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

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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

LENT - 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.

Monday, February 23, 2015

LENT - Marianist Monday

Above Father Philip repairs the donated stained glass from the Chapel of the Novitiate in Marcy, New York. The Chapel was the place were many US Marianists prepared for their profession of vows.

The benefactor donated the many stained glass windows which will be installed in various parts of the Marianist residence and school.

The third new window for this world out there is a new stained-glass window, the stained-glass window for the 21st century -- the computer screen.

This new world will not get its inspiration from carefully manufactured stained glass windows.

Today, however, the way people carry on the fastest communication and obtain their most important information is no longer from the pages of a book or a colorful window. Instead, our postmodern culture is turning toward a new kind of stained-glass window for one of its sources of light. There is a very good chance that you look at that "window" at some point every day. When you boot up Microsoft Windows '95, what is the first visual you see? The colored panes of a software stained-glass window.

Christianity is now undergoing a visual metamorphosis. Our image of images must be altered. I grew up in a world where texts were better and images, or pictures, were held in lower esteem. A book with pictures in it was inferior to one without pictures. In fact, if you had a lot of pictures in your book you had a (gasp!) "coffee table" book.

Christians of the 21st century will be Christians who experience God in a variety of ways, including a sensory web made possible through powerful new visualization technologies.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

LENT - Journeying toward the Cross

Lent is traditionally thought of as a special period of time, once again forty days, set aside for introspection, self-denial, prayer, and study as the events of Passion week and Easter Sunday approach. As Christians we should find ourselves journeying towards the cross, drawing nearer week by week. The focus of this week's texts startle us with the suggestion that this is not a human journey only, but that all of creation accompanies us. Plants, animals, the entire earth itself, join with humanity on this spiritual homecoming, through the covenants established between God and creation eons ago.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

LENT - Location, location, location

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To paraphrase a well-known marketing truism: The three most important things about Lent are: location, location, location. 

That new, most important location to which Lent brings us. . .is the forgiveness and mercy of God. It is not good luck that God gives us; it is grace and peace. It is here in this new location that Christians, humbled by their neediness, are unshackled from their spiritual bonds and set free; it is here that children of God are reminded of the unconditional nature of God's love; it is here in this new location of unfathomable forgiveness that we truly can begin to "rest in peace."

Friday, February 20, 2015

LENT - a healthy heart

"Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart ... rend your hearts and not your clothing."
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We know that a strong heart is the result of exercise, good diet and lower stress. The same is true of our spiritual lives.

 Lent calls us to exercise our hearts through acts of prayer, study and devotion that bring us closer to God. Lent calls us to embrace a healthy diet of the daily "bread of life" in our lives through worship and communion. And we lower our stress when we remember that, ultimately, God's the one who rules the world and is coming back not to take us away, but to take over. When our hearts are anxious and fearful, it's a warning alarm that we're not living with God's future for us in mind. Lent calls us to focus on spiritual heart health!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lent - Ditch the luggage

Just think about it. Don't you think the God of the universe can handle what you have hidden and have been holding onto? It's not as if you're going to surprise him. He already knows every burden you bear, every sin you're struggling with.

The issue here is not whether God can handle what you're carrying. That's been settled. The issue is whether you'll trust him, whether you'll take these things to him and leave them with him. That's what the season of Lent is. That is the invitation set before us today as we begin Lent.

Image result for don't claim your baggageYou're invited, over the next 40 days, to take inventory of all that you're carrying. Later this week, as we reflect during midday prayer, as our minds wanders while running all over the place, when you bow your head before bed: Open the contents of the cases you carry. Then say to yourself, "I will not lug this thing anymore. I will lose it. I will abandon it. I will give it to someone who can handle it. I will drop it at the feet of my crucified Lord." Try that. And then feel free to repeat as necessary. Jesus is accepting baggage all year round, not just in the season of Lent.

Oh, and once you've experienced the freedom that comes from walking through life with a little less weight on your shoulders, be sure to spread the word. There's a world around us that would love to know of a place where one's sins and struggles can be deliberately ditched. Take a cue from David, who, after unloading his sins to God the Father, promised this, "I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance."

This season leave some stuff with Jesus. He's cool with it. Take it to the cross. He's already paid for it, and he's waiting to add it to his inventory. You can leave it there, no name on the tag and no questions asked.

