Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday: Understanding follows Believing

“[They] saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” – Jn 20:8-9

I once met a 15-year old kid at a juvenile hall on the threshold of baptism. Let me call him Carlos. I asked him why he was taking such a step. He said that his son was just born. Despite a past that involved killing as many kids as the number of years he lived and a present that included most of his many siblings in gangs, he wanted to change. His eyes conveyed a conviction that this was possible. It was for his son. He believed, even though he did not yet understand. Yesterday, I baptized three youths in a nearby juvenile detention center. Their eyes conveyed s a similar belief that awaits understanding.

Being in their presence reminded me of the all-night vigil I spent in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which housed Calvary, the slab of rock where Jesus was embalmed, and his tomb. Besides a kind of foggy sense of holy bravado or the chance at a once-in-a–lifetime experience, I did not really know why I was there. But something was born within me. There were about fourteen of us pilgrims, so we took turn praying inside the tomb itself. I stayed mostly in the Chapel of the Angels, the small ante-chamber where the angel announced to the women that Jesus had been raised. I sat looking in the tomb, waiting. Something beckoned me to wait. Yet, I did not know for what. Through many prayers of petitions for people, moments of distractions and yawns, something gradually dawned within me. A deep sense of peace and trust grew within. And an elusive joy embraced me. I have no words for it. Such peace and joy lasted the entire night, at a consistent depth and duration that I had never known before. It has been a year since, and this experience remains with me in its freshness and influence.

I still don’t really know what happened. Something did. And it continues to change the way I relate to God, to others, to myself. I am still the self-preoccupied, perfectionistic, idealistic, fearful, seeking-to-control person who struggles to trust God. Yet, I find this elusive peace and joy infusing my awareness despite myself. I find myself more willing to stand in witness with people like Carlos. How paradoxically, at the same place where death-like experiences once ruled, new life rises. (It is interesting that the Church of Holy Sepulcher, or Tomb, is known by Eastern Christians as the Church of the Resurrection.)

Today, we celebrate the central point of our Christian faith. We are called to proclaim the Paschal Mystery, the pattern of suffering-death-resurrection revealed in Jesus’ life and uncovered in our own lives. It takes time, for understanding follows believing, just as understanding follows loving. It is a blessing that the Easter Season lasts 50 days, so that believing and loving can gradually transform us to witness the power of God’s light overcoming darkness.

“Risen One, deepen my belief and trust in your unfailing and transforming love!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday: Waiting in Uncertainty

“We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” - Romans 6:4

Life Is But A Stopping Place 

Life is but a stopping place, 
A pause in what’s to be,
A resting place along the road,
to sweet eternity.
We all have different journeys,
Different paths along the way,
We all were meant to learn some things,
but never meant to stay...
Our destination is a place,
Far greater than we know. 

- Author Unknown

Life is often a time of Holy Saturdays with no resurrection in sight. Without Holy Friday, Easter becomes superficial and predictable. On this day, we learn there is no clear path ahead of us. Perhaps, we are stuck in one place or wandering in circles, lost with no expectation of finding our way. Embracing Holy Saturday requires an act of faith...trusting God with silence, uncertainties, failures, and unanswered prayers. It involves dealing with the question marks and making the best of them without any guarantees for what will happen next.

There is no antidote to uncertainty. Everything is always uncertain. There are infinite possibilities, which is what makes miracles possible. Holy Saturday reminds us how life is not static and our faith journey includes moments of joy and intimacy, as well as apparent absence and silence. It is to keep going, even when the going is hard and slow....having patience with our unresolved thoughts and concerns in our hearts. 

The descent of Jesus to earth assures us of God’s presence in the most desolate places of the human heart. Any experiences of darkness and hopelessness are assurances of Christ’s solidarity. Although every story has an end, in life every ending is just a new beginning. Life goes on...not always the way we had envisioned it, yet the way it is supposed to be. We usually cannot choose the music life plays for us, but we can choose how we dance to it.

Lord, may your tears on the cross nourish our healing and cleanse our eyes so our vision will be clear enough to recognize goodness when it comes... 

reflected by Tam Lontok

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday: Following Jesus Involves Embracing Our Cross

“Into your hands I commit my spirit; you will redeem me, O Lord, faithful God.” - Psalm 31:5

Each of us has a cross to carry. There is no need to make one or look for one. Living every moment of our life and fully embracing our humanity inevitably brings us to our crosses. My older brother and I often joke that following Jesus is easy, if only we can choose the cross – the suffering – we want. Yet, the cross is precisely the manner of suffering that we do not prefer. Jesus’ call to discipleship echoes: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Maybe we can't study; maybe we have been laid-off; maybe we are handicapped; maybe we suffer from depression, from poor self-image, from a serious disease; maybe we experience conflict in our families; maybe we are victims of violence or abuse. We didn't choose any of it, yet these things are our crosses. We can ignore them, reject them, refuse them or hate them. But we can also embrace these sufferings, and allow them to help us be united with Jesus on the cross. Even in darkness that suffering often brings, we can risk that God’s wisdom and love can transform our crosses into greater life.

