Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thursday, 3rd Week: Emotional Life May Control Spiritual Life

“Oh, that today you would listen to God’s voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” - Psalm 95:7-9

Our emotional lives move up and down constantly. Sometimes we experience great mood swings; from excitement to depression, from joy to sorrow, from inner harmony to inner chaos. A little event, a word from someone, a disappointment in work, many things can trigger such mood swings. Mostly we have little control over these changes. It seems that they happen to us rather than being created by us.

So it is important to know that our emotional life is not the same as our spiritual life. Our spiritual life is the life of the Spirit of God within us. As we feel our emotions shift, we must connect our spirits with the Spirit of God and remind ourselves that what we feel is not who we are. We are and remain, whatever our moods, God's beloved children.

Although it is very hard to control our moods, we can gradually overcome them by a well-disciplined spiritual life. This can prevent us from acting out our moods. We might not "feel" like getting up in the morning because we "feel" that life is not worth living, that nobody loves us, and that our work in meaningless. But if we get up anyhow, to spend some time reading the Gospels, praying the Psalms, and thanking God for a new day, our moods may lose their power over us. These spiritual exercises help us to be attentive to and live out of that depth of who we are, beneath the barrage of emotions seem to presently rule us.

"Holy Spirit, help me to achieve the discipline I need for a devout life in God."

adapted from Henri Nouwen

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wednesday, 3rd Week: God Is For Us, With Us, Within Us

"For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?" - Deuteronomy 4:7-8

God made a covenant with us. The word covenant means "coming together." God wants to come together with us. In many of the stories in the Hebrew Bible, we see that God appears as a God who defends us against our enemies, protects us against dangers, and guides us to freedom. God is God-for-us. With Jesus a new dimension of the covenant is revealed. In Jesus, God is born, grows to maturity, lives, suffers, and dies as we do. God is God-with-us. Finally, when Jesus leaves he promises the Holy Spirit. In the Holy Spirit, God reveals the full depth of the covenant. God wants to be as close to us as our breath. God wants to breathe in us, so that all we say, think, and do is completely inspired by God. God is God-within-us. Thus, God's covenant reveals to us how much God loves us, such that God is for us, with us, within us. Similarly, we are called to be men and women for and with others. We are called to be the face, presence, and love of God.

"Lord, help us to grow in gratitude for the awesome gift of our Christian faith and for our redemption."

adapted from Henri Nouwen

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday, 3rd Week: Forgiveness Is The Way To Freedom

"Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times." - Matthew 18:21-22

Community is not possible without the willingness to forgive one another "seventy-seven times." Forgiveness is the cement of community life. Forgiveness holds us together though good times and bad times, and it allows us to grow in mutual love.

To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation. We set that person free from the negative bonds that exist between us. We say, "I no longer hold your offense against you." But there is more. We also free ourselves from the burden of being the "offended one." As long as we do not forgive those who have wounded us, we continue to carry the offense as a poison, as a heavy weight. The great temptation is to cling in anger to our enemies and then define ourselves as being offended and wounded by them. Forgiveness, therefore, liberates not only the other but also ourselves. It is the way to the freedom of the children of God.

"What are the grudges you are clinging to? What poison is still infecting you?"

adapted from Henri Nouwen

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday, 3rd Week: Asking for What We Truly Need

"As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?" - Psalm 42:1-2

We ask God for many things, most of which we do not need, many of which we do not we really want. We are often spiritually lazy: we do not allow ourselves proper time and space to sift through our wants to discover what we truly need. This is a hard truth to accept; yet one that can open up to a deeper awareness.

