On May 23, 2021 we will celebrate the great Feast of Pentecost. The Feast of Pentecost is much more than simply observing the historical event of the Holy Spirit coming to the early Church Community. Yes, we observe that fact and what is often called the birth of the Church, but Pentecost is a reminder to those who wish to be Disciples of Jesus that we have been given a great gift to assist us in our endeavor to live the life of true discipleship. So Pentecost, is an opportunity to be renewed in that gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit.
After the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, the followers of Jesus were living with a frightening experience. If Jesus could be arrested and crucified, what did they face? Even with the Resurrected Jesus appearing to them, the fear would not disappear. Imagine yourself in a very new experience that seemed so compelling that you were willing to risk everything, leave everything and everyone and adopt a whole new way of life. However, you did this only because you had complete trust in the message of the person who was leading the whole adventure. All of a sudden, that person is gone. You have no one to go back to. You have no back up plan. You have put everything, your whole life, into that person and what he offered. He is gone, now what? Find the next adventure? Abandon the way of life that seemed so right and fulfilling? Settle for something else? Well, some followers of Jesus did just give up. For those who stayed together, there must have been something pulling them back from the urge to flee. Those followers were still at the point where a great deal of what Jesus said did not make complete sense. How could they, a group of ordinary people living ordinary lives, ever do what this man Jesus said they would be able to do? They lived in an occupied land. They were considered to be a threat to the Religious leaders of the time. They were considered to be crazy by members of their own families. Is it any wonder that they were afraid? It should be no surprise that they huddled together, out of sight and hopefully, forgotten about.
Then what Jesus promised would happen, actually took place and something new burst into their lives, their hearts and their minds. As promised, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate came upon them. The disciples were filled with a new found energy. The fears that had kept them locked behind doors could no longer keep them shackled with terror. The followers of Jesus had an energy, an enthusiasm, a motivation greater than anything they had ever experienced before. They were filled with the Holy Spirit. This was not some kind of magic. It was not a reward for saying the right prayers or making the acceptable promises. This was God coming to dwell within them simply because God could. God was not merely living with those frightened followers, God was offering to dwell within them. This what we celebrate at Pentecost – the fact that God came and offered to live within anyone who would accept God’s gift. With the Incarnation, God was revealed in the taking on of human flesh. With Pentecost, God was experienced in the very flesh of the human beings that Jesus lived with, talked with and made promises to. Pentecost is a big deal! Pentecost is the reminder that we can have God dwelling within us.
So how do we get to that point? How do we become the people who are transformed because we are able to experience God dwelling within us? The first thing is to acknowledge the ways we live in fear. While we are all taught that fear is a negative experience with very negative consequences, we are also very often taught that acknowledging that we have fears makes us lesser human beings. We push fears down within us. At some point individuals can be so filled with fears that they are most afraid that their fears will be discovered. This creates the need for a persona that releases some of those fears in ways that will still camouflage the reality that there are fears in residence. Those fears are manifested as racism, discriminations of all forms, bullying, quests for power, longings for honor and accolades, demeaning others, the practice of greed and so on. All of these things are done just so that an individual will not have to face that fears are controlling the life of that person. So the first thing that we must do to prepare to have God dwell within us, is to expose the fears that are already living within us. The fears of the early disciples were on full display – they were behind locked doors. They did not bury their fears and march out into the street proclaiming the Good News as Jesus instructed them. No, they showed their fears to one another. They acknowledged their fears to themselves. There was room for God to take up residence in their hearts.
Even if just to yourself, name your fears. Doing so will not make you less of a human being, but it will make you ready!
The season of Lent begins rather early this year. Ash Wednesday is observed on February 17. Many people have really great intentions for Lent. This will be the year when I do something meaningful, something that will boost my spirituality or something that gets me on track to be a better person. These are all familiar and often sincere intentions for the season of Lent. Then, something happens. Lent sneaks up on people, as so often things do. Life does not go as planned. Some new situation demands our attention. Some change in the flow of life wreaks havoc on our energy or time or mood. Good intentions remain as something we will get to one day. Or for some, Lent is simply the time to repeat what has been done every year. Give up something and hope that it will have some kind of positive influence and fulfill the moral obligation that is called for during Lent. Yet, Lent should be more. Perhaps first we should be sure that we understand the meaning, purpose and call of Lenten renewal.
Lent is indeed a time of spiritual renewal. For this to be understood, we first have to be convinced that we need renewal. This is not to belittle ourselves. It is simply acknowledgment of the fundamental reality that we are finite, weak and sinful human beings. Some people have a very difficult time accepting this reality. If that is the case, think about it. Why be ashamed to admit it? Why believe that it makes any of us any less than anyone else? It is no secret. No one is perfect. No one is blemish free. No one has made all the right choices. No one is free from regrets. Again, we do not admit this reality to belittle ourselves. We do not embrace the truth of our weakness to believe that we are unlovable, unwanted or unneeded. We admit it so that we simply accept reality. We accept and acknowledge it so that we have the opportunity to grow, develop and become more. God knows the reality of our condition. God knows every detail of our weaknesses, missteps, errors, choices and God knows every sin that has weighed us down, kept us back and prevented us from being the people that God created us to be, the people we actually want to be. In such knowledge, God has not abandoned us, unfriended us or stopped caring about our welfare. Quite the contrary, because of our weaknesses, sins and bad choices, God has decided to continue to love us. Why else would God have taken on human form and come among us? Why else would God have undergone the horrible, humiliating and painful experience of crucifixion and death? Even though such a magnificent display of love did not change every heart, remove all sin and put every human being on the right path, God has not given up. God gives us more opportunities to change. God gives us more chances to turn toward God. God continues to love us, care for us and call us to the path that will help us be more like the people God intended us to be. Lent is a time to focus on the reality of God’s love. Lent is a time to acknowledge that God’s love is enough motivation for us to choose to improve, choose to grow and choose to draw closer to the One who loves us unconditionally. God has given us the season of Lent to focus on those things. We must be willing to hear the words of John the Baptist to reform our lives. We must hear the words of Jesus and believe that now is the acceptable time. We must hear those words not as condemnation, but as invitation. Lent is an invitation to embrace God’s love in such a way that we see the possibilities and take the appropriate steps to change possibility into reality. Lent, Reconciliation, and all that God has done for us call us to do more than go through life. We are called to develop a willingness and a desire to participate in the fullness of life.
