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The gospel reading for the first Sunday after Easter features the doubting Thomas as depicted in John 20:24–29. I have always been moved by his story. In my book, River of Grace, I wrote the following:
“When the others told him that they had ‘seen the Lord,’ he refused to believe. He treated their story with skepticism that bordered on rejection. He was provocative in his declaration that he would not believe unless he placed his hand in the side of Jesus and probed the wounds with his fingers. Thomas deliberately pushed away any semblance of hope that Jesus was alive. He did not dare to believe. Reading that passage I understood the bitterness in his demands and the refusal to face his pain. When Jesus appeared to all the apostles several days later, he invited Thomas to do as the others had done: touch his wounds.”
Death is a traumatic experience. In the case of Jesus, it came as a total shock to the disciples despite the fact that Jesus had warned them many times of his impending death. He also promised them hope in the aftermath. Yet as we have witnessed in the readings following Easter, even when Jesus was right in front of them, they could not believe. Continue reading “Hiding ourselves in the wounds of Christ – a post-Easter reflection”→
I have a lifelong habit of talking to myself. I don’t consider a thought to be valid unless it is spoken out loud.
I’m that crazy lady you see barreling down the highway with hands waving and a mouth that never stops moving. I do my best brainstorming in the car. I also vent. My face displays my mood for all to see: happy, sad, excited, angry. I am oblivious to anyone around me and so I let loose.
So what possible harm can there be in all that? This has been the lesson of my Lent this year.
While reading a book by Father Vassilios Papavassiliou, a Greek Orthodox priest called Thirty Steps to Heaven: The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life, I came across a chapter titled “Talkativeness and Silence.” There was another chapter further in called “Stillness.” Stillness is something I have long desired but felt I could not achieve. I can’t sit still for one moment without fidgeting nor can I keep my mind from racing. Furthermore, I cannot seem to get out of the prison of myself. These chapters both outlined the problem and offered solutions. The tools are simple to use but the task is impossible without God’s grace.
The chapter on “Talkativeness and Silence” made it clear that talking to myself was often not a good thing. For one thing, it creates noise that blocks communion with God–how can I listen above the din of my own voice? Talking to myself leads me deep within but not to the place where God dwells.
I have a hot temper and am easily aggravated; frequent venting is the result. Such open expression of my anger in private stokes negative feelings that spill over to others. A perfect example is road rage—in my outburst of anger against the driver who supposedly wronged me I judge someone unjustly. The more I rage, the more aggressively I drive to the point where it could endanger others. Road rage sometimes interrupts prayer, severing communion with God. It takes a great deal of effort to restart that conversation.
Cursing to myself happens without a thought. The inability to control that urge in private makes it harder to control my tongue in public, going beyond simple cursing to gossip and hurtful words towards others. Cursing to myself reinforces those behaviors.
Father Papavassiliou is right: “As long as we consider the tongue to be autonomous—something that falls outside the scope of Christian ascesis, something independent of God—it will inevitably become a tool of sin.”
The Scriptures tell us that there’s no such thing as a private sin: “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open”–Luke 8:17 (NIV)
You may not talk to yourself but everyone harbors thoughts. Where do those thoughts lead you? How do you express them? There is no thought that will not be revealed in one form or another. Those of us who vocalize our thoughts, even if just to ourselves exacerbate the danger of those thoughts harming someone else.
Conquering a lifetime of venting, lamenting and cursing seems like an impossible task. By my own power–not doable. Through an all merciful and powerful God, it will be done, especially as I humble myself and ask others to pray for me. The grace that comes through those prayers will help to control my tongue. Replacing negative thoughts with remembrances of all the wonderful ways God has blessed me is a powerful way to dispel any negativity.
In asking God for help with my tongue, he has given me a wonderful tool—singing. Father Papavassiliou recommends this too. Therefore, if you see me driving down the Mass Pike, mouth moving and face happy and determined, you may witness me using this tool. The scriptures recommend it: “psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19, NIV). It does a world of good for my soul, driving out wrongful thoughts. I know it silences my tongue.
For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos.
This Sunday we will hear a story that centers on the need to change our own hearts before we demand the conversion of others.
