“Welcoming The Stranger” At Prince of Peace Parish In Las Vegas

Back in 2000, the USCCB published a teaching document titled “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity.”  The Bishops began their teaching thus:

On June 2, 2000, the Jubilee Day for Migrants and Refugees, Pope John Paul II celebrated the Eucharist in St. Peter’s Square for over 50,000 migrants, refugees, people on the move, and their chaplains from all over the world. The Eucharist drew that great diversity of people into unity in the communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, realizing a Jubilee Year hope for the Church: “to gather into one the dispersed children of God,” “to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth” (Jn 11:52; Eph 1:10).

This Church Guy experienced the ‘unity’ that only the Eucharist can bring in a special way recently.  This is what happened.

While traveling, I found myself in Las Vegas.  I needed to get to attend the Saturday vigil as I would be traveling all day Sunday.  The only Mass I could find that fit my schedule was at Prince of Peace Parish in the Diocese of Las Vegas.  I hailed a taxi and went there.  The only problem was that I was half an hour late (always call to verify Mass times when traveling!) and the Mass was in Spanish.  The Spanish was not so bad, but I needed time to acclimate myself, and the homily was not the place to start.  I was lost and feeling out of place.

Then a woman next to me noticed.  Quietly and nicely, she pulled out Unidos en Christo/United in Christ and pointed out where we were.  She flashed a “welcome” smile and went back to worshipping.  It took only a moment, but that simple, wordless gesture united me to that liturgy and to that community in a special way.

After Mass, I ran into the woman who “welcomed the stranger” and thanked her.  I explained that if I had had time I would have acclimated myself; she said that she was the same with English.

St. Therese talked about her little flowers – her shower of roses.  I think one of them landed on me that day.

“Men For Others”: An Uncertain Response To A Clarion Call?

How well has the Church responded to the radical call to justice articulated by Fr. Pedro Arrupe in his talk “Men For Others?”  This may be case of a road not taken, with a wealth of insight waiting for implementation.

Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. was the 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus — the Jesuits.  On July 31, 1973, Fr. Arrupe addressed the Tenth International Congress of Jesuit Alumni of Europe.  The talk – “Men (and Women) For Others” — was a groundbreaking reflection about education for justice.

Fr. Arrupe’s talk was intended to answer a simple question — how does one educate for justice?

Today our prime educational objective must be to form men-and-women-for-others; men and women who will live not for themselves but for God and his Christ – for the God-man who lived and died for all the world; men and women who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbors; men and women completely convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce.

This kind of education goes directly counter to the prevailing educational trend practically everywhere in the world.  We Jesuits have always been heavily committed to the educational apostolate.  We still are.  What, then, shall we do?  Go with the current or against it?  I can think of no subject more appropriate than this for the General of the Jesuits to take up with the former students of Jesuits schools.

His discussion, however, extended well beyond pedagogy (in fact, there is no pedagogy per se in the talk). Fr. Arrupe bases his call for social justice on personal conversion:

When we are converted, when God effects in us the marvel of justification, we turn to God and our brothers and sisters in our innermost selves, and as a consequence sin in the strict sense is washed away from us.  However, the effects of sin continue their powerful domination over our “periphery,” and this, quite often, in a way that we are not even aware of.

Now, Christ did not come merely to free us from sin and flood the center of our person with his grace.  He came to win our entire self for God – including what I have called our “periphery.”  Christ came to do away not only with sin, but with its effects, even in this life; not only to give us his grace, but to show forth the power of his grace.

Sin dominates the periphery “quite often, in a way that we are not even aware of.”  The consequence of this sin is social injustice:

Let us see the meaning of this as it pertains to the relationship between personal conversion and structural reform.  If “personal conversion” is understood in the narrow sense of justification operative only at the very core of our person, it does not adequately represent the truth of the matter, for such justification is only the root, the beginning of a renewal, a reform of the structures at the “periphery” of our being, not only personal but social.

