Live in Hope
“I will put my spirit in you that you may live.” These words from the prophet Ezekiel remind us that in the midst of this pandemic God will see us through this. God is with us. God is creating something new in all of us—individually, as families, as the St. Francis parish community, as citizens and neighbors and in our world.
Perhaps we identify with the Babylonians in exile—Ezekiel’s audience. In many ways, we are feeling like we are in exile. We feel grief at the loss of life as we knew it just a few weeks ago. So much has changed and we are slowly realizing how a mysterious virus is affecting every aspect of our lives. We are discovering who we are and are being given the opportunity to create something new.
Some of us are discovering what it means to make a phone call rather than texting. Some of us are appreciating our children’s teachers more. Some of us are learning to pray as a family. Others are reaching out and accompanying others on this journey. People are standing in the street, keeping a safe distance and talking to their neighbors.
At present, we are also experiencing the challenge of being “Church” without being physically together in one place. We miss the Eucharist, YES. We are also discovering that the Spirit is in each of us as Jesus promised at Pentecost. The Spirit is with us through our reception of Baptism and Confirmation. There is no cancelation of the Spirit being in us and with us.
My short prayer, repeated several times each day is familiar to all of us. “Come, Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful. Renew the face of the earth.” May the Spirit be in each of you that you may live—with hope and altered purpose.
May we be like Lazarus to whom Jesus beckons to new life. May we, like Jesus, be filled with compassion for all who are suffering, working in impossible circumstances and experiencing helplessness. May we be filled with gratitude for all that we have taken for granted.
Open the Eyes of Our Heart
It is no secret that I am a huge Star Wars fan. In A New Hope, the wise Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi is teaching the young Luke Skywalker the ways of the Force, a mysterious energy field created by all living things in the Star Wars universe. As part of Luke’s training, Obi-Wan makes him wear a helmet, and Luke is quick to complain that he cannot see with the blast shield down. Obi-Wan responds, “Your eyes can deceive you; don’t trust them.” Once Luke begins trusting his feelings rather than his eyesight, he is able to overcome the challenge.
Likewise, God has to tell Samuel not to rely on his sight when he sends him to anoint his chosen king. When Samuel arrives in Bethlehem, he encounters Eliab, the eldest son of Jesse, and immediately assumes, based on Eliab’s looks, that he is the king he is searching for. God, however, interjects, saying, “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the LORD looks into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Samuel meets seven other sons of Jesse before finding and anointing the youngest and least likely choice, David.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus heals a man blind from birth. Pope Francis walks us through the blind man’s transition from spiritual blindness.
The path of the blind man… is a gradual process that begins with knowing Jesus’ name. He does not know anything else about him. In fact, he says: “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes” (John 9:11). In response to the pressing questions of the doctors of the law he first says that Jesus is a prophet (John 9:17) and then a man close to God (John 9:31). After he is thrown out of the Temple, excluded from society, Jesus finds him again and “opens his eyes” a second time, revealing to him his true identity: “I am the Messiah,” he tells him. At this point, the man who was blind exclaims: “I do believe, Lord!” (John 9:38), and prostrates himself before Jesus.
This is a passage of the Gospel that gives us a glimpse of the drama of the interior blindness of many people. And we glimpse our own interior blindness too because we sometimes have moments of such blindness. …Let us open ourselves to the light of the Lord, he awaits us always in order to enable us to see better, to give us more light, to forgive us. Let us not forget this!
Pope Francis, March 30, 2014
What are the things in our life that make us blind to the needs of others, especially during these uncertain times? Do we spend too much time looking inward thinking about our own desires? Do we spend so much time staring down at a screen that we never look up at the people around us? Do feelings of fear or panic stoked by the media or even our own mind make us want to close our eyes to avoid difficult conversations or situations? Does pride or arrogance blur reality and trick us into thinking that we are immune to certain dangers or that we do not need to rely on helping hands? Do we let anger blind us and cut off opportunities for reconciliation and forgiveness?
Let us, like Luke and Samuel, take that sometimes uncomfortable step of using our feelings, our heart to see, rather than solely our eyes. Only then, after we have taken that step, can we truly embark on a path from spiritual blindness like the man in the Gospel and “live as children of light… [producing] every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:8-9).
As we continue on our very unique 2020 Lenten journey, let us pray that God opens the eyes of our heart so that we can see as He sees.
By Kenneth Caruthers, Director of Communication
Jesus was waiting for her and asked her for a drink of water. He asks because he is thirsty. A simple, human need opens up a deep conversation with a woman who others ostracized. We all need water. Are we, like Jesus, willing to ask anyone for a drink? Will we receive what they provide?
