Tuesday, March 31, 2020

HOPE IN THE AGE OF COVID-19~8


                                              

Hope, the dictionary tells us, is the expectant desire of something being granted, a type of fulfillment of desire. What that means is by an act of will, imagination, we conceive of a particular gift, promotion, relationship we desire and we ‘hope’ for it.

Sometimes people express the idea of ‘hope against hope’, which actually is a lack of trust, primarily in the caring love of God or of another.

In these essays ‘hope’ refers to the theological virtue, itself a gift of the Holy Spirit and not something we self-generate by an act of the will.

One winter when I was a teenager working deep in the bush felling and cutting up trees for the pulp mill, I wandered some distance from the rest of the crew, we worked spread out, so as to avoid dropping trees on each other. This time however I had moved off further than normal and the light snow which had been falling all day suddenly became a blizzard. Blizzard or not being alone deep in the bush anyone can become disoriented and if panic sets in mostly you end up walking in a circle, which is extremely dangerous. If the weather is sunny and warm, as in summer for example, best to stay put and wait to be rescued.

In the midst of a blizzard and its attendant windchill, and given I was familiar with the bush, best was to carefully find my way out to the logging road, some 200 metres away and there I knew I would encounter the rest of the crew.

Giving into the human act of will type of hope it would have evaporated before I walked a few metres, panic would have set in, I would have been lost. The key to calmness and carefully finding my way was to ask Jesus to have my Guardian Angel help me to keep calm and find my way.

Suddenly weeks ago, we were going about our daily lives when the blizzard of the new normal struck. Our hope lies in trust, trust that God who loves us hears our plea for help, trust that if we follow the path laid out for us by government and health authorities eventually this storm will pass. True we will experience moments, perhaps even hours, when panic or discouragement gnaws at us.

That is when we should pray all the more, reach out to loved ones by phone or via the internet, burn off the anxiety and dark thinking by some form of exercise, such as going for a walk, being bathed in sunlight, breathing fresh air and in all that the sweetness of hope will be renewed within us, trust will be invigorated, we will be strengthened to continue the journey: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in His great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time. In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. [1Pt.1:3-7]

Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful."….The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity. [1]

An example of that charity, which is love for one another flowing from hope is this city providing buses, with air barriers to protect the drivers, and bus drivers who drive the special route around the inner city to pick-up the homeless throughout the day and take them to a huge city building, used for things like trade shows but empty these days, where cots have been arranged, tables and chairs, nurses are available so that when the homeless arrive they are screened and any with the virus has a special area of shelter and food, a place to sleep so when in the evening the buses return the non-infected to the various shelters the first group are also in a warm and safe place. Snacks are provided, needed medications are provided and a financial institution is helping with the costs.

The volunteer drivers, nurses and others are assuring the homeless they too can experience hope and love.

St. Paul urges us all to: Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. [Rm.12.12]



[1] https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P66.HTM

Afterthought: I am going to take a two day break from these posts to rest, re-group, being of the age where isolation is mandatory will try go for longer walks, keeping charitable distancing, should the fierce winter winds of spring, slow down and the windchill gives way to say a balmy minus 5 [23 degrees] rather than the chilly minus 19 [2 degrees below zero] of today!



© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph


Monday, March 30, 2020

HOPE IN THE AGE OF COVID-19~7


                                                   



While like most people adhering to self-isolation as a senior, charitable distancing as a human being, when going for a walk, not all people are being so observant which begs the question how utterly selfish and frankly dumb are they? Further having had to go for a few groceries, the malls in this city are now locked down, the only doors open are from the outside directly into the supermarket or drug store, anyway I noticed stacks of toilet paper behind the service counter with a security guard on duty. The supermarket is trying to stop hoarding of toilet paper. Why people have gone nuts over toilet paper boggles the mind!

 Sacred Scripture teaches the human family what the experience of the ages confirms: that while human progress is a great advantage to man, it brings with it a strong temptation. For when the order of values is jumbled and bad is mixed with the good, individuals and groups pay heed solely to their own interests, and not to those of others. Thus, it happens that the world ceases to be a place of true brotherhood. [1]

When our sense of things is that everything in our lives is going well and nothing in particular exceeds the normal challenges of daily life, being aware of, kind to and sharing with others tends not to be too much of a challenge. When it seems as if everything is going wrong, is out of control, we are fearful of loss of love, food, shelter etc., such as many experience in this new normal, bending towards ourselves can become obsessive.

