Tag Archives: lent

Gospel Reflection for March 8, 2015, 3rd Sunday of Lent

3 Mar

Sunday Readings: Exodus 20.1-17; 1 Corinthians 1.22-25; John 2.13-25

“Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

(John 2.16)

Jesus’ cleansing the temple calls us to clean our houses this Lent — to examine our hearts. Our fast-paced, productive lives can erode our relationships with God, make us feel like cogs in the wheels of commerce rather than friends of God, who live and love in friendship with the Giver of Life. Coffee and conversation can help us reengage with those we love. Walks in the emerging spring can reawaken our connectedness to all that is, our place in the holy whole that is our Earth home. They can stir us to get practical about caring for creation where we live. Lent calls us to assess what we consume and what consumes us. It calls us to revive our faith in resurrection as a continuing process in our lives.

What housecleaning do you need to do in our life? How can we help clean up our biosphere so life on Earth becomes sustainable? What is one thing you can do?

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Dust

27 Feb
Photo via Flickr user John

Photo via Flickr user John

Our church has three Ash Wednesday services, one of which is a family service. The children’s choir sings, and the pastor sets a bowl of palms on fire during the sermon, burning them into ashes. Each family is given a Lenten daily devotional book full of prayers created by children. “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

Families come up together to receive a blessing, and then the family members place ashes on each other. I stood at a station blessing families, watching them remind each other of their dust-i-ness. As families filed up to the altar, the sanctuary was charged with love, affection, humility, mindfulness and a touch of melancholy.

My spouse approached my station with our sleeping three-month old son in his arms. I started crying while blessing us:

Holy God, we praise you for sending your Son into the world to show us how much you love us. Bless us with your grace and strengthen us in faith, now and always. We ask this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

I continued crying as I placed my pointer finger into the bowl of ashes and made the sign of the cross on his little forehead:

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Dan and I exchange ashes, and I was filled with gratitude for this life we are given, this moment of consciousness together on earth as the dust brought our mortality undeniably into focus. I was not filled with fear of our dust-i-ness, but filled with wonder of the depth of goodness that occurs between dust and dust.

Just a year ago, I sat by myself during the family service, watching parents place ashes on their children’s foreheads. I didn’t go up to a station to get blessed. I didn’t want to place ashes on myself. I waited for the next service that wasn’t so focused on children. We were living in the grief of two miscarriages, and exhausted, sad and lonely, I leaned hard on God. Alone in the pew, I laid my heart bare to God. It was an Ash Wednesday and Lent that felt comforting, appropriate, raw and honest to me in my melancholy, in my grief. We are dust. We are human. We are dependent, like children, on our God.

I kissed my baby’s warm, soft cheek before they returned to their pew, and my heart sang with joy. Here is this person, given to us to care for for a short time. He is such a gift, and the ashes on his forehead, sitting right between his bright blue eyes on his tiny, innocent face reminded us that there was nothing and now there is something, and that something is so good. It reminded us of our need for God who gives us life now and promises life for us forever.

What Else?

20 Feb
via Flickr user Mufidah Kassalias

via Flickr user Mufidah Kassalias

Another day, a man stopped Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus said, “Why do you question me about what’s good? God is the One who is good. If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you.” The man asked, “What in particular?” Jesus said, “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you do yourself.” The young man said, “I’ve done all that. What’s left?”

“If you want to give it all you’ve got,” Jesus replied, “go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me.” That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.

–Matthew 19:16-22

I identify with the young man in this story, so much so that I have to chuckle. I am a doer, an achiever, one who wants to earn God’s love and promises on my own accord. In school and more recently as an employee, I acted like this young man, saying to my teachers and supervisors, “Ok, done. Did that. Checklist complete. What’s next? What else can I do?” Read: How can I show you even more how competent, efficient and productive I am and thus gain your respect and approval?

I even acted like the young man in Matthew 19 during Lent. I got good at giving things up as a young girl. When I was twelve I gave up soda and candy and eating between meals. It was easy. So then decided to give things up and do more good. For example, one Lent I sent a nice note to someone different every day in addition to giving up everything I thought to be a vice. Look at me go, God.

