Monday, February 24, 2020

Marianist Monday

March 2020

My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,


Many more years ago than I care to admit, when my cohort in religious life and I were “Young Brothers” (or, what the students affectionately referred to as a “Baby Brothers” or BITs – “Brotherin Training”), we were all assigned some facet of manual labor at which we were to become experts. It took me a while to find my niche.

At first, I was assigned to carpentry, working under the skilled eye of Fr. Garrett. Let’s just say that I had a few close calls with the table saw and the radial-arm saw. You might say that I’m lucky to have all ten fingers today – a thought that makes me shiver when I consider all the typing I do.

Then I tried my hand at gardening. I discovered that I most certainly do not have a green thumb. Next, I reported for kitchen duty. I gave it my best shot, and although I’m not a bad cook now, I was a terrible one back in the not-so-halcyon days of the Novitiate. I thought I’d go out of my mind peeling potatoes and cutting up vegetables for about thirty-five people a night. And when I finally did graduate to some actual cooking – well, barbecuing, actually – I burned seventy or so pork sausages to a carbon-crusted crisp.
And so, painting was my last, best hope. That’s painting walls, not canvases.

At first I was a mess – literally. I ended each work period with more paint on my clothes than on the wall. I couldn’t do trim work or cut a straight line to save my life. Midway into my first summer in Community, when we were painting in the newly carpeted library, I spilled a five-gallon bucket of yellow paint – the entire bucket – onto the new avocado- green carpet. I saw my entire four weeks of religious life ebbing away before me as the paint spilled not onto the tarp with which we had covered our work area, but away from the tarp, right onto the portion of the floor we had been too lazy to cover.

Despite these inauspicious beginnings, and thanks to the patient instruction of many professed Marianists who, for some reason, still had faith in me, I gradually became rather proficient at painting. It’s a silly boast, I know – I hope you will forgive me this brief moment of braggadocio – but within about five or six years, I became the painting guru not just of Chaminade High School, but of the entire Meribah Province. It’s a dubious honor that I still hold today!

As I think about the season of Lent that we have just begun, I see a good number of parallels between the fundamental premises of Lent and the basic principles of painting. In fact, I think I could tick off quite a few similarities between painting and Lent.

First off, most people I know just don’t like to paint. When summer rolls around, and I announce which Brothers and which students will be working on the painting crew, I usually hear more than a little groaning. Now, at this point in my life, I rather like painting, but I’m afraid that not too many of my confreres and trainees share that view. The same is true of Lent.

Why is that? Well, I think it’s because both painting and Lent require considerable discipline. Only in cartoons do painters slop on the paint in any old way. I learned early in my painting career that there is a correct way to hold the brush; a correct direction in which the painter applies the paint to the wall with his or her paint brush (ALWAYS unpainted to painted, and NEVER any exceptions); and a correct way to use a roller, lest the finished ceilings and walls turn out botchy, streaky, or otherwise uneven. Painting is intentional, not casual – or worse, mindless.

So too with Lent and the spiritual life. Advancing in the spiritual life implies a high degree of intentionality, no small amount of discipline, and a willingness to submit to a methodology developed by many who have gone before me. Neither painting nor Lent is about doing it my way. Both are about doing it the right way.
Further, the right way requires a tremendous amount of preparation. Everyone who has ever donned painter’s overalls knows the popular painter’s adage: “Painting is 75% preparation and 25% execution.”
Of course, by its very definition, Lent is all about preparation – preparation for Easter, for the Resurrection of Our Lord. Further, the preparation is rarely easy. I’ve spent many a day scraping away old layers of paint, sometimes with the help of a chemical – and highly caustic – paint remover. Not infrequently, scraping opens up fault lines in the original plaster that have to be filled with quick-drying cement or spackle. And no painter worth his paint-brush bristles applies paint to the a freshly spackled wall without sanding and washing the walls down first. In painting, there’s a lot of old that has to be stripped away before the new can be applied.

So too in Lent. Lent is all about striping away the old – the old bad habits; the old, self-deceiving ways of thinking; the old grudges that we harbor against one another. Sometimes what we thought would be a simple resurfacing job opens up deep cracks and fault lines within our lives that have to be cleaned out and replaced by something more solid. It takes time; we can grow impatient with the process. But, if we want the finished job to look right, we have to take the time to get the preparation right.

Then, once we begin to apply the paint, we have to do so deliberately, not haphazardly. How many times have I had to fend off project supervisors who want me and the paint crew to cut corners!!! “Maybe we could get away with one coat of paint. No? Then how about trimming only once but rolling the walls twice? That would work, wouldn’t it?” To that suggestion, every bone in this old painter’s body wants to shout, “No, no, no!”

