Saturday, February 28, 2015

First Saturday of Lent

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers and sisters only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Mt.5:43-48

Today’s Gospel speaks to me about the compelling power of love. Jesus challenges me to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me. Who are my enemies? I grew up in a broken family. I can’t recall a moment where I felt loved as a young girl. My parents divorced despite my constant effort trying to be the “perfect” girl. I was crippled by fear and hatred. Inside of me, there was always a deep sense of sadness and loneliness. I began to build an invisible brick wall as a shield to protect my heart from damage and pain. The very people who I loved and cherished became my enemies because I couldn’t learn to forgive them. I was angry with God for not answering my prayers and allowing my suffering to exist.

As I grew older, I began to understand the true meaning of love when I recognized His presence in my life. God is always there through the darkest moments of my life. He never stops loving me. He is the missing father, mother, and the ultimate lover that I seek. He loves me for who I am not because I am perfect. Through the grace and mercy of God, I am able to accept my family and choose to love them again. Sometimes, it is so much easier to love a compatible friend, a helpful coworker, or even a humorous stranger on the street than the people that are dearest to us. They in fact are the hardest ones to love because they tend to hurt us the most. But true love endures and perfects through trials and sufferings. God calls me through the Gospel today to mirror His example of true love and perfection.  

Dear God, please help me be a witness of your true love on this earth. Help me shatter the brick wall that I have built over the years, and cultivate within me your love so that I can befriend all my “enemies”.

Reflected by Thuy Phuong Trinh

Friday, February 27, 2015

First Friday of Lent

“If she keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just, she shall surely live, she shall not die.” Ezekiel 18

Keep God’s statutes…follow the 10 commandments…do unto others as you would have them do unto you…do good, avoid evil….do no harm…follow the Beatitudes…..

These are all the typical Christian “rules to live by” that most of us have been taught since elementary school. Having the personality type that naturally likes to the follow the rules, always appeasing teachers to earn praise, it was not hard for me as a child to see those words as the ideal. I often felt this need to fulfill these “rules to live by” in order to make God happy, to appease Him and earn His praise. Sure, when it came down to it, I would fail---I would gossip with my friends, get in fights with my sister, lie to parents---you know typical kid “stuff.” But at some point, I would feel guilty, realize I had not lived up to these standards and work my way back towards earning brownie points with God. It is not necessarily easy to follow the rules, but I have always had this innate desire to do so.

Lately, I have been wrestling with this idea of following the rules, asking myself: “Have I been following God’s commandments just to appease Him like I had done with my teachers growing up? Have I been doing “good” just to win God’s love and stay on His good side? If so, what’s the point?!”

What is the point? If I have just been “following the rules” has my relationship with God been authentic, genuine or real? Where is my freedom if I feel I have to follow God’s commandments just to win His love for me? I feel like childishly crying out the words of today’s scripture: “The Lord’s way is not fair!” It is not fair that I feel I have to “follow the rules” when I turn around and see so many seemingly happy people who skate around some of these “rules.”

I write this today full of unanswered questions. I feel a restless voice inside of me challenging me to take a deeper look at my relationship with God…to actually wrestle with these questions and examine how I have been following His statues. I fear what might come but have hope that it will draw me closer to spiritual freedom.

This Lent, how are you being challenged to examine your personal relationship with God and His life giving statutes? Is there genuine love and authentic freedom in your relationship with God?

Reflected by Regina Galassi

Thursday, February 26, 2015

First Thursday of Lent

Have you ever been in desperate straits? Where the hand-holds that once existed to help you move up and out of failure, pending doom, a vice of pressures, confusion or great emotional debilitation have disappeared? Where perhaps your family is no longer a safe place to turn, where savings are gone, where the well-meaning advice from friends only goes so far and institutions that were once around to offer guidance and a safety net are no longer able to help you? Have you ever felt utterly alone in the darkness of your own fear and helplessness?

This is where Queen Esther finds herself in today’s reading. The text says she was “seized with mortal anguish.” She is on her way to persuade King Xerxes that he should not kill her people, and all she has to bank on is her historic favor with the king. There is no one to help her, and if Xerxes ignores his personal affection and instead follows Persian law, she will be executed on the spot, and all the Jews will be massacred. Talk about high stakes.

But one thing she had: “recourse to the Lord.” The Scripture says “She lay prostrate upon the ground, together with her handmaids, from morning until evening, and said: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand. As a child I used to hear from the books of my forefathers that you, O LORD, always free those who are pleasing to you. Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O LORD, my God.”

These words are Lenten words. This is the prayer of Jesus in the desert, of David in the Psalter. It’s the prayer of all those blessed of God who have been stricken by circumstance, perhaps even by His call.