For the homeless, and others for whom the streets are the place where through drug dealing or prostitution, at the lowest, most dangerous level of eking out a living, there rarely are any good days. Most of us never see among such of our brothers and sisters the kind and selfless gestures of one to another.

Today’s Holy Gospel is from John 8:1-11, the story of Jesus’ compassion and admonition, for the woman caught in adultery.

The men who brought her, with such hardhearted contempt, to Jesus, are prime examples of how bending towards ourselves morphs into obsessive disdain for others, blinds us to seeing others as one like ourselves, that is persons, children of God, our brothers and sisters.

Over fifty years ago a homeless woman who sold herself daily for drug money, yet had not lost her awareness of others in need, quite literally saved my life and paid the ultimate price, by the very man she had saved me from, thus as my true sister, showing that great love of which Jesus says there is none greater: John 15:13.

I was working in a soup kitchen in those days and, given many of the homeless have serious mental health and addiction issues, it was critical if we saw any disturbance starting we staff move in quickly to prevent things getting out of control.

One day a very big man started pounding on a much smaller man and we separated them, one staffer tending to the victim, three of us getting the brute out of the building. The woman at the heart of this story had watched all this happen, her eyes filled with fear.

At dusk it was my duty to circle the building making sure all doors were secured and keeping an eye for any homeless brother or sister laying on the sidewalk or in the alley needing attention. As I came to the last door, which was at the end of an alley, closed by a wall just past the last door, I heard the sound of breaking glass and almost simultaneously was grabbed, and the broken bottle was pushed towards my throat.

It was the brute.

Suddenly I heard a familiar female voice yelling, “Hey, whatcha doing fool?” The man hesitated, turned towards the woman who began using her skills to distract him. She motioned to me to run, which I did, looking over my shoulder to see she was keeping him occupied.

There being no cell phones in those days I had to let myself back into the building to phone the police, as I was concerned for her safety. They came quickly but she and the man were already gone. Next morning the police informed me they had found her body and the man, known to them, had been arrested for her murder.

Have you taken note that health care providers, first responders, grocery store and pharmacy clerks are still at their posts, as are the men and women of our armed forces. That at night the lights are still on, we have fuel for cars, to heat homes, truckers are keeping the supply chains working, farmers providing food, countless other men and women are also in truth putting themselves at risk of contracting COVID-19 and getting sick, quite possibly dying? 

Are we going to be that selfish, have such disdain for them and all our brothers and sisters to ignore the ‘stay at home’ pleas of health authorities? Can we be really that bent towards ourselves?

In the film version of Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD, one of the scenes which has always stayed with me is when the character Atticus Finch is leaving the courtroom and as he walks people stand and one of his children asks of an elderly black man, they are in the court balcony: “Why is everyone standing?” “Because your father is passing by.”

When this brute of a pandemic has been taken down and we can resume ordinary life, albeit much changed, even now should we be able to walk for fresh air, keeping charitable distance, where our homeless brothers and sisters are and we see them as we or they walk by, we should pause, stand for a moment: “Because it is the Lord Jesus passing by.”

[1] from paras. 37: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html

© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph


Sunday, March 29, 2020

HOPE IN THE AGE OF COVID-19~6


                                               

J.R.R. Tolkien, author of many books, is best known for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series. What of the man himself? Briefly: he was born during the last years of the reign of Queen Victoria and lived into the reign of Queen Elizabeth, a devout Catholic he was born under the Pontificate of Pope Leo xiii and died during the Pontificate of St. Paul vi. He and his wife, they had four children, were married for 65 years. He served at the front in WWI, was married during that war, and he and his wife raised their family through the Great Depression and the Second World War, and along the way Tolkien influenced his friend C.S. Lewis to abandon atheism, which Lewis did, becoming a devout Anglican. All to say when reading any of the many writings of either author it is good to know what was happening in the world around them, helps give a whole perspective on Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series and Lewis’ Narnia series.

In a letter, Tolkien wrote to a friend he stated: “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like "religion", to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.” ~from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Letter_142

There is the key to how the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series touch people of faith and no faith so deeply.

The treasury of cultures has in books, plays, operas, movies, which in the darkness and stress of this new normal have gems of hope, such as this wisdom from Frodo’s persistently faithful friend Sam: “Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.” 

