Pages Menu
RssFacebook
Categories Menu

Posted by on Apr 5, 2020

Palm Sunday – Jesus Comes to Jerusalem

Palm Sunday – Jesus Comes to Jerusalem

Palm Sunday has arrived once more. In 2020, as we deal with the challenges of a worldwide pandemic, it seems a good time to look carefully at the story of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem as he began the last week of his public ministry.

Here’s a word search puzzle to try, share it with children and friends, and reflect on what it all meant then and now. If you can’t find all the words, check here for the solution, but spend some time searching for them and reflecting first!

Read More

Posted by on Feb 10, 2016

Prayer as Lent Begins

Prayer as Lent Begins

 

Humanitarian Aid
Today God our Father brings us to the beginning of Lent.

We pray that in this time of salvation he will fill us with the Holy Spirit, purify our hearts, and strengthen us in love. Let us humbly ask him:

Lord, give us your Holy Spirit.

May we be filled and satisfied,
— by the word which you give us.

Teach us to be loving not only in great and exceptional moments,
— but above all in the ordinary events of daily life.

May we abstain from what we do not really need,
— and help our brothers and sisters in distress.

May we bear the wounds of your Son in our bodies,
— for through his body he gave us life.

Intercessions, from Morning Prayer for Ash Wednesday,
Liturgy of the Hours

Read More

Posted by on May 22, 2015

Prayer as Lent Begins

Why Mary is Important

Hail Mary - F Fong

When we think or speak of Mary, the Mother of God, it is always important to keep in mind that she is best understood in the context of her relationship with her son, Jesus. Said formally, Mariology is always constructed in the context of Christology. This is so because Christ is the redeemer and the sole source of salvation. Everything in creation came to be through him. Mary, because of her role, participates in the creative and redeeming action of God in a special way.

Mary’s exceptional conception as sinless affords her the choice to live fully for God. She was not programmed to be good, but rather, Mary did not carry the deep fear of interference and resistance against God that exists in all other human beings. The rest of the human race has the grace and possibility to work with and overcome fear and anger, but we must work to limit our desire for control and instead surrender to God’s grace. We often do not choose right away to stop being resentful or angry. We often project onto others the responsibility for our own self-inflicted injuries. Mary had a clear vision of her place in life. She was born totally honest and prepared to grow. She chose to say “yes” over and over to these qualities, even when they brought suffering.

According to the Scriptures, Mary grew in her understanding of her son, herself, and the work of God in the world for salvation. We read more than once in the Gospel of Luke that she “pondered” how their lives were unfolding and what God was doing. She did not have a road map to reassure her of where they were going, but she had given her consent at the Annunciation and she trusted over and over. Her pregnancy was unexpected and controversial. The choices that Jesus made had consequences. His declaration in the synagogue that he was the Messiah brought immediate violence and ejection from the community. We find him and Mary later in the Gospel living in a completely new town, Capernaum, not a hill village like Nazareth but a fishing village.

Icon of the Wedding at Cana - Lucia 398 - CCWhen Jesus began his itinerant preaching and healing ministry we know that Mary, her sister and a group of women accompanied him as well as the crowds. This was not a normal lifestyle for first century Jewish women. Mary had to give up her reputation, village, old friends and the comforts of a house. In all of these ways she was an excellent listener of God as he called her out of the usual, the expected. She had to be quite aware of the danger that Jesus was in. In the Gospels, in village after village, the rage and jealously grew in the scribes and Pharisees. They hated his penetrating honesty, his clear perception of their air of superiority. They despised Jesus’ humility and closeness to the cast-offs of society. Mary must have constantly had to put her worries in the hands of God. She modeled an exceptional surrender to God and acceptance of His will. No one could have gone through this without being in deep prayer and interior connection to God all the time. She stood by Jesus from Cana to Golgotha and we have no reason to believe that she knew that “everything was going to be all right.”

Throughout the centuries Mary has been understood as the second Eve who reversed the willfulness and disobedience of the first Eve. Even when this story is understood metaphorically, Mary still is understood as the first human to be perfectly and happily obedient. She is also appreciated as the mother of the Church because she remained as the center of the early church community and loved them as her own. But it is her maternity of Jesus which stands out as the most important role she has because of its eschatological (future reaching) character. What is meant by this is that she is not just a person who did something unique in the past. Mary was and is “full of grace.” In the spiritual relationship which she has with her son and the whole of creation, Christ’s grace pours through her as the first disciple to all of humanity. Mary mothers us (protects and strengthens us) if we let her. Catholicism understands all of humanity, living and dead, to be in spiritual solidarity, a mystical body. Because of this solidarity or communion, Mary can help us to have a readiness to commitment, trust even in unbearable loss, and unimaginable joy when we are united to her son.

