Monday, April 14, 2014

Kenosis


“He emptied himself.”

All during this Lent, we have been reflecting as a community on the “Inside-Out” experience of God’s work in our lives. Our readings and prayer have focused on how God enters into the life of the believer and transforms us – turns us inside-out – and sets us on a path of new life.

However, none of this experience would be valuable – nor would it even be possible – had God not first gone through His own inside-out experience. Now, we enter into Holy Week, and throughout our prayerful reflection from now until Easter, we will walk with Jesus through His inside-out experience that began when the Son of God emptied himself for our sake.

The drama of the Passion that we just heard is really enough. However, I want to invite you to truly enter into this experience this year. Celebrate Holy Week and go with Jesus, Who turns Himself inside-out for us, culminating in His death – death on a cross.

This is the heart of our lives as Christians – we who profess to want to be like Christ. And so, we too must empty ourselves, experiencing the humiliation of the Cross and receiving the life that can only come through it.

At the heart of every one of our Christian vocations is this mystery – the mystery of Christ’s emptying. Out of love for others, we must be willing to give of ourselves completely – even to the point of becoming nothing (which is what that “emptying” means). Then – and only then – through our sharing in Christ’s sacrifice – can we share in His life, which we will celebrate next Sunday on Easter. But the Cross comes first. Jesus is turned inside-out first. All we can do is watch and follow, doing as He did.

And he emptied himself first.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Life Changing Friendship

“Master, the one you love is ill.”

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

“Our friend Lazarus is asleep…”

When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled…

And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.”

Throughout our dramatic Gospel today, we are given the very real sense that Jesus cared deeply for his friend Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary. It is very important that we understand that this is not just some random miracle: the healing of a blind man on the side of the road; the curing of a woman in a crowd; the raising of an official’s slave. Rather, this is someone very close to Jesus – a friend – someone capable of eliciting a response of tears from the Son of God standing before his grave.

Equally important is that we realize that this is the same friendship that Jesus calls us to with Him. “The one you love is ill.” Whom does Jesus love? Ask your kids! Jesus loves everyone!

Our Lord calls each of us to a true relationship with Him. In fact, this is not just some clinical, sanitary “relationship;” rather, this is real friendship. Friendship is a special type of relationship. Some relationships we are born into: children, brothers and sisters, family. Other relationships are born of necessity: my barber, the guy who changes my oil, the grocer. However, other relationships demand a choice for them to be true, and friendship is exactly one of these. 

Friendship is a life-changing relationship. It is more than “acquaintance” or partnership. Friendship makes us different; it turns us “Inside-Out.”

For Lazarus, this “inside-out” experience is literally life changing. He goes from the darkness and stillness of death to the light and beauty of life, all at the Lord’s call.

“See how he loved him.”

My dear friends, when you’re in a relationship you know it; when you’re in a life changing relationship everyone knows it!

Lent is meant to be a time of conversion, of renewal, and of commitment. During these forty days, we turn away from sin, leaving behind us the darkness and doubt that come from a broken relationship with the Lord. In that conversion, we renew our faith in Christ, which gives us eternal life and calls us to “Come out” of the tombs that have held us captive. Then, and only then, can we be free enough to make the commitment of faith that will transform our lives and make us true signs of this new life to others in the world.

The Walking Dead - Thanks for raising us, Jesus
We are not called out of these tombs to simply live our normal lives over and over again. That would be a life of the “walking dead” – reanimated but not really “alive.” Rather, we are changed – turned inside-out – transformed after the model of our True Friend Jesus. When a woman gets engaged, you will never see her walking around with her hands in her pockets! She’s showing that ring off to whoever will pay attention. So should it be with us and our life changing relationship with Jesus.

Our presence here must have an effect in our lives. Hearing this story of the raising of a dead man is not just a nice tale; we too are called out – from tombs of isolation and fear, doubt and loss, addiction and hopelessness – and we are sent forth to be signs of the new life we have received.

Lazarus became a celebrity just as much as Jesus after this event. People wanted to see and meet the man who was turned inside-out by Christ – called out from the tomb and standing in the light of day. Does our faith make others want that too – or does it not even register with people?

Remember: it all begins with friendship and the love of Christ for us. He pours His Spirit into us and through that Spirit we have life. Here, we receive His Body and Blood by which Jesus feeds us and brings us new life.

See how he loves you!