It takes extremes to ask boldly of our Lord. Either extreme and seemingly impossible circumstances, or extreme faith and holy trust. Our God meets both – perhaps not always in the way we think we need, and usually not on our timetable. But He delights in acting when all other safety nets are gone. His ear is bent to hear us ask for rescue.

This Lent, as you experience a time of deprivation, what comes to mind as those places where you need God to come crashing in? Is there an area of desperation in your life, of seeming intractability, that you can surrender to His redeeming power? In this season of weakness more keenly felt, I would encourage you to practice the intensity of Esther’s prayer, and to consider those choices that may be blocking you from truly meaning it. Our God promises to answer.

Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me. (Psalm 138:1). Let us invite that testimony.

Reflected by Anne Snyder

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

First Wednesday of Lent: Opening One's Heart to Forgiveness

“When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.” Jon. 3:10

One of the key to Catholicism that always fascinates me is the act of reconciliation. Growing up in a family with strict rules, the idea that confessing one’s sins and be forgiven for it was unheard of. It all sounded too good to be true. How can God be so lenient? Can He talk to my mother?

I was always afraid of confession. The church where I grew up had a burning of the sins once a year during the Lenten season. During this mass, all the parishioners were given an index card and a pencil to write down their confessions. After the homily, parishioners lined up to put their confessions into a BBQ grill that was placed by the altar which was then lit on fire by the priest. All was forgiven. I made sure to attend this mass every year.

I thought reconciliation would be easier as I get older. I was wrong. The years did not help my fear of confessing my flaws and misdeeds. In fact, I think it made it worse. I was more shameful of my actions. The spiritual examination prior to confession is always a struggle. I question why I would do the things I did. What was I thinking? If I can’t forgive myself, how can I ask God to forgive me? Do I deserve to be forgiven?

Today’s reading reminds me of God’s great love and forgiveness. It echoes Pope Francis’s message for the Lenten season for “people to make room in their hearts for those who have sinned, those who ‘have made mistakes and are in jail.’”

Lord, help me learn to forgive and open my heart to the forgiveness of others.

Reflected by Katherine Tran

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

First Tuesday of Lent

“… and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us…”
“If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” – Mt. 6:12,14-15

There is a modern saying reflected by these readings, “What goes around, comes around.”

It is not always easy to forgive, especially when I am deeply hurt, or when the damage done cannot be repaired, but when I hold on to anger and judgment, I create a prison for myself.  Bitterness poisons the joy of living I could be experiencing.  

I need to be forgiven because I am a sinner, indeed we are all sinners. What I sometimes forget is that we all have a deeply embedded need to be one who forgives. I “forget” this because forgiveness is hard work, and because I frequently believe that the offender does not deserve to be forgiven. The truth is that it does not matter whether the offender deserves forgiveness or not.  After all, don’t I desire God’s forgiveness whether I deserve it or not?

I have found that forgiveness is not only for the benefit of the one who is forgiven, but also for the benefit of the one who forgives. When I forgive, I experience a great relief.  When I forgive, I don’t continue to feel bitterness every time I think about the one I forgave.  When I forgive, I attain the freedom to love even my enemies and freedom for spiritual growth.  And when I forgive, I receive forgiveness from God.  

Who do I need to forgive today?  For what do I need forgiveness today?

Reflected by Sharon Sullivan

Monday, February 23, 2015

First Monday of Lent: Encountering Hope and Joy in the Poor

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothe me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Mt. 25:35-36,40

I had the privilege of serving for Casa Building through Christus Ministries this weekend. We traveled down to Tijuana to put the finishing touches on a house Christus has been working on for the Sanchez Marquez family. As our van drove through the neighborhood towards the community center, our mood was a mixture of disbelief, astonishment, and somberness from the poor living conditions we were witnessing. However to my surprise, we arrived with a large community eagerly awaiting to shower us with their beaming faces and colorful “Bienvenidos!” signs. Children ran to hug our legs, and the little girl whose house we were working on timidly gifted Fr. Tri with a picture she drew. The community’s warm and cheerful welcome did not speak of hopelessness or despair but rather hope and joy.

We spent the day painting the house and moved beds, kitchen appliances, and furniture in so that the Sanchez Marquez family could begin living in it that afternoon. Truly, words cannot fully describe the beautiful moment when we unveiled and presented their house to them. The kids gleefully dashed to their rooms. The little boy was in such disbelief that the room was really his that he had to ask his grandparents for confirmation. Then he jumped on the bed and did the snow-angel motion so as to express unreserved happiness. The wife was in tears of joy and gratitude and soon after many of us were as well. The husband and wife abundantly thanked all those involved because it was not only a house that had been built but also hope for their family and the larger community.

