Pentecost 2017

Photos of Young Adults smiling, cheering in cap and gown. A great day for them and for their families.  Celebration!  Degrees earned, lessons learned, friendships fostered others abandoned for good or ill -yet, hopefully insights gained about self, others, the reality of relationships. There is a lot to cheer about. And there’s Hope and excitement: What’s next? What’s new? Onward and Forward to the challenges ahead—ready or not!

 

Have they, do we, acknowledge what all events like these encompass?  Or do we just go through the motions, eager to enjoy the dinners planned for the evening or anxiously anticipate getting back to work, or addressing the problems at home in the days ahead?

 

In these, and in each of our lives’ celebrations, faith demands that we ask: Where is God in all of this?  To what extend are we, are they, our families and friends conscious of the spiritual potentials in these and other events that comprise the moments of our lives?  To what extent can we / might we surrender to the moment, be attentive to the present and allow the events of the past these events evoke bring us Wisdom, give us humility and insights into who we are and who we want to be in the days and years ahead?

 

In truth, Graduations, like Confirmations, Weddings, Job promotions / transfers, moving into new apartments/ new homes/ new neighborhoods have the potential to echo the realities of that first Pentecost – a culmination of life experiences with Jesus that give an ordinary celebration profound effects as it did centuries ago for Peter, John, James, the Blessed Mother, Mary Magdalene, Mary (Mother of James) and other disciples—deepening our understanding of who we were, who we are and what we are becoming.  Yes, they have the potential, but what do we do to bring their potentials to fulfillment?

 

On that first Christian Pentecost, the disciples were gathering for the Jewish Feast of Pentecost: The Second Harvest Festival 50 days after the Barley Harvest Festival of Passover–a day of Thanksgiving, rest and celebration.  It may or may not, at that time, have merged the festival with the commemoration of Moses presenting the people with Ten Commandment from Mount Sinai—perhaps a different Feast Day that was combined with that one.  Nevertheless, the disciples had gathered to pray and focus on Thanksgiving –for the simple gifts of life and nourishment, and, for them, gratitude for the Resurrected Jesus and his pledge to be with them always and strengthen them with the Holy Spirit.

 

On that day, as in other days, the disciples hoped for further clarification of Jesus’ story and how they would / could / should understand His Story as foundational to their own.  They didn’t have a guarantee that this would be the day; Jesus hadn’t told them the date.  They had to be present to the Feast they came to celebrate and simply be conscious that God’s Spirit is alive in all good things, and in all times and places.  Do we enter our celebrations—Graduations and otherwise–in the same way?

 

Whether conscious of it or not, our graduates have benefited from the Gifts of the Holy Spirit since birth.  They, like us, were endowed with the Spirit at Baptism and strengthened in the Spirit through Confirmation and every reception of the Eucharist in between and beyond.  Yes, Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Awe of God, Wonder in God’s Creation, Courage, Fortitude, Aptitude for Mercy, Justice with Compassion.

 

The lesson here: How much more could they, could we engage in life’s challenges and struggles if we more consciously and deliberately attend to the Holy Spirit?   All we must do is connect our stresses with those of Jesus and the disciples, relate our vacillating between fear and hope with Israelites in the desert, the peoples of the Scriptures and the Saints who’ve come after, continually learning from them, and, like them, acknowledging our conscious dependence upon God.

 

On this Pentecost, we can take comfort that God’s grace is active in us and our world whether we pay attention to the Spirit or not. Despite ourselves. Jesus walks with us whether we know it or not.  But Scripture, Prayer and Sacrament connect us to the bigger picture, the better picture: our lives are not our own but belong to God and for the service of God. In Churches and in Homes we are the people called to a great awakening in our consciousness for charity toward ourselves and others in all things, to make this a better world, more caring world, a world where others see that discipleship in Jesus does and can make a difference—for everyone.  All for the greater glory of God.

