The Return

The word Lent derives from a Middle English word lenten, meaning springtime. I kindle to that image as I consider that the purpose of Lent is to lead us into Christ’s passion through a season of examination and growth that will renew our strength and determination to love the LORD God with all our heart, mind and strength. We take up this practice every year, sometimes with a sense of duty or dread about the fasting, almsgiving or penance, but I believe we are missing the point of this our Catholic tradition. If we are not mindful of God’s desire to renew us as springtime renews the earth, Lent can be seen as a burden. Lent is more than making resolutions or enduring a penance by taking on something we think will be extraordinarily difficult. If we consider that it was Jesus zeal for us, his beloved, that led him into temptation like our own in order to reveal that he alone is our life-giving Savior, then we come closer to understanding Lent as a gift not a burden. Jesus alone delivers us from evil. Satan the enemy of our soul is the tempter, but Jesus is the conquerer!

The Liturgy of the Word during these 40 days of Lent offers us the armor, as it were, to journey with Jesus into this higher calling beyond enduring temptation to “proving” our desire for Him alone. I learned awhile back that when the term “40 days” is used in scripture it is usually associated with a period of time that includes trouble and hardship for the purpose of “proving” someone. Proving in the sense that you proof yeast, allowing time for the enzymes to activate in its environment of water and flour. Well, the environment we live in is rife with temptations that diminish us, intended to waste us in its concoction–the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life.” St. John goes on to say that this [concoction] “is not of the Father, but is of the world.” ..

Let’s consider another purpose of the daily readings during Lent. When we read the WORD, we are reading Jesus Christ, we are hearing Him say to us all we need for our salvation. His Spirit penetrates our hearts and minds with the sharp awareness of our own sin. If we choose, this Bread of Life, the Word of God, will raise in us new life. We enter into the temptation and penance of Lent with the daily Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist in Mass as our weapon and our sustenance for endurance and transformation. In consuming the Word, Jesus himself, the LORD offers us food for this journey as we align ourselves with the truth that the LORD’s strength is sufficient. He also offers us insight into the vices that keep us from his new life!

I recognized this gift of armor and the awareness of our sin as I considered the theme of return in today’s readings. The psalmist cries out to the Lord to “remember His mercies” In every instance of God “remembering,” we see that it always includes an action. God never forgets His Covenant or His people. He doesn’t suffer from memory lapses about us, no, to “remember” means God has us on His mind and he is ready to act is we allow him to. In the lenten season He is drawing us away, up into a desert for us to recollect his mercies as we suffer our temptations.

The prophet Joel’s words are read today just before the proclamation of the Gospel: “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart; for I am gracious and merciful” And then the Gospel reading from Matthew teaches us how to return to Him with a lesson on forgiveness that Jesus taught His disciples. Do we need to be reminded of that today? I know I need to remember that a forgiving spirit guides me in returning to the LORD in order to be renewed and to become like him!

As we consider the greatest temptation of our life is to forget how much you love us and desire us, remind us that you always have us on your mind and you are waiting for us to always have you on our mind.

LORD God, we ask that this season of Lent be a season where we allow You to penetrate our spirits through our fasting, almsgiving and penance. May we allow you to prove us so that we would grow into the life you desire for us. Bring springtime to our hearts as we walk with you during this Lenten fast. Renew a right spirit within us!

In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen

Transfiguration: “It is good that we are here.”


Jesus took Peter, James, and John 
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them, 
and his clothes became
dazzling white, 
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them
. Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, 
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, 
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents: 
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; 
from the cloud came a voice, 
“This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.”
Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.

The Gospel according to St. Mark 9

Have you noticed that climbing mountains seem to be a thing for the LORD? In today’s reading the disciples climb Mt. Tabor and suddenly some other mountain climbers appear in holy companionship with the LORD Jesus. Those mountain climbers of the Old Testament had indeed experienced what Peter, James and John were experiencing–a moment of shut-my-mouth-wide-opened stupefaction at what appeared before their eyes. The disciples saw the metamorphose of their Rabbi and they were terrified, yet enticed to keep their eyes opened. I imagine Jesus whispering to Peter, James and John before they parted from the other disciples, “Come away with me.” I kindle to the idea that Jesus draws his disciples: up mountains, into deserts, through rivers, across lakes and to places of solitude. Places where his divinity touched the ground of their humanity–transformation indeed!