If we agree on this, conclusions fairly tumble forth.  For the structures of this world – our customs; our social, economic, and political systems; our commercial relations; in general, the institutions we have created for ourselves – insofar as they have injustice built into them, are the concrete forms in which sin is objectified.  They are the consequences of our sins throughout history, as well as the continuing stimulus and spur for further sin.

. . .

In short, interior conversion is not enough.  God’s grace calls us not only to win back our whole selves for God, but to win back our whole world for God.  We cannot separate personal conversion from structural social reform.

Fr. Arrupe reflects of the meaning of “structural social reform” in the remainder of his talk.  If social justice as understood by CST is a reflection of efforts to win back the World for God, does CST meet this standard?  From where, I sit I hear a lot about things people deserve (“rights”) and can demand from others and much of CST seems directed toward justifying whatever social and political programs promise more of those things.  That raises 2 questions:  (1) how is this demand for things consistent with Fr. Arrupe’s celebrated vision? and (2) can the social and political programs that provide these things (to at least some) become themselves concrete forms of concupiscence?

More later….

A Blog Post That I Wish I Had Written

This is the most effective take-down of prosperity Gospel thinking that I have ever read. It is not mean or disrespectful, just effective.

It tells the stories of Five Celebrity Preachers Who Ignored Osteen’s Advice And Lived Their Best Lives Later.

Click through and READ THE WHOLE THING.

Is He Now Holy Toledo?

I think the answer is yes. I noticed the following headline on Zenit, the news service:

Bishop Named For Toledo, Ohio

We wish Bishop Thomas the best in his new position and will pray for him and his brother bishops.

Here is a prayer taken from the Roman Missal for Bishop Thomas, his brother bishops, and priests:

O God, who hast appointed Thine only-begotten Son to be the eternal High Priest for the glory of Thy Majesty and the salvation of mankind; grant that they whom He hath chosen to be His ministers and the stewards of His mysteries, may be found faithful in the fulfillment of the ministry which they have received. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen

King Hezekiah on the Day After

It is the day after the Lord liberated Jerusalem. King Hezekiah walks along the ramparts alone. Then he looks east … and he prays:

Blessed + be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.

The fear, chaos, privation of the last 10 years washed over the King but it was replaced by gratitude, love, and peace for the Lord. The gratitude was all the greater as the King recalled the Temple, denuded of its silver and gold. And yet, the Lord remained faithful and rescued undeserving Judah.

He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David.

Through his holy prophets he promised of old †
that he would save us from our enemies, *
from the hands of all who hate us.

The King paused. The words poured out. Could this be the time that that Prophet Moses had promised had come. Will I get a chance to see him? Nahum, man of Elkosh? Isaiah, son of Amos? Someone to come? Someone who was already there, but not yet? Nahum seemed to have spoken of him:

Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace! Celebrate your festivals, Judah, and fulfill your vows. No more will the wicked invade you; they will be completely destroyed.

How I long for Him! Baruch Adonai!

Hezekiah fell silent; he stood there alone, but not alone, feeling God’s mighty, loving presence.

Prayer soon welled up from his soul and he prayed:

He promised to show mercy to our fathers *
and to remember his holy covenant.

This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham: *
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear, *
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life..

He, Hezekiah, had stripped the Temple of its gold and silver; while the Lord had been faithful as Moses had promised; as Isaiah, son of Amoz, had promised; as Nahum, man of Elkosh, had promised; as the Messiah would fulfill.

Now, they could worship with perfect love; the people of Judah could live in a loving, perfect relationship with the Lord. The Lord had made them for this and now they were free.

Then, it was as if the Lord was speaking to Hezekiah, with an infinitely tender, but infinitely strong voice:

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High; *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.

Hezekiah prostrated himself.

After a time, Hezekiah stood up and returned to the palace. He called the scribes and proclaimed thanksgiving to the Lord with these words:

In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Hezekiah prayed these words and prayed that God’s glory be spread to the ends of the Earth until the end of his days “and the Lord was with him.”

+++++++

Zechariah’s canticle, which I adapted to King Hezekiah, is from Luke 1:68-79. The last quotation is from 2 Kings 18:7.

