Worth Revisiting: We Drink From Our Own Wells

Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People. 20th Anniversary Edition. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2003.

In the foreword, Henri Nouwen beautifully articulates that the premises within Gutiérrez’s book grow out of the “lived experience” (xiii b) of God’s presence in history as understood by “men and women who have devoted themselves to pastoral ministry in Latin America.” As each one of us seeks to live out our faith, we too are part of a concrete experience of God at work in the world around us. In caring for and pastorally ministering to others in our communities, we are given a glimpse of a diverse and yet unique spiritual journey.

On Spirituality

“Spirituality, Gustavo writes, is like living water that springs up in the very depths of the experience of faith” (xvi)

It is a personal encounter with God breaking into the very essence of our lives, meeting us where we are spiritually,  creating ineffable moments of transformation and continual conversion.  An understanding of spirituality, therefore, which is sourced in God’s love produces not only comfort but is itself an abundant stream of joy and blessings. This is a very important to consider, I believe, as it is quite easy to focus on the struggle and neglect to understand that there are also the experiences from the Lord of  “joy and gratitude, friendship and generosity, humility and mutual care”.(xv)

This brings me to Gutiérrez’s discussion of St. Paul’s “walking according to the Spirit, who is life and enables us to live in freedom”.(3) That while we are engaged in the journey of life in the Spirit, we do not know the bends and twists in the path ahead, but is established in the very going” of our discipleship. It is a journey that we do not travel alone, for the Spirit guides, and we travel together as an “entire people” in search of freedom and the experience of the fullness of life .In doing so we also find joy and fellowship with one another. Pope Francis speaks very eloquently to this also in encouraging us to recognize that discipleship is a journey together, and we need to reach out to one another as we engage in our call to discipleship and mission. In time and ministry with the elderly, I recognize fully the call to bring Christ and the presence of community.  The freedom we seek-from loneliness, pain, and the unknowing as we journey from this life to life eternal with God, is there. As well as the joy of holding the hand of another along the way!

Accompanying the Poor

A point that Gutiérrez makes quite clear in his writings, however is that in accompanying the poor and oppressed we cannot just tend to the spiritual needs but must actively address their material needs as well. If others are to truly “see and know Christ in and through us” then I believe we must also be attentive to feeding, clothing and caring for those “least” among us. As Gutiérrez notes there must be “unity and connection between prayer and action” and a desire to live our Christian spiritual life within the historical reality of the world (17).  Of course it may very well challenge us to examine our own consumption habits and shake us from our comfort level in the underlying structures which support inequality and injustice. Yet, we cannot fall back on the assumption that the poor will always be with us, but instead tend to the poor in front of us.Remembering  that Christ did not choose to solely dine with those considered most like him, but radically reached across the table to those whom others wanted nothing to do with.

Prayer and Action

This movement of prayer and action can take several different directions, depending on God’s guidance and your own charisms. Perhaps you are able to provide resources, or to advocate and enlist the participation of others. A close friend of mine, for instance, gathers food and needed household items for the homeless when make the transition into temporary housing. In my community alone,there are a number of organizations which seek to serve the poor- St. Vincent’s de Paul, Matthew’s Kitchen, and an Interfaith Food pantry. Homeless and families, many of which arrive at least an hour ahead of distribution, often leave expressing a renewed hope for the day ahead. Conversely, those who serve are given a profound and humble appreciation of the gift of being present to this graced moment.

God is so amazing- he constantly trumps in gift giving! Take time today for both prayer and action, embracing the Christ before you!

Peace,

Signature

Advertisements

Worth Revisiting: Freedom Prayer

 :

This Memorial Day, we remember family members, friends and loved ones who have given their lives in service to our country and for the freedom we so cherish. At the heart of all of this, we long for peace. My Grandpa Ferrell penned this poem while the Vietnam War was in full swing. It echoes this tension we feel today, and the hope we have for tomorrow.

Freedom Prayer: Carl Wyatt Ferrell

In this dark hour of nation’s woe
When paths of peace men do not know,
Lord, show us now which way to go-
Protect us with Thy arm.

When Tyrants seek men to enslave
And power drunk more power crave,
Lord, help us all to be more brave
And keep us safe from harm.

Let freedom be our battle cry
And may its banner ever fly
Above the world when tyrants die
And peace we have again.

When useless wars shall cease to be,
And haunting fears no more have we,
Lord, may our land that now is free
In liberty remain.

