Monday, March 2, 2015

Marianist Monday

March, 2015

My dear friends in college . . . and beyond,

A couple of weeks ago, the Marianist Community’s latest issue of Leadership Journal arrived in the mail. Published quarterly, the magazine is written specifically for men and women serving in Christian ministry, and its subtitle sums up pretty well what the publication is all about: “Real Ministry in a Complex World.”

I was particularly intrigued by the cover of the most recent issue. It featured a tangle of computer wires dangling from an Ethernet cable and one word in big, bold red letters: “Declutter.” Article after article advised pastors to simplify their lives, clean house, and sort out the essential from the nonessential. “Silence your cell phone (and your soul),” one article counsels.

Although writing specifically for pastors, another author offers advice that can apply to all of us, whether we’re bogged down by the myriad responsibilities of teaching or the countless pressures of being a college student in the twenty-first century:

They [pastors] need to seek out streams of replenishment. We all have those temporary feel-good activities or temptations that we turn to when our souls get depleted, but what we’re looking for really are streams of replenishment that do more than mask the depletion; they actually replenish.

I get into this in almost every mentoring session I do. I’ll ask,  “What do you turn to before you turn to a truly replenishing stream?” And people say, “I turn to food.” “I turn to alcohol.” “I turn to television.” “I turn to internet surfing.” “I turn to porn.”

Pastors are very open. And I’ll ask, “So how does that feel after an hour or two of that stuff? Does it help your true soul depletion? Does that start to refill you?” And they all say, “No.”

So I say, “Okay, so even if it’s not an evil thing, it’s not helping you. Let’s distinguish between escapist behaviors and what is a truly replenishing stream that will fill your soul back up.”

As I read these wise words, my mind kept returning to the season of Lent in which we now find ourselves. The forty days of Lent offer us just what we need: a season dedicated to decluttering our
souls and simplifying our lives so that we might find the “pearl of great price,” Our Savior Jesus Christ. Sure, the triple mandate of Lent – pray, fast, give – threatens us. Who has time to pray? Who wants to give up all the feel-good activities that provide temporary relief from life’s difficulties? Who wants to give more than we have already given?

The answer, of course, is anyone who seeks the truly replenishing streams of the Lord. “Beside restful waters He leads me,” the Psalmist reminds us, “to revive my drooping spirit.”

Amid all the clutter of cell phones and iPads, tests and term papers, weekday stresses and weekend parties, Jesus Christ offers us the true replenishing streams that will fill our souls back up with peace and purpose – maybe not overnight, but gradually, imperceptibly, until our restless hearts rest in Him.

We have His promise: “Come to me all who are weary and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Decluttering seems so daunting . . . and so necessary.

Praying, fasting, giving. “Well, that’s nice, but Lent’s almost half over and I haven’t done any of that yet. I don’t have the time.”

With Christ, it is never too late. He knows that we are anxious and perhaps even upset about many things. Still, He offers us the one thing that is truly necessary, and He promises that it will not be taken from us.

My dear friends, those of you who know me well probably remember the crowded calendar that sits on my disk, within view at almost every waking moment. I bet you can picture that massive fifteen-drawer filing cabinet in my office crammed with all my notes and every quiz and test I’ve ever given in my thirty-six years of teaching. Sometimes I think my life is a little too much like those filing cabinets – so much “stuff” to deal with that I hardly know where to start. Or like my email inbox – cluttered with so much junk mail. I’m sure you get the idea.

So, together, let’s embark on the work of decluttering our lives. The journey will be challenging from time to time, like crossing a barren desert. But the reward is the pearl of great price.

May the Lord grant us the grace this Lent to declutter our lives and hasten our way back to Him.

In Christ and His Blessed Mother,

P.S. Mark your calendars for May 19, 20, and 21 for our next retreat for college-age men. This one will be at Founder’s Hollow. More details to follow soon.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

LENT - Transfiguration Sunday

The journey to the top is not for the fainthearted.

When Peter, James and John climbed the snow-capped Mount Hermon with Jesus so many years ago, skiing was not on the agenda. And yet Jesus in his glory, along with Moses and Elijah, would stand tall together on the heroes' dais.