Quoted in https://english104winter2012.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/sams-speech-from-the-two-towers/

© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph


Saturday, March 28, 2020

HOPE IN THE AGE OF COVID-19~5


                                              

One unexpected consequence of this pandemic, with countries around the world seeing reduce air and ground traffic, factory closures etc., is satellite images show reduced air pollution!

Another, though today we are back in winter snow and cold, yesterday was spring like and in the evening noticed many families, parents and children, couples strolling as well, chatting and being aware of each other - it was also impressive that charitable distancing was being observed - whereas before this new normal when I saw people walking together, even with small children, everyone was on their cell phones, hardly being present to each other.

Last evening not a cell phone in sight!

Took me back to my childhood when a post supper evening stroll was, for people, quite ordinary.

Perhaps we are beginning to rediscover the joy of being human, being family, being neighbours, in a word, being present to each other in the immediate.

“If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.” ~ St. Julian of Norwich



© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph




Friday, March 27, 2020

HOPE IN THE AGE OF COVID-19~4


                                             

Pope Francis, who loves to be with people, has the heart of a parish priest, clearly is finding this isolation from audiences, where he can reach out and touch people, a real suffering.

Today he has sought to bridge that gap between himself and direct contact with people, reaching out to the entire human family through a liturgical celebration, adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, a powerful homily reflecting upon verse 40 of St. Mark’s account of Jesus coming to the disciples trapped in the midst of the storm on the sea of Galilee [Mk.4:35-41], and with the most solemn form of blessing a pope can impart, known as the Urbi et Orbi [to the city of Rome and to the world] blessing.

Normally a pope gives this when he has been first elected and then only at Christmas and Easter.

The attached Indulgence, a fruit of the blessing, originally depended upon being present at the time of the blessing, and then with the advent of radio and later television was extended to those who listened to it, and now it has been extended to those who access it via the internet.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvE1ncKned8

The above is courtesy of EWTN

Pope Francis’ full homily, the Vatican’s translation on https://zenit.org/articles/popes-urbi-et-orbi-blessing-in-light-of-coronavirus/

“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets, and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel, we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits, and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the fa├žade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents, and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves, we founder: we need the Lord like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support, and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross, we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross, we have been redeemed. We have hope: by his cross, we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity, and solidarity. By his cross, we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

Introduction © 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph






Thursday, March 26, 2020

HOPE IN THE AGE OF COVID-19~3


                                              
Once after a day of hiking in the Rocky Mountains, on return to the town of Jasper Alberta, with places to dine, hotels to stay in, I was sitting, just before sunset, on a bench outside the railroad station where a freight was stopped. I watched a crew change and then the train, with its three lead engines, started to pull away from the station.

An elderly couple, tourists from France, were standing nearby and asked about the train. When I explained that here in Canada such trains are between 12,000 feet to 14,000 feet long [ that is between 3 kilometers and over 4 kilometres long] the man said: Allons-y c’est trop long! [Let’s go, that’s too long!]

One Sunday Mark Twain was leaving church after the service. It was pouring rain and had been for days. Twain’s friend asked: “Will it ever stop?” Twain replied: “It always has.”

No matter the length of a train there is always a last car. Even after days and nights the rains stop.

A large part of the stress of this new normal is because we have created an impatient culture that expects instant gratification, instant light if we flick a switch, high speed internet, etc., etc., and people rush about daily lives, often filling their brains with speedy music/noise through ear buds, or just blasting car radios. People, long before this pandemic have become cranky, moody, always seeking some stimulus and eating way too fast, wearing out thumbs blathering away on cell phones, and frequently get neither long enough, nor deep enough sleep.

We should see in this charitable distancing, this staying at home with family, for example, a time of great grace to slow down, eat together as a family without rushing, turning off the internet, the tv news, the noise and having quiet game time and prayer as a family and actually conversing with and listening to one another and taking time alone, as Jesus says: But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. [Mt.6:6], listen to and enter the silence of God and we will encounter that Divine Silence of His love for us, which is as silent and penetrating as sunlight.

As Kipling notes in his poem IF: If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…..

Doing that requires inner silence and calm.