Peace,

Signature

People of God: Lumen Gentium & Canon Law

 :

Have you ever wondered how or even if canon law and Vatican II are related? Let’s take a look at the connection between “People of God” in Lumen Gentium and the Code of Canon Law …

From a cursory glance at Vatican II, the understanding that one gains of the “People of God” is a pastoral description of “what it means to belong to the Church and, in particular, how lay Christians are called to ‘be in the world but not of it’ as good citizens of the City of God.’” It does not just denote an individual’s relationship to God but what it is to be brought “together as one people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness” (LG, 9). It is an invitation to be enjoined in a covenantal relationship with God, united in Christ, and guided by the Holy Spirit (LG, 9).

This term is inclusive of the entire body of Christ, the laity, religious and holy orders. All through baptism are considered among the ‘faithful’ members of the church, ordained and not, who through their respective vocations and reception of the sacraments seek to participate in the Christ’s mission in the world. (LG, 11) Similarly defined, canon law describes the people of God as those baptized, having been “incorporated in Christ” and “made sharers of the priestly, prophetic, and kingly missions of Christ’ (c. 204 § 1). In their ‘profession of faith and participation in the sacraments through the Church the Christian faithful enjoy full communion with Christ’s church on earth’ (c. 205). Therefore we see that within the community of the people of God there are differing extents to which one’s incorporation is enjoyed.

 

Following this description of the faithful we are given in Canon 207 the distinction between the ordained sacred minister, also known as “cleric”, and the non-ordained “lay person” (c. 207 § 1). While there are those from both groups who share in their commitment to the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, only the ordained belong to the hierarchical structure of the church (c. 207 § 2). Accordingly, those who profess vows through a religious institution are deemed as religious, whereas members of more secular institutions making sacred bonds are considered laity. Based upon their designation or appointment to an ecclesial office, the non-ordained may be given additional obligations or responsibilities. Each does, however, in this respect contribute to the overall holiness and life of the Church. All Christian faithful, by virtue of the diversity of their gifts are called within their vocation to the “building up of the Body of Christ” (c. 208) and its continual sanctification (c.210).

 
Lumen Gentium addresses this distinction in noting the ontological difference and degree of commitment between those who serve in the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood. Priests serving in persona Christi , serve Christ and the Church as a whole making “present the Eucharistic sacrifice”, of which the faithful “join in” and are strengthened by. (LG, 10) In receiving and participating in this Eucharistic sacrifice, those belonging to the ministerial and common priesthood “manifest in a concrete way the unity of the People of God”(LG 11, 1).Thus, each group is “interrelated… and each in its own way shares in the one priesthood of Christ”. (LG, 10)

 

With the decline in vocations to the priesthood in recent years, much discussion has surrounded the increasing participation of the laity within the life of the Church. In light of the above consideration of Canon law 207 and Lumen Gentium, several thoughts emerge. First, we as faithful are continually invited to step forward and participate more fully in the life of the Church. Secondly, for those in lay ecclesial positions, who have chosen to accept more responsibility in the church, we are reminded to call forth the gifts of others as well. Finally, as the people of God we have been given a sacred duty to encourage, through our faithful witness of the Gospel, new vocations to the priesthood. Each of these has been found to be essential in promulgating the faith and participating in a community enlivened by the Gospel.

Reflect:

How might I be called to use my gifts more fully in the life of the Church? Am I also praying for and encouraging vocations both to the priesthood and for an increase in the work of the laity?

Peace,

Signature

Worth Revisiting: Overcoming Disappointment

 :

“We know that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

I’d venture to say, that each of us has experienced disappointment numerous times in our lives. There are the daily goals that don’t work out the way we had planned or expected and also those milestone moments that either shape us or rock our world. Sometimes both. Yet, how we understand and overcome disappointment is key to any way forward. For otherwise, we may find ourselves stuck in our imagined happiness rather than open to the happiness and joy that God truly desires for us. The fruits of which we might not realize until much later in life.

When my then fiance’ and I were in our undergraduate years, we began to map out and plan our life together. We knew that as an ROTC officer’s candidate that he would have a corresponding service commitment , one that we were happy to give. So we prayed for his choice of branch and active duty..well one out of two isn’t bad.  You see, active duty would have afforded a more certain path in terms of job and home security and for a newly married couple that was very attractive.    Having scored in the top percentage  for his flight school entrance exam he received his choice of branch, but to our surprise was not slotted for an active duty assignment. Wait, did they not know of our readiness to serve? Did they not see his potential to lead? Oh, and what of our prayers..why did they go unanswered?