So that still leaves us with the decision of what to do for Lent. Put simply, we are called to change something that prevents us from seeing the possibilities that exist within ourselves, prevents us from fully embracing God’s plan or prevents us from growing in our relationship with God. For every person the “what” to do for Lent will be different. The starting point has to be self-evaluation that examines your life to honestly accept what is getting in the way. It may be that something has to be eliminated or it may be that something has to be taken to the next level or it may be that something has to be added to your life and your relationship with God. If a person is absorbed in alcohol and alcohol is getting in the way of relationships with others and with God, it may be time to cut that out of your life. If a person with diabetes continues to consume more sugar than advised, it may be time to work on eliminating that consumption by reflecting on the damage that is being done and the worry being produced in loved ones. If a person wastes a great deal of money gambling and it is damaging relationships, it may be time to eliminate that from your life. If prayer life is simply a routine of rattling off some memorized prayers or only talking to God when something is needed or a new crisis has popped up and has become something stale, superficial or unsatisfying, it may be time to kick your prayer life up a bit. If a person becomes a maniac when getting behind the wheel of the car and creates fear to others on the road or presents a danger to pedestrians, perhaps it is time to work on understanding how such an attitude can ruin lives and even lead to death. If life is all about video games, television, texting, or social media, perhaps it is time to limit the amount of time so that relationships, responsibilities and growth do not become just a dream. If your opinion of others, events and experiences seem to mostly convey complaining, insults and unhappiness, perhaps it is time to notice the positive in people, events and experiences. If nothing is offered to help alleviate the sufferings of others, it may be time to reevaluate the basic commands Jesus has left us. Each and every one of us has a role to play in God’s plan for humanity. It is only through growing in our understanding that we can fulfill our responsibilities. The things that stand in our way of fulfillment are things that need to be changed. The things that we fail to do as disciples of Jesus need to added if we are to achieve fulfillment. The attitudes and behaviors that do not reveal possibilities stand in the way of fulfillment and must be challenged, reflected on and adjusted if we are to become the people God created us to be. No matter who we are, no matter what we have experienced, no matter what we do, we are are incomplete and require on-going conversion and growth. This is the point of Lent – acknowledge, reflect, plan, implement and sustain the changes that are required. Lent is a starting point for on-going conversion, a jumping off point. In fact, we may not finish what we begin during Lent but we must be willing to keep going after Easter so that the changes become permanent no matter how long it takes. Perhaps it is better to actually think about “what am I going to begin for Lent?” rather than “What am I going to do for Lent?”
Give Lent some thought so that you do not miss the opportunity to experience the kind of on-going conversion that will open your eyes, mind and heart to a deeper relationship with God and find some of the hidden potential that waits to be discovered in each one of us. Start a spiritual journey in some way that will be sustainable and help you to experience the feeling of being lifted up. After all, God tries to raise up up all of the time.
If you would like to share any idea for Lent, feel free to comment so that others may be inspired to incorporate something into their own Lenten discipline.
Like many people, I was shocked as I watched the events that unfolded at the Capitol on Wednesday, January 6. There was part of me that could not believe that this was actually happening while at the same time, part of me was not surprised at all given all the displays and statements of hate, violence, divisiveness, selfishness and self-serving idealisms that have been growing and spreading in so many different ways. There have always been divisions, differing opinions, various points of view and disagreements. However, in recent years, the anger over such disagreements has increased to the point that civility, listening and working on compromises have all but disappeared especially when it comes to politics. The founders of our country did not come together holding hands and singing love songs. They had differing views on what the journey to democracy would look like. They had disagreements about procedures, policies and laws that would govern the efforts to begin a government that would serve all people. The only reason that we have a Republic today is because those involved in the formation were willing to listen, compromise, adapt, yield and in some cases, let go of their own desires and beliefs. Why are we at this point now where there are so many incidents of hatred, stubbornness, name-calling, attempts to diminish the worth of another human being and a refusal to accept anything except what is wanted and when it is wanted?
While I admit that I did feel some anger that people would desecrate the symbol of what we as Americans hold near and dear, I also felt pity for many of those who were fooled into believing that violence was the way to get what they wanted. I felt sorrow for those who for one reason or another are guided, directed and manipulated by conspiracy theories, half-truths, lies and deception. It does not excuse their actions and certainly does not exempt them from dealing with the repercussions of their choices, but it left me feeling sorry that so many fell prey to those who seek power, prestige and glory at any cost. I felt sad that some people are left looking for meaning and become easy targets for those who want to be viewed as important no matter or who it leads down the path to destruction. I can’t say that I felt much sorrow for those who were responsible for leading the people to believe that this was the path to getting what they wanted. It does, however, bogle my mind that so many cannot or will not see how they are manipulated. I do not care what flavor of politics that person adheres to, whether to the right or to the left, it just amazes me that some people simply refuse to see that they are being manipulated, not to promote something that is beneficial, but to create power, glory and status for an individual. Every conspiracy theory, every lie that is told, every half-truth that is uttered is born of some individuals desire to get what they want. These individuals know that there are others who feel a yearning, believe that something is being withheld that is preventing the achievement of happiness or someone seeks to destroy them. They may not know who will fall victim to their efforts, but they understand very well that someone will and then a movement is born. Such things have been around for a very long time but for some reason we have reached the point where those who accept the conspiracy theories, lies and manipulations believe that anyone who does not accept it is the enemy, are out to destroy them or are withholding the key ingredient to bliss. At the source is a craving for power. That which drives it is greed. That which sustains it is deception.
