Cause For Joy

4th Sunday in Lent (Laetare Sunday) – Cycle A

Patience
The word is small, it is common; but it is important, very important to those who desire to follow the path of salvation.  It is a word that, for me, resonates throughout the Stations of the Cross meditations.  Three times Christ falls, three times the weight our sins causes Him to crash to the ground, three times Christ rises up to finish our ransom, three examples of ultimate love and enduring patience with us.

Patience of God
In today’s readings we see other examples of God’s patience, He was patient with Samuel, as Samuel was finding the one who was to be King.  God could have just given Samuel David’s name but He didn’t, and when we look at the whole story of Samuel I have to believe that God was allowing Samuel to find his way to fulfill God’s desire.  God understands that we will have to struggle to discern His design and will, our fallen nature throws clouds into our wisdom and across our vision. ‘Not as man sees does God see…[1] God tells Samuel. Our Heavenly Father desires that we choose Him through freewill, He understands that for that to happen we need to experience and to learn, through our own senses, mind and heart what God’s will is, anything short of this would not be freewill.

God’s Light
God, though, doesn’t leave us on our own; as with any father – He teaches. In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we hear ‘Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.[2] But he also tells the Ephesians, and us, that we have been given what we need to make that happen. God has given His light to lead us and we should live in that light, indeed we become ‘light in the Lord[3]. With this light we can see more clearly.  We can see, as Father Balluf mentioned Friday night, our shortcomings; but we can also see the Lord at work around and within us.

Sin Can Teach
Father Balluf also talked on the positive side to our sin.  It makes us humble and it also makes us aware of God’s forgiveness.  God, as our Gospel tells us today, though not desiring us to sin, can and does make use of our sin to teach us, to be in a relationship with us, to heal us and prepare us to enter into His presence.

Be of Good Heart – Rejoice!
The entrance antiphon for today tells us:

     Rejoice, Jerusalem and all who love her.
     Be joyful, all who were in mourning;
     Exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.[4]

And we truly should rejoice, knowing that our God has the patience to wait for us; and He has given His Word to help light the true path when we stray.  If and when we fail in our Lenten observances, if and when we fall into sin we can rest comforted that God is there to pick us up.  And if we do start down the slope of despair for our failings let us remember the words of God through the profit Ezekial: ‘As I live – says the Lord – I swear I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.[5]

Rejoice!

——————————————————————————————————-
[1] 1 Sam 16:7

[2] Eph 5:10

[3] Eph 5:8

[4] Entrance Antiphon 4 Sunday in Lent

[5] Ez 33:11

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Faces

In the 2011 Way of the Cross Meditations used by the Holy Father at the Roman Colosseum; the composer, an Augustinian Nun wrote in the 4th Station, Jesus Meets His Mother: ‘To pray is to let oneself be caught up in the loving and true gaze God, who reveals us to ourselves…[i]

See the face of God; a desire of all mankind, whether they know it or not; to be in the gaze of our loving creator.  In the Entrance Antiphon for today’s Mass we chant of this desire: ‘Of you my heart has spoken: Seek the face of God. It is your face, O Lord, that I seek…’[ii]

How do we, humans caught in the human condition of sin, hope to see this face, His face?   Because, He reveals it to us – freely.  God, who through His mercy came us; who through His mercy died to pay our debt for the sins we committed against him; has, through His mercy, never left us. We just need to turn to Him; start a dialog with Him; accept the relationship He offers.

But a question that comes to my mind is: which face? God has many faces, as our Gospel reading today shows us.

Do we desire the glorious face that radiated divinity as Jesus talked to the Prophet Elijah and Moses.  Do we want to be awestruck with magnificence and power?  Rest secure in the gaze of the almighty, knowing that nothing can defeat He who loves us?

Or

Do we desire the face of Jesus as He stands looking down with love at the prostrated disciples who were struck with confusion at what they saw?  Do we want to be embraced by that benevolent gaze of a mentor who embraces the confusion of our fallen nature, and helps us?

Or

Do we desire the face of Jesus as He walks down the mountain with His disciples?  Accompanying them towards tomorrow, towards the unknown, walking beside them as loving companion, never to leave their side?

If we really think about it we realize that we desire all these faces, and more.  Depending on our situation and mindset we are need of each of them; and He gives us them to us.

Prayer, as the sister said, is a sure way to gaze on He who lovingly gazes on us.  As we become more accustomed to a life with prayer, we begin to gaze deeper into God’s gaze; our relationship grows stronger as we become more familiar with this face of love.  Private prayer and public prayer both enable us to come face to face with God. Why, would He do this? Why would a friend do this? Love; He desires to be in relationship with those who He loves – us! As our Lenten journey continues let’s work on our prayer life, let’s strengthen our communication skills with God. Let’s dive into the deep pool of the face God with our loving gaze through our prayer.


[i] Way of the Cross at the Colosseum Meditations, Sr. Maria Rita Piccione, O.S.A.

[ii] Entrance Antiphon, Second Sunday in Lent – Roman Missal

Greatness!

