+THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD 5th Sunday of Lent(C), 2019
Our lives as Christians get intensified during Lent as we seek to be more attentive to grace in our lives. This 5th Sunday would have us consider with St Paul to accept all things as loss for the sake of Christ so as to “be found in him, not having any righteousness of [our] own based on the law but that which comes through faith in” Christ Jesus. To do so is to already experience the power of the resurrection.
As Christians, our faith brings about in our hearts the working of Christ’s very own presence within and all around us. Is this not what the prophet Isaiah foretold in our first reading when he says: “remember not the events of the past… see, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Through Baptism water is not only poured over our heads but the living water of the Holy Spirit is poured into our hearts, making of us a people after God’s own image and likeness.
This inner change happened dramatically to the woman presented to us in the gospel. She has been caught in adultery and made to stand before the Scribes and Pharisees in the presence of Jesus and all the people whom he had been teaching. The Scribes and Pharisees are setting Jesus up so that they can bring a charge against him. Jesus sees right through what is happening so he bends down and begins to write on the ground with his finger. As I read this, I must admit, the first thing that came into my mind was why is it that the woman is made to stand there and not the man who probably initiated the adulterous act in which they were caught? No one questions this in our gospel though today we are more likely to raise the issue of injustice.
Jesus bending down and writing on the ground with his finger speaks volumes to us all. In doing so he is communicating what is actually going on within the hearts of those gathered at the scene, and of all of us. Jesus is really interested in what is going on deep down within us where grace, given room, is able to work and make all things new. Jesus is ever helping each one of us to find our true selves so as to become honest about what is actually unfolding in our lives. As we truly own what motivates us and surrender to the Light of his presence, God’s own righteousness is able to take over and become the guiding force of all we are and do.
When the Scribes and Pharisees insist on a response from Jesus, he simply says to them: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” He then continues to write on the ground. It was a great awakening for those seeking to find some charge to bring against him. How easy it is for any of us to condemn a brother or sister for some sinful act out of our own prideful thinking and self-righteousness. To be able to own this and turn for help from God’s loving presence, we are given a whole new awareness of others and the world around us.
To do so is to open ourselves to the power of Christ’s resurrection. It takes a lot of courage to allow this awakening to take place for it means a death to self and thus a sharing in Christ’s own suffering. But isn’t this what this season is calling us into as we see what happened to Jesus after he revealed what was going on in the hearts of the Scribes and Pharisees. Unwilling to open themselves to this inner transformation, they sought to put Jesus to death.
Each of us as Christians is asked to die daily to self so as to live to God. This is wonderfully symbolized in the Eucharist as often as we celebrate it. The bread and wine that we bring to this altar, that are consecrated, broken and shared are our own lives as well as that of Christ. Let us be forever grateful for what God is bringing about here in this celebration and each moment of our lives.
Fourth Sunday in Lent – Year C
The gospel today is one that is universally known and acclaimed as a powerful symbol of a loving God who is willing to take us back as His sons and daughters, even after we have betrayed Him in many ways. But the parable also tells us even more about the God who calls us to be one with Him in His Son, Jesus Christ.
The Word made flesh, the son of God, is Himself that younger son who asks for his inheritance and then goes to a far off country. In becoming flesh, Jesus Christ undertook that journey far off. As St Paul tells us in the epistle to the Philippians: “He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. And being found in human form, he humbled himself.” In being reduced to tending swine and yearning even for their food, he expressed that Son who humbled himself even to death on a cross. Yet by the power of God, the Son rose on the third day and after forty days returned to His Father.
Yet the Son did not return to the Father alone. He came as that total Christ who now contains in Himself all humanity of all time. As our second reading from 2 Corinthians tells us: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away, behold the new has come.” That son who returns to the father is the total Body of Christ. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation”.
Christ returns to the Father bearing in Himself the whole of humanity and even the whole of creation – that same creation which God looked on at the sixth day and saw that it was all VERY good! But it still remains for us to complete that task. It is a task of reconciliation. This is why Jesus repeats over and over in His ministry the call to “Love one another”. The Love of God has come to us embodied in the very Son of God, and His will is that we recognize all humanity and all creation as part of ourselves, because it is all part of the total Christ.