Know as the Serenity Prayer composed by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in the midst of the Great Depression:

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;

Enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

Taking, as He did, this sinful world

As it is, not as I would have it;

Trusting that He will make all things right

If I surrender to His Will;

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life

And supremely happy with Him

Forever and ever in the next. Amen.

While attributed to St. Francis, erroneously, the original was published anonymously in France around 1912 and became popular and attributed to St. Francis during WWI and WWII:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me bring love.

Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.

Where there is discord, let me bring union.

Where there is error, let me bring truth.

Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.

Where there is despair, let me bring hope.

Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.

Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.

O Master, let me not seek as much

to be consoled as to console,

to be understood as to understand,

to be loved as to love,

for it is in giving that one receives,

it is in self-forgetting that one finds,

it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,

it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.



© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph




Wednesday, March 25, 2020

HOPE IN THE AGE OF COVID-19: 2


                                                

One of my most moving experiences was some time after 9/11, when the ruins were still piled high, but had stopped smouldering, recovery of bodies was underway, and I, at the request of a New York Firefighter friend, brother of my heart really, had come down to New York, for he wanted me to be with him so he could return to that place of horror, and heroism, to grieve.

It is the evening of  the Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our Lord, the day when our Saviour leapt down from heaven, to become one of us, to be forever with us as our Divine Lover and Redeemer.

In the midst of the horror and death of 9/11, babies were born. During the polio epidemic when I was a boy, babies were born, not just babies, human beings, beloved children of God.

During this pandemic more human beings are being born throughout the world.

Spring is here – though this far north it is still an expectation as the cold winds and snow on the ground attest.

Soon even this far north the farmers will return to the fields and the cycle of new planting leading to new harvests will begin again. As the weather warms the song birds, the ducks, the geese will return and soon little birds, ducks, geese will be born and myriads of other little creatures as well.

Trees will bud and leaf, flowers will grow and bees will be nourished and make sweet honey, springs and rivers will break free of the ice and delight us with their bubbling sounds that all is made new and all will be well.

Spring showers will come and with them the marvel of rainbows and a reminder of our Heavenly Father’s promise never to destroy humanity again with a flood, indeed, never to destroy us at all, not even with COVID-19.

Soon we will enter Holy Week and rediscover again the truth our Father so loves us He sent His only Son to suffer, die, rise from the dead to redeem us, revealing once more we are indeed beloved.

Jesus promises He is with us always, so not a one of us is ever alone.

True, our emotions may lie to us and say we are alone, but the truth is we are not.

In this time of the new normal we should reach out to the lonely, the isolated, be creative in doing so while keeping ‘social distance’, a better term would be to keep ‘charitable distance’, for in truth it is an act of love, a act of being a true child of God with all His other children, our brothers and sisters in this human family.

Today and everyday this pandemic may last new human beings are being born, just like Jesus was born among us. Every new human being is gift, is hope.

Anyone who has ever held a baby knows babies look at you with absolute trust and love.

Life is stronger than any virus because as children of God we have immortal souls.

Lots of things can kill the body.

Nothing can kill us for death is, thanks to Jesus’ death and resurrection, merely a threshold to be crossed into everlasting life.

I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. [Jn.10:10]

As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in My love……I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is My commandment: love one another as I love you. [Jn. 15:9 & 11,12]

We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life. [Heb. 10:39]



© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph





Tuesday, March 24, 2020

HOPE IN THE AGE OF COVID-19


                                             
As a priest-hermit in these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, stressing everyone to the max, a beloved friend, whose wisdom and love I trust asked if I would start posting brief messages of encouragement in these intense days of suffering, stress, sickness, death, churches closed so no access to daily/Sunday Mass.

Rest assured in the hermitage I continue to celebrate daily Mass for the whole human family, for our deeper conversion to, and trust, in Jesus through Mary, for the healing of the sick, needs of those who care for us, for the souls of the deceased, comfort of the grieving and for an end to the pandemic.

This is not a period of punishment for the human family. I believe it is a graced time for purification of our hearts, to dispossess ourselves of destructive individualism run amok, to rediscover the splendour of being children of one Father, in His image and likeness, disciples of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, living temples of the Holy Spirit. A time for us to shine ever more brightly radiating the light of Christ, whose lights we are, in the darkness of these days.

