Acts of Disciples Today
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer.” These four core activities of the early Church describe discipleship today. They are the vision of Church today—a community of love and selfless care for one another. And this isn’t simply a nice story! These are the faith communities that we live, day in and day out!
At St. Francis, these core activities are alive and well, thanks largely to the RCIA process and ACTS retreats for persons of all ages. For many in our parish community, the experience of RCIA and/or an ACTS retreat is followed by participation in an SCC, a small church community, that intentionally commits to living lives of prayer and worship, learning and reflection, community and service. The communities might be made up of couples, singles, families with children, men only, or women only. At SFA, some have been gathering together for more than 20 years.
In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus enters the disciples’ locked room and breathes on them, creating them anew with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The power that the Spirit gives them is to forgive sins. Imagine Easter joy being amplified by this forgiveness.
Is there a locked room of your heart that needs the Holy Spirit to enter? If there is someone you need to forgive, pray each day for God’s blessing on that person. If your heart is not yet open to forgiveness, pray for the desire to forgive. Are you in need of forgives? Receive the sacrament of Reconciliation.
May Easter joy be yours in abundance!
What draws you to participation in the rituals of Holy Week? I have asked many parishioners and friends that question this week. Some like the visual symbols—the palms, the music, the praying in silence (keeping watch with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane), the veneration of the cross, the washing of feet, the Easter fire and candles, the Stations of the Cross, the baptisms of adults. Others began to reflect on the meaning of many of these visual symbols. You reflected back to me some of the ways that you are drawn to participate in the meaning-filled liturgies of Holy Week.
When we hear “Do this in remembrance of me” on Holy Thursday, what is the “this” that we are asked to do? How do we “wash feet” in our ordinary days?
Just before Jesus’ last words, “it is finished,” he said, “I thirst.” When Jesus says “I thirst” as he is hanging on the cross, was his thirst for a drink or was it for all of us and for our love? For what do you thirst this Good Friday?
And as we anticipate the joy of Christ Risen, what new life has come to us through our observance of Lent? How has darkness become light? What “bindings” have been loosed? What have we left behind in the empty tomb?
As we truly live the Paschal Mystery these next few days, I know without a doubt that what stays with us, what is deeply seared in our souls is the experience of journeying together. Our private settings have become public. It is the public witness that Jesus gave us of LOVE lived, laying down our lives, even unto death! Christ is Risen, alleluia!
Processions and the Process of Conversion
The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem—a glorious procession with palms and vivid red colors—begins our celebration of Holy Week. We complete Lent and enter this Holy Week raising our voices with hosannas of praise. The crowds ask “Who is this?” Lent has given us all an opportunity to reflect on who Jesus is to each of us this year? How have we discovered or rediscovered Jesus’ influence In our lives this Lent?
We hear the story of the passion of Jesus every year. We hear of the disciples’ betrayal. We would like to think that we would never do that—that we would stay awake with Jesus, that we would never deny knowing Jesus, that we would not abandon Jesus. This week gives us the opportunity to reflect on the times when we fail to live up to the promises we made at Baptism. Did we deny our faith for convenience or fail to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, bury the dead, or visit the sick? Did our silence in the face of injustice, or our failure to act on behalf of others cause more hurt and suffering for the most vulnerable among us?
“My God, why have you abandoned me?” Can you hear this cry from anyone in our world today? As you hear and watch the news of the world this week, will we hear the cry of the abandoned, of the suffering?
As we carry our blessed palms this Sunday, we can take them and let them be a reminder to us all year long of Jesus’ sacrifice and his words to us from the passion. Our palm branches can remind us to ask for forgiveness and commit to making a greater effort to remain alert to the needs of others around us. Our Rice Bowls are ready to be turned in and our palms take their place, reminding us that we are always in procession—in the process of being converted more deeply in our faith and in our actions.
May this Holy Week be filled with acts of love and forgiveness, with blessings of new insights in our daily conversion experiences and with intentional processions with the community as we celebrate the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus!
Lazarus, Come Out!
