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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Promises

"Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, 'All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.'” Mt 4;  9-10

The devil can be very clever and appear to us in an infinite variety of ways. His encounter with Jesus in the desert is revealing and demanding. Addressed to the first disciples and to us, it forces us to answer hard questions. What kind of temptations are we most prone to, and how do we usually respond?

The first followers of Jesus struggled with this passage. There was little wiggle room for them. If they thought they would gain a new temporal power after Jesus chased the occupying Romans from Jerusalem, they would be disappointed. If they hoped they would have all the food and drink they wanted, they missed Jesus' message, and if they believed they would be miracle workers, able to heal anyone who came to them, they were sadly mistaken.

Though he was hungry after forty days in the desert, Jesus message is clear. We must rely on God to be our strength, our power, our food, our savior and our healing friend. For some disciples, no doubt, then and now, this was not enough and they wandered away looking for a different Messiah.

The promises of Jesus are simple and transforming, but they are not magic. Unless we work at letting go each day and relying on him and his Spirit for the courage to live our faith authentically, we too will be disappointed. Lent is not a panacea, but a path we walk slowly and with faith. We may not know where the road will take us, but we do know that Christ is our companion every step of the way.

Today, ask God for the patience to walk gently along the way of Christ.

What are your hopes for Lent this year?

Friday, March 7, 2014

New Life

"God will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails."

It is endlessly fascinating to watch gardeners water their plants and vegetables. Often, only moments after watering, the plants which were droopy and lifeless, come back to life, stand tall and invite admiration. How important water is to life and to us, and God promises to be our gardener if only we will stand still long enough for the water of Christ's life to take effect, to pick us up and send us forth.

One of the important tasks of Lent is to accompany candidates and catechumens as they walk the last days of preparation for their Baptism at Easter. Usually nurtured by a few parishioners though the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), we meet those seeking entrance to our church at Mass, and wonder what or who it is that is calling them to faith. Are some of them preparing to marry Catholics? Are others seeking a new way of life? Whatever it is that they hear, we are happy to be among them, especially at a time in the life of the U.S. church when there is so much scandal. Clearly, God's grace will not be stopped by our sins.

Those preparing for Baptism and entry into our church are the water for our Gardens. Though we may be dry and tired, our catechumens and candidates drench us in their goodness and desire and renew us in faith and hope. Our only obligation is to receive and treasure those who come to us as new life.

Today, pray for all those preparing for Baptism or to make a profession of faith in our church.

Why do you think people still seek Christ through baptism in the Catholic church?




Thursday, March 6, 2014

God's Justice

"This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own." Is 58: 6-8

If anyone has been slow to enter Lent, Isaiah pushes hard. Only two days after we have begun the journey towards Easter and asked for the grace of transformation, the prophet's instruction is clear and demanding. We must be just and compassionate. Otherwise, Lent will be a futile exercise of self discipline that has nothing to do with God or God's desires for the world.

Being just is an attitude, a way of looking at the world. It does not begin with wondering whether someone deserves our care, but with fulfilling God's challenge to help those in need without regard to social class, race, religion or culture. People without a voice, a job or a position of power need to know that God cares about and for them, and we, God's people, are the way God shows this to the them and to the world. We are God's face, ears and hands, gazing upon, listening to and reaching out for anyone, but especially for those bound unjustly.

Hearing God's challenge and responding is not the work of a single day, week or month, but of a lifetime. When we make time and take time to listen to the world as it is, we cannot not hear and see those in need. More important, over time we learn to respond with compassion and humility. Most of us are only two paychecks a way from poverty.

Today, pray for the homeless wherever they live, but especially for those in your own city or town.

What is your attitude towards the chronically needy?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Crosses Big and Small

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." Lk 9:23

Crosses come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, none of them easy but all of them real and important. Some carry a paralyzing fear, others an impenetrable darkness. Still others suffer addictions that terrorize them and their families, but most of us have simpler, if not less heavy, crosses. We talk or eat too much, we don't listen to our friends or God and we wonder whether our lives have impacted anyone or anything. These are heavy crosses indeed.

Following Jesus means accepting who we are, what we've done and what we have failed to do, while at the same time praying to be free of our self absorption and fear. Knowing the Lord will guide and lead us to places, situations and people that will allow him to be known and loved makes this possible and desirable.

