A Wasted Week

No, this isn’t about drugs or about being adrift at sea. It is about a wasted week. But, since the particular week hasn’t come yet, I guess it is about a week to be wasted. At least that is what some people might think about my coming week….

First of all, the week in question has one more day than your run-of-the-mill week. My week will has eight full days. Better yet, all eight days will be spent in silence. Literally, yes! No television, smart (or dumb) phone, computer, radio, etc. “So what is it, solitary confinement?” you might ask. Not solitary by any stretch of the imagination. I will have about twenty-five (silent) companions.

So what will be going on? Well, it will be my annual retreat, that is, an eight-day period of prayer and reflection. Glorious! I know that some of you are underlining the word “wasted” in my title – what a way to waste a good week! Really, I can assure you that it is not a waste, but a splurge.

Each and every one of you should think of making one of these retreats even if it is only for one day. It is a time of calm and relaxation for both body and spirit, a time to reassess the past year, a time to check on your character, your habits (good and less impressive), a time to plan what progress you hope to make in the year ahead. It is a time for accountability and calm. A time to contemplate and pray.

While I am at it I promise not to pray only for myself, but also for you because you are part of my past year and will hopefully be part of the year to come. May your hearts be at peace. May a little quiet time enfold you. May your days be straight and your steps secure. So, I will pray for you and hope you pray for me, too.

here is crabby mystic at work...

here is crabby mystic at work…

Blessings all around!

Passionate Week

Christ on the Cross by Leon Bonnat, circa 1874

Christ on the Cross by Leon Bonnat, circa 1874

We are between the most tragic and most triumphant days of the liturgical year: the agony and the ecstasy of Christianity. This past Sunday was Passion Sunday. The normally short reading of the Gospel was replaced by the entire account of the last days of the earthly life of Jesus. We followed him from the exuberant entry into Jerusalem when he was hailed as king to his last supper with the disciples, his betrayal, the mock trials, the false testimonies, failure of justice, police brutality, horrifying execution and death. This was the passion of Jesus Christ.

The word itself – passion – conjures intense feeling. It is not necessarily a term used for our thoughts, although one can be intellectually passionate in the pursuit of some truth. When we use the word, passion, we generally apply it to something just slightly over the top, intense, driven. This describes well the feelings accompanying the reading of the Passion account. Those involved in this drama acted on passion: the crowd who chanted his praise in their spontaneous procession into the city; those who shared an intimate meal and pledged to die with him (if it came to that); the one who panicked and made a deal to set himself up; the predetermined judgments based on the lies of false witnesses; the pitiful authorities attentive only to pride and self-preservation; perverted guards too easily worked into a frenzy by their temporary power; the self-righteous leaders who gloated over their victory as one otherwise innocent man “died for the people”; and those same unworthy leaders who demand a squadron of guards to insure their Victim remained dead and buried. These, except when speaking of the fervent welcome of the crowd as Jesus entered Jerusalem, were the evil passions at work in the Passion.

Other passions were in play as well. We see the anxiety of the apostles as Jesus speaks to them during that last meal together, the initial confusion and anger of the man pressed into service to help carry the cross, the resolute strength and devotion of the youngest apostle, John, the uncontrollable weeping of the women along the road and the great sorrow of the woman who walked along beside her son. And Jesus himself was driven by his own passions. They were two: that the Will of his Father be accomplished and that his life be spent entirely for our salvation. Jesus did not only suffer his passion, but he offered his passion. The difference is immense! He came to our world to accomplish our salvation, that is, to bring about the reconciliation of God and the human family, to mend the relationship severed by sin. This he did passionately, freely, intensely, lovingly.

Next Sunday will be Easter, the day of triumph, when the Passion becomes Exultation. We really shouldn’t think of Jesus’ Resurrection as a reward for his suffering. That is short-changing the Event. That perspective is too human. His rising from a real death to new life (Resurrection) is the fulfillment of the restored relationship between God and the human race. In the Risen Jesus, we, fallen humanity, are restored to our rightful dignity as God’s children, destined to eternal life with God.

During this week between the agony of sin and the ecstasy of redemption, let’s think of our response to so gracious a gift. Are the passions I suffer and the passion I feel always directed to my relationship with a loving God in Jesus Christ my Lord?

Matthew and the Upright Prayer (Mt 1:18-25)

In his Gospel, Matthew mentions nothing about the Annunciation of the angel to Mary which resulted in the Incarnation of the Word. Instead Matthew begins with the annunciation to Joseph who realizes Mary is pregnant, but not by him. Although Matthew says that this pregnancy is through the power of the Holy Spirit, it seems that Joseph didn’t know that. He only knew what he could see. Being an upright man, a just man, he would quietly divorce this woman who was to be his wife. We assume he also loved her and could not allow the law, which he also loved, get hold of her. Now the Gospel doesn’t mention that Joseph prayed about this matter, however, he most certainly must have since he was upright. One thing that the Gospel does show us is that an upright life in itself is a prayer. Joseph was a man of God. It seems he was both fervent and devout. God saw his prayer of anguish, his prayer of concern for Mary’s safety above his own humiliation.

God sent an angel to answer an unasked prayer. Proceed as planned, the angel said. He explained the role of the Spirit. He calmed Joseph’s fear: Take Mary. She will give birth to a Son. You, as her husband, as head of the family, as foster-father, are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. Imagine how long Joseph would be processing such a thought! This potentially tragic event has taken an unbelievable turn. A prophecy dear to every Jewish heart has been fulfilled. So Joseph took Mary as his wife and lived with her in God’s sight. It is amazing how the two of them continued to live as normal people knowing, that literally, God was with them. Only the upright of heart shall see God.

