Archive for the ‘Jesus’ Category

From Provincial to Radical: Getting Below the Surface

Friday, May 18th, 2012

I am currently re-reading Henri Nouwen’s last book, Sabbatical Journey The Diary of His Final Year. I read it years ago and found his honesty and vulnerability very moving. There is a journal entry for each day of his sabbatical, and each one sparks reflection.


In the entry from Tuesday, September 9, Nouwen mentions the occasional retreats he gave with friend Jonas and how Jonas could play the Japanese bamboo flute. He writes, “The amelodic music he plays on the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, allows people to experience God’s spirit in ways that words cannot express.”

Learning to stretch

In my reading of the gospels over the past year, I have been struck by a recurring theme: Jesus’ insistence that we get beyond our preconceived notions. As the great Spiritual Doctor, He diagnoses humanity with the affliction of narrow-mindedness: we practice our faith by clinging stubbornly to ritual, all the while being oblivious to the actual meaning. It’s easier (and safer) to blindly follow the rules rather than digging deep to understand their intent.

Jesus challenges us to be radical lovers and thinkers; He means to stretch us.

Leaders bound to ritual

This is evidenced by His repeated confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees, the most learned of the people. Despite their knowledge, these leaders adopt a provincial view of life through their observance of the Law. They flawlessly fulfill the rituals yet have no clue as to how the Law applies to their inner lives. It’s all about outward performance and it fuels their pride and arrogance, blinding them to the Son of God who stands before them.

Talking to myself

Rituals affect prayer too. I can use a parochial approach to prayer, doing my fifteen minutes a day mindlessly reciting my rote prayers and feeling a sense of accomplishment at performing my duty. I might as well be saying the prayers to myself. Jesus is waiting for me to sit at His feet and be with Him and I don’t recognize Him standing there before me.

Following the Spirit’s lead

In the book of Romans Paul writes, “the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26). In essence, prayer without the Spirit’s help accomplishes nothing.

Be, not do

The prayers we’ve been taught are good, reinforcing what we’ve learned. They prepare the heart. It’s the next step that requires a more radical approach and that involves acquiescing to the Spirit. My only task at that point is to allow Him to lead me.

It takes effort and fortitude to quiet myself and allow the encounter to begin. Then all effort ceases. And that’s when I sometimes wonder if, in fact, I am praying.

Is it prayer?

Sometimes a wave of peace and gratitude will flow over me.  The result is a sense of love and well-being that wells up inside. It surpasses words and instead, produces tears.

Other times I experience intense pain and swirling confusion, leaving me floundering and helpless.

If during those moments, I turn and face Jesus, they become prayer.

Music as a means to prayer

Nouwen’s description of Jonas’ music reminds me of how easily music leads me to these encounters. I feel almost guilty letting my collection of spiritual and classical music shuffle through my iPod as I drive into work. It’s too easy, there’s no effort.

And that’s when the encounter begins. It’s not my effort that produces prayer but the intercession of the Holy Spirit.

The preparation

Music prepares my heart and soul with a rhythmic kneading, softening what was once hard. I am then prepared to stretch out my hand and allow the Spirit to grasp it, leading me into the inner sanctum.

The experience

In there I could experience a myriad of things: the sense of being loved, deep sorrow for my sins, insight, consolation, maybe even nothing at all. No matter what I may or may  not feel, Jesus is as close to me as my own breath.

Openness to the gift

What a wonderful gift our Lord gives us through His Spirit when we open our minds and hearts and step outside of ourselves. This was the gift He longed to give to the Pharisees but they could not let go.

But like the cripple who, after being healed by Jesus, throws away the crutches and walks freely, I too can employ that same trust, knowing that God will extend His hand and lead me deeper into His heart, and closer to paradise.

Endurance – reflection on readings for Friday, Jan. 30, 2011

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Today’s readings
Hebrews 10:32-39, Psalm 37:3-6,23-24,39-40; Mark 4:26-34

“You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised.”

So says verse 36 of today’s first reading from Hebrews. That line stuck out at me because I heard something very similar today while praying the rosary while vocalizing the spiritual fruits of the fourth and fifth sorrowful mysteries – “patience” and “final perseverance.” Both “patience” and “perseverance” are listed as synonyms of the word “endurance.” And just what does “endurance” mean? Here’s the dictionary definition:

  1. the fact or power of enduring or bearing pain, hardships, etc.
  2. the ability or strength to continue or last, esp. despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions; stamina: He has amazing physical endurance.
  3. lasting quality; duration: His friendships have little endurance.
  4. something endured, as a hardship; trial.

In this reading from Hebrews, Paul is admonishing the people to maintain their fervor for Christ. He cites how they had been willing to suffer together for the faith: “You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you had a better and lasting possession.” (verse 34). Now they are letting that fervor slide – the passion has faded, the newness has worn off, and it’s time for the long term battle.