Jesus is confronted by some religious leaders who bring before him a woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11).
They start quizzing Jesus. “What should we do with her?”
But the quiz has a “catch” to it.
They are testing Jesus “so as to bring a charge against him.” They want to be rid of him.
If Jesus answers that the woman ought to be stoned to death, which was the penalty for adultery under Mosaic law, he would be challenging the Roman authorities. The Romans had banned executions without their authority or approval.
If Jesus answers that she not be punished under the penalties imposed by Mosaic law, then Jesus sets himself up in opposition to what Moses prescribed.
So it’s a trap.
But Jesus uses the trap to unmask the hypocrisy of these pious frauds.
These guys are using this woman as a pawn in their scheme to discredit Jesus.
They don’t care about her, or about justice or the even well-being of whatever marriage has been violated.
The leaders are using the woman as a chess-piece.
If they had even a modicum of interest in justice wouldn’t her male accomplice be under scrutiny too? (It did say, she was caught in the act of adultery, didn’t it? The law required the same penalty be meted out to both. But this guy is nowhere to be found. How convenient!)
So Jesus says, “Hey, put down your stones!” Start scrutinizing your own heart before you throw stones of condemnation at others. This whole situation you’re presenting is corrupt and rotten to the core.
Jesus must have really hit a chord.
The gospel tells us that the religious leaders went way, beginning with eldest.
(Maybe the older ones realized that with the accumulation of years, they had more “scrutinizing” and soul-searching to do.)
The woman is left alone with Jesus. He tells her to stop sinning. “Don’t do this again.”
Just as importantly he tells her: “Neither do I condemn you.” In doing so, he saves her life. And, he gives this woman a new lease on life.
Let’s pray that Jesus’ provocative and courageous actions would inspire us: and accept the simple truth that God, and only God, will be the ultimate judge of every life and of every heart.
In the meantime we can put down the stones of condemnation and redouble our efforts at healing and reconciling whatever is broken in our lives and the lives that cross our path each day.
For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos.
This Sunday’s gospel is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32). Most folks are familiar will this parable about a Father and his two sons.
The younger son asks for his inheritance and then wastes the money to the point of starvation. The Father compassionately welcomes him back. The “dutiful” stay-at-home elder son protests the welcome given to the younger son. At the end of the story, one wonders whether the older brother will be reconciled with the merciful Father.
Jesus addressed this parable to religious people who disliked Jesus’ table fellowship with “sinners.”
Here are some details about the story
that might help to hear it with ‘new ears”
this coming Sunday. *
In Jesus’ time, fathers were discouraged from distributing inheritance during their lifetime. But if he did , a father was still entitled to live off the proceeds while he lived. The younger son acts shamefully, effectively wishing the father were dead. That the father did not explode and discipline on the spot testifies to the depth of his love. The elder son is no better. Instead of protesting the inappropriate property division and refusing his share, he accepts it (v. 12). And he makes no effort to reconcile his father and brother as culture demanded he should. His behavior is equally shameful.
The younger brother sinks deeper into shame. Losing his money to non-Judeans through wasteful spending makes things worse. He begins to starve. He tries to leech on to a wealthy patron who assigns him a repulsive job of feeding pigs. (Remember, pigs are considered unclean animals in the Jewish tradition.)
Still he starves. The carob pods fed to the pigs were the wild variety with bitter berries, nauseating and insufficiently nourishing to humans.
Coming to his senses, the younger son resolves return home to become a “hired servant” of his father. He is willing to accept the shameful fact that the village will disown, reject and physically abuse him for taking his dad’s inheritance and before his death and then losing it to Gentiles. Nonetheless, the younger son judges this a small price to pay for life and food.
The father acts in a way that is shocking for the culture of the time. He runs (very inappropriate for an elder) the gauntlet the village has prepared for the returning wayward son. He publicly forgives the son by kissing him on the cheeks, and heals the broken relationship between them. The best robe is certainly the Father’s. It will guarantee the son’s acceptance by the community at the banquet. The signet ring indicates enormous trust. The sandals are a sign of being a free man in the house, not a servant. (Servants and slaves did not wear sandals.) Killing the calf means the entire village will be invited and prodded toward forgiveness. This size animal can feed over 100 people.
