Thursday, March 26, 2009

Healthy Spirituality is the answer to toxic shame

We need a constant reminder of Nouwens great words of consolation, "God's mercy is greater than our sins. There is an awareness of sin that does not lead to God but to self preoccupation. Our temptation is to be so impressed by our sins and our failings and so overwhelmed by our lack of generosity that we get stuck in a paralyzing guilt."

I believe what Nouwen is speaking about here is the third aspect of the "toxic trinity", which is shame. Healthy shame says, "I am human, I am limited, I make mistakes and it is okay. I do not have to be perfect." Toxic shame on the otherhand takes away the following five rights, which must be reclaimed.

I MUST reclaim the Right to:

Right to love - which means I do not have to earn, deserve or qualify for love, otherwise, it is not a gift.
Right to be loved [the beloved]-I am the beloved when I am loved as I am right now. I am loved with a love that is unconditioned, unlimited and unrestricted. It is now and forever. Being the beloved cancels out need for and the demands of perfection.
Right to belong- I have always belonged to God's love. The fact that I am living means God's love is supporting me and I will return to the same eternal love. I always belong to the family of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Right to worth-whileness- My right to live fully human life. "The glory of God is the human person fully alive." My worth-whileness is not dependent on what I do, but who I am. "My being proclaimed the greatness of the Lord." Mary in the Magnificat
Right to have fun [play]- Unless I play my prayer does not work.

We are not born with toxic shame, we are "gifted" this beginning at about 18 months old. We must spend our whole life giving back that toxic gift so we can live God's dream for us on a daily basis. Toxic shame comes to us in words and in phrases. Words like; dumb, stupid or phrases like; I am ashamed of you, how could you be so dumb/stupid, what cannot you be like....I am sorry you have ever been born and the list goes on and on. It also comes to us as the result of physical, spiritual, sexual or psychological abuse.

Behind every addiction and compulsion is toxic shame. Behind all of our medicators -abuse of alcohol, drugs, sex, food, shopping, work, gambling, TV, internet, pornography, cutting - is toxic shame. We are now blessed to have such wonderful support groups such as Alcholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Sex Anonymous , Overeaters Anonymous, etc. etc., which offer to the addict a way out of the addiction into a new way of living an authentic human life. What is offered in these groups is the essence of spirituality. It is a great example of how the place of the wound becomes the place of the gift and those who are previously wounded now become empowered to be healers from their experience. When we are in a shame attack, with feelings of not being good enough, or not being deserving, we lose sight of who we are as the beloved son as beloved daughter. A classic example of a shame attack is "poor me". The natural consequences of this will be unhealthy behaviors which we just mentioned above.

Toxic Shame wants to kill you and me. Many people surrender to the end consequence of toxic shame and commit suicide. Suicide can be either fast or slow. Toxic shame is terminal, it is death dealing. Because toxic shame and healthy spirituality are mutally exclusive, not so with religiosity. We are told that religiosity if for those who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who have been to hell. Spirituality is the key which unlocks the door allowing me to cross the threshold shame into a life of peace, joy and love. Every encounter with toxic shame will either strengthen and reinforce my belief in my essential goodness or weaken the boundary of my belonging.

Religiosity and toxic shame seem to be able to coexist. We will do everything we can to look good on the outside, all the time while actually in a living hell on the inside. The thinking is as long as the outside practice is okay and I am looking good doing it then I must be okay, not so. How often have you heard, "The cleaner the house, the sicker the family. A clean desk is the sign of a sick mind."

How often do we as individuals, as couples, as families, as parishes, as church, as country project one thing while we know deep down that is not the truth - we are living a lie. We have a secret. There will always be a secret we are not allowed to speak of or share in any way. A secret, because of our misgotten love, we will take to the grave rather than face the reality and bring it to light. Our unhappiness will somehow be connected to our share in the family secret. When toxic shame paralyzes us into inactivity, we are unable to move, we are frozen in place. Something will then happen which will force us to deal with the toxic shame of the secret. This is a moment of conflict. Will I continue to live the life of the lie or grasp on to the outstretched hand of unconditioned, unrestricted, unlimited love which will lead me to freedom. This freedom can be summed up in a new way of living, which comes to us from a new way of acting.

