Worth Revisiting: 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

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Worth Revisiting: Ecumenism

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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,

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[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: Asceticism as Spiritual Discipline

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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,

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Worth Revisiting: A Slippery Slope

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She was a bit surprised to see him there..standing among his homeless companions of many years. For several months he had found sobriety along with an apartment and a day job, maintaining his distance from a number of his former friends. The last time we had seen him he had appeared healthy and in much better spirits thankful for the care and concern shown. Not today though. Today, he was visibly agitated and the closer she got the more she realized his sobriety was no more. Greeting everyone present, one by one she checked in with them and handing them coffee as they spoke.

“I need 5 dollars and if you really cared about me you’d give it to me”. “Jim”, said one of the other men “now you know she doesn’t give money. Leave her alone.” Yet, he persisted getting more belligerent each time he spoke, till finally he said. “You know what I need it for, and if I don’t have a drink soon I will die”.  Sadness, filled her heart at that moment. She had seen him at this point before and it had nearly taken his life. There was no such thing as one small drink, or a stopping point for “Jim” it was all consuming. He had fallen into his addiction again, and all of the old habits that befriend it.

As any conversation with an AA or NA member will tell you..sobriety is not a sprint but a lifelong cross country journey. A constant attraction towards your own destruction, with the deceptive lure of rationalization and self reliance there at the ready. Those family members and friends that stay the course are well accustomed to the roller coaster of pain, joy, success and failure that are present along the way.

Yet this is true, though perhaps to a lesser extent, of every battle with temptation, sin and desolation.  Do we recognize our own weaknesses and the slippery slope that we start down when we once again find ourselves facing our worst selves? Will we be pulled under, will we try to go it alone, or will we seek help?

Awareness and Accompaniment.

While each of us were made for more, we repeatedly find ourselves choosing less. Being aware of that which is lesser and our own inclinations to a particular temptation or sin is a good step towards being better prepared when we meet it again. Still, the beauty of our faith is that we are never alone in our journey towards God. Though sin usually carries with it guilt, shame, and insecurities- our faith bears mercy, love and hope.  Through reconciliation, and in community we find both strength and accompaniment, encountering not condemnation and an all loving and merciful Father. Only then are we truly able to accompany others- to offer love and mercy in the struggle, and compassion and hope where none were evident before.

“Lord, thank you for loving me- knowing all of my weaknesses and being there to catch me when I fall.  Help me to keep my eyes open to the pitfalls ahead, and my ears ready to hear your voice. Carry me through, Lord. And please I ask dear gracious Father, make my heart ready to respond to the needs of others.” 

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Bread of Life

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“John’s Jesus has a totally different outlook. He does supply earthly bread to a crowd that hungers; but that is not the real marvel, for they will hunger again and so are not permanently better. The real marvel is that Jesus can give a bread from heaven that obviates hunger: the true (alēthinos) bread of which the multiplied loaf was only a sign”

-Raymond E. Brown, “The Johannine World for Preachers,” Interpretation 43.1 (1989), 60-61.

This quote by Raymond Brown, as an invitation for reflection on the Bread of Life discourse (John 6:22-71), has once again completely captivated me! Here, we are presented with Jesus both as the revelation of the Word, the divine teaching that holds eternal life and as Eucharist, the living bread which “provides nourishment” when eaten (NAB, Jn 6:51; Brown, A Introduction to the New Testament, p.346). What was enlightening for me in appreciating John’s portrait of Jesus, were the parallelisms with the OT understanding of Wisdom as found in Proverbs, Wisdom, and Sirach. These texts, offer us a background in which to grasp our later Christian understandings of Jesus and continuity with the OT. In Sirach, Wisdom is described as Word emanating from the “mouth of God” (Sir.24:3), and that which when drunken in provides fulfillment (24:20). In comparison, John portrays the person of Jesus as divine word, (“I am the bread of life”) to be believed and which promises not only fulfillment but eternal life (Jn. 6:35,40,45,47-48).