The young man in Matthew goes so far as to treat the Ten Commandments like a checklist. Check, check, check. Got it. Now what? What else can I do? What is next? I, like this young man, was looking to Jesus for the same rewards I got from my teachers and bosses. Jesus, like he so often does in his ministry, elevates the conversation. He let’s me and the young man know that we are not even playing the right game. Following Jesus requires a lighter load.

The season of Lent is a time that invites us to downshift our lives. We take a deep breath, look around, and take stock of what we are holding tightly and what we can’t bear to let go. Jesus gives us a hint that it’s probably the wrong stuff, and it’s the stuff that is limiting us from following him. For years, I couldn’t bear to let go of my accomplishments. I clung to my competence and my ability to do do do more and do it well. And when I was finished, I’d go back to see what else there was for me to do. I don’t need to let go of chocolate and add more to my Good Samaritan to-do list. This Lent, I am praying about playing the wrong game. It’s not about doing more. What I cling to is doing more. For me, it is about embracing the being part of human being. Following Jesus means letting go of the spiritual checklist to be more free to love.

Gospel Reflection for February 22, 2015, 1st Sunday of Lent

19 Feb

Sunday Readings: Genesis 9.8-15; 1 Peter 3.18-22; Mark 1.12-15

“Immediately after his baptism the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert.”

(Mark 1.12)

Every Lent we tend to own up to our self-destructive habits and recommit to become more kind, loving, and prayerful, to say nothing of healthier. What if it is our affections that pull us more strongly to accomplish our dreams than the ascetic disciplines we often consider?

What if our senses are not the problem, leading us into temptation at every side, but are the catalysts for meeting the people in our lives? The senses are doorways to community. They stir our memories of connections with others and open our hearts to those we see, hear, and touch each day.

What if we need to fall in love again with those closest to us, giving them time and ear to reengage? What if we make a point this Lent to do with family and friends what unfailingly brings us joy and recharges our batteries?

With whom or what might you fall in love again this Lent?

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Gospel Reflection for April 13, 2014, Palm/Passion Sunday

7 Apr

About three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud tone, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”  This means, “My God, my God.  Why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27.46


The events of the passion test and manifest Jesus’ love for God, for the world, for his friends, and for the community that still gathers in his name.  Jesus endures not only the pain and shame of crucifixion but one friend’s betrayal, another’s denial, and God’s seeming abandonment.

When have you found Jesus with you in times of betrayal or suffering or seeming abandonment?

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Stations of the Cross

3 Apr
via flickr user MIKECNY

via flickr user MIKECNY

Over the past few weeks, I have been writing about central pillars of Catholic practice during Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This week I consider Stations of the Cross, which, while not a pillar of Lenten practice, is a popular devotional practice among many Catholics. Admittedly, growing up, I was not a big fan of the Stations of the Cross. On a practical level, it seemed long and boring. As I got older, I also objected to the focus on the suffering and death of Jesus. It seemed a bit too macabre for my taste; I preferred to hear about the angry Jesus who overturned tables in the temple, the compassionate Jesus who healed and helped those on the margins of the society, and the resurrected Jesus who appeared to his followers to shore up their strength and commission them to spread his message.

So in the spirit of renewal this Lent, I am trying to think about the Stations of the Cross in a different way. What is a station for? A station is place where you wait, like a train station. So Stations of the Cross are places where we wait, where we take time to reflect on the path of Jesus as he went to the cross. Like other practices of Lent, praying the Stations of the Cross causes us to use our time differently—to slow down and to reflect on distinct moments of Jesus’ journey to the cross—and to think about ourselves and our place in the world differently. What does it mean for my life that Jesus endured suffering, in order that he might die and be resurrected? What does it mean for my life that living as he did resulted in Jesus being crucified on a cross like a common criminal? These are not easy questions to answer, but they are necessary ones as we strive to learn from the mystery of Jesus Christ. In our considering of them, we may find that, like Lazarus in this week’s Gospel, knowing Jesus results in the burial clothes that tie our bodies and shield our eyes as we live in the death of this world are removed so that we can live a new life with Christ.