I remember all too well watching the events of September 11, 2001. It was a very sad, grim and sobering time for the United States as terrorist attacks were carried out within the confines of our borders. So many lives were lost. So many people were injured. The horrible feelings of vulnerability, fear, confusion and bewilderment filled the air. By the evening of that fateful day I felt dread, fear, heartache and had the belief that nothing could possibly be okay again. But then September 12th happened. It was a day filled with people coming together. It was a day to help anyone in need of help. It was a day when there were so many volunteering to help that some enthusiastic volunteers had to be turned away. It was a day when those who were stranded far from home because airports were closed and no air travel was permitted were welcomed, supported and given comfort. It was a day where divisions disappeared, disagreements were forgotten and a concern for others filled the hearts of people. It was a day of prayer as people recognized that we needed something greater than that which resides within the hearts of human beings to ever continue on, heal and have any hope for a brighter future. I remember being encouraged by so many wonderful signs of people coming together, lifting one another up and becoming symbols of hope. In all of these actions a clear message was sent to those who perpetrated the horrible acts of violence. It was a message that said that their desire to instill fear, their acceptance of the conspiracy theories and lies and their hope for dominance would never be victorious. Their actions left sadness and grief at the loss of life, but they would never achieve what they were really seeking. They had failed. I had hope. I believed that a new day had been born. I believed that everyone who had witnessed the resulting actions could now understand the promise of Resurrection in a more personal way. Yet in the twenty plus years since then, much of what had been achieved in those days and weeks after the horrible terrorist attack seems to have eroded. Instead of working for a stronger sense of unity, a greater willingness to help and a more profound understanding of Resurrection, we have been moving to greater individualism, more visible acts of selfishness and greater belief in wanting what we want, how we want it and when we want it. This is the new terrorism that we face.
I have listened as too many people have justified lies and behavior that should be unacceptable to any civilized people. I have become concerned that as soon as some do not get their way, there is a bombardment of insults, the other person is demeaned, bullied and slandered. I have witnessed some taking on the approach of terrorists to get their own way. They try to instill fear, enlist the support of others and act as though they are justified in what they are doing.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still signs of kindness, love and selflessness. I have not become fatalistic. However, I see in even some who are willing to help, support and lift up a sense that they are only interested in displaying those traits to those who believe what they believe, want what they want and are not on the opposite side of ideologies, goals and desires. It is worrisome and causes me to wonder what will possibly lie ahead for us. I do hope and pray that we become once again the people who learn how to disagree civilly, challenge compassionately and recognize that the quest for power, prestige, wealth and status can so easily lead us away from that which will allow us to be happy, prevent us from celebrating that which is truly important and deter us from recognizing the true blessings in life.
As people of faith, our complete trust must be in God and God alone so that everything we are involved in, even politics, can benefit from the way that God has called us to live. Throughout history we have heard the results that come from putting aside God’s ways. Misery, unhappiness, agony, war, violence and suffering for many is always the end result of believing that a way other than God’s is better. Peace, togetherness, an ability to overcome life’s challenges and hope comes from following the way that has been given to us by God. When people have justified greed, selfishness, self-serving laws and corruption, societies suffer. When people have forgotten the call to help those who suffer and instead buy into the pursuit of power, glory and prestige, they become weak. This is true in every aspect of life from individual businesses to Government to even the Church. Yet, this is not something that can be forced on people, it must be accepted. It must be witnessed.
I believe God is calling each person to open our hearts to a way of life that calls us to live as those who know that we are blessed by God. We are called to accept that we do not get to determine the value of another’s life because God values us all. We are called to accept that we do not have to waste our time and efforts justifying our mistakes because we know that God is ready to forgive. We are called to believe that we were not made to seek power, prestige and glory because God has already given us what we need and promised us eternal glory. We are called to be those who do not sulk when we do not get our own way because we have complete trust in God’s way.
I pray that rather than buying into or promoting conspiracy theories, lies and half truths, we may be strong in the belief that truth brings light and gives us the common goal of overcoming challenges, obstacles and disappointments.
I pray that government may work to once again become the place for an exchange of ideas, a willingness to work for all people, where all sides are heard and compromise keeps us from thinking that the extremes can bring what we are looking for.
I pray that disagreements do not negate the worth of the other human being. That name calling, insults and the demeaning of others does not remain as an acceptable replacement for the expression of views, exchange of ideas and the opportunity to expand or even change what we accept.
I pray that not getting one’s own way is not viewed as weakness, defeat or a lessening of a person’s worth but instead becomes an opportunity for growth, continued discussion and acceptance that one person is never always right.
I pray that our country may be a beacon of hope, an inspiration for mutual cooperation, an example of compassion and a symbol of what it means to view every person as meaningful, important and a gift from God.
I pray that each one of us may learn from the moments of life that have offered us hope, wisdom, peace and the revelation of God’s presence.
Lent will begin on February 26 this year with the observance of Ash Wednesday. As we draw closer, each person who desires the benefits that are offered by seeking renewal during the Season of Lent should ask the important question, “Am I ready for Lent?” For many faithful people the preparation for Lent simply consists of making the decision about what they will give up or what extra they will do for Lent. However, that is really a bad place to start and end in the preparation for Lent. The real starting point in preparing for Lenten renewal is discerning what you need. What should change in your life? What needs to be eliminated or at least be brought under control? What is governing your life that should not have as much control over you? What should be added to your life? What is missing from your life that, if added, stands the chance of opening you to the real potential of experiencing and being changed by God’s unfailing love?