The antidote to toxic shame is a healthy spirituality. Healthy shame, healthy spirituality is always reminding us we are the beloved, we are loved without conditions or restrictions. We do not have to earn love, deserve love or qualify for love, it is always being gifted to us without price. We cannot earn what we already have. Unhealthy thinking and unhealthy messages from the family secret will lead us to perfectionism which according to John Bradshaw is a disease not a quality to be desired. Those of us who desire to be perfect are usually angry, resentful, short-tempered. Why? Because, simply when we want to be perfect, we are chasing an illusion. We cannot be what we expect to be or want to be or other people tell us we ought to be. We are never good enough. This in turn will lead me to another visit to the pity-pot, to the "poor me". When enough of us get together who are on our pity-pot, we have a pity-party, which will only reinforce our sense of powerlessness and alienation. The opposite of this is asking the question, "What am I going to do for me, right now?". You switch the focus from the poor me to that of empowerment. We make the choice of being a victim or a survivor. Healthy spirituality is saying to us on the other hand, by the grace of God, I am who I am right now [St. Paul]. That means that right now I am loved by God. I am being graced. Because I am loved by God right now, I have to make a choice whether I will respond to God's love or choose self-hatred, leading to self-punishment.

Spirituality enables us to become comfortable with being a human being rather than a human doer. When we are authentically human we realize that we are in the process of becoming through the actions of God's grace. We are in the process of being born. We are always in the process of giving birth to who we are. You can reflect a little bit more on the quotation from Anan Cara shared in the March 17th blog.

I find great consolation in the parable of the wheat and weeds. In the parable the servants want to go and to pull up the weeds, but the wise king says, "Let them grow together until harvest time. Because in pulling up the weeds, you may pull up the wheat as well." As they spring from the earth, the wheat, and in this particular case [Darnel] are very similar. So the king is wise because what the servents would have thought were weeds would have actually been wheat and what was wheat would have been weeds. This is our spiritual journey. This is the process we go through. What I thought were the strengths of my twenties are now the weaknesses of my sixties. What I thought were the weaknesses of my twenties are now the source of strength for the sixties. Merton encouranges us with the words, "Be who you already are". We have been loved by our God from all eternity. We are loved right now with that same eternal love we have had from the beginning of time. We will return to that infinite eternal love when our time here is ended. Where that love resides is called the heart, that is the place in each one of us that has never said no to God. I do not care where you have been, what you have done, there is that place in you that has never said no to God. In that place, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are having a great celebration. There is always an open invitation for us to celebrate. We have been given the freedom to say yes and to say no. When we are living in the true life of the beloved, we are open to join in the celebration.

When we are in toxic shame, we do not believe that we are good enough or that we do not have the right to celebrate because we have not earned it, deserve it or somehow in our misguided [diseased] thinking qualify for the celebration. Each moment there is a decision to be made, we are we going to chose to live live life, and live it to the fullest [spirituality] or surrender to death [toxic shame].

There is the great prayer which called the Serenity Prayer;

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things that I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference."

Everybody is familiar with those lines, but not many people know the next two lines;

"Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time."

And that moment is now.

There is No...Other...Way...of meeting God except right NOW.

