Feb 062005

Your Daily Tripod

"Your Daily Tripod" reflects the personal Fourth Day journeys of its authors and editors. We are happy to have companions like you share in this project. Our prayer is that these reflections will invite and inspire your Fourth Day journey of Piety, Study and Action as much as writing or editing them inspires our journey and brings us all close moments with Jesus and our neighbors.

Each Went to His Own House

Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them, “Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?” They answered and said to him, “You are not from Galilee also, are you? Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” Then each went to his own house. John 7:50-52

Reading today’s Gospel, I was struck by the thought that “social distancing” is not a new phenomenon.  Nicodemus was the first Pharisee willing and able (even though under cover of darkness) to venture into a direct encounter and dialogue with Jesus.  He did not keep his six-foot (four cubits) distance.  Today, this pharisee appears for the second time in John’s Gospel as an unlikely defender of Jesus.  In reaction to his attitude of openness, he faces the accusation that he is a stranger among his supposed peers.  The Pharisees in the Jerusalem temple accuse Nicodemus of being from Galilee. 

Nicodemus attempts to reconcile (“converge”) his spirituality with that of the itinerant preacher-carpenter from Nazareth.  That effort does not (yet) succeed today. He and the Samaritan woman at the well might be the first “Cursillistas” in the New Testament as they attempt to bring their friends to Jesus. The Pharisees reject Nicodemus and his openness to Jesus.  They want to remain in the comfort and isolation of their separate world.  Perhaps tellingly, the last line of today’s Good News reveals all in its literalism and symbolism: “Then each went to his own house.” Although one person senses that the world is changing, the rest refuse to give in to the winds of change. They want to stay the course.

Nicodemus reminds me of the kind of somewhat sympathetic character who might appear at home in a Flannery O’Connor short story. In “Everything Rises that Must Converge,” death and destruction accompany the moment of “epiphany” for the main character Julian Chestny.  That will come to John’s narrative, just not today.

“Everything Rises”[i] takes its title from the works of Rev. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ.  Teilhard attempted to integrate religion and science. He speculated that the evolutionary process was producing a higher and higher level of consciousness and that ultimately that consciousness, now become spiritual, would be complete when it merged with the Divine Consciousness at the Omega point. At that time, God would become “all in all.” In The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard argues that our goal is not to be found in individuality but in the surrender of our ego to the Divine: “The true ego grows in inverse proportion to ‘egotism.’” We can, he argues, “only find our person by uniting together.” After all, as St. Paul puts it, we all have “the same Master in heaven, who treats everyone alike.”

In “Everything Rises,” O’Connor depicts Mrs. Chestny, the mother of the protagonist, as one who “finds her person by uniting together” despite her racially prejudiced attitudes ingrained from her childhood.  She was a widow, but “struggled fiercely” to put her protagonist-son Julian through school.  At the time of the story, she is still supporting him a year after graduation while he is a typewriter salesman, not a writer. “Her teeth had gone unfilled so that his could be straightened,” and she even offers to take off her hat when she thinks that it might be the cause of his irritated, “grief-stricken” face. She attempts to converse (unite) with the woman and the boy on the bus while Julian retreats behind a used newspaper.

Conversely, Julian sees everything in terms of his own “individuality.”  He comments on society from behind the mask of his “liberal” education and place in the community.  Despite his “holier-than-thou” attitude toward his mother, he takes what Teilhard describes as “the dangerous course of seeking fulfillment in isolation.”  The omniscient narrator tells us Julian likes to spend most of his time by withdrawing into a kind of mental bubble, especially when things around him are a bother. In that bubble, “he was safe from any kind of penetration from without.” Within that bubble, he creates an image of himself and the world around him. These are images, however, which have no validity with his misplaced enlightenment while he looks down on his mother.

Julian is like those Pharisees retreating to their private domains and attempting to wall off the forces of change about to descend upon Jerusalem.  The arrest, trial, and capital punishment of the carpenter’s God-son are imminent. Spoiler alert:  Julian is “rewarded” in the end with the life of isolation that he wants.

