us to see everything in terms of self-improvement, auto-therapy and self-understanding. There is value in this but self-fascination can be disastrous for the spiritual journey. There is a danger that after we take up meditation we see that we understand ourselves better and then get diverted from self-transcendence to self-fixation.

The Gospel is not about self-analysis but self-transcendence. Meditation happens only when we shift attention away from ourselves.

When we start, we are concerned with progress, and how perfectly we are following the practices. But we learn that we have to let go of the attempt to measure progress. This is the challenge. It simply means to keep saying the mantra from the beginning to the end.

To learn to meditate we need to meditate every day, morning and evening. This should be between twenty and thirty minutes for each session. It is necessary while you are meditating to say the mantra from the beginning to the end.

Whatever thoughts come into your mind, whether they are good thoughts, religious thoughts, holy thoughts or bad thoughts, let them all go and return to say the mantra.

Here is a scenario that evolves from our faithful practice of daily Christian Meditation. Over a period of time, we grow in self-transcendence along with a deep sense of personal unity. We develop a solid sense of personal integrity. We experience a new openness and maturity in our personal relations. We steadily move away from self-centeredness towards inner unity and harmony. An expanded consciousness draws us into a deeper sense of the presence of God.

When I introduce this spiritual practice, I make the following points:
  • It does not matter if you feel at peace even though this often is the case for beginners. How you feel is not the issue. The real issue is change in your heart that leads to a better life.
  • Often, the mind seems as if you have a barrel of monkeys roaming around. You need to peacefully return to the mantra and continue repeating it slowly and steadily.
  • It is important to reject all thoughts including good and inspiring ideas. There is another time for them but not during this sacred time seeking silence.
  • Always remember, prayer is fundamentally an act of love for God. As Teresa said we need not think much but we need to love much.
  • In the end, it comes down to discipline. One has to make time twice a day for twenty to thirty minutes. The practice can easily be put off and eventually will slip away.
Christian Meditation needs to be joined to a total effort to pursue a pure heart. This is the surest way to contemplation which is the “treasure hidden in the field.” {Mt 13:44) Though contemplation is ultimately a free gift from God, we are free to pursue it with all our heart and thereby be open and ready when God calls.
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FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

Jn 10:27-30

Dear Friends. The Easter Season calls us to become an Alleluia People. For us, personally and as a faith community, Easter is an encounter with the victory of love over all that is evil. This love shines through the Risen Christ. The Easter triumph of love gives us hope no matter where life leads us in its twisting journey.

Today’ gospel displays this hope is in the role of the Good Shepherd. This pastoral theme is in each of the Church’s cycles on the fourth Sunday of Easter. The image of the Good Shepherd draws us deeper into the Easter mystery.

Jesus tells us, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me…no one can take them out of the Father’s hands.” (Jn 10:27-28) Jesus has our back no matter what the circumstances!

Jesus, as the shepherd, offers us both security and guidance. This relationship to one who protects us and directs us. It touches a deep passion in our hearts. True self-knowledge of our brokenness leads us to hunger for deliverance. We want to cast off the ambiguity and confusion of our reality. We yearn for safety and clarity. Jesus, as our Good Shepherd, addresses that ache in our hearts. His voice sets us free from the crippling ambivalence and fear. He guides us with a caring presence in the midst of the daily wolves of violence, division, ignorance and injustice that are a constant threat to us.

Jesus, as our Shepherd, nurtures our sense of hope in this Easter Season. Jesus has shown us that there is no earthly power, no matter how dominant or seemingly invincible, that can overcome God’s love. This is the Easter message. This love becomes personal for us in the Good Shepherd. This love generates the Easter reality. It is our passage into eternal life when we are the sheep of the Good Shepherd. “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (Jn 10: 27)

Today’s gospel compels us to receive the protection and accept the direction of the Good Shepherd. It gives us hope leading to life eternal beginning now when we follow the Good Shepherd in our daily life.

We need to ask ourselves, are we open to this gift? Do we hear the voice of Jesus in our day by day experience and responsibilities? Do we really accept, embrace and celebrate the wonder of the Alleluia which is our invitation into the great event of love that is the Risen Christ? When our yes to the Good Shepherd is true and honest we are on the way to becoming an Alleluia People.
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CHRISTIAN MEDITATION


Fr. Ernest Larkin, O. Carm. was a highly respected spokesperson for the Carmelite tradition. He was a pioneer of modern Carmelite spirituality. Vatican II challenged him to the core but eventually freed him. This new wisdom helped him develop original insights of relevance in the Carmelite tradition. This evolution helped him contribute significantly to bringing contemplation to its rightful place in the renewal of the church’s spirituality.

