Even Now…..Ash Wednesday…Lent 2016

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“Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God.”—Joel 2:12.

Today,  Christian churches throughout the world begin the solemn celebration of the season of Lent.  Most folks when they think about Lent think of “giving up” something, sacrificing something physical, but if we look at the first reading for Ash Wednesday it say is clearly “rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God.”

As we begin these 40 days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, what is important to note is what is happening to our heart during this time.

  • Is it making us more compassionate?
  • Are we becoming more aware of our neighbor?
  • Do we see ourselves more clearly as instruments of God in service to our community?

Our world and even parts of our communities suffers from one of the most distressing sins of our time—Apathy.  Like, Jesus, we are driven into the desert to pray and fast for 40 days to give our hearts the time to combat apathy.  This intense time of prayer is meant to give us a chance to connect on a deeper level to God and to each other, thus driving from apathy to passionate response.

  • How can we create a space in our lives to move us from be apathetic to being a com-passionate merciful presence of God?

In this Year of Mercy and this season of Lent, I keep coming back to the quote in paragraph 25 calling for this Year of Mercy.

“I present, therefore, this Extraordinary Jubilee Year dedicated to living out in our daily lives the mercy which the Father constantly extends to all of us. In this Jubilee Year, let us allow God to surprise us. He never tires of casting open the doors of his heart and of repeating that he loves us and wants to share his love with us. The Church feels the urgent need to proclaim God’s mercy. Her life is authentic and credible only when she becomes a convincing herald of mercy. She knows that her primary task, especially at a moment full of great hopes and signs of contradiction, is to introduce everyone to the great mystery of God’s mercy by contemplating the face of Christ. The Church is called above all to be a credible witness to mercy, professing it and living it as the core of the revelation of Jesus Christ. From the heart of the Trinity, from the depths of the mystery of God, the great river of mercy wells up and overflows unceasingly. It is a spring that will never run dry, no matter how many people draw from it. Every time someone is in need, he or she can approach it, because the mercy of God never ends. The profundity of the mystery surrounding it is as inexhaustible as the richness which springs up from it.”[1]

May this Season of Lent be a time to live out our daily lives in ways that we “allow God to surprise us” and make us more merciful and compassionate to those with whom we live and move and have our being.

[1] Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus: Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Vatican, April 2015. Paragraph 25.

 

Candlemas & Groundhog’s Day: A Reflection

“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.”-a Swedish Proverb

This week in the Church’s worship cycle the symbol of the candle is quite prominent.  Today, Feb 2nd  is the celebration of The Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple and the celebration of Candlemas; the blessing of candles used in the home or church.  Wednesday is the feast of St. Blase, a bishop and martyr who died in 316. This ancestor in faith is best known for the Blessing of Throats.  The Blessing of Throats uses two candles in the form of a cross placed on the person’s throat in which the blessing that is invoked calls upon purification. Candlemas Day was also the day when some cultures predicted weather patterns. Farmers believed that the remainder of winter would be the opposite of whatever the weather was like on Candlemas Day. An old English song goes: If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come winter, have another flight; If Candlemas bring clouds and rain, Go winter, and come not again.

Thus if the sun cast a shadow on Candlemas day, more winter was on the way; if there was no shadow, winter was thought to be ending soon. This practice led to the folklore behind “Groundhog’s Day,” which falls on Candlemas Day.

In all these instances, candles/light are the primary symbols.  These symbols are used not to focus on the weather or on the bodily ailment; but to be a reminder of the coming warmth of spring and Easter. They serve as reminders of hope, light and healing.  Candles are symbols of the light of Christ, a light that can be divided/shared, but undimmed.  A Light that is offered in the Temple this day and glows more brightly as we approach the Easter resurrection.  A Light that casts out all darkness and fear.  The lighting of a candle can cause us to become more reflective and to slow down.  The use of candles in the religious tradition reminds us what is important in life. Too often we go through our days, worried about some small things, which either has not happened to us or is beyond our control.  When worry causes the shadow and not the Light, it can cause all kinds of troubles of the mind, strains the heart, distresses the soul and confuses judgment. Worry and anxiety take our focus away from one another.

How we can build community and focus on what’s important, the relationships with our families, friends and coworkers? How do we contribute to the sharing of the Light and making darkness bright?

  • How can we find just a few moments in our day to carve out some quiet space to slow down and give some new perspective on our life, work and ministry?
  • In what ways can we bring to light the gifts and talents of our communities and share them for building and sustaining the Light of the Gospel?

