Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent - A Living, Breathing Encounter

Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” – John 4:43-54

To love someone is to think of that person and raise our minds to remember the One who loves us most. We establish a relationship with a loving, familiar God who holds us in the palm of His gentle hand. It is the practice of the presence of God becoming a habitual state of the soul, an openness to the Divine One who surrounds us in our busy lives.

In moments of suffering, I sometimes find it difficult to see where God is hiding and find myself asking, “Where is God?” and “Why me?”  Sometimes I let these questions overshadow my situations and feelings, often focusing in on my worries. However, today's readings remind me that I am not alone, that Jesus is struggling with me. Nothing goes unnoticed by Him or His Father. Through Jesus’ spirit who is in me, I can hope for peace. I can allow myself to become vulnerable and trusting of God to see beyond my troubles.

What I've learned is that the goal of prayer is not necessarily my thoughts about God, but it is about a living, breathing encounter with God. It is freely expressing what has deeply moved me and conveyed my genuine need for Him. Through my encounters, relationships and daily interactions, I may look for the signs to allow me to find His presence. It can be a phone call, smile or reassuring embrace…God is everywhere. By seeing with my eyes and ears along with an open heart, there becomes a simplification and familiarity with God. In its simplicity, it brings together life and prayer in one unending conversation.

Lord, I am listening…speak to me.

Reflected by Tam Lontok

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Lent - God Sees and Transforms Our Hearts

“God does not see as human being see; they see the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.” – 1 Sm 16:7

One of the most important lessons in life for me was to be honest with myself, to my parents, to God. For many reasons, I was very depressed at the end of college. I was living a double life. Outside, I was a model leader at church and at school. But inside, storms raged on secretly. Childhood wounds and deep fears became riotous. I could not decide between married life or the priesthood, to take a break from my girlfriend in order to truly explore a religious calling; I could not be honest that I did not want to be a doctor, that I pursued it mainly to please everyone, especially my dad. I misled my parents that I had graduated from college. Faith and trust in God like an insurmountable wall. Like Elsa in the movie Frozen, I struggled to “let it go.” I kept my fears and mistakes locked up. I relied on my self, on my own ability to good and be good. I did not understand that one is saved by grace, by the free gift of God.

While praying after a silent retreat, I was given a great grace. I was able to be utterly honest with God and with myself about everything that was going on without judging myself. Somehow, I let God see me clearly as I am. Initially, it felt neither consoling nor freeing. Yet, it changed my life. Gradually, I was able to face my parents, confessed how I had let them down, and uncovered the fears and lies that were overwhelming me. As things were being brought into the light, my parents taught me a lifelong lesson about love and forgiveness. They said, “Son, how foolish you are. We love you, not what you do.” Through them, God’s unconditional love flowed and was embraced by me. I was being taught to live more in truth. To get to the heart of the matter.

When we let the shadows and sins of who we are come before the light of God’s (or another’s) love, we are transformed. We are blinded at first. Accepting untruths about who we are, letting go of allusions about who God is and what love is, does not feel freeing at all. Yet, freedom and peace dawn slowly in our hearts and as we step into the light of truth.

“As you and I journey half way through Lent, what aspects of our lives and our relationships are we invited to be more honest with, to allow God’s light to shine upon?”

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday of the Third Week of Lent - Grounded and Rooted in Love

“‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ … for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Lk 18:13-14

The word “humility” comes from its Latin root “humus” which means “ground” or “dirt.” Whatever humility may mean, it includes the sense of being firmly grounded, of being securely rooted in God’s Love. Saint Teresa of Avila sees humility as accepting the truth about oneself. Accepting the truth about ourselves can lead us to two realizations. First, that we are bound by sinful tendencies: we do not do the things we want to do that leads to life; rather, we do the opposite that leads to death. We are profoundly conflicted and divided within. Second, in crying out to God for mercy and unconditional acceptance, we realize our dignity as beloved sons and daughters, as those redeemed by Love which embraces and transforms us beyond our sins, inner conflicts, and tendencies toward death. We grow in deeper awareness that while we are broken, we are continually loved, forgiven, and called into being.

Rooted in Love, we can resist the temptation to let others or our performance determine who we are. We will be affected less by the praise and adulation of others or of our own sense of accomplishment. Deeply rooted in Love, we can enjoy human praise without being attached to it. We can accept the truth about ourselves with gratitude.