In our locked-down, shelter-in-place time, it is very easy to see how we might become isolated “Pharisites.”  We must resist those temptations by not forgetting to stay in daily touch with our piety-study-action tripod. Let's remember that someday, we will emerge from this time of confinement and we have to keep up with the practices that define us.   

Testifying to the Word by Beth DeCristofaro

The LORD said to Moses, “Go down at once to your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, for they have become depraved. They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it, sacrificing to it and crying out.” (Exodus 32:7-8)

“I have testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. Moreover, the Father who sent me has testified on my behalf. But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form, and you do not have his word remaining in you, because you do not.” (John 5:36-38)

Let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice;
turn to the Lord and his strength;
constantly seek his face.
  (Entrance Antiphon, Mass for the Day)

In these days of risk, it is not hard to identify with those stiff-necked people who felt lost in the desert, abandoned by a capricious leader.  Do we have the insight not to follow their example? In the tumult of conflicting information, I get frustrated.  As people ignore advice from health experts, I worry.  As others deny any emergency, I want to tell them off. And as the numbers of those infected and affected rises, it is not hard to feel helpless.

What would we say if tomorrow, like the Israelites in Egypt, God said: “Come, leave this life you know now, and I will lead you into the desert?”  Jesus’ detractors said “no” again and again.  Could I give up the “molten calf” of all I know?

Jesus, in the face of his detractors and accusers, remained unwavering to the Truth that the greater testimony of his Father will prove in the end that God is lovingly present in the lives of His People.  My life, our lives, today is graced with the indwelling spirit of the one God sent.  This Lent, in the face of turmoil, we can ponder our dependency upon unmerited divine grace which God bestows upon us.  Lent is a time in which we can reflect on how deeply his word remains in us and how fully we believe in the one whom he has sent. 

How strong is the trust I have that Jesus, Son of the Living God, is my Brother?  How might I strengthen that trust?  In what ways do I testify my trust in Jesus to others in these days of crisis?

“I Come to Do Your Will” by Colleen O’Sullivan

The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying:  Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky!  But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!”  Then Isaiah said: Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God? Therefore, the Lord himself will give you this sign:  the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us!”  (Isaiah 7:10-14, 8:10)

Sacrifice or oblation you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me.  Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not; then said I, “Behold I come.”  (Psalm 40:7-8a)

For this reason, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight.  Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, behold, I come to do your will, O God.’” (Hebrews 10:5-7)

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom, there will be no end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

Gabriel’s Message, 13th-century Basque carol
The angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow
His eyes as flame
“All hail,” said he “thou lowly maiden Mary
Most highly favored lady, “Gloria, Gloria

Annunciation (c. 1480), Master of the Legend of Saint Barbara, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Although we break from our Lenten journey today to celebrate the Annunciation of the Lord, in a sense, it almost feels as though we are back at our readings for Ash Wednesday.  There is a common theme running through those readings and today’s:  In the Ash Wednesday reading from the prophet Joel 1, God asks the people to rend their hearts, not their garments.  God wasn’t overly impressed by the sacrifices of animals in earlier times.  God probably doesn’t care today what we choose to do without for Lent unless it opens our hearts more fully to the Lord.  What God wants from us, whether we’re talking about King Ahaz or you or me, is our hearts.  God desires hearts full of love for him; hearts able to say, “I come to do your will.”

Judah’s King Ahaz, in today’s reading from Isaiah, was not a faithful king.  He got in with a wrong lot right from the start.  The rulers in northern Israel and Syria wanted him to join forces with them in going after Assyria, which was planning to attack the Northern Kingdom.  Isaiah counseled Ahaz to put his trust in God rather than these earthly leaders.  He suggested Ahaz ask God whether Isaiah’s words were true prophecy or not.  But Ahaz refused, claiming that that would be testing God.  Isaiah said, well, you will receive a sign whether or not you ask for it.  The sign, when it came, was the promise that a virgin would bear a son whose name would be Emmanuel. 

In our Gospel reading, we behold Mary, the young girl God has chosen to bear his Son.  I’m sure she was frightened and bewildered.  I know I would be if anything like this encounter happened in the middle of my everyday chores!  She sees herself as lowly and not worthy of this attention from her Lord.  And she wonders how on earth she can be expecting a child when she is betrothed to Joseph and has never slept with him or any other man for that matter.  God, on the other hand, sees her as faithful and precisely the type of person God is looking for to raise Jesus.  Unlike King Ahaz, her ultimate response to the Archangel Gabriel is to say yes, I come to do the will of my Lord.

