Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Baptism of Jesus: Immersed in Love

“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” – Lk. 3:22

Our baptism, like the baptism of Jesus, took place in the presence of family, friends, and community. By walking into the water, Jesus chose to be one with us. Immersed in our reality of pain, suffering, and joy, he begins his baptism as an embarkment on his journey of how to live with peace and models how we can integrate it in our own lives as well.

When I reflect on the word “immerse,” it means giving of myself completely to a book, movie, project, activity, or an idea, where I cannot possibly think of anything else. As the new year begins with the renewal of baptismal promises, I find myself pondering, “How fully immersed am I in my faith? How is it lived out in my daily choices and response to others? Are my actions leading me to a greater and deeper relationship with God? Am I able to dive in and reciprocate the love and commitment God has generously given to me? What would that look like?” What surfaces my mind and arrests my attention is the invitation to see beyond my limitations, preoccupations, freedom from my self-imposed faults, and responsibilities. It opens my heart and mind, urging me towards God’s incredible capacity to love, forgive, and make me whole again. It propels me to ask God: What is the best that I can do? And then do it.

In our baptism, we are invited to something higher beyond our natural instincts. It embraces a whole new way of living that radiates more charity than selfishness, more joy than bitterness, more peace than factualism, and more willingness to sacrifice than the natural sway of our emotions. I believe real change happens on the level of the gestures, encouraging me to take risk in doing things differently than it has been done before. God does not ask for me to be ready, only willing.

How do I intentionally bless others?
Who are the influencers in my life forming my image of God?

Tam Lontok

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Saturday after Epiphany: Decreasing: Creating More Room for God

He must increase; I must decrease. -Jn.3:30

I’m not gonna lie. When my provincial asked me to consider leaving Los Angeles and move to Boise, Idaho to do campus ministry, I had a very difficult time saying “yes”. Surprised at the request, I said with much hesitation, “Oh, um…okaaay... Can I pray about it?” “Of course”, he said, “just let me know when you have an answer”.  I had no desire whatsoever to go to a place that I had stereotyped as everything LA was not. Plus, I’m not a big fan of potatoes and I thought that’s all people ate up there!

For four months, I agonized over whether to say “yes” to my provincial (so much for looking to Mary’s fiat as an example of obedience!). For four months, I commiserated with my friends about having to give up my acting career again, just as I was beginning to make in roads. For four months, I dreaded the thought of having to move again and leave my good friends behind, after only being back in LA for two years. For four months, I feared that my brother Jesuits were thinking that I couldn’t hold down a job since I tended to be missioned to a new location or ministry every two years since ordination.

Notice how many times I used the word “I” in the previous paragraphs? Basically, for four months I was so concerned about myself that I didn’t make the time nor had the energy to actually “pray about it” and discern whether God indeed wanted me in Boise.

In today’s gospel reading, John the Baptist knew his place in relationship to Jesus. He recognized that his part as the “voice crying out in the wilderness” had been fulfilled and therefore, as he confidently says, “He must increase; I must decrease”.

Such is the case with each one of us. Christ must have primacy of place in our lives, not in some theoretical way, or as we pay lip service to our relationship with Jesus, but in an actual, and practical way that leaves us feeling humbled and showing greater trust in his providence, care and mercy. Does that resonate with you?

For me, it wasn’t until I actually took the time to “pray about it” during my annual 8-day silent retreat, that I was finally able to let go of the grip I had on my life and “decrease”, because I had allowed Christ to “increase” in my life. Through several scripture contemplations, I realized Christ wanted, no, needed me in Boise, so who was I to say no?! You know the saying, “let go and let God”? Well, I’ve come to fully believe the reverse is more true. “Let God, to let go”!

So here I am, 5 months since arriving in Boise, and again, I’m not gonna lie, but I LOVE it up here! So far, this has been one of the most rewarding and grace-filled ministries I have ever been a part of since becoming a Jesuit. And I believe it’s because I can honestly say, Christ invited me to be here. And when Christ calls, there can only be joy, peace, love, and hope. Believe it or not, I finally even ate my first real Idaho potato since arriving (french fries, notwithstanding) just the other day, and it was delicious!

As we enter more fully into this new year, let’s make it our resolution to “decrease” in pride, ego, and self-importance, so that we can leave room for Christ to “increase” his love, hope and mercy for us all.

What aspect of your life do you need to create more space and “decrease”, in order that Christ may “increase” in you and for you?