Moses, of course, had stood high upon a holy mountain before. The venue was Mount Sinai, and it was a 40-day event - complete with sapphire-paved trails, fireworks, an appearance from God himself and a new training handbook including the well known 10 Rules for Spiritual Fitness. He represented law.

Elijah, too, enjoyed iconic status. Contests on Mt. Carmel with 400 contestants and a (w)itchy queen. Confrontations with kings, appointments with angels, mountain-meetings with God featuring earthquakes, wind and fire. And then there's that turbo-charged, upward ride to glory in chariots of fire that left onlookers open-mouthed and shocked. He represented the prophets.

Now they're standing together on another mountain with Jesus, a triad if there ever was one. Jesus was still something of a mystery at this point in time. There were some staggering moments: miraculous victories over hunger, blindness, bleeding, seizures. Those events alone brought Him widespread attention. But He was a quirky hero, telling parables that jarred the crowds, making comments that would make a public relations team squirm, offending those in power.

This trio - Jesus, Moses and Elijah - stood on the mountain in the presence of Peter, James and John, who were stunned to see that it was their Jesus who stood tallest, transfigured before them, taking the gold and gleaming like a star. Who knew? Sure, their leader impressed the crowds, but who could have known that Gospel would outshine the law and the prophets?

Of course, Peter himself attempted to bolt out of the starting gate like a champion, but his strategy to build "three dwelling places" for the triumvirate was an embarrassment. It was only when The Voice From Heaven spoke that Peter stopped in his tracks for a little divine coaching.

The voice of God spoke to all people of all nations with this grand pronouncement: "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!"

Saturday, February 28, 2015

LENT - The Sunday Word

Several years ago there was a bestselling T-shirt that said, "Jesus is my homeboy." Maybe you've crafted a picture of Jesus that is simply that of a divine affirmer. This Jesus never lovingly confronts you with the law in order to draw you back to the Gospel, but is only there to say, "I got your back, buddy!"

Maybe you've noticed that some have transformed Jesus into a political trump card to be conveniently laid out as a means of winning arguments and shutting down debate on social media. Or perhaps you've seen him portrayed as the "genie for the faithful." You know how this Jesus works. If you pray enough, believe enough, or just plain try hard enough, Jesus will grant your wish for a spiritual breakthrough. Or maybe you've recently heard someone has transformed Jesus into the likeness of a simple, first-century guru. Nothing more.

This is why we need the transfiguration. This is why we revisit this familiar territory. We come back to this particular storyline because in the last year we've built a false picture of Jesus. We've laid our assumptions, our agendas and our designs upon Jesus. We've sat with him -- knowing that there is more than meets the eye -- and tried to turn Him into something that suits our fancy. Saint Mark reminds us of who Jesus really is and who we need Him to be.

Jesus is not just a great teacher. He is greater than the great teacher Moses and the great prophet Elijah. They bow to Him.

Jesus is not just an enlightened man. He's God in flesh and his glory shines brighter than clothes could ever be bleached.

He's not your card to be played in arguments or puppet beholden to your commands; He's the Father's "beloved Son." We listen to Him. He rules over us.

Every once in a while we need Him to bust out of whatever box we've placed Him into, transform into His glorious self, and remind us that He is the one true God.

Friday, February 27, 2015

LENT - A different idea for fasting

No need to throw out the chocolate, booze, and carbs. 

Pope Francis leads the Ash Wednesday mass , Feb.18, 2015 at Santa Sabina church in Rome.Pope Francis has a different idea for fasting this year.

Christians around the world mark the beginning of Lent with the celebration of Ash Wednesday. This ancient day and season has a surprising modern appeal. Priests and pastors often tell you that outside of Christmas, more people show up to church on Ash Wednesday than any other day of the year—including Easter. But this mystique isn't reserved for Christians alone. The customs that surround the season have a quality to them that transcend religion.

Perhaps most notable is the act of fasting. While Catholics fast on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays during the Lenten season, many people—religious or not—take up this increasingly popular discipline during the year.