 

ASH WEDNESDAY

by Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

 

 

Ash Wednesday is the second most popular church day throughout the year–second only to Christmas. “Why?”   Because this day, these rituals expose what everyone knows yet tries to avoid or pretends to forget: Death is inevitable.  Death comes for all — no matter our faith, our politics, our ethnicity or culture. Death reminds us of our common humanity.

 

Ultimately, acknowledging DEATH is the FREEDOM to put our lives, our worries, our anxieties, our prejudices, our fears into proper perspective. To live our lives well, with dignity, morality and charity, we need to be reminded of DEATH. Yes, we need to be conscious of DEATH to be more fully alive.

 

In its opposition to LIFE, to joyful existence, to loving fully, SIN is also death. It is as universally ubiquitous as death — no matter our faith, our politics, our ethnicity or culture, SIN is in evidence. And thus, SIN ALSO reminds us of our common humanity.

 

Acknowledging SIN is also freedom.  When we admit, we are wrong we free ourselves from pride, from having to make excuses, from pretending we’re perfect when we know we are not. Sin exposes our delusions that we are above and beyond the common folk, that we are somehow superior specimens in contrast took our competitors, our classmates, our friends—or, dare we acknowledge, the many ways we may be better than some of our family members. Yes, sin makes evident we are more like everybody else – a truth we don’t often like to admit.

 

Yet, we know that Confessing our sins Is Freedom. The truth we all are sinners frees us from oppressive guilts and insecurities that chip away at our self-esteem– no matter the pride or false bravado we project to others. Identifying our sins frees us from the burdens of hypocrisies, and offers HOPE for change, for growth, for transformation.  Blessed are the meek and humble, indeed, for when we get honest, we get humble and it is humility that strengthens our belief in the God of Jesus Christ, that His Holy Spirit is within us and present and at work in our world.

 

That is the reason we arrived here today.  Drawn to the Church, to renew our commitment to Catholic Christianity in part for the ways it acknowledges the power of signs and symbols.  So, we put ashes on our foreheads, publicly witnessing to THESE FACTS:

1.                 Death is reality

2.                We are sinners,

3.                And that all are dependent on the MERCY OF GOD in whom we live and move and have our being.

 

In addition to these ashes on our foreheads, we return to the Mass which includes the Confession of sin and the Hope and Realities of the WORD and EUCHARIST.  We return to fortify our relationship with Jesus as our Christ and to improve our relationship with others.   That is perfect freedom. This is HOPE INCARNATE.

 

Our RECOMMITMENT TO THESE TRUTHS of OUR Christian Faith invite people of all religions to consider and articulate how their respective faiths and lives witness to a Merciful God.  When this happens, we shed light on to the same realities that death exposes: our common humanity and the need for God.

 

If asked today by others ” Why are wearing ashes on your forehead?” answer plainly and with confidence:  “there’s value in admitting our wrongs and believing in the Loving and Merciful God Jesus revealed.”  This can –and should — and WILL– make a difference. It will change the ways we see ourselves and the ways we treat others daily. This entire Lenten season strives to imprint this truth on our bodies and souls: LORD, JESUS CHRIST, SON OF THE LIVING GOD, HAVE MERCY ON US SINNERS. Making this our continual prayer Is our Freedom and our Hope.

 

Here’s an example of the difference CHRISTIAN Faith can make in our lives:

 

I invite you to imagine you are back in grade school– 3rd or 4th grades– you are 8, 9 or 10. You’ve had a bad day and, on that day, your faith was no consolation to you.  You forgot Jesus was with you, that you could turn to GOD for consolation.  So instead, you turned to another kid on the playground, the one with a dirty shirt, who rarely combed his or her hair, and you picked on him. You teased her unmercifully. Name calling, ethnic slurs and brutality ensue and you left the playground angrier than before.

 

On arriving home, your parent or guardian asked “What was the matter?” You tell what you did. Now that parent or guardian may or may not have been present to Jesus at that moment. If not, if he/she forgot that we are all sinners AND temples of the Holy Spirit equally. So, that parent or guardian screamed, “Go to your room and get out of my sight. I’m disgusted with you.”   And, if that was their response, in retrospect, we can forgive them for it.  After all, we were not in touch with Christ ourselves on that day.  But if they were –ah what a difference!