There is a deep longing in each of us “for the living God” – to experience God’s love in real, personal ways. And God will not refuse when we ask with trust. Yet, we do not ask for it earnestly. We reason away: “God already loves me, how dare I ask for it? I am not good enough, not deserving enough, not holy enough. Moreover, it seems selfish to ask for it. What if God refuses?” Yet, when we earnestly and consistently ask for it, we risk trusting God with what we truly need. We also begin to intentionally let go of anything that keeps us from experiencing God’s deep and personal love for us. Asking for what we truly need makes our hearts tender toward God and lessens our clutter of obstacles that keep us from God’s embrace.

“Lord, help me to risk asking for what I truly need and letting go of whatever that keeps me from you.”

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday, 3rd Week: Spiritual Homecoming Yields More Questions Than Answers

“In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, "Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” – Exodus 17:3

Our pilgrimage to God and our true selves takes us through the land of uncertainty. Old answers become inadequate before life’s present challenges. Even though past ways of looking at ourselves and relating to others are less than freeing, we prefer their familiarity to the vulnerability involved in trusting. The certainty that the past offers seems safer than facing our fears of abandonment or of the unknown. We are caught in the present between the shackled familiarity of the past and the freedom of an unfamiliar future. We do not like living with tension, with uncertainty.

Between a certain past and a future not yet known lies the present moment. Before we can move forward, we need to claim our dependence on certainty and our fear of trust. In such vulnerability, we discover the birth of hope within – a confidence rooted and grounded in God’s goodness and care. We find ourselves thirsting for water that gives life and love deeper and fuller. We are invited to walk in our present condition, with its unknowns and pregnant possibilities – to live the present questions so that deeper truths can emerge.

"Lord, help me to be vulnerable, to trust you, and embrace the present uncertainties in my life."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saturday, 2nd Week: Spiritual Homecoming Lies Beyond Self-Rejection

“'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.' But his father ordered his servants, 'Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast.” – Luke 15:21-23

The spiritual life is essentially a homecoming. It is a coming home to the deepest truth of ourselves as loved by God personally, deeply, irrevocably. That we belong to God. Whether we have wandered afar in search of life or love beyond our spiritual home in the boundless heart of God (like the younger son) or have been lost in fear without ever going away (like the older son), God’s unconditional love is offered freely and fully. As the father who rushes out of the house to embrace both the errant younger son and the resentful older son home to the banquet, God yearns for us to rejoice in our dignity as Beloved sons and daughters.

Such homecoming involves a most daunting task: allowing ourselves to be seen as we are, without self-condemnation. While we long for such transparency, we harbor secret thoughts, feelings, and fears. We often think, “If people really know what I think or feel, they would run away.” Those guarded secrets can lead us to self-rejection, depression, and even suicidal thoughts and actions. They are the loud voices within that clamor “what you have done is beyond God’s forgiving love” or “you need to be perfect to deserve such love.” They prevent us from the grateful recognition that we are pure gift and precious in God's eyes.

Our homecoming involves allowing the inner voice of love beyond self-rejection to take hold of us and gift us with the courage to live as God’s Beloved children.

"What keeps you from homecoming? What helps you to realize that you are precious in God's eyes?"

inspired by Henri Nouwen

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday, 2nd Week: Feast of the Annunciation

“Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” – Lk 1:38

God chose
to enter human lowliness and messiness
a peasant girl to bear God’s presence
to fulfill the long awaited Promise.

God waited
for Mary’s “yes”
though she did not understand
to fill her with Life.

God waits
for us to make space
though we hesitate fearfully
to fill us with life.

God chooses
to enter our brokenness and magnify our joy
to surprise and to stay
whispering peace, “I Am here.”

What will we choose?

Many things happen to us each day that we did not choose: natural catastrophes, sicknesses, accidents, misunderstandings, negative or inconvenient feelings that flow through us, etc. Yet, even in our fearful hesitance or inability to understand, we can choose to trust that God is with us and humbly waits for our “yes” to fulfill the promise of bringing about greater life and love.