Both my cousin and maternal grandmother suffered greatly at the end of their lives. Although they died two decades apart, they taught me a similar lesson. In their own ways, they struggled yet embraced their crosses. Despite my ability to accept her impending passing, my grandmother had come to peaceful acceptance of her death. She shared with me that Jesus was with her, that she was sharing his suffering. That he was sharing hers. And in much of her life, this was her experience, her crucible of faith – Jesus’ way of drawing her close to him. When suggested by her pastor to unite her suffering to Jesus’ and offer them to help children in hospital nearby, my young cousin Thy understood fully and said “yes”. She allowed her husband, families and relatives, and so many friends and hospital staff to be with her in her last moments. We sang the Prayer of St Francis in tears as she gave up her spirit. Like our grandmother, she embodied Jesus’ stance before the cross; she taught us how to die with grace. While the doctors and our earnest prayer could not save her, our presence may have eased her suffering and accompanied her home to God.

Like Jesus, we cannot choose our cross. Yet, embracing our cross while struggling to entrust ourselves to God can make room for greater life and meaning.

“Help us Lord Jesus, to trust that by your holy cross you have redeemed the world! Help us to embrace you though our crosses these days.” 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Holy Thursday: Re-membering Means Becoming More Like Jesus

“Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” – 1 Corinthians 11:23-24

“If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” – Jn 13:14-15

People who know they are about to die take special leave of their loved ones. Their last words and actions sum up their greatest hopes and desires for those they love. At the Last Supper, Jesus left his disciples two acts of remembrance. First, Jesus took the bread, blessed, broke, and gave it to his disciples. Second, he washed their feet.

Jesus summarized his own life when he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. He is chosen to reveal God’s boundless love, blessed at his baptism in the Jordan River, broken on the cross, and given as bread for all. Being chosen, blessed, broken, and given is the sacred journey of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

It is also our journey. We remember Jesus by recalling what he did. Moreover, the word “re-member” also means “to become more fully a part of.” Thus, we remember him when we live as people chosen, blessed, broken, and given as food for the world. We become the very body of Christ that is taken, blessed, broken, and given. Likewise, we remember him when we wash one another’s feet with a similar humble and self-giving love as he did. The Eucharist and feet washing are integral acts of remembrance. By remembering in these ways, we become more like Christ.

It’s so interesting to me that in the past 2,000 years of Christian history, the two clearest and consistent means of encountering Jesus are the Eucharist and feet washing (serving God’s poor). I am deeply moved by Pope Francis’ surprising choice not to celebrate Holy Thursday Mass at one of Rome’s many basilicas but at a juvenile detention center with many Muslims youths. He is washing feet “in remembrance” of Jesus. He is practicing what he preached yesterday: “Holy Week is not so much a time of sorrow, but rather a time to enter into Christ’s way of thinking and acting. It is a time of grace given us by the Lord so that we can move beyond a dull or mechanical way of living our faith, and instead open the doors of our hearts, our lives, our parishes, our movements or associations, going out in search of others so as to bring them the light and the joy of our faith in Christ.

“Thank you, Jesus, for helping us to become more like you through the Eucharist and feet washing. With whom do you invite us to attend Eucharist or wash feet these days?”

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wednesday of Holy Week

What are you willing to give me if I hand Him over to you? - Matthew 26:15

Betrayal is brutal and even more so when it is someone close and dear to us. Doubt, sadness, hurt, and brokenness must have stirred within Him as he knew of Judas’ intent from the very beginning. Life is our testing ground and to follow God requires faith and trust. He promises us much, but what He promises is often in the future and therefore, not yet tangible or visible. Although the truth of His promises are revealed in those around us, it is difficult to do as He asks when there are far more certain and immediate forms of gratification. These are the times where our hearts are being proven.