And, he promises, you'll never see it again. Amen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday

These are the thoughts running through my mind as I prepare for Ash Wednesday. If these shows, like The Bachelorette, Joe Millionaire and others, tell us anything it is that there is a deep longing in us to be loved and accepted, and that to gain that love, we must be able to make favorable impressions.
Image result for ash wednesdayGetting ahead in life, we've come to understand, is about making good first impressions and then backing up the impression with credible behavior.

But God turns this all upside down. God will love and accept us, to be sure, but it has nothing to do with favorable first impressions.

In fact, were it simply a matter of impressions, God would've been through with us long ago.

Jesus also was emphatic about the futility of trying to impress God by impressing men. Notice what he says in our Ash Wednesday Gospel.

· "Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before others, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven."

· "When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets." 

· "When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray ... on the street corners to be seen by men." 

· "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do." 

· "When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father."

The impression that matters is the Cross, an impression expression made by Christ alone. We should do "acts of righteousness," we should pray, we should fast, but not because such actions will in any way add to our spiritual bank balance.

Ash Wednesday is an opportunity to remember that our bank balance is zero; to remember that in Christ and in him alone, we are rich: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."

So take the ashes on your forehead. How good can we look in ashes? Doesn't matter, and that's the point. Ashes are a good place from which to arise, remembering we are but dust, and serve humbly our God who loves us and gave his Son for us.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tuesday Tunes

Written in 1989 by Dawn Rodgers and Eric Wyse, this modern hymn was first introduced at Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN. Artists, including Selah, Phillips, Craig & Dean, Travis Cottrell, Kathy Troccoli, Kari Jobe, Anthony Evans, Women of Faith, Kim Hill, Susan Ashton, ZOE Group, Steve Camp, Jeff Berry, Accapella, and Katie Giguere have recorded the song.

“Wonderful, Merciful Savior” reached #1 on the Christian Inspirational Radio Chart in 2001, and was nominated for a Gospel Music Association Dove Award in 2002 for “Inspirational Recorded Song of the Year.” Many worship resources contain this song, including The Christian Life Hymnal, Baptist Hymnal, Songs for Praise & Worship, “WOW Worship,” and online at Praise Charts and WordMusicNow.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Wake up!

In just a couple of days the Christian Church will celebrate Ash Wednesday.
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Ash Wednesday is the day in the Christian year that's most intentionally designed to make us check our spiritual alarms. It's the day we're reminded that we're all terminally ill with the disease of sin and mortality as we get marked by an ashen cross on our foreheads and hear the words, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return." 

In a few short weeks we'll be reminded that God has provided us a cure for this disease made possible by Jesus the Great Physician, who died and rose again to wipe out sin and death. But if we want to access the full healing benefit of that future hope of resurrection, we need to pay close attention to the alarms that are going off in our sin-diseased lives right now.

The Ash Wednesday reading from the prophet Joel is full of such alarms, which makes the beeping and chirping of the hospital room sound tranquil by comparison. Joel is writing to the people of Judah in the wake of a devastating plague of locusts that has overrun the land, which, for the prophet, is a microcosm of the final judgment of God: the "day of the Lord."  The warning alarms to get ready for that coming day are shrill and require immediate attention.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Sunday Word

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Today’s reading from Mark gives us an opportunity to think about a different type of conversion. Call it the Divine Touch, the turning-point moment when Jesus touched a man with leprosy and everything in that man’s life changed. He who had been separated from his family, community, temple and friends by disease, who was considered unclean and made an outcast because of the wasting away of his flesh, now was made whole and enabled to join the mainstream again. He went from outcast to cast in, from sickness to health, from unclean to clean, from brokenness to wholeness.

There was no technology in that day, but that didn’t stop this man from broadcasting what Jesus had done for him. He “proclaimed it freely” and “spread the word,” the Scripture says.

The Scripture reading does not say that this man experienced conversion in the religious sense of the word, which is how we often use it in Church. But in some ways, that makes this a good text from which to think about religious conversion, for it has more in common with other types of conversion than we might at first think. In the Bible, the Hebrew word for conversion is shub, which means “to turn” or “to return,” and the Greek word is metanoia, which means “to turn around.” In the case of this man Jesus healed, there was clearly a return, in that he could now go back to his family and community, but there was also a turning around. As defined, “To be converted means to have the direction of one’s life shifted, so that it no longer points toward self, but points toward God.” And that’s exactly what happened to this man. He stepped off the “woe is me” path and onto the “Jesus is great” road.

