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You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God has lived toward you. — Two translations of Matthew 5:48
The oft-retranslated passage above is an excellent indicator of the two minds that have tried to understand the Bible. The first mind reads the passage in terms of Platonic idealism and ego-based moralism. It uses a mathematical or divine concept (“perfection”) and mandates it for the human person. This leads readers to impossible head-based abstractions that only result in denial, splitting, and pretending. Yet, it appeals to the binary (“yes/no”) system of the ordinary mind, wherein all lose since none of us is perfect and never will be. This was the Gospel read and preached on, when I as a fervent 19 year old took my first vows as a Franciscan in 1962. Most of my fellow novices left when they honestly realized such perfection was beyond them. Only pretenders and optimists stayed on! I was one of them.
The second translation still sets the ideal very high, but now the goal has become divine union instead of any kind of private perfection. This translation is believable to anyone who has already experienced divine union at some level—and they know they were chosen and loved precisely in their imperfection! As Ken Wilber so brilliantly teaches, “It is not what a person says, but the level from which they say it that determines the truth of a spiritual statement.” A spiritually mature person could use the word perfection and know they are talking about God’s perfect abiding in us. An immature and still egocentric person will think of it as a moral achievement that they can personally attain by trying harder. Thérèse of Lisieux and Francis of Assisi are my favorite saints precisely because they saw through this disguise.
The higher level approach is illustrated by a clear statement from Paul: “I no longer seek any perfection from my own efforts … but only the perfection that comes from faith and is from God…. We who are called perfect must all think in this way,” he says (Philippians 3:9, 15). Paul rightly redefines perfection as the gift of divine union rather than any kind of achievement or performance on our part. All we can do is agree and cooperate with what God is already doing.
from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality
Baptism is more than a way to spiritual freedom. It also is the way to community. Baptising a person, whether child or adult, is receiving that person into the community of faith. Those who are reborn from above through baptism, and are called to live the life of sons and daughters of God, belong together as members of one spiritual family, the living body of Christ. When we baptise people, we welcome them into this family of God and offer them guidance, support, and formation, as they grow to the full maturity of the Christ-like life.
—for Tony Stewart
but Tony still plays the death scene
over and over in his mind.
He wants to tell what happened,
open up, dissect his own testimony
with friends, but he is silenced by
a lawyer and good sense.
Embarrassed by his own thought,
What kind of a driver am I?
What kind of a person? Was it
an accident I could have avoided?
The chip that rode
on his shoulder for years
has been ground into
thousands of tiny pieces.
His beard is no longer
an act of defiance,
the sexy twinkle in his eyes
and in his smile is gone.
Accident is a common word
that has to do with being human.
One part of his mind
but there is vengeance to consider
from those who also grieve.
Nowhere is tenderness more needed
than with the broken.
Sometimes the broken go
where angels fear to tread.
And he knows, he is not
the only one who has been broken.
The Incarnation Mystery is being repeated and represented in the Eucharist. Here we have material reality, in the form of these universal foods of bread and wine, as the hiding place and the revelation place for God. We are reminded that God is always perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed in the material world. This is the Cosmic Christ presence. If we deny that the spiritual can enter the material world, then we are in trouble, since we hope to be just that—spiritual and fully material human beings. We had best encounter Incarnation in one focused, dramatic moment, and then the particular truth has a chance of becoming a universal truth, and even my truth.
The 16th question in the Baltimore Catechism, “Where is God?” is answered straightforwardly: “God is everywhere.” The summit of Christian prayer is accomplished when you can trust that you are constantly in the presence of God. You cannot not be in the presence of God! Where would you go? As the psalmist says (Psalm 139:7-9), if you go up to the heavens or underneath the earth, you still can’t get away from God. God is either in all things, or God is in nothing.