Painters don’t take shortcuts. Neither do those who are serious about the spiritual life.

“Painting is seeing,” I repeatedly tell my painting crew. Of course, they look at me as if I were crazy, but it’s true: painting is seeing. You’ve got to look carefully at what you’re doing. Youve got to step back from time to time to see if you skipped any spots with your trim brush or your roller. You can’t get so absorbed in all the peripheral noise of conversation, of the radio, of your iPhone and your Apple Music, that your take your eyes off the prize. And so too with the spiritual life. Lent asks us to reduce some of the noise, some of the distraction, in our lives so that we can keep our eyes on the spiritual prize of Christ Crucified and Risen from the Dead.

Painting is seeing. Lent is seeing. Not infrequently, the good painter and the good Christian see something with which he or she is not entirely satisfied – some imperfection that we’re just not going to settle for. And we do everything we can to fix it.

So far, it sounds like a lot of work. And, truth be told, it is. But when you reach the end of the job, fold up all the tarps, remove all the painters’ tape, and clean out all the brushes and rollers (A good painter cleans up his equipment so well that it lasts a lifetime!), the result is a glorious room – clean, freshly painted, a true reward for a job painstakingly done.

And speaking of rewards, what greater reward can there be than the celebration of Easter and the assurance of the Risen Christ that we are redeemed? The work of Lent is strenuous; its reward is more glorious than the most meticulously painted, gilt-edged salon in the Palace of Versailles.

Forty-six years ago, when I was a rookie religious with few skills in either ora or labora, a couple of kind Marianists who saw more in me than I saw in myself, took me under their wing and helped me to become someone who has supervised the painting of every nook and cranny of Chaminade High School – and of more than a few places at Meribah, Founder’s Hollow, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres. I didn’t become a good painter on my own – not by a long shot. And I know that, someday, when at last I can call myself a good Christian, I won’t have become that on my own either. I will have profited immensely from the example, the guidance, the patience, and the kindness of many mentors and teachers along the way. Most of all, I will have profited from the instruction, from the grace, from the redemption, and from the love of the Master Teacher, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Despite the odds, I became a better painter. And despite the odds, I – all of us – can become better Catholics, better Christians, more ardent followers of Christ. Lent is the training season – and the season of grace – to do just that.

On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,

Bro. Stephen

Monday, February 17, 2020

Trust in God's grace

I just finished talking to one of our students in the hallway. He mentioned how proud he was of his father. For years his father was focused outside the family. The focus led him to areas that was not helpful to the growth of the family or even his father's personal growth. But since that time, his father has had a complete conversion. He has reorganized his life. He takes his family members seriously. He has begun a relationship with his God.

Now before Jesus called his very first disciples, he was already calling people to faith. Faithfulness is actually the Christians' "thumbs-up" sign. We have no way of knowing if the course ahead of us carries smooth air or turbulence and storms. We have no special foreknowledge if the skies will be friendly or filled with hostility and danger.

What we all do have is faith--faith in the love of Christ, faith in the eternal closeness of God's presence and God's kingdom. Jesus proclaims that the correct response to the gospel news is faith. He gives us the "thumbs-up" signal first. It is then essential that we return a "thumbs-up" sign of trust in God's grace and faithfulness to us.

Can we let go and let God take us into the wild blue yonder? Can we let go and trust God enough to lift us into stratospheres of spirituality and service we never knew even existed? Can we get out of the way and let God be God in our lives?

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Proclaim the Gospel


Pope Francis during his Homily at Mass on Friday at the Casa Santa Martha said that as Christians we are called to proclaim the Gospel with humility.

Taking his cue from Friday’s Gospel which recounts the tragic death of John the Baptist, the Pope said John was the man God had sent to prepare the way for his son.

He, Pope Francis continued, was a man in the court of Herod, filled with corruption and vices who urged everyone to convert.

The Holy Father recalled how this great Saint firstly, proclaimed Jesus Christ. John had the chance to say he was the Messiah, added the Pope, but he did not. Secondly, said Pope Francis, John the Baptist was “a man of Truth.”

The third thing John did, underlined the Holy Father was to imitate Jesus in his humility, in his suffering and humiliation.

The Pope also stressed that like other religious figures such as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, John the Baptist had dark moments, moments of anguish and doubt sending his disciples to ask Jesus : ' But tell me, is it you, or am I wrong and there is another?

