Archive for the ‘Lent’ Category

What if You are Still in the Desert?

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

The Lord is Risen! Alleluia! The Church on Easter Sunday was festively decorated. Flowers were everywhere. The purple was gone. The Easter Candle was shining brightly. The “Gloria” and “Alleluia” were sung with great enthusiasm. There was joy and celebration everywhere! This is as it should be.

If only life was as neat as the Church’s liturgical seasons! We could spend six weeks in the desert and then wake up one day and be free of all the temptations, all the sin, and all the pain and suffering. We could lay all our pain at the feet of the Risen Jesus and be rid of it forever. Life isn’t that simple, however. Many times, our desert experiences last much longer than forty days. Sometimes, it seems like we spend more time in the desert than anywhere else. At times like this, it can be hard to truly celebrate the Easter season. It can be difficult to rejoice in the Risen Lord when He seems nowhere to be found. What, then, is a heart and soul to do?

It is in those days in the desert that loving and rejoicing in Jesus becomes an act of the will. We can choose to believe, choose to rejoice, and choose to love. Mother Teresa provides an incredible example of a person who continued to rejoice in the Lord for decades even though she experienced no consolation. Her faithful service provided the world with so much goodness and so much fruit, yet her own heart was hurting. She believed that God loved her even when she could not feel that love. She continued to pray and place herself in God’s presence. Mother Teresa continued to trust in the Divine will.

We can do the same. Even when we don’t feel God’s love, even when we are in the midst of pain and suffering, we can continue to pray and lay our sorrows at the feet of the Lord. We may not feel like celebrating, but we can force ourselves to focus on the wonder of the Risen Lord. Jesus loved us so much he died to save us from our sin! He rose from the dead to conquer the greatest pain life has to offer. We have the gift and the promise of eternal life! How can we not rejoice? There is hope of a brighter tomorrow. In the midst of our days in the desert that hope may be the greatest gift of all.

The Closeness of Jesus

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

At the Holy Thursday liturgy we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist. Jesus loved us enough to create a sacrament in which he physically comes into our body and soul – what an amazing gift! Yet, I admit, I often take it for granted. Don’t get me wrong – I look forward to going to mass each week. I wouldn’t be able to make it through the week without the spiritual sustenance. I know that, and yet, in the midst of mass, my mind often wanders. I’m focused on how my children are behaving or thinking of what we are doing the rest of the day, or pondering something that might have happened during the week. My body is there, doing the motions, but my mind is far away. I go up to communion and kneel down to pray, but I’ve lost much of that wonder at the Eucharist that I had as a child.

When I was four, I couldn’t wait to receive my First Communion. I wanted Jesus so much. It was an eternity to wait until I was seven for the big day! My older son is making his First Communion next month and he is just as excited, and I am excited for him. Every week when we come back from the communion line, he says “Just a few more weeks and it will be my turn!” I know that Jesus is already with him, but I am hopeful that receiving Jesus in the Eucharist will give him some added strength and grace. I know that the Eucharist is an incredible gift that we are so blessed to be able to receive.

I know that there are people out there who are conscious of the mystery and tremendous gift of the Eucharist every time that they receive communion. I know one man who actually cries during mass because it touches him so deeply. For those of us, however, who do not always remember, Holy Week provides the perfect opportunity to rediscover this priceless treasure. At a time when we focus on the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for us, we also recall his last gift to his friends before his death – the gift of himself. “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to the disciples. ‘Take it and eat,’ he said, ‘this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he handed it to them saying, ‘Drink from this, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:26-28) Jesus is that close to us. He wants to be part of us. It is the most intimate of connections. We need to treasure it.

Sharing Other’s Suffering

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Christ suffers in solidarity with every soul, and we can suffer in solidarity with Him. We are never alone, though we may feel forsaken. Christ shows us that He is one with us in our sorrow and pain, no matter how alone we feel. We are all wounded, broken, suffering in some way, and even the pain we bring upon ourselves, He shares. He MUST share, because love is revealed fully when we share another’s suffering.

We cannot eliminate suffering in this life, There are times when we can partially alleviate another’s suffering, but our proper response to suffering is to simply be with, be for, the suffering person. The answer to suffering is always an experience of grace and unconditional acceptance. The answer to suffering is love.