In life there is always the dreary and limitations to focus upon. On the other side is light. When we are feeling dark and dejected, sometimes all we need is to accept that it is part of life and what makes it real. As Parker J. Palmer stated in Let Your Life Speak, “When we so fear the dark that we demand light around the clock, there can only be one result: artificial light....but if we allow the paradox of darkness and light be, the two will conspire to bring wholeness and health to every living thing.”

Heavenly Father, only you have eyes to see the depths of our hearts. May you help us genuinely seek you during these times of trials and do your Holy will and purpose...

reflected by Tam Lontok

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tuesday of Holy Week

"For now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him; And I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD, and my God is now my strength!" -Is 49:5

Today's reading from Isaiah reminds me of the power of humility. I used to think that those two concepts--power and humility--were incompatible, but now I view them as related. When I was in college, one of my favorite prayers was the Litany of Humility. Though it may be doubtful whether I grew in this virtue, something I learned from the prayer was how much influence material possessions, other people’s opinions of me, or my own pride held over--and interfered with--my ability to follow God’s dream for my life. It felt incredibly freeing to realize this, though it remains a constant struggle to actually let go of those things.

Mother Teresa said, “If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.” This is what makes the concept of humility seem so powerful to me: It can free us to fulfill our deepest purpose by listening to God’s hopes and dreams for our lives while relying on God as the unending source of strength and support in that endeavor. I know that I’m not perfect and there are a lot of things I cannot do on my own, but I also know that I am a child of God, a God who loves and helps us all along the way.

Lord, during this Holy Week, please help me to meditate on Jesus’ example of humility and ways that I might cultivate this virtue in my own life. 

reflected by Erica Carroll

Monday, March 25, 2013

Monday of Holy Week

“The house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” John 12:3

As we enter into Holy Week, we may be tempted to think that what we have done to observe the Lenten season was “not quite enough.” We may also feel torn between the excitement and joy of the upcoming Easter celebrations and the somberness of the days that lead up to it. Many of us will have to keep working all week, some even up to Saturday night. We have grocery shopping to do, bills that will need to be paid, Easter Sunday plans that will need to be finalized. In all this busyness, is there really any time to pray?

For me, it is tempting to dive into the land of “shoulds” and guilt over not being more or “doing enough” for God. As this Monday begins, like so many Mondays, I am faced with the choice to live all these daily actions and activities with my eyes and ears attuned to God’s promise, or I can choose to narrow my gaze and focus on myself.

This Monday is an invitation to lay my offering at Jesus’ feet as we enter the Passion together. I imagine myself kneeling at the feet of Jesus and repeating the words of the Suscipe that St. Ignatius teaches us.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory,
my understanding and my entire will.
All I have and call my own,

You have given to me; to you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me.

I lay these fears, hopes, and concerns at the feet of Jesus. I allow my humble offering
to fill the house, like the sweet fragrance of Mary’s oil.

Are there any ways that I am invited to slow down, listen more, and savor this week
in the midst of my own daily reality?

reflected by Jen Coito

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord: Trusting My Being Can Carry the Greatness of the Lord

Jesus tells two of his disciples, "Go into the village opposite you, and as you enter it you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat…bring it here. So they brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks over the colt, and helped Jesus to mount.”– Luke 19: 30-35

The colt, in Jesus’ time, was used for transporting goods, not people. It astounded me when I first realized that. Here was “the king who comes in the name of the Lord” entering Jerusalem a lowly beast not conceived of as a fit vehicle for a person. What message was Jesus sending?

I am struck first by this dramatic intersection of Jesus’ humility and total ownership of his dignity before God, no matter how un-cool his ride was—in fact, in light of it. The freedom Jesus expresses says to me, I know who I am, vulnerable yet resolute in the knowledge of my divine origin and purpose. His example gives us refuge from worldly expectations of grandeur, perfection; we need not attain worldly recognition to be worthy. In his undimmed radiance atop a lowly colt we may see ourselves, beloved by God as we are. I am also reminded of Pope Francis’ episcopal motto “lowly yet chosen” which honors Jesus’ ability to see humanity through the eyes of mercy and love in spite of our shortcomings. May we come to see ourselves and one another with such compassion.

A 14 year-old friend said recently, “Jesus came down from heaven and showed us that we can be holy.” No fancy equipment required, just the courage to show up and be ourselves and the faith to know that is enough. As Fr. James Martin, SJ has said: Being holy simply means being who you are.