Jesus initiates the conversation even though he knows it is “unlawful.” He knows that even his disciples disapprove of him talking to this woman. In his desire to know her, a woman who has been cast away by five different men (husbands), he holds out to her an abundance of “living water.” She drops her jar, runs to the village and brings the whole village back to the well.
Jesus’ tenderness in accepting who she was results in her joyful, exuberant sharing of how Jesus knew her and acknowledged her, listened to her and accepted her in spite of her gender, her residency and her community. Many believed because of her!
Jesus also entrusts his thirst to us. We encounter him in order to be filled. Yet he has no bucket or jar but ours. What is our role in fulfilling Jesus’ mission to the thirsty world in which we live?
Like many of you, I thirst for ways of responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Just before writing this reflection, I found this resource that I highly recommend that we read and LIVE! It is “A Faith Response to the Coronavirus.” In it, I am reminded of what Jesus asks of all of us individually and as a faith community.
Listen to Him
How is your Lent going? What is different for you about this year’s observance of Lent? Have you left anything familiar and taken the risk to become “new” in any way? Our readings for this 2nd Sunday of Lent suggest some possibilities for change and newness.
Abram and Sarai leave everything they have ever known and venture into unknown territory. Risk and uncertainty compel them to steadily trust in God’s promise to bless them in countless ways. They listen and act.
Likewise, Paul writes to Timothy, reminding him that he has received a gift from God that must be “stirred into flame.” Teaching the words and example of Jesus means rejection and hardship at times. Nevertheless, God gives grace to live a holy life, to live and love with passion for God’s will. Timothy and his companions listen and act.
Finally, Jesus takes three of his favorites to the mountain-top, there to hear God’s voice and to experience brilliant, almost blinding light. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Knowing their fear, Jesus comes down and touches them saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”
How are we experiencing God’s radiant light? Do we feel the warmth, the brilliance? To “rise” means to be engaged in listening to what God is asking of us. And we probably are craving the removal of the many fears that possess us—the fear of the coronavirus, the fear of divisive politics, the fear of conflicts and wars throughout the world, the fear of abusive relationships, the fear of failure in our risk-taking.
We ask for steadfast light in our lives. We ask that we be purified of all that keeps us from experiencing the luminous beauty of light. May the sparks of fire become brilliant flames of love in our midst. And may we listen and act trusting that God leads us too to new creation, to conversion, and to transfiguration.
“I had no choice.” There was a time when I used that expression to justify my absence from a commitment I had made to attend a dinner. The host firmly corrected me with “You always have a choice.” I learned that I was using “no choice” as an excuse. I was hiding from a commitment I had made.
Jesus in facing the temptations in the desert—the allurement of power, authority, and food—teaches us that we are faced with choices in our lives, choices that either bring us closer to God or move us away from God. We too can succumb to using our powers for our own needs, putting ourselves first, forgetting about our neighbors in need, even our own family members in need. Our own insecurities may cause us to abuse power and authority in our relationships with others. All of the gospels show Jesus, as Son of God, serving others rather than himself. He trusts and remains faithful to following the path that leads to the Father. Jesus does not squirm away from obedience, from the path to God no matter the cost.
We need a new and steadfast spirit. We need to be attentive and aware of that which tempts us to avoid choices, to hide in the face of truth and reality and to not be “soft” in a culture filled with self-interest.
Lent provides us time to make choices to continue our journey of changing our hearts, of loving boldly, and of experiencing conversion. We choose “new life,” filled with new possibilities. We pray to act justly or do things with a sense of right and wrong. We pray to love mercy or embrace loving kindness in our hearts. And we pray to walk humbly, recognizing that there is little we can do for God except to abide by God’s wishes including upholding justice and mercy in a humble way.
Be Holy, Be Whole
“Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” God invites us to God-like. If we embrace our God-likeness, how do we look? How would we act? What would we feel? What would we see? To what would we pay attention?
“The Lord is kind and merciful” gives us hints. The actions of Jesus give us additional instruction. What we need most, in my opinion, is practice! To be a compassionate witness to the Gospel, we look at how Jesus related to persons. Who are the persons named in the Gospels who compelled Jesus to see, to cure and to send? What was it about them that caught the attention of Jesus? When Jesus responds to them or interacts with them, he changes things—rules and practices, lifestyles and relationships! Through our Baptism, we are asked to do the same.
How are we forming our hearts to be compassionate, merciful and forgiving? In Compassionate Integrity Training, compassion is defined as “the wish to alleviate the suffering of another. Compassion consists of noticing suffering, having empathetic concern and feeling a sense of agency. It does not mean simply giving them what they want but recognizing on a deeper level what they need.”
To be holy is to practice compassion, to make whole again. For this, let us all work and pray!