2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A – 2014

Our Lenten journey
So, we start the second week of Lent – this intense season of interior reflection, re-conversion of heart. If we participate correctly it will open our ‘inner selves’ to the fullness of the events of Holy Week and Easter.  It makes us aware of our differences between where we are and where God desires us to be.  It allows us to gauge how close we are to true discipleship.  To help us, each week Holy Mother Church proclaims to us valuable lessons from the Old and New Testament.

Transfiguration
Today, we hear the account of the Transfiguration from Matthew.  Along with Peter, James and John we are witness to Christ revealing His greatness. What Peter and the others must have thought as they saw Moses and Elijah come to Christ and defer to Him, what they must have felt as Christ is revealed in His magnificence, as God spoke; and as important as that is I feel there is a deeper lesson to be learned from these readings. God is revealing His greatness; but what does that mean? It is all too easy to get caught up in divine special effects. What can Christ be trying to show us on Mt. Tabor, indeed throughout His entire ministry about greatness? Let’s look into this.

Luminous Mysteries
Back in 2002 Blessed John Paul the Great gave to the Church the Luminous Mysteries for mediation on the Rosary.  He placed the Transfiguration into these Luminous Mysteries. As with the other three sets of Rosary Mysteries the Luminous Mysteries are a teaching tool.  For those that meditate on them they open our heart to the mysteries of God.  Not that they remove the mystery, no that’s impossible – man understanding God fully; but they allow us to enter into the mysteries to help us grow.  The mysteries are never exhausted – we can reflect on them all our life and still be surprised by additional insight.  Not surprising since they are about our Lord’s life.

But today – let’s take a look at what these Luminous Mysteries tell us about greatness. What is the greatness?  What makes one great in God’s eyes?

Baptism at the River Jordan
The first Luminous Mystery is Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan. Does Christ show His greatness by the skies opening, by a proclamation from on high and the Holy Spirit coming down to Jesus; or is greatness in His bowing down to become one with sinners – to meet us where we are?

Wedding Feast at Cana
The second Luminous Mystery is the Wedding Feast at Cana. Does Christ show His greatness by changing water into wine; or is His greatness shown by His humility in obeying His mother and allowing others  (like the servants) to help in this event?

Proclamation of the Kingdom of God
The third Luminous Mystery is the Proclamation of the Kingdom of God.  Does Christ show greatness by working miracles of healing, of feeding the multitudes, walking on water; or is His greatness shown in obediently doing His Father’s will by traveling tirelessly to make known to the people what God has in store for them – love and mercy; all the while enduring hardships, abuse, danger.

Transfiguration
The fourth Luminous Mystery is the Transfiguration.  Does Christ show greatness by lifting the veil and allowing His glory to shine through; or is His greatness shown after the demonstration of His divinity when His disciples look up from the ground and see Him standing there, remaining with them and coming back down to finish His Father’s will, as horrible as it will be.

Institution of the Eucharist
The fifth Luminous Mystery is the Institution of the Eucharist. Is Christ’s greatness in changing the laws of nature; or is His greatness shown in the love that creates this gift? Making Himself small so that we have a chance at making ourselves great.

In the Gospel of St John, known as the most Eucharistic of the Gospels, the narrative of the Last Supper doesn’t include the breaking of the bread or the pouring of the wine, it centers on the washing of the feet.  Christ teaching His followers the meaning of greatness – service to others.

What is true greatness?
So, the Luminous Mysteries show how God views greatness: not in power, but in service; not in amazing shows of deity, but in humility; not in awesome grandeur but in meeting those He loves where they are and helping them achieve greatness as God sees it.

In a wonderful and beautiful way St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians (2:5-9), tells them and us how God views greatness:

“Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,”

In our first reading today, from Genesis (12:2), we hear God tell Abram ‘I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…” A blessing to others – that is greatness! Brothers and Sisters, as we continue our Lenten journey I pray that we all take some time to see how we view greatness and ask God for the wisdom and strength to follow His idea – to be a blessing to others.

Four Comforts from the Fathers

It is a sad fact that most Catholics don’t take an interest in the writings of our great thinkers.  That most Catholics have never read writings from the Fathers or Doctors of the Church is not a surprise since most couldn’t name one of them. My fear is that this lack of interest starves our brothers and sisters from nourishment offered from Holy Mother Church by missing a chance to dive deeply into her wisdom. They are content with skimming over the surface of our faith by only listening to people like me try to give insight – missing the chance to deepen their relationship with God.  Now, nothing takes the place of prayer; it is the life blood our relationship with God; but if the faithful would only take the time to meet these thinkers and listen to them in their words then their journey would be all the more healthier. For instance today’s Gospel reading shows us, among other things, the devil’s cunning and through his temptations on Christ we are warned that he does the same to us. This can result in an unnerving realization of the seriousness of our situation.  But there is so much more that this passage can give us. For instance – through the Fathers of Church I find great comforts in this reading – let’s listen to some thoughts by two of the Church Fathers on today’s Gospel. 

