Monday, March 30, 2015

work in progress



Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week - yet the Church is largely silent after Palm Sunday, until the celebration of Holy Thursday. The first days of Holy Week are silent witnesses of anticipation that we should not overlook in our own preparation for the Easter Triduum.



Today’s first reading at Mass (Is. 42:1-7) carries a sense of anticipation, of waiting, in its use of “shall” and “until”. God’s servant “shall bring forth justice,” and “the coastlands will wait for his teaching” until he establishes justice. Isaiah’s words are evocative of a mission that is not yet complete – “I, the LORD, have called you… To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners…”

The eyes of the blind are not yet open; the prisoners are still captive; sight and freedom have not yet come. These things are essentially a work in progress. 
One could sum up this reading in a single sentence: “The world awaits the Lord’s salvation.”

And of course, salvation came, in the person of Jesus Christ, and through his death and resurrection. However, as Catholics, we know that our own salvation depends on our response to the Risen Lord over the course of our entire lives. We await salvation – until God grants us the vision of heaven in eternity. "The Lord is my light and my salvation..." (Ps. 27)


We are all “a work in progress.”

Sunday, March 29, 2015

not what i will

The struggle to follow Christ, to obey his will, is constant - particularly in a dark world that does not acknowledge God... Sometimes, it is so hard to echo the words of Jesus in Gesthemane, "Not what I will, but what you will." 


I'm posting this quite a bit later than I'd intended to... But life has a way of intervening in our intentions sometimes... I had a migraine on Wednesday that lasted through Thursday and into Friday. No thanks to spring pollen and wind for that one! In any case, perhaps it is better that I was delayed in finishing and posting this - a few days' perspective, and with Palm Sunday, has hopefully improved my collection of thoughts. 

A few days ago, I was able to spend some time in the Stations of the Cross prayer garden that is adjacent to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, in Santa Fe. Praying before each of the massive bronze Stations, I slowly worked my way around the garden path. After praying the Stations, I sat quietly in the garden and meditated on Jesus' Passion. The bronze sculptures that make up the Stations of the Cross in this garden are rough and textural, nearly primitive in their expressions - and they illustrate the suffering of Christ in a manner that makes them painful to observe.

Suffering that we can barely imagine.

Suffering that was an act of love, to be sure. But beyond that, the suffering of Christ was also an act of perfect trust - trusting that God the Father would not let his suffering be in vain. And beyond that, Christ's suffering was an act of perfect obedience. 

During the reading of the Passion at Mass this morning, my attention was particularly drawn to Jesus' words: "Not what I will, but what you will." 

Lord, you know how poorly I obey you, so often. How often my words are not your own - when instead I say, "not what you will, Lord, but what I will." 

Lord, I love you. Yet clearly, I love you so poorly that I am unfaithful to you, unfaithful to your will, unfaithful to your unfathomable love. It seems to me that, knowing your great love, I should be more faithful to you, and doing your will should not be so difficult for me. Yet I struggle with it, in even the smallest of things. How can it be that my heart is still so hard? 


The Eighth Station: Jesus Speaks to the Women -
Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Santa Fe, NM


Though I am a bit late to the party, still hitting the linkup with Blessed Is She! ;)
  


Monday, March 23, 2015

falling asleep in Adoration

Saturday morning, running on 4.5 hours of sleep, some caffeine, two bananas, and adrenaline, I plunged into leading a retreat for my parish's high school Confirmation students. Sunday afternoon, I went to spend time with Jesus in Adoration - where, still tired from Saturday's events, I fell asleep.


I love the NCAA tournament, but my version of March Madness this weekend involved nine hours of prayer, discussion, and laughter with 19 teenagers - and no basketball.
If you've ever led a retreat, whether it was a day, a weekend, or longer, you know what's involved, from the planning and preparation, through the retreat itself. I LOVE it, but it's not light on effort - retreats are a labor of love. That labor of love always exacts suffering in some way, and in my Catholic mind, that's not just okay; it's good. Things that are worth doing are worth suffering for - particularly when that suffering gives way to - please, God! - spreading the light of Christ.

Symbolically speaking of that light of Christ, I asked the confirmandi to pray about what they needed to let go of in order to draw closer to God. After time in prayer, they lit candles representing what they needed to let go of,  and placed them in a bed of salt in front of an icon of Christ - a reminder that they are called to be the "salt of the earth" and "light of the world":  



By the time things were wrapped up Saturday evening, I was happily exhausted after a wonderful day with a great group of teens. As I walked to my car in a completely unexpected rainstorm, I looked east, toward the church: 


A DOUBLE RAINBOW!!! 