So, a true story of prayer answered, of hope when we are, or feel we are, lost and that the odds of finding our way, more truly of being found, seem pretty small indeed:


This is a picture of a salt marsh near Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada where I grew up. It is called that because it is on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, which is where all that water comes from. Mostly it is only one foot deep [30.48cms.] but you have to be careful because some spots have deep holes and you can end up in mud up to your chest!

One summer day, when I was a mere lad of ten years, my friend from across the street and I were staying with his parents in a cottage further down the coast.

Early one morning I got the bright idea we could cut across the marsh, make it to the highway, behind the hills, and hitchhike into the city, so I could say good-bye to my dad who was heading out to sea again, being in the Navy. Like most of those who serve and defend us, even today, my dad, and other dads and moms, was/are away for months at a time. Makes the hearts of their sons and daughters ache, like a repeated mini ‘new normal’, that at times seems as unending as that marsh did.

So, at dawn we started across the marsh but soon we were so far into the marsh we could not see any hills on the horizon, we were desperately looking for. Just endless marsh.

We had been trudging through the salt water and muck for hours. We knew were lost. Any direction we turned all we saw was just an endless expanse of tabletop flat marsh, sparkling in the noonday sun.

We were wet, hot, exhausted, and close to panic, so I called out loud to Jesus, Mary and Joseph for help.

My friend, who was not Catholic, thought I had gone nuts and started to cry!

I cried out “Jesus, Mary, Joseph” again and just at that moment we saw on the horizon the black smoke from a train. It was still the days of steam engines. We knew if we headed towards that point we’d find the tracks which were near the highway.

Right now, it is like the whole human family is lost, worn out, confused.

All we need to do is cry out to Jesus, Mary and Joseph and they will be with us, take us by the hand, the whole human family, and lead us out of this strange, unfamiliar marsh. As did the family crying out for help and hope and then, as the BBC reported today: An Italian priest gave a respirator to a younger coronavirus patient he did not know has died of the disease. Father Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, died in hospital in Lovere, Bergamo.

The virus may kill, selfless love gives life.

May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through His grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word. [ 2Thess.2:16,17]

From his homily to the people of Halifax, Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, September 14, 1984: …..the crucified Christ is lifted up by faith in the hearts of all who believe, and He too lifts up those same hearts with a hope that cannot be destroyed. ~St. John Paul II

© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph



Thursday, March 19, 2020

DWELLING PEACEFULLY IN FAITH, LOVE, HOPE, LIGHT, JOY ~ Part 3A- SELL ALL YOU POSSESS.


                    

                                               



It may well appear as somewhat contradictory to reflect upon dispossession and poverty at a time when, given the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic, government leaders, health experts are telling everyone to secure at least a two week supply of necessities like and food and medicine, yet this is, in a sense, the inconvenience of the Gospel, as exemplified by Christ not clinging to His Divinity that He might become one of us, by the poor widow who out of the little she had for the necessary, from the depths of her poverty, gave all that she had: Mk.12:41-44 & Lk. 21: 1-4.

While these reflections on living out the Gospel with our lives without compromise are drawn from the Little Mandate [1] of the Madonna House consecrated community, this is not to imply it is better than any other template. Many people follow Franciscan spirituality, Rod Dreher urges applying what he calls “The Benedict Option”, drawing on the Holy Rule of St, Benedict. [2] From the treasury of the Church with all the various ways founders and foundresses have developed guidelines for truly incarnating the Gospel in our lives without compromise, the additional wealth of writings of the saints, from the Epistles of St. Paul to the sayings of the Desert Fathers, across the millennia to documents of Vatican II, the writings of the Popes, everyone can find inspiration and encouragement for Gospel living.

To reflect upon sell all you possess, in a primarily material, economic sense, is to be tricked by satan into reductionism, that is to reduce everything to its lowest possible meaning, thus when Christ calls us to be dispossessed, and we like the Apostles often respond by asking what will we get in return, [cf. Mk. 10:17-31], in that we have taken our attention away from what should be the primary focus, benefit if you will, of dispossession, which is eternal life, that is to be forever in the loving embrace of the Most Holy Trinity.

