Monday, March 2, 2015

3/4/2015 – Wednesday of the 2nd week of Lent - Matthew 20:17-28

       What strikes me in today’s Gospel is that while Jesus discloses some shocking and horrific news to his disciples, telling them that he will be condemned to death and will be crucified, the mother of James and John responds by wanting her sons to be at a place of honor. I would have thought that she would have just hugged Jesus and showed some love and tenderness and compassion for what he had just disclosed. Yet, I think about the mother of James and John, Mary of Salome.   In the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, there are statues of Zebedee and Mary of Salome right by the main altar.  I am always drawn to these statues, seeing how they are standing vigil at the altar dedicated to their son, James, who was sent to bring the Gospel message to the people of Spain.  James and John were called the Sons of Thunder by Jesus – we can imagine that their very fiery and combative personalities earned them such a title. I can imagine that Mary of Salome is concerned for the welfare of her sons, asking Jesus to give them a place of honor in his kingdom.  We have to give her credit, that even knowing that Jesus will die a terrible death, she still has confidence that Jesus will reign in his Father’s kingdom.
      Yet, Jesus tells them the message that he proclaims in other ways the Gospel – that we need to be a servant, that we need to die in order to live, that the first will be last and the last will be first, that whoever loses his life will save it.  It is a message that is so counter-intuitive to the ways of the world. I found this quote several weeks ago from Thomas a Kempis, the medieval German author of Imitation of Christ:  “Nothing, how little so ever it be, if it is suffered for God's sake, can pass without merit in the sight of God."  Remember the Latin word that is printed on our rubber wristbands this Lent – Sacrificium – Sacrifice.  We are called to make sacrifices for our faith, rather than to seek the place of honor. May the Lord lead us to humbly continue our journey this holy season of Lent.

3/5/2015 – Thursday of the 2nd week of Lent – Luke 16:19-31

       Today, as we hear the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, I think of some of statistics I recently saw regarding poverty and income inequality in the United States.  One article talked about the population of the Silicon Valley in northern California with rich communities like Palo Alto and San Jose.  One in three children in those communities as said to be at risk of hunger.  Another article stated that for 38 months in a row, more the 46 million Americans receive food stamps, including one in five children.  And in newspapers and on the internet you will find numerous articles about the increase in wealth inequality and income inequality in our country.  In 1970, the top 1% wealthy individuals in the US earned about 10% of the total income – now it is more that 20% of total income and growing.   One recent study claims that the gap in the wealth that different American households have accumulated is more extreme now than any at time since the Great Depression in the 1930s.  And I have just been describing the inequalities in our own country.  Imagine if I described what is going on around the world. 
         In light of what it going on in our own country, we hear the story of Lazarus today.  In our Catholic faith, just like in the Jewish faith, salvation on a personal level is important, but salvation on a community level is also a part of the story.  The rich man was unable to see Lazarus as his brother in need, even though Lazarus was there on his doorstep right before his very eyes.  In Ancient Israel, the prophets proclaimed again and again that a society is judged based on how it cares for the least in society.  In Israel, this was the widow, the orphan, and the stranger.  Perhaps the story of Lazarus and our story is the same.  Perhaps we need to open our eyes and look into our hearts to see what is going on right before us.  May we hear the cry of the poor.  And may it motivate our words and our actions.