Pope Francis explained that John the “icon of a disciple” because he is "the man who proclaims Jesus Christ… and follows the way of Jesus Christ ."

Concluding his homily the Holy Father said we should not take advantage of our condition as Christians, as if it were a privilege. Instead we are called proclaim the Gospel message with humility without seizing on the prophecy.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Psalm 5

Psalm 5 is an open outcry: "Give ear to my words, O LORD; give heed to my sighing. Listen to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you I pray."

The psalmist is crying to God, asking for help. Facing the threat of violence, he begs God to destroy those who are telling lies. Perhaps he has been accused of wrongdoing himself, and is now pleading his case to God. The psalm can be used today by anyone being threatened by wicked, evil, boastful, bloodthirsty or deceitful people.

You know them: Friends who are really enemies -- "frenemies." High school gangs. Street thugs. Unfaithful spouses. Unethical co-workers. Substance-abusing relatives who lie to you. Put-down artists. Adversaries who try to undermine and destroy you. Sleazy salespeople and unscrupulous loan officers. Anyone who lies, cheats and steals, showing no regard for the welfare of others.

In short, the people who make you want to scream. All of us have them in our lives, every one of us. But yelling at such people face to face is not always an appropriate or productive thing to do.

That's why Psalm 5 encourages us to make an outcry first to God.

Friday, February 14, 2020

In the morning...

"O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice," says the psalmist; "in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch. For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you."

Believe it or not, we can gain relief simply by speaking honestly about our troubles. "Talk therapy" is the technical term, and it can do a lot of good for people feeling depressed, stressed or anxious. Professional therapists all agree that talking, articulating, voicing, speaking or otherwise expressing our ideas, thoughts and feelings is a good thing.

So why not talk about your feelings with God, who is the ultimate listener? In the morning, plead your case -- ask for help with frenemies, spouses, co-workers and relatives. Pray for strength to face the challenges of the day, knowing that the Lord is "not a God who delights in wickedness.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Genesis

Genesis

We are tiny and God is great, all powerful, all sovereign and all good.

"the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters." (Genesis 1:2)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Consecrated Person


The Consecrated Person: A Bridge

Pope Benedict's homily for Vespers on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord was a model of liturgical preaching. Below is shared a small excerpt of the Holy Father's message. Consecrated men and women, be they hidden in the cloister, or engaged in the Church's mission to the world, are associated to the Lord Jesus and called, at every moment, to remain close to Him, at "the throne of grace."

If Christ was not truly God, and was not, at the same time, fully man, the foundation of Christian life as such would come to naught, and in an altogether particular way, the foundation of every Christian consecration of man and woman would come to naught. Consecrated life, in fact, witnesses and expresses in a "powerful" way the reciprocal seeking of God and man, the love that attracts them to one another. The consecrated person, by the very fact of his or her being, represents something like a "bridge" to God for all those he or she meets -- a call, a return. And all this by virtue of the mediation of Jesus Christ, the Father's Consecrated One. He is the foundation! He who shared our frailty so that we could participate in his divine nature.

Our text insists on more than on faith, but rather on "trust" with which we can approach the "throne of grace," from the moment that our high priest was himself "put to the test in everything like us." We can approach to "receive mercy," "find grace," and "to be helped in the opportune moment." It seems to me that these words contain a great truth and also a great comfort for us who have received the gift and commitment of a special consecration in the Church.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Our Lady of Lourdes

Our Lady of Lourdes

O ever immaculate Virgin, Mother of mercy, health of the sick, refuge of sinners, comfort of the afflicted, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Monday, February 10, 2020

A light to be seen


A light is first and foremost something which is meant to be seen. The houses in Palestine were very dark with few and usually only one small window. The lamp was like a sauce-boat tiled with oil with the wick floating in it. It was not so easy to rekindle a lamp in the days before matches existed. Normally the lamp stood on the lampstand which would be no more than a roughly shaped branch of wood; but when people went out, for safety's sake, they took the lamp from its stand, and put it under an earthen bushel measure, so that it might burn without risk until they came back. The primary duty of the light of the lamp was to be seen.

So, then, Christianity is something which is meant to be seen. As someone has well said, "There can be no such thing as secret discipleship, for either the secrecy destroys the discipleship, or the discipleship destroys the secrecy." A man's Christianity should be perfectly visible to all men.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

You are the light...







A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.


When Jesus commanded his followers to be the lights of the world, he demanded nothing less than that they should be like himself.

