This Lent artist Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ, and Sister Joan are praying the Gospels in words and images. You can join them by going to our homepage, goodgroundpress.com, and clicking on the Sunday Gospel images there. This coming Sunday is the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. Share this retreat with your parish by printing goodgroundpress.com in your church bulletin.
Scripture Readings: Genesis 2.7-9; 3.1-7; Romans 5.12-19; Matthew 4.1-11
“Away with you, Satan. Scripture says, ‘You shall worship the Holy One your God; only God shall you adore.'” – Matthew 4.10
Each year the temptation story from one of the synoptic gospels is the gospel for the 1st Sunday of Lent. The devil in the story calls out Jesus for a show of divine power, something to prove he is God. But Jesus shuns divine stunts and recommits to the first commandment — to worship God alone. The story invites us to examine the God in whom we believe. Is our God one who inspires success and personal gain more than service and mercy? Perhaps we find God useless, a God who lets bad things happen to good people. Or perhaps God seems too old-fashioned, pre-scientific, and irrelevant to claim much attention. Jesus makes worshiping God alone the key to his life. The temptation gospel calls us to refresh our image of God, which we can do by taking observant walks outside in creation and by taking time for solitude and reflection on God’s word.
What is currently putting you to the test in your life?
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The days are getting shorter still. The nights are dark and the days are gray. We bundle up, hunker down, light candles, and wait. Advent is upon us, yet again.
Our bodies signal to us to slow down, turn inward, and hibernate. Yet Rumi, in his poem “The Body is Like Mary,” invites us to resist the urge to shut down altogether. He asks us to acknowledge that we, along with Mary, are in holy labor. There is work to be done. There is beauty to share. There is life and love to offer. There is a God within who needs to be born:
The body is like Mary, and each of us has a Jesus inside…
God is really there within, so innocently drawing life from us with Her umbilical universe–infinite existence…
though also needing to be born. Yes, God also needs to be born!
I will have a child in the next few weeks. I will, once again, go through the painful and sacred process of labor to bring life into this world. Yet even while I wait, there is other birthing to be done in the twilight of Advent. In the quiet darkness, we can tap into the desire to create beauty through a loving touch, a simple gift, a safe space of active listening, or a piece of art.
Christ is in all of us. We are co-creators, offering God’s light to the world around us. In these moments of Advent, when quiet reflection leads to a gentle birthing, sprinkling love and light, we know that yes, Jesus is coming and yet yes, Jesus dwells within.
My memories of the notorious sixties are not the free love and abandon of the sexual revolution but the incredible revival of the Catholic Church at Vatican II and the civil rights marches upending Jim Crow. In that decade we experienced finding a way where there is no way. The impossible can come to be.
The Second Vatican Council proved to be a crack that let the light of the modern world into the Church and let the Church loose in the world to do the work of justice and mercy. The most revolutionary document of Vatican II called the people of God to solidarity with the least among us—“the joys and hopes, the griefs and anguish of the people of this world especially the poor and afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anguish of the people of God” (Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, #1).
Many Catholics have learned to put their faith into action and do the works of mercy and justice that Gaudium et Spes calls forth. Liberation theologies arose in Latin America and spread as ways to give voice to people at the base of society and work with them for justice. Pope Francis deliberately set the Jubilee Year of Mercy to begin December 8, the golden anniversary of Gaudium et Spes, which passed at the very end of the Council. Pope Francis wants Vatican II to live and evolve.
I hoped the Synod on the Family might turn out to be a mini-Vatican II. It met in October for three weeks after meeting for its first session in fall 2014. After the first session Pope Francis called for consultation and listening sessions with the people of God in dioceses throughout the world. Although the official consultation questions proved unusable, people found ways to communicate their insights and family issues to their bishops and Rome.
At the synod Pope Francis called for bold and frank talk. He had bishops work in small groups to interact more. The heads of religious orders auditing the synod ceded three of their six seats to women, so their three minutes each are in the record.
The 270 bishops who gathered aren’t exactly family men. Some note they hear about family problems in hearing confessions. Perhaps some have carried the smell of the dirty diapers or a baby’s spit-up from helping out with nieces and nephews or friends’ children. Perhaps they have stood in for grandparents or aunts and uncles, corralled two year olds, lived their drama with adolescents, and scrounged rent when a boss cut back work hours. Perhaps they have paid the rent for a person at the backdoor of the parish house.
I hoped that 270 bishops would bless remarried couples. Pope Francis sped up annulments. The synod kept the door open by urging pastors to work with couples case by case and respect their consciences. I hoped the 270 bishops could hear the sensus fidelium on the issue of contraception and pronounce the time of death. The people of God have widely exercised their consciences on this issue. I hoped the 270 bishops could accept that moms and moms and dads and dads can love and commit to each other and raise children. But that would have been a surprise and – shock in some African countries where homosexuality is illegal.
Perhaps for a bishop it is hard to go forward without making past judgments seem fallible. But in an evolutionary cosmos God comes to us from the future, urging us to all we can become, not just from the past. The Holy Spirit has been at work in our world, making it new from the beginning. The gospel has been at work for 2000 years, teaching us to keep the two great commandments. We keep on.