Yet, there are also definite Eucharistic allusions present in John 6:51-58, and likewise throughout this discourse. Especially, if we begin just prior to the Bread of discourse with the Multiplication of the Loaves, and consider the discussion on perishable food and the food of eternal life (Jn 6:26-2; Brown p.345-346). In fact, these seem to introduce the proceeding discourse and provide “two interpretations on how this is to be done” (p.346). Once again there are OT references here, in the manna of the Exodus that came from heaven, and the water to drink that broke forth from the stone. This food sustained the Israelites in the desert, yet could not promise life eternal.

In Jesus, was the fulfillment of the Word, made “flesh for the life of the world” (NAB, John 6:51). Likewise, the blood of Jesus is the “true drink” of eternal life (Jn, 6:55). There is a bit of irony to be found here in that the fullness of this meaning could not be understood by the Jews around him, who assert their familiarity with the physical personage of Jesus (Brown, p. 336; Jn 6:42). For them, they will ‘hunger and thirst again’, working for “food that perishes” unable to look past the satisfaction of their earthly hunger or for signs in which to believe (Jn 6:27; 30-32; 58).

Therefore, I would affirm that both understandings of this discourse are present and that it need not be a decision between, but a mutual invitation to participation. The observation, by Brown, that at times churches have “been divided as to which deserves the most emphasis” speaks to my prior faith experience as a Southern Baptist. (Brown, p.378). While the “Lord’s Supper” did have a place of importance in the Baptist tradition, it most certainly did not indicate more than a symbolic remembrance. Not to mention, there was a clear priority on the word of God and in particular on the words printed in red.

Yet, one of the beautiful elements that I became aware of as a Catholic catechist is the liturgical fullness given when both Scripture and Eucharist are equally emphasized. In the Liturgy of the Word, we are called to listen and respond to the Word and prayer. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist we are called to offer our lives to God, receive communion in unity with one another and go forth to share (and be) the good news of Jesus with one another. Yet, I would add that “ideal” is most fully understood when that same balance is not only liturgically placed but felt within the hearts of the believers.

Reflect:

Do I participate fully in the Liturgy of the Word, giving my full attention to both the spoken word and the words God seeks to imprint upon my heart? Am I fully present for reception of the Eucharist, understanding that Christ is fully and intimately present to me in that very moment?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Crave Peace

 : “Christians must lean on the Cross of Christ, just as travelers lean on a staff when they begin a long journey. They must have the Passion of Christ deeply embedded in their minds and hearts, because only from it, can they derive peace, grace, and truth.” St. Anthony of Padua

With every passing year, in every byline and relationship encountered,the awareness of the world and our place in it reveals one constant- humanity’s profound desire for happiness and need for love.  The difference in each life is just how we seek happiness and where we believe that we have found it. In my youth I relished in the art of winning a good debate, evidenced in the ground of gaining one more in support of a cause and perceiving each incidence as a battle won. What has become more clear is that the goal of our Christian life cannot consist only in these small victories, or simply out of  prideful motivation or righteous indignation but from a true desire for peace.

Not an easy path

“If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”
–St. Teresa of Calcutta

Take a glimpse even at our daily interactions with our family or colleagues, to work for peace may at times place us at the front lines of  contentiousness and disagreement. Make no mistake, not everyone is readily interested in the real work of peace. Why on earth not? For a variety of reasons, there are many who either cannot see how their happiness is connected to a greater plan or to a community beyond themselves. And yet, this path isn’t about solely convincing the other the error of their ways, but walking with and slowly discerning how to lead and witness to a greater truth. It is often imperfect and messy, as we are imperfect in understanding and discerning how best to move ourselves. Yet, if we invite God to be the principal mover and seek to take the back seat to the Holy Spirit then we begin to see the hope in the way ahead.