-Kathryn Mulderink, His Suffering and Ours

Sharing another’s suffering is one of the most intimate things we can do. It is easy to be with another in their joy. It is a much harder task to be with someone as they cry out in pain or misery or suffer in silence as their spirit is ripped to shreds and they feel that the light will never come out again. So often, when we see someone else in pain, we want to fix things. We want to make the pain go away. Sometimes, we can. Other times, we have nothing to offer but our presence. It is important to realize how much a gift that can be.

As parents, part of our job is to try to alleviate our child’s suffering. When babies cry, we rock them or feed them or change their diaper. As children grow older, if they are physically injured, we may kiss the “boo boo” or apply a bandage, or take them to a doctor if the situation warrants. There are times, however, when we are powerless to take away their pain. They may have been hurt by a friend or be frustrated by their own limitations. They may have a broken heart or failed to make a sports team that they desperately wanted to belong to. They may have made a really dumb decision and now are forced to face the consequences. Any number of situations may have caused them to suffer, and all we can do is to be there with them in the pain. We can hold them and be a shoulder to cry on. We can be the safe place to vent and allow them to express their anger. We can share our own stories of pain and help them know that eventually things will get better.

As adults, with our spouses and other friends, sharing another’s pain most often involves being a good listener. This seems like it should be so easy, but it often isn’t. Yes, we can sometimes do things to help alleviate another’s suffering and if it is within our power to do so, we should. More often, however, the pain is not something easily fixed. Adults suffer from scars of childhood, the pain of failed or damaged relationships, from addictions, and psychological imbalances, from fear and worry, and a lack of hope. We suffer from physical ailments and the realization that we are getting older and stress from having too much to do. Most of those things are outside of our power to fix for another person or even for ourselves. Most people simply want someone else to acknowledge their pain, to be with them as they try to sort it all out, and make it through to another tomorrow. Love asks this of us. Christ asks this of us. Even the Son of God himself felt alone in his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. He wanted his closest friends to simply be with him, to help him pray and make it through. They let him down.

Who do you know who is hurting today? Will you be with them in their hour of need?

Women’s Stations of the Cross

Friday, February 27th, 2009

During this season of Lent, I invite you to spend some time meditating on Jesus’ road to Calvary, and on the ways we can better carry our own crosses in life.

1. Jesus is Condemned to Death

Jesus stood before Pilate an innocent man yet he was condemned to death.

Dear Lord, help me to not be so quick to judge others. Help me try to understand them and why they act as they do. Help me to see other people as you see them.

2. Jesus Carries his Cross

Jesus, already tired and broken, picked up the heavy cross to begin the journey to Calvary.

Dear Lord, help me, even when I am exhausted and worn out, to fulfill my daily duties. Please help me to accept the crosses that come my way and to bear them with a willing spirit.

3. Jesus Falls the First Time

Jesus falls down under the weight of the cross, yet somehow he finds the strength to get up and try again. Many times I feel overwhelmed and ready to collapse under the weight.

Dear Lord, help me to keep going even when I feel I can’t take another step.

4. Jesus meets his Mother

Even in his darkest hour, Jesus’ Mother Mary was there.

Dear Lord, please help me to be with others in their pain. Help me to offer comfort and consolation and to be a source of strength for others as they travel through life.

5. Jesus is helped by Simon

Simon wasn’t looking to help. He was just one of the crowd, but he was pressed into service.

There are many times I don’t want to help, either. It’s easy to turn away and think someone else will do the work. Dear Lord, help me to help wherever I am needed. Don’t let me turn my back on anyone in need.

6. Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

Veronica reached out to Jesus, offering an act of kindness at a time when he needed it most.

Who do I know who is hurting. Dear Lord, help me to be the person who comes in to offer kindness when the whole world has gone out.

7. Jesus Falls the Second Time

Again Jesus falls and again he gets up.

Sometimes life can be so discouraging. It feels like the whole world is against me. I want to give up, to fall down and surrender the fight. Dear Lord, please help me to have the courage to continue. Help me to face another day.

8. Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

Even in the midst of his pain, Jesus stops to comfort the women who were weeping by the side of the road.

