Monday, April 25, 2011

Falling Stars of Joy

All joy...emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings. - C.S. Lewis

Overnight Jesus turns our sorrow into joy, and like the apostles we can hardly believe it. We almost want to return to the darkness because we know it and it is comfortable.

How do we celebrate this momentous anniversary of God rising from the dead to save us from our sins?

We dress up in white, adorn the churches in lilies and eat chocolate bunnies. Somehow it does not seem to be enough. We feel a burning joy, a peaceful joy that we do not see on the faces of our brothers and sisters who do not know God. But we know even this intense feeling is still just a shadow, a faint glimmer. Our hearts know that the fullness of joy cannot be found in any celebration on Earth, even the celebration of our Savior rising from the dead.

We are a waiting people, catching falling stars of joy from God's hands. God from God, Light from Light. At the end of our lives, through the very evil of death that Jesus has now transformed, we know and hope that we will be united to the glowing source of Light to experience eternal joy. 

We squirm in our seats at the very thought of never-ending joy - we are not even sure we want it or are really ready for it. And it is true, most of us are not ready. But this is why Jesus died, to unlock the gates and over time to make us ready.

Jesus our Savior - make us ready to fully experience your Easter joy in heaven.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Triduum Meditation

They gave him wine to drink mixed with gall, which he tasted but refused to drink. - Matthew 27:34

When Jesus died on the cross, he gave everything he had and suffered all that he could suffer, he did not even accept wine to dull the pain.  Jesus was like a mother giving birth to salvation without an epidural. He did not die on the cross like a smiling Buddha or an ecstatic martyr. He denied himself his own grace of a peaceful death because he knew the deeper he went into the emptiness - the closer he brought divinity to the evil he was to overcome - the greater the flow of grace would be.

When Jesus says, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" he is not telling us like a grey-haired professor to refer to Psalm 22 to interpret his passion - he is referring us to the Psalm, yes, but the desolation he feels is real. The separation he feels from the Father is as real as the evil that crushes in on him. The cry of his heart is a cry that helps us to see that there is truly no pain that we feel in this life that he does not understand - even the felt abandonment of God.

Jesus died this way, suffering so much, because he could not do it any other way. In the way Jesus dies, he teaches us about himself, about Love.

Love does not love because he will receive something in return. Love does not love just enough to do the job and then hold back. Love does not love until it is too hard or too ugly to love. Love loves with everything he has, he empties himself until there is nothing left to give. Love dies for those he loves, whether it is one person or one million - the number does not change the sacrifice. I believe Jesus would have died in exactly the same way, feeling the same pain, if it had just been for you. Love cannot scale down or back away. Love does not avoid any sacrifice for his beloved - Love knows that experiencing pain is the only passageway to giving new life.

In dying on the cross Jesus opened the doors to heaven for us. The way he died shows us how to follow him to true joy on earth and ultimately to heaven. If there were another way, Jesus would have shown us. We must die to ourselves to follow our Savior. We must empty ourselves in love until the emptiness overwhelms us. We must experience the silence and despair of the tomb to experience the resurrection.

Do we think we can avoid the cross of suffering to find resurrection joy? Jesus did not, and he asks us to come and follow him.

I will follow you Jesus, wherever you ask me to, because I know that it will lead to my own joyous resurrection. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Save Me from Mediocrity

Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. - Blessed JP II

 We are nearing the Holy Triduum, when we remember in a special way the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We live in a culture where very little is considered a sin, if we even use that word at all anymore. In some churches I have noticed pastors completely avoid the word, as if we have evolved beyond thinking about our sinfulness. If that is the case, we might as well stop calling ourselves Christians, because Jesus did not die for the righteous, He died for sinners.

So, how does this blindness affect our understanding of Jesus' death on the cross?

For my part, I am sure that modern culture combined with my own sinfulness prevents me from fully understanding and appreciating the death of Jesus. But I know that the only way I can understand my sinfulness is to move closer and closer to God, (the difference between His goodness and who I am becomes clearer).

And for this reason I am grateful for Lent which has been a solid kick in the pants for me. Jesus helped me to see during these forty days that sin is not just what I do, although this has a huge affect on my soul, it is also who I am - inside and out, what I think, and what I don't do. And Jesus helped me to see that there is a lot to work on.

In the Catholic Church we pray the confiteor at the beginning of every mass which includes these words, "I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do."

What do I not do? I think I was too overwhelmed by my endless exterior sins to even go there before. And I have a sneaking suspicion that many people are like me and only want to focus on their exterior mortal and venial sins, and sometimes this lasts for their whole lives. But I am learning that true holiness does not begin until we start to focus not only on our exteriors but also on our thoughts, our insides, as well as the endless "what ifs" - the countless promptings of the Holy Spirit that we ignore every day. Jesus wants to transform us from the inside out, He does not want to make us into modern day Pharisees, looking good on the outside, while rotting on the inside. The outside of us is just the beginning. This was one of Jesus' main messages in the Gospels.

It may seem like too much to think about but consider this...

Jesus did not just die to save us from hell, He also died to save us from mediocrity.