As we continue through the remainder of Lent, the goal of whatever we are doing to observe the liturgical season is to be able to say, like the psalmist, “I come to do your will” or, like Mary, “I am the servant of the Lord.”

I know that the times are unsettling, but we can nevertheless give our hearts to the Lord and show the love of God to our brothers and sisters.  Right in my neighborhood, I have been moved by how willing people are to do for others who need assistance. 

1 Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.  (Joel 2:12-13)

“Do You Want to Be Well?” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

He said to me, “This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah, and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh. Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes, the sea shall be made fresh.” (Ezekiel 47:8-9)

The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob. (Psalm 46:8)

One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked. (John 5:5-9)

Heal me, Father, especially of the illnesses to which I cling.

So that’s the question, isn’t it?

“Do you want to be well?” Jesus asks one of the men in the pool porticos at Bethesda. But all the man does in reply is complain about how no one helps him. Jesus throws down the challenge to get up rather than waiting for anything other than the Divine help he offers. When the man takes it, he finds he can indeed walk again for the first time in decades.

Do you want to be well? For me, it depends on the situation. Sometimes, it’s just easier to complain. Other times, I privately wonder if I’m worthy of health. Feeling unworthy is as safe a place to me as whining was to that sick man.

Do you want to be well? Pray on that today. We likely think we would have answered Jesus with a, “Of course I do!” But wellness implies strength and the ability to put aside our excuses—and walk with Him.

If you don’t really want to be made well, talk with Jesus about why. Listen to His response.

Image credit: William Hole, 1846-1917 / Public domain

“Those Who Do Not See Might See” by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB)

Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest, but he is tending the sheep.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Send for him; we will not sit down to eat until he arrives here.” Jesse had the young man brought to them. He was ruddy, a youth with beautiful eyes, and good looking. The LORD said: There—anoint him, for this is the one!  1 Samuel 16:11-12

You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Ephesian 5:8

Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” John 9:39

A veteran missionary introduced himself to Roland Allen and said, “I was a medical missionary for many years in India. And I served in a region where there was progressive blindness. People were born with healthy vision, but there was something in that area that caused people to lose their sight as they matured.”

But this missionary developed a process that would arrest progressive blindness. So, people came to him, and he performed his operation. They would leave realizing that they had been spared a life of blindness because of this missionary.

He said that they never said, “Thank you,” because that phrase was not adequate for such healing in their dialect. Instead, they spoke a word that meant, “I will tell your name.” Wherever they went, they would tell the name of the missionary who had cured their blindness.

In our Gospel text today, although the healed man had a hard time telling others of the name of Jesus because of the intimidation of the Pharisees, there are many lessons to learn from the blind man’s healing under challenging circumstances.

Sabbath rest is about well-being (shalom), and Jesus gave that gift to a person, but the Pharisee’s haggle over the supposed illegality of the miracle on a sacred day of rest.Because of their hardness of heart, Israel never entered into the rest of shalom, says the book of Hebrews 3:11,18 and 4:1-11. Application: Don’t forfeit your Shalom by doing unnecessary work on Sunday unless it’s about being an agent of God’s wholeness for others.

Another lesson is that the healed man was willing to believe in Jesus as the Christ, saying, “Who is he, sir. That I may believe in him?” Application: Commit oneself and believe, so that one may understand, and one’s seeing will become a way of knowing God, which is ever perfecting. Seeing is believing if we are willing to believe first. A mistake is to seek to understand first, so that one may believe later-- doing that leads to spiritual blindness.

Spiritual blindness often has ideological roots and rational presuppositions. The Pharisees were so sure of everything—that God did not heal someone on Sundays; that Moses was God’s only spokesman, that anyone born blind had to be a sinner.

Just at the moment when our man feels rejected - by his neighbors, parents, and the religious establishment - Jesus reappears on the scene, ready to act in his favor.