Instead of honoring his father by accepting his brother and playing his appropriate role as chief host at the meal, the elder son publicly insults and humiliates his father (vv. 28-30). The insults are jarring: he addresses his father without a respectful title; he speaks of himself as a “slave” and not a son (v29); he accuses the father of favoritism (him a calf, me not even a goat!); he refuses to acknowledge his brother (“this son of yours”; he invents the claim that his brother lived with prostitutes.
In effect, this elder son’s heart has always been elsewhere. He too wishes his Father were already dead.
Once again the father replies to the wayward son with love and acts of self-humiliation. He returns insult with an endearing “my child…” He assures him that his inheritance remains intact, and he invites the elder son to join the festivities.
Here the parable ends rather abruptly. What will the elder son do? That is the question the Pharisees and scribes and the modern believer must answer. This is really the story of two lost sons. One was lost, but found. The other… well, we just don’t know…
This Sunday is called LAETARE SUNDAY. It is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we reach the mid-point of the Lenten season. The Mass vestments this Sunday are rose colored, rather than the usual Lenten purple.
The custom dates back to the Middle Ages when the Pope carried a single rose in his right hand when returning from Mass on this Sunday. At the time, the rose was a symbol of Christ due to both its being beautiful and yet being covered with thorns. The Pope’s carrying a rose was a visual reminder that the celebration of Christ’s Passion is not far off. Soon we will experience the beauty and the suffering (thorns) of Christ’s love for us.
While the Pope’s custom was abandoned, the symbolism continues through the rose colored vestments worn at Mass.
Holy Week and Easter are not far off. But it isn’t too late to make this Lenten season a time of personal renewal. Remember, the word “Lent” comes from the old English word for” springtime.” During this season, the liturgy invites us to experience a “springtime” from within, a new beginning within our souls. How will your spirit be renewed to embrace the joys and challenges of 2016?
For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos, plus a stay-at-home mini retreat.
Lent is already well underway but perhaps you are still in need of ideas for your reflection. Click on any of the images below for blog posts, songs, videos podcast presentations and Flow Lesson exercises to enhance your Lenten experience:
Do you have a particular spiritual practice that helps you draw closer to God? Please feel free to leave a comment and share–we can all use new suggestions!
And please–feel free to share on your social media:
This Sunday’s gospel tells us that Jesus led Peter, James and John up a high mountain (Luke 9:28-26) to pray. Apparently the three disciples got a bit sleepy, however. (Maybe all that mountain climbing was tiring.)
Nonetheless, we’re told that “becoming fully awake,” they got to see Jesus in a new light.
They “saw” him in a way they never before experienced. And, a voice beckoned them to “Listen, to my chosen Son.”
Words will never adequately describe what Peter, James and John experienced that day.
These three “students” of Jesus probably couldn’t grasp the meaning of it all either. It would take some time to take it all in.
But this much is sure: They “woke up;” they became fully awake and were able to “see” Christ in a new way.
The Church in her wisdom has told this story at the beginning of Lent for centuries.
Why? Because Lent should be about “waking up” and seeing things (especially our faith) in a “new way.”
Where in life might we possibly be “snoozing” and unaware of what’s really going on?
And while the gospel doesn’t give a quick “wake up” remedy, it does imply that opening our eyes will involve moving beyond our comfort zones—like the strenuous workout of a mountain climb.
–You need to get to the mountain top in order to appreciate the view and “take in” the vista. (Usually not much of a “view” at the comfy lodge at the foot of the mountain!)
“Seeing in a new way,” is the fruit of prayer. If prayer is stretching our hearts and minds to see things as God sees them, then prayer will push us beyond our ourselves and challenge us to look at the bigger picture of our lives and the world. Prayer will dare us to gaze even into the “beyond” of eternity.
Oh, and another thing: We tell this story because, sometimes we “snooze,” the wider Church snoozes too.
The Church, in all her structures and organizations, during Lent, is being challenged to “become fully awake” and listen more attentively to Christ.
So, what have you chosen to do for Lent this year?