“O Lord, help me to come to a deeper awareness of myself as a sinner, redeemed and beloved.”

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday of the Third Week of Lent - Letting Go

The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, He is One and there is no other than he. And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”  - Mk 12:32-34

It seems to me growing in love usually includes pain and sacrifice which is often hard for me to endure.  I’m still learning that to love means letting go of self for the greater good of another or the whole.  As I was driving home yesterday, I sensed my fingers gripping strongly and not wanting to let go.  It was like someone was trying to peel my fingers away, one by one, like you might do to get something out of the fist of a child.  I thought, wow, what was that about?   Here I am thinking I’m detaching pretty well, but would I really be willing to let go of everything for love no matter where it took me?  It made me stop and think about what it is I’m loving.  I realized I’m attached to more than I thought.  I think it was God’s way of showing me I’m not as ready for my wings as I thought and I have more internal work to do.  I’ve decided I’m going to pray about this, asking God for His grace to show and help me love more openly and fully.  Please pray for me.  I will remember you in my prayers, too.

Am I holding on to something that is keeping me from fully expressing the love that is within me?  Is there a change I can make in my life that will help me wholly surrender to God’s will?    

Reflected by Ruth Clarke Ragin

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent - Being Present

Looking at today’s readings, the first thing I asked myself was, “When and where do I hear God’s voice?” Upon further reflection, I thought, “When do I actually listen?” In order to hear, I need to be willing to listen. For me, this can be a difficult task; my conversations with God tend to be a little one-sided, so it helped me to think about a more concrete example, one found in my friends.

When interacting with friends, I am reminded of the importance of the give-and-take of dialogue, the pauses for reflection, and the beauty of shared moments. Particularly when listening to a friend or family member enduring a period of suffering, sometimes it feels like the best response I could give is to just be with that person. In that sense, listening goes beyond mere words: it involves a presence and level of attention not commonly seen in our increasingly distracted world. Silence speaks, and it opens up a space for sharing that cannot be created by the typical verbal exchange. But silence can also be uncomfortable, and listening is difficult if it involves messages we do not want to hear.

For example, for me today’s readings reinforce the idea that following God’s call might not necessarily lead to a steady and easy path at all times. But perhaps God is calling me to a deeper level of attention this Lent, to listen in silence with Him, pushing through the discomfort to a place of rest in God’s presence. Knowing that our presence to each other is a gift, it feels more real and instills hope that God’s presence will help steady that uncertain path ahead.

Where do you think God desires to be with you this Lent? Is there anywhere you feel called to be more present to God’s voice?

Reflected by Erica Carroll

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent - The Nearness of God

“For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?” – Deuteronomy 4:7-8
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” – Mt 5:17

I am dumbfounded that God relentlessly desires to enter into covenant with us. Despite their consistent infidelity, God consistently reaches out to renew a covenant with the Hebrew people. Despite my repeated unfaithfulness, God’s faithfulness is repeatedly offered to me. I am awestruck.

The word covenant means “coming together.” God wants to come together with us. Moreover, God wants to come nearer and nearer to us. In Jesus, God becomes human and comes to live next door to us. Through Jesus, God is born in us, develops with us, is tempted like us, suffers like us, and dies for us. Furthermore, Jesus embraces all of our brokenness, weaknesses, and sins to fulfill the entire law – to show us the commanding way to love and how to live with integrity. And when Jesus dies, he gifts us with the Holy Spirit. In the Spirit, God comes so close to us as our breath, receiving our bodies as God’s home, hiding in our thoughts, speech and actions.

These lyrics of Norah Jones’ song echoes within me after yesterday’s experience of prayer: “It's not the pale moon that excites me … It isn't your sweet conversation … Oh no, it’s just the nearness of you.” I don’t know who’s still singing to whom, God to me or vice-versa. Maybe it’s both. I am awestruck. God keeps wanting to come closer … to you … to me … nearer and nearer…

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

Recently, I've been finding root words so fascinating. Maybe this is the nerdy teacher side of me coming out, but when you look at root words, prefixes, and suffixes, everything just seems to make sense! Take a look at the word "Annunciation"---what's the root word? "Announce"! The Angel Gabriel "announces" to Mary that she will bear the Son of God. Today we celebrate the exact moment when Our Blessed Mother knew her vocation. Living as an ordinary faithful Jewish girl in Palestine, she desired to live a life for the Lord, but did she ever think that this would be her calling?