“With firm purpose you maintain peace; in peace, because of our trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3

Not quickly achieved

Peace is not just the absence of war. Like a cathedral, peace must be constructed patiently and with unshakable faith.
–Pope John Paul II

For me, this is perhaps the most difficult realization of the day-to-day endeavor towards peace. Steps taken to find common ground, sincere overtures at reconciliation albeit concessions and acceptance of one another fall back into familiar patterns. There are honestly times we might wonder why we try at all. Yet, this isn’t anything new to humanity or even to the early Christian communities. Inclinations to division, personality preference and disagreements over direction has beset us since the beginning of time. Truth is we may not ever witness the efforts of our labors in our lifetime. And still,  each day presents a gifted opportunity to offer a smile, a touch of mercy, a word of kindness – an imparting of a moment of grace to someone who has a great need for peace.

“Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy.”
–Diary of St Faustina, Divine Mercy in my Soul

May this moment be an invitation to discover peace and place within you a desire to cultivate and extend this peace to all that you encounter in your day.

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Worth Revisiting: The Body and the Vine

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In looking at Paul’s understanding of the church as the body of Christ we see a set of relationships, that of the individual believer to Christ and the believer in community. It is through baptism that both the individual believer accepts salvation through the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, and is joined to the community, the body, of fellow believers. Likewise, through the Eucharist, the believer is drawn into a deeper relationship with Christ while also recognizing his or her reliance on and unity within the community. They are symbolically understood as the body of Christ in the world. Therefore the Christian Community has a responsibility to carry forth the message and mission of Christ through dependence on one another as Christ’s hands and feet.

This differs from John’s metaphor of church first, in that John emphasized the priority of one’s personal connection to the vine or Christ over that of the community. Without this connection to the vine, enabled by the Spirit, the believer can do nothing fruitful on its own. Secondly, this relationship leads the believer on the path of discipleship, as one of many disciples on similar paths, who are then gathered by the Spirit in community. For John, this is church, seen in a community whereby all are called upon individually but equally to love and service to one another. For Paul, the church collectively is called upon to use her gifts given by the Spirit, rather than a gathering of individual disciples.

However, I feel that both understandings of our relationships as disciples are so important! We must both be connected to Christ as is suggested by John as well as to be connected to each other in community as the body of Christ. We cannot grow fruitfully as a vine if we lose our connection to life in Christ. Likewise, we need the support of the community and understanding of mission to be the hands and feet of the body. There are also common challenges presented by both Paul and John, seen in the need for love, forgiveness, and renewal.

For Paul, this is exemplified in the reception of the Eucharist. We bring all that we are when we come to mass, our gifts and our faults, and receive love, forgiveness and reconciliation to God as well as to each other. Then ‘blessed and broken’ we are then to be Christ to others. For John, we understand that partaking in the Eucharist though word and sacrament to be spiritually renewing oneself to the Vine the source of salvation. Yet also in recommitting one’s call of discipleship to greater love, forgiveness and service. Finally both saw a need for believers to continue the mission of Christ and work towards the values and reality of a coming kingdom of God. These remain essential today, for while we witness inbreakings of the kingdom we are called as a church to recommit our lives to its completion.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Sacrifice

“It is by the apostolic preaching of the Gospel that the people of God is called together and gathered so that all who belong to this people, sanctified as they are by the Holy Spirit, may offer themselves ‘a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God’.”

Vatican II, Presbyterorum ordinis, 2

With the end of Lent fast approaching, this word sacrifice frequently looms and weighs upon our hearts as something undesired or sought after and yet something we are being asked to pursue. Could it be that we are working with a poor understanding of the rich true meaning of what it is to sacrifice? First as Christ has shown, and St. Paul reiterates, a sacrifice isn’t static or dead. In fact, rather than as an action performed it is more of a state of being. We are to be a ‘living sacrifice’, a testament to the continual love we have come to know as followers of Christ.

