Friday, March 25, 2016

The Easter Vigil

"In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters." Gn 1:1

Wind in the scriptures often indicates a theophany, a sign that God is present and active. Genesis tells us that though the earth was formless and everything was dark, a mighty wind indicated that God was about to do something wonderful and powerful, and we should pay attention.

The Easter Vigil not only reminds us of these theophanies, it revisits many of the life changing events in the Scriptures and offers believers a smorgasbord of God's gifts to reflect upon and taste. From the great moment of creation, to the Covenant with Abraham, through the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, to the Resurrection of Jesus, we are invited to celebrate God's enduring presence in our lives in word and symbol. We light a new fire, celebrate its light, bathe in the waters of baptism and sing Alleluia over and over.

At the same time, like visiting other smorgasbord's, we should not force ourselves to eat everything at once. Rather, Easter tells us to take our time, to eat modestly, to taste everything and come back to these texts, symbols and rituals over and over during the fifty days of Easter. The multiple ways God visits us and beckons us to enter the mysteries of faith are endless, but more than anything else, Easter promises us a place at the eternal banquet if only we allow God to shape our lives and show us the way.

Today, read one scripture text and savor it.

Which of Easter's images most attracts you to know God more deeply/

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Good Friday

"Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth." Is 53:7

Silence is an essential spiritual practice for anyone wanting to enter more deeply into the mystery of God's love for us in Jesus. Taking fifteen minutes once or twice a day to sit in the middle of life as it unfolds without saying anything or trying to understand, we give ourselves to God without explanation or expectation and we do this in memory of the Christ who lived and hung upon the the cross for us. When we choose to be quiet like this, inside and out, we usually see more clearly, but not necessarily understand more of God's plan. Rather, in silence we make ourselves available to God for whatever God intends. This kind of abandonment is difficult but necessary, especially during the Sacred Triduum.

Good Friday is a good time to look quietly upon the cross, or in the words of St Clare of Assisi, to gaze upon the God who gave his life for us. There are no words to adequately articulate this mystery, and although we try, there is no making sense of God's incredible sacrifice. God wants to be near us for eternity and so does the unthinkable. God dwells among us, suffers and dies so that we might know more completely the depth of his love. We could never imagine this, nor would we want God to die. Death is Jesus' choice, not to exalt suffering for itself, but to submit himself to his Father's will for our salvation. 

Defying the authorities, Jesus speaks of freedom from the law as the only way to observe the law, and for this the Jewish authorities condemn him. Only when we let go of the law as a path to salvation are we able to meet the Christ who embodies the law. Union with Christ is the fulfillment of the law and the goal, not only of Good Friday, but of the Christian life itself.

Today, find fifteen or twenty minutes to be quiet with God. There is no need to say anything.

How difficult is it for you to sit quietly in the presence of God?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Letting Go of Security

"On the tenth of this month every one of your families must procure for itself a lamb, one apiece for each household...This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight." Ex 12: 3, 11

Most of us, like the Israelites of old, are not really sure we want to be set free. Although the Lord leads his chosen people out of Egypt and promises to accompany them to the Promised Land, they, like all of us, must  first go through the desert.

Being in flight or on the road is never easy. We don't have a place or a bed to call our own. The smells and sights of waking up are different every day, and the people we meet along the way are not our friends. Lacking the familiar, we get testy and easily annoyed, and sometimes yearn for the past with all its problems.

Traveling light, not by choice but necessity, our faults and the idiosyncrasies of our family and fellow pilgrims are much more obvious and annoying. Still, we must go forward. The Promised Land beckons us, and as long as we keep it in mind, it is much richer than what we left behind.

Today, let go of  one thing to which you are clinging.

Do your memories of God's intervention in your life hold you down or set you free?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Jesus, Our Servant

"Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" Mt 26:24

The high priests offer Judas thirty pieces of silver, the price of buying a slave in the ancient world, if he will hand Jesus over to them. How awful! Judas sells the Lord as if he were selling a slave, and indeed that is how Jesus presents himself to us. Kneeling down to wash the feet of his disciples, Jesus becomes a non person in his society. Slaves had no political rights. They were the property of those who owned them, and while some of them, no doubt, were well treated, they had no security.

All of this, of course, fits the theology and spirituality of the gospels well. Jesus is a slave for us. He chooses this role not only to position himself as the champion of the poor, but to help his disciples realize that the power they will be given after his resurrection is not the power of money, property and a large family, traditional signs of God's blessing. Rather, they will be servants of all, announcing a freedom beyond political categories not only to Jews, but to all the world. Once again, Jesus turns the world upside down.

Whenever we encounter this paradox in our own lives we are startled, even dismayed. We do everything we think necessary to achieve success, but the result is bittersweet at best. The emptiness of success without the deepening of our relationship with God and others envelopes us. Only when we serve others freely and graciously in order to announce the power of God within and among us is there lasting joy.

Today, pray for nothing except to do God's will.

Have you ever experienced deep joy in serving others without any hope of reward?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Asking Forgiveness

“Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” Mt 26:21

Truth be told, it is almost impossible not to betray the Lord. Almost every day we face challenges as people committed to the Gospel. Are we willing to speak up and act on behalf of the poor, or do we always wonder about the political consequences of our actions? Do we stand with the voiceless or remain silent when obvious prejudice is expressed? Are we open to new ways of hearing the Gospel and responding accordingly?

These are just a few of the questions that people committed to a Gospel life must answer. Living the Gospel is much more difficult than reading about it or preaching it. A few days ago I was speaking with a clergy friend and both of us agreed that while we are intent on preaching the Gospel carefully and powerfully, at times it is not easy to listen to ourselves or live out what we challenge others to do.

Most important, it is necessary to humbly accept our own weaknesses but not be paralyzed by them. As long as we regularly commit ourselves to handing over our lives to God for God's work we have nothing to fear. God knows our weaknesses, but is more interested in our efforts to live simply and honestly than our ability to do the Gospel perfectly. Perfectionism, with which most of us are afflicted, is much more an ego driven fault than a way to honor God.

Today, ask forgiveness from someone you have betrayed.

What are the ways you most often betray God and the Gospel?

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Jesus Gives us the Power to Live

"We gave him the power to die; he will give us the power to live." St. Augustine, Office of Readings

St Augustine often offers us rich food for thought and prayer. In today's Office of Readings, he insists that we should have no shame over the death of Jesus. Rather, he says, "it should be our greatest hope," since we cannot gain eternal life by our own efforts. Life forever in God is a pure gift, such that we can never fully appreciate or understand. How is it that God would want to live with us forever? It can only be that God sees in us what he has created, not the mess we sometimes make of our lives.

Surely this was true of Mary in today's Gospel. No matter what she thought of herself, her willingness to use expensive oil to anoint Jesus's feet and dry them with her hair was a powerful sign of her gratitude and devotion to Jesus. That Judas would criticize Mary and Jesus' disciples for this act of kindness and love, while understandable, is shallow and self serving. Would it not be better for all of us to see with Mary's eyes the torment of the Lord as he prepares himself for death? Wouldn't it be better for us to look at the poor in the same way? Rather than judge and condemn those with nothing, we need to put ourselves in their shoes and see with Jesus' eyes and heart.

Today, ask God to calm your spirit and open your eyes to all those who suffer.

Who has most impressed you with their faith in the face of suffering and death?