Well played, Lord, well played. I try not to read into these things when they happen, but yes, I would like to think that maybe... just maybe... our Lord was letting me know he was happy. Of course, as long as he really was happy, it doesn't really matter if he was telling me that or not. 

Note: yes, that is a bright blue sky on the other side of the cloud... The rain seemed like it came out of nowhere. It was there, and then it was gone, rainbows and all. 

You might think, after the whole 4.5-hours-of-sleep-here's-some-caffeine-let's-go-lead-a-retreat-now experience, I would've slept in on Sunday. After all, we ended the retreat with Mass, so I didn't need to go Sunday morning. But no. I was wide awake at 7:00.

After a lovely morning and early afternoon relaxing and shopping with a friend, I decided I'd go spend some time with Jesus.

Sitting in the chapel, soaking in the goodness of our Lord's presence, it hit me. I was tired. Like, really tired. Sleepy tired. 

Truth: I totally fell asleep. Thankfully, I was wearing a chapel veil - and the sides make it harder to see my eyes - so hopefully no one else in the adoration chapel really noticed. ;-)

When *ahem* I awoke about 40 minutes later, I somewhat sheepishly recalled what St. Therese of Lisieux said about her struggles with staying awake when she was supposed to be at prayer: 

"I remember that little children are as pleasing to their parents when they are asleep as well as when they are wide awake; I remember, too, that when they perform operations, doctors put their patients to sleep. Finally, I remember that: 'The Lord knows our weakness, that he is mindful that we are but dust and ashes.'"

To be that little child in the eyes of the Father... 

To be the patient of the Divine Physician... 

To know the love of Jesus in spite of my own dust and ashes.

"O God, you are my God, for you I long..."


Thursday, March 19, 2015

unpredictable weather

Springtime weather in the desert is unpredictable - sudden storms can obscure our vision - forcing us to trust that we are headed the right direction. Likewise, in the spiritual life, God sometimes obscures the path from our sight. He knows what he is accomplishing, even when our faith and trust in him are challenged. 


Lent. Over the years, I have often felt as if I've been kicked out into the desert during Lent, feeling spiritually alone and unsure of myself - like parachuting out of a plane at night, not knowing where you'll land, or what you'll find when you hit the ground. 

Lent. You probably know, the word means "spring" - and this had often seemed so ironic. Springtime in the desert is often less tulips-and-daffodils, and more tumbleweeds and wind. The land is dry and dusty, begging for rain. Honestly, I prefer autumn.


Lent. Last year, I was particularly drawn to praying with the gospel story of Jesus' temptation in the desert. At the time, I was beginning to heal from some "tough stuff" I'd been through in the previous several years - tough stuff that had deeply challenged my faith and trust in God. A beautiful intervention of grace (more on that another time) several months prior had helped me find the will to begin rebuilding my life with Christ, but I was, by no means, healed. 


While praying this gospel one afternoon, I found myself, in my mind's eye, standing in the desert - the same dry, dusty, juniper- and chamisa-covered expanse that I have always pictured when praying with this passage. This time, however, it was much more "real" - as though the Lord was drawing me more deeply into prayer by allowing me a more vivid experience of the scene. 


looked around the dry, dusty desert, and lifting my head, looked up at the sky. Clouds were gathering, in the manner one might expect before a summer monsoon rain. An unexpected breeze swept across the land, carrying the sweet scent of desert rain and moist sagebrush. I closed my eyes, breathing it in, feeling unusually at peace. 

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.


The breeze grew stronger. Eyes still closed, I flinched, expecting the stinging impact of blowing sand to follow. Instead, I felt raindrops, and heard their quiet drumming on the dry land.  

Sensing the presence of another, I opened my eyes. The "other" was Jesus, standing before me. I thought my heart would burst inside my chest, yet I hesitated


“My daughter,” he said, stepping forward to embrace me, “I love you.” 


The hesitance disappeared. I collapsed into his arms, sobbing into his cloak, unable to speak.  

After a few moments, Jesus spoke: "I know what you have suffered. Will you let go, and let me heal you? I love you." 


How could I not trust?



*Linking up with the Blessed Is She Sisterhood today, on the topic of trust - check it out!*
  



Tuesday, March 17, 2015

the rules and the reasons why

Have you ever felt that we, as a Church, are quite good at laying out the "rules," yet sometimes quite bad at expressing why those rules are important to follow? 


I teach Confirmation preparation classes to high school students, and it is clear that many teens (and plenty of adults, too!) look at the Church and see an endless list of rules and regulations - whether it's the "administrative" things they are required to do in order to get confirmed, or the actual teachings of the Church.