Nahum, Isaiah, Hezekiah, God, and Church Guys

What is a Men of Emmaus meeting like? Here is a summary of our most recent one:

We read Nahum 1. Nahum is one of the minor prophets – the book is only 3 chapters – and short ones at that. He prophesied at the time that the Lord defeated Assyria on behalf of Judah. I think it would be fair to say that the consensus at the start of the meeting was that it would not be all that inspiring.

Were we wrong.

A little context first. 2 Kings, chapter 18 tells us about the context from a historical perspective.

Hezikiah was the king of Judah. He was a good king:

5 Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. 6 He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. 7 And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. 8 From watchtower to fortified city, he defeated the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory.

The second sentence of verse 5 jumps out – no one before or since, e.g., King David, was his equal. As we often see, Hezekiah’s faith translated into worldly success.

Hezekiah’s yes to the Lord led him to say ‘no’ to Assyria. “He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him.”

Assyria responded as you would expect. First, Assyria destroyed Samaria – the tribes of Israel.

10 . . .So Samaria was captured in Hezekiah’s sixth year, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel. 11 The king of Assyria deported Israel to Assyria and settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in towns of the Medes. 12 This happened because they had not obeyed the Lord their God, but had violated his covenant—all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded. They neither listened to the commands nor carried them out.

This development, though, should not have been worrisome. The defeat of Israel “happened because they had not obeyed the Lord their God, but had violated his covenant—all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded. They neither listened to the commands nor carried them out.” That was not true of Judah. King Hezekiah “trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.”

But the Assyrians captured “the fortified towns of Judah.” Hezekiah’s fear drove out his love. He offered repentance and asked for the price of peace. The king of Assyria demanded 300 talents of silver and 30 of gold as ransom (about 20 metric tons) Hezekiah said “yes” and stripped the Temple of its gold and silver to pay the ransom.

What a reversal. King Hezekiah began as the most faithful of the kings of Judah. Now, he was handing gold and silver dedicated to the honor of the Lord to the king of Assyria.

The Lord sent Nahum — “comforter” — to Judah. Keeping in mind the abject fear that had seized Judah, listen to the first verses of Nahum’s prophecy :

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.
The Lord takes vengeance on his foes
and vents his wrath against his enemies.
3 The Lord is slow to anger but great in power;
the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.
His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,
and clouds are the dust of his feet.
4 He rebukes the sea and dries it up;
he makes all the rivers run dry.
Bashan and Carmel wither
and the blossoms of Lebanon fade.
5 The mountains quake before him
and the hills melt away.
The earth trembles at his presence,
the world and all who live in it.
6 Who can withstand his indignation?
Who can endure his fierce anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire;
the rocks are shattered before him.
7 The Lord is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,
8 but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh;
he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.

For a people facing an army of horrific size and cruelty, this is the message they needed to hear. The essence of their fear was that there was no exit. God was not strong enough to help. This sounds warlike and violent to those of us who live in a nation blessed with peace, but it is a message of hope to those who see no other recourse.

Then the Assyrians added insult to injury. Sennacherib, King of Assyria, sent his field commander to demand total surrender. The passage is too long to quote in full, but here is a taste:

28 Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! 29 This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you from my hand. 30 Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’

31 “Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat fruit from your own vine and fig tree and drink water from your own cistern, 32 until I come and take you to a land like your own—a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey. Choose life and not death!

“Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ 33 Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? 35 Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”

What did Hezekiah do? What would you do? He got down on his knees.

14 Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: “Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

17 “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. 18 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 19 Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”

The prayer shows Hezekiah’s faith. He does not pray, ‘Lord, I am a good king and kept my side of the bargain (ekev). So now keep yours!” Rather, his prayer focuses on the Lord. It is not about Hezekiah or Judah; it is unselfish.