 

If in a more prayerful mood, our parent or guardian would ask what caused us to act that way.  They would have reminded us that we all make bad choices, hurt ourselves and others but in faith we can turn to God whose mercy inspires us to admit our wrongs and do something about them.   They may have invited us to pray over what happened and discuss how we could put things right.  They would have invited us to look at the choices before us – we could perpetuate the hurt, the guilt, or make changes for the better.  Perhaps the love and mercy they showed us motivated us to phone that other kid and say we were sorry and say that we wanted to make it up to him.  Perhaps we went to his or her house and apologized in person, inviting them to play a game with us or we offered to help with homework.  If that was in your childhood experiences, that would have been an experience of GOD.

 

If this or something like it happened to you as a young person, I am here to assure you that that day was one of the best days of your young life. If it didn’t happen, if your parent or guardian condemned you and did not help you so something about it, if you kept your wrongdoing to yourself and perpetuated it because you felt guilty and ashamed, if you indulged your anger even further, FEAR NOT. For today, with Ashes on your forehead, you can change what you would do TODAY—you can act differently NOW—with anyone you may have hurt or who has hurt you.  You can appropriate the gifts of your Confirmation now: the courage to speak the truth with mercy, with patience and kindness for yourselves and for others because we are all going to die. You can DIE to the Past and be present to God in Jesus Christ right NOW and let God’s tender mercy fill you with grace.  That is the Freedom of Ash Wednesday; the Courage of Ash Wednesday; the Truth of Ash Wednesday and what this season of LENT encourages us to embrace.

Movie Review & Reflection: LA LA LAND

Movie Review & Reflection:  LA LA LAND

Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

Do you have to enjoy Hollywood musicals to enjoy LA LA LAND?  Yes and No.  YES, if you have ever had the urge to break into a song and dance in moment of comfort and joy.   YES, if you enjoy dancing and appreciate it as one of humanity’s greater pleasures.  YES, if you have a trace of nostalgia for that great AN AMERICAN IN PARIS ballet. (I956, MGM, Gene Keely, Leslie Caron; available on Blu Ray and Streaming.)  Director Damien Chazelle and Choreographer Mandy Moore’s (not the actress /singer) song and dance finale (almost finale) is a tribute to that ballet and it’s charming and magical.  But, oh, how I wish they had kept the company dancing in a flowing, ever-enlarging dance spectacle. So.  If you answered YES to all the above: GO!  If you answered “No” because you are the kind of person who interiorizes your moments of joy and/or never add a dance to your step or skip about for the fun of it, or find musicals silly, silly, silly, then stay home.  But before you settle in beside your Christmas / Hanukkah fire, be forewarned: there’s more to LA LA LAND than song and dance.

LA LA LAND focuses on the creative artistry, goals and objectives of two young lovers who, as they fall in love, exemplify the simple joys of love, music and art for their own sake.  These segments are the heart of the film and offer its greatest pleasures (the “almost-finale” notwithstanding). Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, the consummate jazz pianist seeking ART not popularity, and he plays the role well. As always, he’ a photogenic, attractive leading man and, in this film, he even has a dancer’s physique so when he glides aspiring actress Mia (the charming Emma Stone) into the gentle choreography of a starlit summer night, it all seems (almost) natural.  Now don’t expect Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers because Gosling and Stone are not polished professional dancers or singers. But that reality is precisely one of the points this movie makes:  Don’t leave everything to the professionals!    Sing a little, dance a little.  Walk on the “Sunny Side of the Street.”  (Or live in Los Angeles along with everyone else who wants to be Fred and Ginger who never get to sing or dance or act for pay and just keep basking in the sunshine year-round.)

