Seeing Possibility

A guest post from Claire Bischoff

After the fasting, prayer, and almsgiving of Lent and the joyous celebration of the Easter season, we return this Sunday to Ordinary Time. While our “regular” calendar is divided into twelve months beginning in January, the liturgical year is divided into liturgical seasons beginning with Advent. Each season has a distinctive liturgical color that is seen on the vestments worn by clergy and possibly in church decorations. Each season also has a distinctive feel and theological focus and may incorporate specific practices, like the abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent.

Ordinary Time, marked by the color green, is the part of the church calendar that falls between the distinctive church seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. The stretch of Ordinary Time we begin this Sunday continues until Advent—which feels like a long time from now! Ordinary Time surely is at a disadvantage in the liturgical calendar—it is long; it is not tied to central and specific events, as Christmas is tied to the birth of Jesus and Easter is tied to his resurrection; and there are not special practices or celebrations tied to it since it is just plain ordinary. Put slightly differently, it is more challenging to get excited about celebrating Ordinary Time!

Last week I suggested that we celebrate Ordinary Time by focusing on how we can live as Christ’s body in the world. Ellie Roscher’s blog post this week talks about an important aspect of living as Christ’s body in the world—taking care of our own bodies. Taking care of our bodies even includes pampering them at times, as we have been told that our bodies are the “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Taking care of our own bodies includes such various activities as eating nourishing food, exercising our body and brain, and resting and sleeping. If we do not take care of our own bodies, then we will not be in a position to act on our calling to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.

This week’s Gospel (Mark 4:26-34) suggests one way that we can live as Christ’s eyes in the world—to see possibility. In this passage, Jesus tells the crowd a parable about a farmer planting seeds. The farmer plants seeds, and then the farmer trusts that seeds will sprout, even if the farmer cannot explain how this happens. Jesus goes on to compare the reign of God to a mustard seed, the tiniest of seeds that when planted grows into a large shrub that can house and shade countless birds.

The images Jesus uses in his parables are drawn from the lives of his followers. Images of farmers and seeds, harvest and birds would have been familiar to those who sat on the beach to hear Jesus speak from a boat rocking gently on the waves. Yet Jesus challenges his followers to see these images in new ways—in this case, to identify the lowly mustard seed with the reign of God. Jesus challenges us in this parable to see the potential—the harvest that eventually comes from the seed, the reign of God as it will be in all its fullness. As Sister Joan has written, “When we no longer think that everything is exactly as it seems or that our way of seeing is all there is, then we can experience the mystery of God’s presence within, around, between, beside, among, and beyond us.”*

To be Christ’s eyes in the world means to see the world as Christ saw it—to see potential in that which may seem to have little potential; to identify the capacity for life in a world where doom and death may seem to reign; and to trust in a future in which God’s kingdom will be at hand. In a word, seeing with Christ’s eyes involves seeing with hope, a hope born from our belief in God.

Here are some simple ideas for the practice of seeing potential:

• Before you throw something away, think about whether it could be reused or recycled.

• If you are tempted to write off a movie, book, song, restaurant, political idea, way of praying, etc., give it a chance first.

• When you become frustrated by a person, place, idea, situation, or yourself, take the time to recognize the good in that person, place, idea, situation, or yourself.

What other ideas do you have to practice seeing potential in the world?

What other ideas do you have about how to act as Christ’s eyes in the world?


*Joan Mitchell, Sunday by Sunday, June 17, 2012.
Photo courtesy of arichards63 via Creative Commons License

Sahel food crisis: sharing the facts and the faces | Oxfam America First Person Blog


Sahel food crisis: sharing the facts and the faces | Oxfam America First Person Blog.

via Sahel food crisis: sharing the facts and the faces | Oxfam America First Person Blog.

Gospel Reflection for June 17, 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus said, “With what can we compare the reign of God, or what image will help to present it?  It is like a mustard seed, which when planted in the soil, is the smallest of all seeds on earth; yet once it is sown, springs up to become the largest of shrubs with branches big enough for the birds of the sky to build nests in its shade.”

Mark 4:30-32

Jesus teaches in parables to confound his hearers, to awaken us to the potential within us.  As the branches of the mustard bush are big enough to offer shelter to the birds of the sky, so the arms of the Church are to be open, offering hope to all.  And the Church, of course, is US.  It is all of us, already aware of the gift and task of living in the reign of God.

What kind of call to love do you find in the story of the mustard seed?  How do you intend to respond?

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Gospel Reflection for June 10, 2012, Body and Blood of Christ

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

Luke 14.25

The outpouring of Jesus’ life in his suffering and death is the cup he blesses at the Passover meal, the cup he pledges will inaugurate God’s kingdom. Peter, James and John drink Jesus’ cup in the post-Easter Church when they pour out their lives for the sake of spreading the gospel.
What pledges to pour out your life have you kept?
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A guest post from Claire Bischoff

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, which is celebrated the first Sunday after Pentecost. It is an unusual feast, as it is one of the few feasts of the church year that celebrates a reality or doctrine rather than an important person or event in the history of the Church. Trinity Sunday celebrates that God is not only one but also three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctified to use more gender-neutral terms).

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus makes reference to the Trinitarian nature of God, telling his disciples to go and baptize people of all nations “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This ancient baptismal formula is the one we still use today in baptism, marking baptized Christians as believers in a Trinitarian God.

Yet the Trinity is a difficult idea for us to wrap our heads around! How is it possible for God to be one and three at the same time? The way that ancient Greek theologians put it is that God is one in essence, yet three in persons. But “person” as the Greeks used it did not mean a human person like you or me. It meant something along the lines of “that which stands on its own.” So God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit each have something distinct about them, something which makes them stand on their own, while they are still united in will and essence, that is, united in what God intends for the world and in their very God-ness.

The Trinity is a mystery but that does not mean that it is completely impossible to understand. What it does mean is that the intricacies of God’s Trinitarian nature will be beyond our human comprehension, while other aspects of it may be revealed to us through prayer, song, art, and symbol. As it has been said, “Mystery is not a wall to run up against, but an ocean in which to swim.” In other words, as human beings, in this lifetime, we are not going to somehow crack the code of the Trinity or break through a wall to complete understanding of it. However, we may be able to surround or immerse ourselves in the reality of the Trinity so that we live in its reality, even without fully comprehending it.

In the spirit of immersing ourselves in the reality of the Trinity, I invite you to try an ancient religious practice this week: meditating with an icon of the Trinity. The icon pictured here, written by Andrei Rublev in the 15th century, is one of the most famous and beloved icons of the Trinity. It actually depicts the three visitors who came to Abraham and Sarah as told in Genesis 18. These visitors have often been identified with the Old Testament Trinity, and they sit in a circle that is open to the viewer. It is as if we are being invited to sit at the table with them, to share in a meal and relationship with them.

In the Orthodox Christian tradition, icons are said to be “written” not “painted.” Rather than mere works of art, icons are a form of prayer. An iconographer prepares for writing the icon with prayer and fasting, and the actual act of creating the icon is also steeped in prayer. Iconographers allow themselves to be guided by God in their creation. As such, icons can be windows to God.

Praying with an icon is a different form of prayer than we normally practice. Praying with an icon involves keeping your eyes open, seeing not so much the icon itself but seeing through it to God. Praying with an icon is prayer without words, where we focus on being in God’s presence and listen for what God may say to us.

So how do you pray with an icon? First, prepare for it as you would prepare for any type of prayer. Find a quiet spot, get comfortable, and slow down, perhaps focusing on your breathing to center yourself. Place the icon where you can easily see it and allow yourself to be still, resting in the knowledge of God’s presence with you. You may speak or pray to God, or simply look at the icon and let God speak to you. See if you can sustain your prayer for five minutes.

What questions do you have about the Trinity? Ask them here and we will try to offer answers in the coming weeks.

Also, please let us know how praying with an icon went for you. What was challening about this form of prayer? What did you like about it?

Gospel Reflection for June 3, 2012, Trinity Sunday

Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”
Matthew 28.19
Christians follow Jesus’ example in naming God in intimate, relational terms. As baptized Christians, we follow Jesus in calling God Father; we claim kinship with God, creator and source. We claim Jesus as one of us, God’s Son, redeemer and liberator. We live in the Spirit, the animating giver of life, the sustainer and sanctifier, who urges us from within to participate in bringing to fulfillment all that God has begun in creation and revealed in Jesus the Christ.
What does baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit mean to you?
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Gospel Reflection for May 27, 2012, Pentecost Sunday

Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.  If you retain the sins of any they are retained.

John 20.21-23

In this gospel, the whole community of believers receives peace and the power to forgive.  If the community graciously shares the peace and forgiveness Jesus bestows on them, then the Spirit lives in their midst.  It is not the twelve disciples who have a priority on the commission to forgive.  Forgiveness, like love and peace, is the community’s to share, for we are the Body of Christ.  The commission is ours.Who have you forgiven? How has forgiving or being forgiven renewed you, your family, parish community, or work place?

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Pentecost Diversity

A guest post from Ellie Roscher

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.

Pentecost Sunday is full of spectacle. Images of the Spirit as wind and fire abound. We see art saturated with halos and bright colors and huge flying doves. We hear of the disciples speaking in tongues as they are astounded and amazed to understand each other.

I have to admit, on Pentecost I usually feel a little insecure. I have never spoken in tongues. I don’t have a dramatic conversion story or spiritual gifts that have flare. I feel a great disconnect between my spirituality and the stories surrounding Pentecost. That is why I love that this reading above from 1 Corinthians shows up on Pentecost, too.

It is such a human thing to compare spiritualities and place values on gifts, and we do it all the time. Isn’t it easy to turn something beautiful into a competition? Because I have a fairly quiet spirituality, Pentecost is a day when I am usually jealous of people with loud spiritual gifts. I wish I was the person who was good at praying aloud or singing hymns in a way that brings others to tears. I wish I would be so moved by the Spirit that I could know what it would feel like to speak in tongues. I want the fire and wind. I want the spectacle.

This reading reminds me that in God’s eyes, there is no spiritual gift that is better than another. My quiet spirituality is the way the Spirit works authentically through me. There is room for all of us in God’s family. In fact, diversity of gifts is essential to a healthy community. There is no right or wrong way for the Spirit to move toward God’s will of love and peace. This Pentecost, I am going to focus on 1 Corinthians, and celebrate how the Spirit breathes life in and through me.

Have you ever caught yourself being jealous of someone else’s spiritual gifts?

What are your spiritual gifts?

How can you nurture the Spirit in you?

Photo courtesy of dagberg via Creative Commons License

Easter Season

A guest post from Claire Bischoff

Recently, a wise woman pointed out to me that while Catholics tend to spend a lot of time and energy thinking about the season of Lent, we often celebrate Easter Sunday and then forget that we are in the midst of the longest special liturgical season of the church year. The Easter season extends from Easter through Pentecost, which comes fifty days after Easter. On a liturgical calendar, the Easter season is marked in gold, a color of joy and victory, as the Easter season is the time when we celebrate the fulfillment of our faith—the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise of new life this brings.

As I have blogged about over the past number of weeks, prayer, fasting and abstinence, and almsgiving are three traditional pillars of practice for Catholics during Lent that help us prepare for Holy Week and Easter. These practices encourage us to see and engage the world in a different way focusing on ideas like penance, sacrifice, and living our baptismal calling. But now that Easter is here—now that Jesus Christ is indeed risen, Alleluia!—what can we do that will help us see and engage the world with an Easter mindset? In other words, how can we live the joy of Easter during this season?

A baseline form of obligation for all Catholics is to receive Eucharist at least once during the Easter season. This is sort of like a minimal membership requirement for being Catholic. And while it is important to receive Eucharist, it seems like there is more we can do to celebrate the miracle of Easter that is at the center of our faith. Yet there do not seem to be too many widespread practices associated with the Easter season, something that would be similar to lighting Advent wreath candles during Advent or abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent. Given that Easter is the greatest feast of the church year, it seems like we should have things to do, things that keep us in the celebratory mindset that takes hold during the Easter liturgy.

I read on-line this week that a group of monks answers the phone with the greeting, “Christus resurrexit!” (Christ is risen) during the eight days following Easter. I have to admit that I would be hesitant to answer my own phone this way (or to post this as my status update on Facebook). So what can I do to celebrate the Easter season? Here are a few ideas I came up with:

• Focus on joy: Start a list of things that bring you joy in your life and add to it as more things come to mind. Read through the list daily. Offer prayers of thanksgiving for the joy that is in your life. Consider how your faith adds to this joy.

• Celebrate new life: It might sound cheesy, but plant a tree, a small vegetable garden, or some flowers and take the time to pay attention to the new plant as it grows. Visit a farm or a pond or some other place where baby animals have just been born and wonder at the process of learning that takes place as a young animal makes its way in the world.

• Live with hope: Pick out a situation in your life that seems hopeless. (For example, for me, it is politics. I ignore politics as much as possible because it seems hopeless to me that politicians will ever move beyond partisanship and really work together to focus on the common good.) Find a way to bring hope to this situation, perhaps with a purposeful change of attitude. (For example, I could stop looking at everything that is wrong with politics and purposefully attend to and get involved in things that seem to be going right.)

What can you do to live with joy and hope and to celebrate new life this Easter season? Please share your ideas with us on this blog.

Photo courtesy of Nutmeg Designs via Creative Commons License

via Easter Season.

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