These rules and regs and requirements are important - but unless their underlying reasons are understood, they lack meaning. When a rule lacks meaning, it is much easier to let it fall by the wayside. It is one thing to tell a teenager that premarital sex is a mortal sin; it is quite another to actually explain to them why sex is a gift to be shared within the bonds of marriage, and why treating that gift like a plaything outside of marriage is effectively playing with fire.

It seems to me that often, we do a great job laying out the rules, and a poor job of expressing their meaning... In other words, we're often really good at telling people what they have to do, and we're really bad at helping them understand why they should do those things.

Odds are, you've been on the "telling" or "being told" end of this at some point - am I right?

Halfway through Lent, it is worth it to point out that the same could be said for the manner in which we often approach Lent - giving something up in order to say we have done it, instead of considering carefully what we need to do in our lives to grow closer to God. We are good at observing the letter of the law - not unlike the Pharisees - but sometimes (often?) we fail to meet, or even recognize, its spirit, whether out of our own ignorance, fear, or indifference.

We all know what we have to do - we know the rules and regs  - we've been through the what, the when, the where, the who, and the how.

Don't lose sight of the *why*. The rules and regs aren't a checklist (and in the case of Confirmation, they are not "graduation requirements"). They are important, because they provide us with a framework for our lives - a way along which we come to know and love our God, and find that his ways are true, just as the Church has said.

High school Confirmation preparation programs are intended to help young Catholics develop a relationship with Christ that will continue to grow long after they are confirmed. The teachings of the Church are intended to accomplish precisely the same thing - to help us develop our relationship with Christ throughout our lives - though we often forget this because we lose sight of the why.

We need to know God because we live in a dark world that does not.

We need to know God so that we can offer the light of Christ to this dark world - and because we need a safe harbor when the world's storms come our way.

Ultimately, we need to know God so that, when we finally see his face in eternity, we can say, "Lord, I love you, and I have done your will."




Friday, March 13, 2015

7 Quick Takes Friday

Jumping in on a 7QT Friday!




1. We are more than halfway through Lent! Can you believe it? It seems to me that Ash Wednesday was just yesterday...

2. Today is the second anniversary of Pope Francis' election to the papacy. This also seems like it just happened yesterday. One of my favorite tweets from @Pontifex in the last few days:

3. I am getting way too hooked on Twitter. Hooked enough that I have learned how to embed the Pope's tweets in my blog.

4. Speaking of being hooked on Twitter, if you're on Twitter, come follow me, @chemgraphix - because I post cool stuff like this (yep, here I go with the embedded tweet, again):

5. The roses in my courtyard have decided that spring has sprung. Evidence below (I posted this pic yesterday, but without explanation) - new growth is a beautiful thing!




6. If you have never seen a roadrunner outside of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, they do, in fact, exist, and they are, in fact, really cool! I saw one earlier this week (forgive the crappy digital zoom picture):




7. On a more serious note, I have been reminded again, and again, and again, and AGAIN this week, how much we need to pray for our country and world - and how much more so in Lent, when we are called to offer sacrifice and do penance? Immorality is everywhere, Christians are being slaughtered by ISIS while the world largely stands by and allows it to happen.

We need to pray, without ceasing. GK Chesterton was right, "To have the right to do a thing is not at all the same as being right in doing it."

The world we live in today does not understand this. At all.

On that cheery note, happy Friday of the 3rd Week of Lent, everyone!
And check out the link up at Kelly Mantoan's This Ain't the Lyceum!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

reconciliation + encounter

"Lord, I love you; have mercy on me and forgive my sins."

The first thing I pray when my knees hit the kneeler before Mass or at Adoration is some version of the above - an expression of love, coupled with a request for mercy and forgiveness because my love is imperfect, and the sin is born from my inability to love perfectly is blinding. I want to eliminate the sin that keeps me from "seeing" God. 

In other words, I am seeking reconciliation. And usually about once a month or so, I seek this reconciliation formally, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation... Confession. 

But what does reconciliation really mean?

I like to break words down into their most basic meanings, and this is a great word to pull apart. I'm not the first to comment on this, by far (I've read it in articles, on numerous blogs, and Fr. Robert Barron discusses it in his "Priest, Prophet, King" series, as well), but if you break the word reconciliation into its component parts, you have: re-con-cilia-tion. The first three are the most important: re = again, con = with, cilia = eyelash. So, reconciliation essentially means "to be eyelash to eyelash again". When we are reconciled to God, we have literally turned away from the disorder of our sin, and have turned back to face him again. 