“Mary, pray for us. Help us to join you in saying “Yes” to trust in God’s promise.”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursday, 2nd Week: Hoping is Loving in the Moment

“Blessed are they who trust in the LORD, whose hope is the LORD.” – Jeremiah 17:9-10

Optimism and hope are radically different attitudes. Optimism is the expectation that things – the weather, human relationships, the political situation, wars, and so on – will improve. Hope is the trust that God will fulfill God’s promise in a way that leads us to love more deeply and freely. The optimist speaks about changes in the future. The person who hopes lives in the moment and trusts that all of life is in good hands. Optimism is a personality trait; hope is a choice that risks God’s goodness. When we hope, we rely on God’s faithfulness, even though we cannot envision a foreseeable future of optimism.

Hope is essentially an act of faith rooted in love. It involves radical openness and vulnerability to life in the present moment and waiting with endurance, trusting that uncertainty, loneliness, restlessness, loss, confusion, etc… will lead to greater freedom, to a more genuine love. A love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).

It is difficult to hope when destructive tsunamis ravage our Japanese cities and violence is used to uphold corrupt political systems in Africa and the Middle East while other systems seem to favor special interests of a few rather than the common good for all. But when we hope, we wait in openness for God’s promise to come true, even though we do not know when, where, or how this might happen. We trust in God’s indwelling presence and laboring to bring about good. We embrace ourselves as the Beloved. We love.

"Lord, help me to love more fully today, through moments of hope; teach me to be in solidarity with those who suffer in Japan and oppressed countries.”

inspired by Henri Nouwen

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday, 2nd Week: Sorrows and Joys Are Pathways to New Life

"But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" – Matthew 20:12

"Are we able to drink the cup?" is a most challenging and radical question we face. The cup is the cup of our humanity – the unique way which we react and respond to people and things. Drinking our cups means allowing persons, things, and events to be, to resonate fully as they are in our lived experience. It involves a consistent openness and vulnerability to life, allowing its full spectrum of sorrows and joys to flow within and over us, without having the control things.

To be honestly and truly ourselves in such an unflinching, undefended way is extremely difficult. We know well the price of such receptive attitudes. Yet, fully drinking the cup of our joys and sorrows becomes a sipping of the cup of salvation. Through his suffering and death, Jesus brings us new life. As we empty our cups to the bottom, we become more united with Christ Crucified while God fills our cups with “water” for eternal life. Our life bears greater meaning; we grow in compassion, especially for ourselves. We not only drink, we grow in intimacy with Jesus. We become the cup of blessing.

"Lord, which sorrows and joys do you I invite me to drink deeply today?”

inspired by Henri Nouwen

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday, 2nd Week: Serving the Least Embraces God’s Reconciling Love

“The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” – Mt 23:12

“Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.” - Is 1:17

Both the Jewish and Christian traditions imagine a God who stands with the poor and the powerless. Jesus shows a clear referential option or love for the poor. Outreach to the marginalized and opposing injustices are not extra expressions of faith, they are integral to our embrace of God’s love.

The Lenten call to repentance consists of reconciliation, a bringing together. Bringing together how we practice and what we preach; closing the gap between “the haves” and the “haves not”; embracing our identity in God’s unconditional love and letting go of a sense of self that comes from possessions, prestige, power, or entitlement; allowing God to heal us and going beyond ourselves to serve the least among us. While we serve, we realize the Pharisees within each of us: we serve and redress wrong from a place of power and privilege; we “stand over” people; we are often motivated more by the need to be recognized or liked by others than the desire to honor God. At the same time, we realize the call to “stand with” those we serve, to face our illusions of control, to share in our common poverty – our utter need for God’s healing and mercy. Jesus calls us to servant leadership so that we may be embraced by God’s reconciling love as we serve and stand with the poor.