The First Act of LA LA LAND could be tighter.   Gosling and Stone have chemistry, so we would have a lot more fun if the sparks of antagonism, approach/avoidance were ignited more fully at the onset.  (There’s a moment after the opening number where you think the sparks will fly but the script postpones the joy.)  Instead we get a good deal of the clichés of “the struggling artist.”  (The limited National Endowment for the Arts notwithstanding – will Americans ever truly support the ARTS in Education and local communities beyond buying high-priced concert tickets?)  But once Sebastian and Mia’s romance is in bloom, the film enchants and gives us a bit of punch, too, in some very well acted dramatic scenes.  Odd for a musical but it’s these dramatic scenes that help us care about the couple and give us reason to want to care more.  The songs they and others sing are better than serviceable but I found only a couple memorable.  I liked the ballads CITY OF STARS, the emotional and dramatic context of FOOLS WHO DREAM (engaging lyrics) and the rhythmic START A FIRE, the latter enhanced by the performance of John Legend, a most welcomed guest star. The jazz arrangements and orchestrations for all the numbers are excellent.  (Music by Justin Herwitz, Songs by Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul.)

LA LA LAND is a Hollywood Musical more about the ordinary than the glamorous, more about the reality than fantasy of show business. Meanwhile, it kind of insists that we keep romance and music in the picture.  As it is in this picture, may it be in YOUR picture, too.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Now most people would agree that “popular’ isn’t necessarily better (although it can be). BUT how can creative people earn their living when their work does not prove popular, remunerative or classifiable as genius?
  2. Is it a waste of time to attend to things you enjoy (especially singing, dancing, acting/ play-acting) if you are merely good but not spectacular at them?
  3. Can people follow their bliss, carve out a generative, joyful life without having to be on the big screen, the great white way or go viral streaming on the internet? Must there always be an audience for every act of creativity? (Can “ART” be its own reward?)
  4. Our competitive culture practically demands SUCCESS. How do you identify it?  Is it all relative? How important is it to you? Is it the same as recognition (an important human dynamic) or is it recognition-run-amuck?
  5. No one wants to be “left behind.” No one wants to be taken for granted yet society offers a living template of “winners” and “losers.”  Who “wins” and who “loses” in LA LA LAND?  Sebastian or Mia?  Director / Writer Damien Chazelle or YOU as a moviegoer?

 

 

 

Discerning God’s Will

A friend asked me “How might we discern God’s Will for us?” I thought I would share my response:
 
Discerning God’s Will: God’s greatest gift to humanity is Free Will. “Free Will” is the source of the Scriptural phrase that we are “made in God’s Image.” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the prolific writer and former Chief Rabbi of London, England, invites us to ponder this concept: Instead of imaging God standing on the horizon, beckoning us to make one particular choice over and against another, imagine God standing behind us ready to support and strengthen us with GRACE whatever choices we make. When our choices enhance the greatest capacity for us to LOVE GOD, LOVE SELF, LOVE NEIGHBOR., grace abounds. And, should we choose another route, GOD has “got our back,” so to speak–ever-ready to catch us falling backwards and give us the strength we need to choose differently.
 
It’s a fact of life that by making choices that fulfill the “Great Commandment” we risk receiving the judgments and condemnations of others. However, most people will “come around,” when they experience the joy and love emanating from us toward them and others.

On the Tragedy in Orlando, FL

There appears to be significant self-loathing in the emerging portrait of the murderer at the gay-oriented Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL.  The best thing religious leaders can do for their constituents is to promote love of self– the self-acceptance and full dignity of being a unique human being, that includes our ethnicity, physical traits and sexual orientation. Love, compassion and empathy toward others begins here.  There is no other healthy foundation for faith.

I invite people of ALL Faiths to persevere in spreading this message that we are, indeed, children of a magnanimous, benevolent God whose love is unconditional, who delights in diversity and the many colors and shapes and sizes of every living creature on the face of the earth. Condolences to all the bereaved. Together may we cultivate Hope together.

