Thursday, March 29, 2018

Holy Thursday 2018

‘He goes before us…’:  Do we desire life, do we long for freedom, do we want the love that is stronger than death, and the joy that makes our lives complete, then we must follow.  Holy Week is like a ‘bas relief’ painting:  it puts front and center the Paschal Mystery, a mystery that is woven in our lives.   Our lives are stamped with the ‘paschal mystery’, stamped with this paradigm of Life that rises up out of death, the precious life that expands, with each surrender to the Divine will.  We are to follow with a living faith…a faith alive, a faith that can move mountains of doubt and transform negativity, despair, and hopelessness.  He goes before us showing us the Way, embodying the Way that is to be our way to life and unconditional love.  He goes before us right now.   What will this ‘renewed encounter with Jesus’ offer us, what will it ask of us, what will it open up for us as we follow? 
The Holy Thursday liturgy revolves around two rituals: the Eucharist and the washing of the feet.  I continue to re-read Br. Christophe’s journal, Born From the Gaze of God.  It is one of those books where entries that I did not focus on before suddenly jump out and speak new things that were not there before!  The three short, pithy texts that I will read give us a glimpse into Christophe’s encounter with Jesus.  To me these texts express Eucharist and what Jesus is communicating in the washing of his disciples’ feet.  The first: “To be sowers of love just where we are” (p.xiv).  Next: “It’s better to be the Body of your Presence resolutely and simply, to be simply there in a relation of love, vulnerable, exposed” (p.xiv).  The third: “Yes, to be your body here” (p.8).  These words of Christophe bring Eucharist into daily life; they are a way of washing another’s feet in whatever relationships we meet in ordinary moments of our lives.  We are called, each one of us, to be Christ’s body, the body of his Presence as we follow the Way of the gospel. 

What is the force, the power behind the Paschal Mystery?  It is Love…unconditional Love.  This is what comes to us in the encounter.  As we receive this Gift, we are transformed within our heart’s depths and almost imperceptibly we begin to embody this same unconditional Love….Of course, we will fall many times along the way.  Still, with each ‘renewed encounter with Christ’, we will once again be met by unconditional Love.  What will be the outcome if we engage in this living encounter with Love?  It will be impossible not to live by and give what we have received.  We will be more like Christ in mind and heart, and this will spill over into our choices and relationships.

Listen to another encounter of Br. Christophe: “Since here you are hard at work in my heart.  Ah, first of all: disarm it.  And if the thing is not too hard—this whole self of mine—purify me then I may perhaps be able to help you a little to LOVE” (p.201).  To pray: disarm my heart puts us in relationship, in an encounter with Love.   Such an authentic encounter with Christ will disarm us of our defenses, of our false sense of self, of our self-righteousness, of whatever keeps our hearts hardened.   This disarming, this opening of the heart, then enables us to receive the Love that is always coming towards us…the Love that can heal and transform the powers of darkness and death.  Yes, with this disarmed, converted heart, we become co-workers with Christ, helping to build up this body of God’s Love and Life!  And it does not matter what we are doing or how small the act: ‘sowing love right where we are’.

The gift of God’s Son: what we meet in the Eucharist is the gift of God’s unconditional Love…Love incarnate.  Through, with and in the One we are following, we encounter a Love that is fully surrendered, the only Love that is stronger than any power of evil and darkness. 

I conclude with yet another encounter of Christophe with Jesus:

“Today you tell your terrified disciples to row with the wind against them:
Courage: I am.  Do not be afraid.
If one understands the Eucharist, one understands everything” (p.29).

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Living the Truth

Fourth Sunday of Lent

I like to begin with the last sentence from the gospel of this Sunday and then move to the beginning two sentences of the same gospel.   The last sentence reads: ‘Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his or her works may be clearly seen as done in God’ (John 3:21).  Is this not something we all aspire to, to live the truth?  This is what brings meaning to one’s life; this is what makes us free and joyful.  It is what reveals our true face and helps us glimpse the face of God.   But ‘living the truth’ is no small matter.  It involves I think what is said in the first two sentences of the gospel: ‘Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son…’ (John 3:14-15).  Jesus offered his life totally and was raised up, and in his raising, he opened for us life, life that is divine and so ‘eternal’.  The image of ‘lifting up’ has a ‘saving effect’.  For us, living the truth involves surrender, dying to all that is not true, and is not giving life.  We die, like the seed falling into the ground, for more life, for more of the truth of God’s life and our lives to be revealed….As we surrender we are lifted up to a more profound level of seeing and believing: we see more the truth of our selves and one another….We are lifted up to see yet again the love God has for us.