“Lord, help me to concretely embrace your love by standing on the side of the poor and powerless.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday, 2nd Week: Forgiveness - Seeing with God’s Compassion

"Be merciful just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." – Luke 6:36-37

We are all wounded people. Who wounds us? Often by those whom we love and those who love us. When we feel rejected, abandoned, abused, manipulated, or violated, it is mostly by people very close to us: our parents, our friends, our spouses, our lovers, our children, our neighbors, our teachers, our pastors. We too, wound those close to us. That's the tragedy of our lives. This is what makes forgiveness from the heart difficult. It is precisely our hearts that are wounded. We cry out, “You, who I expect to be there for me, you have abandoned me. How can I ever forgive you for that?”

Forgiveness often seems impossible, but nothing is impossible for God. It involves seeing with the eyes of God, with the heart of Christ. This has been very helpful in my life: to imagine myself in the presence of Jesus/God and “sit with” the pains of hurt, abandonment, or betrayal. To be in God’s healing presence; even with Jesus forsaken on the cross. Gradually, mysteriously, we may begin to see through the heart of things, that we inadvertently place our longing for unconditional love in limited, frail human beings. We may begin to see with God’s great compassion that we are all wounded people, that we all long to live deep within the very heart of God, to be God’s Beloved. This is not easy, but Jesus has already and is walking that path with us. With God, all things are possible.

"Lord, help me to forgive all who have hurt me. With whom are you inviting me to begin?”

inspired by Henri Nouwen

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday, 2nd Week: Prayer and Solitude Help Us Listen to God

"This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” – Luke 9:35
"You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." – Luke 3:22

Many voices vie for our attention. They can be placed in two camps. One is for us; the other is against.

The first and louder kind says, "Prove that you are a good person," or "You'd better be ashamed of yourself," or “Nobody really cares about you," or “You are a nobody because you don’t have anybody,” or “You’ve done THAT! God can no longer love you!” or "The more you become successful, popular, and powerful, the more you will be accepted and loved.” This kind of voice is so ingrained in us and permeates our social climate that going against it involves a struggle against the mainstream current. It involves a kind of suffering.

Yet, beneath all these often very noisy voices a still, small voice whispers, "You are my Beloved, on whom my favor rests." That's the voice we need to hear most of all. To hear that voice, however, requires serious willingness; it requires solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen. It may take time to get past those deafening voices telling us that our worth is directly proportional to how well we perform or to what we possess.

This is the invitation to listen to God’s chosen Son, Jesus, who reveals to each of us our belovedness. The journey of Lent involves listening to that gentle voice, in a deeper way.

That's what prayer is. It is listening to the voice that calls, "You are my Beloved." And to treat others as God’s beloved.

"Lord, help me to devote time for prayerful solitude. Help me to listen to your voice within.”

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday, 1st Week: God Loves What is Irritable

“You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” – Matthew 5:43-45

A Jesuit priest friend of mine has a challenging saying: “You are as Christian as how you treat the most irritated people you know.” It is easy for us to love those with whom we are comfortable, those who are nice to us, and those whom we deem good. We seldom consider loving those who irritate us; at best, we tolerate or endure them. This betrays our misconception that love is primarily a feeling. However, love is a choice – choosing to give of oneself
for the spiritual growth of another.

Consider someone who irritates, annoys, or angers you. Ask yourself, what does this irritation tell me about myself? Could it be that the person is manifesting a defect in yourself or pointing out something in your life you are refusing to see, or not living up to the expectation that have been programmed into you by your upbringing? It is difficult for us to love the person because of the inner agitation that arises in us. Loving the person would involve accepting and even embracing parts of ourselves that are “ugly” or “unlovable.” Loving the person would involve a reaching out beyond our negative feelings. Yet, such reaching out expands our hearts and makes us more receptive to the One who is Love.

“Lord, help me to reach beyond myself and accept irritable people or parts of myself today.”