Application: Too often, the profoundly subjective spiritual experiences in our lives have to be celebrated alone. There remained only the man, and Jesus, and that was enough. St. Paul remarked that “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).

The story of the blind man appears in early catacomb art as an illustration of Christian baptism, which washes away the sins of our original blindness and sets us free unto eternal life. Baptism was called illumination or enlightenment. In the early Church, the baptized were called the Illuminati (Latin). Baptized believers of every age find themselves like the man born blind, buried and reshaped in the mud of the new creation, washed in the waters of baptism. Now we see as never before, but we scarcely recognize ourselves, much less those around us. We are like addicts ripped from bondage. Daily we die and rise from the mud, washed and sent out.

In our First Reading, despite the prosaic language, the genre is epic—Samuel asks, “Are these all the sons you have?” Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.”

David’s father, Jesse, could not imagine as David being the chosen one. The Lord surprises with His selection of David. David’s brothers were all older, tall, Kingly in stature, but all based on appearances. Saul, the first King, was physically imposing.  The people chose him as ruler by popular acclamation. David was not physically imposing, however. Yet, 1 Samuel 16:12, says, “He was ruddy, a youth with beautiful eyes, and good looking. The LORD said: There—anoint him, for this is the one!”

Application: We have the same divine favor! The Catechism says in 695: The symbolism of anointing with oil also signifies the Holy Spirit, to the point of becoming a synonym for the Holy Spirit. In Christian initiation, anointing is the sacramental sign of Confirmation. Now, fully established as “Christ” in his humanity victorious over death, Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit abundantly until “the saints.”

Lastly, of the 183 questions that people asked Jesus, he only answered three.  That includes the one we heard today: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”

The answer touches on God’s manipulation of history to glorify his name. Parents: don’t blame yourselves for your kids’ problems, but don’t pat yourself on the back either.

We, as humans, need to feel that our situation has meaning. As Gianpiero Petriglieri, a professor at INSEAD business school, said: “There’s some pain that needs a solution, and some pain that needs a story.”

Viktor Frankl wrote a famous book entitled Man’s Search for Meaning. As a Jew, he was arrested by the Nazis and imprisoned in a concentration camp. As a psychiatrist, he noted that it was those people who lost their hold over moral and spiritual values who were the ones who fell victim to the dehumanizing influences of the camps.

He said, “In some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” Or a story, like our story, in Christ.  Amen.

Be Humbled

“But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Luke 18: 13-14

Hosea hits a Cursillo home run today – which is good as our global village is fasting from sports.  (OK, technically, it is a triple in the Tripod, but the prophet touches all the bases.)

Perhaps we can consider today the first reference to Cursillo and the Tripod in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) as cited by the minor prophet Hôshēa‘ (הוֹשֵׁעַ).

First, we get the invitation to the weekend experience: Come, let us return to the LORD, for it is he who has rent, but he will heal us; he has struck us, but he will bind our wounds.

Then we get a description of what happens on the Cursillo Weekend experience. “He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence.”

How rich it would be if the women of the 154th Cursillo were able to share this despite the interruption of their formation and the weekend experience they would be delivering right now in the absence of the coronavirus! 

Then we find out three desires that God has for us to live better and follow Him on the Fourth Day.

Your piety is like a morning cloud, like the dew that early passes away. Hosea 6:4B

How is our practice of piety?  With an extended time exiled from the sacraments and the community, making sure that our devotions have regularity and permanence.  These will help us endure these next few months with spiritual vitality.

Let us know, let us strive to know the LORD; as certain as the dawn is his coming, and his judgment shines forth like the light of day! He will come to us like the rain, like spring rain that waters the earth.”  Hosea 6:3

One way to stay close to our friends is by keeping in touch with them.  Whether reading Sacred Scripture or your favorite spiritual writer, try not to allow this time of confinement to be dedicated to Netflix and news only.

For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.Hosea 6:6

We cannot fulfill our regular action (volunteering) right now.  However, we can turn our attention to our friends and family to make sure they have the supplies necessary in their hours and weeks of need.