In the kingdom here and now, I am a privileged woman. I’ve been called, chosen, graced, and blessed, but I must confront myself: am I really upright? How often I think of my life as upside down, meaning things are out of order with me. Sometimes things don’t go as I planned; sometimes a monkey wrench gets thrown into the mix; sometimes circumstances try to trip me up. I may even actually pray in those moments, but am I simply asking for a quick-fix? Would I change my ways if an angel suddenly appeared with an explanation? This is the crux: are my everyday ways those of the Lord? Am I standing upright in front of God? Is my life a prayer as was the life of Joseph?

Matthew’s Prologue and Me

All profitable films seem to get at least one sequel and possibly a prequel. The more details given about beloved characters the better. For Jesus the sequel is ongoing, and his prequel is billed in the Gospel of Matthew as a prologue, appropriately since Jesus is the Word. And so, a word about the preparation for the Word. It is offered to us very neatly and in a very orderly manner: three sets of fourteen generations. All the greats are there, some not so great, and many unknowns (their inclusion in the Prologue stems from being in the right place at the right time). All, however, are necessary to the list. Gratefully, some notable mothers are included among so many fathers, each like an exotic spice adding a specific flavor to the coming of the Messiah.

My little life also had a prologue and it includes a sprinkling of notables, a large contingent of unknowns, and a couple of just plain interesting characters. And certainly in a couple more generations I, too, will be one of the unknowns, but nonetheless necessary.

Grandmother Hill and Grandfather Toce provided written “prologues” in the form of family trees, but the other fifty percent of my heritage remains for the most part only blessed moments of the history that got me here. And to those histories I am not adding any generations, but by my religious consecration I hope to add a dollop of grace up and down the generations.

Each of us has a place in history – maybe a very modest place, but an important place to fill. Our life touches those before and those after us, who would not be connected without us filling our place. Are we the connecting link to an important historic happening? Do we keep some meaningful memory alive or do we point to coming greatness? Actually in the eyes of God, each of us is that living memory, that irreplaceable link, that coming greatness. Give us joy, dear God, in the place that is ours until we are all together in You, our true home.

 

Return of the Kings

The feast of Epiphany is upon us. And the feast is all about us! This is the celebration when the Savior is shown to the rest of the world – to all those who are non-Jews. And so, the three kings return today, as they do each year. Why is the story retold again and again? Perhaps because it is about us. At Christmas we all become a little child-like, and we want to see and be seen by everyone around. We want to be where the action is and to be part of it.  Each year these three enigmatic men show up at the time of Christ’s birth to join in the celebration of that time long ago when a star led them to the holiest night. Most of what we know about the three kings, or wise men from the East, is legend. These beautiful stories may be only partially true or they may be totally true. However, the kings are securely set in our scriptures, and their legends embellish the wondrous story. (Most kings, it would seem, would love to be subject of legend.)

Who are these kings for us today? Are they only the last three figures to place in the table-top manger scene before we take the whole thing apart and box it up again? Hopefully they mean more to us. After all, they are the Magi – men from among us, perhaps religious leaders, perhaps learned men, or the scientists of their day. They had heard that a specific king, a king of kings, was to come. He would be heralded by a sign in the heavens. When they saw an unusual star arise, together they discerned this sign of the times and concluded that the star must be followed.  Imagine the inner strength of these men: they truly were wise – wise enough to be humble. Have we learned this approach to the Savior? Or do we stop at our own wisdom, thinking our way out of following the signs that lead to Christ? Perhaps we begin and end with what we think is humility: I can’t come because I’m not worthy.

Take time to look at the lesson of the Magi. Come with a mind open to Truth, a will desiring the holiness of God, and a heart yearning to meet the Promised One. Come, let us return to the King.

The Holiness of Family

Holy Family Sunday always follows right on the heels of Christmas. How appropriate, for a baby is what turns a couple into a family. The arrival of a baby makes a Mary and Joe into Mom and Dad, as it did literally to the couple we celebrate today. The Holy Family started with a young woman who said yes to God’s wondrous plan. Mary was then with child, so to complete his plan, God enfolded a man into it, Joseph, who was Mary’s intended. Just as God chose Mary to mother his Son, so he chose Joseph to represent himself as the child’s father.

 

When we read of this holy family in the Gospels, we often regret that more isn’t said about their life. We know the difficult beginning: the poverty, the danger, the flight, the hiding, the tenuous return home. We know about their quiet ordinariness, their fervent religious observance. We even see an incident of adolescent testing when Jesus chooses to stay at the Temple in Jerusalem in order to discuss the law with the scholars. He failed to get his parents’ permission and caused them  a few anxious days of searching for him. We know also that he explained himself and went home an obedient son. Then silence: we know nothing else until Jesus’ years of ministry. Why would God deny us other insights that would certainly be instructive for families of all times?

 

It seems the reason for this lack of information is a lesson in itself. Most of those things that we wish we knew about were held close to the heart of the Holy Family – kept safe within its own sanctuary – as family matters should be. Our interactions, both happy and sad, are what make a family of a group of people, even more so than our blood ties. The more normal, ordinary, simple, and expected these happenings are, the more sacred they should be to us. These are the things that make holy families. We may not be exactly like the Holy Family,  but we are to be a holy family. So then, lets cherish each ordinary moment of our family life, and mark them with love, acceptance, trust, and respect.