Perhaps we need to step back for a moment to think about what Lent is really all about. Lent is a time of renewal, growth in faith and coming to a deeper understanding of who we are as God’s people. It is out of love that God calls each one of us to be renewed in our commitment to the way of life that God gives us to follow. God has given us a way of life to follow, not because God has a desire to control us like puppets or robots, but because God wants us to grow. God wants us to be victorious in overcoming our weaknesses. God wants us to find real, lasting and nourishing happiness. While we are called to grow in faith, holiness and our relationship with God each and every day of our lives, Lent gives us an opportunity to really focus our attention on that endeavor. Let’s face it, lives are busy. The things that make demands on our time continues to grow no matter what stage of life we are in at the moment. If we expect to accomplish something, many people need a specific time to get it done. Otherwise, we fall into that unfortunate trap of believing that we will “get to it one day.” If we are honest, that statement translates into “it is just not that important.” The “I’ll get to it someday” items on our to-do lists rarely get accomplished. So Lent comes to us as a focused time where we are called to experience growth, renewal and a better understanding of our relationship with God.
For far too long, the dominate view of Lent has simply been one where it is a time to pay for our wrong-doings. The view was, and still is for too many well-intention people, that we gave up candy, alcohol or something else in order to suffer for all the ways we did not succeed in our call to holiness. If you did not suffer during Lent, you were doing it wrong.
When I was about 10 years old, I gave up comic books for Lent. My teacher in Catholic school had told us about the need to give up something that was very special and important to you so that you were suffering for your sins. Jesus suffered and Lent was our turn to suffer. Comic books were very important to me. I loved the life of superheroes. I was thrilled to think about having superpowers at my disposal so that I could help people. I was always ready for the next edition of Superman, Spider-man, Thor, Green Lantern and others to be available. I was always willing to sacrifice to get the money to buy the next comic book. I would collect returnable bottles and return them to the store in order to collect enough money. I would get up early on Saturday mornings to collect newspapers from the trash and haul them in my wagon to the scrap yard hoping that there would be enough for a few new comic books in my collection. If I was lucky, I would get enough for the latest comic books and new baseball cards to add to my growing collection. So when I was told that I needed to give up something important to pay for my sins, I went with the top of my list, comic books which were the nourishment for what many called a vivid imagination in a 10-year-old boy. Even at that age, the results did not impress me. Easter came and I was still committing the sins of a 10-year-old. All during Lent I was obsessed with the thoughts of the satisfaction that would come when I went to the corner store after Easter to purchase all the comic books I missed during Lent. Indeed, I spent all my post-Lent free time catching up. Nothing changed in my life, except for suffering for the entirety of Lent without knowing what my beloved superheroes had been up to. I guess that I had a bit of satisfaction when my teacher said she was proud of my willingness to go without comic books for Lent, but the suffering brought about nothing else. The whole focus was on suffering for the sake of suffering.
The fact of the matter is; we cannot pay for our sins. Jesus already did that. What is that makes us believe that Jesus did not cover the whole debt in its totality? My mental image for this is that of two people grabbing hold of a restaurant bill arguing about who is going to pay. Our faith tells us, that Jesus suffered and died to pay for our sins. We should be grateful. We should be ecstatic. We should be filled with joy. It is gratitude and joy that should direct our Lenten efforts. When we acknowledge the magnitude of the gift that Jesus has given us, we then stand the chance of better appreciating and understanding what God wants for us. Rather than believing that we are somehow paying for our sins we understand that true gratitude from demonstrating that we do not want Jesus’ gift to be in vain. In appreciation and love we should want the kind of life that God wants us to have – the kind of life that Jesus paid dearly for us to enjoy. Even if it takes a lifetime, we should have the desire to creep closer and closer to God. That is what Lent is all about. Growing closer to God because we realize and appreciate what God has done for us. This is why it is important to think about our Lenten journey. We can get to Easter with a true sense of renewal and growth or we can come to Easter thinking only how good it is that our Lenten sacrifice is over and done with for another year – ready to gorge ourselves on whatever it was that we abstained from during Lent.
If we expect Lent to have real results, if we truly desire renewal, we must be willing to discern what it is that we need most in order to get closer to living the kind of life we know God wants us to live. What that is and how it is approached will be different for different people. There is no “one-size-fits-all” journey to renewal. When Jesus was in this world, he offered renewal to many people. When people came to him Jesus looked at each person and ascertained what that individual needed most to experience renewal. For a rich young man, renewal would come only if he gave away his possessions because they were obviously in his way. For a woman who was ill for a long time renewal would come only when she acknowledged the strength of her faith. For another, renewal would come when he returned to his family after experiencing healing even though he wanted to remain with Jesus and the Apostles. In discerning what we need most in order to draw closer to God we will find that sometimes we need to put something down and sometimes we need to pick something up. There are things, habits, mindsets and behaviors that definitely are impediments to a stronger relationship with God and we would do well to put them down and walk away from them. These should be things that we know we should change not just during Lent, but permanently. If you give up video games or television during Lent let it be because you recognize then need to spend some of that time doing other things. Sure, you may go back to watching some television or playing video games after Easter, but the desire and goal should be to do so in moderation and not have every free moment be absorbed by these things. If something is getting in our way of living God’s life, then by all means we should try to put it down, but for good and not simply as a Lenten exercise. Even if we are trying to reduce our use of something or participation in something, the reduction is the goal. Otherwise, we may find that after the period of abstinence during Lent is over we are in even a worse situation than before. In some cases, Lent will just be the start of something that we will have to work on for a long time after Lent is over. Authentic renewal means working on a permanent change to whatever is controlling us in a negative way or getting in the way of our relationship with God. Yes, this may bring about suffering. However, suffering is not the goal. Change is the goal. Allowing Lent to be a time of suffering for the sake of suffering does nothing to help us live the life that is fitting for Children of God or experience the renewal that Gods calls us to go through.