I like to think of this moment when I pray through and ponder on my own vocation. What is the Lord announcing to me? Sometimes I wish that He would send down fire-bolts of lighting or speak to me through the iconic burning bush, but for now, I'm resigned to the fact that He speaks slowly, in the quiet recesses of my heart. And while He may have spoken loudly to Mary at the moment of the Annunciation, eventually the Angel left and she too was called to listen to the still small voice of the Lord, reassuring her and nudging her forward. 

Lord, help me to open my ears to Your still small voice, announcing to each of us our personal vocation. May I have the same courage and fidelity as Mary to accept that call, letting it be done unto us.
Reflected by Regina Galassi

Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday of the Third Week of Lent - 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 23, 2014

Third Sunday of Lent - Revealing 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 22, 2014

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent - Being God's Beloved

Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, and will again have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt? - Micah 7:18-19a
The Gospel for today is the well-known story of two brothers, one who stays home and does what he is supposed to do, and the other who runs wild and ultimately returns seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. I can easily spend time praying about the times when I have turned from God or run searching for fulfillment in all the wrong places. I can just as easily spend time reflecting on the times when I have been the one to stay near and cast judgment on those whose sins seem far worse than my own. The Father who loves so dramatically proves to be a more difficult character with whom to identify.

The Father in the Gospel and the God in the Old Testament reading both demonstrate a kind of radical forgiveness and generosity of love. This God does not just overlook my shortcomings; He “delights” in being merciful and “treading underfoot our guilt.” I imagine God stomping out the self-doubt and scrupulosity that make me less compassionate towards myself, and by consequence less forgiving of others.

In his landmark memoir, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen says that, “The God whom Jesus announces and in whose name he acts is the God of compassion, the God who offers himself as example and model for all human behavior. But there is more. Becoming like the heavenly Father is not just one important aspect of Jesus’ teaching, it is the very heart of his message.” Today’s readings challenge me to accept myself as God’s beloved and radically affects how I am called to act towards others.

Lord, are you inviting me today to be more compassionate and gentle with myself? Are you also inviting me to become even more like the Father?
Reflected by Jen Coito

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday of the Second Week of Lent - Learning to Blossom

A few years ago I tried my hand at some basic vegetable gardening, but the few meager zucchini blossoms that sprouted quickly withered, and the remaining few were eaten by the resident groundhog. The next year my daughter wanted to try again. I said it wasn't worth the effort; we should plant something that could adapt to our poor soil conditions.

I wonder if that's similar to what Jesus had in mind in today's Gospel when he said, "the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit." Will God approach my spiritual anemia the way I approached my weak zucchini plants, by finding someone more worthy? It's so easy to recognize the faults of the chief priests and Pharisees Jesus was addressing in Matthew's Gospel but so difficult to recognize the faults he is addressing in my own life right now. Am I producing good fruit with the resources God has provided, or do I run the risk of losing it all?

That's a frightening project, and yet I believe our God is far more merciful toward me than I could ever be to my fledgling plants. God continues to give me second chances, to trust that at some point I'll get the message: it's not enough just to show up. We have to reach for the Light. We have to blossom. We have to withstand threats from the outside and adapt to the plot of land God has chosen for us, rocky soil and all.

Reflected by Mary DeTurris Poust

Mary DeTurris Poust is the author of Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality and several other books on Catholic spirituality. A columnist, blogger, and public speaker, she writes regularly at

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent - Be Not Afraid

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out it roots to the stream: It fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of the drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit." -Jer 17: 7-8

Internally I translate this to, “Be not afraid but trust in God in all things and under all circumstances. Your trust will bring fortification to your soul so evil flees from you, like it did from Jesus, allowing God’s grace to surround and hold you up to become a life-supporting creature of God.” It feels like soul refreshment, drawing to memory those who have gone before blazing a path for us, by overcoming obstacles and ultimately succeeding in the quest to be an authentic and holy child of God.

I think of Mother Mary, the suffering she must have endured. Yet all the days of her life were spent trusting and resting in God’s grace. I think of Joseph, betrayed by members of his own family and sold into Egypt, yet rising above and through it all. He trusted in the God of his youth and was not disappointed. I think of St. Catherine of Siena, who bravely went out to meet those ready to condemn her, willing to die, if that was God’s plan for her. Their lives confirm the reality of the promise, strengthen and encourage me to trust in the Lord no matter what, for there is no one and nothing more powerful than God.