The Church teaches that the grace of Jesus' death not only saves us from eternal separation from God for our continual disobedience to God, it also gives us grace to become holier, to become saints. The first grace of heaven we can never merit in any sense of the word. God's grace is always completely generous, coming from His gratuitous love but we can receive graces to become holier through what we do, because God chose to save us this way out of pure generosity. In other words, God wants our cooperation in the work of the Spirit and like a Father rewarding His toddler for eating all her food, out of His love and nothing else, He rewards us for our good actions.

What does this all mean? It means that God's plan of salvation was not to just die for our sins so we would avoid eternal separation from Him, it was also to provide us with the grace we need to become holier every day, to become more like Him, so that we will be prepared to see Him in heaven. We are all called to be saints, every single one of us. And on this road to sanctity, we will begin to understand the gravity of our sins in a real way and enter more deeply into the mystery of Jesus' death and resurrection.

So this Holy Week, join me in this prayer, that we may become saints. Jesus make us more like you every day. Let's become the saints He made us to be.

We can do it, with God's grace, and here's some inspiration:

Friday, April 8, 2011

Tis the Season

Lent is a great time to take advantage of the gift we have in the sacrament of Reconciliation. We can prepare our souls through reconciliation by increasing the grace of Baptism or reigniting the fire of the Holy Spirit if we have committed mortal sin.

Reconciliation allows us to begin again in Christ. It is the very death of Christ that gave us the beautiful graces of this sacrament. The forgiveness of sins and the grace that comes from Jesus' death on the cross is given to us in the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation.

Reconciliation helps us to admit that we are sinners in a society where it is easy to lose our sense of sin. But if we are not sinners, then why did Jesus die for us? A good way to thank Jesus for dying for our sins this Lent is to show Him that we are really repentant and desire His grace; grace He is ready to pour out on us through this sacrament.

What is a little embarrassment compared to the joy we feel when God forgives and heals us?

Why go...

How to go...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Clean the Temple of Your Heart

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men's bones and every kind of filth.   -  Matthew 23:27

I am leading a book club with one of the other postulants on Graham Greene's classic  The Power and the Glory. The main character is a priest who is running for his life during the persecutions that religious endured after the 1910 revolution in Mexico.

The priest is not a saint; he is an alcoholic who fathered a child in a moment of inebriated weakness. He finds himself on the run, the last priest in the Mexican state. He knows he does not deserve to be a martyr and he is afraid to die. Graham Greene, in typical fashion, creates a story with no easy answers, a story that challenges as much as it frustrates.

Which is why not everyone in the book club liked the novel. One woman said with a grimace, "This story is grim." And it truly is. But I have learned a lot from reading the book, especially from the main character, the priest (who remains unnamed throughout the story).

The priest knows he is weak, sinful and undeserving of God's love. But the reader begins to discover a true humility and capacity for forgiveness in this unlikely character. He is able to forgive even the most heinous behavior from others because he understands that he is a sinner himself and has no right to judge that others are worse. At one point in the book he says with emotion, "If there's ever been a single man in this state damned, then I'll be damned too ... I wouldn't want it to be any different. I just want justice, that's all."

Unfortunately, many people, including myself, are not as holy on the inside as we are on the outside. We get caught up in the exteriors of spiritual life. We focus on eliminating sins that others can see. And once we get to a point where our outward sins cause us less embarrassment and we feel justified, we sit back on the porch of our spiritual life and complacently drink lemonade. We lull ourselves into mediocrity by comparing, always finding other people who make us feel like we have it together spiritually. We think, "Well, at least I am not that bad." We only work hard spiritually when our messy insides begin to show on the outside. We keep up appearances, but not much else.

The priest in The Power and the Glory is a mess on the exterior but on the interior his heart is clean. He does not harbor hate or anger towards people. He does not let negative feelings and unforgiveness build up inside, turning the temple walls of his soul black with poison. He does not think he is better than other people. He does not judge. The priest knows his place in relation to God. He understands his nothingness. I may not be an alcoholic with an illegitimate child but I cannot say the same about myself.

Maybe you can recognize the priest in the parable that Jesus tells the Pharisees:

Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity--greedy, dishonest, adulterous--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.' But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted. - Luke 18:11-14

Jesus seems to suggest in this parable that he would rather have a person who sins outwardly on His hands than a person who seems to have it together on the outside but thinks he is better than others and has no need for forgiveness. Of course Jesus calls us to both inward and outward holiness. God is not only looking for outward adherence to His law; He is looking for a deep conversion of our hearts.

Jesus wants us to cleanse the temples of our hearts and Lent is a good time to do this. It is a time to admit that we do not have it together and even if we have it together on the outside, our insides need serious deep cleaning. God is not looking for meaningless exterior penances in this time of conversion, He only wants penance when it cleans our heart. Together in these next few weeks of Lent, let us focus on the interior walls of our heart. Every day God is giving us opportunities to clean up the dark soot that has gathered there. The blackness of sin keeps us from seeing the face of God.

So, before Easter arrives, let's do some spring cleaning!