Read More

Posted by on Feb 26, 2015

Prayer as Lent Begins

Pope Francis’ Lenten Message – 2015

Cropped -Pope Francis - Canonization_2014-_The_Canonization_of_Saint_John_XXIII_and_Saint_John_Paul_II_(14036966125) - Jeffrey Bruno - Creative CommonsPope Francis, in his 2015 Lenten message, reminds us that Lent is a time of renewal, a “time of grace.” He reminds us that God loved us first and is never indifferent to what happens to us. However, we too easily become indifferent to what is happening in the world when we are not directly affected.

Speaking of the “globalization of indifference,” the Holy Father calls us to an interior renewal that keeps us from becoming indifferent or withdrawn into ourselves. He asks us to reflect on three biblical texts:

1. “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1Cor 12:26) — The Church

2. “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9) — Parishes and  Communities

3. “Make your hearts firm!” (James 5:8) — Individual Christians

 Read the entire message …

Read More

Posted by on Feb 26, 2015

Prayer as Lent Begins

Mensaje del Santo Padre para la Cuaresma 2015

El Santo Padre FranFrancisco_(20-03-2013) - small -CC 3.0 attribution license - Brazilcisco, en su mensaje para la Cuaresma en 2015 dice que la Cuaresma es un tiempo de renovación, un «tiempo de gracia». Nos recuerda que Dios nos amó primero y nunca se pone indiferente frente a lo que nos está pasando. Sin embargo, nuestro corazón se cae en la indiferencia fácilmente, especialmente cuando lo que pasa en el mundo no nos afecta directamente.

Describiendo el problema de la globalización de la indiferencia, el Santo Padre nos llama a una renovación interior para que no nos cayéremos en la indiferencia ni nos cerráremos adentro de nosostros mismos. Nos invita a meditar acerca de tres pasajes bíblicas:

1. «Si un miembro sufre, todos sufren con él» (1 Co 12,26) – La Iglesia

2. «¿Dónde está tu hermano?» (Gn 4,9) – Las parroquias y las comunidades

3. «Fortalezcan sus corazones» (St 5,8) – La persona creyente

Para leer el texto completo.

Read More

Posted by on Feb 24, 2015

Prayer as Lent Begins

Growing: From the Celebration of Light at Candlemas into Lent

lent-cross-trinity-park-forestThe arrival of Lent always seems too fast. Christmas season is so short yet so intense following the four weeks of Advent. We get a brief few weeks of Ordinary Time to ponder the baptismal experience of Jesus and his response, and then, BOOM, here we are in Lent again! It sometimes feels like maybe we should just postpone it for a few more weeks. Maybe Easter wouldn’t really have to be the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. Would that be such a big deal? But then I think a bit further and decide that maybe 2000 years of tradition have something to tell me/us today as well.

February begins with the celebration of Candlemas on February 2. This day recognizes events in the life of Jesus and his parents when they visited the temple both for the ritual purification of Mary 40 days after childbirth and the presentation of Jesus, as her firstborn son, to God. It is also known as Candlemas because the prophet Simeon recognized Jesus as the Promised One and foretold that he would be a light to all the nations. Candles have been the primary source of light for most of the history of Christianity, so they became associated with these feasts.

As we listen to the Gospel accounts of the ministry of Jesus, we see him discovering the special relationship he has with God as Father and the mission for which he has been sent. He accepts that mission, to gather the people of Israel and bring them back with him to the Father, beginning with the poor and marginalized of his land. It’s not without reason that he calls fishermen and tax collectors to be his special friends or that he uses images of farming, tending flocks, baking bread, keeping house, and fishing to explain God’s love for the people. These are realities deeply understood by his audience.