The Father still desires that the elder son, the rest of humanity who have not yet accepted Christ, be drawn into one in Christ. As Paul says again: “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” The full banquet will not be celebrated until the whole of humanity is united in love. As Jesus said in another parable: “Tell the servants to go out and bring those in from the highways and byways that the hall may be filled”. This is the process of reconciliation which is given to us as ambassadors of Christ. “Love one another, as I have loved you!”.
This is why it is such a tragedy to see humanity so divided today
Not only throughout the world, but even within our own nation. And the problem is accentuated by the fact that even our government does not foster reconciliation, but rather fosters resentments and hard feelings toward one another.
This is why it is so important that we begin this ministry of reconciliation in our own immediate surroundings – or communities, our homes and families our surroundings. We can begin this by refusing to allow division and hard feelings to abide in our hearts. We begin this by praying as Jesus taught us: ”Forgive us our sins as w e forgive those who sin against us.” We pray this just shortly before receiving the Son in the Eucharist, which is itself a call to “Go forth and proclaim the message of God to the whol
+THE PRESENCE OF GOD THROUGH READING Chapter Talk 31 March 2019
This morning I thought to share some reflections on spiritual reading from a book on Discernment by Henri Nouwen that may have value for our lives. We are all dependent on others to help us clarify our path along the spiritual journey into divine life. Spiritual reading or Lectio Divina is one of the chief means we have for exposing ourselves to the wisdom or spiritual insight of others so as to enlighten our own paths.
We use reading in order to acquire knowledge or to master a field but spiritual reading is different. Nouwen tells us of a:
“reading about spiritual things in a spiritual way. That requires, a willingness not just to read but to be read, not just to master but to be mastered by words.. We can become very knowledgeable about spiritual matters without becoming truly spiritual people. As we learn to read spiritually about spiritual things, we open our hearts to God’s voice. Discernment requires not only reading with the heart but being willing to put down the book we are reading to just listen to what God is saying to us through its words.”
You may be aware of the fact of how Henri Nouwen came to learn the art of spiritual reading. It was from Fr Louis or Thomas Merton whom he considers “one of the important spiritual pioneers of the last century.” Nowen writes of Merton as one who “also witnessed to me about how to read the people placed in your path, as well as events and signs of the times. God is always speaking to us, but it requires spiritual discernment to hear God’s voice, see what God sees, and read the signs in daily life.”
God is continually drawing near to each of us and to our community amid the daily circumstances of our lives and of our life together. If we are spiritually attentive, if our hearts become interiorly free every day provides the means of becoming spiritually transformed into the living presence of Christ, for our own benefit and for that of all those around us. It is all about seeing deeper into the events that surround us, of opening ourselves to grace under whatever way it seeks to fill our lives.
Like Mary, the mother of God, each one of our lives is to be full of grace, as we too allow Christ to grow and come to maturity in us. Angels may be coming to each of us if we have the faith to recognize the divine visitors and are able to respond to the invitation they may have for us. I know that reading The Story of the Soul, the life of St Therese of Lisieux when I was in minor seminary was transformative in my life as it opened for me the meaning of contemplative life.
How many of us here have been deeply moved by what Jean-Pierre de Caussade called the “sacrament of the present moment.” His book assures us “that God is speaking and revealing his will in every moment of every day, and that we can discern God’s presence and guidance through simple prayers.. when, each moment becomes a sacrament of joy, gratitude, and loving acceptance of the will of God manifest in that moment.”
Thomas Merton was himself profoundly changed by his spiritual reading of the book called The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy by Etienne Gilson. There he learned to experience God for the first time as “pure being, non-contingent and independent of any act of existing.” As Merton wrote in his own words:
“.. I discovered an entirely new concept of God—a concept which showed me at once that the belief of Catholics was by no means the vague and rather superstitious hangover from an unscientific age that I had believed it to be. On the contrary, here was a notion of God that was at the same time deep, precise, simple and accurate and, what is more charged with implications which I could not ever begin to appreciate, but which I could at least dimly estimate, even with my own lack of philosophical training.”
