Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Now! Here! This!

                                            NOW! HERE! THIS!
The Gospel according to Mark, in the opinion of most reputable biblical scholars, was the first of the four Gospels to be written. It was believed to have been written in Rome sometime between 65-75AD while the Jewish-Roman War (66-70, 73AD) was being waged in Palestine at the completion of which Jerusalem lay in charred ruins and its greatest Temple of Herod the Great was desecrated in August of 70AD after a three month siege of the city wherein, according to the historian Flavius Josephus, nearly 1,000,000 died. Three years later a thousand Zealots and families  died on Masada while under siege by Flavius Silva and the 10th Legion.  Nero, who died by forced suicide in 68AD, was the first of two Roman Emperors to be referred to as the Beast in the New Testament Book of Revelation. The number number 666 was assigned to him as these numbers were arrived at by adding up the numerical value of the Hebrew name KSR NRN (Caesar Nero), .

Before Nero died, he oversaw a severe persecution of the young Jewish-Christian community in Rome including the execution of their leaders,  Peter and Paul. He also, it is believed, began a fire to rid Rome of the squalor of the city inhabited by these poor Christians. When the fire burned back on some of his own property he blamed the fire on the Christians and began a persecution.

A follower of the Christian sect who was regarded as a leader began to put down in writing many of the narratives and events of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. No doubt he risked his life with this activity and revealed matters in a manner which would not bring down excessive reprisals against the struggling young community. Mark’s Gospel begins with what I consider to be his essential message, his “good news” which he asked his disciples to proclaim as their vocation.

The very first chapter of his work, contains at the beginning Jesus’ “Keynote Address” to his followers:
 “Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the good news of  God and saying: ‘The present moment is the right time; the Kingdom of God is within you; change the way you think about reality and believe this good news.’”[Mk. 1:15-16]

Just imagine if Mark had been arrested and unable to write any more about Jesus’ life or teachings. Imagine if the persecution of Christians had been such that only this fragment of Mark was all that was saved of the New Testament. It is my opinion that this is the essential “good news” to a world which from the beginning had been seeking for a God “outside” of them.

Another very early source of Christian scriptures, Saint Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, emphasizes the importance of this same truth when he writes:
" God gave me the task…of proclaiming his message,
which is the secret he hid through all past ages from all mankind but has now revealed to his people. God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples.  And the secret is that Christ is in you. "   (Colossians 1:25-  27)

And Paul presents a test of our faith:

 “Put yourselves to the test and judge yourselves,   to find out whether you believe. Surely you know that Christ Jesus is in you? – unless you have completely failed.   (2 Cor. 13:5).
I was never one to enjoy reading all of the Bible over and over again to achieve some kind of great familiarity with the entire work so as to be able to quote passage, chapter and verse to amaze my hearers, to somehow compare myself favorably to others so as to make some kind of great impression upon their lives. As I grew older, nearing my present 76 years, I preferred instead to grow more silent in my prayer, not listening for some celestial voice or seeking some astounding vision, instead I simply settled back and accepted this primary truth, the kingdom of God is within me, and my job was to shut up and BE with God within me, not because I know it but because I believe it. To help me focus on this reality, I slowly repeat Jesus’ first words in Mark. I quietly say: 

“The present moment is the right time;
Change the way you think about reality,
For the kingdom of God is within you,
Believe this good news!”

Then I even more quietly say: “I do believe you, Jesus.”
I keep repeating this and believing this, then I say that it is true of every person who has ever lived on earth. Then I say it whenever I see any person, no matter who. It is praying that I can do everywhere and at all times with no strain. So belief comes before knowledge. Belief is a gift which if we do not have it, we can ask for it from a Father who is closer to us than we are to ourselves.

Somehow, I believe that this is Jesus’ good news, to which we have added millions of words of preaching, theology and arguments which do nothing but make us afraid of God and feeling that God doesn’t care or doesn’t even exist.  Professionals sometimes make laity feel like ignoramuses when they tell them to live in fear of eternal damnation and to fear god above all. That’s not Jesus’ Father.

I believe that sincere spiritual Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Orthodox and Roman Catholics can all move towards union if a new look were given to the proponents of contemplative prayer as witnessed by the Dalai Lama, Thomas Keating, Daisetz Suzuki, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, Meister Eckhardt, the Desert fathers and mystics eastern and Western, and even by that greatest of all theologians who died in the silence of a Cistercian monastery by choice, Thomas Aquinas.

These men focused on the sacrament of the present moment, in silent meditation in faith, in hope  and in love of God. And when each dealt with his/her neighbor, it is God acting through one to God within the other at work. We are not islands, but channels. The human person is a channel of Divinity, not a closed end container to be filled up.

Modern scientific research seeks truth through observable phenomena. As with doubting Thomas in the Gospel of John we often are urged to say “seeing IS believing”. As with modern day astrophysical exploration, the closer we get to the origins of our Cosmos, the more we perceive it disappearing into a point of no dimensions, a “no thing”, “no where”, in “no time”. We cannot see the First Cause, and because of that we can really say nothing about it. We can reason to its existence, but are not equipped to perceive it, or conceive of it, but are able only to believe in It. Thus as we read Jesus’ opening good news, we are asked to believe that the Kingdom of God is present within us here and now, and with this belief we are asked to pray according to his instructions: 
 “When you pray, go to your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. And your Father,
who sees what you do in secret, will reward you.”
           (Mt. 6:6)    
One of the greatest obstacles facing Roman Catholics in embracing this understanding of the good news is the long history of battling heresies as they arose which stemmed mainly from theological disputes which the average believer could not understand. That is the very point. To strive to understand Jesus’ message and adequately define matters beyond conceptualization is not primarily what Jesus seemed to want us to do, but rather to believe what he said.  
It is as Saint Augustine wrote:
“Credo ut intelligam; et intelligo ut credam”
[“I believe in order to understand, and
understand in order to believe”]

 So, first pray that you might believe, in the “now”, the “here” and the “this”; then breathe, let your thoughts come and be flushed, go to the center of your being and BE there with your Father who loves you. Do this at every opportunity and you will possess the “pearl of great price."

I had just one desire—to give myself entirely to God. So I headed for the monastery. An old monk asked me, "What is it you want?  I said, "I just want to give myself to God. I expected him to be gentle, fatherly, but he shouted at me,"NOW!" I was stunned. He shouted again,"NOW!" Then he reached for a club and came after me. I turned and ran. He kept coming after me, brandishing his club and shouting, "Now, Now!  That was years ago. He still follows me, wherever I go.   Always that stick,  always that “NOW!”
                                                                            Charlie Mc