Then it hit me..In the course of our prayers, we always ended every petition and prayer with THY WILL BE DONE. If in our faith lives we meant this prayerful intention then we had to take comfort that it truly was. God was looking at our potential and journey and rerouting us to where he knew we needed to be. Why? Because we had asked him to do so. We had invited God to the final say, and now we needed to get on board with the new coordinates and let go of what might have been. When we did so, I have to say God has never ceased to surprise us!

Oh, and through my husband’s time in the Guard and Reserve, we were given many opportunities to lead soldiers and their families in that same discernment process of time and service. Sudden deployment activation held many concerns for these men and women who had never wanted active duty status. Now unexpectedly thrust oversees in tenuous and dangerous situations, we prayed for each of them and their safety. And again at the end of every decade we prayed that it be God’s will.

Yet, don’t just listen to me..here is a bit or wit and wisdom from others..

~GK Chesterton

“Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel. ” Chesterton began his writing career not as an college English major, but unexpectedly as an art student and critic. Prior to his conversion to Catholicism, it is said that he suffered early on from depression and had also experienced a nervous breakdown. Renown for being absent minded,  he relied on his wife and secretary to help him with the details in life.

~Thomas Merton

“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”  Long considered a spiritual authority on Trappist contemplation and Christian spirituality, Merton himself initially wanted to be a Franciscan. His writings advocating peace, justice  and religious tolerance remain a continual call to live out our Christian faith in the world around us.

“If we really want prayer, we’ll have to give it time. We must slow down to a human tempo and we’ll begin to have time to listen. And as soon as we listen to what’s going on, things will begin to take shape by themselves….The best way to pray is: Stop. Let prayer pray within you, whether you know it or not.”

~Oscar Romero

On proper focus- “If we are worth anything, it is not because we have more money or more talent, or more human qualities. Insofar as we are worth anything, it is because we are grafted on to Christ’s life, his cross and resurrection. That is a person’s measure.” Soon-to-be-saint Romero’s appointment as bishop of San Salvador is said to have been met with great disappointment by his fellow priests and colleagues. And still with ever growing unrest, poverty and violence in San Salvador, Oscar Romero heard and responded to his calling with holiness and unbelievable fortitude. With this passionate shepherd and martyr for the faith, we learn where our true hope lies.

~Dorothy Day

“The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?”

Peace,

Signature

Are You Saying Yes.. When You Should Be Saying No?

Today, perhaps you find that you had  much rather be saying yes to the many things that come your way than even contemplating the word no. Maybe, you do so out of a well intended desire to please others, or the thrill  from successfully multitasking a multitude of tasks. And still, though your yes may result in a benefit for yourself, your family, friends, or community does not mean that it is still the answer that God may have intended for you to give.

This is not an easy message for us as Christians, who are trained to offer our time and talents to the service of those placed within our care. We take the scripture from Romans 12 urging us all to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” and neglect to heed the verses to follow:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Discernment isn’t an add on when we find ourselves confused as to what path to take but it is essential in every choice we make. Even those opportunities which are in themselves good and promise to be fruitful. Take a moment to consider, if you will, whether you are inviting God into each of your decision making moments or just some of them. If not, why not?

Pride

Ah, yes..that clever and insidious sin of pride. It creeps into even the smallest of places leaving us thinking foolishly that we are the only the only ones that can complete a task or the best one to do so.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Thus, inevitably we must prayerfully discern why we feel that our yes is needed and be careful not to take on a project out of pride. But wait..you mean someone else might be called to take on a challenge, or be given gifts to fit the purpose?

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another..” Romans 12: 1-21

We are not being asked to do it all ourselves but in fact, are to call forth the gifts in our brothers and sisters to build up the body of Christ. Those around us do not always see their own gifts and releasing our own prideful motivation allows God to move others into action. It also permits each one of us to glimpse God actively at work as the best human resource manager and project manager for this world in which we live in.

People Pleasing

So, maybe we do not feel we are the best qualified, are already over committed or not really inclined to take on a task but do so because we would like to say yes to the person who has asked. This is not a good motivation either yet admittedly is an easy trap for the kind hearted Christian. In parish ministry we often find the same people being called upon time and time again. They want to be helpful and usually are, but offer a yes when honestly it should be a no. Then later, burned out and tasked beyond reason they leave serving because there simply is no more to give. Recognizing your own need to renew and refill is a valid and essential reason to say no. While initially difficult to do, as well as an adjustment for the one asking it may be the right answer. In making space for quality  prayer time and detachment from the reaction or approval of others we can begin to see that  God’s approval is the only one that matters.

