In Genesis, we read, “I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.” We all know how God put Abraham to multiple tests. The ultimate test was God asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. We can all imagine what it was like for Abraham to go through the horror of planning this sacrifice. And we can also sense the relief at God’s messenger’s last minute intervention.
It is Abraham’s “not withholding” that is total obedience of God’s command. The reward is God’s ultimate blessing of “descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.”
What is it that God asks us not to withhold if we are to be faithful to God’s command? How am I using this time of Lent to “not withhold” but give freely of my time to pray, to fast and to give alms? How am I giving time and attention, love and respect to my family? Am I growing in generosity? Am I a witness of being so devoted to God that I would be willing to sacrifice?
A Desert Survival Kit
Imagine yourself on such a journey into the desert. What temptations would you face? Who would be the angels, the helpers ministering to you?
The desert isn’t always the arid land depicted in this image. The desert can be any place where we are alone, isolated from those who might be accompanying us, guiding us, keeping us honest and accountable. What are some of the thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors that we indulge in that take us away from our path to God and that threaten our relationships with the people most important in our lives? When are we most vulnerable to such temptations?
Perhaps our temptations are addictions to viewing pornography, to accumulating more than we need of material possessions, to abusing power in relationships, to blaming others for things going wrong. Perhaps they are participating in some of the social sins like failure to recognize the dignity of persons who are gay, undocumented, poor, homeless, old, of a different race, creed or ideology, or political party.
Our journey in Lent is one of movement, of change, of conversion. Some would suggest that we create a “Desert Survival Kit.” What would be in yours? Do you have favorite prayers, Scriptures, people who are your spiritual guides, mentors or people who wish you well and you can trust, and activities that help you most when you are tempted?
And we pray always: “Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.” Help us too to remember daily the words we heard when we received our ashes: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
The Lepers Among Us
Then think of all the people in our city, in our country, and in our world who are the “exiles” of today. Exiles are those who experience discrimination, are the victims of stereotypes, are socially excluded, isolated, or bound by having to keep things secret. In Jesus’ day, these were the persons isolated by laws and customs, by culture and tradition. Today the “unclean” might be those who feel unwanted and unloved. They don’t “belong” here—in this group, in this school, in this country, in this family.
Don’t we all know those feelings?
Our hope is in the reassurance that Jesus notices, sees, cares and does something about it. He heals the lepers, and the healing is more than physical. Jesus told the leper to tell no one what had happened, but the newfound freedom results in incredible, unbounded JOY.
We too notice, see and if we care we can do something about the lepers among us.
For example, I can start with myself. I can pray that when I feel “unclean” or unloved, God will heal me. Sometimes I doubt my own capacity to be loved and be lovable. God can help there! In Genesis we read, “God looked at everything God had made and found it very good.”
I can stop being the person who makes others feel like an outcast. I can pray for all who are feeling isolation and social exclusion. I can name the discrimination or exclusion and, like the prophets, make it known to others. I can demand that it STOP.
I can also spend time with someone who is feeling unclean, unwanted, and unloved. I can learn new things about the persons who experience exclusion. I can come to understand some of the common reasons why the person is experiencing “exile.” I can communicate God’s love for the person by listening and learning about their situation. I might even have the strength to advocate and work for social change.
A Deserted Place—A Place to Pray
After miracle stories, stories of great compassion and healing, Jesus goes to the desert to pray! Can you imagine why Jesus might have chosen to do that? Do you experience a need for solitude, a need for time away from everything that is so stimulating and entertaining, a time to just be?
Jesus always sought to do the Father’s will. He wanted to do what God was calling him to do. He was tireless in his efforts to preach and teach and heal, in his desire to invite and include and build up. And he, like us, needed clarity and a re-focusing of his energy to God’s purpose for his life.
I hope you are reading Perfectly Yourself and rediscovering God’s purpose in your own life As you go through this week, may you find some “desert place” to pray and some time to focus again on serving God and neighbor.
Perhaps you will recognize in your prayer the persons you know who are experiencing the kind of darkness that Job speaks of. What can each of us do for our friends and neighbors? Reaching out and accompaniment in great suffering is a healing ministry that we too can engage in.
Bless our efforts, dear God! Bless our efforts to seek you, to spend time with you in solitude and to then serve in new ways with HOPE and new energy in all of our ministry and presence to others.
Are We a Non-Prophet Organization?
Maybe we should just stay with that question. A few years ago, Pope Francis was quoted as saying, “Prophecy makes noise, uproar, some say ‘a mess.’ But in reality, the charism of religious people is like yeast: prophecy announces the spirit of the Gospel” (“A Big Heart Open to God,” America, Sept. 30, 2013).
