Saturday, February 13, 2016

Finding God in the Light and the Dark

"Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil." Lk 4:1

Twice in Luke's gospel there is an Epiphany, a moment of enlightenment and clarity for Jesus and all of us, his followers. The first occurs as Jesus emerges, newly baptized, from the waters of the Jordan and hears God's words, "You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased"(Lk 3:22) This is an Epiphany of a kind we all enjoy and seek. It is an affirmation, a light come to us from afar, a confirmation of our identity as God's child.

The second Epiphany, about which we read today, follows in the fourth chapter, but it is an Epiphany of a very different kind. Jesus is in the desert, the place of terrible cold at night and unbearable heat during the day, and he remains there for forty days and nights. This is a dark Epiphany, a time of affirmation surely, but accomplished in the shadows. Though Jesus is ministered to by angels, he is also among wild beasts. His life is being threatened and his integrity is being challenged. Today's Epiphany is daunting, one which most of us would rather avoid.

The challenge of the Gospel is clear. Are we willing to look for and find God both in the cleansing waters of new life, and in the desert darkness of fear and uncertainty? While it is natural and understandable that we would hope to find God in all the obvious places and situations, in a loving family, in a supportive community and in friends who know us inside and out, it is not enough for the Christian. Our task is more difficult, but also clearer. We must encounter God in the light and the dark!

Today, return to an unhealed place within your heart and let God be with you.

Recount a time when you discovered God in the "desert."

Friday, February 12, 2016

Taking Lenten Sabbaths

"If you call the Sabbath a delight, and the LORD's holy day honorable; If you honor it by not following your ways,...then you shall delight in the LORD." Is 58:13-14

For the Jews of old Sabbath was both an obligation and a privilege. Jews were obligated to slow down, to spend time with family, to honor God by letting go of the events of the week in order to pray, listen and celebrate all that God did among them. Sabbath was also a privilege because it reminded the community that God wanted to be close to them, to dwell among them, and to animate them for the works of justice.

Many years ago, while a student at Boston University, I asked an orthodox Jewish friend why it was forbidden to play the shofar on the Sabbath. His answer has remained with me for more than forty years. Because, he said, God wants even the air itself to rest on the Sabbath. To change the natural flow of air by forcing it through a shofar with one's breath dishonors the God who wants everyone and everything to rest one day a week and turn their thoughts and prayers to God.

Lent is a good time to reexamine our own Sabbath practices. Do we take time to rest, to listen to others intentionally and completely with our hearts as well as our ears? Do we pause to think about how God was present to us each week even when we failed to listen to God? AND, do we do this everyday?

Take a few deep breaths today and be grateful for God's presence within you and among us.

Do you live a "sabbath" life? Do you rest each day in the presence of God?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sharing with the Hungry and Homeless

"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: 6-7

It did not take the church long to place before us a telling and important reminder about our Lenten practices. Fasting is not a subtle way to lose weight. Neither it is a practice to give us personal satisfaction or assure us that we are close to God. Fasting, and every other Lenten practice, has only one purpose, to draw us into the heart of God for God's purposes, and its value will be known by its fruits.

Are we more just, are we more open to the stories of those who struggle with life and life's most basic demands? Are we slower to judge others? Are we content being God's servants? God's yoke, as Jesus reminds us, is easy. When an ox goes in a straight path, it does not even know it is saddled with a yoke. It simply goes where it is directed. Though a harsh image, imagining God putting the yoke of the gospel around us at Baptism can help us not to struggle against any correction or instruction we receive.

Today, yoke yourself to God and let God lead you.

What is your most difficult "yoke?"

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Losing our Lives to Save Ourselves

"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." Lk 9:24

We often do things to save ourselves. We lie, we deceive and manipulate others and situations, all to protect our reputation. Of course, we know that when we act in this way we are being dishonest, but the alternative seems uncomfortable at best and impossible at worst. Although we know that lies follow us around like a bad penny, we get trapped in our pride and embarrassment. Literature is full of stories that grow from a simple dishonesty into a terrible tragedy.

Is anyone in literature a more heinous liar than Iago in Shakespeare's Othello? While clever and insightful, Iago schemes, deceives, and manipulates others for his own gain. Eventually his lies result not only in Desdemona and Othello's death, but his own. Lies kill our spirits by diminishing both the liar and anyone who welcomes the liar's deceit for his or her own gain.

In today's gospel Jesus not only warns his disciples that he will be killed for telling the truth, he teaches them that wealth and power are unworthy goals for the believer. The only way to gain life, he insists, is to lose it, to let go, to put aside the mask of invincibility and put on the clothes of compassion and justice. Lent is about facing the lies we tell ourselves and examining the lies our culture promotes.

Today ask for the courage to face the truth about yourself.

What are the biggest lies our culture teaches us?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

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 God for sin. Dressing in sackcloth and ashes and abstaining from meat were other ways of imploring God and the community to forgive us.

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, February 8, 2016

Shrove Tuesday

"This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Mk 7:6

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 five 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 hot and loud at night with lots of street music. 

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, are good ones. Life doesn't happen in a day, but unfolds a day at a time. Taking enough time to focus of goals rather than accomplishments makes it possible for Lent 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, February 7, 2016

Doing Justice

"May your priests be clothed with justice; let your faithful ones shout merrily for joy." Ps 132:8

Being just and doing justice is an essential element of the Christian vocation. At the end of the 19th century, when the world was changing more rapidly than anyone could understand or accept, and workers were being used and abused by the newly emerging assembly line technology which left them exhausted at the end of a working day, the church, under the leadership of Pope Leo XIII wrote,
"Justice, therefore, demands that the interests of the working classes should be carefully watched over by the administration, so that they who contribute so largely to the advantage of the community may themselves share in the benefits which they create – that being housed, clothed, and bodily fit, they may find their life less hard and more endurable. (Rerum Novarum # 34)

Forty years later, Pius XI wrote even more succinctly, "In the first place, the worker must be paid a wage sufficient to support him and his family," (Quadregessimo Anno, #71) and near the end of the twentieth century, John Paul II reminded everyone, "Work is in the first place 'for the worker' and not the worker 'for work.' Work itself can have greater or lesser objective value, but all work should be judged by the measure of dignity given to the person who carries it out." (Laborem Exercens, #6)

In a world in which too many people, without work and the dignity work can offer the worker, are hungry, thirsty and naked, Jesus' command to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, becomes increasingly important,(Mt 25:32-46) and our obligation to do justice gratefully an even more powerful sign of God's love for all. When we live a just life, everything and everyone changes. Not only do we practice the Gospel in everyday life, we witness to others the joy we experience in being Good News.

Today, be grateful for the food and work you have.

How do you think justice should proceed in the world?