No amount of stuff now can satisfy us as much as dwelling peacefully in faith, love, hope, light, joy, which is to dwell with Christ in the present moment, yes with suffering, persecution and anything else the world, the flesh and the devil can smack us with, even this pandemic with all its suffering, fear, panic, uncertainty. It is of paramount importance that when we are in crisis mode of any kind, we rush into the arms of Christ. We must cling to Christ, and with Him be light and hope in this culture of darkness and death, never forgetting, no matter how raw our emotions: Suffering is, in itself, an experience of evil. But Christ has made suffering the firmest basis of the definitive good, namely the good of eternal salvation. By his suffering on the Cross, Christ reached the very roots of evil, of sin and death. He conquered the author of evil, Satan, and his permanent rebellion against the Creator. To the suffering brother or sister Christ discloses and gradually reveals the horizons of the Kingdom of God: the horizons of a world converted to the Creator, of a world free from sin, a world being built on the saving power of love. And slowly but effectively, Christ leads into this world, into this Kingdom of the Father, suffering man, in a certain sense through the very heart of his suffering. For suffering cannot be transformed and changed by a grace from outside, but from within. And Christ through his own salvific suffering is very much present in every human suffering, and can act from within that suffering by the powers of his Spirit of truth, his consoling Spirit. [3]

A great sin of greed, the antithesis of Gospel poverty and purity of heart, is part of this current pandemic crisis within the human family, greed resulting from panic causing people to hoard more food and other necessities than truly, objectively, rationally, is necessary; the even greater evil of profiteering, which is occurring on an increasingly large scale. This latter is to see the man laying in the ditch, of whom Jesus speaks in the Gospel, and not just heartlessly passing by, but beating him while he is down and stripping him naked, [Lk. 10:29-37] or being like the rich man who ignored Lazarus, [Lk. 16: 19-31]. It is the loveless hardheartedness which will place us in mortal jeopardy at the Last Judgement: [Mt. 25: 31-46].

What exactly are possessions and what do we actually possess, for understanding the matter of possessions and how much or little ownership/control of what we possess is critical, if we are to understand and embrace Gospel poverty.

Possession means owning, having control over something, which is why, for example, any type of seeking to possess as in control another human being – spouse, child, or other – beyond normal, healthy, holy influence rooted in love as servant-spouse, servant-parent, servant-friend, is the abomination of enslavement and is a serious sin, and given that whatever we do to one another we do to Christ, aggravates the deadly seriousness of such sin.

This applies to our own selves as well, for as St. Paul reminds us we in fact do not possess ourselves in the sense of ownership as the surrounding culture defines it: possessing/controlling/making use of as we will: ….do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a great price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. [1 Cor. 6:19,20] The price paid of course is that of the passion and death of Jesus Christ, who paid it willingly for we are His beloved.

St. Paul also urges us when it comes to the ‘use’ we make of ourselves: …. by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. [Rms. 12: 1,2]

Selling what we ‘possess’ is most effectively accomplished by living out the Great Commandment to love one another as Christ loves us. It is: …to put on the mind of Jesus, to love as God loves, is a new manner of being in the world that must be born from the depths of the soul as a response to God’s approach and invitation. [4]

Ultimately everything that we have, even what we possess because we have worked for it and bought it, originates as gift, first and foremost our very existence, the prime Giver of Gifts being the Most Holy Trinity who with love gifts us with existence, a gift of life which becomes even greater when we cross the threshold of death and enter that dimension of the gift of existence which will never be taken back, never end, because through His Passion, Death and Resurrection Jesus has purchased redemption and eternal salvation for us IF we accept this gift by striving to lead lives that are peaceful, loving, without sin, holy as faithful disciples.

Likewise, genuine, selfless, holy love from another is gift, a gift we can give also in loving other.

Indeed if we look objectively at any aspect of our lives, truly all is gift, and thus in a sense when it comes to possessing anything that is an ephemeral state of affairs both because things wear out, and because given we are born emptied handed, so shall we die: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” [Mt.6:19-21]

Three examples of how everything is gift: Some men say yes to the vocation of priesthood and thus we have access to sacramental life through which the Most Holy Trinity gifts us with sanctifying grace; a man and woman say yes to the holy vocation of marriage and co-operate with the Holy Trinity that children may be born, grow, be graced, follow their own vocation and both of these, indeed all vocations are a dimension of selling all we possess, especially if we love one another; a man or woman says yes to the vocation of a life of loving service as health care providers and we are cared for whenever we are sick, need surgery or medicine, need special care in our old age.