Stations of the Cross also can be called the Way of the Cross. It is one of the ways that we can fulfill the injunction by Jesus in the Gospels to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him (Mark 8:34, Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23). Walking and praying the Stations of the Cross gives us a chance to go on a pilgrimage without leaving home, as we follow in the steps of Jesus. And while it is not helpful to focus only on the suffering and death of Jesus, neither is it good to completely gloss over the crucifixion and the events that led to it. We all know that there is a dark side in the world (and in ourselves, if we are honest); odd as it may sound, attending to Jesus’ passion can give us hope as we face the darkness in our lives and in our world. It also teaches us lessons about courage, patience, and trusting in a God who promises to deliver us from all evil.

To participate in the Stations of the Cross, individuals or groups remember fourteen scenes from the passion of Christ, that is, the suffering of Christ that ended in his death on the cross. Frequently, these scenes are depicted artistically—carved in stone, painted on wood—and arranged at intervals around a church building. Those praying the stations walk in the steps of Jesus, stopping at each scene to remember what happened to Christ and to say a prayer. There are also various online resources for individuals to use if they want to reflect on the Stations at home; click here for one I really like.

There are three things to remember if you are going to pray the Stations on your own. First, it is important to include a time of meditation at each Station, a time during which you reflect on what happened to Christ. Second, it is important to try to see ourselves mirrored in Christ and to consider how each Station may have application in our own lives. Ask yourself, what might this Station have to teach me today? What is it saying to me? What is it helping me to see or do differently? And finally, there are no set prayers that must be said at each Station. You can use prayers that you are familiar with (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be), prayers someone else has written for reflection on the Stations, or prayers you come up with yourself. This gives you the freedom to interact with the Stations, to make them part of your own prayer practice.

How To Claim Jesus Today

2 Apr

John 18: 1-27 tells the story of Judas betraying Jesus followed by Peter denying Jesus. Three time over, Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples denies that he knows Jesus. It was an intense scene that was escalating – Jesus was being questioned by the high priest and started being beaten by the police. To claim to know Jesus was to welcome trouble. Peter decided to avoid conflict by distancing himself from Jesus, the one in the center of the storm. “Nope, I don’t know him.”

I looked at this passage with a group of high school students. The young people identified with Peter.

“It’s way cooler to be an atheist than to believe in Jesus at my school,” one young man admitted. “A lot of the kids who say they are atheist don’t really know what that means. They just don’t want people to think they are religious and go to church.”

Another added, “Yeah, the vocal Christians at our school are homophobic, and that just isn’t cool. I don’t want to be grouped with those kids. It’s easier to pretend to not believe in Jesus at all.” (“Nope, I don’t know him.”)

Our context was public high schools in Minneapolis, but they also saw themes reflected on the national stage.

On March 20, Fred Phelps died. Phelps founded Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, in 1955. The church is most famous for picketing more than 53,000 events with signs that say things like, “God Hates Fags.” Phelps rose to national notoriety in 1998, when Westboro members picketed at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming man who was tortured and murdered because he was gay. He claimed natural and human-made disasters are God’s punishment for the acceptance of gay people and thought homosexuals should be put to death. His recent death brought his legacy back into the media. People responses were polarizing: silence, anger, sadness and joy.

On March 24th, World Vision announced it would begin to hire people in same-sex marriages. The announcement caused a backlash among conservative donors. On March 26th, World Vision reversed its decision. Richard Stearns asked donors who had pulled their funding to “forgive our poor judgment in the original decision. We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority.” The initial decision and the decision to reverse the policy was polarizing. Who is right? Who loses? What would Jesus say? The name calling, divisions and anger from all sides on social media were deafening.

In a recent post, Jon Huckins writes, “I’m not against healthy dialog, disagreement or even conflict. I’m actually quite for it. The mission of God is reconciliation and the vocation of God’s people, the Church. When we spend more time attacking each other rather than attacking the areas of brokenness in our world, we become a reflection of anti-kingdom.”