Is there a difficulty or obstacle I am facing that I need to entrust to God more completely? Who inspires me the most that I can look to in times of uncertainty? 

Reflected by Ruth Clarke Ragin

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent - Unexpected Gifts

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” - Mt 1:20

The past ten years of my life have been filled with more unexpected twists and turns than I could have ever imagined.  There is no way that I could have seen myself moving to Los Angeles (twice), applying to seminary (and not entering), moving home (twice), becoming a teacher,  becoming a brewer, and moving to Boston.  Yet, when I think of all that I have encountered, it pales in comparison to the whirlwind that Joseph must have been swept up in when he met Mary. 

Though we know little about Joseph save what we have from scripture, he was probably at least ten years older than Mary.  He was a simple tradesman with a simple life that quickly became turned upside down. As somebody who has been wrapped up in the dizziness of my 20s, I have an immense respect and admiration for Joseph.  He was able to take the turmoil and messiness of God and move with it.  I, instead, tend to fight the mess that is thrown in front of me.  Rather than sitting down and sorting through and seeing the gift God set in front of me, often I run or discard it with the rest of the messiness of my life.  

Lord, on this solemnity in the midst of Lent, help me to celebrate the unexpected turns that you place in front of me.  Give me what I need to embrace what you have offered me, and like Joseph, to love these gifts with my whole heart. 

Reflected by Matt Keppel

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent - Humble Service

"Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice." - Mt 23: 3

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

Today's Gospel has me asking myself about the role models in my life. While its easy to point to those who have cared for me and love me and others deeply, I find myself wondering if I truly am working to follow their example in all areas of my life. Do I give the benefit of the doubt and see everyone around me with the eyes of God as many in my life do? Do I let God lay my path before me as others do? Or do I follow the example of those who are "successful" at work, those who hold positions of moral authority, those who have the picture perfect life? While all of those things are not bad, today's Gospel reminds me that they are not sufficient. It reminds me of the importance of taking a deeper look no matter the "appearance" of someone. Who is living a life of honest, humble service? Who is living as a servant?

I wonder though, exactly what does it mean to be a servant? Does it mean that we do what we are told, that we work for another? Perhaps being a servant is to truly be with others and assist them in the many forms of struggle, to show another love. Perhaps a part of being a servant is being able to receive the service of others and that in allowing ourselves to be seen and vulnerable, we allow others to serve us. Perhaps this humility is the greatest example that we can follow. Perhaps by letting go of our brokenness and shame we become the best servants we can be - we become exalted.

Who do you recognize as servants in your life? Who do you serve? How is God inviting you to serve and be served?

Reflected by Joan Ervin

Monday, March 17, 2014

Monday of the Second Week of Lent - A Reminder of God's Presence

For me, Lent is a time for prayer and reflection. It is my chance to get closer to God. Getting closer to God might mean setting aside quiet time to meditate and listening to what God wants me to do. It might mean going to confession for more often or perhaps being aware of how I treat others. When I stop and give of my time to listen to others, I am in essence giving my time to God; in serving others, I am serving God.

My thoughts have recently been moving toward the truth that God is compassionate and forgiving. Even when I am preoccupied with so many worries and thoughts, God is always gently reminding me that I am loved through songs I listen to or through the daily encounters that I have with people. There are times when a song I hear at the end of a very stressful day will remind me of God’s great presence and it is then that I begin to cry – a cry of happiness just knowing that God will never abandon me and that whatever good decision I take God will be behind me 100%.

Sometimes it is hard for me to imagine that God can love me that much but there are moments that remind me that God is great and often much more than what I can come up with.

Do you ever stop to imagine God’s greatness in my life? Are there opportunities in your daily encounters to bring about God’s compassion and forgiveness to others?
Reflected by Lucy Orozco

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Second Sunday of Lent - Transfiguration: A Moment of Grace

“Our soul waits for the LORD, who is our help and our shield. May your kindness, O LORD, be upon us who have put our hope in you.” –Psalm 33:20-22 
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 17:5 

It is difficult to constantly come to prayer (bringing the pain, expectation, disappointment, joys, and hopes of the day with me) and remain waiting for some response from God. When I show up, I often bring the self-pressure of needing to prove my worth to God and put on a good face, an attempt to “earn” an experience of grace in prayer. All of today’s readings in some way remind me that God’s grace (overwhelming and confusing as it can sometimes be) is offered freely and in abundance. 