Here we are, deep into our Lenten journey on this 5th Sunday of Lent. We see Holy Week and Easter on the horizon. We sense the nearness of the joy of our Easter celebration. Our popular culture and marketing see nothing but Easter bunnies, chocolates, flowers, Easter eggs, and new Easter outfits. Everything is happy and beautiful. We are urged to jump ahead in the story and disregard what our journey to Easter is really all about. But we know well what lies ahead in the story of our Lenten pilgrimage through Holy Week.
These are days that remind us of hard truths and hard realities. These are days that press us to look at what we sometimes prefer to avoid or deny. What about suffering? What about death? What about heartache and heartbreak? What about disappointment, sadness and broken dreams. What about weakness, my own and that of others? What about pain and loss? What about when nothing seems to make sense, when we try to wrap our heads and hearts around tragedies which are beyond our comprehension? What about the trials and tribulations of everyday life? These days of Lent and the journey toward Easter are days that help us frame, focus, and understand the pathway of our lives. In our Christian faith and our Catholic spirituality we call this the “paschal mystery.” This mystery is about the mystery of Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection and about the same pattern of life, death, and resurrection we can trace so clearly in our own lives.
Ultimately, we have a choice in answering these questions. We can decide that there is no answer and that everything is capricious and random—that there is no real meaning to it all. Or we can look with eyes of faith to see and believe that there is a meaning and purpose for our lives with the joys and sorrows that accompany us. We can see, in the example of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, an illumination that shows the meaning and purpose of our own lives. This is what we believe and celebrate in these days of Lent. It has been said: “It was love that held Him on the cross, not the nails.” We see in the paschal mystery what love is and we see what love does. That’s the important part—what love does.
We listen to the first reading this Sunday and hear the words of the prophet Ezekiel who speaks on behalf of God saying: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back. . . I will put my spirit in you that you may live.” In the Gospel we hear Jesus calling to his friend Lazarus who had been dead in the grave for four days: “Lazarus, come out!” But was Jesus calling Lazarus to come out to the same life he had before he entered the tomb or was he being called to a new and different life? Surely it was to a new life—to a resurrected life.
So, to what are we being called when we hear Jesus shouting for us to “come out!”? In these readings we hear the voice of God reminding us that we are called to come out to new life. We are called to a life that is lived in the paschal mystery, namely, to live in the pattern of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We are being called to come out, to rise, to be set free, and to walk into new life. We are being called to come out and rise to a new life of love that keeps us here in our lives because of love. We are called to rise to forgiveness, compassion, mercy, and care for those in suffering. We are called to be with those who are alone. We are called to rise to love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is what new life, outside the tomb, looks like. And even when it is hard, painful, or confusing, we continue with faith that God will bring resurrection and will walk with us in good times and in bad.
There is a quote from President Teddy Roosevelt which expresses the way of this mystery. While he has never been acclaimed for his theological presentations on the journey of the paschal mystery, it is, nonetheless, this great mystery which lies at the heart of his writing when he says: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” In short, the paschal mystery calls us to dare greatly.
What we believe as followers of Jesus is that we are called out of the tomb to something great, rich, fulfilling, graceful, and life-giving. In the words of Pope Francis: “Each day in our world, beauty is born anew. It rises transformed through the storms of history.”
Seeing With Our Hearts
Can you imagine blindness? Most of us think of blindness as the absence of sight, but blindness can take on so many other meanings. If we think of spiritual blindness, we might look at many things in life and begin to see that what is happening, or what has happened, is wrong. We often say, “Oh, now I see” when we come to understand something in a different light.
At other times, we say, “I never saw that coming” or we ask, “Why didn’t I see that when it was happening?” The readings this week are all about what is seen and what is not seen, light and dark, blindness and sight.
If we start today by reflecting on our own blindness, we have to ask ourselves, where do we not see evil? Are we blind to hatred that destroys the good name of another? Are we blind to the prejudices that populate our lives? Do we recognize domestic violence when it is happening around us? Do we see how we blame the victim or make judgments about the behavior of others? Do we hide behind language like “hate the sin but love the sinner”?
Do we have the courage to ask others to help us to see? At Mass this weekend, we have the opportunity to ask God to heal our blindness, to move us out of darkness to light. And on Monday night at 7 pm, come to listen to Miriam and Monica as they explore light and fire as symbols in our Lenten journey.
May the blindness of hatred, the darkness of war, and the gloom of greed be transformed by the Light of Christ. We want to see with our hearts. We want to see as Jesus sees. We want to see as God sees!
“Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the hearts.” May I choose to see the goodness in others, the world, and myself.
Living Water Poured Out on Us
The woman at the well is one of the most intriguing and powerful women figures in the Gospel. Although to a Jew she is a nobody (because she is a woman and a Samaritan), she engages Jesus in a lively and revealing dialogue. What do you think she thinks about Jesus? What does Jesus think of her? How is she transformed in this encounter?
When Jesus requests, “Give me a drink,” he expresses a need for her. That need begins a conversation that satisfied her very deep thirst for God and for acceptance. After all, she came at noon, the hottest time of the day, so that she wouldn’t meet the women who shunned her and derided her. Jews considered Samaritans to be less than human and men did not speak to women in public.
But Jesus is different. Jesus gifts her with dialogue and presence. He not only talks to her, but he also appreciates her willingness to be vulnerable and accepts her as she is. Transformed by this experience of Jesus as “living water,” she runs back to the village, to people she tried to avoid and that avoided her, and her excitement at coming to know Jesus transforms them. They too come to believe that the Savior, the Lord, was among them.
One of many lessons for me in this story is that being vulnerable frees us to be honest with God, myself, and others. Ultimately, knowing Jesus quenches my deepest longing. Another lesson is acceptance of the stranger, the one who doesn’t fit, who isn’t like me. Jesus breaks the law again in talking to a woman, in public. Furthermore, he needs her to give him a drink. I am left with lots to think about regarding the role of some laws in my own life today. When would I be willing to break a law in order to save another?
Join us on Sunday, as our Elect and candidates express their own vulnerabilities by naming the transformation they seek in their lives. Like them, ask that living water, the water of salvation quenches our thirst too! And then as disciples, by virtue of our own baptism, we too, run with gratitude to share God’s living water with all we meet.
Let Us See Christ As He Really Is
All the elements of a spiritual journey are found in the readings for this weekend. At St. Francis, we have begun our Lenten spiritual journey whole-heartedly, and, hopefully, we are all experiencing a bit of seeing Jesus as he really is.
As we explore the readings, we hear about Abram’s journey that takes him beyond the comfort zone of his home to a home yet unknown to him, one that he doesn’t live to see. He trusts in a promise made to him, and only his descendants experience the blessing as promised. In the reading from 2 Timothy, we hear of God giving us the strength to endure hardships, to live holy lives based on God’s design—God’s will for us—and on God’s grace, given to us in abundance. And then we experience the ultimate strategy session—Jesus meets Moses and Elijah on the mountain top. They represent the law and the prophets, and Jesus mediates both. They must all get on the same page! Jesus, the human, is transfigured, becomes the most brilliant light, and it’s like staring at the sun without sunglasses! It’s a vision of things to come—the kingdom.
James and John had accompanied Jesus to the mountain, and they heard God’s voice. “This is my Son. Listen to him!” Upon hearing this, they fell to the ground and were afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, and when they raised their eyes they saw Jesus alone. They saw Jesus as he really is. Immediately, they wanted to build tents and to stay there. But Jesus sent them forth. They had to come down the mountain and live in the kingdom!
Once we have listened and learned about Jesus, it’s our turn to tell others, to show others, and to live as Jesus lived. When we become afraid or feel alone, we remember the promise that we are never alone. When we are happy and excited, we want to praise God. In other words, we are called to be the light of Christ, to radiate and illuminate all that Jesus did on that mountain. It is clear that the work of God continues daily when we see Christ as he really is—when enemies are transformed into allies, when strangers become friends!
Transformation and conversion are everywhere! Let’s name it! How are we being changed? Where are we experiencing “transfiguration?”