That sounds like conversion to us.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine's Day

Special days have a way of leaving some folks feeling not so special... Holidays do this when their approach builds expectations of a joy whose arrival can't be guaranteed by a particular date on the calendar. One of those days is around the corner on this coming Saturday:Valentine's Day.

The church calendar no longer commemorates St. Valentine. When February 14 falls outside of Lent the church marks it as the memorial of Saints Cyril and Methodius. The story of how this day came to be the occasion of love letters, flowers and chocolates is historically unclear but interesting nonetheless.

Valentine's Day may be for lovers but not all loving and lovable people will find cards, roses and sweets at their door. For some this will be one of the happiest days of the year, for others one of the saddest. Any day that puts our hearts in the spotlight will be a day of mixed emotions. Those whose hearts are burdened or broken may look at February 14 as simply a day to be endured.

It's unfortunate that Valentine's Day is so closely, almost entirely associated with romantic love. There are so many kinds of love that people share, love whose source and sustenance is deeper and greater than an arrow from Cupid's bow. The Valentine industry may boom this week but soon enough the roses will droop and the heart-shaped boxes will be empty. When the trappings of the day are behind us, those who know and share a deeper kind of love will have something that cannot be bought in a store, ordered from a florist or made by Godiva.

Loving and lovable people come to this page, some every day. May all of you see how beautiful you are in the eyes of the Lord, the Lover who offers you his heart and who writes these tender words upon yours:

I have loved you
with an everlasting love
I have called you
and you are mine!

H/T A Concord Pastor Comments

Friday, February 13, 2015

“There is a responsibility to nurture the Earth, to nurture Creation”

Pope Francis: “There is a responsibility to nurture the Earth, to nurture Creation”

From Vatican Radio:

Christians are called to care for God’s creation. That was the Pope’s message at Mass this Monday morning at the Casa Santa Marta. The Holy Father also spoke about the “second creation”, the one performed by Jesus that he “re-created” from what had been ruined by sin.

God creates the universe but creation does not end, “he continues to sustain what he has created.” That was the focus of Pope Francis’ homily as he dwelt on a passage from Genesis, in the first reading, which recounts the creation of the universe. “In today’s Gospel”, the Pope commented, we see “the other creation of God”, “that of Jesus, who came to re-create what had been ruined by sin.”

We see Jesus among the people, he said, and “those who touched him were saved” it is the “re-creation”. “This ‘second creation’ Pope Francis, is even more wonderful than the first; This second work is wonderful. “Finally, there is “another job”, that of “perseverance in the faith” that which the Holy Spirit works on:

“God works, continues to work, and we can ask ourselves how we should respond to this creation of God, which is born of love, because he works through love. In the ‘first creation’ we must respond with the responsibility that the Lord gives us: ‘The earth is yours, take it forward; let it grow ‘. Even for us there is a responsibility to nurture the Earth, to nurture Creation, to keep it and make it grow according to its laws. We are the lords of creation, not its masters. ”

The Pope warned, however, that we must be “careful not to become masters of Creation, but to make it go forward, faithful to its laws.” Therefore, he added, “this is the first response to the work of God: to be protectors of Creation.”

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Prepare for Lent

 Six days from now it will be Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday can seem to appear out of nowhere. For many, the first notion of Lent's beginning comes just three days before, at Church on the prior Sunday. And for non-Church goers, the first notice of Ash Wednesday might be the ashes on a coworker's forehead!

So with only 6 days before Ash Wednesday, it's not too early to begin to give Lent some thought. Here are some starter questions for your prayer and reflection...

Image result for lent1) Lent is a kind of spiritual spring training for Christians. What has grown weak, what's out of shape in my spiritual life? in my prayer life? in my relationship with Jesus? How do I need to exercise my spiritual life to condition and strengthen it? What in my spiritual life needs stretching and working out? What small steps might I take every day in Lent to develop a discipline, a routine in my prayer?

2) Lent is a time for fasting and going without. What fills me up? What food and drink, what leisure and entertainment, what work and activity stuffs my body, my heart, mind and imagination, my days and nights, my self? If I experienced in my body the hunger of fasting and giving things up for Lent, might I discover a hunger for more satisfying, substantive food for my soul?