The commentators that I read all refer to this gospel as revealing the immense love of God.  Von Balthasar says it the most clearly:  “The Gospel gives us a chance to revise our understanding of divine judgment during a time of repentance.  The decisive point is that whoever scorns God’s love condemns himself.  God is not at all eager to condemn people.  God is nothing but love, love that goes as far as his sacrificing his Son out of love for the world” (Light of the Word, p.177-178).  It seems to me that ‘living the truth’ is possible only so far as we know and receive this love that God has for us…and we know it most concretely through the self-offering of Jesus.  The closer we can come to Christ in his Word and through how he lived, the closer we are to experiencing and receiving God’s love.

The reality that Jesus became fully human says his humanity is bound up with ours, whether we are aware of it or not.  This is how close God’s love is.  To read again from von Balthasar’s commentary: “The whole question is whether we accept God’s love so that it can prove effective and fruitful in us, or whether we cower in our darkness in order to evade the light of love” (p.178).  These are powerful images:  our acceptance of God’s love makes this love ‘effective and fruitful in us’…imagine this!  Or, dear sisters, do we rather ‘cower in our darkness’ fearful of the truth of where we are in any given moment…forgetting that love encompasses any truth.  We are raised up to a deeper and fuller truth by love.

To summarize what I gleaned in my lectio on this gospel:  to live the truth involves dying, surrender, letting go and we will be raised up by love.  To live the truth pivots around our faith: do we accept God’s love for us moment within moment.  Our faith is not static; it needs to be renewed daily.  So we are ushered into the fourth Sunday and week of Lent remembering God’s great gift of love given to us in Jesus.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Transfiguration - Transformed in Love

The gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent is always the Transfiguration; it parallels the First Sunday   What immediately precedes the Temptations of Jesus is his baptism in the Jordan.  As Jesus comes up out of the waters he hears the voice of his Abba, ‘You are my beloved Son’.  Michael Casey in his book, Fully Human Fully Divine, translates this phrase with a slight change:   ‘You are my Son, you are loved by me, in you I find my delight’ (Mark 1:11).  Here in changing ‘beloved’ to ‘you are loved by me’ we sense more powerfully that God has poured the fullness of his Love into his Son.  Jesus faces the temptations in and through the experience of knowing the depth and breadth of love from his Father.  Today’s gospel of the Transfiguration of Jesus repeats once again the total Love of the Father towards his Son.  As Jesus is transfigured once again a voice is heard.  And what does it say?  Using Michael Casey’s translation:  ‘This is my Son whom I love.  Listen to him’ (Mark 9:8).  Unconditional love bestowed on Jesus at his baptism and re-affirmed at his Transfiguration as his ministry is taking a final turn, leading him to his death and Resurrection.
of Lent, which always has the gospel of the Temptations.

Unconditional Love:  this is the face we behold at the Transfiguration, this is the One whom we are to become more and more like…this is the One in whom we move, and live and have our being.  Michael Casey writes: “By being instructed to listen to Jesus, the disciples are being informed that he is God’s voice on earth because this man is, in reality, the Son of God’s love” (p.195).  The Son of God’s love, the face of Christ is the face of unconditional Love, the Love that Jesus has received from the Father.  And we see through Jesus’ life how this unconditional Love is incarnated in both word and deed.  The Jesuit scripture scholar Fr. John Donahue comments the following on this gospel: “Such a mystery of total self-giving is rooted in the very nature of God, ‘who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us’(Hearing the Word of God, p.44).  These words I believe give us some idea of what unconditional Love is: total self-giving…The incarnate face of God’s unconditional Love is Christ.  Jesus gave his Self totally for us…at the root of unconditional Love is the gift of Self.

With the memorial Mass that we had for Val McKee I was very moved by the different ways the family saw their mother…grandmother.  She lived…she reflected ‘unconditional love’.  Obviously it was not 100% of the time, but this was what she was growing into; she lived it enough, embodied it enough that this was one of the main memories left in the heart and consciousness of the family.

What precedes the gospel of the Transfiguration in all three synoptic accounts is the first prediction of the passion of Jesus.  Then, right after Jesus’ prediction of his passion he says: if you are to be my disciples you must take up your cross and follow me, for whoever wants to save their life will lose it and whoever surrenders their life will find it.  There is no following of Jesus, there is no Transfiguration without the cross.  There are no attachments with unconditional Love…it is unrequited…expecting nothing in return….surrender, letting go free us to love without condition.  We live it when we take up our own cross, when we die to our selfish self for greater life and love.  What transforms evil, what transforms those dark, negative pulls into what is not life?  It is only the power of Love…love transforms, love absorbs the darkness and transfigures it into life.  We see this lived fully and completely in Jesus and as his followers this is the work of discipleship that we are called to continue.