Whatever it is, do you think it will “wake you up” to life? (If it don’t think it will, there’s still time to change what you’ve chosen.)
Alert to what’s happening around us, may we hear Christ calling us to be bold visionaries for life’s journey.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday is the story of the tempting (or testing) of Christ in the desert wilderness (Luke 4:1-13).
We’re told that after his baptism in the Jordan River but before undertaking his public ministry, that Jesus fasted for 40 days.
After his fast, he was tempted.
Luke describes three temptations:
To give into thinking that the needs of the body are all that matter;
To worship something or someone other than God (idolatry);
To try to manipulate or to control God.
The three temptations can be stated in another way: We can be tempted into believing that our bodily or physical needs are all always the most important, or the only ones. (And yet, we know that the world is full of well-fed, full-bellied, in-shape people who experience life as meaningless and without purpose. The soul matters.).
Forms of idolatry
We can be tempted into making our work, our popularity, or money, our possessions, or a whole host of other things, the center and goal of our lives. (But this is simply a form of idolatry. God calls us to a more abundant path of love. But God sets the priorities along the path. We neither invent nor determine them.).
Trying to control God
Finally, we can be tempted into trying to manipulate God into serving our purposes. (“I’m a good person, I go to church, I give to the poor. But I smoke 2 packs of cigarettes a day. I’m sure God will take care of my health and protect me from any illnesses. “I know my son drinks excessively and drives. But I put a Miraculous medal on the dashboard. I’m sure he’ll be fine.” Oh really?)
In the wilderness, (and at other times in his ministry) Jesus was tempted in ways similar to these.
All are tested
What we can forget is that this story is the story of every Christian. In the wilderness of the world, each of us has and will be tested. Sometimes we resist, sometimes we fail.
And, what’s more: In every age, the Church has been tempted in these ways. And in every generation, the Church resists and the Church succumbs to the temptations. That’s because the Church is made up of imperfect, sometimes weak people, like us.
Temptations are part of our journey through life. The Gospel on Sunday tells us that there would be more ahead for Jesus. (That’s the last line of the Gospel!) Doing what is right is sometimes a struggle; even like an inner battle of sorts. Temptations can teach us a lot about ourselves too.
But God’s Spirit leads us, as it did Jesus.
Pray to resist evil
We pray that this same Spirit would impart the grace to resist what is evil. When we fail, may the Spirit lift us and give us what we need to mend what we have broken or injured.
Above all else, may that Spirit give us vision to see beyond the wilderness of this imperfect, broken world.
Eyes to see that eternal, undying Easter, where God’s love has triumphed over our every test.
The word “Lent” is derived from the old English word for “springtime.”
The word gives us a clue as to what Lent is all about.
Lent is about a “springtime” and rebirth of new life.
It is not so much a season in the external world but a season of renewal and new life within individuals, relationships and communities. Lent is about Christ calling you to springtime (new life) within yourself! Lent is the Church’s springtime.
On Ash Wednesday, ashes are placed on the foreheads of Christians.
Ashes evoke death and mortality. But ashes are also used as a cleansing agent and as fertilizer for gardens. We begin our journey of Lent by reminding ourselves of the fragility of life and of own mortality. As the old proverb goes: “No one really starts to live until he or she squarely faces death.”
Lent lasts 40 days.
The number 40 calls to mind the 40 days of rain during Noah’s flood, when evil was drowned and earth was washed clean. It calls to mind the 40 years the Hebrew people journeyed in the wilderness to the promised land. Also, Moses, Elijah and Jesus are said to have fasted 40 days to prepare them for their mission. The days of Lent are often compared to a journey. That means that at the end of Lent we should expect to find ourselves somewhere different from where we started.
Lent is not just about “trying harder” or “giving up.”
Lent is about re-awakening the presence of God in our lives. It invites us to “spring clean” our lives: throw out the rubbish and reclaim the spirit within that appreciates being alive; letting go of the “junk” that gets in the way of loving in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
Here is a song of mine you can pray with as you enter into Lent called “Lead Me to the Wilderness.”
Some ways we can observe Lent:
Fast from TV and computer.
