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Making hearts burn: Francis and the need for Emmaus Church

Needless to say, that interview with Pope Francis has been the equivalent of an ecclesial tsunami.  The core of the interview – seemingly lost in both secular commentary and conservative criticism – is Francis again referring to Emmaus.  When speaking to the South American Roman Catholic episcopate in July, Francis held up Emmaus as an icon for the contemporary Church, asking “are we still a Church capable of warming hearts?”  In the interview he again returns to this theme, on the need for the Church whose message “makes the heart burn” rather than imposing “a disjointed multitude of doctrines”.

It is, of course, too early to say what might lie at the heart of this pontificate, but the icon of Emmaus does seem to loom large.  Francis is asking us, ‘how can we be Church on the road to Emmaus?’

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow. 

I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing. The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.

Just prior to this section of the interview, Francis provides a lived example of those whom Emmaus Church will seek to walk with, to minister forgiveness and healing:

I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it.

It is difficult not to think of a question posed by Rowan Williams in a not dissimilar context, regarding individual journeys and the Church’s proclamation – what is the good news for this person? (Williams asked the question regarding the gay Christian in response to the St Andrew’s Day Statement.)  Francis’ answer proclaims the abundant grace of the Triune God, embracing the prodigal, leading from death to life, making Cross to be Resurrection:

God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.

It is a message to make hearts burn, a living encounter with the Crucified and Risen One.  Such is the message and the hope of Emmaus Church – and an appropriate theme to reflect upon on the eve of the feast of Matthew, tax collector and sinner, apostle, evangelist and martyr.

When I was a young girl my father would often sing at our Quaker Meeting in Westboro, Ohio.  One of the songs he sang especially well was The Ninety and Nine.  Sometimes Russell Ford, a traveling minister, would come to our little Quaker meeting and would paint with chalk as he would sing or speak.  I remember that he completed a fine version of Soord’s original work which we later framed and affixed to the wall of our living room at home.    So today I am thinking about my dad and this song and wish to share it with you.

lost sheep soord

Alford Usher Soord (1868-1915) was a British painter whose most famous work is a painting of The Parable Of The Lost Sheep, depicting a sheep stranded halfway down a steep cliff and the shepherd hanging perilously over the edge, risking his own life to save it.   The painting was exhibited in 1898 in the Royal Academy and by 1916, over 300,000 reproductions of it had been sold in England and America.  The work continues to be extremely popular more than a century after its creation.

Elizabeth Cecelia Douglas Clephane (June 18, 1830 – February 19, 1869) was the author of the hymn The Ninety and Nine. 

1. There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold.
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold.
Away on the mountains wild and bare.
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.

2. “Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine;
Are they not enough for Thee?”
But the Shepherd made answer: “This sheep of Mine
Has wandered away from Me;
And although the road may be rough and steep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep.”

3. But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night the Lord passed through
Ere He found His sheep that was lost.
Out in the desert He heard its cry,
Sick and helpless and ready to die;
Sick and helpless and ready to die.

4. “Lord, whence are those blood drops all the way
That mark out the mountain’s track?”
“They were shed for one who had gone astray
Ere the Shepherd could bring him back.”
“Lord, whence are Thy hands so rent and torn?”
“They are pierced tonight by many a thorn;
They are pierced tonight by many a thorn.”

5. And all through the mountains, thunder riven
And up from the rocky steep,
There arose a glad cry to the gate of Heaven,
“Rejoice! I have found My sheep!”
And the angels echoed around the throne,
“Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!
Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!”

Two Versions of the Parable from Matthew and Luke are as follows:

Luke 15: 3-7

King James Version (KJV)

And he spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?  And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

Matthew 18: 12-14

New International Version (NIV)

12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

“I Will Rise”

There’s a peace I’ve come to know
Though my heart and flesh may fail
There’s an anchor for my soul
I can say “It is well”

Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead

[Chorus:]
And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

There’s a day that’s drawing near
When this darkness breaks to light
And the shadows disappear
And my faith shall be my eyes

Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead

[Chorus:]
And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

And I hear the voice of many angels sing,
“Worthy is the Lamb”
And I hear the cry of every longing heart,
“Worthy is the Lamb”
[x2]

[Chorus:]
And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

When the music fades
And all is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the ways things appear
You’re looking into my heart

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You
All about You, Jesus
I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about You
It’s all about You Jesus