Once we have discerned our personal need for Lent, we must also discern what kind of renewal we hope to experience from the practice. If you decide to give up television or video games for Lent, what do you hope will be changed? If television or video games get in the way of your relationships, then the expected outcome must be reducing the amount of time spent with television so that you can spend more time with those who really matter. Or perhaps the amount of time in front of the screen prevents you from reading the Bible, praying or doing some of the activities that make you feel productive and satisfied. The purpose of refraining from television would be to free up time for something more that will help you be renewed. Sure, you may go back to television or video games or whatever after Lent is over, but hopefully not to the detriment of the other more worthwhile activities. Renewal would come from being nourished by more than that which has consumed your time. If you simply go back to the old ways after Lent, where is the renewal? How are you changed? Any suffering that occurred will have been wasted. Lent is for change, renewal and growth.
To participate in Lent does not necessarily require us to give something up. Discernment may in fact help us to realize that something is missing from our Christian life and we need to add more. Jesus has called us to be among those who bring God’s presence into the world. Perhaps you are not using your talents, time and energy to help others, make a difference and allow God to be seen in you. Lent presents the opportunity to recognize and respond to Jesus’ call to discipleship. Discipleship requires a willingness to continue to grow. Perhaps reading some spiritual works can help with growth during Lent. Maybe coming to a better understanding of God’s laws and God’s way will allow you to better comprehend how God tried to guide us on our journey. Whether you choose to work in some way to assist those in need or open yourself to new wisdom and knowledge, the goal would still be to allow it to be something that will continue to be part of your life after the season of Lent. Lasting change brings real growth. In a spiritual sense, growth helps to better see with eyes of faith what God wants to do for us.
There are times when our needs are staring us right in the face and we fail to recognize how ignoring the obvious can limit our growth and hinder us from taking the next step in reaching our potential. Clutter in our lives can easily create obstacles to being free to take on new endeavors and may even cause a person to feel controlled by the clutter. Something as simple as an overcrowded closet can prevent us from feeling true peace. If a closet is so packed that you no longer know what you have, perhaps Lent is a good time to begin the process of restoring harmony. Take a bag or container and each day during Lent place one item in it. At the end of Lent, donate the items to a worthy cause. The clutter may not be all gone with the conclusion of Lent, but the process will have begun and success will come by continuing.
Taking one item a day out of an over packed closet may seem insignificant, it may help us to realize that we very often have to go slow but deliberate in our quest for ongoing conversion. Our expectations must be realistic and manageable. If not, all we do is set ourselves up to fail. Unrealistic expectations have caused far too many well-intention people to give up. When we allow our efforts to be realistic, we set ourselves up for success. Enthusiasm is a wonderful quality, but it can also cause us to bite off way more than we can chew. We have to be honest with our need to experience conversion but we must be just as honest in recognizing our limitations and weaknesses. Remembering that we do not have to do it all during Lent is beneficial to ultimate victory. Our Lenten endeavors are the beginning of change that is meant to be permanent. How fortunate we are that God is patient with us. God knows our limitations and calls us to persevere, even in setbacks, because God wants us to be victorious. Jesus demonstrated great patience with the Apostles and all the disciples. Jesus knew that they could not comprehend everything and get it it all correct quickly. Jesus gave his followers what they needed to begin the process of bringing the light of Christ to the world. In many ways, it remains a slow process. Over zealous efforts have seldom, if ever, been successful or maintained. Human limitations are real and if they are ignored can lead to a feeling that success is not attainable. In a moment of enthusiasm, Peter said that he would never deny Jesus and would follow Him anywhere. It was a noble statement and in the moment Peter most likely was very sincere. However, human limitations showed how dangerous it can be to place our trust in desire alone. Thankfully, Peter did not quit with the failure. Instead, he learned the value of taking one day at a time in our response to God. All people of faith should be grateful for God’s patience. God will show us what we need to do next. Many of those who are held up as examples of faithfulness and holiness had to learn that lesson. We are called to do what is required for the next step in ongoing-conversion process. While we may not be absolutely certain of the path we will journey, if we persevere and are patient, the destination will always be God.
Lent is an opportunity to be renewed in our commitment to continue our journey. Lent can only help us to be renewed if we take an honest, realistic approach to what we really need in order to grow in our recognition and appreciation of all that God has done for us and continues to offer to us.
May this Lenten season help us to turn back to God with all our hearts and fill us with new hope, increased faith and renewed commitment to the life that God desires for us.
This has been a very difficult couple of days. On Wednesday, February 13, the Catholic Dioceses of New Jersey released the names of all priests who have had credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors going back to the 1940’s. The number of names in New Jersey totaled 188. Of the 188 from the five Dioceses of New Jersey, 30 were on the list from the Diocese of Trenton. While I did not know when it would happen, I knew the list was coming. Ever since the Attorney General of Pennsylvania began an investigation into all of the Dioceses of Pennsylvania, a number of other Attorneys General have followed suit, including New Jersey. I have to say that I did not expect any startling surprises. After all, the terrible revelation sexual abuse and the inaction and cover-up by the Institutional Church has been going on for more than 15 years. I believed that by now, there could not be surprises. Indeed, many on the list were revealed previously. Some were highly publicized incidents. Quite a few of those listed were dead. The others were listed as being removed from active ministry. My belief was that certainly by this time, the Institutional Church and the hierarchy responsible for safeguarding the Faithful, especially children, would have revealed everything. How could there be any more bombshells? Well, how wrong I was. On the list from the Diocese of Trenton there were three bombshells for me. At least three priests who, even though they are listed as being “removed from ministry”, had in fact been in active ministry until very recently. At least two were retired, but free to help out in parishes and another served in an Office in Rome. I never would have suspected any of the three would have ever been on a list of abusers. One of those three I considered a friend. I have known him for more that 20 years. Never once did I suspect anything. I have to say that the lists released did not state the reason they were on the list, it was stated that there was at least one credible incident of abuse of a minor. When I was reading through the list of priests from the Diocese of Trenton, my first reaction was that it had to be a mistake, but as the fact slowly sank into my brain, I was simply left in shock. Shock turned to anger as the day wore on. As I tried to examine the anger, I realized that it was more at the Diocese and those in charge for allowing this whole thing to drag on. And now there is some buzz about there being more names that were not on the list for one reason or another. When will this end? Why prolong it? Why such a lack of sincerity and credibility? Several leaders stated that the names were released to promote the advancement of healing in the Church. How can we expect healing when the bandage is constantly being ripped off and the wound is gouged open with an instrument that has not been sterilized? How can you expect any results except for a festering, contaminated wound that grows more and more infected every day? That is were I feel that I am in this seemingly never-ending drama of the sexual abuse that has plagued the church for far too long. I find myself confused, shocked, dismayed, angry, sad and helpless to do anything that will bring about the change that is needed. I find that these emotions are directed at or brought on more by the failure of the Hierarchy than the perpetrators of the crimes. Oh, I am angry and upset that children would be treated as objects and harmed in the way they have been harmed. But the harm done by the failure to be transparent about the evils that exist, even in the Church, multiplied those actions, harmed even more people and have prevented healing from taking place.