Enter Moses and Elijah, great heroes of the Old Covenant. Their climbing lessons were similar to what Jesus had in mind for the three disciples that day. When Moses climbed Horeb [Sinai] and Elijah climbed Carmel and Horeb, an immense transfiguration happened before them and within them: the LORD God transforming a burning bush in order to arrest the attention of Moses, a cloud shrouding Moses as the LORD’s finger wrote his Law on a stone tablet (where did he get that?)  Elijah shattered the cult of Baal-worship on Mt. Carmel through a cloud the size of a man’s hand bearing the rain that no graven image could conjure. Elijah’s fear sent him running away and into the shade of a broom tree where the angels of God ministered to him , then on to Mt. Horeb after that rest when he was under an edict of death by the powers at be. Through the whisper of a gentle breeze he reveals himself to the battered prophet….and he asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?”

In today’s gospel the show and tell lesson of Jesus’ Transfiguration doesn’t ask any questions of the disciples, rather it reveals the answer for the unspoken questions about Jesus’ divinity. In hindsight we understand they needed this glimpse of eternity and the real purpose of life, for they would soon find themselves alternately hiding away in fear and boldly conveying the truth of the Transfiguration and the Resurrection Their own transfiguration into God’s desire for them would eventually end in their martyrdom, but I imagine they welcomed that because of what they had seen and heard on Mt. Tabor that day.

They heard the LORD’s answer about the purpose of life from within a cloud that shadowed them. The answer was simple enough for them to understand, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.” Just like Moses and Elijah, the disciples had challenges with listening to the LORD. We have the same hearing problem some times, don’t we? The LORD is always speaking, he waits for those who will listen!

The LORD longs for us to see him as well. Are you like me, suffering from nearsightedness? Distracted by fear or pride when all around me there is the stunning revelation of God. He is always showing himself to those who look for him, to those who will behold him! The mystery of transfiguration is revealed in us when we learn to listen to the LORD’s voice, to respond in obedience, to see that every moment is suffused with the divine waiting to touch the ground of our humanity? It is in that overshadowing of the LORD’s grace that  turns the here and now into the holy ground of our transformation into God’s likeness?

LORD, you tell us that we become what we behold. Help us to contemplate your love for us, free us of our fears and pride so that we may be transformed into your likeness. Remind us that life is not the ground we stand on in our corner of the world! Life begins and ends in you! Reveal to us in the meantime the shut-my-mouth-wide-opened wonder of the good life you have for those who choose to follow you. “It is good that we are here.”

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen

Nothing But a Walking Stick

And he called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Where you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.  And if any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.” So they went out and preached that men should repent.  And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.

This curious passage from the Gospel according to Saint Mark reveals Jesus confidence in his disciples–the fledging group of 12 nobodies who are somebodies in Jesus eyes–he tells them to take nothing but a walking stick to unknown places. He must have seen something in these twelve that others could not see; better put, he saw what the disciples could be if they would simply trust in him.  

Jesus Christ, their rabbi, whom they had followed from the beginning seemed to have a purpose for the journey into new territory and strange landscapes. The disciples had been privy to a show and tell sort of relationship with Jesus as they followed him about, observing his healing actions, hearing his teachings. But he surely knew some still doubted his divinity and questioned his motives, how they misunderstood that the kingdom he referred to is not about their earthly liberation from oppression by the Romans. Yet Jesus sends them on a field trip tailor made to accomplish one thing–to teach them to trust him.

The disciples must have said to themselves, “Jesus, why only a walking stick? If this is some great pilgrimage that you send me on, you must know I need more than a walking stick.  How is it going to make this assignment easier to accomplish? And where am I going anyway? And why? How will I know when I get there? Will I get there? Who will I be able to rely on?……..

Pilgrim daughter of mine, leave your conjured security behind. Nothing but a walking stick, dear daughter, keep to the path.

Pilgrim daughter of mine, stop allowing your pride to thwart your journey, it gets in the way. Nothing but a walking stick, dear daughter, to beat away all that rivals for the throne in my Kingdom.