Today, Christianity is getting press for publicly fighting about gay marriage maybe more than any other thing. The high schoolers feel it. I feel it. And we were all a little sympathetic to Peter, who just wanted to side step the controversy through denying his love for Jesus altogether. What I heard from the students is a desire to exist in a world beyond black and white, beyond right and wrong, bigger than this one issue. They wanted to be able to claim their faith without being put in a constricting box. They want to change the discourse and ask a whole new set of questions that reflect the ministry of Jesus. Where some of their friends have given up, they are hanging on, but often in secret. Our work continues to be creating space for people to read the gospel together and form subversive community that are committed to the truth. To be brave, claim Jesus, and address the areas of brokenness in our world. To seek to know Jesus and be able to say, “Yep, I know him.” For Peter and for us, it’s hard work, it’s a little scary, but it’s also good.

 

Seeing Anew in Lent

27 Mar

In this week’s Gospel from John 9, we hear the story of the man blind since birth who Jesus heals. Using earthy language that helps us to feel like eyewitnesses to the scene, the gospel writer tells us that Jesus “spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes,” then told the man to go wash his eyes in a pool. Once he had done so, the man was able to see for the first time in his life. In the aftermath of this miracle, the man’s neighbors do not believe it is him, and then Pharisees throw him out of the temple, insisting that he still is a sinner (since in Jesus’ time physical impairments like blindness were thought to be the result of sin). Hearing that this has happened to the man, Jesus seeks him out and reveals to him that he is the Son of Man, and the formerly blind man declares his belief in Jesus as Lord.

Art by Sister Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ

Art by Sister Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ

In the past two weeks, I have written about two of the three traditional Catholic Lenten practices: fasting and abstinence and almsgiving. As I read this week’s Gospel in light of my attempt to better embrace the season of Lent, I have a new image for the work that engaging in Lenten practices does for our spiritual lives. These practices of fasting and abstinence, almsgiving, and prayer (the third practice of the triad) are like the dirt and saliva mix that enable the blind man to see. Applied to our lives this Lent, these practices help us see anew and continue to support our ability and desire to profess our belief in God our Creator, Jesus our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit our sanctifier.

Here is a simple example: Last Friday, our family was traveling to Iowa to visit relatives. As we prepared to stop for lunch at the place we always stop along our route, a restaurant that specializes in meat, we remembered it was Lent. This led us to ask Siri where we could order a fish sandwich close by. Certainly, this small decision about lunch did not change our lives. However, even this relatively simple process of breaking our normal habit did get me thinking about the easy access to food I usually enjoy and the wide variety of food that I eat. While I was choosing among a plethora of decent options for lunch that day, millions of people in the United States and around the world were going hungry. For people living in poverty, fasting may not be a choice, but rather a forced option. For those living in food deserts, an area in which there is little or no access to affordable, fresh, and healthy food, they may be forced to eat fast food or food from convenience stores (two options that are a treat for me on a road trip, not a necessity) that do not provide proper nutrition. When I voluntarily fast or abstain from meat, it helps me recognize the hunger and suffering of others in a new way and inspires me to search for ways to demonstrate Christ’s love in the world—from donating food to food shelves to writing letters to politicians to support just economic and political structures that enable people to provide food for their families.

Similarly, the practices of almsgiving and prayer also help us see our lives anew in Lent. As we make decisions about where to give our money and how much to give, we may have occasion to examine our finances, to see what heart of our family life is revealed by where our treasure goes. When we give away some of our money, we may better remember that the treasure we accumulate on earth is not what will bring us happiness today, nor what will bring us salvation at the end of our days. When we pray, we recognize that we are not the gods of our own lives and put our trust in the ways in which God cares for us, for all human beings, and the whole of creation. When we pray, we honor God as God and allow ourselves to be open to God’s vision for our lives and for our world.

