Monthly Archives: March 2011

“I was in an earthquake”

“ 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)

Why does the tragedy in Japan calls for a generous response from the rest of the world?  Because a generous God has blessed us all with gifts of life and  enables us  “to look out upon the beauty of the sky, the sun in its course, the circle of the moon, the countless number of stars, with the harmony and order that are theirs, like the music of a harp. God has blessed us  with rain, with different kinds of food, with the arts, with houses, with laws, with states, with a life of humanity and culture, with friendship and family,” St. Gregory Nazianzen writes.

 

The same God, our Father, asks that we be generous to those who are our sisters and brothers. “ He has given abundantly to all the basic needs of life, not as a private possession, not restricted by law, not divided by boundaries, but as common to all, amply and in rich measure.”

 

Following Jesus Christ in Lent

 

Lent  takes us on the journey Jesus took from his baptism by John in the Jordan River to his resurrection after he was put to death on the cross in Jerusalem. On the 1st Sunday of Lent we go to the Jordan River where Jesus, after his baptism by John, is led into a deserted place by the Spirit and is tempted for 40 days.

In the following days of Lent, we go with Jesus to Galilee where he preaches to the people, performs many signs that testify to his mission and gathers disciples to follow him.

During the first three weeks of Lent, we read mostly from the Gospel of Matthew which was the favorite gospel of the early church for teaching about Jesus Christ  and what he taught. In this gospel, Peter’s confession at Caesaria Phillipi is the highpoint of the gospel. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter says to Jesus. “You have the words of everlasting life.”

Lent calls us to say that too.

Matthew’s gospel in the first weeks of Lent takes us up the Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus teaches us how to live and how to pray. He urges us to be faithful to prayer ( Tuesday and Thursday, 1st week of Lent) and to love our neighbor, even our enemies and “the least” whom we might tend to overlook. ( Monday, Friday, Saturday, 1st week of Lent)

The love Matthew’s gospel asks of us is not just an acceptable or normal love; it’s a Godlike love.”Can any of us love like God?” we say. Yet, there’s no watering down the challenge; Jesus’ words are addressed to us all. Lent’s not meant to make us comfortable but to set our sights on loving more, and the bar is higher than we like. Lent calls for our best.

Yet,  the gospel of Matthew, as the reading for the Saturday after Ash Wednesday reminds us, is the gospel of Matthew the tax collector. Jesus called people like Matthew and his friends–not very good keepers of the law– to be his disciples. If we consider ourselves outsiders and sinners, welcome to the lenten season.

In Matthew’s gospel, we will hear  Jesus reminding us that we are on our way to Jerusalem; we are going from the Mount of the Beatitudes to the Mount of Calvary. Matthew likes mountains, like most of the sacred writers do. From a mountain you see distant things more clearly. On the 2nd Sunday of Lent, we go up to the Mount of the Transfiguration to get a glimpse into the glory Jesus brings.

John’s gospel provides most of the lenten weekday gospels beginning with the 4th week of Lent, when we arrive in the Holy City, Jerusalem. I’ll say something about it when we get there.

 

Prayers teach us to pray

If prayers teach us to pray, the one for this Thursday after Ash Wednesday is a good one to think about.

Lord,

may everything we do

begin with your inspiration,

continue with your help

and reach perfection under your guidance.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever.

How better to recognize where we stand before God? Empty-handed, we look for God to begin something within us, to inspire us. We ourselves start with nothing.

Then, we ask for help with what we are about now. We can’t continue without God.

Finally, God must guide us to complete what we are about in our lives. It’s not about what we want or plan,  but “your will be done.”

We ask this through Jesus Christ, who has shown us a God who loves us, who promises to make our prayer his own, who is our advocate, our Savior, our reward.

Ash Wednesday Thoughts

We should be humble in mind, putting aside all arrogance, pride and foolish anger. Rather, we should act in accordance with the Scriptures, as the Holy Spirit says: The wise person must not glory in his wisdom nor the strong one in his strength nor the rich one in his riches. Rather, let him who glories glory in the Lord by seeking him and doing what is right and just. Recall especially what the Lord Jesus said when he taught gentleness and forbearance. Be merciful, he said, so that you may have mercy shown to you. Forgive, so that you may be forgiven. As you treat others, so you will be treated. As you give, so you will receive. As you judge, so you will be judged. As you are kind to others, so you will be treated kindly. The measure of your giving will be the measure of your receiving.”

St. Clement of Rome

What am I going to do for Lent?

Someone was asking that question at our supper table the other night. Lent begins  Ash Wednesday. The supper table is a good place to ask the question, because Lent is about renewing ourselves as we are and where we live. The supper table stands for life here and now.

The supper table is the place where we face those closest to us. Doing something for Lent has to mean doing something for them, first of all, the people across the table–or maybe those who have left our table. One of our scripture readings early on in Lent says: “Don’t turn your back on your own.”   Renewing our relationship with those closest  to us is one of the most important steps to renewing ourselves.

Besides the supper table, I guess we should also ask that question “What am I going to do for Lent?” in the place where I work, or where I go to school. Don’t turn your back on them either.

Lent is for renewing ourselves as we are, in real life and real time. It isn’t about changing us into different people or changing the world we live in or leaving for Mars.

The scriptures read on Ash Wednesday tell us to pray, to fast and give alms. What am I going to do for Lent? How about praying everyday? How about fasting from my own hard opinions of others? How about thinking about others and not just myself?

What am I going to do for Lent? I hope I can get closer to God, and that means for me to get closer to Jesus Christ. He says in this Sunday’s gospel that it’s possible to think we know him, but don’t know him. Where should I begin? Let me look in the scriptures, especially the scriptures we read during Lent.

Pope Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth” part 2 where he looks long and hard at the story of the Passion of Jesus is due out this week. I’m going to read it. Maybe that will help.

One thing we shouldn’t forget when we ask that question “What am I going to do for Lent?” is  another question: “What is God going to do for us during Lent?” It’s a time of God’s grace, more than we can hope for, beyond what we could possibly earn. The great sign of God’s limitless giving is the Passion of his Son, a wondrous gift.

 

Beauty every ancient, ever new

The recent blogs from America and Commonweal magazines mention Pope Benedict’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth, Part 2, which is due out next week and which devotes a great deal of attention to the gospel narratives of the Passion. The bloggers, like the New York Times yesterday, seem interested mostly in what the pope says about Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus. Following Nostra Aetate from the Second Vatican Council, Benedict says the Jewish people were not responsible for putting Jesus to death; the Romans and a few Jewish leaders were the primary culprits.

Yet, it would be regrettable to see the pope’s treatment of the Passion narratives only as a lengthy statement about this issue, important as it is. From what I read, he’s doing more. He’s looking at the Passion of Jesus like other believers before have done: as a book that reveals in those harsh and heroic moments the wisdom of God.

He seems to be using insights from modern scholars, new tools that can add to the way we reflect on this great story. The Passion of Jesus has always been “the well-trained tongue” that God uses to speak to us, but we may not hear it so well today, and the pope is reminding us of its power and glory.

We tend to say “I’ve heard that already. I know the story.” But it’s a revelation of God and humanity;  “a Beauty ever ancient, ever new.”

Nearing his death, Paul of the Cross was supposed to have pointed to the crucifix over his bed and said to the brother caring for him, “Give me my book.” That seems to be what the pope is doing also.