It can be difficult to acknowledge and let go of my own self-pressure in order to hear the still, small voice whispering, “You are my Beloved.” This kind of prayer essentially involves letting go of who I assume God needs me to be and then committing to simply being with God in a spirit of listening and openness.

When we do ultimately experience these moments of knowing ourselves as God’s beloved, we may not fully understand what has happened to us. We may try to contain the experience of grace (or build a tent for them) as Peter suggests in today’s Gospel. Jesus cautions the disciples sit with this experience a little longer, allowing the meaning of the vision to unfold along with the Passion that is to come. He invites them, and us, to focus less on understanding and containing these encounters with grace, and more on surrendering to the reality of what God is doing in us. 
As I sit with the Lord today, can I allow myself to be overcome by mystery and love? Can I resist the temptation to understand these moments of grace, and instead remain focused on the voice of God? 

Reflected by Jen Coito

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday of the First Week of Lent - The Road of Love

“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father…” Matt 5:44-45

Every day I wake up with the intention to follow the way of the Lord, the road of love. At times, this can be easier said than done. The road of the Lord is an inclusive love which suffers all things. Yet how do I continue to follow this path of love when love, respect, and appreciation are often not returned? These are thoughts that seem to carry over into various aspects of my life. Why is it so hard to rid myself of them once and for all? It seems to be a constant struggle.

I asked God these very questions. The answer which came asked me, “Is My love not enough for you? Do you seek to please others more than to please Me? Stop desiring something in return. My love is sufficient for you. Rest in Me and be blessed all the days of your life.”

As I go through this Lenten experience, I will keep God’s response and promise infused in my heart and mind. If I drift back to old ways or thoughts, they are there to comfort and bring me back to the way of the Lord, the road of love, which is full of blessings. They will help me remember it’s not about me. It’s about the glory of God and the furtherance of His kingdom.
What obstacles do I encounter on my road of love? Have I given these obstacles to God?
Have I allowed His answer to penetrate my existence and bless me?

All that is, is His, and He is all that is.

Reflected by Ruth Clarke Ragin

Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday of the First Week of Lent - 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.” - Mt 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

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent - A Kindness Beyond Reason

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find;knock and the door will be opened to you." - Mt 7: 7
Esther asked, and it was given. So why has my son not been healed of his illness while my daughter has been healed? I prayed equally for both of them. Are the sobs of a loving mother not enough?

When I chose this day to write a reflection, I had no idea that those words would come springing forth, that I would be writing and sobbing at the same time. God could ask me whether one miraculous healing is not enough. Why be so greedy? But God is kinder than that. So, what is Jesus talking about here?

I know that God is not Santa Claus, I know that when we ask, seek, and knock as adults, we do so actively. We expect to be part of the answer, to be tirelessly looking under every stone, and to be knocking on every door. But I am seventy-one today! How long does this have to go on? So many people are asking that very question every day, and from the Psalms we know that it is an ageless question, "How long?" So, what is Jesus talking about here?

I don't know. I do know that God loves me, and that God loves my son. Some people get healed and some don't. Sometimes what looks like illness or affliction to most of us turns out to be blessing and grace. My dark place can become a beacon of light for someone else. Helen Keller was not given her sight or hearing, yet she gave many others a new way to see and hear.

Ask and it will be given to you.

 Reflected by Sharon Sullivan

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent - Called by the Word

“At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.” - Luke 11:31-32

What do we hear when God comes to us?  Day in and day out, as we work to build our relationship with God we are called to do something to fulfill our end of the relationship.  What do we hear? 

I imagine hearing quite a bit of daunting things from God, especially in the message Jesus bears to us.  God may be calling me to encounter great challenges: conquering fear, overcoming prejudice, and sacrificing your desires.  As difficult it is to answer these calls, I feel like God expects me to stand up and be counted.  Jesus seems to be telling his disciples that those who were saved by Jonah will condemn those who heard God’s call and turned away.  I am called by the Word, who loves me completely, to turn my heart to God, but how often do I refuse and can I continue to refuse?