Reflect:

Is there a decision in my day today that I might not be needed to say yes to? Have I invited God into the task? Would others be better served by my no?  

Peace,Signature

Worth Revisiting: Lessons Learned From My Mom

This morning as I awoke, I thought of both my heavenly and earthly mothers. With eyes closed, my lips whispered to Mary, “Thank you for your yes- to being the mother of Christ but also for remaining with me when my earthly mother could no longer do so. Please continue to guide me and all those I encounter till my own journey is done. ” Then, with a heart smiling full and complete, enveloped in love and gratitude, today I said Happy Mother’s Day to them mutually.

My mom, the second oldest of four and a high school teacher, met and fell in love with my dad within the span of two weeks. A whirlwind romance, fed by non-substantiating infatuation, they had met, married and divorced in a span of less than two years. Recognizing too late my father’s habits of drinking, and violent mood swings, there was cause for serious concern as she had discovered she was also pregnant with me. She had made the decision to raise me alone.

Mom's1st pic:
Her 1st picture as a new mom!

Though this was not what she had pictured, and despite several close friends advocating an abortion, her faith could not allow for her to make that choice. She felt that the life within her, me, was a gift from God and while unsure of what laid ahead she knew she needed to trust. That summer, as I came into the world my mom said goodbye to my father, never to be heard from again. Nonetheless, a part of my mom always hoped that he would find recovery and reconcile with me one day.

So the lessons I promised? Well, they are many but here are just a few…Mom and I:

1. Trust- not in what the world tells you are the choices before you, but in a bigger plan that only God is aware of. Though you do not have the strength to do it on your own, and when you wonder how you’ll carry on- lean on Him.

“I raise my eyes toward the mountains. From whence shall come my help?
My help comes from the LORD,
the maker of heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
or your guardian to sleep.” (Psalm 121)

2. Love- the gifts given, delight in the surprises around you, seek God and you will most certainly find Him.

“See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

As a single parent, on a meager teacher’s salary we did not indulge in big trips, but would go out exploring the world around us. Sometimes we would trip upon a free museum, pack a picnic lunch, go fishing, or drive out to the Mississippi river just to sit with our toes in the bank.

3. Share- what you have with others that are in need, both physically and spiritually. Growing up, I noticed that others certainly had more than me and yet there were so many that had less. One day, when I was about 8, my mom was approached by a young mom with several toddlers in tow asking for help. Without hesitating, she had invited the family to stop by our home for dinner. The little faces that had been downturned and suspicious in the beginning all at once beamed at all the food that lay before them. Before they left, she packed up a few containers for them to take home with the offer to come back again. Upon noticing that there were a number of items missing with their departure, my mom was neither upset nor saddened. “They are more in need of it than us Elizabeth”. To which I learned what it was to give without expectation of return.

4. Encourage- the gifts in others, even those that they fail to see in themselves. My mom was my biggest cheerleader, and my most vocal critic. Sound contradictory? No not at all. You see, she knew that life could be difficult and how easy it is to settle or give in to an easy choice. She pushed me further than I thought I could go, and always pointed to the “more” in the world that God was calling me to do. As a teacher, she inspired her students who came from very difficult and impoverished backgrounds to continue with their education and challenged them to see their gifts. I cannot count the times, over the course of her life that former students would call her or run up with a hug to tell her the difference she had made in their lives. This is the teacher that I strive to be, thank you Mom for teaching me.

 Peace, 

Signature

Ecumenism: “An Imperfect but Certain Communion”

 :

With the aspiration of Ecumenism, to be a shared understanding in promoting dialogue and unity within faith, can it be said that there is visible unity? What can be learned from our differences? Likewise, what shape does this take and would be the direction of such a vision?

On the Need for Ecumenism

Something that is becoming clear to me over the years is the necessity for a definitive place for Ecumenism in our understanding and practice of the way of being church. Perhaps this is in part due to my appreciation of the Holy Spirit in Vatican II, an exposure to different languages, cultures and faiths or my own conversion itself. More than likely it is all of these, which engages me to appreciate the beauty of our diverse faith understandings and yet recognize the unity in our uplifted praise of our almighty and every loving God. Still, in order to understand ecumenism as a church in this light, we are then compelled to have a better comprehension of our own faith before we can seek to know more of those who hold different faith perspectives. To do otherwise is to share a inadequate understanding or even a dimly lit candle of ambivalence to the reason we are Catholic. This is indeed a challenging task as we immediately notice the increasing need for faith formation in all ages and across all cultures. For, no longer can we see faith formation ending upon Confirmation, but indeed there is a need for new “ardor, methods, and expression” in the continual formation of us as followers of Christ.