Laws! Laws! Laws!
The emphasis on law in the time of the Israelites was not for the sake of abiding by the law, but about gaining access to God. If the people followed the laws—the laws of Moses, the laws of purity—they could gain access to God. Jesus knew that and understood the culture he was born into. When Jesus said that he came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it, he acknowledged their longing for God. Moving forward from the written law, he offered himself as the road, the access point to the Father when he said, “I am the way.”
Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount with examples of how that happens. He repeats several times “You have heard it said” with “but I say.” In each of the examples—the commandments, the laws—Jesus indicates what is at the heart of this new way of life. Life in Christ requires that our whole being needs transformation. To choose life in Christ is to pay attention to our inner being, to the emotions within us.
What is it that causes us to “kill” the spirit in others with our words? What is it that allows us to ignore the needs of others, to deprive them of what they need to live safely and securely?
In Psalm 119 we pray, “Give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart.” May our hearts be transformed. May we choose life in both words and actions. We pray as we sing: “Open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see you. I want to be with you.”
To Be Salt and Light
As a Christian, if I am to be the salt of the earth, I must make something else appeal to the taste of others, of my neighbors. That something else would be God. Together we will savor the goodness of God. That is why we sing or proclaim “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”
When Jesus says “your light must shine before others,” we tend to think that Jesus does the shining in the darkness. Actually, we are to be the light that reflects Jesus. As disciples, we have the responsibility to bring the light of Jesus into the darkness. We bring light whenever we bring compassion to those experiencing suffering or misery. We can bring light to conversations that are filled with prejudice and ignorance, demeaning or destructive of the dignity of any person. We must enlighten the gloom of politics we experience today.
Salt and light are about tasting and seeing the goodness of the Lord. Isaiah tells us how we can do that in our actions of caring for others, of meeting the needs of our neighbors and those who belong to us. We have the invitation to practice the Corporal Works of Mercy. And we pray that Light will help us to see things that are otherwise obscure to us, to see situations in new ways, to see and understand why others might think differently. We pray that the Holy Spirit guides us to be a community of Salt and Light.
To Hold the Lord in Our Arms
To hold a child in our arms is one of the most captivating experiences we can experience. Imagine then what it was like for Simeon to hold Jesus in his arms as Mary and Joseph brought him to the ritual Presentation in the Temple. Two years ago Pope Francis provided us with these words of reflection on this event:
How good it is for us to hold the Lord “in our arms” like Simeon. Not only in our heads and in our hearts, but also “in our hands.” In all that we do: in prayer, at work, at the table, on the telephone, at school, with the poor, everywhere.
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord,
Feb. 2, 2018
Simeon and Anna are two profoundly faithful figures who wait patiently for the coming of the Messiah. Simeon, attentive to the work of the Holy Spirit, comes to the Temple to see God’s promise fulfilled. As for Anna, the other elder, the other wisdom figure, she appears in the Temple as an unlikely visitor. She shows up and demonstrates a deep spirituality and deep faithfulness. She recognizes the great destiny of this child, the one who brings HOPE. Simeon’s words are so needed by us. We too, if we recognize that we can hold the Lord in our arms in all the ways Pope Francis describes, can say “Now you let your servant go in peace; your work has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people; a light to reveal you to the nations….”
Simeon and Anna are extraordinary witnesses to us of the spirituality, the faith journeys of our elders. During this year 2020, when we celebrate the completion of 40 years of faithfulness, living the vision and hope expressed by the founders of our parish community, we are filled with gratitude.
Moving from Darkness into Light
Isaiah speaks of a tremendous promise fulfilled, and “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Most of us, from time to time, experience darkness, gloom, and heaviness from burdens we bear. How is the promise of “a great light” part of our experience? Who is that light in our lives? As followers of Jesus, do we recognize when we can be that light?
Paul’s writing mirrors much of what we are experiencing in life today. We experience factions and divisions in so many aspects of our lives—in families, in sporting events, in politics, in business practices, in beliefs about justice issues. Paul preaches with great urgency about the desire to “be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” As hard as it may be, we are all urged to listen to each other, to respect each other, and to try to identify the values that we share—to find common ground.
At the heart of both darkness and divisions in our lives is the call to “come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus extends the invitation to teach, to proclaim the Gospel, and to heal. Those called dropped everything to teach, counsel, and heal. What do we need to drop today in order to follow? Are we able to drop our phones, football games, video games, Facebook, online shopping, or whatever it is that gets in the way of our following Jesus and attending to those God puts in our path as needing light in darkness, unity among factions and the attention Jesus gave to those who were most vulnerable?
To walk in light, to heal divisions, and to say YES to God’s calls in our lives, for this let us all work and pray.