Scripture tells us, "Now is the acceptable time, now is the time of salvation". In this now moment, we make a decision whether to listen to the truth that we are the beloved. Or listen to the lie, which is we are not good enough. In this moment, God is saying to each one of us, "I love you with an everlasting love. It is my gift to you."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

From Fear to the Freedom of Faith

In our journey in faith, there are no mistakes. God takes all of our so called mistakes compensates for what is missing with His transforming and transfiguring grace. This new creation of grace is gifted back to us, resulting in a new understanding and a new compassion. "Behold, I make all things new", says our God. He does not make new things. This past summer I was on a hike in Colorado for what seemed to be a long long time. I met nobody along the trail. Then I saw three people approaching me. When they saw me, they began to smile and one of them said, "Oh we were beginning to think this was an abandoned trail". None of us wants to hike an abandoned trail. It means there is some danger involved, otherwise it would not be called abandoned. You and I are on a trail which is not an abandoned trail rather we are on the trail to abandonment. Being on this trail is the scariest experience, of the many difficult experiences we suffer on our human journey. Many of us are afraid of being alone, being left behind by our friends, being deserted by by those who once said they loved us, cared for us and said they would never leave us. On the other hand, how many times will we want to hang onto to disfunctional relationships because we are afraid of letting go? We are afraid of a future that is devoid of a presence we have gotten used to and are afraid to do without. These are issues we have to deal with because of our experience with abandonment.

To identify with us and our issues of abandonment, God has sent His son to journey to the place of abandonment, so when we find ourselves in that desolute place, our God is there to meet us, embrace us, encourage us and strengthen us. Jesus on the cross uttered those searing agaonizing words, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?". In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus dies having uttered those words and we have no answer in Mark's Gospel to the question. Even in His Gethsemane moments, Jesus was able to pray to the Father that the cup He about to drink from would pass from Him, so that He would not have to drink from it. On the cross of abandonment, there is no such Presence, there is no such relationship to call on, so He cries out His prayer of abandonment.

Over the years, I have come across so many individuals who have been abandoned by their fathers and their mothers. The subtlety lay in the fact that there were two people in the house, a man and a woman, but they were not parents, there were no parents in the home. Thank God there is a great amount of literature available and counseling available on the issues of abandonment. In particular, literature for daughters without mothers. Because someone has given birth to a person that does not necessarily mean they are a mother to that person. You can have a man in the house who can be so caught up in work addiction that there is no nurturing time for the life entrusted to him to be cared for and nourished. Abandonment issues result in people fearing letting go. And as a result I have come across people who will stay in disfuctional relationships long after the realization that they are in an unhealthy environment.

The opposite of fear is faith. When we have issues of fear and anxiety, the scripture offers us many words to be prayed at the time;

Out of the depths I cry unto you oh Lord, Lord hear my prayer.
Oh God, come to my aid. Oh Lord make haste to help me.
Father in your hands I commend my spirit.
We have the great consulation, the Lord is close to the broken-hearted and from all their distress He rescues them.

True intimacy with God will only be real when we walk through raw, naked fear. You know from your own experience real intimacy comes when you leave fear behind and you reveal yourself to another person as you really are, knowing that they love you and accept you just as you are right now. I strongly recommend that wonderful little story The Velveteen Rabbit. Skin Horse has gifted us these wonderful words, "You are not really real until somebody really loves you".

"When love awakens in your life, in the night of your heart, it is like the dawn awakening within you. Where before there anoynmity, now there is intimacy; where before there was fear, there is courage; where before in your life there was ackwardness, now there is a rythm of grace and gracefulness; where before you used to be jagged, now you are elegant and in rythm with yourself. When love awakens in your life, it is like a rebirth, a new beginning. The human body is born complete in one moment, the birth of the human heart is an ongoing process. It is being birthed in every experience of your life. Everything that happens to you has the potential to deepen you........[Patrick Kavanagh "Praise, praise, praise/The way it happened and the way it is.]" Anan Cara