Jesus had three years in which to grow into the man who would stand before the religious and political leaders of his country and testify to the truth of who he was/is. During that time he preached and healed many of those who were brought to him. He also retreated regularly into the hills or off onto the Sea of Galilee to pray. We are told more than once that he slipped away to pray early in the morning and his disciples had to go looking for him. To their insistent reminders that people were waiting for him, Jesus responded that time to be with his Father was even more important. That time away with his Father was what made it possible for him ultimately to face and accept his death and the apparent failure of his mission.

We are called to live in the light of the Resurrection, but we are also called to live as Jesus did. That means we must deal with many of the same realities faced by the people of his time. Poverty, injustice, hardship, the unfairness of life — these things are not unique to the ancient world nor to our world. It is through prayer, fasting, and other activities of Lent that we grow in strength to follow the Lord. When Easter arrives, we rejoice with the newly baptized as we once again rise with the Lord in our daily lives. All is renewed and hope springs forth eternally. From the Light come into the world, through the time of deepening prayer and growth in faith, to the joy of the Resurrection.

It’s time to celebrate Lent!

Read More

Posted by on Apr 11, 2014

The Gathering of Israel

The Gathering of Israel

The first reading of the Mass for Saturday of the fifth week of Lent, the day before Holy Week begins, is from the book of Ezekiel, chapter 37, verses 21-28. It begins:

Thus says the Lord God: I will take the children of Israel from among the nations to which they have come, and gather them from all sides to bring them back to their land.

In this prophecy, Ezekiel goes on to proclaim that the kingdoms of Israel will be reunited, the people will return to true worship of their God, David will be prince over them, and the Lord will again place His dwelling among them. By this all nations will know that it is the Lord who makes Israel holy.

Who was Ezekiel?

Ezekiel was born in Israel, but was taken to Babylon at age 25 after the conquest of Jerusalem, one of 3,000 exiled members of the upper class. He received his call to prophecy in Babylon when he was around 30 years old and in his prophecies predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. Once the city and temple had been destroyed, crushing the hopes of the exiles, Ezekiel’s prophecies turned from reproach for failure to obey the Lord to promises of the Lord’s renewal of Jerusalem and the return of the people to their homeland.

The conquest of Babylon by Persia resulted in the return of the exiles to their land, the reconstruction of the temple, and the renewal of temple-based worship. The Lord’s promise made through Ezekiel was carried out, though Ezekiel himself never returned to his homeland.

A promise kept — End of story?

The Lord’s promise to gather the children of Israel from among the nations and bring them back to their land, where they would be one nation with David as their prince and the Lord’s sanctuary among them includes a double layer of promise. The first and most obvious layer was fulfilled with the return of the exiles and their descendents to Jerusalem. Jerusalem and the temple stood as the center of Jewish life until the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD.

With the destruction of Jerusalem and the forced relocation of the people from their homeland out into other nations, it seems that the promise was not to be permanent. God and his sanctuary no longer lived among the people on their own land. This has led some to argue that the restoration of the Jewish people to the land of their ancestors is a requirement for the ultimate fulfillment of salvation history, something that must happen before Jesus can come in his final glory and the physical world can end with the advent of the Heavenly Kingdom.

Another approach would be to consider another, deeper layer in the prophecy, one not even suspected by Ezekiel. The second layer of prophecy points us to the mission of Jesus. Jesus saw his mission as the gathering of Israel for the beginning of God’s final kingdom. He started from the bottom up, working with ordinary people in Galilee, teaching the good news of his Father’s great love and mercy. He knew, however, that eventually he would need to bring that same message to the religious and political leaders of his time. That led him to Jerusalem and the events of Palm Sunday and Holy Week.

Why would this reading be placed just before Holy Week?

This reading, coming just before the narration of the events of Jesus’ last week of life, reminds us that he came to gather all of us as well, children of Israel through adoption by God, and bring us back to God’s land, united into one people, with himself as our King, and with God’s dwelling-place deep within our hearts.

As we enter into Holy Week, let us rejoice that God is with us, still leading his children from exile and separation into one kingdom, with the Son of David as our saviour. May our hearts always be open to welcome his presence within.

 

 

Read More

Posted by on Apr 5, 2014

“No Prophet Arises From Galilee”

“No Prophet Arises From Galilee”

“No prophet arises from Galilee.” This statement from St. John’s Gospel (Jn 7:53) reflects an attitude that is all too common even today. It arose in the context of the growing controversy over the teaching and ministry of Jesus. Some were saying he might be the long-awaited Christ. Others remembered that the Christ was to be of the family of David and so should come from Bethlehem. Even among the religious leaders, there were differences of opinion about Jesus and whether he could possibly be the One. Finally the matter was closed with the observation that all of the predictions of his coming said that the Prophet was not to come from Galilee.