What “masks” do I wear in life to gain acceptance from others, to protect me from feeling unworthy and rejected? Lord, give me the courage to be who I truly am, and the faith to know that is enough.

reflected by Alma Morales Risse

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Saturday, 5th Week: God’s Everlasting Covenant Rests On God's Goodness

"I will make with them a covenant of peace; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them” – Ez 37:26 

These days near Holy Week, the readings reminds us of God’s covenant with the Hebrew people, despite their infidelity. God continues to renew a covenant with you and I, despite our  unfaithfulness. When God makes a covenant with us, God says, “I will love you with an everlasting love. I will be faithful to you, even when you run away from me, reject me, or betray me.”

This is such good news to me. I am awed and humbled at God’s laboring love through the Church in recent days. Pope Francis’ simplicity, genuineness, humility, and holiness is a profound example of God’s goodness for me. Yes, it’s only been ten days since he was chosen Pope; yes, he is just a human being; yes, we don’t know if the temptations of his office will gradually lessen his integrity. But the Pope’s personally calling his newspaper kiosk owner and the Jesuit General, inviting to morning Mass Vatican gardeners, street sweepers, kitchen staff and maids working at the hotel where he is currently staying, and celebrating Holy Thursday Mass (with feet washing) in a juvenile prison magnify God’s goodness to us. This morning, he eschewed the padded papal kneeler prepared for him and chose to kneel side by side with his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict. Pope Francis said “No! we are brothers, we pray together!” This togetherness manifests God’s covenant with us – the “coming together” of God and us.

I am amazed at how many people have been positively affected by Pope Francis, especially people who have “allergies” or disaffected by Catholicism. Twelve out of forty-seven people at St Monica’s Parish in Santa Monica chose “Francis” for their confirmation name as they enter into full communion with the Catholic Church this Easter. I don’t know what else Pope Francis will do or fail to do in the future, he has already helped magnify God’s faithful goodness in these past ten days. That has already moved me to tears and inspires me to be a better person, a better Jesuit priest, a better priest, a better friend of the poor and marginalized.

Lord, help me to be grounded in your goodness, beyond my fears and failures, as we enter the most Holy of Weeks.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday, 5th Week: Our Calling to Give and Receive Consolation

"In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears." - Psalm 18:6 

Consolation is a beautiful word. It means "to be" (con-) "with the lonely one" (solus). To offer consolation is one of the most important ways to care, to love. In silence, God is with Jesus, lonely and forsaken on the cross. The Risen Jesus offers consolation to followers who grieve his death.

Life is so full of pain, sadness, and loneliness that we often wonder what we can do to alleviate the immense suffering we see. We can and must offer consolation. We can and must console the young adult who is confused and depressed, the mother who lost her child, the person with AIDS, the family devastated by tsunamis, earthquakes or lost jobs, the soldier who is wounded, the teenager who contemplates suicide, the old man who wonders why he should stay alive. 

To console does not mean to take away the pain but rather to be there and say, “You are not alone, I am with you. Together we can carry the burden. Don't be afraid. I am here.” It is to trust that God is present and will give hope somehow, despite uncertainties. That is consolation. We all need to give it as well as to receive it. That is God’s great gift in Jesus, who is God-with-us-in-suffering. That is our calling, especially as we enter Holy Week.

Lord, who do you call me to console today?

inspired by Henri Nouwen

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thursday, 5th Week: Promises of Love in An Everlasting Covenant

"I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”-- Genesis 17:7

When God makes a covenant with us, God says, "I will love you with an everlasting love. I will be faithful to you, even when you run away from me, reject me, or betray me." In our society we don't speak much about covenants; we speak about contracts. When we make a contract with a person, we say, "I will fulfill my part as long as you fulfill yours. When you don't live up to your promises, I no longer have to live up to mine." Contracts are often broken because the partners are unwilling or unable to be faithful to their terms.

But God did not make a contract with us; God forged a covenant with us, and God wants our relationships with one another to reflect that covenant. The deep mystery of this covenantal love is rooted in God’s faithfulness more than ours. Regardless of our infidelity, God keeps God’s promise of everlasting love. That is why marriage, friendship, and life in community are all ways to give visibility to God's faithfulness in our lives together.

"O Faithful One, help me to be faithful to all my commitments."

 adapted from Henri Nouwen

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wednesday, 5th Week: Return Often to God's Word

“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32 

True freedom is the freedom of the children of God. To reach that freedom requires a lifelong discipline since so much in our world militates against it. The political, economic, social, and even religious powers surrounding us all want to keep us in bondage so that we will obey their commands and be dependent on their rewards. This is not their overt message; but in subtle and gradual ways, we are seduced into this bondage. 

But the spiritual truth that leads to freedom is the truth that we belong not to the world but to God, whose beloved children we are. By living lives in which we keep returning to that truth in word and deed, we will gradually grow into our true freedom. 

