Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Sacrament of....Reconciliation

As a Pastor, this was an extremely busy time of year. One of the faith community's most important celebrations had to be planned for. That celebration was The Communal Celebration of The Sacrament of Reconciliation. It was always a priority, in the planning, to have celebrants who were gentle, kind, and understanding. The presence of a compassionate priest, to me, is an essential element for a real celebration of that particular Sacrament. Yes, we have all heard of the horror stories of how unkind, and judgmental some priests have been with penitents in Reconciliation. If a priest is not kind and compassionate, but instead loads you up with toxic guilt and shame, I have always encouraged the parishioners to just simply say, “Father , stick it in your ear" and walkout! When I said that at Mass one Sunday, a little kid looked up at their parent and asked, "What is it he has to stick in his ear?". The parent did not know the answer, so the question was repeated to me. Well, says I, he is to stick all the unnecessary guilt, and toxic shame which he wants to load on the penitent. The confessor is to be the reality of the Jesus we encounter in the Gospels. Kind, compassionate, understanding, was He as He encountered the lost, forlorn, the alienated, the so called sinners, and those outside the law. These were His people of interest. Those in the opposition were the religious leaders who pointed out He that was unheard of, He shared a the table with them. These leaders , thinking they were doing what was right, conspired to have this challenge to their way killed. They refused to listen to what Jesus had to say. Oh they heard Him alright, but they did not dare listen, and so, they never became disciples.

Henri Nouwen tells us the first requirement of being a disciple is to listen:

"The first discipline is listening.
The word listening in Latin is audire.
If we listen with great attention we are ob audire.
That is the word for ‘obedience’.
The word obedience means listening.
The Latin word for deaf is "surdus', and if we are actually deaf we are ab surdus.
The ‘absurd’ life is a life in which we are not listening.
The obedient life is a life in which we are listening.”

Our Lenten journey asks of us to put away all those distractions which prevent you and I from not just listening to The Good News of Jesus Christ but to really hear what He has said, and is saying to us right now. It is up to us to set aside the time, and space where we can encounter the Word of God, not just meet the Word of God. We must not only hear, we must also heed. Those two are necessary in order that an encounter take place. Encounter means we pay close attention and consider what is being said to me right now, and who it is that is speaking to me. What then are we to hear and heed at this time of year, it is of course The Parable of the Prodigal Father. Thank God we have we have been lead to the broader understanding of that wonder-full parable. In the old days, it was all about the 'prodigal son'. The one that was so bad, as opposed to the so called good who stayed at home and did what he was supposed to do. Outwardly so good, but on the inside seething with resentment. He was actually in a worse place than the younger and rebellious son. The Father has the unbelievable challenge of being able to reach out in love and understanding to BOTH of his sons. Would you and I actively seek out that challenge? Do not worry. We do not have to seek it out we are already living it out each and every moment we are given life to live. In other words, welcome to the real world in which we live. The world in which our gracious, compassionate, and merciful God is ALWAYS at work within us. There is never a moment that He is not fashioning us into the image of His Son, bringing us to a place of peace, joy and love. It will come to you and I. All we have to do is to have the desire, “Your Kingdom come your will be done". There is a hidden surrender here which we have to give consent to. We come to a very, very slow surrender to The Dream of God, communicated to us in human language by our Savior Jesus Christ. We are asked to embrace who it is we really are without judgment. We are to seek out who we really are, as this is the only one God knows. Yes, the truth will set us free, but before that, it will tee us off! This however will help us to let go of the "false self". It will allow us to shed the mask behind which we hide in fear from a love our being aches for, but we want no part of. It does not make any sense, does it? There is nothing to feed the ego here. These actions do however enable us to confront the ego centered ego, who is very unhappy about all of this. The false self will use every trick at it's disposal to avoid the necessary result, it's death. This is a very long process. No wonder we are constantly at war, and never allow peace to flow, and never come to the great wisdom contained in Merton's words " that our strength".

So we have within each one of us three realities;
A) The younger son, a.k.a., the rebellious one,
B) The older son, a.k.a., the obedient but resentful one,
C) The Father, who has a prodigal, reckless, extravagant love for both.