Now, step out into the light and let others see that love as well.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

An Act of True Love

I have written about finding Christ figures in literature and art before. Disney's "Frozen" offers yet another one in Anna. The story, if seen through our particularly Christian lens, offers a stunning reflection of salvation history. Consider it:

Elsa has been born with a gift that can also be seen as a curse - her ability to freeze everything. Knowing that she has this gift, she lives her life in fear, and that fear often results in freezing her room and eventually the entire kingdom. We, too, have been born with Original Sin, and through our own fear and brokenness, we can also find ourselves trapped (or frozen) in a life apart from God. This is dramatically brought to light when Elsa runs off and sends the kingdom into an eternal winter. All the while, we are left with the Troll's advice that "Only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart."

How often are our hearts frozen for reasons of fear, selfishness, anxiety and sin? This is our life before Christ.

Then, Anna sets out searching for her sister (who, by the way, doesn't care to be found). She is relentless in her search and in her faith in her sister's goodness. She calls Elsa back - not judging her as evil or a "monster," as others have, but recognizing that she is her sister - part of her family. In the events that follow, Elsa again strikes Anna and begins the process that freezes her heart.

Jesus "became sin" to save us, so we might know the redemption that God wills for us. He reaches out to us, even when we don't care to be reached, and He calls us brothers and sisters. And even at our lowest points, He is ready to defend us and lift us up to life.

Anna is brought back to Arendelle in order to reverse the effects of the freezing (carried by Kristoff - a name that means "Christ-bearer"), and when the moment of truth occurs, and Hans is ready to destroy Elsa and assume full control of the kingdom, Anna sacrifices herself out of love for her sister. It is in that act of true love that the salvation of the story takes place. This is not the typical romantic love (what the Greeks call eros) but true, God-like love; self-giving, sacrificial love (what we call agape). This is the love of Christ; it is the love revealed fully on the Cross and shared in the Eucharist.


What's more, it is through that act of self-sacrifice that the ancient curse - Anna's total frozen-ness - is reversed, and she rises to life again. In realizing that love and it's power (again, not romantic love, but self-giving love), Elsa now has full rein over her power and can accomplish her role as queen.

We are called to a "royal vocation" - to be kings and queens, reigning with Christ. Jesus gives us that power through His Cross and Resurrection, which we share through our Baptism and are nourished with in the Eucharist.

This drama unfolds in many places in literature and art; but it is most fully and perfectly shared through our faith and our participation in the mysteries we call Sacraments. We are part of that drama - as much as Anna and Elsa - and we share the effects for real. We are given the grace to emerge from our icy fears and sin to live fully in the warmth of the Light that never dims.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Looking for "The One"


During the festivities surrounding Elsa's coronation, Anna is in heaven with all the people and excitement that surround the party. Having already sung of her desire to have visitors and interact with new people, she is ready to meet - as she calls him - "The One." It's really not that surprising. Her personality is bubbly and outgoing, and she has been denied that sort of companionship by her sister's self-imposed exile in her room. So, during the party, when she and Prince Hans of the Southern Isles spend the whole evening chatting, it is no wonder that she is absolutely smitten by the handsome prince.

We know, however, that he has ulterior motives to his interest in the young princess, as he is the 13th son and very far from a kingdom of his own. He seems to have everything in common with Anna, but given the outcome of the movie in his regard, one wonders if he was just making all that up. At any rate, Anna is smitten, and Hans is interested. They return from their perfectly-choreographed (albeit, incredibly brief) courtship, announcing to Elsa their engagement.

Then Elsa does something that no other Disney character has done to this point. She slams the reality down on them: "You can't marry a man you just met."

You can just hear all the princesses back to Snow White gasping in horror, can't you?

We know she is right, though, don't we? It's ridiculous to assume the ability to make a permanent, life-long, self-giving commitment to someone who barely know - regardless of how much alike you both seem. This is why we date. It's why we spend time with each other. It's why we learn who the other person is. In other words, we get to know that person.

Anna thinks she knows Prince Hans, and she even asserts that they have found "true love." But, this is not true. She simply wants it to be true. She is in love with being in love, rather than actually being in love. It's infatuation.

Many of our young people fall into this trap. Perhaps they are starved for love in their own lives; perhaps they have a skewed vision of what love is, from all the poor information that our society gives about "love"; maybe they just want any reason to get out of perceived isolation.  Whatever the reason, it is very important to foster in our young people a positive vision of love and of preparing for a real commitment. Teach them to get to know others, rather than to satisfy some missing need in their own lives.