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday, 1st Week: Forgiving Is a Healing In Our Own Hearts

“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” - Matthew 5:23-24

How can we forgive those who do not want to be forgiven? Our deepest desire is that the forgiveness we offer will be received. This mutuality between giving and receiving is what creates peace and harmony. But if our condition for giving forgiveness is that it will be received, we seldom will forgive! Forgiving the other is first and foremost an inner movement. It is an act that removes anger, bitterness, and the desire for revenge from our hearts and helps us to reclaim our human dignity. We cannot force those we want to forgive into accepting our forgiveness. They might not be able or willing to do so. They many not even know or feel that they have wounded us. Yet, when we reach out through forgiveness, we move forward toward inner healing and peace. We also invite those we seek to forgive to a similar conversion.

The only people we can really change are ourselves. Forgiving others is first and foremost healing our own hearts.

What forgiving have you delayed? Can you do it now, with God’s grace?

adapted from Henri Nouwen

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thursday, 1st Week: God Always Gives More Than Enough

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” - Matthew 7:7-8

Jesus reveals a God who promises to answer those who earnestly call out for help. Moreover, God doesn't give us just enough. God gives us in abundance. More than enough, more food than we can eat, more love than we dare to ask for. But if God is a generous giver, then why do many of our prayers remain unanswered?

Queen Esther’s prayer of deep reliance gives us a clue: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you.” - Est C:14 We can only see and enjoy God's generosity when our hearts and minds are unclouded and unfettered. When we are full of demands or attachments, we narrow our vision only to those peoples, things, and conditions that we think will make us happy. When we focus on what we did not get, we miss God’s blessings, disguised in other ways. We remain distant from God and unable to experience what God truly wants to give us, which is life and life in abundance. Moreover, we close ourselves to God when we, as individuals or societies, consume more than what we need, thereby restricting others access to God’s bountiful gifts. The journey of Lent involves recognizing when our sense of entitlement, self-preoccupation, or fear keeps us from experiencing God who wants what is best for us. And seeking help for conversion of heart.

Lord, help us to live gratefully and simply, so that others may simply live.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday, 1st Week: God Wants to Forgive and Heal

Jesus preached to the people, asking them to repent, just as the Ninevites had done, saying, "They turned from their sins when they heard Jonah preach." - Luke 11:32

An old legend portrays what takes place outside the gates of Heaven after the world ends. The last group of saints and repentant sinners has just climbed up the golden stairway that connects the earth to Heaven. Everyone is in a festive mood, singing, and dancing. Everyone excepts Jesus. He stands alone at the top of the stairs, looking towards earth. He is obviously looking for someone. When a saint asks Him who it is, Jesus says, “I’m looking for Judas, hoping he may have had a change of heart before he died and join us."

The God of Jesus has no room for hatred, desire for revenge, or pleasure in seeing us punished. God wants to forgive, heal, restore, show us endless mercy, and see us come home. But just as the father in the “Prodigal Son” parable lets both of his sons make their own decisions, God gives us the freedom to refuse divine love, even at the risk of destroying ourselves. Hell is not God's choice. It is ours. God's choice is to forgive, heal, and embrace completely.

"In what area of my life might I long for yet resist a deeper conversion of heart?
Might this affect the way I forgive someone who has hurt me?"

inspired by Mark Link SJ

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday, 1st Week: Thoughts Can Actually Help us Toward God

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven ...” - Matthew 6:7-9

Our minds are always active. We analyze, reflect, or daydream. Much of the time, we worry about the future and fret about the past. There is not a moment during the day or night when we are not thinking. You might say our thinking is "unceasing." Sometimes we wish that we could stop thinking for a while; that would save us from many worries, guilt feelings, and fears. Our ability to think is our greatest gift, but it is also the source of our greatest pain. Do we have to become victims of unceasing thoughts? No, we can convert our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer by making our inner monologue into a continuing dialogue with God, who is the source of all love.

One way of listening to the Spirit's prompting at the core of our being is just to let our thoughts be, without judging ourselves as we experience these thoughts nor feeding them. Letting them be while inviting God in can be a way of praying unceasingly.