This trusting faith is what builds within each one of us from many many journeys into the realm of fear. There is an old old song "Put your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee". Here are two little instances which happened to me on trips. In my younger days I used to love to take the kids to Disneyland. One year I was on that paddle steamer looking out across the water, I felt a hand reach into my hand, then I looked down and saw two eyes looking up at me. I didn't recognize the two recognize eyes, they didn't recognize my two eyes. So the hand was withdrawn and the kid ran away - hopefully to his parents. Another year I was at Mass there was a little girl next to me. When it came time for the Our Father, she put our her hand and clasped mine. Then after a little while, she withdrew her hand, picked up her little doll, extended one of the doll's arms to me and kept the other arm linked to her and we completed the Our Father that way. The little girl, the doll and I prayed together. As we prayed the Our Father, I had never had the same feeling before or since then. There are two choices we can make. Will we either hold onto the hand of God or ithdraw and run away in fear. Prayer is always bringing ourselves as we are and entrusting all of ourselves, the good and the bad, the successes adn the failures, the joys and the sorrows, and entrusting them into the caring hand of Our Father who is our God.

To have a real trusting faith, a deepening of honesty is required. To journey from our fears of abandonment to trusting faith, we must be reassured and reassure ourselves that our God meets us, greets us and loves us just as we are. Both faith and love demand trust.

The season of Lent is a season into progressive honesty. It is forty and forty nights. One evening I was speaking to the kids in prison and I mentioned how Lent is for forty days, one young person piped up with "It is forty nights as well". When I said to her, "It is the nights that are the toughest", all she was able to do was nod her head in agreement. It is within darkness, especially the darkness of the night, where our greatness fears surface and haunt us. It is then we encounter the wild beasts and our own personal demons. It is in the darkness the wild beasts of guilt, fear and shame seem to roam at will resulting in a night of tossing and turning, a night of restlessness and turmoil. Lucky for us, God has given to us Psalm 23 where He reminds us He is our shepherd and the dark valley will hold no fear for us. It is also helpful to repeat, "I believe Lord, help my unbelief, I believe Lord, help my disbelief". Do not be afraid appears in the scriptures 365 times. I wonder why our God in His infinite wisdom and mercy would want to remind of about this fact over and over and over again? On our journey through life we have to deal with the uncertainties of life. All we have is right now, this moment, with the rest, there is no guarantee. We do however have the guarantee there is no moment our God will not journey in us and through us and with us. No matter what we feel, no matter what we think, no matter what we are told, our God does not and can not abandon us. "He has to be faithful to us because He has to be faithful to Himself." He loves us not because we are good, He loves us because He is good. A belief in His love is an act of faith which will enable us to live life and live it to the fullest.

Yes, His eyes are watching through the lense of His love for us.
Yes, His ears are listening ever attentive to the outcry for His love.
Yes, His lips are speaking, "I love you", "You are mine."
Yes, He is our friend ever by our side,
Yes, we are His beloved,
Yes, He is our lover.

Fear knocked at the door. When faith answered, there was nobody there.

God Bless,
Fr. Joe

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More thoughts on reconciliation and guilt

When I was preparing for my first reconciliation, I vividly remember being in the old fashion type black box, practicing for the real thing. I must have said something which I cannot remember when a hand came out of that little screen and slapped me across the face, not once, but twice...I ducked the third time! That memory has been with me all of these years. I also remember being invited to a parish to celebrate First Reconciliation with the little ones. I had pulled back the old screen. There was dead silence until I heard a littel tinkle and I knew there was no fountain in that reconciliation box. I just cannot imagine the fear that was in that little person so many years ago.

Over the years we have come to a ever deepened understanding of the sacrament of reconciliation. It is not a place we go to to receive a slap in the face or to approach with fear, it is an encounter with the loving presence of a God who loves us and accepts us beyond our wildest dreams. His mercy is greater than our sin. It is a mercy we need to experience again and again. Why? Because it is the sacrament of reconciliation not obliteration. Jesus Christ is the only spiritual leader who encourages us to love our enemy. And the enemy is within each one of us. There are some sinful practices that are removed by God's grace, while others remain. It is so encouraging to read what happened Paul when he had thorn in the flesh which because of his fallen understanding he wanted it removed and removed immediately. It did not happen. When he complained to God about the thorn remaining in his life, he heard the words, "My grace is sufficient for you, it is in weakness my power is made perfect". Then we have Paul's great response to this, "It is only when I am weak, it is then that I am strong". When we go to encounter the gentleness and compassion of God in this sacament of peace, we are going to confess our need to encounter a God of mercy and confession and the part of we hate the most. {Rohr} This is wonderful a freeing understanding of the sacrament that is today so unused, not visited.