The finality of this statement struck me today as I listened to the Gospel. In the context of their traditions and their centuries of reflecting on those traditions and prophecies, the Jewish people and their religious leaders had developed a very specific expectation of how God would fulfill the promises made through Abraham and the prophets. The Messiah was to come from the line of David. David’s city was Bethlehem. No one raised and educated in the Galilee could possibly be the Christ.

Yet Jesus was from Nazareth, a small Galilean town. And he came teaching with authority. He didn’t say, “Scripture says …” and simply quote the Law or the prophets. He said, “You have heard it said … but I say …” He taught with authority and what he taught did not necessarily conform to the established understandings of the Law. Sometimes his teachings clarified that the Law is a guideline but that respect and care for humans and their needs comes before literal obedience to a law. Sometimes his teachings went beyond the demands of the Law and called for a much higher level of love, mercy and care that are more like the way God deals with us. Sometimes he reminded his listeners that not the smallest aspect of the Law was to be ignored, but rather that he had come to fulfill the Law.

Who Jesus was and is, the source of his authority, his mission as savior, God’s vindication of his teachings and life in the Resurrection, and how we are to carry on that mission today are all important things to consider. But those concerns were not what struck me. The question that struck me today is, How often do I/we make judgements about people and what their role in life could possibly be? When we assume that a person who comes from an economically poor area cannot speak words of truth to us, then maybe we are missing Christ speaking to us. When we decide that a family member or friend has always acted in a particular way and will never do otherwise, what kind of chains are we putting on the person? How are we trying to limit what God is doing in a brother or to trying to do through a sister to reach us?

Incarnation includes the fullness of humanity

With the Incarnation, God became fully human. Jesus is fully divine and fully human. In his humanity, he is the most perfect human who ever lived. His divinity supported his humanity. It did not in any way blot out or diminish his humanity. But that humanity is one he also shares with each of us. Being human is not a bad thing. Humans have amazing potential to become ever more perfectly human, just as Jesus was human. God wants to bring us as humans to a closer relationship and intimacy within God’s own life as Trinity. When we put up a hand to dismiss someone or stop someone from following the divine call to become ever-more immersed into the Trinity and the out-flowing of love that such immersion brings to the world, we may be putting up a hand to try to stop God’s action in our lives and our world. What a tragedy that would be!

In the remaining couple of weeks before Easter, let us pray that we will not join those honest men of so long ago in trying to stop or limit God’s initiatives because they don’t fit the model we envision of how and through whom God will work today. Let us take great care not to declare, “No prophet (teacher, mystic, messenger. leader) arises from …”

Read More

Posted by on Mar 24, 2013

Prayer as Lent Begins

Singing Leaves Time and Palm Sunday

 

Palm Sunday Fronds

Palm Sunday– “Singing Leaves”

Faith is passed from generation to generation through simple gestures, songs, foods, and activities. As children live the activities of daily life in the cycles of the year, they notice more than we realize. Life, especially for the little ones, is heavily focused on the present moment, but they too become aware of the changing seasons in our church life and come to look forward to the next celebration.

I was reminded of this yesterday when a sweet four-year-old boy asked me if it were time for the “singing leaves” yet. It took me a moment to realize that he was referring to Palm Sunday. In our parish, as Catholics do in parishes around the world, we all gather in a courtyard outside the church on Palm Sunday. Each person has a palm frond and members of our parish youth group wave large palm branches, leading the congregation out of the church building to hear the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on that Sunday morning so long ago. Then, singing “The King of Glory Comes,” we all process back into the church for the Passion Sunday liturgy. (Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday occur on the same day.) This little boy remembered waving the palms last year and the singing as we re-entered the church. He was quite excited when I responded that this was the Sunday for the singing leaves.

As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, godparents, or simply friends, we share our faith best through the examples of our lives. Do we pause to thank God and ask a blessing before we eat? Do we greet the morning with a prayer? Do we remember to give thanks for our day and ask God’s blessing on our families, friends, and activities before we go to sleep at night? Do we gather regularly as a community of faith to celebrate Eucharist? Is Reconciliation (sacramental or simply interpersonal) a part of our lives? Do we pause in times of joy and times of sorrow to call the Lord into our midst? Do we time our holy day activities to match the liturgical timetable, not jumping to celebrate major feasts before their time but rather savoring the periods of anticipation and preparation for the feasts as well? Do we do these things with the children in our lives?

Children learn by observing and imitating. Only in later childhood and early adolescence do children begin to hunger for the meatier reasons for why we believe and do certain things. For a young child, “because that’s what we do now” can explain quite acceptably the timing of an activity. An older child will want to know that we do it “because that’s what Jesus told his friends to do before he died.” As adults, we too have opportunities to learn and grow more deeply in our faith and understanding of it — through both intellectual and spiritual practices. However, to reach our children, we do well to rely on activities, stories, songs, and celebrations.

As we move into this Holy Week and then on into Easter-tide, let’s remember to celebrate each in its own time. Holy Week is a good time to make and enjoy traditional Lenten dishes including Hot Cross Buns. It’s not time yet for Easter eggs or chocolate bunnies!

Mass on Holy Thursday can be a special time to celebrate caring for each other and the gifts of the Eucharist and the priesthood. Have a special meal, enjoy time together on this day, then join with your community to celebrate Eucharist and enter into the mystery of Jesus’ Passion — His great love for us.

Good Friday brings many opportunities to share faith with children. Little ones don’t need to know in great detail of the tortures inflicted on Jesus. They just need to know that Jesus loves them totally. So as we fast and reflect on the events of the day, let’s remember to be patient and peaceful. If the Solemn celebration for Good Friday is going to be too late or too “heavy” for the little children, then do something peaceful and loving at home with them. As they get older, take them with you to enter more deeply into the mystery.

Holy Saturday is a quiet day of preparation and anticipation. Coloring eggs, baking special breads or desserts, getting the house in order for the Easter celebration — all will become part of the faith tradition for our children. Happy memories or sad ones will remain with them based on the love they see through our bustle of activities and the times we stop for reflection or story-telling.

Easter Vigil brings the story of salvation history and its culmination in the Resurrection alive. Children from 3rd or 4th grade and older can appreciate this celebration, particularly if the passages from Scripture are proclaimed in an engaging fashion.

If we remember to celebrate each of these mysteries of Jesus’ Passion, Death, and  Resurrection during this week each year, our children will learn to treasure them as well. They may not always celebrate them as they move through adolescence and into adulthood. There may be times in their lives when they move away from the community and travel their own road to God, but the foundations will be there, always calling them to the Lord.

May this week, from the Singing Leaves to the Alleluias of Easter Vigil be a time of rich blessing for you and for your families and communities.

 

Read More

Posted by on Feb 15, 2013

Prayer as Lent Begins

Deserted Places and Deep Waters – Lent 2013 Begins

transportation-boat-on-water_w725_h485

The Gospel readings for the Saturday and Sunday immediately prior to the beginning of Lent 2013 speak deeply of two themes that can sustain us as believers during Lent and the transition of leadership in the Roman Catholic Church that will result from the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Theme one is the importance of taking time to rest and be with the Lord in prayer. Theme two is the call to go with the Lord into “deep water” to find an abundant catch.

In Saturday’s reading from the sixth chapter of Mark, Jesus tells his disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” (Mk 6:30) They all get into a boat and head off across the water. The people see where they are going and follow along by land. By the time Jesus and the disciples arrive at the “deserted place” they find it full of people. Jesus takes pity on them and begins to teach and heal. It was a very short time that he and the disciples had to rest and recharge their energies, yet with God’s help it was enough.

Sunday’s Gospel reading (Lk 5:1-11) presents the story of Jesus’ call of Peter and his brother. Jesus came to the seashore. People were crowding closely about him, so he asked Peter to pull his boat out a bit from the shore and sat there to teach them. When he’d finished, he told Peter to “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Peter and his crew had been working all night and caught nothing. He informed Jesus of this fact, but agreed to do what had been requested. When they lowered the nets, the nets were filled with fish to the point of breaking. They had to call another boat to help bring in all the fish and get safely back to shore. When Peter asked Jesus to leave him because he was not worthy to be with such a powerful person, Jesus instead called Peter to follow him and become a “fisher of men.”