We are surrounded by gift, gifts flowing from brothers and sisters who, even while earning a wage, are doing things, making things we need to fulfill our own vocations, to live lives that are peaceful, holy and without sin, and we too are gifters.

Seen from this perspective, and lived out, we could transform our greedy, consumerist culture into one of generosity, moderation, dispossession, actual care for the poor, into a culture of love.

When enacted in imitation of Christ and for love of one another, each thing we do, no matter how seemingly small, and frankly even the allegedly ‘great’ things we do are small in the grand scheme of salvation history, yes each act has a redemptive quality and value, for this is how we participate in our own person in the sufferings of Christ for the salvation of souls.

To sell all you possess is hardly a matter of material things, though that is a component of it.

Truly to sell all you possess is to be dispossessed of self, to be primarily aware of the other and their needs, as Christ was and always is for us.

[1] http://www.madonnahouse.org/mandate/

[2] The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher, Sentinel, 2018

[3] para. 26, ON THE CHRISTIAN MEANING OF HUMAN SUFFERING, Pope John Paul II; http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1984/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris.html

[4] p. 288; FIRE OF MERCY HEART OF THE WORLD, Volume III; Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis; Ignatius Press, 2012

© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph




Thursday, March 05, 2020

DWELLING PEACEFULLY IN FAITH, LOVE, HOPE, LIGHT, JOY ~ Part 2B: GO!


                 

As with the word from the Holy Spirit for us to Arise, so too with His word Go. [1]

A re-visit of, and meditation upon, the Prologue of the Holy Gospel according to St. John places before our hearts that in the beginning of all things, the Father spoke ‘go’ to His Son who obediently entered time, took upon Himself the matter of sarx, that is flesh, becoming a man, a human being, like us in all things but sin, yet taking all sin upon Himself, and after teaching us, enters, with the moment to ‘go’ into the Garden, into the depths of His passion and death for us, into the tomb, arising in His Holy Resurrection and the going of His Ascension that the Holy Spirit Himself might go forth and arise upon us with flames of fire in sacramental baptism and all the sacraments!

It is the Holy Spirit who invites us to Go and follow Christ, to live out our baptismal vocation, to go in every moment and preach the Gospel with our lives without compromise as He has mandated us: 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” [Mt. 28:19,20] If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours. [Jn.15:20]

Even in the midst of sufferings the Holy Spirit gives us joy, a gift both comforting and empowering: comforting because it is the constant reminder of Christ’s Trinitarian promise: …I am with you always, even to the end of the age. [Mt.28:20], and empowering: because the Holy Spirit gives us all necessary grace to fulfill our vocation, to take up our cross daily and follow Christ, to, in union with Jesus Christ, go and fulfill our vocation of love, as beloved and thus empowered by being beloved becoming loving servants of others, to, in this culture of darkness and death, being light in the darkness.

In the famous poem The Star, these lines: Twinkle, twinkle, all the night. Then the trav’ller in the dark, Thanks you for your tiny spark, He could not see which way to go, If you did not twinkle so. [2] There may be days when for various reasons we don’t think we are shining that brightly, perhaps simply because the darkness of the contemporary culture of death seems almost solid, certainly weighs heavy. Most stars seem only to be tiny sparks, spots of light because they are so far away, yet their light reaches us.

The combination of those numerous stars radiates, cuts through the darkness of the night, because darkness cannot stop nor overcome light.

“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” [Mt.18:3] Too often when living out the Gospel we try and go and do so as adults. In today’s world there is far too much ‘adult’ shouting, arguing, anger, which betrays a lack of simplicity and being like Jesus in the depths of the culture of darkness and death. We need to go constantly and learn again and again: Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. [Mt.11:29]

Like the two weavers in the famous Hans Christian Anderson story The Emperor’s New Clothes, wherein the weavers lie and go through all the motions of making something new, but in reality by convincing the emperor the invisible thread they are using means only the worthy will see the new garments it is all a lie, a scam. All the adults allowed themselves to be in bondage to the fear of not being like everyone else who claimed to see the clothes, hence everybody cowered each other into silence. Only a child, with simplicity and truth cried out: "But he isn't wearing anything at all!"

The surrounding culture of death and darkness is satan’s seductive weaving of false clothing and too many Christians, wanting to be accepted, remain silent, or shout and rage and get dismissed as anti everything.