So, then we are brought to the heart of the matter. Sacrifice flows out of love. One cannot truly offer sacrifice without having experienced love otherwise it becomes a complaint ridden, shallow and inadequate substitute. It also entails giving of ourselves at a cost- from our need rather than our surplus. Just like the widow’s might, this is what it is to give and witness love.

As a young mom, I remember the countless sleepless nights- of feedings and changings, of fevers and nightmares, as well as, the meager availability of sleep and time. Yet, I cannot imagine making any other choice, than to give all that I am for the life and welfare of this great love entrusted to me. Sacrifice then also carries with it gratitude and responsibility. It is a graced notion of incorporation, for the needs of others can then remarkably become our own.

This Lent, take a moment to think of the profoundly beautiful invitation to sacrifice, to be a living witness to the love of a Father, the gift of the Son and of the Spirit’s renewal of hearts and lives.

Am I seeking to be transformed this Lent?

Is my sacrifice deep and life affirming? If not, what might God be asking me to do differently?

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“Let us remember that love lives through sacrifice and is nourished by giving…Without sacrifice there is no love.” –Maximillian Kolbe

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“True love grows by sacrifice and the more thoroughly the soul rejects natural satisfaction the stronger and more detached its tenderness becomes…”           –Teresa of Avila

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”

― Thérèse de Lisieux

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“Jesus says; ‘My daughter, I want to instruct you on how you are to rescue souls through sacrifice and prayer. You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone. I want to see you as a sacrifice of living love, which only then carries weight before Me… And great will be your power for whomever you intercede. Outwardly, your sacrifice must look like this: silent, hidden, permeated with love, imbued with prayer.”

– Diary of Saint Faustina

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint. And if you wish to become a great saint, entreat Him yourself to give you much opportunity for suffering; for there is no wood better to kindle the fire of holy love than the wood of the cross, which Christ used for His own great sacrifice of boundless charity.”-St. Ignatius Loyola

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves. The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.”- Mother Teresa

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“Those who are willing to lose their own consolation for their neighbors’ welfare receive and gain me and their neighbors…and so they enjoy the graciousness of my charity at all times. […] Then she must love her neighbors with such affection that she would bear any pain of torment to win them the life of grace, ready to die a thousand deaths, if that were possible, for their salvation. And all her material possessions are at the service of her neighbors’ physical needs.” –Saint Catherine of Sienna

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other’s faults and burdens.
If we love enough, we are going to light a fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.”       –Dorothy Day

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“Once we come to realize how much God has given us, a life of self-sacrifice, of working for him and for others, becomes a privileged way of responding to his great love.”

Pope Francis

724f2-ashwednesdaycross“Love Jesus, love Him very much, but to do this, be ready to love sacrifice more”. –Padre Pio

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: The Thief on the Cross

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In reading the passages from Luke today on the way of the cross and crucifixion of Jesus, (Lk 23: 26-49) I was struck with gratitude for the thief on the cross beside Christ. Mocked, insulted and shamed- Jesus endured not only the painful, sorrowful physical pain of the cross but rejection of the people that he loved and came to save. There were those like Simeon, Veronica and of course his mother Mary who were present along the way of the cross to offer strength, tenderness, and comfort. Yet, it was the unexpected conversion of the thief that was there beside Christ in those last moments. His witness of faith is to me a gift to our Savior, a beautiful reminder of the redeeming potential of mankind.

Over the years, I have heard many scoff at the thief on the cross, as I am sure they would have done in his day. “So sad to see how his life turned out, he was brought up in the faith you know. I heard he asked the priest to come at the end…guess that is between him and God.” Yes,  and still this holds true for each and every one of us. One glimpse at the story at the woman to be stoned and the heaviness of the stone in our hands, the weight of our sins, should remind us of the profound unmerited gift of salvation.

So what differentiated the thief on the cross and the other criminal hanging there? Awareness and Repentance.