Let us allow the One who dwells in the center of our beings to listen with love to all that occupies and preoccupies our minds. Let us listen to the One who hides in our thoughts.

“O Holy Spirit, convert my never-ending flow of thoughts into prayer.”

adapted from Henri Nouwen

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday, 1st Week: Choose Love By Taking Small Steps Daily

“You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” - Leviticus 19:17-18

Often we speak of love as if it were a feeling. Rather, it is a choice. A continual choice: a commitment to nurture the spiritual growth of ourselves or another. Yes, it is difficult to choose love when we have experienced so little of it. Nevertheless, we can choose love by taking small steps of self-giving love. A smile, a handshake, a word of encouragement, a phone call, a card, an embrace, a kind greeting, a gesture of support, a moment of attention, a helping hand, a present, a financial contribution, a visit – all these are little steps toward love. It may even involve taking more rest or better self-care so that we can better care for others.

St Thérèse of Lisieux reminds us that love lies not in the magnitude of the deed but in the totality of the self-giving. Mother Teresa puts it similarly: “We can do no great deeds, only small deeds with great love.” In choosing to love through simple self-giving deeds, we are acting into a new way of being. These small steps ground our love in the One who is Love, beyond our feelings.

“O Lord, help me to take the small steps of love I need to take today.”

inspired by Henri Nouwen

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday, 1st Week: Loneliness Leads to the Heart of God

“Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.” - Lk 4:1

“Because he clings to me, I will deliver him; I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him.” - Ps 91:14

We never talk about loneliness; yet, it is so prevalent. It visits us all. Yet, our culture frowns upon it. It is “bad” to feel lonely. However, loneliness affects all of us, so much that some of us are paralyzed into fear; and many of us throw ourselves into a maelstrom of activity, secretly hoping it will go away.

Jesus allowed the Spirit to lead him into the desert. He faced his suffocating loneliness and its temptations. Through it, he grew more radically dependent on God_Abba; he came to a deeper realization of who he was and who he was called to be – the Beloved. Like him, when we are open to our loneliness - our particular kind of suffering - something mysteriously creative happens. We can stand with others who suffer their particular loneliness. And even though ours and theirs are not the same loneliness, solidarity is born. Compassion grows. Moreover, we come to know and love Jesus more intimately. Mysteriously, we grow in greater intimacy with ourselves, others, and Jesus. On the way, our heart becomes more tender and more like the heart of God.

“Jesus, help us to enter our loneliness with you and cling to God.”

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday after Ash Wednesday: Human Love Reflects God’s Love (Tình Chúa Qua Tình Người)

Jesus answered, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance." - Luke 5:31-32

It is not easy for us to accept that we are sick, broken, in need of healing. Some of our wounds come from longing to be loved unconditionally by other people. While our parents, brothers, sisters, teachers, friends, or spouses can love us in deep and meaningful ways, their love cannot fully satisfy our deep longing. While human loves can reflect God’s love without condition, they are limited and broken. No human love fulfills our hearts desire, and sometimes human love is so imperfect that we can hardly recognize it as love.

When our broken love is the only love we experience, we are easily thrown into despair. But when we live our broken love as a partial reflection of God's perfect, unconditional love, we can forgive one another and enjoy the love we have to offer. When we acknowledge ourselves as sinners who expect people to love us perfectly as God loves, we make space in for God. We allow God’s indwelling Spirit to heal our wounds, purifies our desires, and unites us with God, whose personal and abiding love surpasses our wildest imaginations.