What shows that you belong to God, not to the world? 

adapted from Henri Nouwen

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Feast of St Joseph: Radical Trust Opens God’s Plans for Us

“When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” – Matthew 1:24

Joseph, the husband of Mary. He is a quiet figure in the Gospel, yet not without deep purpose. He could have chosen many different options after learning of Mary’s pregnancy. He still could have chosen many options after seeing the angel in his dream. He must have had plans of his own after becoming betrothed to Mary. There must have been some confusion running through his heart and mind after Mary returned from visiting Elizabeth several months pregnant.

Yet through all of this, Joseph did not react on his emotions or his own will. Instead, he fully and immediately responded to God’s will for him. Without comment, without question, without complaint, without hesitation. He fully trusted without much understanding of the mystery that lay before him. How often in our lives are we so filled with fears, doubts, worries, anxieties when situations arise in our own lives that seem to make little or no sense. We ask God, “Why me?” or just “Why?” Yet perhaps, God has an invitation there for us.

With a heart of great tenderness, Joseph listened to God in his dreams, in his capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. He is not afraid of goodness, of tenderness. Despite our inability to understand, our struggle to trust, our resistance to let go of our plans, we must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness! This tenderness in our heart will lead us to greater trust and unfold God’s plans for our lives.

Let us continue to pray for Pope Francis at his request, that the Holy Spirit may accompany his Petrine ministry and bless him with a heart as tender as St Joseph’s.

Lord, help me to trust in Your plans for me, to have faith in knowing that You know best, even and especially when I myself cannot fully understand.

Adapted from a reflection by Quyen Nhi Ngo and Pope Francis’ homily today

Monday, March 18, 2013

Monday, 5th Week: Loving Beyond Judgment

“Jesus said, ‘Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her … Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.’” – John 8:7,11

We are prone to cast stones at another’s weakness. We are quick to condemn and punish in others those weaknesses and failings we dimly see in ourselves. The quicker we judge and convict, the less we are likely to be honest with ourselves and the more likely we are trying to cover our guilt. In groups especially, we give-in to the mob mentality to mask our guilt.

Jesus knows well this dark side of our humanity. Yet, he takes us on as we are. He who is without sin does not judge us as we deserve: “As far as the east is from the west, so far have our sins been removed from us” (Psalm 103:12). He does not downplay the sin. Yet, he sees past it, calling us to greater fidelity, self-acceptance, and love one another in our frailties. If he does not condemn us, then why do we judge? If he is willing to forgive, can we rely on his strength to do likewise?

What aspects of my life am I in need of forgiveness this day? Ask God for this gift. Consider partaking in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday, 5th Week: God, in Jesus, Keeps Promises

“I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the LORD. I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD” - Ezekiel 37:14   
 “And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him.’” – John 11:35-36

The shortest line in the New Testament, “And Jesus wept,” reveals the humanity and depth of Jesus’ love for his friend Lazarus. He comes “late” to console and to save. “Late” because God’s timing and manner of acting in the world is not determined by our schedule. God’s ways are not our ways. But Jesus keeps his promise. In God’s mysterious time and fashion, Jesus acts decisively. He suffers with and consoles Mary & Martha. He raises Lazarus to new life.

It is not just for Lazarus whom Jesus weeps, he weeps for us. He grieves with us who grieves and shed tears with us who cry. Yet, in solidarity with those who suffer, Jesus acts. The loneliness that comes from being alone is met; the loss of meaning from suffering bears new insight and purpose; new hope arises mysteriously from despair. God in Jesus suffers for us and with us. God keeps promises.

For what do you mourn and weep? Invite Jesus to walk with you.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Saturday, 4th Week: Living Without Prejudices Is Challenging

Nicodemus ... asked, "Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?" - John 7:51 

One of the hardest spiritual tasks is to live without prejudices. Sometimes we aren’t even aware how deeply rooted our prejudices are. We may think that we relate to people who are different than we are in color, religion, sexual orientation, or lifestyle as equals, but in concrete circumstances our spontaneous thought, uncensored words, and knee-jerk reactions often reveal that our prejudices are still there. 

Strangers, people different from us, stir up fear, discomfort, suspicion, and hostility. They make us lose our sense of security just by being “other.” Only when we fully claim that God loves us in an unconditional way and look at “those other persons” as likewise loved can we begin to discover that the great variety in humanity is an expression of the immense richness of God's heart. Then the need to prejudge people can gradually disappear; or at least its hold on us will lessen. Moreover, we can ask God for the grace to see and love as Jesus sees and loves. Consequently, being aware of our prejudices and asking to “borrow” Jesus’s eyes and heart will help us grow in compassion.