When Jesus spoke these words, he was using an expression which was quite familiar to the Jews who heard it for the first time. They themselves spoke of Jerusalem as "a light to the Gentiles," and a famous Rabbi was often called "a lamp of Israel." But the way in which the Jews used this expression will give us a key to the way in which Jesus also used it.

Of one thing the Jews were very sure--no man kindled his own light. Jerusalem was indeed a light to the Gentiles, but "God lit Israel's lamp." The light with which the nation or the man of God shone was a borrowed light. It must the so with the Christian. It is not the demand of Jesus that we should, as it were. produce our own light. We must shine with the reflection of his light. The radiance which shines from the Christian comes from the presence of Christ within the Christian's heart. We often speak about a radiant bride, but the radiance which shines from her comes from the love which has been born within her heart.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Salt adds flavor



The greatest and the most obvious quality of salt is that salt lends flavor to things. Christianity is to life what salt is to food. Christianity lends flavour to life.



Friday, February 7, 2020

Salt cleanses




Christians must be the cleansing antiseptic in any society in which he happens to be; the Christian must be the person who by his presence makes it easier for others to be good.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Salt preserves





In the ancient world salt was the commonest of all preservatives. It was used to keep things from going bad. Salt preserves, and is therefore like a new soul inserted into a dead body.

So then salt preserves from corruption. If the Christian is to be the salt of the earth, he must have a certain antiseptic influence on life.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Salt



In the time of Jesus salt was connected in people's minds with some special qualities.

Salt was connected with purity. No doubt its glistening whiteness made the connection easy. The Romans said that salt was the purest of all things, because it came from the purest of all things, the sun and the sea. Salt was indeed the most primitive of all offerings to the gods, and to the end of the day the Jewish sacrifices were offered with salt. So then, if the Christian is to be the salt of the earth he must be an example of purity.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Sunday Word

No better way to prepare for Sunday than to spend some time with the readings of the day.

“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world."


When Jesus said this, he provided men with an expression which has become the greatest compliment that can be paid to any man. When we wish to stress someone's solid worth and usefulness, we say of him, "People like that are the salt of the earth."

In the ancient world salt was highly valued. The Greeks called salt divine. In a phrase, which in Latin is a kind of jingle, the Romans said, "There is nothing more useful than sun and salt."


Monday, February 3, 2020

Marianist Monday

February 2020

My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,

 Admittedly, it’s not easy to read all the quotations etched on the tabernacle wall in our Community chapel, but if you concentrate, you’ll find this hidden gem from Blessed William Joseph Chaminade: “It is for us an infinite honor to be like Him by being a living expression of the life that He lived when He was among us. Now, it is by Mary that this life is communicated to us.” That quotation pretty much sums up our entire Marianist life. We’re all about the imitation of Christ, under the guidance and strengthened by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And, if you think about it a little further, that same quotation pretty much sums up the entire Christian life. We are all infinitely honored to be infinitely loved by Jesus Christ. We all strive to be like Him. Moreover, it is Mary who brings Jesus to us. Quite literally, she, as Christ’s mother, gave birth to the Savior of the world. She brought Christ to the world. Furthermore, she continues to bring souls to Christ – to her son. Think of her appearances at Guadalupe; at Lourdes; at Fatima; and at Saragossa, a favorite Marian shrine among Marianists worldwide. Recall some of the most beloved prayers that Catholics recite: the Hail Mary, the Memorare, the Salve Regina. 

Consider the many parishes and churches throughout the world that bear some particular title of Our Lady. From Christianity’s earliest day until this very moment, Mary has communicated Christ and the Christ life to us. That’s why I’d like to pause for a moment and communicate four facets of the Christ life that Mary communicates to us, by both her words and her actions. 

1. Be humble. Humility seems to be in short supply these days. In so many quarters of public life, selfaggrandizement rules the day. But against the spirit of self-promotion and self-indulgence stands Mary’s humility. At the Annunciation, she replied to the no-doubt daunting news that she would be the mother of the Christ, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38). At the wedding feast of Cana, she uttered those words that were so near and dear to Blessed Chaminade’s heart: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2: 5). For this humble handmaid of the Lord, it was not about having her own way. It was about doing God’s will. To do the will of the Father. How might we grow in our ability to do the will of the Father? Might I suggest that we start by trying to do the will of our family members, our friends, and our neighbors? Not in all things, of course – and especially not in those things that lead to sin. But certainly, we could practice the virtue of deference. In matters of preference or taste, might we not defer to others? Must we always have it our own way? The humble man or woman defers regularly and gracefully to others.