3/3/2015 – Tuesday of the second week of Lent – Isaiah 1:10, 16-20

     I think of Isaiah and the prophets as we hear wisdom from Isaiah today. Those poor prophets were called to a very challenging task: to bring the people back to the Lord after they had turned their backs on him and had gone astray.  Isaiah calls out the people on account of their sins, but he gives them hope, telling them that those crimson stains of sin can be washed white as snow.  Isaiah calls the people to set things right, to obey the Lord.
     Obedience can be a tricky thing, can’t it? We can say that we are going to be obedient to God and the Church, and that is all fine when we don’t have to make any sacrifices to be obedient. But being obedient when we don’t agree and when we don’t understand – that is something very different, isn’t it? As a priest, I am called to a very high level of obedience.  I can advocate and disagree, but at the end of the day, when I called to obey to the Bishop and to the Magisterium, that takes precedence over everything else, over my personal desires and opinion.
       I saw this quote from Fulton Sheen, and in his own words, he express this another way: "Lenten practices of giving up pleasures are good reminders that the purpose of life is not pleasure. The purpose of life is to attain to perfect life, all truth and undying ecstatic love – which is the definition of God. In pursuing that goal we find happiness. Pleasure is not the purpose of anything; pleasure is a by-product resulting from doing something that is good. One of the best ways to get happiness and pleasure out of life is to ask ourselves, 'How can I please God?' and, 'Why am I not better?' It is the pleasure-seeker who is bored, for all pleasures diminish with repetition."
       Are we obedient to God?  Do we think about the ways we can please God? May we think about that today as we continue on our Lenten journey.

3/2/2015 – Monday of the second week of Lent – Luke 36-38

      Be merciful.  Stop judging. Stop condemning.  Forgive.  These are 4 of the commands Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel.  Four short commands.  But we know that none of them are easy, are they?  It is easy to judge someone and condemn someone, isn’t it?  We do so from what we see on the surface sometimes, but then we often don’t know the rest of the story. We often think of our own wants and own needs and our own reality. We want everyone else to obey the rules, but they we want forgiveness and mercy for ourselves.  It is hard putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes,  to really be merciful and compassionate?
       I read an article about Mother Teresa in the Washington Post newspaper this past week.  It reported how the leader of the Hindu nationalist group in India publically criticized her about her charitable work, saying that her ulterior motive was to try to bring about a religious conversion in those she was serving.  These remarks caused quite a animated discussion in the Indian media.   Mother Teresa has her critics,  even though so many in the world admire her and her work throughout the world.  The article in the Washington Post ended by saying that India, as a primarily Hindu country, has a lot of religious tension present in it, with many Christian coverts fearing violence against them for their new-found faith, and some Muslims feeling pressured to convert to Hinduism.  It is easy to judge someone and condemn someone, isn’t it?  And it seems that in our society we love to knock someone of their pedestal.  
      How are we living up to the values that Jesus addresses today?  And are our Lenten disciplines helping us live up to those values? 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