"Lord, make known to me my prejudices and help me to overcome them." 

adapted from Henri Nouwen

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent: Radical Trust Opens God's Plans for Us

“When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” – Matthew 1:24
Joseph, the husband of Mary. He is a quiet figure in the Gospel, yet not without deep purpose. He could have chosen many different options after learning of Mary’s pregnancy. He still could have chosen many options after seeing the angel in his dream. He must have had plans of his own after becoming betrothed to Mary. There must have been some confusion running through his heart and mind after Mary returned from visiting Elizabeth several months pregnant.

Yet through all of this, Joseph did not react on his emotions or his own will. Instead, he fully and immediately responded to God’s will for him. Without comment, without question, without complaint, without hesitation. He fully trusted without much understanding of the mystery that lay before him. How often in our lives are we so filled with fears, doubts, worries, anxieties when situations arise in our own lives that seem to make little or no sense. We ask God, “Why me?” or just “Why?” Yet perhaps, God has an invitation there for us.

Lord, help me to trust in Your plans for me, to have faith in knowing that You know best, even and especially when I myself cannot fully understand.

reflected by Quyen Nhi Ngo

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Pope of Firsts, An Invitation to Renewed Hope?

It has been two weeks of firsts in our Church. On February 28th, Pope Benedict XVI was the first pope to step down in nearly 600 years. Yesterday was the day of firsts. Pope Francis became the first Pope born in the Americas (and from the Southern Hemisphere), the first to choose the name Francis, the first Jesuit Vicar of Christ.

Pope Benedict created space for someone else who has the health and energy to better respond to the Holy Spirit in serving the Church. Pope Francis seems to be stepping into that role. When I saw Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio for the first time as Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square, I was deeply moved. Tears of hope streamed down my cheeks. Allow me to reflect on this experience and its possible significance for those of us who embrace the Ignatian charism as a vital pathway to God.

I am deeply moved with hope. I am stirred by a hope that seems inflamed in four groups of people: in many of the faithful, in many of the cardinals and church officials, in the new pontiff, in my brother Jesuits.

My phone “blew up” yesterday with so many texts, emails, and calls, sent by people who were struck by hope. Most of these messages were sent by people within Jesuit or Ignatian circles.  NPR reported that the new Pope “has already made history on a day that filled many Catholics with hope, and more.”

A multitude of church officials have expressed effusive enthusiasm. Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool told worshippers to "go home with a spring in your step, we have a Pope … something new is happening.” Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, former head of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales, said that Pope Francis is a “humble man” whose own “simplicity of life” will inspire others and whose “very name is indicative of a new style.” However, what moved me most was the courage of the college of cardinals. With remarkable consensus, the cardinals took the risk in electing someone who is older, who is not a Vatican insider, who served in a developing country almost his entire career, who is a Jesuit, who does not defend clerical privilege.  Their extremely creative choice inspires hope.  (Honestly, I’m still a bit shocked, for I had never imagined the  possibility of a Jesuit pope in my lifetime.)

As echoed by many observers, the choice of papal name is more than just a first. The new pontiff desires to serve and lead in the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi, in simplicity, humility, while reforming, evangelizing, focused on being with Christ’s poor, with intelligence.

His first words in St Peter’s Square speak volumes to me. He opened with humor, observing that his “brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world to get him.” Emphasizing his main role as pastor of Rome, he asked everyone to pray for Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI using simple prayers. Then he called for a partnership in mission echoing the virtues of St Francis:

“This journey of the Church of Rome, which is to preside over all the Churches in charity. It is a journey of fraternity, of love, of trust between us. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the world, so that a great brotherhood may be created. I hope that this journey of the Church, which we begin today and in which my Cardinal Vicar who is present here will assist me, will be fruitful for the Evangelization of this beautiful city.”

I cannot help but intuit that his papal name also echoes the spirit of St Francis Xavier whose tireless, creative, and effective missionary work helped evangelize many in the New World beyond Europe. Just before giving his first apostolic blessing as the Successor of St. Peter, Pope Francis asked the people for a blessing. Then he bowed low and asked everyone to pray for God’s blessing in silence. A powerful moment of grace and solidarity. In just ten minutes, the new Pope effectively highlighted key values of his namesake.