2. Be open to ambiguity. We love clarity, don’t’ we? Certainty is comforting, reassuring. For the most part, I think we prefer black and white to grey. Unfortunately, most of life is not black and white. Personally, I experience lots or ambiguity. The people I know are capable of great good, but they are also beset by considerable weakness. And that applies not only to my students, but to my friends, to my family members, and even to the Brothers. Most of all, it applies to me. I can certainly identify with St. Paul’s confession: “For the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I do not will, that I do” (Romans 7:19). Who among us could not echo that cry of frustrating moral ambivalence? Jesus Himself knew our moral ambiguity personally, profoundly, and painfully. That’s why, even from the Cross, He could appeal to God on behalf of us sinners: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23: 24). Mary too knew firsthand the ambiguity of life. What strange and baffling events filled her early years as the mother of Jesus! Magi fell on their knees and did her son homage. At the presentation in the Temple, the priest Simeon prophesied, “You see this child; He is destined to be the rise and fall of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul as well” (Luke 2: 34 – 35). When their son was just twelve years old, Mary and Joseph lost Him, only to find Him again in the Temple, instructing the doctors of the Law, and admonishing his earthly parents, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2: 49 – 50) As the Gospel tells us, “His mother pondered all these things in her heart” (Luke 2: 52) There must have been much for Mary to ponder: so many questions, so few answers, so much faith! Can we live with ambiguity? Sometimes, I have my doubts. We demonize those who disagree with us or who are different from us. Unfortunately, I see this kind of demonization – “We have it completely right; they’re all wrong” – not only in politics but even in the Church. Because of the “absolutizing instinct,” as William F. Lynch, S.J. explains in his spiritual classic Images of Hope: Imagination as Healer of the Hopeless, “The good becomes tremendously good, the evil becomes the absolutely evil, the grey becomes the black or white, the complicated, because it is too difficult to handle, becomes, in desperation, the completely simple.” By contrast, Mary lived with ambiguity. She did not lash out, speak harshly, or grow angry when she was not offered a clarity that life simply does not give us. Instead, she “pondered all these things in her heart.”

3. Go to Mass. At every Mass, the priest reenacts Christ’s sacrifice of His body and blood upon the Cross. That’s why it’s called the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As horrific as it was, Mary was there, at the foot of the Cross, pondering all these things in her heart, her soul pierced by a sword, just as her son’s side was pierced by a lance. As Mary knelt at the foot of the Cross, so let us kneel at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, because it is in this moment that our salvation is won. It is at this heavenly banquet where we are invited to partake of the divine life and receive, quite literally, the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Once we understand the depth of this heavenly banquet – once we realize exactly what Jesus is giving us at Mass – we will want to attend Mass as often as possible. The Mass bring us to the very heart or our salvation.


4. Cling to the community of believers. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read a description of the infant Church. “ . . . when they reached the city [Jerusalem], they went to the upper room where they were staying: there were Peter and John, James and Andrew . . . together with several women, including Mary, the mother of Jesus” (Acts 1: 13 – 14). It was in this upper room that the Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and the Apostles in the form of tongues of fire. It was in this upper room – most likely, the same upper room that was the site of the Last Supper – that John, the Beloved
Disciple, made good on his promise, from the moment of the Crucifixion, to make a place in his home for Christ’s mother, now his mother too, now our mother as well. Cling to the community of believers. Belong to a group of godly friends. Have all kinds of friends, of course, but be sure to have a core friend group of firm believers who will support you in your faith and spur you on to become more and more like Him. We are nourished by the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. We are also nourished by the Body of Christ which is the community of believers.

As Lent approaches, let us resolve to become more and more like Him by cherishing the lessons that Mary communicates to us: Be humble. Learn to live with ambiguity. Go to Mass. Cling to the community of believers. We enjoy the infinite honor of being loved infinitely by Christ. Now, let us enjoy the infinite honor as well of being like Him! 

On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers, 

Bro. Stephen

Sunday, February 2, 2020

This coming Sunday we hear the Scriptures from the writer of Hebrews. He proclaims the following:


Since the children share in blood and flesh,
Jesus likewise shared in them,
that through death he might destroy the one
who has the power of death, that is, the Devil,
and free those who through fear of death
had been subject to slavery all their life.
Surely he did not help angels
but rather the descendants of Abraham;
therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters
in every way,
that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God
to expiate the sins of the people.
Because he himself was tested through what he suffered,
he is able to help those who are being tested.