Love is wonderful, and everyone must experience it. But love is expressed - it is shared and given. It is a treasure. We must know our investment there, in order to give well. Sharing time and life with others need not be exclusive and permanent for a teenager, since there are many people who will come into and out of their lives. God wants to make His home permanently there as well; and His is the truest love that they will ever receive. If we foster that first, then they will have the greatest gift to give to "The One," once he or she comes along.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Difficulty of Discipleship

“If you build it, he will come.”

Remember that line? – From the movie “Field of Dreams”? In it, Ray Kinsella hears a voice whispering to him on his Iowa farm, “If you build it, he will come.” Ray, following the insistent voice, begins to cut a baseball field into his cornfield – eventually creating an entire stadium. He continues to follow the promptings of that voice, which lead him out to involve other people – all the while, he encounters resistance, rejection and mockery for his pursuit. The more he continues to follow the voice, the tougher Ray’s life gets.

He’s not that different from the poor man in the gospel today. Jesus encounters him as he is presented as an example of sin’s effects on a person. “Who sinned,” Jesus is asked, “this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus rejects that attitude and lets his hearers know that this man has been chosen, in fact, to reveal the works of God.

That encounter, however, changes the blind man – turns him “Inside-Out” – and life becomes very different for him – and not all in a good way. Certainly, he now has the ability to see, and he also wants to know the Man who gave him that ability; but the reaction of the crowds around him is less than positive. His neighbors first deny that he is even himself, then they begin to question him about the One who allowed him to see. The poor man seems overwhelmed by the inquiry.

Then, the questions become more belligerent, as the Pharisees enter in and demand to know how he is able to see. After his response, the questions soon turn to Jesus and His identity – whether Christ is a “sinful man,” as they believe, or “a prophet,” as the once-blind man testifies. They even involve the man’s parents, making life treacherous for them with their questions.

All this, because the man had an encounter with Jesus.

He is turned from inward darkness of blindness to outward light of sight and then testimony to Jesus. This is a true “inside-out” experience that reflects for us the life of the disciple. We first have our encounter with Jesus, and that encounter should change us. However, this is not simply a change that takes all difficulty and stress away. The life of a disciple is also a life of persecution and suffering, because that is the life of Christ. We cannot come here to church and expect it to be like Disney World, where all our problems go away. No. This is real life and real discipleship. When we are turned inside-out, it will be a tough experience for us at times. However, just as for the blind man, when we persevere in our discipleship, we grow in our understanding of the One who changed our life.

First, the man shares that “the man called Jesus” is the one who healed him. Later, he testifies that “He is a prophet.” Finally, when he has been thrown out of the Temple area and he is alone with Jesus, his eyes are completely opened.

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”

Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he.”

He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him. 

The formerly blind man, who had been trapped in the darkness, now stands in the presence of the Light of the world, and he recognizes Him for Who He truly is: “Lord.” And he worships. That is discipleship.

During this Lent, we are led by the voice of Jesus, who calls to us. It is a call of discipleship; an invitation to encounter Him – like the woman at the well last week and the blind man this week. If we heed that voice, there may be resistance, rejection and mockery – that’s what happens when we are turned inside-out and bear our true selves. However, Jesus promises that this transformation carries with it the glory of heaven, and a sharing in His life.

We get a taste of this life in the Eucharist that we share. Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, allows us to bring our real problems, our sufferings, our persecutions, and to united them with His own – making them perfect. They don’t go away (if you want that, go to Disney World); rather, they become perfect offerings to the God who loves us beyond measure and sheds His holy light on us all.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Solidarity of Hobbits

There is much that I am bothered by with this rendering of The Hobbit in three films. As a Tolkien fan, however, I like all the back story and extraneous mythology that Peter Jackson is putting into the movie (although, it is certainly motivated by the very real desire to make more money). I was watching the first installment of these films again the other day, and another scene struck me as rather poignant.  After their ordeal in the goblins' lair in the mountain, when the Dwarfs reemerge without their Hobbit companion, Thorin assumes that Bilbo has abandoned them for the comforts of his home back in the Shire.  However, he is wrong.

 

Bilbo rejoined the company, and he gives a striking reason why.  He has no personal stake in the Dwarfs' mission, really. He is there because Gandalf did what he usually does. Hobbits are home-bodies, and happily so. The reason that Bilbo gives, however, indicates that he has come to understand something remarkable - and it is very Christian.

Bilbo recognizes that the world does not revolve around him, and there are other folks who have problems and struggles in the world. He chooses to join his destiny with theirs out of his natural goodness and concern for those whom he has come to consider friends. Bilbo's reasoning expresses the ideal that we call "solidarity."