The First Reading at Mass today came from Genesis 3:1-8. In the Reading we listened again to the ways in which Adam and Eve were tempted to do what they were told not to do. They gave in to the temptation and one of the first things they did was to try to hide from God. It was a foolish attempt. One does not hide from God – it is impossible. However, somewhere in their thought process they believed that they could. What would have happened if instead of hiding, they simply stood before God and admitted their guilt? How would things have been different? By attempting to hide, they decreased their trust in God and made a very bad thing worse. They gave in to fear and the consequences were far greater than perhaps they would have been if they had trusted in God’s love and mercy. They deprived themselves and the results were severe. Don’t get me wrong, there still would have been consequences for their actions – there are always consequences for choosing the wrong way – but were the consequences more severe simply because of their choice to try to hide? This is how I have come to view the choice of the Hierarchy of the Church. They hid because they failed to trust in God’s love and mercy and the love and mercy of the people that they have been called to serve. Whenever sin was present in the Church, and in whatever way it manifested itself, what would have happened if they simply stood before God and the People of God and admitted the wrongdoings? I happen to believe that God’s love and mercy would have been present. I believe that the love and mercy of the People of God would have been present. There certainly would have still been consequences, again, there are always consequences to sin, but we would not be suffering through what we are suffering through now, if instead of hiding, they chose to stand up and admit the sin that was present in the Church.
I pray every day for the victims of any abuse – I hope they experience the healing they need. I also pray that those in authority will do what is necessary to allow true healing to take place within the Church. Many of the People of God are wounded by anger, frustration, distrust and betrayal. Many are plagued by a feeling of suspicion that they do not want to be present in their lives. Many are grieving the loss of the sense of Church that they had growing up – a sense that Church was a place to be trusted, that it was safe, that it would never fail you. There was this sense not because the priests, religious and bishops were perfect, but because they would always point to God. Very little, if anything, in this whole sexual abuse issue has pointed to God. Certainly not in the abuse that has taken place and unfortunately, not in the aftermath of the abuse. When sin is present, whether in our own lives or in the collective life of an Institution like the Church, the only way to point to God is to stand up, admit the fault and trust that the love and mercy of God will show the way to healing, give the strength that is needed to endure the consequences and make the choice to fully believe that God’s way is better.
I know that my prayer will not force those in power to do what is necessary, repercussions and all, because God does not force anyone to do anything. So perhaps I need to adjust my prayer and pray that fear will not prevent them from coming out in the open to stand before God looking for mercy and love. I know that I need to pray for myself so that the anger and other emotions do not control me.
I wish I had something or could do something that would make this better or at least answer the questions that run through the minds of so many, including myself. I do not seem to have the answers or the ability to heal the wound that exists. I am trying to stand before God and simply ask, “What next.” So for now, it seems that I felt compelled to share my own reactions and feelings. In my heart, I do know that God will prevail. I do believe that out of this darkness there will come a new light. I do believe that the People of God will survive. I know all of this in my heart – now I have to deal with my impatience and feelings of helplessness.
So Lord, come and fill us with your love and mercy! Amen
In the 1st Reading we heard about Ahab, the king of the Israelites. Ahab was called, as king, to be an example of the ways of God. But Ahab’s position got the better of him. He came to view his role as one of power. He believed he should get whatever he wanted. Naboth had property next to the king’s lands. Ahab wanted Naboth’s property to turn it into a garden. Naboth refused to sell his home or land, no matter what Ahab offered. King Ahab was furious about the failed attempt to get what he wanted. Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, decided to take matters into her own hands and concocted a plan to get rid of Naboth. Jezebel succeeded and with Naboth out of the picture, Ahab took control of the property he wanted.
Of course God was not pleased with Ahab. Ahab was already on rocky ground in his relationship with God for several reasons, including worshipping pagan gods. This however, seemed to be the last straw and God stepped into the picture. Through the prophet, God told Ahab that horrible things would be unleashed because of his greed, selfishness, and the murder of Naboth. When Ahab heard about it from the prophet, he actually repented. Ahab put on sackcloth and humbled himself before God. God noticed Ahab’s contrition and spoke to the prophet again telling him that the horrors would not be unleashed in Ahab’s time, but in the life of Ahab’s son. This was what got my attention and caused me to ponder its message for us today.
I believe that is what we must always be mindful of the impact of what we do today on the generations to come. God has called us to a way of life that is not merely beneficial for our own lifetime, but can be a blessing for those in future times. Yet, it would seem that we must acknowledge that when we do not live according to God’s ways, we can be a curse for the generations to come. Pollution is certainly one thing that supports this. Failing to have a deep respect for God’s creation has unleashed many problems that will last for generations. Unjust wars throughout history had lasting consequences, even when all those who participated were no longer in this world. Even when the last perpetrator of sexual abuse of children and those who ignored what was taking place are dead, the sexual abuse crisis that took place in the church will plague people for a very long time. Greed, selfishness, deceit, manipulation, murder, lies, quest for power, war and all the other evils that are caused by human sinfulness unleash consequences just not for today, but for many tomorrows that will follow. This is what God seeks to protect us from. This is why God has given us a way of life that, when followed, will be a blessing not just for us today, but for those who will come after us. What will our actions today create for tomorrow? What will the choices we make today hold for the future? Blessing or curse? Ugliness or beauty? Happiness or grief? It does all matter. The ages are connected in one way or another. What we do TODAY matters.