These are the hopes of an educated white woman in North America. I’m not a widow in Kenya who wonders what will become of the ten AIDs orphans she has taken in, nor am I a dad carrying a child on his back on the walk from Syria to safety in Germany.
Many cannot imagine marriage or civil union between same sex couples. Since the seventies I have wondered why the Church and society doesn’t expect fidelity of same sex couples just as we do of men and women. This is happening now that GBLTQ relationships are more out and public. Partners I know reveal everyday they can love each other, their children, their parents, their friends. The word is out they can keep the two great commandments of Jesus in the gospels. We of the Church need to work at realigning moral law with biological science, Jesus’ gospel message, and people’s lives today.
“We discover the possible from the real.” Karl Rahner
Sister Joan Mitchell, CSJ
Today we remember and honor the memory of our loved ones who have passed on, as well as for those who have passed on around the world. Click here to view the full prayer from Catholic Relief Services.
Last week my spouse and I closed on and got keys for our first home. The seller was long gone. Not being able to stand the Minnesota climate, he moved to Northern California. The yard of our new home is landscaped beautifully, but in his absence the weeds had grown to hip height and spread quickly into lush bunches. I spent a chunk of time on Saturday crouched over in the warm sun, pulling weeds and chucking them over my shoulder into the driveway. This monotonous, rhythmic activity lends itself to spiritual reflection, which I thoroughly enjoyed. None of my thoughts were especially profound, but as someone who strives for gentle, continual growth and improvement, the activity of pulling weeds became a metaphor of spiritual renewal work right before my very eyes.
The priest at my high school, before offering the sacrament of reconciliation, would always talk about the importance of doing spiritual check-ins as often as we do physical check-ups. The work of sifting through the spirit, looking for light and weeding out darkness takes time, intentionality, and sometimes help from other people who can offer expertise and objectivity. Here are some thoughts I had while weeding in the garden that also pertain, I believe, to weeding in the soul:
– Some weeds are pretty. It was harder than I thought it would be to identify the weeds. I had to double check with Dan that I was pulling the right roots. Invasive species can disguise themselves as flowers if left to grow and thrive for too long.
– Pulling the weed without it breaking was easier and more efficient if I took the time to search for the base of the stalk. Identifying the entry point before acting helped me get at the root of the problem.
– Finesse and strategy are a good paring for effective weed pulling. The weeds were so tall and thick, it was tempting to grab huge handfuls and just yank forcefully. This would have been a quicker way for the yard and garden to appear weed free, but the roots of the weeds would have remained healthy. I had to find the right amount of weeds to pull at the same time. Often this meant one weed at a time- no shortcuts. The roots often came out easier, too, when I used finesse instead of force. A little restraint in the process set me up for longer term success.
– Pulling the weeds at the root was fairly easy because the soil was soft. Minnesota had a very rainy June. When I was getting at the root of the weeds, then, the soil was soft and gave way easily. A month of rain had prepped the foundation for the weeding process to go smoothly. The yard was ready for the task at hand.
-I won’t really know how I did weeding for some time. The yard looks better, but I will see in a few weeks how many weeds I pulled superficially and how many I got at the root. Either way, the yard will take continual oversight and attention if I want the plants and grass to thrive.
At the end of the afternoon, my back and hamstrings were tight. My fingers were sore, but I felt revived. The yard looked fresh, clean and new. The landscape was more easily navigated and looked more inviting. The plants now had more room to breathe and grow. It was hard work, but good work. It was rewarding. I’ve heard that there is a correlation with gardening and happiness. I can see why. I left my time in the yard peacefully tired and reflective. And it inspired me to keep getting down on my knees to look for the roots of the weeds inside of myself that were choking who God is willing me to become.
William Cantwell Smith describes faith as the act of the heart that establishes our relationship to the ultimate. The word credo in Latin illustrates his finding across religious traditions. Credo combines two root words — cor (heart) and do (give).
I believe means I give my heart, my whole self. To believe is to belove, to entrust ourselves to the ultimate source of our being, to affirm our belonging in the whole web of life.
This kind of faith anchors us in the world. It establishes the ground we walk on. It engages us with the inexhaustible holy mystery in which we live. Starry nights, vast oceans, blooming flowers, newborn babies — all invite and inspire awe and relationship to the source of all being. Encountering Jesus — hearing his teaching, witnessing his compassionate actions — invited hi disciples to believe he was the messiah and bind their lives with his.
As we know from our experience, there are all kinds of prayers and reasons for praying. Sometimes we pray because we are in need of God’s help, as I did when I was concerned about my son’s safety. Sometimes we pray because we are grateful for a gift received or for a day in which we seem particularly blessed.
Sometimes, when filled with regret or remorse, we seek forgiveness because of the harm we have caused or the loving action we have failed to do. Sometimes we pray just because we want to worship and honor a loving, all-compassionate holy God. For whatever reason, Jesus encouraged his followers – and encourages us today – to persist, to not give up, to keep asking.
What family rituals or prayers do you have that express gratitude, that celebrate the good times and bad, our need to forgive each other as we seek forgiveness ourselves?