 Yet, how do we encourage an openness to learning more about and fostering a sense of unity among our Christian brothers and sisters?

As Finnish theologian Kärkkäinen observes, it isn’t that we are “creating unity between the churches, but rather to give form to the unity already created by God”. [1]  If we are both certain in our faith, and comfortable in expressing our own to others authentically and respectfully then this is I believe a good beginning.  One beautiful outcome of this is seen in the commitment as a church to “fulfill its essential nature” in mission.[2]

In my experiences both as a Protestant and as a Catholic, I have witnessed occasions of this being done well. Growing up, I lived in a small impoverished community in the South that often found itself racially divided. What united us was our poverty and there came a time when this call also visibly united us as a people of faith. It began with churches like my own filling specific dire needs, and blossomed into a united response across all faiths in first setting up a food and clothing bank. In its overflow, we experienced unity in shared prayer breakfasts, leadership planning, home visits and the personal faith response from the people. Each faith brought the best of itself, whether it be a welcoming space, music, bibles, or hearts filled with the Holy Spirit. What won more hearts to God, was seen not in “segregation, but (felt) in a congregation constituted in divine love” who met God’s people where they needed it most. [3]

I thought of this most recently as I sat at a table surrounded by men and women leaders of faith discussing the local situation of sanctuary cities, and increase in drug addictions and dire need for pastoral response. 2013 brought an even broader experience of ecumenism that transcended beyond Christianity to humanity, with the Boston marathon bombings in April. In one of many interfaith services, over 2,000 people attended the Healing Our City service held at Holy Cross to honor those who had lost their lives and more than 260 who had been injured by the bombings. Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslims joined in solidarity to address the attacks that “shook people from complacency to service”. What we witnessed in the direct aftermath were people using their training as doctors, nurses, ministers, fire fighters and soldiers to assist others with little regard for their own safety. Then, as seen here, we felt God’s love that witnessed to the “Spirit of love, concerned for the good of God and human beings” surpassing “that of a single community”. [4]

What then of our differences?

As Kärkkäinen seems to indicate, as Christians we have far more in common than that which divides us. We hold true to the ‘understanding of the Trinity, the sacredness of scripture and the creeds, the importance of the Eucharist, and teachings of the apostles’.[5] Yet, we differ on our understandings of ‘leadership of episcopacy and papacy, and the emphasis of individual and collective priesthood’. Our expressions of worship likewise show differences in emphasis toward an indispensible priority and structure of the sacraments to freedom of “faith response and flexibility of church models”.[6] It seems apparent to me, that in the years following Vatican II, we have learned much from each other, and could at times be said to be a visible unified community. We cannot, however, assume that visible unity means “uniformity”[7] but rather a “certain but imperfect communion” of a church united and sharing in the “reality” of the spirit of Christ.[8]

See also: DECREE ON ECUMENISM UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO

Have you ever sought a more certain witness to someone who in sharing their faith asked you about yours? If so, what is needed to better assist you? What ways do you see ecumenism in your own community sharing in the love of Christ?

Peace,

Signature


[1] Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. An Introduction to Ecclesiology. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove. (November 2, 2002). p. 85.
[2] p.151.
[3] P.152.
[4] p.89.
[5] p.84.
[6] p.91.
[7] P.84.
[8] P.87.

Worth Revisiting: Moving Forward

 :

If you are reading this you might be thinking to yourself… Well where else would my foot be?

Let’s start with the fact that I am by nature a problem anticipator. Typically, my feet are moving forward and mentally I seek to be two or three steps ahead to better assess where I need to go. This works well in project management, and parish planning where long range goals and timelines are essential. And yet spiritually, God is simultaneously reminding me that, as with Martha and Mary, sometimes the best place to be is right where I am at the moment. Sound familiar?

On the commute into work this past week, I found myself with a lead foot and an unusually impatient spirit. Did they not understand that leaving a gap a mile wide just encouraged people to cut in? Were they not aware that those they shared the road with were indeed trying to get TO their destination sooner than later? Such was my conversation with God and myself and the more I nodded in agreement, the less concerned I became with my other highway companions. So much so, that my arm actually ached from throwing it up in indignant frustration.