3) Lent is a time for giving to the poor (almsgiving). What's my attitude to the poor? my prejudices about them? Over the course of the year, how much do I give to the poor? How much of my time do I give to serving the poor? When I complain about what I don't have, do I take an honest look at all I dohave? Could it be that I actually have more than I really need? How might I simplify my life this Lent - and how would that free me to give more to others?

Lent is a time to live for forty days 

the way a Christian should live all year round!

So, these are some questions and thoughts to help us begin to prepare for Lent, a season of 40 days intended to help us prepare to celebrate Easter with minds, hearts and habits refreshed and renewed by the Word and sacraments, by our Lenten practice - by the grace of God.

Please take some time to give this some thought. I'll be posting similar reminders between now and Ash Wednesday - just 6 days away!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Our Lady of Lourdes

Today’s Gospel shows us Jesus Who, after having preached on the Sabbath in the synagogue, heals many sick people. To preach and to heal: this is the principle activity of Jesus in His public life.

With the preaching He announces the Kingdom of God, and with the healing He shows that it is near, that the Kingdom of God is in the midst of us.

Entering into the house of Simon Peter, Jesus sees that his mother-in-law is in bed with the fever; immediately He takes her by the hand, He heals her, and raises her up. After the sun sets, when, since the Sabbath is over, the people can go and bring the sick to Him, He heals a multitude of people afflicted by maladies of every kind: physical, psychological, and spiritual. Having come to earth to announce and to realize the salvation of the whole man and of all people, Jesus shows a particular predilection for those who are wounded in body and in spirit: the poor, the sinners, the possessed, the sick, the marginalized. So He is revealed as the doctor both of souls and of bodies, the Good Samaritan of man. He is the true Savior: Jesus saves, Jesus cures, Jesus heals.

That reality of the healing of the sick by Christ invites us to reflect on the sense and meaning of illness. This reminds us also of the World Day of the Sick, which we celebrate next Wednesday, February 11, the liturgical memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes. I bless the initiatives prepared for this Day, in particular the Vigil that will take place in Rome on the evening of February 10. And here I pause in order to remember the President of the Pontifical Council for the sick, for health, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, who is very sick in Poland. A prayer for him, for his health, because it was he who prepared this Day, and he accompanies us in his suffering on this Day. A prayer for Archbishop Zimowski.

The salvific work of Christ is not exhausted with His Person and in the arc of His earthly life; it continues through the Church, the sacrament of the love and of the tenderness of God for humans. Sending His disciples in mission, Jesus confers on them a double mandate: to announce the Gospel of salvation and to heal the sick (cf. Mt 10:7-8). Faithful to this charge, the Church has always considered helping the sick an integral part of her mission.

“The poor and the suffering you will always have with you,” Jesus warns (cf. Mt 26:11), and the Church continuously finds them along her path, considering those who are sick as a privileged way to encounter Christ, to welcome Him and to serve Him. To cure the sick, to welcome them, to serve them, is to serve Christ: the sick person is the flesh of Christ.

Lenten transformation

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One great image that still gets attention showed up on a lot of people's foreheads last Wednesday. Little gray crosses of ash smudged above the brow signal the beginning of Lent. At the imposition of the ashes, the priest is to recite, "Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shalt return." Lent is the 40 days preceding Easter, the Great Fast, a time of prayer and penitence -- and it starts with dust and ashes. 

There are a lump of coal and a pile of ashes at the entrance to Lent and at the heart of the Christian tradition. Ashes are the residue of burned-out fires and burned-up stars. Nothing would seem so appropriately symbolic of the lousy state of humanity. Cold and lifeless, ashes make it clear that something is not right, that human beings have settled in the dust and settled for the worst when they might have taken wing into the heavens and flown into the stars.

Ashes are also made out of carbon, the building blocks of life. When you say something is "organic," you're saying it is made of carbon. What makes the carbon black? It's been burned.

So, before we think of Lent as just the season of ashes -- a 40- day "moan and groan" and "woe-is-me" session, look at the next image the Church offers to people at this time of year.

On Wednesday the leaves from last year's Palm Sunday palms were reduced to cold gray ashes.

On Sunday we hear about the arrival of a living, soaring dove of Spirit, slipping out of heaven and into our world.

On Wednesday the church proclaims a 40-day period of solemnity and fasting.

On Sunday Jesus proclaims, "the kingdom of God has come near."

On Wednesday we are marked with the ashes of our finitude and mortality.