We have been hearing a lot in the Liturgy these days about opening ourselves to the presence and power of the Word of God. We as monks are continually being exposed to the inspired Word in the Divine Office and Eucharist each day. We are in a privileged position but one demanding of us an inner quiet if we are going to hear with our hearts and be moved by the Holy Spirit. Only then does it have its full effect in our lives. One of the early desert fathers tells us: “Just as it is impossible to see your face in troubled water, so also the soul, unless it is clear of alien thoughts, is not able to pray to God in contemplation.
So whether it is our time spent at spiritual reading, at the Liturgy or whatever work we are asked to do, we have many opportunities to experience the presence of a continual and deeply loving God. God’s love for us uses every opportunity to become manifest so that ours may become one with his own.
So, the takeaway from today’s Gospel is this: If you find yourself knee-deep in manure, don’t worry, it’s just God fertilizing you. It’s true, though, that life is full of trouble. This has been said many times by many people. It’s even in the Bible. Psalm 90 says, “Our years are 70 or 80 for those who are strong / and most of these are emptiness and pain.” Shakespeare has Macbeth say, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow / creeps in this petty pace from day to day / to the last syllable of recorded time; / and all our yesterdays have lighted fools / the way to dusty death.” And we’ve all heard somebody say at some point, “There are only two sure things in this life, death and taxes.” According to this way of thinking, life is quite simply full of trouble, and we have to accept it.
And this may be, at least on the surface. We usually don’t choose the sort of trouble and sorrow that comes our way. One thing is certain, though, aside from taxes and death, we usually receive just about all the trouble and sorrow we can handle. All of us have experienced major tragedies in our lives. Those we have loved and have depended on have died. Friends and family have suffered debilitating illness through no fault of their own. We ourselves might be facing pain and chronic illness. And when we look around the world we see suffering on a scale that blinds us. People are gunned down in their places of worship. War destroys peoples’ lives and homes. Every day, children die of hunger and preventable disease. Life is certainly full of trouble and sorrow.
And we will do almost anything to avoid it. In our first reading today, Moses is curious about a strange sight he sees in the desert. He says, “I must go over and look at this remarkable sight.” He almost immediately regrets his curiosity. God has chosen him, and that’s not good news to Moses. He knows that he is in for a heaping share of trouble and sorrow, and so, in another passage, tries to convince God that he’s not the guy for the job. God doesn’t agree, and guess who gets his way.
In the Gospel today, Jesus mentions two tragedies that were in the news. One should be immediately familiar to us – a group of people were killed while attending worship services. And we have certainly heard of incidents like the second – a building collapses and kills those inside. The crowd are wondering what these people did to deserve such tragedy. Jesus says – they didn’t deserve it. Deserving has nothing to do with it.
But how desperately we want to believe that it does. Bad things happen to people who deserve it. Which means that they can’t happen to us. Someone who smoked for 50 years gets lung cancer. We feel bad for the person, but at some level we think, “Well, they should have known better.” Or at least, there’s a reason why they are suffering, a reason we can point to and feel secure in knowing that because we don’t smoke, the same thing is not liable to happen to us. If someone gets in a car wreck because they were driving too fast, or talking on a cell phone, we can think that we are insulated from car accidents because we obey the speed limit, more or less, and know the dangers of talking on cell phones while driving. This reasoning can extend to a kind of magical thinking. I have a friend who was outraged when she was diagnosed with diabetes as a young, fit woman. It wasn’t because she was otherwise healthy that she was mad, though, it was because for most of her life she had been a hypochondriac. She felt that by worrying so much about getting sick that she was inoculating herself from actually getting sick. Most of us make bargains like this. It can be as simple as a superstition – if I break a mirror, I will have seven years of bad luck. Outwardly we scoff at such nonsense, but still, we probably avoid breaking mirrors, or if we accidentally do break one, we might think, “Uh oh,” if only for a minute. For the most part, such thinking boils down to the idea that if I am good, if I follow the rules, even sometimes self-imposed rules, then nothing bad will happen to me. It’s as if we try to pile up credits in some sort of spiritual bank account as a protection against tragedy. Even Lent can be twisted in this way. We may think that by giving up chocolate, or coffee, or meat on Fridays, by accepting some small burden or trouble now, we are building a wall against future, more serious burdens and troubles.