Discipleship, Lent teaches us, is not first of all about doing penance or growing in faith, but about following Jesus. The Lord is more concerned about our willingness to repent and begin again each day than about our faults. When our humility deepens we begin to realize that Jesus can even use our weaknesses for the good of others and the announcement of the Gospel.

Today, carry the first cross you encounter without grumbling.

What are your most difficult crosses?










Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ash Wednesday

"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." Jl 2:12

External signs of penance are common in most cultures and religions. Kneeling on the steps of a church asking pardon of those entering was common. Dressing in sackcloth and ashes and abstaining from meat were other ways of asking pardon of God and the community for serious faults and sins.  And of course, some were excommunicated, i.e. unable to approach the altar for communion. Each and all of these penances were imposed by the church both to help the sinner repent and remind the church community to be transparent examples of Gospel living.


The book of Joel, however, is careful to remind believers that the mere exercise of a public penance does not guarantee reconciliation with God and the community. While the external signs of sorrow might be in place, the need for penitent hearts is still necessary, and this is the work we all must do during Lent. We might "give something up", pray the rosary more regularly or fast every day, but unless we ask for the grace to be more open to God and God's ways, our public commitment to the Gospel will do us little good.

Sometimes it is best to keep things very simple during Lent. Think of a penance that, while stressful, helps you open your minds to new ideas and your spirit to real transformation. It might be as simple as sitting quietly for five minutes in the morning before you make coffee or plan your day. You don't have to do anything during this quiet time except make yourself available to God for God's work.

Today, don't just do something, sit there.

What have been your most memorable Lents?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Shrove Tuesday

"Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." 1 Pt 1:13

Getting ready for a lifestyle change can be both unnerving and exciting. Our Capuchin Intranet recently alerted the friars of the New York/New England Province that eight young men are applying for entrance into our Postulancy this August. Reading their names, I immediately started praying for them. While I am sure they are excited, I also know they will have some butterflies, especially if they have never lived in a large city. Our Postluancy is in Brooklyn, NY and although the neighborhood is safe, it can be intimidating. The population is largely working poor Latino, and the neighborhood, especially in August when they arrive, can be loud at night with lots of street music. 

Praying helped me remember that whenever I have the privilege of helping someone ready themselves for marriage, many of the same concerns emerge. Has the couple spent enough time learning about one another? Do they have good communication skills? And most important for believers, are the thinking of marriage as a faith commitment, an opportunity to grow in the love of God through marriage?

Shrove Tuesday is a good day to pray for anyone making a lifestyle change. The day before Ash Wednesday is marked by celebrations and a certain anxiety. Because we are preparing ourselves for a penitential season that calls us to fast, pray, and give alms, we wonder if we are up to it. Will we try too hard to ready ourselves for Easter? Will we remember that Lent is a marathon not a sprint? Will other matters intrude into the spirit of Lent and distract us from who we are and where we are trying to go?

These questions, and the answers they imply, when altered slightly are good ones for the candidates to our Order and marriage. Life doesn't happen in a day, but does unfold a day at a time. Taking enough time to focus of goals rather than accomplishments makes it possible for Lent, religious life and marriage to be a wonderful time of transformation and hope.

Today, enjoy an extra piece of chocolate or something you really enjoy and thank God for the gift of taste.
What most helps you make transitions in your faith life?


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Prisons of our own Making

"When he got out of the boat, at once a man from the tombs who had an unclean spirit met him. The man had been dwelling among the tombs, and no one could restrain him any longer, even with a chain." Mk 5: 2-3

There are all kinds of prisons. Some are physical in nature with bars and alarm bells and bobbed wire to make sure prisoners cannot escape. Others are internal and in many ways they are more restrictive than the prisons that house law breakers. Trapped in our expectations or by our fears and anxieties, we worry excessively about everything from the weather to our health and our financial security, and too often forget Jesus' reminder that we should not worry but remember that God takes care of everyone and everything. Prisons like this are painful, disempowering and unnessary.

Unfortunately, like the man dwelling in the tombs, it is difficult for our friends and family to restrain us. Too concerned with our own opinion or reputation, we stop listening, reject the insights of others and isolate ourselves. Only when we ask for help, and find time to pray more often and simply do we begin to turn the corner and discover there is a way out of our prison. Letting go of our need to have everything and everyone in place, we discover that the Lord can be our strength,

Today, ask for the grace to walk out of the prison of your own pride.

What are the chains that bind you and our society?