The dynamics of that relationship is our reality each day we live. We are always living out our lives either being the rebellious son/daughter, the resent full son/daughter, or we are in the process of growing in reconciliation with the whole mess. We must always keep before us God DOES Make All Things Work Together for Good. We do not know how this will happen, we must me satisfied with the fact that it will happen. It will happen not in our time, but in God's time. WE are given The Sacrament of Reconciliation to provide us with the graces needed for process of reconciliation to happen Before we meet again. Keep the following in mind; "It is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, NOT the Sacrament of obliteration. Does that change anything in your thinking??

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Essential.....Beauty

There was a wonder-full,”Thought for the Day”, in this morning's paper. It was the following: "Every Spring is the only Spring, a perpetual astonishment."(Edith Peters) As I read that I said to myself, "What a great gift. I can work with that." So, that can be paraphrased into,
*"Every Lent is the only Lent, a perpetual astonishment."*,
*"Every Mass is the only Mass, a perpetual astonishment."*, and
*"Every moment is the only moment, a perpetual astonishment."*

The acceptance of said quotation allows us to be drawn ever deeper in into the richness, the beauty and the complexity of each and every moment we are gifted with, to live. Each moment will be lived in unique circumstances. It will be lived by us in the uniqueness of that moment. A moment never again to be encountered. With each new encounter we become new. By God's grace we are being lead into the truth about who we are, who our God is and who we are, because we have been loved by The Infinite love.

This very mysterious love will lead us to, “Fullness of life and limitless truth". This fullness of life and limitedness truth will not come to us in the way we expect it to happen, or want it to happen. God never comes in the way we want Him to come, or expect Him to come to us. His ways are not our ways. Do we ever come to accept that reality? From my own experience, and what I have learned from working with others, the answer is, I am sorry to say, a resounding NO.
When we begin to speak about the Infinite, that is God, a new language must be adopted. Our previous way of thinking, and defining, that is my ability to control, has to be let go of. We have to leave behind our security, so we can be astonished with the wonder of newer insights and understandings. We have to embrace the new questions that appear. Within every new question is already sewn part of the answer. Now here is the hard and unsettling part, within each new answer is sewn the seed of a new question. Not fair!! How about exciting? How about wonder-full???? Does it ever end? I am sorry to say no. We are all on an eternal quest. A quest for Truth, and Beauty.

We are never alone, and I mean never. When we find ourselves in the most desperate of circumstances, where all seems to be lost, we are not actually. It only appears to our as yet non transformed part of ourselves, we are lost. To the transformed part we could not be in a better place. Makes no sense, right? When we feel we are lost, abandoned, and uncared for it is in those moments our God is zeroing in on us. The lost sheep, is the one that is SOUGHT after. God is then on a mission to seek us out and search us out. He will not give up on us. We might give up, God, CANNOT. He cannot not seek, and search for us. It is so sad to see how so many are lead to believe how easy it to go to hell, and how difficult it is to go to heaven. It is the other way round. It is easy to go to heaven, it is difficult to go to hell. If hell is what I have in mind I will have to fight the Infinite love of God, all the way to hell's gate. After all this journey is not about our love for God but His love for us. Our egos want to earn, deserve, and qualify and is teed off when it cannot do so.
*All is gift.* *All is free.* *All is Grace.*
This is the cause of real difficulty for us, until we are purified of this need. This is a process. Purgation is a lifelong experience we never welcome, but is essential for our spiritual growth.

There is this quotation from a letter which Thomas Merton wrote to Henri Nouwen: ....." at the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God....This little the pure glory of God in us....It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in EVERYBODY". Nouwen goes on to say, "Merton understood that our access to God was connected to the penetrating and penetrable hearts of all people. Purgation is the work of Our Father's love within each one.

If then there is a part of us that has known sin, how can we be sent to hell? Hell is ALWAYS of our choosing, not God’s. "I will not the death of the sinner but he/she be converted and live”. Converted means seeing things in a different light. There is that constant light of love always revealing to us the awe-fullness of who we are. Let us let go of the old ideas which keep us in the prisons of guilt, fear, and shame. We have been given the key to live a life of peace joy and freedom. Listen to the words of The Father as directed to both His Son and as a consequence to us, "You are my beloved daughter/son in whom I am well pleased". That is the reality we must claim every moment of the day. Then we will be able to say with St. peter "It is good that we are here".