Another meaningful experience was visiting a shelter where deported migrant men stayed to begin rebuilding their lives. We had dinner with them and heard many of their stories. Despite cases of families being torn apart and experiences of injustice, a common theme was not so much a feeling of anger or resentment but of hope and deep trust in God. One of the men profoundly remarked, “Each morning, God renews His mercy.”

The poor and marginalized have much to teach us. In our world of abundance, there is rarely any of our basic needs that are unmet. Even things beyond basic needs are easily satisfied. There is then a tendency for our sense of gratitude to become dull. Those like the Sanchez Marquez family who live(d) in a 10x10 shack, share a bed on the ground, and are at the mercy of the weather are sensitive to the gifts in their lives. They do not take anything for granted since anything can easily be taken away but live with gratitude through various people and ways God is present. They do not live with a sense of expectation that their future should be prosperous but with the hope that God’s gentle hand will always be guiding them. They do not live with anguish that circumstances have been cruel, but with the joy that comes from living in solidarity with one another. Indeed, we receive a glimpse of God’s kingdom ministering to the poor and marginalized.

Lord, help me to see with your eyes and love with your heart all my brothers and sisters especially those who have been marginalized.

Reflected by Michael Jamnongjit

Sunday, February 22, 2015

First Sunday of Lent: From Loneliness to a Deeper Connection

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.” – Mk 1:12-13

I was blessed with a grace-filled and peaceful annual retreat recently. I experienced deep consolation and the call to simply “be with” Jesus in whatever activity or rest I found myself. Yet, as soon as I returned to ordinary life, I was hit with an uncommon onslaught of responsibilities and stress. Moreover, a relationship that I have been struggled with became thornier. I found myself drawn away from the grace to simply “be with” God. I became more self-conscious, self-focused, helpless, and lonely.

Jesus experienced something similar in today’s Gospel. The same Spirit who descended on him in his baptism now drives him into the desert for forty days. The result is radical confrontation and temptation by Satan who attempts to frustrate the work of God. Immediately after a deep sense of being God’s beloved, with whom God is “well pleased,” Jesus he faced his suffocating loneliness and temptations to focus on himself.

Often an experience of spiritual consolation, I experience desolation, feeling lead away from God. I am tempted to blame myself, to doubt myself, to “should” on myself, to focus on my helplessness, all the while turning my gaze and trust away from God and the good God is doing in my life. It is freeing to realize once again, that in my loneliness and poverty, I can still “be with” Jesus. Among the wild beasts of my inner struggles after my retreat, Jesus accompanies me and sends wonderful “angel-like” companions to be with me. I need not fear loneliness and helplessness. Like Jesus, I am being schooled in a greater dependence on God, empowering me to trust God more stand with others in their own loneliness. It may take some time, perhaps the forty days of Lent to allow Jesus to simply “be with” me in whatever I may experience. On the way, my heart can become more tender and closer to the heart of God.

“Lord, deepen in me your invitation to “be with” you and let you “be with” me and others, especially in times of loneliness and helplessness.”

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Saturday After Ash Wednesday: Gratitude for Discipleship

Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house. – Lk. 5:27-28

Levi, who is also traditionally known as the one of the four evangelist Matthew, is an ordinary figure in this passage who does two extraordinary things. As a tax collector he is looked upon in his community as an outcast, a sinner. He is not particularly special in his station in life. And yet, Jesus calls him to discipleship. Levi’s first reaction is swift and shows a tremendous amount of trust as he leaves everything to follow Jesus. He does not even question his worthiness as some of us may do. How many of us are able to follow through even a simple request without at least analyzing it a little? But Levi does not stop there. He goes on to throw a feast for Jesus in his house. He receives his calling as a gift and expresses his gratitude with a grand gesture.

It was a while after college when I accepted my discipleship, my calling to be a follower of Christ. Like others, I sometimes felt a certain unworthiness. “Why Lord would you call me, a confused person who often times is willfully disobedient and selfish?” At other times, I may feel the extra burden and responsibility of living in a manner that I perceived as acceptable to God. “There’s no way I can live up to that standard.” And yet, I am called as I am. We are all called exactly as we are. Levi is a wonderful model for us. He does not doubt nor makes excuses. Perhaps before wondering about how we are to follow Christ, we may reflect on the gift of this invitation to discipleship.

How may we express our gratitude to be a disciple of Christ this Lenten season?