P.S. There is a wonderful reflection on the Transfiguration by Diana Macalintil found on Facebook. Click here to read it.
Making God #1 in Our Lives
Turn our hearts around! Lent provides the universal church and each of us a good time for self-reflection and practices that lead to a change of heart, true conversion. In this week’s readings, we are reminded that soon after Jesus’ baptism, he went to the desert where he was tempted. And he resisted! When you read the Gospel, or hear it proclaimed this weekend, pay close attention to the way Jesus responds to the devil, to the temptation to put self before God. How often do we do that?
Is God first in our lives? Above all else? What evidence do we have for that?
This Sunday we celebrate the Rite of Sending and the Rite of Election with our catechumens and candidates. Our adults, teens and children have been discerning their calls to conversion, to radical change in their hearts. Perhaps the questions they are reflecting on will spur us to return to making God #1 in our lives.
- What concrete evidence in your life demonstrates that you have listened to Go’s word and have been formed and transformed by it?
- In what way have you patterned your life on Jesus’ life in the Gospels? How have you changed?
- What evidence in your life and in your actions demonstrates that you have taken the word of God out into your world?
- What evidence in your life demonstrates that you are incorporated into the life of prayer and worship of the Catholic community?
Called to BE Providence
Recently, my community, the Sisters of Divine Providence gathered to reflect on what we are experiencing as the call to be Providence. Sister Marie McCarthy provided some wonderful reflection pieces for us.
What does it mean to name God Providence? God provides everything we need. We love that about God. AND the mystery of Providence is even larger and more profound than this, because the mystery of Providence is incomplete without our response. Sister Marie tells us that
Providence, the Energy of Love, is the mystery of the ongoing, enduring interrelationship between the God who makes all things possible and us creatures, handiwork of the creative activity of Love—creatures made in the very image and likeness of Holy Mystery, creatures who are themselves creative.
Each of us then, by virtue of the relationship we have with God, has the ability, the choice to continue God’s Providence by becoming involved in creating new possibilities, new connections to all of life. Sister Marie says:
The call to be Providence in our world is a call to engage actively in bringing about the transformation of the world….To be Providence is to trust, not in the false treasures of material possessions, better arms, and fleeting securities, but in the foolhardiness of casting aside these concerns for the sake of building a genuine human community, founded in justice and relying on Providence.
To be Providence is to find one’s treasure in that community of people who give themselves to radical hope. That hope, she says, is “a thoroughly engaged and courageous hope which faces the overwhelming evils and possibilities for destruction which surround us and yet persistently plans for, hopes in, and builds towards that future which God desires.”
We discover what God desires for us, what God provides as new opportunities to serve our brothers and sisters when we gather as a community of radical hope and we search for ways to be Providence for our world. See you on Sunday to explore together!
Holiness is About All of Our Relationships
What do “holiness” and “love of enemies” have in common? How should we respond to injury within the community? How do you imagine yourself being holy? Knowing that your body is a temple of the Lord, and therefore holy, what might you change in your behavior? If we all “loved our neighbors as ourselves” do you think there would be wars, trafficking of human persons, pornography, prisons, hunger, executions and poverty?
Wow! These readings are filled with images that are “different” from what we probably expect. Are you, like me, thinking “Do you really mean that, Jesus?” It’s just too hard to do this “love your enemies” thing!
Jesus spent his entire life on earth trying to teach us what it means to do the will of the Father, to be perfect as his heavenly Father and to trust that we have been given all that it takes to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Jesus asked his disciples, and us, to think differently, live differently, love differently and talk differently. If we claim to be disciples of Jesus, then we too must “be holy.” Holiness is about all of our relationships, not just our relationship with God. It includes our relationships with others, even our enemies. It includes our relationships—our action and in-action—regarding so many of the things we pray for daily. We are called to ACT. And it also includes our relationship to ourselves, to our bodies which are temples of God and therefore holy.
Turn our hearts around, we pray. Help us to see, understand, love and act differently! Help us to be holy!