3/1/2015 – el segundo domingo de Cuaresma – La Transfiguración – Marcos 9,2-10

      Empezamos el tiempo de cuaresma con una mancha de cenizas en nuestra frentes.  Y en el domingo pasado, empezamos el primer domingo de cuaresma con el Evangelio de Cristo en el desierto y sus tentaciones con Satanás. Hoy, en el segundo domingo de cuaresma, tenemos el encuentro de Jesucristo y tres de sus queridos apóstoles en el Monte Tabor.  La iluminación y la iluminación de sus apóstoles es en el centro del Evangelio de hoy.  La subida de Cristo en el monte con sus discípulos Pedro, Santiago y Juan se convierte en un evento profundo en la vida de Jesús y en su ministerio.  En este monte, la divinidad de Cristo se revela a estos tres discípulos por medio de una luz sobrenatural y milagrosa, por medio de iluminación.  En esta luz brillante, Pedro, Santiago y Juan pueden ver y comprender quién es realmente Jesucristo.
     Todos nosotros probablemente necesitamos algún tipo de iluminación en algún aspecto en nuestras propias vidas para que podamos percibir la manera que Dios está verdaderamente presente con nosotros.  El monje Tomás Merton cuenta una historia en su libro Conjeturas de un Espectador Culpable,  cómo su vida se iluminaba mientras caminaba por el centro de la ciudad de Louisville, Kentucky.  Mirando a la multitud en este distrito comercial, Merton se vio con ternura a la gente en la calle, a pesar de que era desconocida para él.  Merton dijo que era como si estuviera despertando de un sueño de la separación y el autoaislamiento en el mundo, de la renuncia y la santidad falsa que tenía en su vida.  Merton se sintió mucha alegría de ser un miembro de la raza humana, de compartir su humanidad con la humanidad de nuestro Salvador, Jesucristo. Merton era monje durante 17 años cuando tuvo esta iluminación, esta revelación. Se le hizo darse cuenta de que a pesar de que era monje, que era todavía una parte del mundo, y la santidad no era una cualidad independiente que solo puede  tener en el monasterio. Merton experimentó la santidad en esta esquina de Louisville sabiendo que él se unió con la humanidad de sus hermanos en el mundo.
       A pesar de que estamos viajando con Jesús en el desierto durante estos 40 días de cuaresma, el Evangelio de la Transfiguración de Jesús hoy es un recordatorio de la luz que siempre está con nosotros en la presencia de Jesús en el mundo, como Jesús es de hecho la plena manifestación de la luz de Dios. La luz que brilla en Jesús en la transfiguración - la luz que brilla en Jesús en su resurrección en la celebración de Pascua en la culminación de nuestro camino cuaresmal - es la luz de su triunfo sobre las tinieblas del mundo.  En nuestro viaje a través de los 40 días de cuaresma, vamos a emerger de la tinieblas también. Tenemos la llamada de ser hijos de la luz.  Las disciplinas cuaresmales de la oración, el ayuno y las obras de caridad son las que pueden ayudarnos en el camino a la iluminación.
       Sin embargo, a contemplar la Transfiguración, no debemos olvidar que Jesús y sus tres discípulos no permanecieron en la cima del Monte Tabor para siempre. Bajaron y trajeron la iluminación de la Transfiguración al pueblo en la llanura. También debemos traer la iluminación que recibimos como discípulos de Cristo en el mundo a nuestro prójimo. Debemos llevar la visión y el crecimiento de los que recibimos en nuestro camino cuaresmal a nuestra vida diaria y para el resto del año.  Continuamos nuestro camino cuaresmal en este segundo domingo de Cuaresma.  Mi oración hoy es que la luz de la Transfiguración nos anima y nos da fuerza en nuestro camino cuaresmal.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Day 1 - Camino de Santiago - Monday - January 26, 2015

  Last month, on January 27,I left for the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  It was my third time going.  I went in the summer of 2003 as I discerned a call to the priesthood.  I went again 9 years later in the spring of 2012 with several parishioners and friends.  This time I went in the winter, primarily because it was the only time I could get away as a priest.  In fact, although I had taken days off during the week, I had not had a weekend off since the last time I went to Spain in 2012. I desperately needed time off. I needed to pull back and reflect. I felt the Camino calling me back.
     This time, I approached the Camino as a retreat, looking forward to the solitude and the time for prayer and reflection.  I made my reservations in the late summer of 2014.  I was so excited about going.   Yet, a couple of months later, I had a conflict come up with the diocese. I had to cancel my reservation.  I had intended to go for 4 weeks, but I was able to make a change in dates and make a new reservation, but could only go for 3 weeks since I had to be back for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  Then, to top it off, I had a reservation going through Philadelphia, and the East Coast was bracing for a huge storm the day I was supposed to leave.  I tried to call the airline reservation number that Sunday night, but after being on hold for more than two hours, I gave up.  I left the US after being re-routed through Dallas, and was on my way to Spain.
       As I left, I knew that I would not have time to walk the entire route, so I started in Pamplona and would decide later if I wanted to eventually end up in the city of Santiago.  My goal was to walk the Camino, to spend time with God, and to heal and pray. It did not matter to me if I made it to the end point of the pilgrimage or not.  I was open to whatever surprises the Camino had in store for me.  Someone later asked me what I had learned on my previous Caminos.  The first thing I mentioned was this: If you have plan as to how the Camino is going to turn out, know that those plans are definitely going to change.  Never start the Camino thinking that you have all the answers, thinking that it is all going to go according to plan.  That is not the way the Camino works.  So I made my way to the Memphis airport looking forward to landing in Madrid.

     I will continue to post my entries on the Camino as they occurred last month, recounting my journey day by day.  