I find myself pondering this in relationship to what is so present in the news at the present time. I wonder what will be unleashed on future generations when children are taken away from their parents at the border today. Yes, it is a hot button topic. The whole issue is complex and difficult. (the whole issue of immigration is not the topic here.) Yet, taking children away from parents seems wrong. It seems that children are being made into pawns for a political fight. No matter what side of the issue one is on, it seems wrong to use children, involve children or retaliate against children. What will be unleashed in the future because of these actions? What kind of hatred will grow in the hearts of some of the children who are going to be traumatized by the experience? Are we growing the terrorists of the future because of failing to take care of them in the present? What will the memories of those who have lived through it become in the tomorrows that lie ahead? Are we going to unleash radical consequences on innocent people in some unknown tomorrow? There is no way that this is in accord with the way of life that God has given to us to follow. There is no Scripture passage that can truthfully and honestly be used to support a decision to put children through this. The decision to act in a way that is defiant to God’s law will have an impact on some tomorrow. This will not be at God’s choosing, but because of the choice to ignore the way God has provided.
Of course, this does not just apply to this one issue. It is something that we should learn to think about in every decision we make and every action we take. Whether it is a choice to speed while driving, steal, lie, cheat, be selfish, harm another person’s reputation, be unfaithful, make something else more important than God or anything else that is contradictory to the way of life that God calls us to live, some tomorrow will reveal the consequences.
When we choose God’s way, open ourselves to trust that God knows more, learn what God calls us to do and pray for the guidance we need from God, the tomorrows will reveal blessings for us and for those to come.
Mahatma Gandhi must have understood this when he said, “The future depends on what you do today.”
What do you want tomorrow to hold?
(comments are welcome as long as they are civil and about the topic. All other comments will be deleted)
In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God. He likens it to seed that has been planted. This reminds us that the seeds of the Kingdom of God have been planted within each one of us. Each one of us has the opportunity to reveal God’s Kingdom to others.
No matter what the situation happens to be, we can reveal God’s Kingdom by showing comfort, relief, help, compassion, mercy, generosity, understanding and love. All of those qualities are of God’s Kingdom. Too often God’s Kingdom is being blocked out by discord, violence, selfishness, greed, a “me first” attitude, and even the belief that we are powerless. Yet, Jesus assures us that we can do something – we can trust that what God has planted inside of us, even though invisible to the eye, can help to make God’s plan visible to others.
May we never forget that God has planted something wonderful in us. Let’s be ready to show others how wonderful God’s Kingdom really is – and how it can roll back all that would seek to cover it up.
I think everyone remembers where they were 14 years ago when the horrific events took place. I was in another parish and had just finished the celebration of Mass. A staff member greeted me right away and said that there was an attack in New York. I felt the need to get to a television to find out what was happening but the Parish was not wired for cable television but we did have televisions that were used to play DVDs. So I quickly grabbed a wire hangar and fashioned an antenna to be able to use on one of the televisions to get news. After playing with the makeshift antenna for a few moments a picture came in. The images were a little fuzzy but I could hardly believe what was being shown. I remember telling myself that it can’t be real in spite of the images that were being played. Then, the second plane struck. News about the pentagon came in. News about another plane going down was broadcast. The disregard for human life was more than I could digest. Back at home later in the day, I sat in front of a clear picture on the television, but my mind was no less fuzzy about all that had taken place. The images of people coming out of the building covered in soot. The anguish on the faces of those who were right there. The horror of the building collapsing. The shock at the number of people trapped, killed, slain for no good reason at all. The thoughts of “how will we ever recover from this?” Those images will never go away, how could we not remember.
The days that followed were filled with chaos. Flights cancelled everywhere – people stranded away from loved ones at such a devastating time. The lists of the missing. The wreckage. The replaying of the images over and over again. Speculation from news stations, commentators, analysts, politicians and anyone else who could get near a microphone. But amidst all the chaos, something remarkable happened in those days following 9/11/2001. Something happened that the terrorists did not count on. Something happened that brought hope. Something happened that painted a picture that showed that we would recover. Something happened that brought about a clarity that all was not hopeless.
In those days that followed, people came together. They came together not just to shake their heads in disbelief. They came together to help. They volunteered to help in New York. They came together to support the families of those who had died. They came together to hold each other, support one another, comfort one another. They came together without answers. They came together to pray. Churches were full. There were still tears of sadness, grief, disbelief and shock, but united as a people, there was hope. What happened in those days was remarkable. Differences were put aside. The ideologies that can separate no longer seemed to be so important. People came together with no thought of political, religious, racial, economic or geographical differences. The only thing that seemed to matter was that we were together. Past grievances were put aside. Past hurts were forgotten. People came together in communities. They came together as families. They came together in Churches. It seemed that as long as they could come together, there was hope. In the weeks that followed there was still unity. Thoughts had turned to those who were known or presumed dead. Words of comfort went out to families, coworkers, friends. The words came from those who were known to the grieving families and they came from complete strangers. Somehow there seemed to be a belief that we were no longer strangers, we were simply in this together – and together we would survive.
There were also many promises made during that devastating time. Promises to remember what was important. Promises to pay attention to the needs of those around us. Promises to not take relationships for granted. Promises to be kinder, gentler and more loving. There were promises to do the things that had somehow been put on hold – volunteering at a soup kitchen, working with children, taking that trip, visiting extended family. There were promises to not take God for granted – promises to pray more, read the Bible, acknowledge the blessings in life, go to Church to be with community, be nourished by the Sacraments, change some of the bad habits that had crept in somewhere along the journey. There were promises to be less self-absorbed, less greedy, more generous, less judgmental, more accepting, more tolerant, more understanding. There was a promise made to never forget.