If we learn from Jesus and imitate His Heart, His humble and meek Heart, then when we go, as we must, to confront the culture of death we will not shout with anger, we will witness with the power of God’s silence, open people’s eyes, and hearts, opened to see, and witness against the nakedness of the culture of death. It is the courageous meekness and humility of Jesus before His accusers: Mt. 27: 11-14.

When we awake and arise, which is go into Love’s grace-gift of a new day, firstly we should go into the enclosed garden of our hearts and express gratitude, faith, love, and then go about the day’s duties, our response with love to the Most Holy Trinity’s love which sustains us as beloved.

The duty of the moment, which if entered into is to embrace the obvious Holy Will of the Father for us, is as varied as those aspects of our vocation – spouse, parent, worker, priest, etc., - of day to day going and loving, which is how we prayerfully live out our primary baptismal vocation. Every step of progress along the road to sanctity is a step of sacrifice in the performance of one’s duty…………The duty of the present moment, however, is not to be regarded as something passive. Rather, it is a constant and unceasing self-renewal, decision to choose or reject the Lord, search for the kingdom of God, belief in the infinite love of God, ardent action from the heart, reflection of the love of God in love of others, all in the present moment. [3]

In the Order of Holy Mass, before the reforms of Vatican II, the priest would stand at the foot of the steps leading to the altar and intone I will go unto the Altar of God. To which the altar server would reply with: To God, the joy to my youth. [Ps. 43:4]

Each duty of the moment is a type of altar, that is we go up to the altar of the moment and place thereon the gift of self, the gift of my druthers.

It is in the going, irrespective of the intensity of the struggle to do so, be that struggle physical, emotional, spiritual, that we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us with His gifts of joy and peace.

This gift of joy and peace should never be confused with, nor should we allow satan to so trick us with, the emotional sensation of ‘happiness’, which is a Will-o’-the-wisp, a phantasm and is the fogging of right thinking, that is discernment of spirits, for satan does not want us to be attentive to, and go to, the Holy Spirit. Rather satan wants us stuck in the mud of the surrounding culture which is obsessed with whatever triggers instant happiness, instant self-gratification, itself self-idolatry and no one busy adoring any false god can be in true communion of love with the Most Holy Trinity, the one and only true God.

When we go into the moments of each day, striving as best we can to dwell peacefully in faith, love, hope, joy, we will of course encounter persons, events which disturb our inner peace, challenge faith, perhaps cause us to doubt the love of God, or others; darkness of the culture of death, or just being worn out from the challenge of daily life may stretch our hope to the limit, seem to tamp down our joy almost to oblivion.

Thus we should ask Our Blessed Mother, Lady of Joy, to help us With loving patience….set out to discover every day, every moment, the concrete form that the Mystery of Christ is seeking to take in our lives, so as to embrace it more fully. [4]

Jesus said…., “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” [Jn.20:29], and St. Peter teaches: Although you have not seen Him you love Him; even though you do not see Him now yet believe in Him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. [1Pt.1:8,9]

Every time we turn our gaze away from ourselves, our own needs, and go lovingly towards another and their needs; every time we go into the garden enclosed of our souls to commune in love with the Most Holy Trinity; every time we go to confession, go to participate in Holy Mass, go to Holy Communion and yes, every time at the end of the day, exhausted from fidelity to the duty of the moment, from whatever spiritual, emotional battles we have, by grace, endured, as we pray before we go to bed, there is yet another gift from Jesus, who Himself endured the heat, the labour, the struggles, interior and exterior of each day, indeed we can joyfully hear this in our hearts as His invitation anew that we go to Him, be with Him even while asleep:  “Come to Me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy, and My burden light.” [Mt.11:28-30]

We should go to sleep, like little children nestled in His arms, confident when we awake and arise – go into the grace gift of another day, or perhaps we shall awake before the uncovered face of the Most Holy Trinity: Then all who trust in You will be glad and forever shout for joy. You will protect them and those will rejoice in You who love Your name. [Ps. 5:12]



[1]   http://www.madonnahouse.org/mandate/

[2] For the entire wonderful poem: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twinkle,_Twinkle,_Little_Star

[3] THE ROAD OF HOPE, a gospel from prison; Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan; pp. 22,23; Wellspring, 2018

[4] FIRE OF MERCY HEART OF THE WORLD, volume III, p. 215; Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis; Ignatius Press, 2012

© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph