Reflections on Sunday’s Readings: May 13, 2018

Seventh Sunday of Easter and Mother’s Day
Acts 1: 15-17. 20a, 20c-26
1 John 4: 11-16
John 17: 11b-19

“The unconditional love in a mother’s heart ….”

This week I was remembering and sharing with others some fond memories of my Mom. I really believe that she gifted me with a sense of my being unconditionally loved.

I remember going to church with her when I was about 4 or 5 years old. She shared with me her missal, and I remember being very content to sit there and look at all of her prayer cards as people prayed together in Latin. I believe she helped awaken in me the sense of the holy in the communion of saints and in those praying together all around us.

I also remember when I had left home early for the seminary that she wrote me a letter every week. She would tell me about the things happening in the family and in the neighborhood, and she always added a joke or a funny story and wrote “keep smiling!”

When there was a visiting Sunday, Mom would bake a delicious chocolate cake with “Milky Way” candy bar icing … oooh la la. All the other seminarians wanted to sit at my table that evening!

Finally, as I prayed with the Gospel reading this week, I remembered all of us gathered with Mom in her hospital room during her last week on earth before she passed over to heaven. She told my Dad that he was her “only, true love;” and she loved him all her life. Mom looked at me and encouraged me to stay with and grow with the Franciscans. She then looked at my sister and her boyfriend, Bill, and she asked Bill if he wanted to say anything. Phyllis and Bill had been dating a while, but they were not engaged yet. I remember Bill saying “Oh, no, Mrs. Beck. I’m fine.” We all smiled because we knew she wanted to encourage a proposal out of Bill so she would know her daughter would be fine also.

Jesus with his friends
Jesus is doing something very similar as he says goodbye to the men and women he had come to know and love as friends and as disciples. He is preparing them for his passing and death and for his coming back to them in a new way. Jesus wanted them and us to know that he would give up everything for them and for us so that the Holy Spirit could come and dwell with us and abide with us. Jesus wants to consecrate them and us in the truth of Abba’s and his unconditional love and commitment to us.

Mother’s Day and awaiting Pentecost
As I was reflecting on this Sunday’s Mass for this weekend, I marveled at the significance of our celebrating Mother’s Day and the 7th Sunday of Easter as we prepare for the Feast of Pentecost. I remembered and dug into some reading this week about what the mystics, the Scriptures, and the early theologians in the East especially have shared about the Divine Feminine or Sacred Feminine in our tradition. It is a significant part of our tradition, but it is often overlooked.
Thomas Merton especially helped me this week to catch “glimpses” of this part of our tradition.

In the Wisdom literature of the Bible especially we hear of Lady Wisdom “at play in the presence” of God as God creates the cosmos (Proverbs 8, 30-31). The tradition describes this playful, feminine Wisdom figure as the “ousia” or “flow of being or substance” in all three persons of the Trinity. This core spirit of the Trinity is described as intelligent, creative, peaceful and gentle, full of nurture and beauty, and most of all having a depth of mercy. This “spirit and wisdom” in God wants to create the world and cosmos that we live in to be radiant with these qualities deeply alive in God. Mystics and theologians have spoken about this spirit and wisdom in God as the “Divine or Sacred Feminine” in God because of its creativity and receptivity of others, because of its spirit of beauty, music, and goodness alive in the heart of God. This spirit, substance of God, this love-energy within God shapes and forms the universe.

When we are attuned to this deep Spirit of God, we are inspired. We find solutions for conflicts. We are imaginative, creative, and spontaneous with hope and joy. This deep part of God is especially reflected in the feminine and in women’s energy for wholeness, for unity, for building relationships and family, for unconditional commitment to children and to the earth.

We know that there are both masculine energies and feminine energies within God because we, who are masculine and feminine, flow from the heart of God. We know too that there are masculine and feminine energies within each of us. We are called, all of us, and as a world community, to develop a healthy “balance” with these energies. We must admit though, women “get” this very deep place of God’s heart more intuitively than we men do usually.

An example close to home
I believe an example might be helpful here. My sister, Phyllis, is really the saint in the family. I get all the PR because I am the priest, but my sister is really the holy one in the family. Phyllis taught for 35 years in a Catholic grade school. She and her husband, Bill, have always been involved with the Church; and close to twenty years ago their pastor asked Phyllis to chair an inter-parish committee to help bring together the communities of four nearby parishes now all having the same pastor.

I grew up in the Old North Dayton part of Dayton, Ohio, where there was a German-Irish parish, a Lithuanian parish, a Hungarian parish, and a Polish parish all within blocks of each other. The new pastor twenty or so years ago, Fr. Mike, was very wise in letting all the parishes continue with Masses in their churches, to continue their parish councils and finance councils. But he wanted to help these parish communities begin to get to know one another. So my sister has been chairing or co-chairing this inter-parish committee all these years.

One of the first things they did was develop a “cookbook” that incorporated all the recipes from all of the communities. Can you imagine the richness and variety of recipes in this cookbook! Then this group sponsored cooking classes, then quilting classes. They also sponsored dancing lessons, and there were family picnics and festivals. The parish families have gradually become more one family in the neighborhood. Now the parishes are sponsoring more social outreach to others in the neighborhood, and the local Lutheran pastor is now very involved!

But then a new pastor is appointed two years ago who thinks he knows what the people need, and he begins to change things. He wants to change the Mass schedules of these churches and bring a lot of the activities to the new larger parish that is now attached to these four more local parishes. This has been hard for my sister and her committee and for the people. But there is beginning to be more understanding with this new pastor. The inter-parish committee has continued generously to be about creating and connecting the people of all of these parishes.

But I remember saying to Phyllis at one point that she is a “deaconess” just like we had in the early Christian communities. She may not have the ordination ritual or any official recognition, but she is a “servant-leader” in the Spirit of Jesus. She does represent the people of these communities because she loves them and has been serving them all these years. She does have something to say to this new pastor, and she is ministering out of the Spirit of our God. And gradually, thanks be to God, he has started to trust my sister and others on this committee.

Consecrate them in the truth
Jesus enfleshes this “Divine or Sacred Feminine” deeply at work in our God. By his life, death, and resurrection he makes real for us this heart and Spirit of our God. We have only to watch the news on TV or to read the papers to see that we are deeply in need of this Spirit of God to lead us and guide us. We need the balance of the masculine and feminine that is powerfully at work in our God to be so within ourselves and within the human family. This is the “truth” in which Jesus prays that we will be consecrated in the Gospel today. We who follow Jesus can hopefully be the sure place to find this balance, but we will need to continue to be open to both the feminine and the masculine.
Let us pray together this week for one another for this balance of energies in our lives and in our world. Then truly a new Pentecost, a new fire of love, of solidarity and healing, will take hold in our world.

Fr. Henry B. Beck, OFM / St. Francis Retreat House, Easton, PA.



Reflections on Sunday’s Readings: May 6, 2018


Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48
1 John 4: 7-10
John 15: 9-17

“The breadth and depth of Love ….”

When I was speaking with a fellow friar-friend about our life choices and our desires for ever greater fulfillment in life, he wisely said to me: “You know, Henry, the grass is always greener on the side of the fence you water.”

For me one way of continuing to deepen my own vocation is to take an annual retreat.  These retreat days help me get back in touch with my first call, my first love, and the deepest desires in my life.  Often what surfaces during this week of retreat will stay with me throughout the coming year.

This year I had a very helpful retreat director, Arlene, at the Jesuit Spiritual Center in Wernersville, PA.  Arlene is a married woman, mother of grown children, and very well trained in Ignatian spirituality.  The Ignatian spirituality is one focused on the discernment of the Spirit of God in our lives.  It is also a way of recognizing more clearly the other desires and spirits in our hearts and from what other sources they arise.  For example, we may recognize that a “should” comes from our upbringing, or part of our identity was planted in us by our family of origin or during our education years.  This spirituality helps us recognize these things and to open our lives even more deeply to the loving and integrative Spirit of God.

“Could I Have this Dance?
As I shared some of my life story, my sense of call, and my struggles with my own vocation, Arlene shared a song with me on one of the middle days of the week.  I’d like to share with all of you the words of this song.
Could I have this dance?
I’ll always remember the song they were playin’
The first time we danced and I knew
As we swayed to the music and held to each other
I fell in love with you.
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?
Would you be my partner every night?
When we’re together it feels so right
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?
I’ll always remember that magic moment
When I held you close to me
As we moved together, I knew forever
You’re all I’ll ever need.
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life”
Would you be my partner every night?
When we’re together it feels so right
Could I have this dance for the rest my life?

Arlene was deeply on target because I could see in the words of the song that early in my life, God had stolen my heart; and I was in love with God in a way that would call for all of my life … and for the rest of my life.  So I began to work more deeply in my listening and journaling with these words, and I reconnected with Jesus in a renewed way.

“Where’ve You Been?”
These exchanges with my spiritual director brought to mind a song that I love.  I have shared it with some of you here at the retreat house.  It is called “Where’ve You Been?”  It is sung beautifully by Kathy Mattea.