Jesus tells us that this isn’t so. We can’t protect ourselves from tragedy, from sorrow, from hardship by magically depending on our good deeds. Paul adds, in his first letter to the Corinthians, “whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” That’s not to say that good deeds are worthless. By no means! It just means that they won’t help us to stand secure in the belief that we will avoid the tragedies that life consistently brings to us. But Jesus adds something significant. He says that we must repent.
We usually think of repentance as feeling bad for something we’ve done, and it certainly does mean that. We feel guilt, remorse, regret, over something we’ve done or said which has harmed someone else, or ourselves. And this is not a bad thing. In the original Greek, the word behind the English “repentance” has the connotation of a change of heart, or a turning from one thing to another. So repentance, in its most positive sense is a recognition of our true nature, that we are broken in some fundamental way, and that we can’t repair ourselves, that we need to turn from ourselves to God for help. This is the change of heart, the change in perspective, that Jesus is calling us toward. Jesus says in the Gospel reading that if we do not repent, we “will all perish as they did,” that is, those in the tower or at the worship service. But how did they perish, what does Jesus mean? They perished unprepared. The Rule of Benedict asks us to keep death before our eyes every day. This may sound morbid, always thinking that we might die today, but it’s not. Think of this for a minute. If we truly believe that this might be our last day on earth, we will probably live it with extraordinary consciousness and attention. We’ll appreciate the gift of life, the beauty of nature, the love of our families and friends. We’ll be kind to others, we’ll try to do the right thing, not because of some future reward, but because it no longer seems important to think mostly of our own advantage. When tragedy does come, if it happens to us, we can accept it, with God’s help. If it happens to others, we can be really compassionate because we are not trying to protect ourselves from some future hypothetical sorrow and pain, as if tragedy were infectious. This is the repentance that Jesus is asking of us. Elsewhere in the Gospel, Jesus quotes the prophet Hosea, saying, in God’s words, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” This is where true repentance leads us, to mercy, to compassion, to love. And in this we can truly stand secure, since we are becoming like God – because God is love.
+FROM THE FULLNESS OF THE HEART THE MOUTH SPEAKS 8TH Sun.(C)
There is a lot of polarization going on in our society today and it seems to me that our gospel does a wonderful job of addressing just this thing. It is so easy for us to see the splinter in our brother’s or sister’s eye and not be aware of the beam in our own eye. We can even begin to define ourselves or others by what we find fault with them rather than by all the good that is in them.
The wooden beam in one’s own eye is the way we look for and condemn the faults in another rather than be honest about the effects, the fruits of our own words or actions. If we are truly loving, truly Christian and appreciative of our wives or husbands and children, or monks of their brothers, then we draw the very best out of them, we create a loving climate around them where they can truly become themselves as children of God.
When we fail to deal with the wooden beam in our own eye, then we create an atmosphere of fear and tension. When we spend time finding fault with others rather than see the good in them, we block their potential for living as children of God.
A good person, Jesus tells us, out of the store of goodness in his or her heart, produces good. And our mouths are what reveal what’s really going on deep down in our hearts. If we want to really know what’s going on inside us, we have only to be aware of what comes out of our mouths. As monks have learned to grow in a lot of self-knowledge if we are attentive to our speech.
If our corruptible nature is to clothe itself with incorruptibility, if we are to be fully devoted to the work of the Lord as St Paul invites us in the 2nd reading, then we must allow Christ life to live in us.
Of ourselves, the wooden beam blinds us to the work of God all around us and in our own hearts but as we allow Christ to live in us, our eyes are opened and we carry on God’s saving work in our families, in our communities, in every aspect of society or world we live in.