Time out to rest and pray

As a people, we have dealt with some difficult issues in recent years, in our Church and in our local communities. Taking time to rest and pray a bit seems a good place to start the next chapter of our story. Many of the world’s people have experienced more difficult economic times than normal. Far too many live lives of dire poverty despite working long hours. The poor, the elderly, the children, the ill, and so many others struggle simply to survive. Yet despite the great needs of the world around us, we are called to take time to find deserted places where we can be alone with the Lord. Only with the Lord can we hope to reach out consistently with compassion to serve those most in need of help. Only with the Lord can we hope to find wise solutions to the economic and environmental challenges we face. Only with the Lord can we strengthen our families in the many forms they take and support each other in our commitments of fidelity, mutual love, and support for a lifetime together. Only with the Lord can we choose life consistently from womb to tomb: safeguarding the lives of women, children, the elderly, the ill, the imprisoned, the immigrant, and all others who are most vulnerable.

Deep waters and transitions

And what of that “deep water?” Deep waters are places of danger. Storms develop quickly. Waves can overwhelm a small boat easily. Psychologists note that deep water in dreams stands for the depths of our unconscious mind — places where we deal with difficult issues and create a new synthesis and basis for our daily activities and beliefs. The expression, “He’s gotten himself into deep water,” is used to describe a situation in which there is some real risk of failure, regardless of how sincerely or with what good will the person embarked on a course of action.

Times of transition are always times of being in “deep water” in one way or another. Certainties of the past may no longer hold. Future patterns and realities cannot be described with any assurance. Old ways pass away. New ways are not yet here. We are in a liminal or threshold state: neither here nor there, waiting to see what will unfold and what new wisdom will be gained as we move into the next phase of our lives. The truly great news is that the Lord is here with us in our little boats out in deep water. Because the Lord is here with us, an abundant catch awaits our labors. As we trust his word and move ahead, the Lord calls each of us with Peter and his brothers, to  become fishers of men, following faithfully and moving beyond the life we know and with which we are comfortable into the unknown future of service in God’s Kingdom.

As we move forward towards Holy Week, the celebration of the Triduum, and Easter, may we remember to take time to be alone with the Lord and then move with him back into our worlds to care for God’s people with His compassion.

Let this be our prayer:

Come Holy Spirit. Rekindle the fire of love within each of us and our Church. Guide those who will elect the next Bishop of Rome to carry out the mission of St. Peter as leader of the community. Gift them with wisdom and understanding as they evaluate potential leaders, as well as the courage to trust that the Lord will always be with the Church as we move into the future with all its challenges and joys. Help us to be people of prayer and reflection, as well as people willing to move out of our comfort zones into the deep waters of faithfulness in discipleship, knowing that with the Lord’s help, regardless of who is chosen to be the next Holy Father, all will be well in the end.

Happy, Joyful, and Peaceful Lent!

 Public domain image: Transportation boat on water by John Cossick

 

Read More

Posted by on Mar 18, 2012

Asceticism and Mysticism: The Two are Linked

The point of all efforts to change and grow is happiness. Happiness  involves becoming more and more conscious of who we are, what we want and need, and how to get these.   A lot of life is spent exploring all of this. We enjoy ourselves and suffer in the journey to try things out, learn new skills, problem solve, experiment.  We also react to phenomena,and defend and harm ourselves and others at times.  In the midst of this we learn to distinguish between gains and satisfactions that are short term vs. long term and things that may feel good and are helpful and things that feel good and are toxic.  I may love ice cream but if I eat a  lot of it I may trade away my joy because it can make me sick.

Identifying how I feel when I do things is important.  If I feel peaceful when I make a decision, the decision is probably going to be beneficial.  If I feel uncomfortable when I make a decision but decide to do the activity or acquire the commodity anyway, the end will probably be harmful for me.  If I do something out of fear it probably will ultimately harm me – i.e. marrying someone so I will not be alone is  not a good reason to marry someone.   Taking a job one loaths because the money is needed is something one should only do as a last resort.  It would be wise to ransack one’s soul, talk to every friend, pray and brainstorm about any weird angle on jobs before just settling for a terrible job.  It is often the case that our lives are forcing us to look at possibilities that up to this point we have had a closed mind about.  These interior markers are very reliable if one learns the art of discernment and is also given the grace of discernment.  The famous historian of religion, Joseph Campbell, was asked by Bill Moyers if he had a sense that he was guided when he made decisions.  Campbell replied that he felt the helping hands of many beings when he had the courage to do what he knew was right.