Where’ve You Been?
Claire had all but give up,
When she and Edwin fell in love.
She touched his face and shook her head,
In disbelief, she sighed and said:
“In many dreams I’ve held you near,
“Now, at last, you’re really here.

“Where’ve you been?”
“I’ve looked for you forever and a day.”
“Where’ve you been?”
“I’m just not myself when you’re away.”

He asked her for her hand for life,
And she became a salesman’s wife.
He was home each night by eight,
But one stormy evening, he was late.
Her frightened tears fell to the floor,
Until his key turned in the door.

“Where’ve you been?”
“I’ve looked for you forever and a day.”
“Where’ve you been?”
“I’m just not myself when you’re away.”

They’d never spent a night apart,
For sixty years, she heard him snore.
Now they’re in a hospital,
In separate beds on different floors.

Claire soon lost her memory,
Forgot the names of family.
She never spoke a word again,
Then one day, they wheeled him in.
He held her hand and stroked her hair,
In a fragile voice she said:

“Where’ve you been?”
“I’ve looked for you forever and a day.”
“Where’ve you been?”
“I’m just not myself when you’re away.”
“No, I’m just not myself when you’re away.”

Our Journeys of Love
I hope many of you have experienced this kind of love in your lives.  I wanted to share these songs because they speak in a deep way to our journeys of falling in love and staying in love.  They speak to our being shaped in love by God and by those we love in life … and by those who love us.

One of the spiritual writers that I picked up again during my retreat is Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest and scientist.  He was a geologist, a paleontologist, even an anthropologist.  He was in on the “dig” that discovered the “Peking Man” in China in the 1930’s.  Teilhard has such a beautiful perspective on the Spirit of God at work in all of creation, and he has helped us in the Catholic Church to embrace evolution.

Teilhard speaks powerfully and beautifully about the primary source and energy at work in all of the cosmos … what energizes all of creation and evolution is love.  He sees this energy of love at work in the knitting together of molecules, atoms, of compounds, of matter, of creatures, and of us as human persons.  He explains that this love energy of attraction, connection, complexification, and of a new depth of identity and diversity is the process and pattern occurring throughout all of life.  Divine love, as Teilhard offers, is at work in our human connections, in our friendships, in marriage, in partnerships, families, teams, villages, in nations, and in our global family.

As we make connections with one another, we take in the difference of the other.  This moves us toward more complexity, toward a greater identity within ourselves, and to union.  This is the beauty of growing more deeply in loving relationships with others.  We do not lose ourselves in these loving relationships, but we find our true selves more fully.

The Power of “Chastity”
Then Teilhard speaks of the power of “chastity” in our lives.  I know for many of us older Catholics that the word “chastity” may stir a lot of feelings of denial or avoidance of feelings, or of a lot of “no’s” in our lives.  There is a sense of “boundaries” here with chastity, and we know we need these.  We know the hurt that can be caused when appropriate boundaries are crossed.  But once we have these boundaries in place, Teilhard offers that chastity then can become an energy that sends us outward toward one another in love.  What he is offering us here is that chastity is all about a “single-hearted” energy that enlivens our commitments.  This singleness of heart empowers us to be even more generous with our lives.  This power of chastity overflows and helps us move out into our world with a greater self-sacrificing love for our families, our society, for God’s world.  Teilhard is thinking especially here of married couples.

I have thought for a while that a good way to catch a “glimpse” of heaven is to bring together the vocations of single life and of married life.  I believe that when you bring together the “breadth” of relationships in someone who is single with the “depth” of the relationship in married life, we can see what “heaven” will look like.  We are all meant for love, and in heaven we will be able to experience both the breadth and depth of loving relationships.  In this time and space, we must make a choice; but in heaven, we will be able to know both.

We may be “alone” in life when we thought we would be with a loved one.  I know we have a good number of widows and widowers, and those not expecting to be divorced but finding themselves so now, and those who are single hoping to marry in the future, in our Church community.  This is what our “community life” is for … to help us all continue to grow in love through our loving connections with one another.  Stay close to the community.

So the invitation today, in our Scriptures that speak so powerfully of love, is to stay on our paths of authentic self-discovery in our vocational journeys.  Stay on the paths of generous connections, friendships, marriage, partnerships, colleagues and co-workers, Church members, and teams.  We are all invited to be a part of the “web of life” that our loving God wants for our whole world.

Fr. Henry B. Beck, OFM / St. Francis Retreat House, Easton, PA.

“Could I Have this Dance?” / written by Bob House and Wayland Holyfield / sung by Amy Grant, Anne Murray

 “Where’ve You Been?” / written by Don Henry and Jon Vezner / sung by Kathy Mattea

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