It is so easy when I am in pain for me to just think about me. Dear Lord, even when I am hurting, help me to remember that others are hurting also. Help me to not be self-centered and to continue to reach out to those who need me.

9. Jesus Falls the Third Time

The end of the journey is near and Jesus falls again. He struggles to get up and continue one last time.

Dear Lord, help me to continue when the way is hard and I have lost all hope. Please guide my faltering steps.

10. Jesus is Stripped of his Garments

In the end, Jesus had nothing, not even his clothes.

Dear Lord, please help me to share my material goods with others, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Also let me help those who are emotionally naked and who have been left exposed to the world. Help me to never revel in another person’s shame but to instead reach out a helping hand or offer a word on her behalf.

11. Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

With each nail, the pain grew greater, each blow a vivid reminder of our sins.

Dear Lord, thank you for your love for me. Thank you for dying to forgive my sins. Help me to do your will.

12. Jesus Dies on the Cross

Jesus suffered immeasurable torment on the cross, both physical and emotional. He cried out to his father in heaven, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” Yet he also found the strength to forgive his persecutors.

Dear Lord, at times when I feel abandoned, help me to remember that you understand and are always at my side.

13. Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross

Jesus was taken down from the cross and his lifeless body was laid in his nother’s arms. The pain Mary must have felt as she held her son. She was the mother of a convicted criminal. Truly a “sword had pierced her heart.”

Dear Lord, help me to remember the mothers who have lost children to violence and criminal activity. Help me to pray for them as they suffer so much pain.

14. Jesus is Laid in the Tomb

And then there was darkness. The tomb was a place of transition for Jesus – a stopping place between death and new life.

Dear Lord, please help me as I go through my own times in the tomb, times when I feel lost and scared, fearful of change. Help me to see your light, guiding me safely to new life.

Fasting vs. Loving One’s Neighbor

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

I once ate chicken pot pie on Good Friday. It was the day I got home from the hospital after the birth of my first child. My very kind non-Catholic neighbor made us a welcome home dinner. I did a quick mental appraisal of the situation. I could either stick with the Good Friday rules on abstinence and offend my neighbor, or I could eat the meal graciously and demonstrate my appreciation for her thoughtfulness. I chose the second course of action.

The rules of the Church on Lenten fasting and abstinence are good. We all do have an obligation to sacrifice. It shows our solidarity with others of our faith and also helps us on our spiritual journey. Yet, they come second to the primary law of Christian life – to love God and to love our neighbor. There are times, such as the instance I just related, when the two do come into conflict. In that case, the choice is clear. Fasting will gain us little spiritual merit if we offend our neighbor in the process.

In the second reading for this past Sunday, 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1, St. Paul is addressing the opposite issue, but the result is the same. He instructs the Christians that they have no reason to abstain from any food, but if they are sharing a meal with their Jewish brethren and the food offends them, they should refrain from eating it out of love for their neighbor. “Never be a cause of offense.” There is a difference between going out to a restaurant and ordering an appropriate Lenten meal and going to someone’s house and refusing to eat what they have prepared. The first is a witness to our Catholic faith (although it need not be announced); the second is rude and is likely to cause ill-feeling toward the Catholic tradition.

Many people, myself included, observe a personal fast of some type on Wednesdays and/or Fridays throughout the year. Perhaps one refrains from meat or from desserts. The same guidelines should apply. Sometimes, if one is with a large group, it is possible to adhere to one’s sacrifice without offending anyone. In a crowd of fifty people, no one is likely to care if you take a piece of cake or not unless you happen to be the guest of honor. In a small group, it is much more obvious. It is possible to enjoy parties and still sacrifice. If I know, for example, that I have some social obligation where I will be expected to enjoy a lavish meal and dessert, I adjust my fasting days accordingly in advance. If I find myself in a spur-of-the-moment celebration, I simply resolve to fast the next day instead. Indeed, sometimes this is harder – fasting on Saturday always seems more of a challenge than sacrificing on Friday. There is also the possibility of making some other sacrifice on Wednesday or Friday, perhaps to avoid media, for example.

Fasting and sacrifice are important parts of a Catholic life and can bring many benefits to both body and soul. Forgoing it should never be done lightly. However, it need always be subjugated to the need to love one another. Sometimes, the greater sacrifice is to fast from fasting.