How do we open a reception room??

my-ear-has-a-heart-654x379“Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek [the Lord’s] face!’    Your face, Lord, do I seek.”—Psalm 27:8

Theophan the Recluse is attributed with the phrase, “Find a place in your heart and speak there with the Lord. It is the Lord’s reception room.” God loves each one of us, beckoning us into a relationship that is communal, yet personal, intimate, yet inclusive and faithful, yet inquisitive. God calls out to us in ministry to share in the divine life. Through our sharing in the divine life, we share in extending God’s presence to all.

Various traditions see the heart as something more than the physical nature; it sees the heart as the core of the person, at the center of the body, touching all of the body, mind, soul and spirit. Eastern Orthodox writers bid, “Let your mind descend into your heart.” When we draw together with truly listening hearts, we enter into communion with one another and with God.

God speaks to us through the language of everyday events and encounters. It is in these moments that, if we are attentive or we let our mind descent into our hearts are called to live even more deeply the divine relationship. We truly see the face of God, through the compassionate care we give to our patients and family members. We continue to see God’s face in the co-worker who celebrates milestones along the journey or when we walk with a co-worker who is struggling to get through the day.

In order to hear the Lord speak and to see God’s face, we must create that space to be able to be attentive to the voice of God calling out to us in the encounters of our day. As a followers of Jesus we must find ways in which we continue to open the reception room for God.

  • In your homes and workplaces, how can you create an environment that gives space to listening to the hearts of our families and co-workers?
  • How do we open that reception room in our hearts to encounter the face of God through the everyday events and encounters?

 

Tomorrow is today: A Reflection on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

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“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of [humanity] does not remain at flood-it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on.”  –Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. April 4, 1967.

“What does your Lord require of you? To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God?”-Micah 6:8

Today our nation celebrates the historic life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his constant search for nonviolent action on behalf of justice. We have probably heard the familiar phrase of William Shakespeare “The past is prologue; what to come, in yours and my discharge.”  To the contemporary ear this is the equivalent of saying “What’s already happened merely sets the scene for the really important stuff, which is the stuff our greatness will be made on and you and I have the future now in our hands.

Dr. King reminds us of the “fierce urgency of now.” The focus on the “now,” is balanced in our knowledge of the past, with a glimpse looking to the future so that we can see this very moment as it is, the present.  When we focus on the present, we can walk in solidarity with others, balancing individual rights and the common good. The “now” calls us to speak on behalf of the dignity of those who are less fortunate.  When we focus on the present, we walk humbly with our God.  When we focus on the present, it is a focus that is to draw us out of our apathetic posture and into the moment.

It is this moment now, that God reminds us that the past has merely set the scene for the really important stuff, the stuff of right now–where our greatness is found. When we focus on the right now in our homes and communities, we give better care of our families and neighbors; we help others find meaning and purpose in their life and work.  It is through daily life, lived in the present moment that God continues to build humanity, continue His work and call us into action and participation with that work in the world.

  • In a society of apathy and distraction, how can we be truly be present to the needs of our neighbors and families?
  • How do we help others experience a genuine sense of community and fulfillment in their work as ministry (God working through us)?
  • How can we work to stand in solidarity with those who are less fortunate so that we may truly carry on the ministry/witness that Jesus has entrusted us to continue, now?

Be Still?

Rembrandt_Christ_in_the_Storm_on_the_Lake_of_GalileeAfter the buzz of excitement that started from Thanksgiving, moving into Christmas and New Years, we find ourselves in the ordinary time in between time. This short interval until the beginning of the Lenten season, which flows quickly into Easter, is an invitation to ‘be still.”

These cold damp and quiet days of winter can become an invitation to just be still and reconnect with ourselves. This little time of Ordinary time comes after a long celebratory time, this is a time to finally be quiet and be still. Ordinary time is really a time to just Order in our lives. One cannot have a feast if one does not know the famine. Use this time to connect with yourself and those closest to you with few major celebrations. It is a perfect time to just be quiet and listen to the stillness. This is not only the stillness crisp or cold nights, but to get in touch with the needed stillness inside of your own life. It is very tough to find the time for stillness, with jobs, kids, games and activities, and the endless list of things that we want to accomplish. Stillness is difficult to come by. We cannot be compassionate to others, if we are not compassionate to ourselves. We cannot listen to the needs of others, if we are not listening to our own needs.