The season of Lent has always been associated with penance and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The journey into our own deserts reveal to us the aspects of our lives we need reconciliation with the ministering of angels it offers to each one of us in this encounter with a revelation of God's love for us-our savior Jesus Christ. This is what conversion means-to return, to turn around and return to the always open embrace of our God.

A repentence means returning so we can become truly ourselves.
Turning around to be embraced so we can embrace who we really are.
Turning around so as we can turn our back on guilt, fear and shame.
Turning around so we can be embraced as the beloved.
Let us turn around so we can be who we already are.
Turning around so we can be free from the prison of the lie so we can be free to live in the freedom of the Truth.
God's truth speaks to us always in the present and this present of God is what we call now.

Fr. Joe

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More food for the Journey

It is very obvious as we look around us we are going through some very difficult and demanding times. They are demanding times for us in our fiscal, physical and spiritual lives. When we are forced to let go of some of the external trappings of our lives we are forced to see ourselves as we have never seen ourselves before. What is extraneous to us is or has been taken away or been removed from our lives, forcing us to face ourselves as we have never seen or faced ourselves before. This is a wonderful spiritual gift. {Go ahead and say all the nasty words you are thinking and when you are finished, take a deep breath and read on.}

What is external/extraneous - our power, property and prestige. That there can be no spirituality without reality. It is in so far as we are really real will we come to an deeper and a deepening understanding of Reality itself - God. It isn't until we come to know ourselves apart from the outside trappings that are conferred on us or we ourselves obtain. Will we ever get honest in our relationships with a God who sees beyond all the externals into who we really are, His creation. We are not what we have, we are not what we do, we are not what who people say or think we are. We have got to let lose all of the who we are not to find out who we really are in God's love. A Love we don't earn, deserve or qualify for. A love the world cannot give us, it is only when we enter the world of poverty, nakedness and abandonment will the great treasure, the pearl of great price, will be bestowed upon us. Carl Stuhmiller says; "It is only through our weeknesses and our brokeness can we have an audience with a God of faithfulness and compassion". Another great theologian, Carol Rahner has written the following:

"And now God says to us what he has already said to the world as a whole through his grace-filled birth: "I am there. I am with you. I am your life. I am the gloom of your daily routine. Why will you not hear it? I weep your tears - pour out yours to me, my child. I am your joy: Do not be afraid to be happy: for ever since I wept, joy is the standard of living that is really more suitable than the anxiety and grief of those who think they have no hope."

I am the blind alleys of all your paths, for when you no longer know how to go any farther, then you have reached me, foolish child, though you are not aware of it. I am in your anxiety; for I have shared it by suffering it. And in doing so, I wasn't even heroic according to the wisdom of the world. I am in the prison of your finiteness, for my love has made me your prisoner. When the totals of your plans and of your life's experiences do not balance out evenly; I am the unsolved remainder. And I know that this remainder, which makes you so frantic, is in reality my love, that you do not understand.

I am present in your needs. I have suffered them and they are now transformed but not obliterated from my heart. . . . This reality--incomprehensible wonder of my almighty love - I have sheltered safely in the cold stable of your world. I am there. I no longer go away from this world, even if you do not see me now; . . . I am there.

I started off by reading this and over a number of years ago. It has become part of my daily reflection. Somedays, I have to remind myself of this many many times during the day. It has become for me a great source of consolation and strength for the journey. This is my wish for you all.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Toxic Trinity

Our God will never allow us to face a challenge alone, unless of course we exercise our God given free will and reject, turn our back on his grace, help, love. It is essential we keep before us the great gifts offered to us to strengthen us to face the challenge of the here and now living. Celtic spirituality offers us some wonderful prayers that can be strength for our journey. The first is from Lorica - known as "The Deer's Cry",

I arise to-day.
Through a mighty strength,
The invocation of the trinity
Through belief in the threeness
through confession of the oneness
of the Creator of Creation
I arise to-day
through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear to me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,

Another prayer I like;

Your eyes are watchful,
your ears are listening,
your lips are speaking,
friend at my side.