My LukeLive! ministry includes a central segment on the importance of love and self-acceptance.  This meditation comes right after I’ve invited listeners to reflect on the day of their birth.  You can listen to it here:

I invite you to support my ministry by downloading this and other segments, or the entire album of Luke Live! Highlights at

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/revjamesmdiluziocsp

For more in this conversation on the tragedy at the Pulse club, read this blog post from Bishop Robert Lynch of Saint Petersburg, FL.  This is the BEST statement from a Catholic Bishop regarding the murder of gay men, lesbians and trans-gender:  Please read: http://bishopsblog.dosp.org/?p=6644

Here’s an appropriate image for this week:

Pala Baglione, Borghese Deposition or The Entombment – Bing images

Homily for Ash Wednesday 2016 (Really a “Sermon”)

ASH WEDNESDAY 2016

Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

Is there anyone, who can tell us what Ash Wednesday is all about?

Well, it’s about Death.  Nothing brings us down to earth as does the reality of death. It is one of the most essential common human denominators.  Rich or poor, good or evil, death is in store for everyone.  It puts every one’s life in perspective.  Think about our anxieties over our bank accounts and levels of success. Death levels the playing field.

Jesus invites us to be liberated by death. Coming down to earth, he shared in our common humanity and taught us that in life and death we must ground ourselves in our common dependence on God.  Through his passion and death, he delivered us from all of life’s illusions.  He keeps us mindful that trusting in God is the only way to die and therefore the only way to live.   For all of life is embossed in the pattern of Jesus: dying and rising, dying and rising: from evolution to the change of seasons and the stages of human life—we have to trust in this eternal pattern which, in turn, will strengthen our trust Christ is with us through it all.  Rooted in Christ, our Catholic faith insists that death is but a new birth to an ever expanding eternity in a communion of saints whose perfection continues to perfect itself in compassion for and solidarity with the lives in heaven and on earth.  Ash Wednesday invites us to live the same way.*

Ash Wednesday is also about sin; another form of death.  GRACE is at work in our willingness to acknowledge our sins.   This is part of the truth that sets us free.  To acknowledge our sin is to die to sin.  Confessing sin admits that we live in debt to God in whom we live and move and have our being and whose mercy and forgiveness alone continually restore us to life. In turn, this glorious Season of Lent reminds us that if we truly believe in God’s mercy and forgiveness, we are obliged to cultivate these same virtues toward others as much as toward ourselves.  Mercy offers hope and blesses those who give and those who take.  Just like Communion.

Today we willingly let ashes be smeared in the sign of the cross on our foreheads, as part of our effort to let this truth sink into our consciousness: Death is humbling, therefore death is good. Dedicating our days to prayer, alms giving and lives of restraint will keep us on guard against sin and fear, and deepen our trust in to live more fully now and life in the world to come. Amen.

And that’s what Ash Wednesday is all about, Charlie Brown.

*See how Christianity is in sync with Judaism by reading this passage from Isaiah 58: 6-7

“This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; . . . Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not tuning your own back on your own.”

And here is something similar in the Koran 4:17 : “As for those that have faith and do good works, We shall admit them to gardens watered by running streams, where, wedded to chaste spouses, they shall abide for ever. To a cool shade We shall admit them.”

Movie Review: THE REVENANT

Movie Review: THE REVENANT

Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

The vagaries of nature often wreak havoc in the minds of believers as they try to reconcile the hardships and challenges nature inflicts on the human condition with our insistence on a loving, merciful God. The best possible explanation comes from centuries of theological discernment and debate, but it is a simple one: God honors God’s creation on its own terms: Nature will be as Nature needs to be, i.e., based on the aptitudes and limits of its essence and design. Most every believer acknowledges these days that “Nature” is not God’s moral agent of reward and punishment because ancient biblical understanding was framed in a more primitive mindset.  Nature simply is what it is for God allows the material world to exist within its own laws and limitations.  Occasional interventions notwithstanding.