Today is the traditional transitus of St. Benedict – the day that he moved from one state (life on earth) to another (eternal happiness in heaven).  Since Vatican II and the reform of the “Calendar of the Saints,” most monastic communities celebrate July 11 as the solemnity of St. Benedict. Before that time, the Church celebrated March 21 as the commemoration of the presumed day in AD 547 when St. Benedict died.[i]

According to the Virginia Trappists at Holy Cross Abbey, the celebration in July removes the solemnity from the restraints of Lent. The change also respects the primary importance of Lent as a liturgical season, the significant period of conversion and sacrifice leading up the reception of new members into the Church at the Easter Vigil.

At Holy Cross Abbey, at the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia in Bristow, at Belmont Abbey College and beyond, the communities celebrate July 11 as the Solemnity of St. Benedict.  However, it’s worth recalling his passage to God’s Kingdom in March and the holy hospitality that marks his communities.  It will be hard to share in the Benedictine charism of divine hospitality during our confinement to social distancing.  We bless those not among us by respecting their right to live without fear of disease.  

Until then, celebrate the three legs of our tripod that Hosea reminds us to keep.  Stand quietly apart with the socially distant taxpayer until we can emerge again into the arms of the Lord and each other. 

“Dependent on Faith” by Beth DeCristofaro

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Brothers and sisters: It was not through the law that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants that he would inherit the world, but through the righteousness that comes from faith. For this reason, it depends on faith, so that it may be a gift, and the promise may be guaranteed to all his descendants, not to those who only adhere to the law but to those who follow the faith of Abraham (Romans 4:13, 16)

the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. (Matthew 1:20-24)

Increase my faith, Lord.  May I receive the grace to discern your hidden wisdom.  Please guide my way to do good works as you command. 

Much that was momentous in sacred history happened as God communicated through dreams, visions and otherwise “supernatural” occurrences.  Joseph and the Magi were guided by dreams.  Mary received the request to become the mother of God’s son through an apparition. In ancient history, the Chosen People were saved by pillars of smoke and flame while Jonah was swallowed by a whale only to be regurgitated at just the right place to bear God’s message to Nineveh.  Moderns seem to have lost touch with the possibility of knowing God personally in our own being.  We depend instead on rituals and in places that have been designated by custom or specialists.

In this age of super digital effects and loud, self-proclaiming charlatans it is healthy to be skeptical of apparitions.  What we also seem to distrust is “mysticism”, what Richard Rohr defines as “experiential knowledge of spiritual things”.  Rohr points out “Jesus’ common phrase, ‘Go in peace, your faith has made you whole!’ (as in Mark 5:34 and Luke 17:19). (Jesus) said this to people who had made no dogmatic affirmations, did not think he was ‘God,’ did not pass any moral checklist, and often did not belong to the ‘correct’ group. They were simply people who trustfully affirmed, with open hearts, the grace of their own hungry experience—in that moment—and that God could care about it.” 

Rohr teaches that “The irony in all of these attempts to over-rely on externals is that people end up relying upon their own experience anyway! Most of us—by necessity—see everything, mystical and otherwise, through the lens of our own temperament, early conditioning, brain function, role and place in society, education, our personal needs, and cultural biases and assumptions. Admittedly, personal experiences are easy to misinterpret, and we shouldn’t universalize from our ‘moment’ to an expectation that everybody must have the same kind of ‘moment.’ We also can’t assume that any experience is 100 percent from God. We must develop filters to clear away our own agenda and ego. Nothing beats a solid understanding of some theology, psychology, and sociology, along with good and wise counsel. We cannot forget Paul’s reminder which was meant to keep us humble: ‘We know imperfectly and we prophesy imperfectly’ (1 Corinthians 13:9)”[i]

“Be not afraid” the angel said to Joseph, to Mary, and to others.  In these difficult times, an angelic reassurance is timely.

Perhaps Lent – and these days of enforced social distancing - can be an opportunity to put away our tried and true rituals.  Try a new form of prayer:  guided imagery, centering prayer, singing, drumming; give yourself silence within this practice to be aware of what is stirring within.  Offer those stirrings to God for clarity and that you be drawn closer to the Word.

[i] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 1-3.

Illustration:  “Joseph’s Dream”, Bro Mickey McGrath, OSFS,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKF84zUDfjo
 Posted by at 8:28 am

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