Pilgrim daughter of mine, I know your weaknesses, I created you, remember? Nothing but a walking stick, dear daughter, will suffice to schooch away the brambles that poke around in your soul. Then you will travel from strength to strength rather than wandering in the desert of your weaknesses.

Pilgrim daughter of mine, I know the utter joy and peace you feel in the shade of our conversations. I know you want to linger there, I understand, I created you, remember? Nothing but a walking stick to remind you that you are on a journey. Yes, the walking stick is a fine thing to lean on and rest awhile. There will be more shade,  more refreshing waters; if you linger here how will you reach the joy and peace of what is ahead on your journey?

Pilgrim daughter of mine, I know you’re prone to wander, binding yourself to distractions of this earthly kingdom. Nothing but a walking stick to keep you from stumbling on those things behind you. I have a greater purpose for you then living between boredom and anxiety, but you must let the distractions go before you grasp the walking stick.

“Stretch Out Your Hand”

“On another sabbath [Jesus] entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered….he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there….After looking around at the crowd, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. –St. John 6

I, too, have a “withered hand.” My hidden affliction comes with me into this sacred place where your almighty Presence stands before my weakness; where you are waiting to become my Hope. I have silently observed your divinity as woebegone humanity grabs for deliverance from their suffering. I’ve lingered at the edges of life, hiding my infirmity while longing for your word, your touch, your gaze to fix on me. 

My withered self has narrated my existence with waning courage, whispering that it’s just a hand, a slight barrier between acceptance and rejection. I have lived until this moment: self-confident, self-reliant–hiding behind  declarations of my capability and strength, parroting confidence. I stand in the synagogue alongside other worshippers waiting for a word from you. I reassure myself that they do not know me, they don’t know the extent of my shame. I’m very good at hiding.

My inner battle and private fears, drive me to hide in the crowd rather than to grab for your attention.  I’m just another broken display of the miseries of humanity trying to stay out of the way. But today I choose to be here, today I’ve come to listen to your Word, Jesus. As you look about, your eye’s fix on me! It seems as though you see behind my mask, right into my doubt! In an instant a fissure in my soul gives way between my affliction and your gaze.  You see me, I feel your eyes piercing through the folded cloth that hides my weakness, and it seems you don’t regard it as the hindrance at all. Is this strength I’m feeling?

Come and stand here.”  You say to me.

I respond to your request, but I carry with me my greatest distress at not being accepted, of being chastised. I stretch out my withered hand from my prison of self-sufficiency toward your Divinity, and I am transformed! Yes, my withered hand was restored, but I was also released from my self-protection and doubt, my pride and my fear. Suddenly, in that moment, I understood! I know that you are the Living God draped in flesh so that my broken flesh can be transformed into your divine image. At once you know my brokenness and you take it into yourself and render me whole. How is this? How can I be a favored one?

Friend, you may feel as that man felt, I know I do sometimes. What is your withered hand? Yes, it may be physical but, more so it’s those hidden impairments in our soul that keeps us withered in spirit. Resentments, jealousy, envy, bitterness, pride, anger, fear; Christ came to heal all wounds and his eyes are always fixed on us waiting for us to respond to his offer of healing.

Do you find yourself standing at the margins of grace stunted by the belief that Jesus can’t possibly realize how broken you are? Can you see him reaching past that brokenness into your heart, beckoning you to trust him? It’s hard sometimes, isn’t it? Just like the man, we are offered a choice. When our spirit moves closer to the fullness of Christ, he is faithful to fill us with courage to believe we can be healed and accept his healing power.

The man entered the synagogue that day full of himself. He left the synagogue emptied of himself–all that hindered him. He stretched his withered hand toward You, he drew it back restored and whole. You are standing before us now waiting for us to reach for you, grant us courage.

Healing Savior, I reach for you believing that you hear every cry, no matter how silent. You know my inner longings for holiness and wholeness, grant me the courage to expose my whole mind, body and soul to your healing hand. Reach into my innermost fears and my over-weaning pride. Restore me to what you believe about me.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen

Familiar with Wisdom

“My feet kept to the level path because from earliest youth I was familiar with wisdom.”