With all of that, upper-most in our minds, we can now journey into the territory of the toxic-trinity; guilt, fear and shame. This week, we will take a look at guilt, which Erma Bombeck said, "Is a gift that keeps on giving".
Healthy guilt enables us to say, "I made a mistake and I need to make amends, I need to change this behavior". There is also the guilt that we hang onto - never forgetting, never forgiving. It becomes a toxic presence in our spiritual life. We are told that our Jewish brothers and sisters discovered guilt, but Catholics perfected it. I am sorry to say there was a huge assist given in this effort by the Irish monks. John O'Donohoe in his book, Eternal Echoes has written the following; please read it slowly and reflectively;

"Sometimes, we feel guilty about things in the past that should hold no guilt for us. Because we feel bad about something, we exaggerate our part in it and retrospectively ascribe more power and freedom to ourselves than we actually had in the actual situation."

Guilt belongs to the past and the past is over and gone. We have the consoling words from Psalm 103, "As far as the East is from the West, so far, have I put your sins behind you". Do we believe God or not? "When personal guilt in relation to a past event becomes a continuous cloud over your life, your locked in a mental prison. You have become your own jailer." Although you should never erase your responsibility for the past, when you make your past your jailer, you distroy your future. It is such a great moment of liberation when you begin to forgive yourself, let the burden go and walk out into a new path of promise and possibility. Self-compassion is a wonderful gift to give yourself. You should never reduce the mystery and expanse of your presence to a haunted fixation with something that you did or you did not do."

To learn the art of integrating your faults is to begin a journey of healing on which you will regain your pose and find new creativity. You soul is more immense than any one moment or event in your past. When you allow guilt to fester and reduce you like this, it has little to do with guilt. The guilt is only an uncomfortable but convenient excuse for your fear of growth. Guilt then has to do with self-forgiveness. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I have come across so many people who have never forgiven themselves. They have placed themselves in the prison of guilt and shame. Guilt is "I made mistake and I need to change and in some cases make amends" shame is "I am a mistake and I need to be punished". When we do not want to forgive ourselves, that is pride. Pride in the fact that somehow our sin is too big for God's love, his compassion and his forgiveness. We are told today the way we forgive ourselves is the way we allow to forgive us. If I never hear myself say, "I forgive you Joe", how am I going to believe God when He says, I forgive you and I have placed your sins behind you. Isn't there a reason then, that Russeau can, "Man was born free, yet everywhere where I look, I see him in chains."

Many people do not forgive themselves for some action in the present or actions in the past. Whether it is the stealing, the lying, the cheating, the lack of respect for parents and authority figures, premarital sex, adultery, or abortion. You can also carry a burden of guilt not because of an action, but because of your non-action at a crucial juncture. If you had had the vision or courage to say or do something, then someone else might have been spared great pain. (Anam Cara) Once you began to see what your failure to act actually allowed, you feel guilt and shame. Somewhere we need to be able to say, “I forgive you.” We need to bring our guilt and shame to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and then accept the words that we are forgiven. This forgiveness, God’s forgiveness, will depend so much on how we forgive ourselves. Lack of forgiveness will deprive us of enjoying God's gift of forgiveness. Forgiveness is God's gift to us. We must impart the gift of reconciliation to ourselves. Reconciliation is a process not an event. It is a lifelong journey because of the experience of being human.