The first impression we gained from the Pope is consistent with his reputation as a humble pastor. Instead of living in an apostolic palace, he lived in a modest apartment, cooked his own meals, commuted to work by bus, and travelled economy class whenever flying to Rome.

Beyond the balcony moment, a number of accounts of his first hours as Pope underline his humility and signaled a new way of proceeding.  Instead of accepting transportation in a special car with security detail to the Vatican, he chose to travel on a bus with the other cardinals. Instead of following protocol that called him to sit on an elevated platform, he chose to stand alongside fellow cardinals. “So he greeted each of us as brothers, literally on the same level as we were,” remarked New York’s Cardinal Tim Dolan.

In choosing St Francis who symbolizes “poverty, humility, simplicity and rebuilding the Catholic Church” according to CNN correspondence John Allen, the new Pope is turning our attention more to the poor. He may be shifting Catholicism to become more the Church of the poor. In this vein, he is also being true to the Ignatian ideal of greater attachment to Jesus “poor and humble” highlighted in the Spiritual Exercises. He is also modeling the key priority of contemporary Jesuits – spreading a faith that does justice.

Even though a number of Jesuits do not like Pope Francis’ doctrinal conservatism, many are filled with joy “and as much pride as a Jesuit is supposed to have,” like Jim Martin. Many of my brother Jesuits find hope in the Pope’s deep prayerfulness, intellectual acumen, awareness of the needs of people beyond Rome (especially people from Latin America), discerning love, and clear passion for the poor and marginalized. Father Adolfo Nicolás, Superior General of the Jesuits, affirms that “the Holy Father’s evangelical spirit of closeness to the poor, his identification with simple people, and his commitment to the renewal of the Church. From the very first moment in which he appeared before the people of God, he gave visible witness to his simplicity, his humility, his pastoral experience and his spiritual depth.”

Someone asked me why the new Jesuit pontiff did not choose “Ignatius” for his papal name? I responded that St Ignatius would not have liked such a selection, for he did not want his name as part of the religious order he helped found. Moreover, St Ignatius was deeply inspired by St Francis of Assisi, desiring to be like the latter in preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem and staying close to the homeland of Jesus. And like his 12th century inspiration, St Ignatius and the First Companions were gradually led to help rebuild the Church.

While St Ignatius did not want to publicly highlight his role in reforming the Church, the first Jesuits were known in Rome as the “reformed priests.” He focused on helping and forming people to have the same attitude as that of the Church. He worked very closely with the papacy to meet pressing social needs in Rome, with the Council of Trent, with catechetical and educational needs in various parts of the Church, placing priority on unlettered children and the poor. He and the first Jesuits were inspired by the Franciscan ideal of rebuilding the Church by building up each person as a temple for God, closely united with Jesus poor and humble. I am convinced that the Ignatian charism is closely tied with helping the Church reform. For those of us who embraces Ignatian spirituality as our particular pathway to God, laboring to help the Church renew herself would also facilitate our own renewal. In helping the Church become more alive, we would also become more alive and free. We would be living out our charism, that portal of grace through which we can readily experience and respond to God’s love and call.

The new Pope’s choice of name is “ground breaking.” Even more so, it invites us in the Ignatian family to be grounded in our charism. It inspires us to deepen our call to help the Church reform from within. And if we wish to join this first Jesuit Pope, then we also embrace the Gospel’s call to downward mobility: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” – Mk 9:35.

Lastly, I find it more than a coincidence of hope that the first reading of this Sunday as well as the second reading of last Sunday both reveal the ever newness and re-creative laboring love of God:

“Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!” -  Is 43:18

“Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” - 2 Cor 5:17

Thanks be to God we have a Pope whose humility, simplicity, and love of the poor inspires us to open more doors to the Spirit. When hope becomes ignited in the Pope, inflamed  in church officials, rekindled in us, we allow for God’s newness, firstness to radically break forth in our lives and in our world.

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent: Turning to Our True Source of Life

“You search the Scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life.” - John 5:39-40

There are so many things that vie for our attention, that promise happiness, fulfillment, and so on. Whether they be material goods such as cars, clothing, houses, or job positions, or even personal relationships. We may look to these things to define our happiness, our joy, but if something goes wrong with one area, we start to question our entire lives. There is a yearning for something more. Then where does our ultimate fulfillment lie? In the only One that lasts, in Jesus.

Perhaps our prayer lives reflect something similar. How often are we praying, asking God for something, looking for answers in specific places or specific ways, rather than allowing and listening to God answer in His way? There may be conditions that we put on how we want God to be a part of our lives, rather than creating space and being present to Him in all aspects. Simply, to let His will be done in us, so that we truly and fully may have life.