First Comfort
Father David today mentioned how jealous the Devil is of mankind’s relationship with God.  The Gospel reading today shows to what extent Satan will go to interfere with our relationship.  Make no mistake, Satan hates our relationship and he bends his total effort in trying to slice through it.  His attacks are directed mostly at those baptized and most intensely at those who try to live out their relationship with God. St. Hilary of Poitiers said: ‘the temptations of the devil are specially directed against those who have been sanctified: for victory over the just is more desirable to him.’ Satan is out after our souls – more so because we have accepted the gifts of God and yearn for His embrace. That our Lenten exercises are to help with this constant barrage from the devil; and that we need to train and strengthen ourselves to fight off this attack – is a given from Gospel this reading.  But, as St Hilary’s comment points out, these attacks should also give us comfort because Satan’s barrage on our persons means that he sees us as worthy (if I may use that phrase) of special attention – we are following the right path.

Second Comfort
In today’s Gospel we see Christ, who in desiring to be like us in all things but sin, is going out to meet the devil to experience this constant barrage that mankind is under.  But whereas the Devil comes to us – Christ must go to him because as St. John Chrysostom puts it ‘The devil goes out against man to tempt him. But since the devil cannot attack Christ, Christ goes out towards the devil.’; and this fact should also give us great comfort – Christ loves us and desires to be one with us so much that He actively puts Himself within our experiences.

Third and Fourth Comforts
At the end of the temptations we hear: ‘At this, Jesus said to him, Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.’  St. John Chrysostom points out that the devil withdrew ‘though not as it were in obedience to the command, but because the divinity of Christ…drove him from thence.’ And this should comfort us because Christ’s strength is greater than Satan’s and because, again St. John Chrysostom: ‘What affords us personal consolation is that the devil tempts those who serve God, not as long as he wills, but only as Christ permits.’ Christ is always watching our efforts, and through His being one of us knows our limits and our strengths.

Finally, St. John Chrysostom continues: ‘He did not say, ‘and the angels descending’, that he might show they were ever present on the earth.’  This is a comfort knowing that though we can’t see them, the angels are fighting alongside us, they are not bystanders in heaven watching our battle – they are with us side-by-side in this eternal battle for our souls.

In today’s Collect Prayer we asked the Father
Grant, almighty God,
through the yearly observances of holy Lent,
that we may grow in understanding
of the riches hidden in Christ
and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.

These great Church thinkers, Fathers of the Church, the Doctors of the Church, and many others broaden and deepen our understanding of God’s Word, they allow us sink our roots deeper into the fertile soil of revelation which makes for stronger witness and healthier fruit.  My hope and prayer for each of us is that we take the time to listen to those who came before us so that we might strengthen ourselves and pass to those who come after us an even stronger faith.

Stepping into Lent

Our journey is about to step into an extremely intense period of interior reflection; one that should prepare us to celebrate the Pascal Mystery and Easter more intimately. Lent is a time for interior conversion and healing, and the ways to do this are as many as there are people.  But, maybe a good aid for our journey can be gleaned from the lesson of Christmas which is reinforced in today’s readings.

God came to us.  He desired to be with us physically.  Isaiah, today, proclaims the intensity of God’s relationship with us. ‘Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.’  Jesus, while speaking about our need to serve God also shows us the Father’s concern for each of us: ‘Are not you more important than they?

I suggest to you that in our Lenten exercises we should make foremost the realization that God has chosen each of us personally.  In hindsight, our understanding of the Old Testament reveals that God didn’t choose a people so much as he created a people from those individuals He called personally.  This too is the Church; we are called by name. The Holy Father in late January spoke to this: ‘All of us, by virtue of our baptism, have been chosen by the Lord; we are all chosen.  He has chosen us one by one.  He has given us a name. And he looks upon us. There is dialogue, because this is the way the Lord loves.’  Our truest friend has found us and remains with us.

This realization can be a valuable key to a spiritually fruitful Lenten season.  As we look within, as we take stock of our past year’s journey with the Lord, we need to view it through the eyes how we treated our companion, our friend; the one who sticks with us no matter what.  How have treated this friend, were we a loving friend back to Him?  We need to strip our selfishness from our mind’s eye and put ourselves in Christ’s place looking at us.  Were we the best companion we could be?  What hurt did we cause?  Did we betray the love given us?  What actions were the result of our own desires and not that of God?  Did we step on our eternal companion for temporal reasons?  How have we received our friend’s conversation with us – God’s Word, the eternal word?  Were we, as Pope Francis likes to say ‘docile to the word of God’? Did we allow it to enter us and give us new strength, new direction; or did we fold it into our own desires thereby stripping the life from it?   This type of interior inventory helps to reveal our true self – what God sees.  Gives us new understanding of Christ’s agony in the Garden and what He saw when He climbed onto the cross.  Makes personal this personal God.

This Lenten exercise, if done correctly, is one that is both extremely uncomfortable and supremely consoling.  We are going to see things we don’t like, our self-hidden flaws will shine in the light of God’s friendship; but with that light comes the warmth of God’s love. Lets, you and I, step into Lent with docility so that we can grow in our love of He who loved us first and calls us by name.