How did the Lord answer this prayer? He sent Nahum to say:

9 Whatever they plot against the Lord
he will bring to an end;
trouble will not come a second time.
10 They will be entangled among thorns
and drunk from their wine;
they will be consumed like dry stubble.
11 From you, Nineveh, has one come forth
who plots evil against the Lord
and devises wicked plans.
12 This is what the Lord says:

“Although they have allies and are numerous,
they will be destroyed and pass away.
Although I have afflicted you, Judah,
I will afflict you no more.
13 Now I will break their yoke from your neck
and tear your shackles away.”
14 The Lord has given a command concerning you, Nineveh:
“You will have no descendants to bear your name.
I will destroy the images and idols
that are in the temple of your gods.
I will prepare your grave,
for you are vile.”

The Lord’s love for His holy city, Jerusalem, and for the people of Judah is steadfast. Even though they despoiled His temple in a futile gesture, the Lord promises to protect Judah from its enemy.

The Lord also sent “Isaiah, son of Amoz,” to say:

20 Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I have heard your prayer concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria. 21 This is the word that the Lord has spoken against him:

22 Who is it you have ridiculed and blasphemed?
….

25 “‘Have you not heard?
Long ago I ordained it.
In days of old I planned it;
now I have brought it to pass,
that you have turned fortified cities
into piles of stone.
26 Their people, drained of power,
are dismayed and put to shame.
They are like plants in the field,
like tender green shoots,
like grass sprouting on the roof,
scorched before it grows up.
27 “‘But I know where you are
and when you come and go
and how you rage against me.
28 Because you rage against me
and because your insolence has reached my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
and my bit in your mouth,
and I will make you return
by the way you came.’
29 “This will be the sign for you, Hezekiah:

32 “Therefore this is what the Lord says concerning the king of Assyria:

“‘He will not enter this city
or shoot an arrow here.
He will not come before it with shield
or build a siege ramp against it.
33 By the way that he came he will return;
he will not enter this city,
declares the Lord.
34 I will defend this city and save it,
for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.’”

Imagine the scene. Two prophets speak of defeat for the Assyrians. The question at hand is whether their fear will cause Hezekiah to forget that God’s power and steadfast love was just as much a part of the military calculus – a part of objective reality – as were the swords and arrows of Assyria.

King Hezekiah, the most faithful of the kings of Judah, chose correctly:

35 That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! 36 So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.

37 One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons Adrammelek and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped to the river

The Lord did not deliver Judah from Assyria and then abandon them. No, He had promised something greater still – a restoration and a Messiah. Isaiah’ promise focused on the material:

“This year you will eat what grows by itself,
and the second year what springs from that.
But in the third year sow and reap,
plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
30 Once more a remnant of the kingdom of Judah
will take root below and bear fruit above.
31 For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant,
and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors.

Judah would survive.

Nahum, though, prophesied about a Messiah who defeat all of Judah’s enemies:

15 Look, there on the mountains,
the feet of one who brings good news,
who proclaims peace!
Celebrate your festivals, Judah,
and fulfill your vows.
No more will the wicked invade you;
they will be completely destroyed.

Talk about hope! Talk about renewal and restoration! Nahum leaves us with a promise as ringing as any in Scripture. Something – a Someone – is coming. That Someone will proclaim “peace” and bring “good news.” Just reading it, the hopeful expectation bursts forth. All Judah need do is “Celebrate your festivals, Judah, and fulfill your vows.” Live in a right relationship with the Lord according to the Sinai Covenant. Ekev.

What did this teach me? First, the meeting taught me something about the Church. As I noted above, no one really expected to get a lot out of Nahum. Fire and brimstone, not very inspiring. I certainly didn’t. But when we listened to those 15 verses together I heard much more than on my own.

The Church is like that, isn’t it? Rather than a group of guys, we are a billion strong. But not only that, we are millions who came before and recorded what they heard. We are a people who listen and together hear more of what God speaks than any of us could hear alone. Guided by the Holy Father and the bishops in communion with him, we try to discern what God is saying to us individually and as a community and then we try to do as He asks.