Reflected by Michael Jamnongjit

Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday After Ash Wednesday: Meatless Moments

Meals are about more than just the food on the table. Sitting down for a meal together is about creating space to nourish our bodies, reconnect with those around us, and pause in gratitude for all of the abundant blessings from God. 

Today we enter the first of six Fridays leading up to Holy Week. Fridays in Lent can be seen as simply “giving up” meat. As a vegetarian, the meatless Fridays are not really a sacrifice.  For me, Lenten Fridays are an invitation to eat more simply and be in solidarity with God’s poor. They mark an opportunity each week to “check in” with myself about how Lent is going.

Whether or not I have chosen a specific habit to give up or take on for Lent, Fridays mark a regular moment to pause and check in with God about my own journey.  Today’s readings remind us that fasting is not about torturing ourselves and being miserable. 

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.”

These recipes and prayers from Cooking Lent can help us keep our focus on the meaning of our fasting during Lent. This Friday, gather your family and friends to share a simple meal, celebrate the graces of this season, and deepen our commitment to being with those on the margins.

Lord, how can my fasting on Fridays prepare me to feast with you?
How are you inviting me to grow in friendship with you this Lent?

Reflected by Jen Coito

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thursday after Ash Wednesday: Fostering Courageous Hearts

Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” - LK 9:22-25

In the beginning of our spiritual journey, Ronald Rolheiser, author of Sacred Fire, shares that we often question our call to discipleship. Mostly, because of our perception of the kind of person that should be called appears different to the ones that actually are. Peter was known to be ‘The Rock.’ However, he lacked courage and was not ready. Rolheiser emphasized that Jesus does not call on the ready, but on the willing.

Courage is never learned overnight. It results from years of practice and patience along with being brave enough to face what life sends us. As we begin this Lenten season, we receive an opportunity to think about what it means to be a follower. It invites us to grow through the hardships of life, accepting what cannot be changed, and struggling through what needs to be changed despite the risk of rejection, doubt, or failure.

In fostering a courageous heart, we are encouraged to trust Him more deeply and having faith that He will use our Lent to do more than we could ever ask or imagine. It enables us to recognize and live with our own unfinishedness, knowing that we are subject to weakness and sometimes failures. Not only are we nurtured by our relationship with Him, but provided with comfort in understanding how He cherishes each of us no matter what happens in our lives.

For me, it is being courageous enough to say ‘no,’ accepting my limitations, and not second guessing myself. Denying myself to be less self-reliant and leaning on Him to make choices that are more fruitful and life giving. It means living out what I already know to be true and allowing myself to be seen in a more fractured light, yet still capable of being loved. This Lenten season will be a little more about release and not getting in the way of who God designed me to be through practicing presence, breathing deeper, and continuously learning to let go. 

Which areas of my life would I like to live out more courageously this Lenten season?

Reflected by Tam Lontok

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday: Ashes, Rendering Hearts and Inner Rooms

“Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God” – Joel 2:13
 “Go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” – Mt 6:6

Today we begin our journey of Lent through the desert. The desert is our inner landscape where we recognize areas of unfreedom and resistance that deadens life but to also re-discover how life is teeming anew.  We start our journey marked by ashes with the invitation to “repent and believe in the Gospels.”

The black cross on my forehead reminds me that I can never save myself. Moreover, I don’t have to. Someone else already has. He who “who did not know sin” has taken on all my sins, all of our sins. He enlightens our darkness, walks with us, empowering us to greater life and freedom.

“Render your hearts and return to the Lord” calls me to greater willingness to open-wide what is deeper within so that I can be transformed and be with God more than ever before. For me, that is both exhilarating and frightening. Receiving a change of heart, but through open-heart surgery?

“Go to your inner room” is a gentle yet challenging invitation to encounter more fully a God who hides in the depth of my inmost being and also in community. We are invited to listen to the voice within, but also to pay attention to other people’s needs. On this journey, the death and resurrection of Jesus becomes more than a historical event that took place long ago, but an inner experience that takes place in our hearts.

It is a blessing that we have forty days to undergo this passage from outer ashes to inner self. It will take time to unearth this Good News, to be awakened anew to a deeper awareness that each of us are incredibly cherished and passionate loved as we are, in spite of ourselves, beyond our wildest dreams. The habits “giving up” a vice or “picking up” a virtue such as fasting, almsgiving, and praying are ways* to wake-up to the realization that in Christ, I am, we are, already saved, freed, and loved tenderly.

Lord, help me to open-wide my heart and journey to my inner room to uncover how I am saved and called to grow this Lent.

*see the US Bishops’ Lenten Page or Pope Francis’ Lenten Message for concrete ways to grow through Lent.