“O God, help me to seek in You more than in others the perfect love they cannot give.”

inspired by Henri Nouwen

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday after Ash Wednesday: Meeting and Loving God in the Poor

“This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” - Isaiah 58:6-7

Fasting is commonly understood as a means of personal holiness: a way of expiating sin, of purifying one’s spirit, of offering something up to God. However, fasting is integrally related to the almsgiving of the Gospel – the practice of compassion and justice. Through fasting, we are challenged to a greater simplicity of life, to “live simply so that others may simple live” (Gandhi). Does our Lenten commitment involve a deeper reaching out to our sisters and brothers who are marginalized and forgotten? Do we adopt a simpler lifestyle, or sharing of time and resources that raise awareness concerning the plight of those less privileged in society, or deepen solidarity with God’s poor?

God in Jesus whom we seek to know, love, and serve was born poor, lived a poor life, identified with the poor, and died poor. Our love for God is diminished if there is less room for the poor in our hearts. Moreover, the poor are not just those with material needs. The poor includes those who are outside our circle of compassion, those we find difficulty accepting. In reaching out to such sisters and brothers, we open ourselves to meeting and loving our God who stands with those who are poor. This is not an easy message; yet do we genuinely long to encounter and love the God of Jesus?

“O Lord, help us reach out in gratitude to you in those whom society rejects, abandons, or despises … in those we cannot yet accept.”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thursday after Ash Wednesday: God Never Gives Up Loving Us

“Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom … Choose life!” - Deut 30:15

We often confuse unconditional love with unconditional approval. God loves us without conditions but does not approve of every human behavior. God doesn’t approve of betrayal, abuse, violence, hatred, suspicion, and all other expressions of evil, because they all contradict the love God instill in the human heart. Evil is the absence of God’s love. Evil does not belong to God.

God’s unconditional love means that God continues to love us even when we say or think evil things. The injunction to “choose life” is not a condition of God’s love for us. Rather, it describes the path to happiness and fulfillment. God continues to wait for us as a loving parent waits for the return of a lost child. Whereas our sins may keep us from God; but they can never keep God from us.

Not only does God never gives up loving us, but God chooses to create us anew every moment with each breath we take and each beating of our own hearts which continue to give life. God chooses us as we are, regardless of our response. The challenge to “choose life” is grounded in the truth that God has already chosen us, over and over again .. persistently ... patiently ...

“O God, when we are most tempted to give up on ourselves, help us to remember that you never give up on us.”

adapted from Henri Nouwen

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday: God Longs for Us to Embrace Love

Dear Friends,

As in the past years, I am posting a reflection every day during Lent.

These reflections on the Scriptures of the day are meant to be a help for a daily 5-10 minute reflection or prayer. Some of these reflections are adapted from Henri Nouwen; others will be written by someone else or by me. If you feel moved to write one or two, please let me know.

A suggestion for daily prayer:
1. Relax. Take 5 deep breaths. Become aware of God’s presence
2. Ask for the grace to listen
3. Read the reflection slowly and pay attention to what stirs within you
4, Speak and listen to God about what is happening within
5. Rest in God who rests in you. Express gratitude when you finish.

“Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” – 2 Cor 6:2
"Return to me with your whole heart.” – Joel 2:12

The more deeply we love, the more we long to be with those we love. God is similar, except infinitely more so. God’s love for us does not depend on our looks, intelligence, performance, success, popularity, or faithfulness. God does not love us more if we make good choices, get better, or even come back to God. Yet, the more we embrace ourselves as loved unconditionally, the more we will grow, get better, become transformed.

God invites us through the Lenten journey to make greater space in our hearts and lives so that the unconditional love of God that is already offered can take greater root in our lives. The disciplines of fasting (from what does not give live or promote justice), almsgiving (sharing our time, care, and resources), and prayer (attentiveness to God) are about setting some time and space apart so that we can come to realize more deeply God’s longing for us and to discover greater God’s dream for our lives. We are invited to enter the desert of our inner landscape to acknowledge any area of unfreedom and resistance and allow God’s unconditional love to transform us, so we may become more fully our best selves.

Lent is this acceptable time … God who longs to come closer … for us to make room, embracing ourselves as loved beyond our wildest imaginings …

How will you respond to this longing of God?