Second, this passage taught me to pray. Not so much Nahum, but King Hezekiah. All prayer must place acknowledging God’s glory first. When we pray, especially prayers of petitioning, we acknowledge our weakness – as did Hezekiah – and God’s strength. If the premise of our prayer is that God HAS to say “yes” or will say “yes,” our focus is wrong – we must focus on Him and His greatness not the thing we want or the concern that drove us to our knees. Hezekiah prayed, in essence, “deliver us, because You are great.” He did not pray “deliver us, Lord, because we’ve done everything you asked! How many things I have sacrificed for You and now THIS! How could You let this happen to us?”

Notice, too, how Sennacherib tried to break Hezekiah’s spirit and how it sprang from a false premise of prayer. Sennacherib said look at my military might and tremble. The taunt – your bargain with your god is nothing – is a powerful one for a person who views the Lord as ‘Sugar Daddy in the sky.” But if our prayer is based on the premise that its purpose is to acknowledge God’s greatness, Sennacherib’s taunt means nothing. Rather it becomes in the hands of King Hezekiah yet another occasion for acknowledging God’s greatness. Look at Christ’s prayer before raising Lazarus and compare. They stem from the same premise.

Quite a bit from a single meeting!

Ekev, The Fear Of The Lord, And Letting My Wife Know That I Am Running Late

The title of this post appears to go from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Ekev is a biblical concept connoting acceptance of a reciprocal obligation. When I agree to pay you $3,000 for your used car, ekev is the word used to describe my act of accepting an obligation.

The “Fear of the Lord” is an often misunderstood idea. It means a lot of things. For this piece, I use it to mean awareness of God’s love, His invitation to each of us to enter into a relationship with Him, and our unworthiness to enter into that relationship.

The last item from the title – letting one’s wife know that I am running late – seems to bring us down from the heights of spirituality to the mundane business of being married.

I hope to show that all three ideas are related — that ekev leads us to call our wives which helps us understand and live the Fear of the Lord.

Let’s start with the Fear of the Lord. Rabbi David Ingber tells a story that helps us begin to understand this idea. It goes like this:

A beloved Muslim holy man was nearing the end of his days. His four closest disciples came to him and asked who would succeed him.

The holy man said, ‘So that I will truly know you, I require that you do the following. Go out to the fields and capture a small bird. Then go to a place where you are alone, kill it, and bring it to me as an act of obedience.’

The four disciples went out and eventually returned. The first disciple, then the second, and then the third placed dead birds at the holy man’s feet. The fourth disciple opened his cupped hands to reveal a living bird.

“How dare you disobey me!,” the holy cleric said.

“I did not disobey you, master,” the fourth man said. I went out to the field and captured a bird. Then I looked for a place where I was alone. There was no such place for the bird, dressed by God Himself, was always with me.”

The cleric smiled. “You have spoken well.”

Fear of the Lord in this telling is an awareness of God’s call to enter into a deeper relationship with Him. The holy disciple remained aware of God’s presence as made concrete in the bird while the other three disciples did not. That awareness and awareness of what God’s presence implies stayed the holy disciple’s hand.

If that story illustrates Fear of the Lord, this true story illustrates ekev.

One evening several years ago, I found myself at a gathering with Fr. Lee. The talk turned to debating religious legalism and many other topics. It became clear that I was going to get home later than expected. So I called my wife to let her know.

When I came back, Fr. Lee challenged me. “Why did you do that?” “Just because. So she wouldn’t worry. I don’t know.” Fr. Lee then suggested that I did it because it was something that was natural in the context of our relationship. He was right. That is ekev.

Scriptures tell us that the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom. When we first say “yes!” to God’s invitation and each time we renew that initial “yes,” we enter into a relationship that has a logic of its own. The relationship implies ekev – that which we agree will be done by agreeing to the relationship. The same way my marriage implies a call when running late so too does a relationship with God imply other obligations. Ekev reminds us that those obligations result from our choice, not imposed on us from the outside; it reminds us that a relationship is a the center of our religion.

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Rabbi Ingber’s talk can be found at Soundcloud, an iPhone app. I will update this post when I figure out how to link or otherwise cite properly.