The same applies to human nature, particularly regarding man’s inhumanity to man.* The suffering we inflict upon one another through God’s gift of free will certainly vindicates God from any blame.  God’s grace may empower and expand the good we chose but the evil we display grounds itself in our freedom to act against conscience and inherent moral codes of the human psyche.  A psyche illumined and informed by the collective (and, for believers, God-inspired) wisdom on display in the Ten Commandments, Jesus’ Beatitudes, teachings of Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed and many, many more.

Spiritual reflection is inherent in THE REVENANT.  God is an ever present but silent force in this narrative because of the way director Alejandro G. Iῆarritu’s tells his story.  The film, the script and the scenery all evoke questions about faith, morality, nature and humanity.   The movie is more than just about one person’s survival (or inability to survive—no spoilers here) in part because characters invoke Christianity and in some cases a false understanding of Christianity in key scenes.  There’s an implicit sense throughout the film that not only is the protagonist’s life at stake, but so, too, his soul.  All the characters hang in the balance between good and evil, with many if not all tipping the scale to the dark side as we, the audience, look on and ponder survival of the fittest and so much more.

 

THE REVENANT is a fascinating cinematic exploration of one man’s attempt to survive the cruel, dark impulses of the human heart and will in the context of all of nature’s menace.  Is it revenge that animates him or something else entirely? The man in the question is Hugh Glass, an historical American figure of the 1820’s western expansion and fur trade, played by Leonardo DiCaprio employing all the tools of the great method acting tradition with aplomb. In a captivating performance, Leonardo reveals the inner struggles of a man confronting fears and prejudices, hate and greed on grand display among the warring French and American fur traders and native American tribes for whom betrayal, scapegoating and murder are often excuses for living.  Furthermore, Hugh has many inner demons of his own, while, at the same time his courage, intelligence and his love and devotion toward his son Hawk and the memory of his martyred wife gain our respect and admiration. In many silent stretches of struggle, victory and defeat, DiCaprio keeps us in suspense and awe.  He deserves his Oscar nomination.

And amidst all the human conflict, the magnificent vistas of Wyoming’s majestic mountains, trees, sparkling rivers and roaring waterfalls alternately cast their spell of beauty, grandeur and indifference just as God seems to do at times.  THE REVENANT (the word means “ghost” or “one that returns after death or a long absence”) is an adventure story turned into theological reflection.  I dare anyone who sees it not to be steeped in deep thought about life, nature and survival—and the choices between fully living and mere existence.  At times the visuals are raw, the tearing of human flesh, the gutting of entrails human and animal—the result of arrow and gunfire, fire and stone.  And much has been written about Hugh’s battle with a mother bear ferociously defending her cubs after his unwitting encroachment.  (Extraordinary computer generated images.) But the whole offers a profundity much greater then these individual parts. The film is slowly paced, contemplative and for that, it stands alone among most modern cinema with the exception of the works of Terence Malik whose visuals also convey spiritual dynamics and questions of God and Nature (TREE OF LIFE).  The crucible of Hugh Glass we see on the screen also serves as a test to viewers’ ability to pay attention to detail, to focus one moment at a time, to surrender the impatience that can occur when accustomed to so many fast paced action adventures.  Good for the soul.

THE REVENANT features stunning cinematography, seamless editing and evidences first-class direction.  Great acting, too, not in any way limited to DiCaprio alone. Antagonist Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald is a perfect foil for Glass and there are compelling performances by Domnhall Gleeson as Captain Andrew Henry (government agent in charge of the trader’s security), Forrest Goodluck as Glass’ son and Arthur RedCloud as a benevolent Native American.  The latter three provide some welcomed moments of compassion and attempts toward a greater good.  The film’s conclusion offers possibilities of transcendence but remains ambiguous. A perfect opportunity to engage in conversation and debate with others about the worlds without and within.

 

*Fellow feminists be warned: there is only one woman in this film and she is featured briefly in flashbacks and in visions. Appropriately she reinforces a multi-layered theme–a “revenant” inspiring the “revenant” aspects of the title character.