To help us the journey into reconciliation, it is very helpful to write, not type, a letter of understanding and forgiveness to yourself for the actions of the past which we are finding hard to accept and forgive now. With understanding comes forgiveness. To help us with understanding we need to go back and place ourselves in thoes events and circumstances which are causing us difficulty right now. We are told in philosophy the object of the senses is good. We will never do anything that at the moment of doing does not appear to be good. Five second, five minutes, fives days, fives years later, we see that was not the best decision, but it was the best decision at the time we performed the actions.
We did our best, not, the best in those situations. Again, with understanding comes forgiveness. Hindsight is always 20/20. We can judge ourselves harshly in our 30’s and our 40’s, about actions we did in our teens and 20’s. We need compassion, not condemnation. In Anam Cara on page 117, we read, “Every person has certain qualities or presence in their heart that are awkward, disturbing, and negative. One of your sacred duties is to exercise kindness toward them. In a sense, you are called to be a loving parent to your delinquent qualities.” After you write your letter of forgiveness, burn it, not tear it up, burn it.

So let us use the season of Lent to deal with the guilt of the past and impart in ourselves the gift of forgiveness, reconciliation and freedom. Let us bestow on ourselves the gift of compassion. So we can enjoy God’s gift of compassion and understanding. Paul tells us in Corinthians, “Love is patient, Love is kind, Love takes no offense and is not resentful.” Let us use this season of Lent, to put those four aspects of Love into our daily life, into our daily living. We will then walk beyond guilt, and fear, into freedom and a transformed sense of who we are in God's love. Our goal is always to be able to love ourselves as God loves us. When we do not forgive ourselves, in other words, allow God's forgiveness to penetrate into what can be harden heart. It is wonderful to keep in front of us the following words of Henri J. M. Nouwe;

“God’s mercy is greater than our sins. There is an awareness of sin that does not lead to God but to self-pre-occupation. Our temptation is to be so impressed by our sins and failings and so overwhelmed by our lack of generosity that we get stuck in a paralyzing guilt. It is the guilt that says: “I am too sinful to deserve God’s mercy.” It is the guilt that leads to introspection instead of directing our eyes to God. It is the guilt that has become an idol and therefore a form of pride. Lent is the time to break down this idol and to direct our attention to our loving Lord. The question is: “Are we like Judas, who was so overcome by his sin that he could not believe in God’s mercy any longer and hanged himself, or are we like Peter who returned to his Lord with repentance and cried bitterly for his sins?” The season of Lent, during which winter and spring struggle with each other for dominance, helps us in a special way to cry out for God’s mercy.”

When we have a God of mercy we have a loving God. In fact we have a God that is prodigal in His love for us. He is reckless, extravagant with the merciful love He offers to you and I in each and every moment in our journey to Him and with Him. Conversely, if we do not have a God of mercy, or worse still when we see ourselves as not needing a God of mercy, there is a kind of hell have we placed ourselves in and then blamed others and God for it.

Let us remove the stumping block of guilt so we can see deeper into the cave of our soul where the presence of God is always there to forgive, to reconcile and impart in us the gift of freedom, the gift of new life which will enable us to live more deeply what is ours because of our Baptsim. Please love yourself enough to give yourself this gift of forgiveness. Only you can allow yourself to enjoy the gift of forgiveness already offered to you by your God. Psalm 103, "As far as the East is from the West, so far have I put your sins behind you." In the Old Testament we are told in Isaih, "You have thrown my sins over your shoulder". The following is a quotatation written by Merton to Henri Nouwen, which many people have embraced resulting in a new freedom and a new happiness. "At the center of our being a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure faith, a point or mark which belongs entirely to God...this little a pure glory of God in is life pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of Heaven. It is in everybody."

Our God and Father is a God who is prodigal in His love for us. Let us give ourselves the freedom to leave behind the prison of guilt, so we can walk more freely knowing His eyes are watching, His ears are listening and we truly have a Friend by our side. A Friend who will never leave us or abandon us.

God Bless,Fr. Joe

For those of us on the Journey of Questioning, Doubting and Rejecting

Many years ago, I was told that to question was to care. People will question in classrooms, will question relationships, will question that which has a meaning and significance. It stands to reason that we will have deep deep questions concerning the Unknowable and the Indefinable - God.