May it be that this Lent we are willing to get our eyes dirty, as we apply the muddy practices of fasting and abstinence, almsgiving, and prayer to our lives. May it be that when we wash our eyes in the pool of Easter joy, we will realize we have already begun to see anew.

Gospel Reflection for March 30, 2014, 4th Sunday of Lent

24 Mar
Jesus gave sight to a man born blind. The Pharisees questioned the man as to who could perform this miracle. The man said he did not know, but the person capable of such things must come from God. This outraged the Pharisees. Jesus heard about this and went to the man born blind.

Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
The man answered, “Tell me who he is, so I can believe in him.”
Jesus responded, “You have already seen him. He is speaking to you now.”
“I believe, Jesus,” said the man.


John 9.35-38

Sunday’s gospel begins as a miracle but continues as a faith drama, a series of scenes in which a man born blind explains to neighbors and teachers how he got his sight and who this person is who gave him his sight. As the man tells his story, he sees with increasing clarity who Jesus is.

How have your eyes been opened? How did you receive your sight?

 

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Almsgiving

21 Mar

Last week I wrote about the idea of giving ourselves over to God in fulfillment of our baptismal promises in relation to the Lenten practice of fasting and abstinence. Along with fasting and abstinence, there are two other traditional pillars of Lenten practice for Catholics: prayer and almsgiving. This week I write about almsgiving, an ancient sounding word that may seem far removed from our current social lives.

“Alms” is a word from Old English that refers to something, like food or money, given to the poor. As a practice, almsgiving can include many things, such as making a donation to a charitable organization or tithing to a religious institution (that is, giving one-tenth a part of something). Almsgiving is part of our baptismal calling, as it is one way to take care of our brothers and sisters, both locally and globally, and to provide for the needs of the “least of these.” Small acts of almsgiving help us to grow in charity, leading toward recognition of Jesus Christ in the poor of our world. Almsgiving takes us beyond an attitude of “it’s just me and God,” as we respond to the needs of others, to those who participate in the Body of Christ with us. If Lent is about giving ourselves over to God, almsgiving is one way that we can offer a material sign of our commitment to follow in the steps of Jesus. We put our money where our faith is, giving some of our fortune over to God by giving it to serve the needs of God’s children.

Almsgiving is not just for the rich. In fact, in Mark 12:41-44, Jesus praises a widow who donates two small coins. He even goes so far as to say that she gave more than the rich people, because she gave out of what she needed not out of what she had left over. You do not need to have a lot of money to make a big difference, and you can also get creative and think about how you can give alms and tithe in ways that do not involve money. Might you be able to donate 10% of the clothes you currently have in your closet to a worthy cause? Might you be able to reduce your energy usage by 10% by being more conscious about turning off lights, unplugging unused electronics and appliances, and adjusting your thermostat?

Almsgiving certainly promotes charity, that is, giving to those most in need. Yet reading this Sunday’s gospel from John 4 got me thinking about whether we are called this Lent to match our charity with work for justice. In this gospel, we hear the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. As the woman herself reminds Jesus, these two people should not even be having an encounter, since both her gender and religious identity separate her from Jesus. When she questions whether she can even draw water for him from the well, Jesus mentions “living water,” which causes the woman to ask where a person can get such a thing. Jesus is clear that one who drinks from the well will be thirsty again, but one who drinks the living water Jesus offers will never thirst.

It may be our first tendency to read Jesus’ reply to this woman in a spiritual light, and we would not be wrong to do so. He is telling her in no uncertain terms that the way for a person to be fulfilled, to be satisfied, to have eternal life is through faith in God. But I think we may find here, too, a lesson about charity and justice. We have all likely heard the saying that if you give a person a fish, it feeds them for one day; if you teach that person to fish, you feed them for a lifetime. With our charity, we quench people’s thirst in the short-term, which is not an unworthy thing to do. People in crisis need their basic human needs met, and charity helps to insure that this is so. But with our justice, we can help quench people’s thirst for their lifetime. People in crisis also need help dealing with the systemic causes of their suffering. It is worth thinking about how, in addition to our almsgiving this Lent, we can also work for justice in the world.

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