Solidarity means that we are connected to others in their joys and struggles because of our shared experience of humanity. We cannot simply turn a deaf ear to cries for help or change the channel when difficult images remind us of others' suffering. Solidarity reminds us that we are our brother's and sister's keeper and that we do owe one another something.

It is exactly this attitude that God reveals in sending His only-begotten Son to us, so that He might share our condition, and through that sharing we are redeemed. We have benefited first from divine solidarity; and this is why we owe it to others, if we call ourselves Christian.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Becoming Evangelists - Turning Inside-Out

One of the Holy Father’s themes during his year of service so far has been forging a “culture of encounter.” That encounter is first of all an encounter with Jesus – for us who call ourselves Christian, and for those who have yet to meet Him. It is also an encounter between persons – real encounter, with exchange of ideas and life. Over the next three weeks, we will hear about three dramatic encounters that Jesus has with different people. These encounters change life – even completely – and turn them “Inside-Out.”

First, today, we hear of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman. She is at Jacob’s well near the town of Sychar, when Christ asks her a question. It is how so many encounters begin – with a need, a question. Notice that Jesus does not simply begin preaching to this woman. He has a need; she has a well. Her protesting response is not a denial of Jesus’ need but one of wonder – “Why is this guy talking to me?”

For many Jews of the time (and Samaritans, for that matter), this encounter should never have taken place. Men only ordered women around, and Jews never spoke with Samaritans. However, here is the Word-made-flesh asking for a drink from a (gasp!) Samaritan woman!

As the Lord deepens the encounter through the conversation, it soon turns away from the water toward religious questions. She sees that Jesus is more than just any man. Why are Jews and Samaritans so different? she wonders. How is your worship better than ours? The Messiah is promised to God’s people, and when He arrives, it won’t matter where you worship, for all will worship in Spirit and Truth.

This woman is changed by Jesus’ words – which come to her even as her own brokenness is revealed. She has been married many times and was living with a man who wasn’t her husband; but Jesus doesn’t condemn her. Rather, He engages her; He encounters her. After listening to this Man, she is moved to leave her water jug – which was her whole point of being there in the first place – to go back to the village. She has been turned inside-out – transformed by the encounter.

Like many of the Samaritans and even Jesus’ own disciples, we can become complacent in our knowledge of “religious things.” After all, we went to Catholic school or have raised our kids “Catholic.” But are we made for this same encounter? Are we seeking others who are seeking Jesus? Or are we finding reasons to exclude them? Are we equipped to be evangelists, like this Samaritan woman after her meeting with Jesus? In describing that “culture of encounter,” Pope Francis has said,
[W]e cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction.” John Paul II asked us to recognize that “there must be no lessening of the impetus to preach the Gospel” to those who are far from Christ, “because this is the first task of the Church”. … What would happen if we were to take [our missionary task] seriously? We would realize that missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity. Along these lines the Latin American bishops stated that we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings”; we need to move “from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry”. This task continues to be a source of immense joy for the Church: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:7).
The Samaritan woman was different from Jesus; she was different in that she was a woman and she was not a Jew. She was a sinner – different from Jesus, but just like us in that regard! She was seeking. There are so many in our world, in our community, and right here, who are seeking Jesus – seeking meaning and purpose to their lives.

We, too, seek an encounter with Jesus. It’s why we are here, hopefully. This is where we find Him: in His Word proclaimed, in this assembly gathered, and in the Bread and Wine shared. We come with the same thirst that the woman at the well had – to be loved and to know God’s love. In the Eucharist that we share in this place, we encounter Christ and He encounters us; and from that meeting, we too should be turned inside-out. Our task as Christians is to be evangelists.

What is “evangelization?” It is nothing more than making that encounter real. Jesus did it by sharing Himself – with this woman, with others, with us now. We must also be moved, like the Samaritan woman, to go and invite others to experience this encounter. There are many who are waiting to be invited; you have just met Jesus.

What do you do next?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Stepping Out Your Door

In the story of The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is a simple hobbit who is quite content with his comfortable life in his hole at the Shire. He enjoys reading, sitting in his chair by a warm fire and smoking his pipe. It would have been much the same for all of his life if it wasn’t for a visit from Gandalf the Wizard, who invites him on a journey with a company of Dwarves that makes up the material for the rest of the book.


Bilbo doesn’t want to go; he tells the Dwarves and Gandalf this, and eventually they all leave on their quest. However, something inside Bilbo is stirring, and he is uneasy after their meeting. Finally, he agrees to join the group on their adventure.

And the hobbit’s life would never be the same (nor would the lives of all around him).

Bilbo is a lot like Abram. Abram has everything he could want: flocks, family, land, comfort. However, the Lord comes to him and calls him to an adventure – an adventure of faith. “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.” God has great plans for Abram, and if he follows Him, his life will change – as will those around him. In fact, Abram will become Abraham, and our salvation history would flow through the blessings promised to him.

Abraham is turned “Inside-Out.”

By faith, he trusts God and sets out on his adventure of faith and trust in the Lord, his God. It is that faith – strong and true – that allows Abram to be turned inside-out and enter the unknown future that only God can know, and therefore, only God can promise.

During Lent, we work hard at creating our own regimens of spiritual practices: giving up certain things, praying more, donating time and money to the less-fortunate. We also begin to feel pretty good about these things; we get comfortable.

And that’s usually where God comes in and turns us inside-out!

St. Paul, writing to Timothy, reminds his friend that it is not our own efforts or plans that bring us closer to God. Rather, “He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began.” A “holy life” is a life set apart, remarkable for its ability to reveal the life of God in the one who lives it. We are called to that holiness, and only our cooperation with what God wants can allow us to get there.

In the Gospel, Jesus turns Himself “inside-out” for His disciples, revealing His divine glory for them to see on the mountain. In this transfiguration, Christ is shown in His resurrected glory – a glory He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and has since the beginning. It’s hard to see that glory without this turning inside-out, but the disciples are blessed to see it. This moment of glory is a reminder that Jesus is on His own adventure – one that will change not only Him, but all of us.

But it will take a dramatic change – a true inside-out experience – the Cross. What’s more, we must share this adventure with Him, and it will mean sharing in His Cross as well. However, if we are willing to accept the call and set out in trust and faith on the adventure, then we too are changed, turned inside-out by God and revealed to be sharers of the glory that Christ reveals today. It’s inside each one of us because of our faith. God knows it’s there; do we?

Later on in his life, the hobbit Bilbo shares some wisdom with his nephew Frodo: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

“Keeping our feet” is like trying to run our lives based on our own designs and plans. God has other ideas for us – for our good. But, it takes true faith to allow God to sweep us off our feet – like Abram did. But when we do, there’s no telling where God will take us next.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Year of Deeds

I usually cannot stand watching Adam Sandler films, but I did enjoy his "Mr. Deeds" movie. It's a retelling of an earlier film, "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," starring Gary Cooper. In the story, Deeds is a good, simple New England pizza deliverer who tries to get his greeting card poetry published. When his wealthy uncle dies, Deeds is left as the sole heir to a vast fortune. Not knowing what to do with all that money, and certainly not "sophisticated" enough to manage a billion-dollar corporation, Deeds goes to New York where the trustees of the company are jockeying to ensure their continued control over the company and their own wealth.

Deeds is unchanged by the money, and he comes across as a simple guy who just wants to to the right thing and take care of other people. It's a stark contrast to the money-grabbing investors who are trying to minimize his impact on the company. In the end, Deeds is able to help those same investors to remember what they loved most about life and what their dreams were when they first set out to become successful.

Here we are at the year mark of our good Pope Francis' papacy. In the last twelve months, we and the world have been getting to know a lovable man from Argentina whose heart for the poor and the marginalized has not change with ascendancy to the highest office in the Church. Francis has drawn many back to church and has renewed countless others in their love of the People of God. It seems as a new springtime has come to the Bark of Peter.

Yes, there are still those who are cautious about Francis' approach and motives. Liberals have cheered that they are finally being heard and heeded; conservatives are still pontificating about the "hermeneutic of continuity." However, those who truly pay attention to what Francis does (and not what we think he does or means) can still recognize the beautiful Bride of Christ that the Church is. Francis does not enjoy his "superhero" status - he has said so.  But, his simple style, friendly outlook, and overall openness to others - especially the poor - has had more than a few seeing the image of Christ reflected.

The pope is not a superhero. He is a man, like anyone else. He has dreams. He has faith. He has a very difficult vocation, but he is focused on the love of God that helps him to place all other things into perspective. The best honor that we could show him is to imitate that sense of God's love and care in our own lives. Imagine a world of Francis-es!

At the end of "Mr. Deeds," the simple New England town has their local pizza guy back - although he is ridiculously rich. Outside, everyone is driving red Corvettes. Pope Francis does not want us all driving sports cars, but we can all imitate him in his simplicity, care for the weak, and love of Christ.

Happy Anniversary, Holy Father!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

True to the Answer

The comedian Steven Wright once joked, “I have a map of the United States... Actual size. It says, 'Scale: 1 mile = 1 mile.' I spent last summer folding it. I hardly ever unroll it."
Sometimes, it takes a little while to catch his jokes.

This year, another "Jesus movie" has been released, and I have not seen it - although I hope to. The difficulty with movies portraying Our Lord is that so many people already have an idea as to Who He Is. Therefore, the rendering of the Gospels on film can often fall flat for viewers. Or, people don't even bother, since we've "read the book."

   

Well, as I view the trailer, in light of my work on this blog, I am reminded of something Jesus said. When he asks his disciples in that clip, "Who do you say I am?" it reminds of of when Jesus said to his disciples, "Who do you say I am?"

Jesus - like anyone for that matter - does not exist for us to decide who we want Him to be and then has to conform to that image.  If that was the case, then He would have asked, "Who do you want me to be?" Rather, He Is - just like God Is - and we are - and we must come to grips with what that means. Christ became man to enter into our experience, to share that experience, and to redeem that experience, so that we could become children of God - the meek, the peacemakers, the poor in spirit, about whom Christ spoke in the Gospel. The response to the question, "Who do you say I am?" determines our discipleship. The answer is that He is the Son of God, sent to bring to us the grace of the Father, Whose children we are now, and forever.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Come Inside to Look Out

In 1876, James Cardinal Gibbons, the Archbishop of Baltimore, published a book about the Catholic faith entitled, The Faith of Our Fathers. In it, he sought to share the truth of the Catholic Church with Americans who had been getting their information about the Church from biased, anti-Catholic commentators (not much has changed, has it?). Rather than focusing on what folks say from the outside, Cardinal Gibbons wrote, folks should come in and see what we are about. He used the
example of looking at the windows of a church from outside to illustrate his goal.
“While others from without find in the stained-glass windows only blurred and confused figures without symmetry or attraction or meaning, you from within are gazing with silent rapture on God’s glorified saints, with their outlines clearly defined on the windows and all illuminated with the sunlight of heaven.”
As this new season of Lent begins for us, how is our view? Are we outside looking in and seeing “blurred and confused figures,” or are we inside looking out, seeing the glory of the saints? Regardless of where we stand now, we still have some work to do; and God plans on doing that work this Lent!

Our theme for this Lenten journey is “Inside-Out.” We want to reflect on what God is doing – or can do – inside each of our hearts. That’s the spiritual journey of Lent. However, God’s life within us can never be contained and stifled, so we are also turned outward – or inside-out – to act on our faith and on behalf of our brothers and sisters.

Today’s readings bring that journey to a special beginning – a beginning that takes its cue from Jesus – or God’s action through Jesus. Our reading from Genesis and the beginning of the Second Reading from Romans, reminds us of how we have fallen. All of us labor under some sort of sin, and therefore we carry a burden of debt. The Good News today is the reminder that God has chosen to free us from that debt in His Son Jesus Christ. God, who owes us nothing, gave us everything so that we can have the fullness of life with Him. Through our Baptism, we have a share in that life and have received the promise of eternal life. This should make up the heart of our personal reflection this season. We share in the death and resurrection of Jesus through our Baptism – a free gift from God. From that perspective, as we dwell within ourselves, we can look out and see the glory to which we are called.

Lent is about this look within, as well as about the outward motion of our deeds and words on behalf of others. When we look within we are looking for the image of God in which we are made; we are looking for that grace that God gives us through our faith in Jesus; and when we find it – deep within – we must turn outward, because that is what love does. Jesus is the perfect example of this charity, or love.

When we were lost in sin, like Adam and Eve, God showed us what true love does for the beloved. Pope Francis describes it in his recent Message for Lent:
“God did not let our salvation drop down from heaven, like someone who gives alms from their abundance out of a sense of altruism and piety. Christ’s love is different! When Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan and was baptized by John the Baptist, he did so not because he was in need of repentance, or conversion; he did it to be among people who need forgiveness, among us sinners, and to take upon himself the burden of our sins. In this way he chose to comfort us, to save us, to free us from our misery.”
Today, we encounter Jesus in the desert. This is a place where we are alone – with our thoughts, with our prayer, and with God. It is the perfect place to look within. However, as Satan does to Jesus, there is the temptation to focus only on ourselves – to stay inside. Maybe it’s pretty in there; maybe it’s comfortable; maybe it’s safe. However, God wants to turn us “inside-out” – just as He Himself turned inside-out, for us.

During this holy season, we are given the grace of walking that journey together and with Jesus. As we look within, may be certainly find God there. And after finding Him, we are turned outward – sometimes dramatically – to reach out in mercy and compassion to others. The Eucharist, Christ’s perfect gift of Himself, feeds us here and provides the strength for us to accomplish God’s work this week.

Sitting inside the church is nice for viewing the saintly images in the windows; but beyond those windows are the people and the places that will help us to become saints ourselves.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Jesus in My Heart

When I was a student at St. Mary’s Seminary, the community would gather for morning prayer on Wednesday morning for a prayer experience called “Sulpician meditation.” After getting ourselves out of bed and downstairs to the warm, cozy chapel, the priest who led the meditation would tell us to close our eyes, breathe deeply and relax. (Yes. We all would fall right back to sleep!). Then, he’d tell us to put all our cares and worries of the day out of our heads – and that was exactly when all the cares and worries of my day would flood into my head!

One of the features of that type of meditation was an awareness of “Jesus in my heart.” The knowledge that Christ was alive within us was an essential part of that prayer, and it is an essential part of the Christian life – of Discipleship.

Today, Jesus gives us some advice that few of us take most of the time: “Do not worry” - about food or drink or clothes … or anything. Why? God loves you, infinitely, and cares for your every need.

Jesus knows we are preoccupied with so many things: career, education, children, bills, our cars, the Orioles, the Oscar winners … the list goes on, for all of us. The Lord tells us today that none of that worrying accomplishes anything. Time rolls on as it always has and always will.

Today, our final lesson in Discipleship is perhaps the one that can bring us the most peace.

Let it go.

As Disciples, we should have a relationship with Christ that consumes us and drives us. When we worry, Jesus cannot drive us. However, an awareness of His presence, alive within us, helps us to let go and allow God to care for us like He wants to do. This lesson is one of focus and perspective. Jesus is the most important thing in our lives. If we have Jesus within us, then it doesn’t matter what goes on around us.

Tonight, one of the songs nominated for an Academy Award comes from Disney’s latest film, “Frozen.” It’s called “Let It Go.” In it, the heroine sings
“It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small; and the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all.”
When we worry, we allow those fears, those concerns, those definitions, those opinions of others – everything that worries us – to control us; and Jesus is not in control then. However, when we recognize that He is at the center of our life, then we allow Jesus to drive us, and wonderful things happen!

And Christ’s advice bears out common sense. Think about the many things we have stressed over in our pasts: having the latest “fashions,” drivers’ licenses, high school graduation, exams, college, dating, breakups – we all have our lists. We have survived all of them, and we have moved on well. In fact, from the distance of perspective, all those things seem small.

But those things pale compared to the spiritual lesson that Jesus teaches us. He is the perspective through which we are supposed to view life; He is the lens. When Jesus is the center, all other things – the good and the bad – fall into their proper place.

God knows what we want; He knows what we need – just as much as He knows the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. We are more important than they are to God.

So, if we are worried about the past and are living with regret, remember that our God is a God of compassion, mercy and forgiveness. That is what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is about. Let it Go. If we are anxious about the future, remember that Jesus comes to us here and now and walks with us as our loving companion. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Let it go.

What Christ is calling us to know now is that this moment, now, we are given as God’s gift – to be aware of His presence in us and before us, and to respond to that presence without fear or hesitation. Worrying will change nothing.

But faith, trust, and the love of Christ made active in His Disciples –that will change everything.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dies Irae

I rewatched "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" last week, and I am impressed with how well the story is told. The music is Broadway-worthy, and the tale (as Victor Hugo intended) is a marvelous work of Western literature. Disney does a great job of rendering that story in the film. What struck me the most was how well the Church is portrayed in it. Rather than the typical out-of-touch, tyrannical institution that the Church is often caricatured as, She comes across as a defender of the outcasts.

In particular, after we meet Judge Frollo, we find the Archdeacon of Notre Dame intervening on behalf of a doomed child. Having already spilled blood of the mother, Frollo is going to drop the baby (whom he calls "a monster") into a nearby well. The Archdeacon stops him, asking if he would "add this child's blood to [his] guilt?" The woman - whose only "crime" was being a gypsy - suffered the judge's wrath - which did not allow for "inconvenient" people like her kind. Now, the child would suffer his prejudice as well. When he is forced to spare the child - and to care for it as atonement for his sin - Frollo names him "Quasimodo," meaning "half-formed."