In the preface of his final book, Contemplative Prayer For Today: Christian Meditation, he offers a summary of Carmelite teachings on contemplation. He shows the compatibility between John Main’s teachings on Christian Meditation and the Carmelite tradition. Fr. Ernest had a forceful statement: “My perspective is the Carmelite tradition of spirituality, which is the tradition I have tried to live and share over a lifetime. This book represents my studied conviction that this method of contemplative prayer (Christian Meditation) can renew the Christian life in the 21st Century.”

That statement also flows from the mature acceptance of contemplative prayer in today’s church. Today contemplative prayer is considered a goal for all

In the 1970s an Irish monk from England, John Main, a Benedictine, initiated a movement for a type of contemplative prayer, Christian Meditation. This prayer is rooted in the prayer of the early centuries of the Church.

The goal of Christian Meditation is a silence that leads to non-discursive prayer. It aims to quiet the mind and imagination. It hopes to create a silence in the individual so God can be active in prayer. The individual is asked simply to repeat the holy word, maranatha, which means the Lord will come. The choice of the word is arbitrary and it is important not to think of its meaning. The repetition connects to one’s breathing. John Main emphasizes that the slow repetition of the word is the individual’s prayer. The repeating of the word symbolizes and encourages the faithful surrender to God. This abandonment of control results in the quieting of the mind and imagination. The simple and slow repetition of the word aims at slowing down the “chattering monkeys” that characterize the unbridled mind and imagination which seem to fear any part of silence. The silence gained through the slow, rhythmic repetition of the word is the language of God.

In John Main’s structure. simplicity is the focus. There is no need to measure where one is on the path. The important thing is to grow in purity of heart and receptivity to divine grace. For John Main, the program is experiential and practical. He wants people to start the journey and let the experience teach the rest. Through the simple repetition of the mantra, maranatha, the mind is cleared enough to make space for the Spirit. This is the movement toward purity of heart and openness to God’s presence.

Fr. Ernest describes Christian Meditation as contemplative prayer working without the intellect or imagination. It is a challenge to the prayer practice for many adult Christians of this time. Many are used to formulas or else chatty conversation with God. Christian Meditation has one goal: the journey inward. The mantra clears the mind, goes beyond thinking, and takes one from the head to the heart. One repeats the mantra with intention but it is not an object of analysis. It is recited attentively, letting it remove the anxieties of the moment. The person stands at the gate, watching and waiting, at attention, listening but hearing nothing. This is the desired silence. This silence is not day-dreaming but focused and intentional. The pray-er is present to everything and to nothing before the mystery of God.

Here is a clear and simple statement from John Main on how to begin Christian Meditation:
Sit down. Sit still and upright. Close your eyes lightly. Sit relaxed but alert. Silently, interiorly, begin to say a single word. We recommend the prayer phrase maranatha. Recite it as four syllables of equal length. Listen to it as you say it, gently but continuously. Do not think or imagine anything –spiritual or otherwise. If thoughts or images come, these are distractions at the time of meditation, so keep returning to simply saying the word. Meditate each morning and evening for between twenty and thirty minutes.
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THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER


John 21:1-19 

Dear Friends, There are many beautiful elements to today’s Gospel story but I want to talk about reconciliation. Jesus gives us a powerful example of how we should forgive.

When Peter comes racing out of the water, Jesus is standing by the charcoal fire. It was a perfect opportunity to ask Peter if he remembered the last time he was next to a charcoal fire. Perhaps he might mention the maid servant in case Peter was in total denial. I am sure most of us would and then go into vey great detail of how much we were hurt by the betrayal.

Of course, Jesus is different. Jesus accepts Peter as he is. Jesus initiates the forgiveness. Jesus calls Peter to love. For Jesus that is sufficient.

There is a strong message for us. Reconciliation is never a fifty/fifty proposition where we measure out equal parts using a teaspoon to get the exact equality. For Jesus, forgiveness comes first without all the blaming, without the measurements down to the smallest detail. This mercy of God is like a torrential downpour of love and forgiveness. There is no minute measurement, only an invitation into a storm of love.

We say that this is impossible for us and, indeed, it is without the gift of God’s grace. But with God’s grace, look what happens. It takes a long time to know but the truth will eventually open our eyes and our heart. There is no life, and absolutely, no happiness in hatred. The grudge will never bring us peace.