King of endless worth
No one could express
How much You deserve
Though I’m weak and poor
All I have is Yours
Every single breath

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You
All about You, Jesus
I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about You
It’s all about You Jesus

43801419_plaque1 

Carl McColman: Five Marks of Authentic Mysticism (Underhill)

In her introduction to Orbis Books’ Essential Writings of Evelyn Underhill, Emilie Griffin notes that Underhill delineates five marks or characteristics of authentic Christian mysticism. These are well worth considering:

Christian mysticism is active and practical. Even a Carthusian hermit takes responsibility for living his contemplative life with honor, dignity, and personal integrity. Meanwhile, for the vast majority of Christian contemplatives, the life of silence is embedded in a network of community relationships and responsibilities of some form. True mysticism does not fly from such obligations, but embraces them and seeks to meet them well.

Christian mysticism is spiritual and transcendental, rather than magical. The authentic mystic does not seek supernatural power for the purpose of controlling earthly circumstances, but rather seeks to surrender to the will and calling of Divine Love. By doing so, one does not abdicate the need to be engaged with the earthly dimension of life (see #1), but rather abandons all things to Divine Providence, whether “good” or “bad.” Both pleasure and suffering are held lightly and viewed in the light of eternity.

Christian mysticism is centered in love. It is not centered in experience, or in shifts of consciousness, or even in miracles or healing — no matter how worthy such spiritual matters might be. For the authentic mystic, all the phenomena of mysticism is always subordinate to the essential fact and yearning for ever-unfolding intimacy and immersion into the dance of Divine love. Such love is the heart of the Trinity and the key to Divine-human relations.

Union with God in authentic mysticism transforms the mystic for ever richer levels of live. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says of his followers, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Mysticism is a portal into such abundant living. Like all things of God, it is never an end to itself — if it were, it would cease to be an icon and instead become an idol. Mysticism points beyond itself to the life of kenosis and theosis: self-emptying in order to participate in the Divine nature.

As a result of such loving union, the authentic mystic becomes unselfish. Just as normal human moral development moves us from ego-centric to ethnocentric and finally world-centric stages of care, so the mystical life makes love of God and love of neighbor real by anchoring love of self in ever-widening circles of concern. An unselfish mystic is not contemptuous of the self, but rather loses interest in self-aggrandizement because of the deep love and interest felt for others: love that is, of course, expressed in concrete, practical ways.

Let me finish this post by quoting Emilie Griffin directly, as she has so eloquently summarized how these marks of authentic mysticism transform the contemplative who truly seeks a God-centered life:

The mystic is not seeking his or her own happiness, virtue, or well-being, though by surrendering self such blessings are often heaped upon him or her. The true mystic is not looking for peak experiences or altered states of consciousness. No, the genuine mystics is on a course of radical self-forgetting, self-surrendering, and self-transcending. Thus Underhill distinguishes the authentic mystic from those who are looking for a spiritual high.

— Introduction to Essential Writings of Evelyn Underhill, p. 13f.

Life Goes On

By Howard Thurman

During these turbulent times we must
remind ourselves repeatedly
that life goes on.
This we are apt to forget.
The wisdom of life transcends our wisdoms;
the purpose of life outlasts our purposes;
the process of life cushions our processes.
The mass attack of disillusion and despair,
distilled out of the collapse of hope,
has so invaded our thoughts that what we know
to be true and valid
seems unreal and ephemeral.
There seems to be little energy left for aught but futility.

This is the great deception.
By it whole peoples have gone down to oblivion
without the will to affirm the great and permanent strength
of the clean and the commonplace. Let us not be deceived.
It is just as important as ever to attend to the little graces
by which the dignity of our lives is maintained and sustained.

Birds still sing;
the stars continue to cast their gentle gleam
over the desolation of the battlefields,
and the heart is still inspired by the kind word
and the gracious deed….

To drink in the beauty that is within reach,
to clothe one’s life with simple deeds of kindness,
to keep alive a sensitiveness to the movement
of the spirit of God in the quietness of the human heart
and in the workings of the human mind—
this is as always the ultimate answer to the great deception.

Howard Thurman was dean of the chapel at Howard University in Washington, DC, 1932-1944, as well as founder of Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, the first racially integrated church in the U.S. This selection is an excerpt from his book, Meditations of the Heart.

**
“It is just as important as ever to attend to the little graces
by which the dignity of our lives is maintained and sustained.”

With thanks to Beth at Alive on All Channels

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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory