Saturday, February 28, 2015

If God Is For Us, Who Can Be Against Us?

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

God put Abraham to the test.  He called to him, “Abraham!”  “Here I am!” he replied.  Then God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah.  There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.”  Genesis 22:1-2

Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”  Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.  Mark 9:7

Piety is our share of the transfiguration of Christ.  Closeness of Christ brings transfiguration.  Every retreat of the spiritual exercises of any form drops us into the ocean of God’s love.  Every exposure to Christ brings change, which can be called piety.  Prayer is our love affair with God.  The more we speak with the Lord, the more changed we become.  Every Eucharist we share brings us more life in Christ.   The greater closeness to the Community we share with our Christ life makes us into Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.

Abraham is the example of how much we are capable of loving God.  Abraham would surrender whom he most loved for the sake of his obedience of God.  God would make a covenant with Abraham because Abraham did not hold back the grandest love of his life.  It is not just that Lent tunes us into the voice of what the Lord wants from us; it is even more that Lent makes us one with Christ in how we follow his example of prayer, fasting and good works.  Making sacrifices for the sake of the Mystical Body builds community in our lives as we identify more and more with those we serve by selflessness.

What we do for Lent is how we walk in the land of the living.  The Psalmist tells us that precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.  All our little “dying-s” for the sake of Christ builds up our strength.  Our love makes it easy to put up with a little dying that is the taste of the death that brings us to the love of Lord.  We have to lose our life for his sake if we are going to save our lives.  We gradually arrive at the point of seeing the aches and the pains of our lives as the kisses and the embraces of the Lord who is calling us to share in his eternal love for us.  Thus, our sacrifices become thanksgiving as we call on the Lord to use our sacrifices to fill up what is wanting to the sufferings of his body, the Church. 

Making This Agreement

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

Today you are making this agreement with the LORD: he is to be your God and you are to walk in his ways and observe his statutes, commandments and decrees, and to hearken to his voice.  Deuteronomy 26:17

But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  Matthew 5:44-45

Lord, make me peculiarly your own. 

Scales of justice precariously balance two measures until there is some equilibrium between the two sides – as having equal weight.  Obey God and God will provide to you.  Love your friends and love your enemies.  Are these two equations equal?  Is not one side harder than the other? 

Deuteronomy has us consider what we must do and what God will do.  Newtonian laws of physics explain that one action will have an equal and opposite reaction.  If we love God, God will love us back.  True enough.  But if God loves us, will we love God back?  Maybe not always so true.  If we love our friends, they will love us back.  True enough.  But if we love our enemies, will our enemies love us back?  Maybe not always true. 

Sometimes, the scales of justice tip in our favor.  Sometimes, they might not.  However, the situations still call for our reactions to be based upon the perfect love we learn from God, not our own imperfection.

Yoda was right.  There is no try.  There is do or do not.  Jesus did not say that walking in His ways or following his statues would be easy.  He just said to do it.  Our doing so is our imitation of Christ’s perfection.  We may never get to be perfect, but that does not mean that we should stop doing what is asked of us. 

In a Lenten reflection, Fr. James Martin, SJ, makes the point that our pursuit of perfection means giving up anything that keeps us from God.  We must keep his statues and statutes ever on our mind.  Fr. Martin writes about the role that prayer before a statue had for his order’s founder and for his own growth in faith.

In 1522, in a Benedictine monastery in a mountainous region in Spain, Iñigo de Loyola did something dramatic. Before a famous statue of Mary at the Abbey of Montserrat, he laid down his dagger and sword. For Iñigo, a man who had dedicated himself to achieving heroic deeds to win worldly honors, this would be a life-changing gesture. From this point forward, he would do heroic deeds not for himself, but for God.

When [Fr. Martin] was studying philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, as part of [his] Jesuit training, there was a simple wooden statue of this moment in the chapel of the main Jesuit residence on campus. There was Ignatius, gazing into the distance, holding his sword in outstretched hands. (Fr. Martin loved that the statue’s sword was a separate piece of wood, which you could take from the saint’s hands and hold in your own.) [He] had come to Chicago after making [his] first vows as a Jesuit, and still grappling with the idea of giving things up for God. When [he] struggled with [his] vocation, [he] would pray before that statue.

God doesn’t ask us simply to give up a few things — a sword, a dagger, even an occupation — but, as the man who would become St. Ignatius Loyola understood even then, anything that prevents us from moving closer to God.

Does that sound harsh? It’s not. For in giving things over to God we are freed from whatever keeps us enslaved. In fact, God asks for even more. God asks for ourselves. What Ignatius was really offering that day was nothing less than himself. This is what God asks of us. Hold back, and we are not truly free. Give all to God and, well, you won’t believe what comes next.

Friday, February 27, 2015

In Sync Inside and Out

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Jesus said to his disciples:  “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, you shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.  But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…(I)f 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.”  (Matthew 5:21-22a, 23-24)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication.
For with the Lord is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption;
And he will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.
(Psalm 130:1-2, 7b-8)

A couple of weeks ago, I reread Glittering Images by Susan Howatch, the first in a series of six novels she wrote about the Church of England from the 1930’s to the 1960’s which I had enjoyed about 20 years ago.  The first one is told from the point of view of Charles Ashworth, an Anglican clergyman whose career in the Church seemingly has been quite successful.  But as the story unfolds, he runs headlong into a spiritual crisis when his glittering image of success can no longer shield him from the unresolved pain of past hurts or the self-deceptions that are leading him down the wrong path.

I thought about Ashworth’s story as I read today’s Gospel passage.  We all have images, glittering or not, that we like to project to the world.  Most of us hope others see us as having it all together, and Jesus knows that.  He knows that many of us would go to the altar, whether to present a gift or to receive the Eucharist, looking the picture of piety, while inside our hearts might seethe with anger or resentment toward someone.  We can fool others.  Sometimes we even successfully deceive ourselves.  But God cannot be tricked.  God sees clearly how things really are with us.

Lent is a time for examining our hearts.  If our hearts and our actions are not in sync, simply admit it.  Heed the words of the psalmist: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!”  The worst thing we can do is ignore any dissonance between our hearts and our actions.  What we hide in the dark only festers and spreads. 

Sit with Jesus today and show him what is in your heart.  Ask for his help in dealing with any anger, hurts, or grudges that reside within.  “For with the Lord is kindness and with him is plenteous redemption.”  Jesus will not condemn you; he will seek to heal and forgive you that from your loving heart genuinely loving actions may flow.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ask, Knock, Do

Thursday of the First Week of Lent

By Beth DeCristofaro

“Save us from the hand of our enemies; turn our mourning into gladness and our sorrows into wholeness.”  (Esther 12:25)

Jesus said to his disciples: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  … Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.”  (Matthew 7: 7, 12)

Oh, God, Restore to me the gladness of your salvation; uphold me with a willing spirit.  (Psalm 51:14)

If one did not know that Queen Esther is pleading for the lives of all the Jews in the kingdom, and her own life, one might read her imploring as the words of the psalmist or even a heartfelt Lenten prayer.  During Lent we mourn our failings which close doors, walling ourselves away from life with Christ.  During Lent we seek to become aware of our brokenness in order to call upon God to grace us with healing and draw us closer. 

Jesus answers Esther and He answers us:  “Ask.”  “Knock,” Jesus says.  God’s extravagant love is there for our taking if we but Ask, Knock, putting ourselves into a willing receptivity of God’s grace, dependent on Him to open the door.  Once we do, it becomes only natural that our mourning be turned to gladness and our self-centeredness be transformed into selflessness because we deepen our awareness of God within.  Esther’s anguished petition came from her knowledge that time was short and lives depended on her.  Lent gives us a timetable, something quite useful for those of us who become complacent knowing God is always present and that I can keep working to “succeed” in my Lenten promises.  Ask, Knock today.

Sometimes what holds us back is a sincere, willing spirit.  Time is short and precious measured in our human days.  Don’t wait to ask with a sincere and willing spirit.  Then put the grace given to you to work in doing to others what you would have them do to you.  God does not wait for us to be perfect.  Don’t expect and wait for the perfect time or the willingness of another to do so.  Be willing and ready to be joyful.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

They Turned

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.  Jonah 3:10

While still more people gathered in the crowd, he said to them, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah.”  Luke 11:29

Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.  Amen.

Lent is Life to us.  You may think this season is forty days of preparation for the paschal mystery of Easter.  But when you really consider the themes of Lent, they are really no different than the themes of Advent.  Or Christmas. Or ordinary time. Or Easter.

Life is Lent to us.  The price we are asked to pay is not in coinage.  It is not in shares of stock.  It is not in material possessions.  The price we are asked to pay is the experience of change.  “Man…must turn from their evil way and from the violence of their hands.”  (Jonah 3:8)

Society tells us where it WANTS us to look for happiness.  Just as the people of Ninevah looked in all the wrong places, we do, too.  The price we must pay for the rental is change.  Just as the Jonah pleaded with the people of Ninevah to change, so does Jesus please with the people of Galilee to change.  And that same message comes down through the ages to help each one of us.

What are some of the changes you have the courage to make?
        How you spend your time?
        How you spend your treasure?
        Where you put your talents to work?

Life is Lent to us for only a short period of time.  This week, I was called on to do one of the spiritual works of mercy – to help bury the dead.  In this case, the person who was deceased was my brother Joseph whose body was weakened by diabetes, heart disease and kidney failure.  Joe lived a life marked by great humor, a caring heart that helped others in his profession and in his personal life, and tremendous hospitality.  You can read more about his life here.

Before You Ask Him

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

By Melanie Rigney
Thus says the Lord: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
From all their distress God rescues the just. (Psalms 34:18b)
Jesus said to his disciples: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7-8)


Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be they name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.


A couple of years ago, I gave a two-day retreat on prayer. The retreat covered a lot of ground: the history of prayer; formed prayer vs. spontaneous prayer; prayer traditions; the origins of the rosary, the Divine Mercy chaplet and more; the lives and practices of those like Teresa of Avila and Ignatius Loyola who in essence defined prayer styles; journaling; time for communal and individual prayer. Centering prayer, lectio divina, quotes about prayer from Catholics and other faith traditions… the retreat offered a little taste of a lot of ideas and practices.

Overall, the reviews were positive. I was most struck, however, not by the kind words people provided on the forms, but by the man about my age, late fifties, who came up to me at the very end. “I signed up for this retreat because I was really concerned about my prayer life,” he said. “And no offense, but I think the biggest thing I learned this weekend is that I actually have a pretty good prayer life. I don’t have anything to worry about, really.”

Isn’t that true for all of us, at least some of the time? We fret about whether we’re saying the right words, finding the right style, using the right venue, consulting the right guide. We babble like pagans, we flounder about thinking there’s one best way to make contact with the Lord. We think more is more when it comes to the number of words we use and the number of items we need to have on our prayer list. We forget that while exploring other prayer styles certainly has merit, we’ll never do better than the one Jesus sets forth for us in today’s Gospel. It’s one of the first prayers we learn, and it’s the one we may remember long after all the others have fled our brain. You can say it on auto pilot, you can break it into your own adoration/contrition/thanksgiving/supplication, or you can contemplate over each word. But it doesn’t get any better than the Lord’s Prayer when you’re looking for a way to connect with the Divine.

Say the Lord’s Prayer out loud. Then select five words from it to contemplate for ten minutes. Say the prayer out loud again. Did anything change in your heart and soul?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Inherit the Kingdom

Monday of the First Week of Lent
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.  Leviticus 19:18
Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’  Matthew 25:34-36
Lord, holy God, loving Father,
you give us the task to love one another
because you are holy
and you have loved us before we could love you.
Give us the ability to recognize your Son
in our brothers and sisters far and near.
Make us witnesses that love exists and is alive
and that you, the God of love,
exist and are alive now forever. (From the
Carmelites web site)
Ours faith, our King and our savior call us to action.  Consider the action words in our readings today.  Love.  Inherit.  Gave.  Welcomed.  Clothed.  Cared.  Visited.  This is a spirituality that calls us to faith.  Then that faith calls us to action.
Growing up, you could walk into church and see people at Mass not really paying attention to what was happening up on the altar or the words being read or spoken from the predella.  In their fingers, they clutched rosary beads in private prayer. There was at the time a disconnection between the celebration of Mass and the celebration of daily life.
The spiritual practices were not as connected to the good works as they are today. The private expression of faith was not as strongly connected to the public expression of faith as it is called to be today.
Vatican II ushered in a new era of spirituality that connected the sanctuary to the streets. Reading and hearing Matthew 25 is reading one of the cornerstones of the social gospels.
The Good News is only good when it is tried and tested.  Jesus was tested at every turn.  His humble birth.  His confrontations with the Pharisees.  His walk in the desert.  His sorrow at losing John the Baptist and almost losing Lazarus. 
Jesus provided us an example to try the Good News out in our lives.  How can you put the spiritual works of mercy to work in conjunction with the corporal works of mercy? The Lectio Divina site from the Carmelites posed this interesting question.  Stop and think: if the Last Judgment would take place today, would you be on the side of the sheep or on the side of the goats?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

At Hand

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

God said: This is the sign of the covenant that I am making between me and you and every living creature with you for all ages to come:  I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and every living creature—every mortal being—so that the waters will never again become a flood to destroy every mortal being.  Genesis 9:12-15

After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel.”  Mark 1:14-15

Our ministry takes many forms as we put on the mind and the heart of Christ.  Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.  Christ goes into the desert for forty days and nights.   We know he fasted and at the end of forty days was tempted by the Spirit.  We have our Lent of forty days and we try to fast as best we can.  Lent is our time to get ready for our share in the passion of Christ.  What we decide to do for Lent prepares us for the Resurrection.  Prayer and fasting are the major weapons of the spiritual life.

We reflect on what we have done in past Lents.  We talk to our spiritual director and our spiritual friends and make a plan on how we are going to deepen our spiritual life.  Christ died for sinners.  Sacrifices for others make our fasting and good works into something positive for the Lord.  Selfishness is how I use the gift of life for myself.  Selflessness makes Lent into something positive for the Lord. Even as God has given us the fit of life, he has challenged us by the example of his Son to do good for others.  Doing something positive for others in their needs make something positive out of the sacrifices we can do for each other.

For each complaint about another and how our world is going to hell, I will try to change what I might have said that would have been poor mouthing the efforts of another.  I will try to encourage rather than discourage.  I will try to be a helping hand even when it delays me and what I need to do.  I will say something positive about the others and my world.  I will try to build up my world by positive actions and encouragement.  I will go without something that is a luxury in my life for the sake of all those who cannot find the essentials for life.  Each day I will pass up rather than pass down my stomach the desserts that pleasure my life.  For the sake of bringing pleasure to the people I serve, I will try to feel hunger at one of the meals of each day.  I will try to leave the meal still hungry for all those who do not have the possibility of eating what they need to survive.  In short, I will work to make my Lent something positive I do for others for the sake of Christ and a better world.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Light Shall Rise for You in the Darkness

“If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday; Then the LORD will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land.”  Isaiah 58:9b-11

Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.  He said to him, “Follow me.”  And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.  Luke 5:27-28

The Firefighter’s Prayer
When I'm called to duty God
wherever flames may rage,
give me strength to save a life
whatever be its age.
Help me to embrace a little child
before it is too late
or save an older person from
the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert
to hear the weakest shout
and quickly and efficiently
to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling and
to give the best in me
to guard my neighbor and
protect his property.
And if according to your will
I have to lose my life
bless with your protecting hand
my children and my wife.  Amen.

Returning to Eden in the early days of Lent?  The ticket is how we treat others as we learn in the first reading from Isaiah.  If we do this, then the wilderness of Lent will turn back into the lush Garden of Eden.  
Yes, the LORD shall comfort Zion, shall comfort all her ruins; Her wilderness he shall make like Eden, her wasteland like the garden of the LORD; Joy and gladness shall be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of song.  Isaiah 51:3

Who gets back into Eden?  Who may go up the mountain of the LORD? Who can stand in his holy place?  “The clean of hand and pure of heart, who has not given his soul to useless things, what is vain.”  (Psalm 24:3-4)  Or stated in even more simple and direct terms, if we but follow Jesus, he will lead us – like Levi – back to Eden. 

Tonight is not the coldest night of the year…it is the coldest night in more than a hundred years.  Let’s pray that no firefighters have to respond tonight to save life and property. 

If ever there was a night “to bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted,” this is it.  The waiting is OVER!

The night also coincides with a great fund-raising and life-giving opportunity to support a special charity in the lives of so many – A Wider Circle.  In honor of the 52nd birthday of its founder, Dr. Mark Bergel, they are seeking 52 new donors.  Will you step up and include A Wider Circle in your circle of giving?  

Check out what they do on  Do you have what it takes to join their giving circle? 

PS: How many birthday parties can you attend where there are no-calorie cakes?

Lent: An Affair of the Heart

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance:  That a man bow his head like a reed and lie in sackcloth and ashes?  Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?  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.  Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed.  (Isaiah 58:5-8a)

For you are not pleased with sacrifices;
should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
(Psalm 51:18-19)

In today’s first reading, we find the Israelites returned from exile.  In fact, they’ve been back for several generations.  They’re growing apathetic, maybe even cynical.  Life is hard, not what they expected when God led them home.  They wonder why God doesn’t reward them for their days of fasting, but God says they’re just going through the motions.  Even on a day of fasting, they work and they make their hired hands work as well.  Frequently, they end the day by fighting and quarreling with one another.

How much has really changed throughout the centuries?  It’s Lent.  Many of us are observing the days of fasting, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  Many of us will abstain from meat today and on the other Fridays of Lent.  But for some of us, it’s an empty attempt at piety.  We complain about it.  Maybe we go to Red Lobster for a big seafood dinner and come home and then notice the rice bowl waiting on the kitchen table.  We reach into our pockets and throw in some loose change.  Then we turn the TV on and forget all about Lent and anybody’s needs but our own.

God is no more interested in empty gestures today than he was in Isaiah’s day.  What God desires of us is not a meaningless show of religious observance but our very hearts.  What good is a rice bowl if we don’t care about the hungry families throughout the world that Catholic Relief Services will be able to feed with our contributions?  As long as our hearts aren’t engaged, we’ll always be throwing in just a few coins while going on our merry way to Red Lobster or some other restaurant.

As the psalmist points out, what God really wants is contrite and humble hearts.  Hearts so disposed quickly realize how much we have and how much we can share with God’s poor and hungry children, whether right here in northern Virginia or in some far away spot half way around the globe.

Lent is just beginning.  With a view to today’s Scripture readings, take a few minutes to reflect on what you are doing for Lent, whether it be in the form of giving something up or doing something more.  As you walk the long, dusty road to Jerusalem these forty days, the important thing to consider is whether or not your heart is fully engaged.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Choose Life, Choose Blessing

Thursday After Ash Wednesday

By Beth DeCristofaro

I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then … (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?” (Luke 9:23-25)

Create a pure heart for me, O God;
Renew a steadfast spirit within me.
        (from Psalm 51, the Communion Antiphon for the day)

Yesterday’s Gospel was a beautiful teaching of how to pray, how to do good deeds and how to fast.  Jesus told us do not act like the hypocrites who desire to be noticed.  He tells us to do these important things reservedly, acting for God alone.  Today as Jesus talks of taking up the cross it occurs to me to look toward God, humbly and in secret instead of announcing what Lenten practice I have chosen.  Perhaps, when asked, I might tell people that I am practicing patience and generosity even if the way I do that is concrete and includes abstinence from something I enjoy or doing specific good works.  What is at the core of my Lenten practices?  I can focus there, in secret with God, rather than on the external.

During this Lenten Season my journey can be to identify crosses that I bear, honestly evaluating what obstacles in my daily life, thoughts, preoccupations and priorities keep me choosing the world rather than life with Christ.  And I suspect that this, too, must be in secret, between God and me.   If not I risk dumping these crosses negatively on those around me.  Perhaps I spend too much time surfing the web so that I buy what I don’t need.  Or I feel myself privileged so that I act selfishly and crabby with my family.  Perhaps because I am good at my job I become intolerant and disparaging of my colleagues.  In the secret moments of prayer which Lent offers me, I can honestly unburden myself to my God who knows all these crosses better than I do.  With Jesus’s help I can accept God’s love for my sinful self and unburden myself in order to follow Christ more freely, more entirely.

Reflect on the Lenten practice you have chosen for this Season.  Bring them before God and humbly ask that God bless you with insight into them, into yourself.  May God draw you closer to Himself.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Return to Me

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.  For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.  Joel 2:12-13

Brothers and sisters: We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.  2 Corinthians 5:20-21

Father, help us to hear your word today.  Open out hearts so that you and your message can enter into it and dwell with us throughout this Lenten season.
We could look at today’s Good News as the Three Commandments of Lent.  Rather than wearing on your sleeve and broadcasting to the world your intentions for this holy season of preparation, Jesus advises us to do all this fasting, and giving and praying, but to do so quietly. 

“But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.  (Matthew 6:3-4)
“But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.  (Matthew 6:6)
“But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden.  And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”  (Matthew 6:17-18)
Tucked neatly inside this little instruction book is a primer on how to pray – the Lord’s Prayer. We could use this one chapter in the one Gospel as the guide to our Lenten Journey.  Yes, the Carmelites have great reflections on their Facebook page.  Yes, the Jesuits offer a special Ignatian series for the season.   Even the Benedictines have resources available from the Monastery in the Desert.  All these are great resources for a richer journey.  However, these three suggestions are a solid way forward.
Are you ready for your role as an ambassador?  Consider what it entails.  For example, Earl Anthony "Tony" Wayne was nominated to be Ambassador of the United States to Mexico on June 9, 2011, was confirmed by the Senate August 2, and arrived in Mexico City to present his credentials on September 11, 2011.  First, he had to get selected.  Then he had to undergo a Senate hearing, committee vote and full Senate vote.  Then, he had to take his credentials and present them to the leaders in Mexico.
Who would nominate you to be an ambassador for Christ?  What resume would that person review to make the appointment?
How would your confirmation process progress?  Obviously the Senate would not have to vote but maybe your parish, or the bishop, or your scout troop would have to agree. 
To whom would you present your credentials?  Christ?  St. Peter? Lent is the time to polish up on your credentials and qualification to serve as ambassador for Christ through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  The time to get started is now. Whatever has pulled you away from Christ, now is the time to accept his invitation – “Return to me.”

Monday, February 16, 2015

Do You Still Not Understand?

Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

By Melanie Rigney
When the Lord saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how no desire that his heart conceived was ever anything but evil, he regretted that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was grieved. (Genesis 6:5-6)
The Lord will bless his people with peace. (Psalms 29:11b)
(Jesus said to the disciples:) “Do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?” They answered him, “Twelve.” “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:19-21)

Alleluia, alleluia.
Whoever loves me will keep my word, says the Lord; and my Father will love him and we will come to him. (John 14:23) 
Alleluia, alleluia.

And so it ends today, this part of ordinary time for the liturgical year. It ends with some sadness and challenge: In the first reading, God is so grieved with his people that He starts over, sparing only Noah and his family and a few pairs of animals. In the Gospel reading, Jesus becomes a bit exasperated that, like the Pharisees and Herod, the disciples seem to be more focused on coming to their own conclusions than in seeing the ultimate authority before them. It will be our prayer throughout Lent—Lord, let me trust; Lord, draw me nearer to you as I seek to remove the aspects of my life that keep me from You.

Something else also ends today: the alleluia goes away until the Easter vigil. And what lovely words to feed us in the coming weeks: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, says the Lord; and my Father will love him and we will come to him.” It is that promise of Christ, so beautifully expressed in John 14:23, that provides us with bread for this Lenten journey.

Ponder John 14:23. Where are you falling short in the keeping the Lord’s word department… and what can you do about that during Lent?