Peter, a fragile and flawed human being, is transformed to a fearless leader of the Christian community. That incredible change was possible because Peter knew he was loved.

Just look at your life. Look at the relationships in your family, at work, in the parish, and in the community. You and I have the power to love and to transform the tension and the conflict that is always part of our life when we put away the teaspoon of our kind of petty and jealous justice and let Jesus set us free to love without measure as we struggle to walk in his footsteps. We all could save ourselves and many of our loved ones a lot of pain if we followed the example of the God of the second chance that is revealed in today’s Gospel.
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THE NON-NEGOTIABLE IN THE CRISIS: PERSONAL COMMITMENT


We are in the depths of an environmental crisis understood by very few of us. Nevertheless, we need to act now. We need to be personally involved, not passive victims, not unthinking contributors to the on-coming catastrophe.

The most obvious response is one of helplessness. What can one person do in light of the magnitude of the problem? Hope in a loving God demands that we do all that we can and trust in God for the rest. We are never alone in the struggle for life and justice and freedom.

Only transformation of consciousness will deliver us from our ignorance. It will challenge the myths of the advertising industry. It will surface gospel values to contest the seemingly unending call to self-indulgence and self-absorption. It will raise questions about a reasonable use of energy and attack the gross waste that is the foundation of the indulgent lifestyle that is proposed to us as the gateway to happiness. We need to see the world differently. There is no greater prism for real truth, beauty and justice than the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we accept the call to love God and our neighbor, that surely will include saving our world from its ongoing destruction. It will mean examining our lifestyle. It will mean sacrifice as Jesus tell us so often: take up your cross and follow me, lose your life, serve your brothers and sisters, sell your goods and give to the poor, etc.

We are now caught up in a world-view created by the profit motive. The potential for further profits is enhanced by our unchallenged ignorance. Our consumer-driven world defines our needs and is relentless in creating our desires. It tells us what we need to be happy. But it actually drives us to anxiety and unhappiness as we live in fear that we do not have the latest of … whatever. It even implies immortality by suggesting the possibility of unending youth through purchases of the right food and drink, the correct well-being programs of mind and body, the latest fashion designs, the proper medicines and travel plans.

So, what can we do to overcome a sense of helplessness as we become aware of how deeply we are personally entrapped in the environmental crisis? First and foremost, let the gospel values help us see that we are called to simplicity in our daily living. Nurtured by an ever-increasing awareness of God’s gracious presence in all of creation, we should cultivate a mindfulness of the beauty and wonder of this gift and the horror of devastation that our lifestyle supports. We also need to open our hearts to the poor in our midst. They are the ones most often victimized by our continual neglect of the environment. Pope Francis has this to offer: “Happiness means learning how to limit some needs which only diminish us and being open to many different possibilities which life can offer.” (Laudato Si #223)

Our growing recognition of the depth of sin and injustice in this area will encourage us to act, to begin the changes on the long road to freedom and ecological justice.

In 2000, at a meeting in The Hague, the Earth Charter was developed and proclaimed. It was a significant step in the expanding quest to prod humankind’s action to avoid the oncoming disaster. The Earth Charter addressed the issue of personal change and commitment. “As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning… Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.”

Such a beautiful vision needs to become reality by the little things at our disposal. We can make riding the bus an equal option with using our car. We can choose a sweater rather than more heat, less food rather than a diet program. We can become aware that every single purchase is a moral decision for or against true concern for the environment. Creating a passionate concern for recycling, especially of plastic and paper, realizing the implications of energy consumption in heat, light and electrical consumption of all sorts of things, and nurturing and planting trees and plants can become the norms of our new lifestyle. These changes are a beginning. Deeper personal involvement will open up further options. In an essay called “Think Little,” Wendell Berry summarized the lifestyle issue with these words: “If you are fearful of the destruction of the environment, learn to quit being an environmental parasite.”

This more intense engagement will only be sustained by a spirituality that is supported by the growth of virtues. Pope Francis says in Laudato Si: “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to the life of virtue; it is not an optional or secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” (#217)

Personal transformation will evolve from addressing God’s call to cherish the gift of creation along with love for our brothers and sisters. It will reveal new horizons of action. While the response begins with the individual, it must lead to common action with others. Social problems demand a community response. There must be networks of groups. The lasting change foreseen in ecological conversion will lead to community conversion and community action.

However, true community conversion will always find its strength and purpose in the enlightenment and commitment of the individuals that make up the community.
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