But Pope Francis has asked us to reconsider the heart of this activity this Lenten season. According to Francis, fasting must never become superficial. He often quotes the early Christian mystic John Chrysostom who said: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”

But this isn't to downplay the role of sacrifice during the Lenten season. Lent is a good time for penance and self-denial. But once again, Francis reminds us that these activities must truly enrich others: “I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”

So, if we’re going to fast from anything this Lent, Francis suggests that even more than candy or alcohol, we fast from indifference towards others.

In his annual Lenten message, the pope writes, “Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”

Describing this phenomenon he calls the globalization of indifference, Francis writes that “whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.” He continues that, “We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”

But when we fast from this indifference, we can began to feast on love. In fact, Lent is the perfect time to learn how to love again. Jesus—the great protagonist of this holy season—certainly showed us the way. In him, God descends all the way down to bring everyone up. In his life and his ministry, no one is excluded.

“What are you giving up for Lent?” It’s a question a lot of people will get these next few days. If you want to change your body, perhaps alcohol and candy is the way to go. But if you want to change your heart, a harder fast is needed. This narrow road is gritty, but it isn’t sterile. It will make room in ourselves to experience a love that can make us whole and set us free.

Now that’s something worth fasting for.

Christopher Hale 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

LENT - Learn something by Fasting

Image result for fasting in lent
What I’ve Learned by Fasting During Lent

First, giving up something allows me to make a tangible sacrifice to the Lord. Although certain sacrifices are already present in my life, they’re sort of “built in” at this point. I don’t often experience giving up something for God on a daily basis. The act of sacrifice reminds me of my commitment to God and my desire to make him first in my life.

Second, by giving up something I usually enjoy on a daily basis, I have sometimes found myself yearning for that thing. Frankly, I’ve been tempted to give up my Lenten fast at times. I could easily argue that it’s unnecessary (it is optional, after all) and certainly not taught in Scripture. But, though I don’t think my effort at fasting makes God love or bless me more, I do think it raises my awareness of how much I depend on other things in life rather than the Lord. I see how easy it is for me to set up all sorts of little idols in my life. Fasting, in some way, helps me surrender my idols to God.

Third, when I give up something I like and then feel an unquenched desire for it, I’m reminded of my neediness as a person. And neediness, I believe, is at the heart of true spirituality. Jesus said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . .
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:3, 6

Of course feeling hungry for one of life’s pleasures isn’t quite the same as hungering and thirsting for righteousness. But when I feel my hunger, when I sense my neediness for some other thing, I can use this to get in touch with my hunger and need for God.

Fourth, as I continue with my Lenten fast, I find myself less eager for the thing I’ve given up. Ironically, this makes my fast easier. It’s almost something I can take for granted, thus dulling the spiritual impact of the fast. But I’m also gratified to know that one of my little “idols” is being set aside in my heart, as I learn to depend more upon God. I’m experiencing a bit of freedom that makes me gladly thankful for God’s grace at work in me.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A New Doctor of the Church

From Vatican Radio:

Pope Francis has declared Armenian poet and monk, Saint Gregory of Narek, a Doctor of the Universal Church. Meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints on Saturday ahead of his departure for Aricca on Lenten retreat, the Pope confirmed the proposal put forward by the Plenary Session of the Congregation to confer the title of Doctor of the Universal Church on the 10th century saint.

St. Gregory of Narek is widely revered as one of the greatest figures of medieval Armenian religious thought and literature. Born in the city of Narek in about 950 A.D., St. Gregory came from a line of scholars and churchmen.

St. Gregory received his education under the guidance of his father, Bishop Khosrov, author of the earliest commentary on the Divine Liturgy, and from Anania Vartabed, abbess of Narek Monastery. He and his two brothers entered monastic life at an early age, and St. Gregory soon began to excel in music, astronomy, geometry, mathematics, literature, and theology.

He became a priest at the age of 25 and dedicated himself to God. He lived most of his life in the monastery of Narek, where he taught at the monastic school. St. Gregory began his writings with a commentary on the “Song of Songs,” which was commissioned by an Armenian prince. Despite his reservations that he was too young for the task, the commentary became famous for its clarity of thought and language and its excellence of theological presentation.

He also wrote a number of famous letters, sharagans, treasures, odes, melodies, and discourses. Many of his prayers are included in the Divine Liturgy celebrated each Sunday in Armenian Churches around the world.