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Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Transfiguration

"Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them." Mt 17:1

Conversion is a slow process. We need many reminders that we are God's people and that God is always with us. Like almost anything else we learn in life, we "get faith" for a while and then lose it. Because daily life often confuses and challenges us with questions about suffering, death, poverty and hunger, we forget who we are, and seasons like Lent are necessary to help us return to the "straight and narrow" path of Jesus.

Today the transfiguration of Jesus is like a Lent for the apostles. Jesus has been slowly letting the apostles know who he is, and today he makes it absolutely clear that he is the fulfillment of the prophets. One might say that it is the "baptism" of the apostles. Because the apostles now know that Jesus is God's son, even if they cannot yet put their minds completely around the revelation, they have new responsibilities. God is readying them for their mission, and while their obligation to announce Good News will be delayed, they will soon be God's messengers and message.

Our own faith life and Lenten journey are similar. We have moments of pristine clarity and insight, and then the fog returns and we can hardly see where we are going. Not being afraid of this process is the key to completing our pilgrimage. Conversion lasts our entire life and while we might lose our way, God never loses sight of us.

Today, try to remember a moment of transfiguration, when you knew exactly who you were.

What has been your experience of conversion into Christ?

Friday, March 10, 2017

Love your Enemies

“You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." Mt 5:43

Very little in the Gospel can shock and startle us like the phrase "love your enemies." Unfortunately, because we have heard it so often, it sometimes washes over us like another bit of information, and fails to stop us in our tracks or make us think.

Loving our enemies is hard work. It means turning our world upside down, letting go of hurt and beginning again. It does not mean we should be soft or weak. In fact, loving our enemies can make us very strong if only we have the courage to ask God to show us a path towards authentic reconciliation, especially if our enemies are in our own family.

Jesus made many enemies because he continually challenged the power of the Jewish leaders of his day. More upsetting to some, he also demanded that everyone study and reinterpret the Torah. The Law, as Jesus lived it, was intended to lead people closer to God and the service of God's people. Though it might bind and irritate its followers at times, it only did this because it demanded great sacrifice and the acceptance of God's leadership and plan in the lives of the faithful. The Gospel does the same thing.

Today, ask for the strength to love one enemy.

What stops you from loving your enemies?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Be Reconciled

"If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift." Mt 5:23

One of the fundamental questions asked of every school of spirituality is where it begins? Ignatian spirituality, for instance, begins with personal and world sin. Only after a person has confronted his or her complicity in making the world a harsher place and community through selfishness, pride, lust and arrogance, does the pilgrim join the journey of Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. It is a natural and understandable place to begin, but it is not the only place.

Franciscan spirituality begins by reminding the pilgrim to stand in awe and wonder before the greatness and goodness of God, and only after celebrating the glory of God in all creation does it ask believers to face their sin. It is a different path with the same goal, to know, appreciate and enter the mystery of God's unconditional love. For Franciscans, only the strength and assurance they gain from seeing God's presence in all creation makes it possible for them to face the awfulness of their own ingratitude.

Jesus' reminder to his disciples seems to take this second path. God is more intent on rejoicing in our conversion and willingness to be reconciled with our sisters and brothers than in than in taking pleasure from our death through sin. God wants to celebrate who we are when we turn to him, not to turn from us in disgust. How wonderful God is!

Today, take a deep breath and ask God what you must do to be in God.

Where does your heart lead you in beginning again your spiritual journey?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Living with Darknes

"Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish, had recourse to the LORD...Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand." Est 12:14

Darkness of spirit can be immobilizing. Inundated with problems or memories that emerge every time we open our eyes, there is no place to go. Friends with cancer often spoke of their illness in this manner. Each day they would wake, hoping for a shift in how they felt physically and emotionally, but there was only nausea and darkness. 

Remarkably, the call of Lent is to allow God to take us into this kind of darkness so that we might be cleansed and able to see again, even in a darkness "one can feel." Though our faith tells us that God is in the darkness with us, and Jesus in the desert experienced this, it is awful, frightening and disturbing. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta told her spiritual director that this kind of darkness followed her for years. While those who knew her could never have suspected this terrible kind of trial, it was real and suffocating, and led her to the edge of unbelief.

When periods of darkness like this come upon us, we must stay still. As the poet, Jessica Powers wrote, "God sits on a chair of darkness in my soul...I sit at His feet, a child in the dark beside Him." God does not make the darkness go away, but sits with us in it. Is that enough?

Today, try not to hide. Give yourself to God as you are.



How do you live with the darkness that comes to you?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Sackcloth

"Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God." Jon 3:8

Sometimes there is a line in the scriptures that both amuses and startles us. The book of Jonah tells us that when the King of Nineveh heard Jonah's warning that his huge city would be destroyed unless he repented, he not only put on sackcloth and sat in ashes, he ordered the cattle to be dressed in sackcloth as well. Even as I write I am trying to picture the scene. The text suggests, however, that Jonah was neither impressed nor moved by the king's show of repentance. Jonah didn't want the people of Nineveh to repent. He wanted them punished, but God was impressed, which is all that matters.

God knows our hearts, and while most of us are not inclined to make a show of our repentance and dress our animals in sackcloth, we can be sure that when we turn to God with sincerity and sorrow, God hears our cry. Perhaps even more important, God hears the cries of our enemies, and the challenge to rejoice in their repentance is before us everyday.

Today, pray for someone you don't like.

What does it take for you to let go and let God direct your life?

Monday, March 6, 2017

Babbling at Prayer

"In praying, do not babble." Mt 6:7

Especially when we are anxious, there is a temptation to use too many words in prayer as if the more we speak the easier it will be for God to hear us and conform to our will. This happens to all of us from time to time and we should not let it bother us inordinately, but it is important to practice silence.

Traditionally, Babel, as described in the book of Genesis, is God's punishment of those who are trying to shape a world that could reach into the skies and and make them like God. When God disperses the people and they develop their own languages, the unity that God desires as a way to offer him praise is lost.

The apostles often babbled. Peter is especially guilty of this. Often he pretends that he understands Jesus' needs more than the other apostles, and regularly puts his foot in his mouth. (Mt 16:22) Only at Pentecost, when Peter and the apostles submit themselves to God totally, are all the people of the world able to understand them when they speak in the power of the Spirit. The same can be true for us.

Today, be quiet at prayer. Sit in the silence of God's presence.

Why is it so difficult to be quiet at prayer?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Our Call to Holiness

"'The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the whole assembly of the children of Israel and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.'" Lv 19:1

The universal call to holiness is an important Catholic doctrine. In the fifth chapter of Lumen Gentium we read, "Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness." (LG)

For many older Catholics this teaching may sound strange, even wrong. As Catholics who grew up and learned their catechism in the middle of the 20th century, we learned that bishops, priests and nuns were called to holiness, but we rarely heard of our own call. The Second Vatican Council tried to change this, but old ideas die slowly.

It should not surprise us that it is difficult to change, but it should not discourage us. Over time, we can learn and grow, but we must be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. A good place to start is reading the scriptures of the day. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/ and setting aside a few minutes of quiet and reflection to pray about them. All of this allows the Spirit to do God's work in us, and opens us to new possibilities and the holiness to which all of us are called.

Today, read the Gospel of the day slowly and savor it.

What inhibits your call to holiness?