I think we have done what we can to remember the lives that were lost in those attacks, maybe not perfectly, but to assure that the lives of the airline crews, passengers, office workers, police, fire fighters, emergency personnel, military personnel and those just passing by would be remembered. We have remembered to do something that would ensure that lives that ended tragically would not be forgotten. There are memorials, services and written accounts to make sure that future generations will know what transpired on that tragic day. There are the accounts of those brave people rushing in to burning buildings with no concern for their own safety. It is well documented so that we will never forget them – and we should not. No matter how much time goes by, they will be remembered and they will matter.
But there is more that we need to remember – there is more that we should not forget. We should not forget what it was like when everyone came together. We cannot forget how much strength was experienced when for a brief time nothing mattered except to be there for each other. We must not forget the promises made. We dare not forget how unity and love smothered the fire of fear that terrorism sought to ignite. We must not forget the real values in life that were made so clear on that horrible day – values that remind us that family is important, community is necessary, God is present, taking people or life for granted is dangerous, we need concern for more than ourselves, generosity makes us rich, love is the most powerful force anywhere. It has been 14 years since those attacks took place and during that time those values have seemed to gotten blurry in too many instances. There is more greed, less caring, more taking for granted, more intolerance, more judgmental attitudes, more ideologies getting in the way of embracing the real sacredness of life and there is more fear. Take a glance at social media, listen to talk shows, read the papers, listen to the politicians, witness the way we are living as a society and it does not take much to notice that many of those values are absent.
Today, we are called to remember. We are reminded that we must never forget. We must never forget the lives of those who were cut short because of hatred. We must not forget to make their lives mean something – to offer tribute to their lives. The best tribute we can offer is to remember those lessons that were learned in the days and weeks and months after the attack. The best tribute we can give them is to take up those promises that were made individually or collectively as a nation in the aftermath of their deaths. Yes, the memorials, the books, the services, the stories are all good and fitting but they pale in comparison to giving honor with our own lives.
We are called to remember. We must never forget. We must never forget that individually we are weak but together, we can overcome anything.
On Friday, July 17, the Gospel Reading for Mass was the familiar story from the Gospel of Matthew about the Disciples walking through a field of grain on the Sabbath. They were hungry and decided to pluck some of the heads off the grain and eat it. Even that was considered to be in violation of the Sabbath laws as some of the Pharisees quickly pointed out to Jesus that his disciples were doing what was not permitted on the Sabbath. (read Matthew 12:1-8) Of course those who confronted Jesus simply wanted to discredit him and his disciples. In their view, Jesus and his disciples could not possibly be people of God and violate the Sabbath laws at the same time. Yet the response Jesus gives should cause us to think. It would seem that Jesus not only dismissed the complaints but also offered examples that would counteract their harsh views. Jesus reminded them that David entered the House of God when he was hungry and ate the bread of offering – something that was not permitted. Jesus also used the example of priests who served in the Temple, if they were to perform their ministry, they were breaking the Sabbath Law. This amounts to Jesus saying that the needs of the children of God takes precedence over everything else – even the Commandments. To understand this, we have to understand that we are talking about needs, not wants or desires or conveniences or anything else – Jesus talks about real needs. Being hungry presents a real need – to be fed. Jesus makes it pretty clear that God cares, first and foremost, about our real needs being taken care of.
When we ponder this Gospel passage, hopefully, we come to a greater appreciation of what God desires for us – not from us, but for us. No matter what, God wants to meet our needs. But perhaps this Gospel passage should also help us to have a better appreciation of the Commandments of God. The Commandments were not given to us to control us, make life difficult or set up rigid limitations on our lives. God gave them to us to guide us, help us and protect us from bad choices that can limit us or even harm us. At least some of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day could only see the Commandments as rigid rules that had better not be violated – at any cost. The disciples of Jesus were hungry – it was a real need – they needed food. Jesus knew that God would not want God’s children to be hungry – what loving parent would ever want that? Jesus reminded those who were condemning the actions of his disciples that they needed to better comprehend the fact that God desires mercy, not sacrifice.
Even today there are far too many people who consider themselves Christian who want to treat the Commandments as though they are rigid rules that cannot be violated – no matter what the situation is. But we have to ask ourselves if that is really what God wanted to do – control us at any cost. The words of Jesus certainly seem to contradict such a notion. This Gospel passage, along with many others in the Gospels, give hard and fast proof that the only absolute about everything in our faith is that God desires mercy. If God wants this for us, shouldn’t we want that for both ourselves and for others? Should we not, as Church; as followers of Jesus; as children of God, imitate God’s desire to have our needs met? Shouldn’t we start to appreciate that in God’s mercy God gave us the Commandments to protect us rather than control us? This would mean that when we encounter someone who seems to be in violation of one of the Commandments that we must be willing to forego condemnation and instead show mercy – after all, who knows what their needs are.
Yes, I realize that there are some who would abuse such an approach by using it as a copout to excuse whatever they are doing, but in the end, this comes down to something between that individual and God. I was talking to someone recently who said she did not go to Mass sometimes because she is out partying with friends and needs her sleep, and that God would not want her to be tired. Yes, it is a feeble attempt to justify an action and there are many such attempts. But I don’t think that this can justify use of the Commandments as a rigid rule that God has given us so that God can trap us in a wrongdoing. Instead, we must be willing to see the Commandments as God’s way of protecting us from such behaviors that can eventually hurt us and can prevent us from ever coming to an appreciation of what God offers us.
I am praying that the Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has proclaimed for this Fall will allow us to be more focused on the mercy that God has for us and that it will help to imitate God’s mercy.