All of us are familiar with the prophets of the Old Testament. We are also aware of prophets in our day. Who are the people in our time who “cause an uproar” or intentionally “make a mess” announcing the spirt of the Gospel? What are these ordinary people trying to call out?
In Mark’s gospel this weekend, we read “The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.” It was the voice of Jesus that made this happen. Do we have the same voice, the same authority to cast out unclean spirits? How do we name or identify those unclean spirits today?
Let me suggest a few: human trafficking, pollution, poverty, greed, war, domestic violence, abusive power, bullying, pornography, predatory lending. You will probably identify others. Speaking out, walking the talk and action are not easy. We can throw our hands up in despair and declare “That’s life today.” Or we can overcome our anxieties, adhere to Jesus’ teaching and trust that God will be with us in our efforts.
Does Jesus speak with authority in your life? Do you think he speaks with authority to our popular culture? Will we choose to follow Jesus, announce the gospel, and use our voices to speak with authority in order to cast out unclean spirits? Or will we be a non-prophet organization?
Let us pray: Make the unclean spirits obey you, within our small efforts. Give us courage to speak and act for Gospel values, especially the dignity of all persons—without exception. Amen!
What Are You Doing With the Rest of Your Life?
Imagine Jesus walking up to you, wherever you are, and inviting you to follow. Could you do it? Could you abandon the familiar, leave it all behind, and follow into an unknown adventure? What would it take to say YES? What would hold you back?
The stories we encounter in this “ordinary time” of the Church year are “call” stories. They ask for dramatic change. It’s not just “come and see.” It’s not even “try it if you like it” kind of change. These followers of Jesus abandoned their livelihood, left family (including wives) behind and embraced the uncertainty that Jesus offered. They did this on the promise that Jesus would make them “fishers of men.”
I am praying today for all in our parish who are choosing to say YES to Jesus—to follow wholeheartedly, to not hold anything back from the invitation to grow in love, knowledge, and service of God. Pray with me for all of our catechumens and candidates, for all of our couples forming themselves for God-centered marriages and families, for women and men who are discerning their vocation in life. Let’s pray for each of us as we pay attention to the invitations God gives each of us personally, as families and as a Church community. What is God asking us at St. Francis to say YES to? And what do we need to leave behind? What needs to change in our attitudes, in our ways of thinking and in our actions that would make us intentional disciples—followers of Jesus?
Bless us and grace us in our new beginnings!
Can You Hear Me Now?
God called the young Samuel three times before Samuel paid him any attention. How many times has God called me? I don’t always recognize God’s voice. That’s the importance, I think, of having the attitude and disposition that says over and over again—Speak Lord, your servant is listening.
I am also aware that I often depend on others to help me to recognize when and how God is calling me. Like the disciples in the Gospel for this weekend, I need “Andrew’s” or “Andrea’s” in my life that invite me, nudge me, or even beg me to be attentive to new possibilities, to God’s invitations to serve.
At times, I struggle with the capacity to say YES. That’s when I need the company of others who wish me well and will be honest with me in helping me to discern what God is calling me to do.
This week I want to do for others what I have benefitted from recently. I will look for someone that I can encourage to pursue something different—some service that takes them out of their comfort zone and that will make a difference for others. I want to encourage service.
Will you join me?
And so we pray as a community at St. Francis: Speak Lord, your servants are listening. What would you have us do? What are you inviting us to see as a need? And how will we individually or as a community respond?
Let us pray that we may all answer God’s call to discipleship.
- For the whole Church, that we may be a community always open to God’s call and willing to respond wholeheartedly. We pray to the Lord.
- For those whose lives are too chaotic to hear God’s call, especially those suffering from illness, violence, loss, or depression. We pray to the Lord.
- For those who do not believe God calls them because they feel unworthy, unprepared, or too ordinary. We pray to the Lord.
- For those unable to discern God’s will for them, that we may provide assurance, clarity, and companionship. We pray to the Lord.
- For those called to the priesthood or religious life, that the Holy Spirit may guide them in their vocation. We pray to the Lord.
- For all people, may God grant us courage to embrace his precious gift of life, even in the most difficult of circumstances. We pray to the Lord.
Gracious God, open our ears and hearts to your voice. Give us the awareness to hear you, especially when you speak to us through people and circumstances we do not wish to hear. Make us worthy instruments of discernment for those who struggle to interpret your call. Together, may we respond with one voice, saying, “Speak, your servant is listening.” We ask this in the name of Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Humility and the Epiphany
The Magi followed the light of a star to find Jesus, the Light of the World. They came from nations far away—without passports or documents. They are a reminder to us that God loves and calls to himself all his people, wherever they come from, whatever language they speak or customs they have, however they look or dress.