One last thought, the glory that shone out through the humanity of Jesus, is waiting to shine through us as well. Do we really believe Henri Nouwen and the scriptures?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Welcome to the First Lent....

Welcome to our FIRST Lent. Both you and I have never been through this season before. We can say, and rightly so, I have made the Lenten journey before. We have not made this journey AS WE ARE TODAY. Since we journeyed through the desert with Jesus, as we did last year, so much has happened in our lives. Through the so called "ordinary" events of living, our God has fashioned us more deeply into the image of His Son. Since last year, since last month, since last week, since yesterday, we have been drawn closer to Him who is, Light. He, who is the light of truth, leads us to see more clearly who we really are. When we reflect on who we are truly called to be, we realize there is so much more work to be done. All this, however, will happen in our gracious God's time, not in our time. So, there is that gift of patience with ourselves which must be a necessary part of our daily prayer. Unless we have patience and compassion with ourselves, we will never know the patience and compassion of our God. In other words, we will have a false God. A false god we will pray to, and of necessity nothing will happen, that is good. We will get frustrated at the lack of results. We will come to the conclusion, falsely of course, that God does not exist. The living God of Jesus Christ is a God of compassion, mercy and patience. He is the Master Teacher, teaching us not in the way we expect Him to teach us, but in the very opposite way. We come to realize, more and more, the wisdom of the scripture, "God's ways are not our ways", " His thoughts are not our thoughts".

We then will have to let go our narrow understanding, and thoughts of who God is, and how He relates to us. We have to surrender, and surrender a great deal. In fact, we will have to surrender everything. Surrender is not easy. It is very difficult, and excruciatingly painful. We, as human beings, will do anything to avoid it. It is UnAmerican to surrender. Yet, sad to say, without surrender, without the giving up of control, there is no advancement along the spiritual path. We then, sad to say, we become more selfish, more self centered, more religious and more self righteous. We turn in on ourselves, and shut everyone else, that does not meet our narrow standards, out. We have all the answers. What a lonely place to be. Lonely, because the living God cannot reach us there. He does not know us there. We are living a life He has not intended us to live.

Lent is a journey into what it really means to be, really human. This was the same "cross" that Jesus picked up and carried. We follow along. Where He has gone, we will journey to as well. I have to emphasize, EVERYWHERE, Jesus journeyed to, we will journey to as well. It is a journey into the mystery. The mystery of why God would allow His Son to be beaten, broken and weakened. Weakened to the point that His Beloved Son felt He was abandoned by His Father. Each time we enter The Paschal Mystery we are brought to a deeper understanding, of our own weaknesses, failures, brokenness and how our God reveals Himself to us in the ways, and in the places we least expect . Calvary is not about feeling good. There were no good feelings on Calvary. There was however, obedience and fidelity. On the part of Jesus, and what was left of those who outwardly had the courage to support Him. There were not very many to openly stand by Him. The self righteous religious leaders must have felt pretty good about what they has accomplished, with the support of the civil authority. They thought they had the answers and see where that lead them to. They had all the answers and were not prepared to listen to the question the life and ministry of Jesus offered to them. Lent is the time offered to us where are challenged to not only see, but inwardly and outwardly respond to what is placed before us. This will happen through prayer, the reading of solid, well grounded spiritual writers, Mass, and living out in a practical way what was celebrated in the Eucharist.

The desert is a harsh place to be. It is demanding of a persons, physical, spiritual and emotional resources. You do not go into to desert unprepared for what is before you. We in Arizona are reminded all the time what happens to those who are not prepared. The result is death. We, however, enter the desert of Lent with all that we need. For the desert journey, we as humans need food and water. On this Lenten journey, we enter the desert experience with Him who is The Bread of Life, and a source of refreshing water bubbling up to lead us to eternal life. We journey anew with Him, who has the knowledge, the wisdom, the experience and be lead, if only we surrender, to a newer, more exciting, more wonder-full, understanding of what it really means to share in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. The Mystery, we have been baptized into, and whose reality, is, our daily experience. We must always keep before our Lenten journey IS our daily, 365 times a year, experience. We are given this time to place it under the microscope of faith. This bringing of our daily living, with all of it joys and sorrows, will lead us to the wisdom that will bring greater joy, happiness, and freedom to the living out of our daily life. This is another way our God makes all things work together for good. It ALWAYS happens for those who allow it to happen. Not in a way that we think is best, control, bit in the ways our God knows is best for us, surrender. Not only in what is best for us, but in the way our God sees it as fitting into His universal plan. There is always something greater to who we are, what we do, and what we experience. This has been a plan that has been in place from all eternity. You and I have been present in the mind of God from all of eternity, so why have we been given our unique existence right now? What is our experience our God has seen as necessary, for the perfection of His creation?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Spring Training......Spiritual Training, part 2