First, the thief on the cross was attentive to who he believed Jesus to be- in light of an intimate unique relationship to God. Saying to the other criminal beside him, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?” (Lk 23:40) Here too, the thief acknowledges his own sin, unworthiness, and deserved punishment. In the considered opinion of the world, there was no redemption, no more chances, this was the end. Yet, the thief also confesses an understanding that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world and a new desire to belong to Christ. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Lk 23:42)

Wait..there was still hope? Was it truly possible to trade the consequences for his decisions, the weight of his shame for a place in God’s kingdom that very day? And, “He replied to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’”(Lk 23:43) The beauty of Christ’s victory over death reminds us of the ever present reality of the eternal promise of life.  Yet, as God’s divine love and mercy are always more than we could ever conceive, gratefully we are reminded that God has yet to give up on any of us. So, to the thief on the cross I would like to say thank you.

“Thank you for witnessing that not one spiritual journey is ever the same. Called to conversion, continually, we are a people always in need of a Savior. Though in mankind’s eyes your profession of faith might be considered last minute… it is in truth timeless. It is truly a graced beneficiary of the unrestrained and limitless love of a Father- who time has no hold upon.”

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Be Transformed

“The saints are living and practical proof that Christ’s philosophy works. The saints show us that it is possible for a human to be fully transformed in Christ” 

 –Rediscover Catholicism, Matthew Kelly

This Lent we are asked to engage in a transformation, a continual conversion of heart. To do so, however, we must become vulnerable- recognizing and forgoing our attachment to sins, habits, and impediments to change. Then we are better able, as Richard Rohr, OFM would say, to “get out of the way enough” as to be influenced by God’s will for our lives. The grandest works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are worth little if done without an inner turning to God. Likewise, once we experience the profound love and mercy for our repentance and  take on a “radical reorientation of our whole life”(1431 CCC) it is very difficult for this transformation not to overflow. For, all those we encounter- our families, co-workers, neighbors, and even strangers can then be witnesses to God’s love in our lives.

Take a moment today to consider what this transformation in Christ might look like, by listening to the saints and soon-to-be saints in their walk of discipleship.

“Your first task is to be dissatisfied with yourself, fight sin, and transform yourself into something better. Your second task is to put up with the trials and temptations of this world that will be brought on by the change in your life and to persevere to the very end in the midst of these things.”
St. Augustine

“There are in truth three states of the converted: the beginning, the middle, and the perfection. In the beginning they experience the charms of sweetness; in the middle the contests of temptation; and in the end the fullness of perfection.” Pope St. Gregory the Great

“First let a little love find entrance into their hearts, and the rest will follow.”
St. Philip Neri

“We need silence to be alone with God, to speak to him, to listen to him, to ponder his words deep in our hearts.  We need to be alone with God in silence to be renewed and transformed.  Silence gives us a new outlook on life.  In it we are filled with the energy of God himself that makes us do all things with joy.”  Blessed Mother Teresa

“Let us allow ourselves to be touched by this love, to be transformed, so that the resurrection may really be realized in us. I invite you, therefore, to live the Paschal Triduum intensely.” Pope Emeritus Benedict

“Breathe that in: the doorway to joy is GIVING.Give whatever. Many give for the purpose of holding the title in giving. Yet there are those who give nothing of material yet give a smile from their heart, for it is the energy within you that are giving that matters most – not the form, what comes from your heart in that moment of your giving, that is what touches life, that is what will transform your world.” St. Germain

“Everything in life especially the things we like least about ourselves and our life situation become, from God’s perspective, the place of divine transformation and an invitation to intimacy with God who is present to all that is human..The abuse we may have suffered, and the difficult situations we face daily are the places where glory works itself out in us. Our specific woundedness is integral to the unique image of God that each of us is.” St. Thérèse

“We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God´s compassionate love for others. ”
St. Clare of Assisi

“While it is quite true that the essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel, none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice…” Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium 201)

“And do not be conformed to this world,
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
so that you may prove what the will of God is,
that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” St. Paul (Romans 12:2)

Peace,

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