In The Word Among Us today, the meditation speaks of our relationship with Christ as being more like a marriage rather than a brief romance. A relationship that culminates into marriage begins with great passion, but as the years go on, the passion may fade but a deeper love takes its place. This love is willing work to keep the marriage alive, whereas passion runs at the first sign of trouble.

In the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary, Jesus is going to his death. He is first beset with anxiety so great that He prays to His heavenly Father that the hour would pass without Him having to drink of the cup. He is then betrayed, flogged, mocked, spat upon and crowned with thorns. Utterly humiliated and deeply wounded, He is then forced to carry a heavy cross, the tool for his execution, and He is crucified, dying the lowliest and most painful of deaths in public with most of his friends fleeing the scene.

Jesus knew the meaning of endurance. He also understood that the glory of the resurrection awaited Him after the long hours of suffering.

Mother Teresa also knew the meaning of endurance. After experiencing and obeying her “call within a call” which included a long period of extreme intimacy with Jesus that she described as ecstasy, the Lord seemingly withdrew from her just as she set forth to do His will. She was left empty, desolate, with deep longing and thirst for that intimacy with Jesus to return, but never to see it again in her lifetime. Yet she persevered to the point where the world was totally unaware of her suffering.

Mother Teresa kept her eyes fixed on Jesus – she knew He would lead her home to Him. Even though she was plagued with doubts, she kept on because she knew she had “a better and lasting possession.”

My life is easy these days so I can’t say that it is hard to endure right now. But it wasn’t that long ago that I was in the throws of helping to take care of a sick mother over several years, often careening from one crisis to the next. I thought of it the other day during yet another snowstorm on the east coast, and how hard it used to be when my mother lived at home and we had these snowstorms, worrying about how she would be cared for. I had a pit in my stomach for a moment, remembering those times.

There are small things to endure, such as over 3 feet of snow on the ground with huge piles all over the place, making the world feel very closed in. The seemingly endless act of shoveling yesterday was an act of endurance! :-)

St. Paul is right. If we can just keep our eyes fixed on the “prize” as he calls it (our home in heaven with Jesus), and really believe it will be there after going through the trials of this life, somehow the burden becomes lighter. Knowing that Jesus Himself went through it and allowing Him to carry the burden for me as He so longs to do, makes that burden lighter. If I have asked for prayers and I know people are praying, I can feel the burden growing lighter, making it bearable.

Passion is great, it’s fun, and it’s fleeting. The patient love that St. Paul is calling for from the Hebrews is the love that will save us. It saved Mother Teresa, it can save us too.

Reflections on Daily Readings for Sept. 3

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Luke 5:33-39

Here are the readings for today.
1 Corinthians 4:1-5;
Psalm 37:3-6,27-28,39-40,
Luke 5:33-39

There were two things which struck me. In the first reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul is exhorting us not to judge one another. But he also said he didn’t judge himself, that even that should be left to the Lord.

Catholics are often plagued with guilt, and it is not always guilt that is holy. We all know we are unworthy of the Lord but He loves us as we are. Therefore, in real faith, I need to confess my sins, accept forgiveness, and move on. Guilt ends when absolution is received. Otherwise, I really don’t believe that God has forgiven me, do I?

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells the parable of the new wine in the old wine skins. The meditation from the Word Among Us today talks about settling for what is “good enough” rather than aspiring to more. I know sometimes I actually fear receiving grace from the Holy Spirit because it can be overwhelming! It can be too much to hold. It again becomes a matter faith and trust – God will not give us more than we can hold.

New wine is good! I need to step out in faith and try it.

Reflections on readings and prayers for Sept. 2

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

I hope to begin to offer some quick reflections from reading the Daily Readings and praying the Divine Office.

Here are the readings for September 2, 2010

I was struck by both the first reading and the Gospel.  In the first reading, we are admonished not to rely on the wisdom of this world because in God’s eyes, it is folly. And how true that is! The more we immerse ourselves in God’s wisdom, the more foolish the world looks. The reading speaks of the vanity of the world’s wisdom and it’s true. There is no vanity in God’s wisdom, so evident in His Holy Word.

One of my favorite saints is St. Peter. He was so human, very flawed, but his heart was as big as the state of Texas! Today’s reading talks about how he sees himself as as truly is because he has seen God. Jesus asks him and the others to go out again to fish even though they fished all night and caught nothing. When they haul in a big catch, Peter suddenly realizes who he truly is with! Jesus had been teaching from his boat beforehand but perhaps the words didn’t sink in totally (although they did somewhat because he did agree to go out again). But now the reality really hit him – this Jesus was a holy man, perhaps even the Messiah! And he, Peter, who was he in the sight of God?

Peter was filled with the wisdom of God at this moment and was enlightened. I pray I can see that today too, and every day.