I’m reminded by the invitation in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus calms the storm while he and the disciples were in the boat. He says “Quiet! Be Still!” (Mark 4:35-41) This reminds us of the need to be still and it regrounds us in the ordinary, the moments of life that give us real faith, real hope and continues to build our trust in God and one another.

John Foley, S.J. asks:

“Why are Jesus and God so bent on finding faith and trust in us?” And he replies: “Because faith and trust are like openings that allow God’s love to enter us. He cares enough about us to allow pain and sorrow to find us and stretch us and make room for a deeper relation with him. They are not just good habits or virtues, faith and trust; they are the most important qualities of any loving relationship. They are what happens when one person is intimately connected to another. They are the avenues each of us must travel in order to be at one with God.”

  • How can you find ways to be still and reconnect with those you love?
  • How can you be sure that you are grounded, so that when the storms in your life come up, you will be able to continue?
  • How are you the calm for the storms in another’s life?

Do We Hear with the Ear of our Hearts?

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“Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek [the Lord’s] face!’    Your face, Lord, do I seek.”–Psalm 27:8

In this year of Mercy, I am struck by the invitation we are given this year, that is, to experience or encounter Mercy.

“Mercy: The word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”–Pope Francis, Miseriecordiae Vultus, 2.

St. Benedict in his Rule for Beginners,  asks the follow of Christ to attend a way of life “with the ear of your heart.”  God loves each one of us, beckoning us into a relationship that is communal, yet personal, intimate, yet inclusive and faithful, yet inquisitive. God calls out to us into mission/ministry to share in the divine life. Through our sharing in the divine life, we share in extending God’s healing presence to all.  Various traditions see the heart as something more than the physical nature; it sees the heart as the core of the person, at the center of the body, touching all of the body, mind, soul and spirit.  When we draw together with truly listening hearts, we enter into communion with one another and with God.

God speaks to us through the language of everyday events.  In these moments that, when we are attentive we are  called to live even more deeply the divine relationship. We see the face of God, through our encounters with the people we meet.  We continue to see God’s face in the person who celebrates milestones along the journey or when we walk with someone who is struggling to get through the day.

In order to hear the Lord speak and to see God’s face, we must create that space to be able to be attentive to the voice of God calling out to us in the encounters of our day.  As a we go through our days, we must find ways in which we continue to open the reception room for God and others.

  • In your daily life, how can you create an environment that gives space to listening to the hearts of family, friends, the people you meet along the way and co-workers?
  • How do we open that reception room in our hearts to encounter the face of God through the everyday events and encounters?

Continued New Year’s Growth…

In this New Year, one of my hopes for the year is to grow in faith, love, hope and mercy.  So in looking at where to begin, I decided I need to look at my prayer life. One of my mentors used to say the first lesson about prayer was….Show UP!

 “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”  —Romans 12:12

Prayer is often comforting and healing.  It is a powerful and compelling presence that leads us down unanticipated paths. The word prayer rises from the same Latin root as the word precarious. Author Annie Dilliard wrote about the dynamic, uncertain nature of prayer:

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping God may wake someday and take offense or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return.” —Teaching a Stone to Talk

 Prayer can lead us out to precarious edges where God opens our hearts and transforms our lives in unexpected ways.  As a disciple/seeker, how do I continue to mark my day with prayer, how about my work?  How is this new beginning an establishing a new rhythm, a new way of life can take time. Prayer is essential dialogue for the path of transformation, healing and peace.  If we are to continue this growth and journey, then prayer must continue to be a visible presence of the rhythm of my day.

“Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”   —-Mark 12:30-31

God loves us, understands our struggles, and calls us to love ourselves for whom we are—imperfect but precious instruments of peace, healing and wholeness. How easy it is to forget that the precondition of loving our neighbor, as suggested in Mark 12, is that we first must love ourselves.  Perhaps remembering to practice self-love is difficult because we know our humanness all too well: the fear we justify as prudent, the insecurities we quietly nurse, and the anxieties that immobilize us and keep us from living fully into our gifts. God is invested in our loving ourselves, because when we do, we become more accepting of others and are better able to employ our talents as instruments of peace, healing and wholeness on behalf of the common good.

So as we continue in this beginning of a New Year to develop the newness of life in us when we learn to practice self-love and take care of others.  Creating a habit of the heart that takes care of ourselves is essential to the care of those around us.

  • What do I cherish about myself? What does God and others cherish about me? Are they the same?
  • In what ways do my concerns about my limitations and lack of self-care keep me from being an instrument of mercy, healing and wholeness?
  • In what ways do I see my work as an extension of the authentic part of myself?