What can I do to turn my heart to God in everything that I do?  How can I become more like the Ninevites, and look past the imperfections of the people who ask me to live in the good?

Reflected by Matthew Keppel

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent - Slow and with Intention

“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This is how you are to pray: Our Father who art in heaven...” - Matthew 6:7-15 

The Lord’s Prayer is the first prayer I learned and memorized as a child. Similar to communion, it is the one part of mass where I feel at my utmost peace. Although the words may remain the same, its significance differs with each experience. In the prayer, there is a special emphasis on forgiveness, received and given. When we allow our hearts to enter into a state of forgiveness, we free ourselves to enjoy life and from the dependence on what others do or do not do to us. We open ourselves to a greater and deeper love that God has for each of us. 

For any relationship to strengthen and grow, it requires effort and communication. As we begin our Lenten journey, Jesus invites us to reflect upon what we are actually doing when we pray. Although we may understand and know what the prayers are about, there lies a silver lining of becoming familiar with something and the danger of complacency. He is not only asking for our words, but our hearts and attitudes as well. When I pray, do I seek to deepen my relationship with God? How conscious are my words and thoughts? 

Prayer is a true gesture of self, an invitation to surrender and be in honest conversation with God. It encourages us to to sift through our memories and see how God is present in our relationships, challenges, frustrations, and emotions. Not only do we pour our hearts to Him in prayer, we are also saying, “Here God, let me tell you what is on my heart so that it may be Yours.” Beauty lies in our vulnerability, complex emotions, and authentic imperfections. When we allow ourselves and God to embrace who we are, we are expressing a desire to have a sincere and genuine connection with Him. We are led into a journey of reflection, deepening of our self-knowledge, and increasing our love and dependence on Him. 

Lord, enfold me in the depths of your heart. 

Reflected by Tam Lontok

Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday of the First Week of Lent - God's Healing Presence

"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 9, 2014

First Sunday of Lent - A Greater Mercy

The LORD God… blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” –Genesis 2:7 

Many of us are familiar with the story of “the fall” in the Garden of Eden and the first sins of humanity. Reading and praying with the passages this Sunday, we might be tempted to focus on our own failures and sinfulness. Yet, the central message of the three readings is not that we are bad or should feel guilty for falling short of Jesus’ strength in resisting temptation.

The primary message is how incredibly good God is to us, constantly offering the source of life. While Satan offers Jesus food, power, and an illusion of control, God has created a space where the conditions are optimal for us to meet Him. We are free to either join God in the space He has created for us or to attempt to build our own sense of security.

For me, this reliance on false promises is particularly seductive when I am feeling most alone or like my life is out of control. I grasp at whatever might fill this void and restore my previous homeostasis. But what if that feeling of hunger is actually an invitation to look at my deeper longing for God? What if the sense of powerlessness is actually an invitation to trust more that God has been looking out for me?

We can look at the Garden of Eden as a literal, physical space where Adam and Eve lived in a paradise with God. The challenge for me is to imagine a space God has created that is perfectly suited as a meeting place just for Him and I. Just as my best friend and I have a special restaurant that is “our place” to meet up for significant conversations, I imagine God fashioning “our place” that is unique to us. When I am feeling lonely or tempted, I can spend a lot of energy trying to feel like I am in control or I can simply choose to pull up a chair at my rendezvous spot with God and trust that no matter what time it is, he will already be there waiting for me with a cup of my favorite coffee. 

What has breathed life into my body and soul today? How have I allowed myself to be met by God?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Saturday after Ash Wednesday - Human Love Reflects God's Love

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 7, 2014

Friday after Ash Wednesday - A Humble Heart

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 Coito

Thursday, March 6, 2014

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 instills 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 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday: God Longs for Us to Embrace Deeper 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 and 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 lasting fruit. The disciplines of fasting (from what does not give life or promote justice), almsgiving (sharing our time, care, and resources), and prayer (attentiveness to God) are invitations to set apart time and space 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 allow God’s merciful love to transform us.

Lent is this acceptable time, the season that we embrace God’s longing to come closer. God beckons and waits for us to make room, to embrace ourselves as loved beyond our wildest imaginings and treat others likewise. Let us enter this Lenten time of spiritual renewal with generosity and desire for meaningful transformation.

How will you respond to this longing of God, this invitation to embrace love more deeply?