Wednesday, February 29, 2012

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, February 28, 2012

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, February 27, 2012

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, February 26, 2012

Sunday, 1st Week of Lent: 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 – God's Beloved. Like him, when we are open to our loneliness - our particular kind of suffering - something mysteriously creative happens. We can come to know ourselves in a deeper way. 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, February 25, 2012

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, "Follow me."
And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.

Two very simple words: Follow me. It can be daunting sometimes to think that Christ calls us to labor with him in the vineyard. How can he possibly call me? We sometimes get in the way of allowing a grace-filled moment to change our lives even when it is right in front of our face. Jesus reminds us to recognize our own vulnerability, weakness, and humility so that we may share in the Lord's labor. For one very simple reason, we turn our attention away from ourselves to God. Humility is an awareness of who we truly are in the eyes of God. Through this awareness, we celebrate and give thanks for the gifts God has bestowed on us. We are all like Levi: sinful, broken, and desiring to be better. Levi dropped everything because he saw in Christ: truth, love, and joy. A simple request from Christ allowed Levi to trust that God was calling him to an experience of radical service and love. In this Lenten Season, how is God inviting us to recognize our weaknesses in order to serve his greater glory? Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we too can be transformed to move outside ourselves and identify and encounter the love of Christ that compels us to serve and to love the Church and one another.

reflected by Alex Llanera, S.J.

Friday, February 24, 2012

First Friday of Lent Reflection

I always seem to find myself struggling to “get into the Lenten routine.” No matter how much I plan ahead, or look ahead on the calendar, it always seems to sneak up on me. I find myself struggling to figure out something “to do” – whether it is an addition of a new positive practice or a giving up of something that might help me to focus more on God. A handful of times in my life I think the practice I adopted during Lent really affected my life. Often though, I have had trouble really identifying some practice that seems appropriate for Lent.

I get the same panicky feeling like when I am trying to order food at a place like Panera Bread and the line is piling up behind me, people sending menacing glances my way. So I just blurt out the first thing on the menu that catches my eye, only to sit down with something that looks totally unappealing to me. I pick a Lenten practice so that I have something to answer when people ask “what are you doing for Lent?” but whatever I select to do usually doesn’t feel like it is bringing me any closer to God.

The Psalm for today focuses on the cultivation of a “heart contrite and humbled” (Psalm 51). The humble heart is the offering to God, not the practice of fasting or self-denial itself. Instead of stressing about finding something to DO for Lent, I spent time focusing on this attitude of a humble heart before God. The practices I am adopting are things that I felt would help me on the real journey of Lent, the preparation of my own heart to journey with Christ in his suffering. Whatever we chose to do in regards to fasting, serving, praying, and giving, these things are an opportunity to prepare ourselves to more fully for this offering of self.

If you are like me sometimes and have not committed to any particular practice yet, ask, “Lord I want to offer my heart to you? Is there anything I can do in my daily life that would help me in that desire?”
reflected by Jen Horan

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Being Transformed in the Everyday

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” – Luke 9:23-24

Today’s Gospel reading stirs up challenging, even uncomfortable questions for me. Taking up my cross and losing my life for Jesus is a tall order. How can I live up to His words?

Yes, the invitation is radical; and the promise, significant – “life and prosperity” in God, as Moses reminds us in the first reading. Thankfully, Jesus keeps it simple. He invites us to take up our cross daily – that is, one day at a time, in the midst of where we are. How wonderful it is that we are already where we need to be, and can meet Him there! As we begin to enter into the mystery of Jesus’s life these 40 days, Jesus is just as much if not more so meeting us in the mystery of our own lives. It is the wisdom of a God who so lovingly and humbly embraces our confusion, struggles, boredoms, doubts, failures, to break new life into our everyday.

Second, Jesus reminds us losing our life for His sake means we will never have to go it alone. How often I’ve thought that I had to be the one to get my life in order, and figure it out myself, before I could get closer to God! If we lose our lives for His sake, we are entering into a communion - a two-way dialogue, journeying together, where Jesus takes the lead and brings forth the growth. The focus then becomes not our own efforts, but rather God’s transforming grace and love.

What’s left then? I’m just going to try my best to show up and get out of God’s way. That can’t be too bad, right?

Where am I invited to be present to God in my daily life this Lent? What grace can I ask for to help with this?

reflected by Quyen Ngo

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday: God Longs for Us to Embrace Love

“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 without condition, 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 and bear fruit 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.

Lent is this acceptable time … God who longs to come closer … for us to make room, embracing ourselves as loved beyond our wildest imaginings and treat others likewise. Let us enter this Lenten time of spiritual renewal with a desire for meaningful transformation.

How will you respond to this longing of God, this desire to be loved more radical than before?

A suggestion for daily prayer/reflection:

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.