— Sirach 51:15

LORD, to know what You would have me to think or say at any given moment would be perfection. To know just how to weigh life circumstances on Your scale of justice–love and mercy–would be supremely satisfying. To discern lies from truth even when they are packed in shiny wrapping paper, well, that would be out-of-this-world! I do believe people would name me God! That’s not going to happen.

You prescribe for me what should be a simple method to gain wisdom; a perfect method for learning wisdom is to nurture familiarity with Your ways. It really isn’t a simple method because it’s pretty hard for me to transfer my gaze to You when I’m attached to MY ways. Becoming better acquainted with anything requires familiarity before it can become second-nature. Learning to walk requires falling down. Learning to cook requires burning some things. Learning to play the piano requires some discord. Learning to live in what You envision for me requires some failures, actually, a lot of failures.

The Books of Wisdom in Sacred Scripture are a tutorial for me as I become familiar with what You desire to foster in me. It seems that at one point in my life a passage will arrest my attention so that Your holy Spirit may teach me what I need to learn from the life-circumstance of that particular point on the path of Faith. Years, even decades later, You will lead me back over similar territory and You will once again reveal a little more to me in order to correct my gaze. It’s taking a lifetime to become familiar enough with Your ways that they become second-nature (my true nature?) to me. The path may appear different to me each time, but little by little You are leveling out the rough places in my spirit and filling in the pocks that trip me up. Pitfalls and pratfalls of my own making eventually becoming the holy ground for You, the Father of Light to pour into me Your luminous virtues.

Happy are those who meditate on Wisdom, and fix their gaze on knowledge; who ponder her ways in their heart and understand her paths.” -Sirach 14:20-21

Pondering begets familiarity. I can slip into pondering and meditating on resentment and self-protection, but that makes me more familiar with the human condition than with Your heart. Forgive me, LORD. I recall the first time I got glasses. The optometrist made a wise decision to take me to the window before he placed my new glasses on my head. I was familiar with our town’s downtown, I knew where places were and what the landscape looked like, yet, when the optometrist placed those glasses on my head, my 11 year-old brain was stunned by what I was seeing that I had never seen before. Oh, I had seen it, but my perception was blurred by my impairment. I looked down the street that day from the 5th floor of the building and what I saw was faceted with precise edges. Where once the autumn trees looked like a watercolor of reds and burnt orange, I saw the distinction of every leaf. Where once the S&H Green Stamp store sign was a hanging green rectangle, it now revealed a neatly detailed sign.

The largest obstacle for me in knowing Wisdom is the fix of my vision and when I allow you to correct it with Your counsel I’m almost always stunned by what I never perceived before. Whatever I am seeing, the temptation is to look at it the same way I’ve always seen it, yet when I choose to allow you to increase my faith in You through obedience to the counsel of Your Word, you correct my vision to Your reality. You fix my gaze! It’s mind-blowing to me that where once I saw in another person only frustration and fault, You illuminate to me their heart. Where once I thought the people in the room were judging me, I see now that it was I judging me, they didn’t have a second thought about me. Isn’t that the height of pride–thinking that life is all about me! An insightful friend told me once when I was fearful of being misunderstood that no one thinks about me as much as I think about me! That was Your Spirit using another in the process of fixing my gaze on You, and I’ll never forget it.

Oh, Father,

When I am skewing my focus to me, myself, and I, I’m straining against Your desire for me in my walk toward You, fix my gaze.

When I’m more concerned about what I am saying to myself than what you are saying to me, fix my ears.

When my words dominate our conversations, fix my tongue.

When my feet stubbornly walk akimbo from Your path, fix my step.

And when I am tempted to ignore Your wisdom, whip me on the backside!

The Potter’s House

“The word that came to [me] from the Lord: ‘Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel…

The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Can I not do with you, [Lois] just as this potter has done?’ says the Lord. ‘Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, [Lois].'”

I was your Jeremiah, LORD, a disconsolate servant biding her time, waiting for justice in the land between nowhere and now here. My soul waited for a good word from you, my Creator. I was spoiled in your Potter’s hand… It was you, Creator, that allowed my body to lose its equilibrium, to fall away from a lifetime of mind over matter? You were aware! So it must be your purpose! You don’t waste clay.  I am clay in repair….clay in restoration….clay in transformation.