In the Eucharist, we slowly learn how to surrender to the Presence in one place, in one thing, in one focused moment. The priest holds up the Host and says, “See it here, believe it here, get it here, trust it here.” Many people say they believe it here, but they don’t make the transference to everywhere—which is the whole point! They don’t seem to know how to recognize the Presence when they leave the church, when they meet people who are of a different religion or race or somehow strangers. They cannot also trust that this person—every person—is created in the image of God. Jesus spent a great deal of his ministry trying to break down the false distinctions between “God’s here” and “God’s not there.” He dared to see God everywhere, even in sin, in enemies, in failures, and in outsiders. Usually, early stage religion is not yet capable of that, but fortunately God is patient.
from Eucharist as Touchstone
Sacraments are very specific events in which God touches us through creation and transforms us into living Christs. The two main sacraments are baptism and the Eucharist. In baptism water is the way to transformation. In the Eucharist it is bread and wine. The most ordinary things in life – water, bread, and wine – become the sacred way by which God comes to us.
These sacraments are actual events. Water, bread, and wine are not simple reminders of God’s love; they bring God to us. In baptism we are set free from the slavery of sin and dressed with Christ. In the Eucharist, Christ himself becomes our food and drink.
The words of Jesus can keep us erect and confident in the midst of the turmoil of the end-time. They can support us, encourage us, and give us life even when everything around us speaks of death. Jesus’ words are food for eternal life. They do much more than give us ideas and inspiration. They lead us into the eternal life while we are still being clothed in mortal flesh.
When we keep close to the word of Jesus, reflecting on it, “chewing” on it, eating it as food for the soul, we will enter even more deeply into the everlasting love of God.
Everything that comes from God asks for an open and faithful heart. We cannot live with hope and joy in the end-time unless we are living in a state of preparedness. We have to be careful because, as the Apostle Peter says: “Your enemy the devil is on the prowl like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5.8). Therefore Jesus says: “Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened by debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life. … Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to hold your ground before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36). That’s what living in the Spirit of Jesus calls us to.
Many people live with the unconscious or conscious expectation that eventually things will get better; wars, hunger, poverty, oppression, and exploitation will vanish; and all people will live in harmony. Their lives and work are motivated by that expectation. When this does not happen in their lifetimes, they are often disillusioned and experience themselves as failures.
But Jesus doesn’t support such an optimistic outlook. He foresees not only the destruction of his beloved city Jerusalem but also a world full of cruelty, violence, and conflict. For Jesus there is no happy ending in this world. The challenge of Jesus is not to solve all the world’s problems before the end of time but to remain faithful at any cost.
For saints, mystics, and budding contemplatives, “words have become flesh,” and experience has gone beyond words. Experience is always non-dual, an open field where both weeds and wheat are allowed (Matthew 13:30). As St. Paul put it, “My spirit is praying, but my mind is left barren” from its criticizing judgments (1 Corinthians 14:14). Words are mere guideposts now, and you recognize that most people have made them into hitching posts. Inside such broad and deep awareness, paradoxes are easily accepted and former mental contradictions seem to dissolve. That’s why mystics can forgive and let go and show mercy and love enemies, and why the rest of us can’t!
Abstract concepts and verbal dogma contain the air of mathematical or divine perfection, but mystics do not love concepts. They love the concrete and the particular. They have had at least one significant encounter with the Divine, which is all it takes, and which they themselves cannot understand or describe as a clear concept. “There is only Christ; he is everything, and he is in everything” (Colossians 3:11), they might say. That may sound like an overstatement or mere poetry, but the mystics are not rebels against anything except all attempts to block that very kind of encounter in themselves or in others, which unfortunately a lot of religion itself does. (Which is why Jesus is so disapproving of so much of his own religion, almost more than anything else!)
Mystics—those who have experienced union with the Divine—are in love, in love with life and life for all. If they are not in love, they are not in union. Mystics usually look simplistic and even naive to those who have not shared a similar experience; and that is a burden they must forever carry. They have no time for being against; there is now so much to be for! Jesus was critical of religion, but that was only because he first recognized how right it could be.
from The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See
Jesus teaches us how to live in the present time. He identifies our present time as the end-time, the time that offers us countless opportunities to testify for Jesus and his Kingdom. The many disasters in our world, and all the tragedies that happen to people each day, can easily lead us to despair and convince us that we are the sad victims of circumstances. But Jesus looks at these events in a radically different way. He calls them opportunities to witness!
Jesus reminds us that we do not belong to this world. We have been sent into the world to be living witnesses of God’s unconditional love, calling all people to look beyond the passing structures of our temporary existence to the eternal life promised to us.