Television and electronic devices now absorb 40% of our free time. Take some of that time back and use it with your family or be with your friends. Go to a meeting or group where your voice needs to be heard on behalf of children, the mentally ill, the rights of the unborn, poor families, or those dealing with addictions. Volunteer where you are needed.
Fast from eating on the run.
Make eating together a priority during Lent. When we eat together, more than food passes between us. We share our lives, difficulties and delights. We create bonds and strengthen relationships. Commit to eating with others at least twice a week. Invite people who might otherwise eat alone to share lunch or dinner with you.
Fast on Fridays.
Catholics are enjoined to abstain from meat on Fridays. The point is not to simply substitute jumbo shrimp or Maine Lobster for steak! (What sacrifice is there in that? C’mon now!) The point is to eat a simple meal by subtracting the meat part. Then take the monies saved and give to an organization that helps fight hunger or one that feeds the hungry like the St. John’s Food Pantry. Vegetarians can join in by eating more simply and donating what is saved to a relief agency.
Simplify your Life.
Do you have more clothes than you need? Is your attic or basement full of unused stuff? Are your children’s closets brimming with unused toys and games? Consider cleaning out part of your home and donating the unused stuff to a local charity as a Lenten project for your family. The Saint Vincent de Paul Society in Worcester accepts used clothing. The Urban Missionaries of the Poor in Worcester will use unwanted furniture to assist needy families. (Think of this: there is a scientific connection between “clutter” in your home and your stress level. De-cluttering can be a first step in de-stressing your life. There is peace in simplifying. What a wonderful way to observe Lent.)
Make life more welcoming to others . Visit a shut-in or are an elderly relative or neighbor. Offer some time to helping a family or an individual dealing with a personal loss. Run some errands for someone who can’t get out of the house. Drive someone to their doctor’s appointment. Walk the Stations of the Cross in church. While walking, think about a person who is carrying a heavy cross in life. Let that person know you are praying for them.
Examine your Consciousness.
At some point each day sit still. Turn off the devices. Tune out the noise. Breathe in, and breathe out. Allow yourself to be still for a while. Savor the quietness. Ask yourself how God may have been teaching you something this day. What have I learned today? Do any regrets surface that I could act upon? Am I holding on to any negativity? What am I grateful for? What could I change within myself to face tomorrow with more energy and hope? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you with this.
Give to a spouse, a child or a friend 15-30 minutes of undivided attention. No cell phone interruptions. No texting. Make no comments, positive or negative; give no advice. Just give the gift of listening. Ask questions to clarify only. Attentive listening can help a person sort out a problem or recognize a desire or a direction by simply hearing it aloud. Pray regularly for the grace to be a good listener.
Reflect and learn.
Take the time to reflect on the scriptures proclaimed at Mass. Participate in a Bible Study. Or, go to www.sacredspace.ie for a daily reflection on the scripture from your computer. Or, read a bestselling book likeMy Life With the Saints orJesus: A Pilgrimage both by James Martin. Or, take some of the Lenten materials available in the vestibule of the church and use them daily. Participate in our Jewish Passover Seder Meal on March 6th and learn about the Jesus’ faith and the Jewish roots of our Catholic Mass and understand the Mass more deeply
The media bombards us daily with images of violence and corruption. Entertainment is often focused on what is most “shocking” in order to attract attention. Have you neglected to incorporate “beauty” into your daily regimen? Go to a lecture, hear a concert, see a play, visit a museum. Gaze upon the beauty of human creativity. Go outside. Take weekly or daily walks and look around..really look around. Take in the beauty of creation. Be grateful for being able to take it in. Sit quietly in church. Look at the beauty of the artwork. Think about all the people that have prayed there before you. Open the hymnal before Mass. Prayerfully read the lyrics of the hymns for Mass. They are inspired poetry. What might they be saying to us? Go to Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer and listen to calming chant of the monks there.
These are but a few ideas on what you might incorporate into your Lenten practice this year.
Everyone is in a different place in life. So the practice will be different for each person.
What matters is that we dare to do something that will open us more deeply to the presence of God and the gift of life so that we may grow more deeply in faith, hope and love.
If we have grown, even a little, to live in the Spirit of Jesus our Lenten ‘springtime” will not have been in vain.