Your lump of clay on the wheel, keen to be mended from injury that reduced me to spoil on your wheel. I felt the gentle pressure of your potters rib at once wringing out the nonsense of my despair and defining contours that demanded my submission if I was to rest in the providence of your Divine Will. What was beautiful to you took my soul’s abandonment to your hand before I would see the beauty of being thrown about upon your wheel.

Round and round my thoughts travelled as your hand reworked me for your intended purpose. I heard your word to me, “Can I not do with you just as the potter has done?…. you are still safe in my hands.” Am I? I am! Chastened for doubting your goodness. Humbled, not broken. Weak being made strong. My clay and my soul, my desire and my will, flattened against the wheel by the weight of glory in your hand. Gently, relentlessly you shape me as you lift me from the wheel to become the vessel that seems good to you!

I’m your lump of clay slowly giving way to the tools of transformation in the Master Potter’s hand; my humanity giving way to your image. What is this rise in my spirit? Submission, anticipation, acceptance? You are working all the disparate fragments of a life past. The loss with its thousand disappointments, the anxiety that handicaps my body, the uncertainties of ability folding in on themselves as you knead hope into my soul. A vessel marred by struggle, strengthened by hope in you. Gently, relentlessly you shape me as you lift me from the wheel and I become the vessel that seems good to you!  The wheel slows, your hand hovers over me….you whisper to me “you are beautiful,” and I finally listen.

I see now that as the wheel turns, your wounded hands steady in purpose, dissolve the hard edges of pride. Your wounded hands are at once pouring your blood out upon me and absorbing my suffering into your Passion as you mend and  sculpt a chalice…. a vessel worthy for worship.

Ascending

“Lifting up his eyes to heaven..” Sacred Scripture often makes a point of this physical posture you took in Your interaction with your followers; they, like me, probably were transfixed on the world around them when their eyes should have been fixed on You. They faced the distractions of the culture–the constant yammering that arrests man’s imagination; it’s no different now. The culture’s navel-gazing fear, pride and anger is the reality of this earthly kingdom from time and memorial.

When I take the time to consider the movement of Your eyes, it stops me in my pell-mell stumbling through my everyday life. It keeps me from being caught up in the current events in the world that do nothing to console my spirit or feed my soul. I sense You patiently waiting for me to take my gaze off fears, pride and anger, just as You drew Your disciples out of their fears and their prideful posturing. You beckon me to listen to your Word and contemplate the eternal. You allow me to eavesdrop on the mystery of praying without ceasing by the epiphany of you Trinity shown at Your baptism, and then you turn to me and say, “You are my beloved child.”  You direct me in my prayer to pray without ceasing for Your Kingdom to come in me as it is in heaven. The scrim of heaven and this world is immediately lifted by Your words, “Holy Father…..I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely…I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them…..” I am as slow as your disciples to learn that as I lean into praying without ceasing I am somehow learning to “lift my eyes to heaven” where you display my chief end, where joy is made complete!

Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion.” (St. John Paul II) I know this to be true, but sometimes I don’t want to be in communion with “my trinity;” my neighbors, my family and the anonymous “they” that I coexist with in this earthly kingdom. It would be easier to keep my face in a cloud rather than live out the truth that my transformation often comes with the difficult relationships that tax my capacity to love my neighbor.

“Become what you behold,” you tell me. If this is true, then I do become one with you in a heaven of love, grace and mercy as I fix my eyes on You from my corner of the world. Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “The meaning of Christ’s Ascension expresses our belief that in Christ the humanity that we all share has entered into the inner life of God in a new and hitherto unheard of way. It means that man has found an everlasting place in God. [It would be a mistake to interpret the Ascension as] the temporary absence of Christ from the world. [Rather] we go to heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him. Heaven is a person: Jesus himself is what we call ‘heaven.’”

LORD, the fix of my gaze so often is on me, myself and I. Forgive me. Train me to lift my eyes to heaven, to you the True God.

LORD, may the posture I take always be as your beloved daughter: still as a child at rest in her Father’s arms. Eyes fixed on your beautiful face.

LORD, the Psalms proclaim, “All my being bless your Holy Name.” May every breath of my being fixate on your Word to me so that my every thought, action and deed blesses You, my Heaven.

Amen