That was when the truth hit me. I had become so focused on where I thought I needed to be, that I neglected to meet God in the present. The more I pushed him aside to consider all that was to be accomplished, the more I also failed to choose what is better. My time could have been spent differently..I had a choice.

Father, patiently train me to value these precious moments with you. Instead of time squandered in useless irritation and in anticipation of something greater- let me appreciate the gift of the present. I need not be the first or the fastest of those around me but in truth will reach my destination eventually. For Your invitation – to gaze upon the horizon, prayerfully offering the day and petitions, and to listen for Your guidance awaits. You have a better plan in mind for my day than all of the schedules that I have made.  

Just how do we practically do this?

  1. Try starting your day with a reflection and coffee. Though I may read a reflection over coffee, often I do not really unpack or unearth its richness right away. As you travel or wait, just hold the questions or scripture in your heart. God is there ready to inspire you and your day.
  2. Get accustomed to the silence: Breathe and take a few quiet moments to allow God to speak to your heart. Notice the details of the landscape, the color of the sky and the rhythm of the world around you.
  3. Music: They say that music soothes the savage beast…well, for me this is true. My IPod is replete with almost 1,000 Christian songs from every music style imaginable. If one song doesn’t fit that day, there is always another one right behind it.
  4. If your mind and heart are busy, use this energy to pray the rosary. There have been days where I have had so many thoughts that I offered each bead/prayer for a different person or intention. With each name and concern spoken I ease into a more peaceful way of being. Why? Because I recognize that God has it covered!

Peace,

Signature

Asceticism as Spiritual Dicipline

 :

Is there a case  to be made for the continuing relevance of the “monastic-generated” tradition of asceticism (“spiritual training or exercise”) in Christianity beyond monastery walls to all members of the churches, particularly when it is understood comprehensively as “spiritual discipline(s)” and not narrowly as “a life of exceeding self-denial” ?

When considered amidst the everyday realities of life, I happen to believe that the practices of asceticism or spiritual disciplines take on a particular relevance for our time. While most of us perhaps are not disposed to a total life of self denial, there is immense merit in seeking order, centeredness, and being open to God’s presence in our lives. In a world that often strives, or so it seems, to ascribe the attributes of beauty, intelligence, position, and wealth, or lack thereof -what a gift it is for our souls to discover who we really are! That is to shed all opinions and titles other than how God might call us, “Elizabeth, child of God”. In this way, we are both humbled in all of our preconceived notions of self, and yet raised to see how wonderful it is to be made in the image of God!
It is here that we recognize the importance of prayer, for this is how we come to be familiar with the voice of our Abba, and to know that whatever the world perceives of us that each of us have been divinely special, and loved dearly. God’s opinion, and concerns then can be seen more clearly and put in the right order as first and centermost in our lives. I believe, therefore that this practice of asceticism, of prayer, perhaps helps us to understand how to go about and truly practice the other disciplines. It is true, that place of prayer is important because, at least initially, it must be one that encourages us to limit some of the outside distractions of life. For me, I find that daily mass or morning reflection provides this time for me to center myself in God. Oh, how often I have found myself actually rushing in the mornings to find that time with God, and heard myself let out a visible sigh of thankfulness!
As for fasting, and abstinence they too are important when we consider the “why” or the purpose for this practice in our own lives. Too often, I believe that we as a church could do a better job at teaching and emphasizing the deeper intentions. Without this, the “Rice Bowl” or almsgiving box simply becomes a collection device during Lent for all the times we break our renewed intention to God. On the contrary, I believe it is important to ask ourselves each time, why am I fasting or abstaining? Is it to be in solidarity and to understand if for but a day what others in poverty feel every day? Or is it for an intention that I hold in my heart and desire for God to know its importance in my life and request for help?
This brings us to the immense value of works of love, mercy and justice when they are sourced in Christ, and practiced in community. This is not to say that other faiths cannot and have not practiced similar works of mercy. Rather, as a Christian community they are essential, in changing our perspective from that of the world to recognizing Christ in others, and actually in being Christ in the world. These athletic exercises or practices are our warm-up so to speak for the real thing- that is for the kingdom of God. How can we say, “Put me in Coach!” if we haven’t shown up for practice?

 What do you think?  Is asceticism still relevant in our time?  Why?  Why not?

Peace,

Signature