These foreign kings needed humility to pay homage to a “king” who was so different from themselves. For me, this is a reminder that I often have a difficult time accepting other people’s positions on things. The Magi were “stretched” in their understanding of what another kind of “king” can be about. And so can I, if I dare to visit and be in the presence of the difference. Even if I don’t end up changing my mind, I can always reflect on what I learned and see differently from before. I too might have an epiphany—God’s way of revealing something I didn’t understand before.
Fr. Ron Rolheiser has a wonderful reflection on King Herod’s response to the birth of a new “king” at http://www.liturgy.slu.edu/EpiphanyB010718/reflections_rolheiser.html. Herod’s jealousy is a reminder to all of us of how we sometimes become threatened by new life or the gifts of others.
This is a rich story with a powerful challenge: what is my own reaction to new life, especially to life that threatens me, that will take away some of my own popularity, sunshine, and adulation? Can I, like the wise men, lay my gifts at the feet of the young, and move towards anonymity and eventual death, content that the world is in good hands, even though those hands are not my hands? Or, like Herod, will I feel that life as a threat and try somehow to kill it, lest its star somehow diminish my own?
To bless another person is to give away some of one’s own life so that the other might be more resourced for his or her journey. Good parents do that for their children. Good teachers do that for their students, good mentors do that for their protégés, good pastors do that for their parishioners, good politicians do that for their countries, and good elders do that for the young. They give away some of their own lives to resource the other. The wise men did that for Jesus.
How do we react when a young star’s rising begins to eclipse our own light?
Who are the “Herods” in life today? What is it that Mary, Joseph and Jesus would be running from today? What warnings do we get that lead us to continue our journey home “by another way”? What is that other way?
What Makes a Family Holy?
Do you have a favorite image of the Holy Family? What makes it your favorite image? Do you think of your own family as a “holy family”? What is it about your family that is holy? Would you consider putting your family’s picture in this frame with the title “Holy Family”?
As you read and listen to the readings this weekend, you will hear countless examples of what makes a family holy. Abram and Sarai are uncertain and afraid as they ponder the loss of a future when they are childless and old. God promises them that their family will be as countless as the stars in the sky. Imagine it! Faith and an understanding that family is expansive and includes many who are not even related by blood makes God’s promise reality. Faith isn’t intended to be a personal achievement only; it is meant to be cultivated and grown to include others as brothers and sisters. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called into an unknown future. By faith, he received power to generate children. He found God to be trustworthy. Do we have a faith strong enough to believe that seemingly impossible things will come to be in our own families?
Simeon and Anna, at the presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple, highlight all that was promised by the birth of Jesus. Jesus brings peace. He fulfills God’s promises that a Messiah would come. He is one of us, human, and totally a part of the whole world, sent to the Gentiles as well as to Israel. Anna has been fasting and praying for 84 years and lives to see the coming of Jesus through waiting, learning and patience. In our holy families, we too are called to practice waiting, learning and patience.
In a sense, we “present” ourselves to the Lord each and every Sunday, each and every day! We offer ourselves to God, unfinished as we are, expecting to grow in faith and trust that God’s promises to each of us will be fulfilled in our own waiting, learning and patience. At times, we too are called to discern what God is calling us to, to obey something we don’t entirely understand.
This Christmas season gives us an opportunity to celebrate family in so many ways. May it be for us a time to rejoice in our own families. May our love and hope be as strong as that everyone felt for the infant Jesus at his birth.
And so we pray: Teach us, Holy Spirit, how to love as you and the Father and the Son love. Make each and everyone part of your holy family. Let our Nazareths be places of kind words, patience and compassion. Help us all work together for all that is good and pleasing to God who dwells in possibility.
Yes, Yes, and YES!
Mary’s YES changed everything! Can we, like Mary, say “May it be done to me according to your word”? If we really listen to God’s voice, if we are quiet and still enough to be receptive of that word, that voice, what might God be asking of each of us? We have been “living in watchfulness and waiting in wonder.” We have been faithful to those promises. What wonder awaits us this Christmas season?
Yes, we listen! Yes, we tell about what we are hearing! And yes, we like Mary can hardly wait to go visit our cousin, or our BFF or another family member to share the good news, even if we don’t fully understand the implications. We discern together, we explore together! And we say YES to all the wonders of new possibilities in our very real, very human lives! May our YES be strong!