In this time of uncertainty there is one radical step I encourage you to take on a very regular basis, as a matter of fact, this step should be taken many many times each day. You must claim the words of the Father to his Son at the Jordan, "You are my beloved and in you I am well pleased". Mary and Maria you are to claim it as you are my beloved daughter, in you I am well pleased. Pat and Max you must open your heart to hear you are my beloved son, in you I am well pleased. This statement never changes. Each one is loved by God ever before we were born. Psalms 109:3 "From the womb, before the day star, have I begotten you." From eternity, you have been loved with an unconditioned, unlimited, unrestricted, everlasting love, which by it's very nature will be without end. It is a now and forever eternal love. Over the years, I have given the following quotation from Thomas Merton to many many teens and those in their early twenties as well as those in their thirties and forties;

"God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing do. But, I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know, that is I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though i May know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost in the shadow of death. I will not fear for you are ever with me, and you will never me to face my perils alone."

Confusion is a necessary part of the journey into being an authentic human being rather than being a robot. God we know has created us in his image and his likeness endowing us with an intellect and a will. If God has given us such a great gift, he definitely wants us to use that gift. So, go ahead ask your questions, let it be part of your life and you will be surprised at how gently you will be lead into the answer. We live in Kairos time not Kronos time. From my own experience, I struggled with a question for seven years before the answer was revealed to me in and through my everyday life experience. As I struggled, it dawned on me what my mothers experience was, she told me how she prayed for seven years for something before the situation resolved itself. There is something about seven I have come to notice. In America people change homes every seven years. Every seven years people seem to change jobs and we are told every seven years we ask a new set of questions and the old answers don't do anymore [ROHR].

I have come to see over the years how God uses time, places, people and events of our everyday life to reveal to us the loving and caring God. Not an indifferent, detached God locked away on His Heavenly thrown, but a God who is always present in us and with us [Emanuel], and He uses our reality to become a reality in our world. We are in partnership with God in the ongoing creation of this world which in entrusted to our care. What a great dignity our God has bestowed on each on of us to make us co-creators and co-perfecters of His universe. We are entrusted with continuing the work, first began by the Word, the Word became enfleshed in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the source of our blessedness.

Sometimes we can buy into this wonderful mystery of God cooperating with us and the necessity of us cooperating with God to make creation what our God intended it to be. When we have doubts about our abilities and commitments it is in these moments we are most effective because we know ultimately whatever is accomplished for good in this world, it is the creative love of God, the Holy Spirit, who is at work and we are the instruments of co-creation.

Lent 2009

This is your first Lent and it is my first Lent. We as we are right now have never been through a Lenten Season. We as we are right now will journey with Jesus through the desert experience and because of this journey part of us chosen by God will be radically changed, transformed and transfigured. We may be reticent, reluctant or putting it bluntly, being down right afraid to enter into the desert. It is a scary place to journey into. Jesus Christ is the head and we are His body. Wherever he has gone, we are bound to follow, wherever we end up, Jesus is waiting there to greet us. We can almost hear Him say, "What has taken you so long, I have been waiting here for you". Will we ever be surprised at the places we end up and there we are greeted by the laughing, caring and gentle person and presence of Jesus Christ.

Next week, I will reflect more on Jesus' journey into the desert where He was with the wild beasts, but the Angels came and ministered to Him. We will face the wild beasts of guilt, fear and shame, which I now like to call the "toxic-trinity" and see in this encounter the place of conversion. Conversion meaning turning around and going in the opposite direction. Conversion is also described as turning around and looking for happiness in a different place. Scripture scholars describe the desert for Moses and the chosen people as a place of purification and courtship. We must always keep before us whenever we encounter the toxic-trinity we have the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit present in us, through us and with us. The Holy Trinity imparts to us their light, life and love. As the antidote to guilt, fear and shame. It is going to be an exciting Lent.