What passages in the gospels show us show us Jesus embodying ‘unconditional love’?   What in the writings of St. Paul do we find him speaking of this Love that is stronger than death?  To name a few from the Gospels:  how many times must I forgive?  Jesus says, ‘70 times 7’, that is infinitely.  With the woman caught in adultery from John’s gospel: Jesus says ‘Whoever has not sinned throw the first stone?’  One by one the accusers leave and Jesus goes a step further with the woman:  ‘Woman, I don’t condemn you…go and do not sin again’.    And this saying: ‘If you are struck on one cheek offer the other as well’.  Don’t return hurt for hurt.  And, ‘Love your enemies’.  Loving those who love you is easy…but love your enemies.

If we turn to St. Paul:  the Philippians hymn about Jesus is a hymn of unconditional Love; ‘his state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God…but emptied himself….’  In Romans St. Paul tells us that nothing can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ…this is the power of Love. 

The message of today’s gospel is to be transformed in love, that is the love that has no conditions and expects nothing back for its self-offering.  This is the love that is ready to stretch itself in the shape of a cross.  This is the love that Jesus meets us with daily.  To paraphrase Pope Francis from a talk several years ago: ‘stop and contemplate the face of Jesus’…do this in order to transformed in love and to put into practice this love with which we are loved.  With Jesus we can love unconditionally.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

What are you seeking?

‘What are you looking for?’  ‘What are you seeking?’  This is the first question in John’s gospel.  It is God’s question addressed by Jesus to his first would-be disciples and now, in this present moment, this Divine question Jesus addresses to each one of us.

As important as our questions are, what about God’s questions to us?  The interior dynamic shifts, does it not?  Can you sense or feel the difference?  God, addressing us personally, in the form of a question and if we let it in, God’s question speaks to the heart.  ‘What are you looking for?’  Or, as another translation has it, ‘What are you seeking?’  As we let God’s question circulate around our heart and listen, how will we respond, how will we engage this eternal question?  If we truly feel into this question of God, I think we will discover that contained in the question are at least these two things:  first, God desires relationship with us, and second, God is searching out the essence of who we are. 

This whole idea of God’s questions came to me from Sr. Jeremy Hall’s book Silence, Solitude, Simplicity.  She has several chapters on this theme and points out that there are over 350 questions of God in the Bible.  She was a scripture scholar and still it is evident from her writing that she has prayed with God’s questions in her own life.  Listen to what she says:  “If we hear God’s questions in the depth of our hearts, hearing personally as they are personally addressed, they will call us; they will challenge us; they will sometimes unsettle us.  But they can bring us, by God’s grace in the power of those words themselves and in us, to freedom, to more life, to deeper love” (p.126).  So, dear sisters, can we hear Jesus asking us right now: ‘What are you looking for?’  ‘What are you seeking?’

I mentioned at the beginning that this question to us is inviting two things from the side of God:  God is seeking relationship with us and God is searching out the essence of who we are, of who we are becoming.  ‘What are you looking for?’  Am I looking to be right?  Am I looking for this job, this title?  Am I looking to have my way?  Sr. Jeremy says that this question is a momentous one because “what or whom we desire is who we really are” (p.131).  She will go on to place this question in the context of Merton’s distinction of false and true self.   What is striking to me is that each question of God is pregnant with life in its challenge, in the utter truth it is breathing forth.  In the question, God is reaching out to help us find more of our essence, of our truest self…. As we receive God’s question, we will recognize those inner movements of where our pushy or hurt ego extinguishes any hope of the Spirit speaking its wisdom, or where this clamoring ego loses any sense of purity of heart and intention.   The Divine question helps reveal the false movements that come up in our hearts and that come up with a lot of emotional intensity and self-righteousness…Allowing the question of Jesus to be our anchor in the moment can lead us back to our center, to that self which is true and knows to whom and to what it longs to serve.

At the beginning of John’s gospel we have Jesus asking: ‘What are you looking for?’  Near the end of the gospel Sr. Jeremy points out that when Jesus meets Mary Magdalene at the tomb he asks her ‘Whom are you looking for?’  Is this not a profound movement of the journey, like the stroke of an artist’s paint brush, a stroke that completes the painting.  These two questions of God to us are inextricably linked.   And they can invariably lead us home to our true self and to the God whom we are devoting our lives to and ready to give all at any moment.  ‘What’ are you seeking, and the movement to ‘whom’ are you seeking: intimacy deepens…the relationship to God becomes stronger, more real, more embodied.  Our true self in Christ grows as we allow God to encounter us in these questions, questions that are so full of potential life and love.