During the entire sequence, as the woman seeks sanctuary, as Frollo pursues, as he takes the baby and attempts to kill him, and as the Archdeacon intervenes, the Latin hymn, "Dies Irae" is chanted. This hymn, composed in the 13th century is translated "The Day of Wrath," referring to Judgment Day. One line stands out to me here:

Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando iudex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!

In English:

What fear there will be
When the Judge will come
(and) carefully examine all things.

It is here that Frollo "fears for his immortal soul." And it is wise of him. We are answerable for our actions, and however small or insignificant we judge our acts, however small or insignificant we believe those who are affected are, God sees it all - and it matters to Him. This is why the Church must advocate for the outcasts, the marginalized, the weakest, the poorest, the least. It is just these folks, with whom Jesus identifies, and our treatment of them that determines how we are judged.

"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" carries many lessons on begin aware of those who are different, maligned and discounted; and we do well to learn those lessons. They are also the lessons of the Gospel. Before we discount or judge others who are different, remember Judge Frollo, who "saw corruption everywhere - except within." It takes a close look to see "who is the monster and who is the man," but in the end, the lesson is clear. Jesus comes in "distressing disguises," so our eyes must be open to recognize our Lord in the faces of those whom we meet.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Two Laws and the Way to Perfection

How many of you took the Vatican’s survey in December regarding Family Life in preparation for the upcoming bishops’ Synod? How many of you read it and walked away from it? How many had a tough time deciphering the language? It was hard for “ordinary” lay folks to understand that survey, in general, because the survey was written in complex theological and philosophical terms. Now, to be fair, the survey was first put together for bishops to complete, so they should have known those terms, but maybe it’s not so bad that we do too.

One of the terms that struck people as confusing was “natural law.” For example, one question read: “Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?” My experience in talking with “the baptized” is that they have never heard of natural law, or they interpret it as “what happens naturally.”

So, let’s do some teaching – like Jesus the Teacher does today (and I am getting there, trust me!).

In Catholic theology, there is “Natural” law and “Divine” law. Both of these are related to the “Eternal” law that flows from the Truth that is God. Natural law is that law that we can come to know and understand by using our reason – properly formed reason. When we hear the Ten Commandments, we are seeing an articulation of Natural law, since we can come to a basic understanding that murder or adultery, for example, are wrong.

Divine law is that law that is brought to us from the mind of God in human history. It is found in what we call “revelation.” We understand this to be found both in Scripture and in the Traditional teaching authority of the Church, which we call the Magisterium. So, when the Natural law of the Ten Commandments is spoken by God to Moses as the foundation of the Covenant, it is known as Divine law.

As I said, both of these – Natural and Divine law – find their source in God’s Truth. God is the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong; and as Jesus is that Word of God made flesh, He teaches us this Divine law as a means of perfecting us as the best disciples we can be. Today, Jesus gives us two more “you have heard it said … but I say to you…” statements.  Pay attention! Divine law is coming to us!

However, this law is not an easy one – nor is it necessarily “rational” or easily understood by human reason. Jesus recognizes that there has been a traditional wisdom of exacting revenge for hurts and for hating those different or opposed to you; but, the Divine law that Jesus shares goes in the face of that.

Many people, in defense of a death penalty, would quote the adage “An eye for an eye”; but they are not speaking of justice from a divine point of view. Jesus puts forth the mind of God – Eternal Truth – and teaches us that we should offer no resistance and forgive. Others would say that we ought to take care of our own and to heck with those who think differently; but Jesus teaches that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

If discipleship was just a matter of learning the facts of our faith, then we’d probably be better at it. However, discipleship requires that, once we learn the lessons that Jesus teaches, we put those lessons into action. This is the Divine law, after all, and God gives it to us for our good and the good of the world. While folks may have “heard it said” to exact revenge and hate enemies, Jesus speaks the will of the Father, who also spoke to Moses and said, “You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

When we try and put forth “wisdom” as we see it and live our lives based on no one’s truth but our own, this teaching becomes very, very difficult. The wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God, and it is God’s wisdom that we all seek. Jesus reveals it to us, lifting the Natural law up to the level of the Divine, showing us the more perfect way.

Is it easy to do? No. It wasn’t easy for Jesus, and He never promised it would be easy for us. If we want to be like everyone else, we can throw out this teaching. However, if we want to be perfect like our Heavenly Father is perfect, then we must learn this lesson well.

Love overrides all law, but it does not contradict it; because all law flows from the eternal Truth of God, and God is Love.