Last week there was the beginning of a reflection on the connection between Spring training and The Season of Lent. Both come around each year. For the game of baseball, the training is essential for every team. Each person that is invited to Spring training already knows how to play the game. There is nothing new about the game to be learned, Spring training is about the finer points. It is the same with you and I as far as Lent is concerned. We know we are Catholic Christians, not just Christians. We know we have been Baptized into the Paschal Mystery, Lent introduces us to the finer points of that Mystery. It is, like all mysteries, an encounter which will never lead us to a complete understanding. Not in this world anyway. Spring training is for those who are involved with the game. When the participation ends, so does the need, the demand to train. With us, Lent is never an option. As long as we are alive we will always have the need to enter the desert, and face, as Jesus faced, the wild beasts that reveal to us our humanity. Thank God, just as He sent ministering angels to strengthen His Beloved Son, so we too, are guaranteed the same consoling presence. As Jesus went so do we. As He was strengthened, so will we. As we know Jesus went more than once to deserted places, so also will you and I. Some desert journeys are chosen, while others of us, we will do everything in our power to avoid. Such is the fate of us humans, as we journey through this vale of tears.

In Spring training the coaches are on the watch for any bad habits that a player may have developed. Now a professional player will not deliberately choose to develop a bad habit. It just seems to sneak into his game. Things are going along fine until he is striking out too much, or being hit too easily. A closer look has to be taken at how he is going about playing the game. In our everyday life we can be going along fine, until we begin to find that we are angrier than usual. Each day we have less and less patience. We find ourselves not very interested in life. We resent those who share their lives with us. There is a great desire to isolate. We are shouting, silently, deep within “will you please leave me alone?”. I have no energy for you. Many times it will come out in a very impolite way. God has been put on the shelf. Prayer time is just the few quiet moments at Mass, that is if I have the energy to get up and get going. The list can go on and on and contain such words as discouragement, disappointment, etc.

In Spring training there are the coaches to keep an eye on the players. Now there are slow motion cameras which are used to analyze the different motions and in time the problem area will be revealed. Not so easy in the spiritual life. We have to enter again and again into the Lenten journey and discover, what it is that is preventing us, in the promise of Jesus, " I have come that you will have life and have it more abundantly" from being part and parcel of our lives. We have to face the persons, or pattern of behavior which are resulting in our eing less than what God has intended our lives to be. His intention is that , "We would have life and live to the fullest". We have to face the dry and barren places of our lives. We have to bring that place of hopelessness to that place of Jesus' abandonment and hopelessness, the cross, and unite our reality with that same reality The God-man experienced. Jesus went to Calvary so that when you and I find ourselves, bruised, broken, betrayed, and abandoned we have a God that can say to us, been there, done that. A coach has to discover a player's weaknesses, our God on the other hand KNOWS our weaknesses from His experience. What we have go do, and boy is this hard, we have to acknowledge our powerlessness, our frailty, our impotence to do anything by ourselves. We will not just jump into that place of surrender. We will, at least for me, fight it tooth and nail, until there is nothing left to do but surrender. Does it get easier? For me, being a hard headed Irishman, surrender has never been easy. I am like a kid who is really tired, his eyes are almost closed, but will not admit that it is time for bed. I am so envious of those who can say so easily, "I surrender it all to God ", and make it sound so easy. I guess I have much more of the training of Lent before me.

So this Lent let us bring that place which is our desert, and ask our gracious God to bring forth, through His power, streams of “LIVING WATER" that will transform the harshness of our present condition, into a life of peace, joy and hope. As one author wrote, " Where there is no love, sew love and you will find love". This may be difficult for some of us. In that case let us express the DESIRE for this to happen, and relax. "Be still and know that I am God."

Let us keep before ourselves, this will be our FIRST LENT.!!!!!!!!!