Once reconciled, we are able to love and honor God properly - totally facing him, instead of turned away, facing the world. We are free to encounter Jesus, the Living Word. 

One of the great stories of conversion recounted in the Gospels is that of the Samaritan woman at the well, and I think it illustrates well this idea of reconciliation and encounter. The Samaritan woman, who is living in sin, is at first unable to comprehend his presence at the well. She doesn't really "see" him - until he reveals his knowledge of her sin, and his identity as Messiah. Reconciliation and encounter are somewhat implicit here, but they become clear through their effects when the woman returns to her village, proclaiming Jesus. Because of her encounter with Jesus, the Samaritan woman - who had presumably been an outcast in her village because of her sin - has now become an evangelist, seeking to bringing more people to the same reconciliation and encounter she has experienced. 

Though I've certainly not had five husbands (happy with the one I've got, and one is definitely enough!), ;) and have never drawn water from a well in a dusty town in Samaria, I can relate to the woman at the well - and just fielding a guess, we probably all can relate to her. Jesus knows everything I've ever done, and has offered me his mercy. When I accept his mercy and am reconciled to him, he invites me into encounter - invites me to know him, as the Living Word, as Love, as Lord. 

"Lord, I love you; reconcile me to yourself so I may live in your love." 




Linking up to the Blessed is She Sisterhood!






Thursday, March 5, 2015

mouth-to-mouth with God


Last night, I had the opportunity to view part of Fr. Robert Barron's newest study program, "Priest, Prophet, King". 

Sidenote: it's great! If you follow Fr. Barron and his work with Word On Fire, you know there is no big surprise there, as they really do seem to do all things well. Thus far, "Priest, Prophet, King" is loaded with some serious theology, which will take prayer(!!!!), discussion, and study to unpack. Good stuff. 

In any case... 

Setting the stage for a discussion of the idea of "right praise" of God, he references Pope Benedict XVI's etymology of the word adoration - Latin, adoratio - meaning "mouth to mouth".  

This particular section is in the YouTube preview of the series, which I watched a few weeks ago. It hit me like certain revelation then - I know some Latin, but I had never considered the word adoration beyond its surface - and it stuck out to me again, yesterday evening. 

And so, realizing this may be a foreign thought to many people - and that some might find it bizarre/ridiculous/nonsensical/fallacious: 

Who would not want to be mouth-to-mouth with God?  

Even to approach oneness with Him, let alone to enter into true union with God while on earth, as in the mystical union experienced by some of the saints... The mere idea is all at once unthinkably amazing, yet completely sublime, and enough to make one shudder. It signifies that true adoration - right praise - of God leads, at its end, to nothing less than being consumed by the fire of Love. Love returns love (in the case of Divine love, that return is more than exponential), and all right praise comes finds its origin in true love of God. 

Maybe that's a little terrifying, because it requires such ultimate surrender. But really, isn't that what God wants - us, completely? Our messy, human entirety, surrendered?

Oh, the exquisite, unfathomable depths of God's goodness! 

Yet more terrifying is that, as Fr. Barron points out, and as anyone who has tried to walk with Christ knows or eventually comes to discover, right praise doesn't happen without sacrifice, and that means we will suffer. We "moderns" are quite scared of suffering, at least we who live in relative comfort with little to fear, except maybe an upset stomach from leftovers that have been in the fridge for too long. Real suffering, though? We push it away, try to eliminate it from our sight, try to kill it before it kills us. 

We question how a good God could will suffering in His creation, and use it as an excuse to kick God to the curb. The answer, of course - at least the only one that makes sense - is that God does not will suffering; He does not will evil - but He does allow it - even when it causes us excruciating pain. Excruciating pain, so called after the pain of crucifixion. 

The crucifixion of Christ is the greatest evil ever perpetrated upon earth. It is also the most perfect act of adoration ever accomplished - accomplished out of perfect love. Wrought in the deepest depths of suffering, it culminated in the consuming, redemptive love revealed in the Resurrection. Love overflows with love.

As I considered the interplay of adoration, sacrifice, and consuming love, I could not help but think of  21 Coptic Christians forced to the water's edge in Libya and brutally beheaded for acknowledging their faith in Jesus Christ. Adoration. Sacrifice. Complete surrender to God. 

All 21 of those men were mouth-to-mouth with God on that beach. What an incredible reward awaited them - the consuming love of God, for all eternity. 

Yes, the exquisite, unfathomable depths of God's goodness. 


(Another photograph taken at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish - "Redemptorist Church" - Kansas City, MO - July 2014)