Lord, in what ways are you inviting me to be more open to your life-giving ways today? Help me to see that You are the only true source of life. 

reflected by Quyen Nhi Ngo

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent: Our Security Is Rooted In God's Love

"But Zion said, 'The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.' Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you." - Isaiah 49:14-15

We all long for security. Often, we look for a firm security in success, money, friends, ideas, property, popularity, family, connections, insurance, our own strength or resourcefulness and so on. We may like to think that none of these form the basis of our security, but our actions or feelings may tell us otherwise. When we begin to lose our money, our friends, or our popularity, our anxiety often reveals how deeply our sense of security is rooted in these things.

Ignatian spirituality envisions a life of the spirit in which our security is based not in any created things, good as they may be, but in God, who is love everlasting. Such things are helps in our praise, reverence and service of God, in so far as we do not make them the center of our lives. We probably will never be completely free from belonging to such temporal things, but if we want to live in the world in a truly free way, then we are called to let go of such inordinate attachments. Lent is an invitation for a greater “no” to such things and more whole-hearted “yes” to God’s unspeakable love – our true security.

"What did the most recent crisis in your life reveal about the basis for your security? Listen and speak to God about it.”

inspired by Henri Nouwen

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent: Living Healed

Don’t we all want to be healed of something? It could be a disability, or illness, or pain; or it could be a crippling lifestyle that has become an illness, such as alcoholism, overeating, or addiction to something else. It is a place of darkness in a life that yearns for light.

So what holds us back? Do we believe we deserve our illness? Do we think we should just take what life brings and make the best of it? Do we believe that God wants us to suffer, is punishing us? Do we believe that miracles don’t happen any more – if they ever did – and that “faith healing” is fake? Or - are we afraid of how life will be without the illness?

Sometimes our “unwholeness” is not something we can control by lifestyle, and we have tried prayer and laying on of hands with at least the faith of a mustard seed, yet still we are not healed. I cannot explain why this happens. I know people who have been healed through prayer, and I know some who have not. But even if we are not healed, we can do our best to live as if we were healed. What does this look like? It looks like the paraplegic who plays wheelchair basketball and does community service projects. It looks like the kid without arms or legs who has learned to do ordinary tasks without them and goes around giving motivational talks. Their dark places have become beacons of light. We do not have to be defined by our disabilities. Most of us do not have to lie down and quit living a full life. All of us need to turn to Christ for healing and light with a willingness to go where he calls us to go. Only then can we be whole.

reflected by Sharon Sullivan in her book 'Testament'

Monday, March 11, 2013

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

“Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.’” –John 4:48

Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I’ll admit it: I’m always looking for signs, something to confirm or deny that I am on the right path and that God is present. In some ways, this seems pretty helpful, especially during times of discernment and discovering where I find consolation in drawing closer to God. On the other hand, I think I often tend to get lost in sign-searching rather than trusting in God, especially in my most uncertain moments. I become so invested in looking for deeper meaning in words and gestures that I forget to see the gift of the moment.

I learned a lesson about this while studying abroad in college when some friends and I traveled to Rome. We were hoping to see the Catacombs before they closed for the evening. We arrived late and missed the last tour and instead decided to chat with one of the tour guides, Martín. He was from the same region of Spain where we were studying and explained that he had left Spain several years earlier to respond to a desire that God was calling him to Rome. After talking for a bit, Martín handed each of us a Greek cross as a small token of our meeting. When we asked what we could do for him, all he requested was that we pray for him, because he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I was really stunned, partially because of my surprise from the gravity of this revelation and partially because of the vulnerability and humility Martín demonstrated in his quiet but evident trust in—and love for—God. As he spoke, he truly seemed at peace having followed what he believed to be God’s plan for him and knowing that God would take care of him, no matter what.
Later, I found myself thinking about Martín and wondering what was the meaning of this chance encounter.  I finally realized that there was a deep significance to this interaction: it was an opportunity to clearly see Christ in another person in a way I had never before experienced. This was something lost on me in the moment, because I wasn’t present to it. I have had many opportunities over the years to reflect on my meeting with Martín, and what always remains is the gift of his example; I must first believe in order to see and interpret the many ways God reaches out to me. For so long, I thought it was the other way around, that I needed the signs to believe.

How is God trying to reach out to me in prayer and through others? Are there opportunities for me to draw closer to God in my everyday experiences? How might I use this time of reflection during Lent to open myself to experiencing God’s presence more fully?

Reflected by Erica Carroll