Thursday, February 26, 2015

3/1/2015 – 2nd Sunday of Lent – Mark 9: 2-10

       We in the modern world take books for granted.  I have so many books on my shelves that I have no idea how many I have, but they certainly number in the hundreds.  But, you know, for most of human history, books were a special, rare commodity.  In fact, in Ancient Israel, the scribes, those who were literate and who copied and interpreted Sacred Scripture, held a very special role in society. Johannes Guttenberg changed all of that in 1440 with the invention of the printing press.  Things changed dramatically, with books being massed produced for the public.  Today, with the internet, the ipad, and with e-readers like the Kindle or the Nook, things are changing once again.  The Bibles that were produced by the monks and the scribes before the invention of the printing press were very fancy indeed.   In fact, they contained very elaborate illustrations and what was called illuminated letters.  A simple letter takes on a whole new life by the way it is illustrated and illuminated.  The opening letter of a Scripture passage was embellished into a very fancy image such as this.  Back before the turn of the millennium in the year 2000, St John’s Benedictine Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota commissioned a hand-produced illuminated Bible, the first one to be commissioned by an abbey or monastery since the 15th century and the invention of the printing press.  You can see examples of this beautiful Bible on the internet if you look it up.  It took about 13 years and a cost of over $8 million dollars to hand-produce this one Bible.  The calligrapher of the Queen of England was one of the main collaborators of this project.  I cannot even imagine all of the work and imagination and courage that it took to produce this Bible.
      I bring up the Illuminated St John’s Bible because illumination is at the heart of today’s Gospel on this Second Sunday of Lent.   Jesus’ assent on Mount Tabor with his close disciples Peter, James, and John becomes a pinnacle event in Jesus' earthly life and ministry, as his divinity is revealed to these three close disciples by means of a miraculous, supernatural light, by means of an illumination. Jesus’ appearance is changed by this brilliant, white light.  It took this blinding light for Peter, James, and John to see and understand who Jesus really was.  All of us probably need some sort of illumination in some aspect in our own lives in order for us to perceive how God is truly present in our lives.  The Trappist monk Thomas Merton tells a story in his book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander of how his life was illuminated while walking through downtown Louisville, Kentucky one day.  Looking out at the crowds in this central shopping district, Merton was overwhelmed by his love for the people around him, even though they were strangers to him.  Merton said it was like he was waking from a dream of separateness and self-isolation in world, of renunciation and false holiness. Merton felt an immense sense of joy of being a member of the human race, of sharing his humanity with the humanity of our savior, Jesus Christ. Merton had been a monk for 17 years when he had this illumination, this revelation.  It made him realize that even though he was a monk, he was still a part of the world, and holiness was not a separate quality that he could just experience in his life in the monastery.  He experienced holiness on that busy street corner in Louisville knowing that he was united with, not separate from, the humanity of his brothers and sisters.
       Even though we are journeying with Jesus in the desert wilderness during these 40 days of Lent, the Gospel reading of the Transfiguration of Jesus today is a reminder of the light that is always with us in the presence of Jesus in the world, as Jesus is indeed the full manifestation of God’s light. The light that shines from Jesus at the transfiguration – the light that shines from Jesus in his resurrection at Easter time at the culmination of our Lenten journey – that is the light of his triumph over darkness.  In our day, on our journey through the 40 days of Lent, we are to emerge out of the darkness.  We are to truly be children of the light. The Transfiguration is the perfect model for us of how Christ can illuminate us in our commitment to be his disciples.  And the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and works of charity are what can help us on the road to that illumination.
       Yet, as we contemplate the Transfiguration, we must not forget that Jesus and his three beloved disciples did not remain on the mountaintop forever.  They came down and brought the illumination of the Transfiguration to the people down below.  We also must bring the illumination we receive as disciples of Christ to the world around us.  We must bring the insights and growth that we receive on our Lenten journey to our daily lives and to the rest of the year.  As we continue our Lenten journey on this Second Sunday of Lent, let us feel the light of the Transfiguration encouraging us and giving us strength.