So, making a commitment to live an honest, non-addictive life – a life in which I can be my true self – requires the skills to discern the right path for me.  That kind of life is surrendered to the truth.  It is a life that is not grasping, fearful or egotistical.  It can be a life that is loving, just, courageous.  This is not an easy thing.  From the Catholic point of view, it is impossible unless one is empowered by a love that keeps one from despair.  The more one seeks love and justice, the more one also sees insensitivity and selfishness. We also become acutely aware of our own entanglement in fear, loneliness, pain, anger and disappointment.  We want to feel safe but we want to be creative and compassionate.  How to do that?

If people are connected to a reality that is larger than themselves – a community or a transcendent being – that person can go beyond his/her fears and trust.  The ability to do this has to be rooted in experience.  Faith/trust in life cannot be totally blind.  It has to be based on an encounter with goodness/love.  In the Catholic context people have experiences all the time of peace, the presence of the Sacred, being blessed and guided.  No one can prove the existence of God.  Experts of all stripes can reduce religious belief to a projection of one’s neurons or psychology.  The scientific method can be paraded out and empiricism presented as the only acceptable measure of whether the spiritual is real.  In the end all of those super respectable criteria are a chimera.  We don’t have to accept the idea that our reality fits itself into an instrument of measurement that we have created if the reality we want to define is greater than the instrument – i.e. if God is infinite yet personal, that Sacred Reality is well beyond the physics of our situation as we know it.

In the normal committed spiritual life people educate themselves and have important insights and growth.  But, within the context of meditation and a reflected upon life people also have periodic religious experiences.  These experiences sustain and guide them.  They are not addictive but energizing, healing and challenging.  These experiences are not just for the Saints.  And, becoming closer to God is not a “crutch.”  It is a break through to the way reality is.  Asceticism and mysticism are brother and sister.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Read More

Posted by on Mar 14, 2012

Lent: How Could Asceticism Be Helpful to Me?

Catholics who grew up in the 50′s and 60′s and before often heard: “Offer it up!” We might have blown that idea off but we knew it had a deeper meaning. The heart of the maxim was closeness to the person of Christ – with a being of unconditional love and compassion.  No one wants to just torture oneself to rack up a extra “Brownie Points” with God. But, being with Christ and the poor is another thing. Even minor deprivation reminds us of how blessed and addicted we are.  We are all interconnected, in solidarity with every living thing. Knowing we are blessed and not complaining over the inconveniences of life makes us more compassionate. Being grateful can’t help but contribute to a holier world.

Some people  seek ways to actively promote their spiritual growth and more freedom from attachments by simplifying their lives or cultivating an awareness of what is controlling them  One term for this is “asceticism.”

“Asceticism” comes from the Greek words “Ascetikos” and “Askein” which refer to exercise.  It does not have anything to do with inflicting pain or enduring something just to prove that one is committed or is strong. The point of asceticism is to learn to identify one’s unhelpful attachments or addictions and to then learn ways to not have these rule us – to strengthen our ability to make conscious choices.  So, for example, when I eat I can observe what I want to eat the most and then see if that kind of food is good for me.  It is amazing how often or quickly we can see what is in charge of our lives.  I can at times feel an over whelming need to eat something to tamp down upsetting feelings.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola advised retreatants doing the retreat called the Spiritual Exercises to observe their attachment to things that led to unhappiness in their lives in general through the vehicle of observing their desires at a meal.  He pointed out that we usually want what he called “delicacies” rather than the healthier staple foods of the day (curly fries with cheese sauce as opposed to chicken and salad?)  Our desire can be fierce.  He also pointed out that at meals we may not be interested in being present to the other people.  We may converse but we may not be listening or really care what the other is expressing.  All of this is a potential goldmine for growth.  If we desire to know ourselves and to be of service to the world then we can consciously reflect on our attachments, desires and feelings.  In the Christian context, freedom from denial and negative patterns is not achieved by sheer exercise of one’s will.  Deciding to stop doing something does not necessarily change one’s interior life.  So authentic growth is not just on the surface.  Authentic growth in the Christian context is about moving away from something negative because one is moving towards something positive.  In technical terms asceticism cannot be separated from mysticism (meant as religious experience).  So, knowledge of what is going on at the microcosm of the dinner table which might be very self-centered or destructive can be transformed for even the most helplessly addicted foodaholic  into a victory of freedom.  That freedom though will be effected for the Christian by an encounter with the Sacred – a very positive experience of unconditional love.