On Sunday we see the promise of eternal life as Jesus rises up out of the baptismal waters.

The dove descending from heaven demonstrates how the Holy Spirit gets back into our world. In the midst of our ashes, the dove as a symbol says to us -- "You can be a diamond someday."

The late Malcolm Forbes, when publisher of Forbes magazine, liked to say that "Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs." 

For the Christian, the season of Lent reminds us that diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that have been touched and transformed by the dove.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Marianist Monday

February, 2015

My dear friends in college . . . and beyond,

Well, senioritis is definitely setting in here at Chaminade. I collected a set of senior religion reflection papers just a few days ago and, in one class, as many as fifteen students did not have the paper on the day it was due.

Boy! Was I mad! “What’s wrong with these guys?” I hissed under my breath. “It’s not like I sprang this paper on them by surprise. I assigned this paper over a week and a half ago! And it only had to be a page-and-a-half or two pages long!!!! How lazy can they be???!!!”

Luckily, I kept these thoughts to myself and kept calm on the outside. But on the inside . . . on the inside, I was fuming, and getting just about as self-righteous and as indignant as anyone could. “Why can’t these guys be more like me?”

Wait a minute! Reality check: Had I forgotten my own shortcomings? Did I forget the times I had fallen way behind on work during my own high-school and college careers? Had I conveniently blocked from my memory the times I had coaxed my college profs to grant me an extension on one of my papers? And what about the time I dropped a course in college (third-year Latin, of all things!) because I thought that the work load was too much? (I don’t think I’ve ever admitted that in writing before now.)

Perfectionist that I am, I nevertheless had to admit that my academic record was not perfect.

And that’s to say nothing of my own personal record. If I look at the record of my own personal failings, I have to confess that I have no grounds whatsoever for self-righteousness and indignation.

I am reminded of a recent homily that Pope Francis delivered about the pitfalls of Phariseeism – in Christ’s time and in ours. He was speaking of religious rigidity – in other words, modern-day Phariseeism – as a sign of a weak heart. As is so often the case, I was captivated by his words – the directness of them, their humanity, and their spiritual depth:

Even our life can become like that, even our life. And sometimes, I confess something to you, when I have seen a Christian, a Christian of that kind, with a weak heart, not firm, not fixed on the rock – Jesus – and with such rigidness on the outside, I ask the Lord: “But Lord, throw a banana peel in front of them, so that they will take a good fall, and feel shame that they are sinners, and so encounter You, [and realize] that You are the Savior.” Many times a sin will make us feel shame, and make us encounter the Lord, Who pardons us, as the sick who were there and went to the Lord for healing.

The season of Lent is now upon us. Taking our cue from Pope Francis, maybe we could think of the forty days of Lent as precisely that time when the Lord throws a banana peel in front of us. We take a good fall, feel shame that we are sinners, and encounter Christ our Savior. Sin, repentance, and forgiveness – this is the sacred drama of Lent and, of course, of our very salvation. And, if it takes a few banana peels – a few falls, scrapes, and bruises – so be it. If we draw closer to Jesus as a result, all the shame and the pain will be worth it.

I don’t know – it just seems to me that, every time I am riding my high horse, the Lord throws a banana peel in front of me. Lent is a time to turn to the Lord for healing after all the many falls I’ve taken.

Lent looms on the immediate horizon. Looking a little farther into the future, we have already begun preliminary plans for our May retreat for college-age men. Our college-age retreat a couple of weeks ago at Meribah was a tremendous success, I thought. I’m fairly certain that my collaborator on these retreats, Mr. Daniel McQuillan KMHS ’10, would agree, as would the twenty-five or so guys who attended the retreat. We were privileged to hear from three inspiring presenters, and the discussions that followed were some of the most animated and insightful that I have witnessed in my four years of running these retreats.

So, mark your calendars for May 18, 19, and 20 for our next retreat for college-age men. This one will be at Founder’s Hollow. Mr. McQuillan and I are already thinking about themes, presenters, and discussions. We’re very excited about the retreat. We hope that you will be able to join us!

In the meantime, may your Lenten journey afford you many opportunities to encounter Jesus Christ and His saving mercy. Please keep me and all the Marianists in your prayers, as we will keep you in ours, and I will keep you in mine.

In Christ and His Blessed Mother,

Bro. Steve

Vocation Minister
Marianists, Province of Meribah