Okay, but how does one have these experiences?!  (Stay tuned for more!)

Read More

Posted by on Feb 22, 2012

Prayer as Lent Begins

Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting – Lenten Practices in Our Lives Today

Praying Hands - Albrecht Durer

Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, brings with it a reminder from Jesus of the importance of 1) caring for each other, especially those in need, 2) staying in close communication with God, and 3) strengthening our physical, mental, and spiritual lives through actions that help us develop more control over the urges that don’t lead us to God. The traditional names for such activities are almsgiving, prayer, and fasting.

Catholics who grew up before and during the years of Vatican II often think first of fasting or giving up something as the activity of choice for Lent. This practice was generally phrased in terms of “What are you giving up for Lent?” There were (and still are) days in which fasting from normal amounts of food was required of adults between the ages of 21 and 59. However, there were other days in the year which were also set aside for fasting, so that was not unique to Lent. What was unique to Lent was giving up something: candy, television, movies, cigarettes, drinking, etc.

Ash Wednesday’s reading from Matthew 6:1-18 is a reminder that all three practices are important and even interdependent. They are also to be done quietly, without great fanfare, and without even congratulating ourselves on how well we’re managing to do them! So, how can we — citizens of a busy, busy world — find time to pray, identify and organize resources to share with others, and make fasting somehow different than dieting?

A few thoughts come to mind.

1) Almsgiving: The sharing of worldly treasures has been a mark of the Christian community since its earliest years. Christians recognized from at least the time of St. John’s Gospel, and before, that Jesus is present in the community.  To the extent that anyone is suffering from lack of basic necessities, those who do not lack them have failed to meet the needs of Jesus. This is a hard teaching sometimes, especially when times are tough and there is little left over to share. Remember: we are called to share our time, talents, and treasures. If what you have is time, then give of that. If what you have is talent (maybe for telephoning or organizing a bake sale), offer that talent to help provide for those who need food or shelter. If you have enough money (treasure) to support yourself and your family, then share from what you have; maybe eating more simply for a few meals or waiting an extra month before buying that new pair of jeans, and giving the savings to feed those who don’t have enough.

The important thing is to be open to sharing what you have and creatively listening for the opportunities to do so.

2) Prayer: Time for prayer is not easy to find —  if you think you have to set aside an hour a day to pray. On the other hand, if you remember to intersperse prayer into your entire day, then it becomes easier. A quick thank you for the morning as you open your eyes, a blessing over breakfast, a smiled expression of gratitude for a pretty sight on the way to work or the joy of a child exploring her world, a few moments of reflection on how the day is going at lunchtime, a quick prayer for the right words to say in conversation with a friend or co-worker, a blessing at the end of the day, a few moments of reading scripture while supervising a child’s bathing — all are ways to pray in a busy life. God is present in all of these moments and in the unpleasant, difficult moments as well. But God generally doesn’t burst into our lives and shout, “Do This Now!” God is much more subtle, inviting us to notice the presence of the divine in the everyday creation in which we live, and always leaving us free to respond to that presence as we choose.

3) Fasting: Limiting the amount of food eaten, or not eating at all, is the generally understood meaning of fasting. Going hungry on occasion is a good thing to do. It helps develop a greater appreciation of the gift of food. It also helps strengthen the will, so when other things must be declined, the will is strong enough to do so. However, fasting from food is only one way to fast. The practice of “giving up something” was a form of fasting. When we turned off the television on weekdays during Lent during my childhood, we broke its spell and no longer felt we had to watch any programs. We had time to do things together as a family that we didn’t do when the television was on: board games, music, conversation, outdoor play, cooking together, etc.

Fasting today may mean limiting our consumption of: consumer goods, recreational activities, social media including Facebook, television, text messages, tweets, online games, lunches or dinners out, or (insert your own time-consuming activity).  It creates a space for other things – for God to be noticed and heard.

Perhaps, out of fasting in this broader sense will come opportunities for prayer and resources for almsgiving as well. Then the circle of activities that quietly draw us closer to God will have become complete.

Praying Hands by Albrecht Durer – Public domain image

Read More