Radmar Jao SJ

Friday, January 8, 2016

Friday after Epiphany: Rest and Pray

“Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, 'I do will it. Be made clean.' And the leprosy left him immediately.  The report about Him spread all the more, and great crowds assembled to listen to Him and to be cured of their ailments, but He would withdraw to deserted places to pray.” – Lk 5:16

In today's gospel we read about one of Jesus’ healing miracles, and as I was caught-up in the telling of this beautiful story I was surprised by a line that I hadn’t noticed before: "…but He would withdraw to deserted places to pray".  I suppose I knew that Jesus regularly left what He was doing and who He was with for extended time in prayer, but it never meant anything to me until this past Christmas season.  The whole month felt like a marathon, and I was the over-caffeinated, half-coherent runner stumbling toward the New Year finish line.  Yes, there were things to do, people to see, places to go, and even a promotional opportunity at work, but in my exhaustion, I just stopped feeling myself.

I brought this to prayer and what came to me was one word – restlessness.  It has been and still is my biggest obstacle on the spiritual journey. I often wrestle with an unquenchable longing to do, see, and experience more; in the allure of to do lists, goal lists, and bucket lists; in keeping-up with the highlight reel of social media and trying to please everyone.  I forget about faith, and instead find myself acting on a fear that I'm somehow missing out on life, and that part of my self-worth is tied to being liked and admired.  I begin to lose my focus, and then I lose myself. Restlessness and ego become my guides, and like a cup of coffee, I clung to them as I raced through the holidays.  The more I drank, the more it seemed like I could do everything, see everyone, and accomplish anything. My body felt so alive, but my soul was on empty, and so the mirage faded into burnout.

This past month reminded me in a deep and intentional way to the path He calls me to – a life not found in the throes of restlessness and ego, of striving and doing, but in the gentle peace of His presence.  It is in this place of faith, gratitude, and simplicity that I feel most me, and that I remember the words of St. Augustine, “our heart is restless until it rests in Him”.  Today I took a moment and prayed: Jesus, it is you who gives me the bread of life, but I offer You only crumbs.  Help me to know that life is in every breath and peace is in every step.  Remind me of the beauty that on this side of eternity, “all symphonies must remain unfinished” (Karl Rahner).  And, in your infinite compassion, please guide me to those deserted places so that we may pray.

How does God sustain you amidst the busyness of life?  In this new year, do you feel called to “withdraw” more for time in prayer and rest?  Lastly, as Jesus had His “deserted places”, what are some of yours?


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Thursday after Epiphany: Led by the Spirit

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar.” 1 Jn 4:19-20

The readings today inspire and challenge. They get at heart of the matter, of the Christmas season, of the revolutionary nature of God’s love. We are called to love with deeds and words, with those we like and dislike, with our enemies as well as our friends. It was hard for the community that helped write the Gospel and the Letters of John. It is hard for me.

It is more difficult when I give into a spirit of self-pressure and self-reliance. That the burden of love rests upon me. Then what is hard becomes harder. Yet, when I allow myself to be led by the Spirit, the difficult becomes the possible.

Jesus begins his public ministry led by the Spirit. The Spirit guided him to baptism in the Jordan River. The Spirit drove him to the desert for a 40-day preparation. The Spirit steered him to the synagogue in today’s Gospel to proclaim the messianic passage from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19).

I am deeply struck by the loving sacrifice of my mom over the holidays. Throughout the week of my family visit, she was constantly cleaning, cooking, preparing meals and rooms for everyone. She would ask us children and grandchildren to help, but she was always in service. While serving, she tried to be in communion with God. She listened to songs and podcasts from the Vatican or from the Jesuits in Vietnam. It was self-care and MORE. She was letting the Spirit lead her. She has always been an inspiring force of self-giving love for many people. At 73, she is even more so for me.

As I journey into 2016 with many tasks and projects, I am invited to lean more into this blessing through my mom. As I allow the image of her serving with God to flood my awareness, through short pauses and longer moments of prayer, I find myself more willing and sensitive to the Spirit. I can imagine loving with greater sacrifice because I am first loved by God, through my mother. Slowly slowly, I am joining Pope Francis in living out God’s incarnate love through a “revolution of tenderness.” 

What blessing over the holidays inspires or challenges you to greater life? Would you consider taking a pause or a longer period to let this grace flood your awareness and guide you?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Wednesday after Epiphany: Insufficient and Imperfect Love

"God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so are we in this world." 1 Jn. 4:16-17

Our love is insufficient: How often do we wish we could love God more? Or realize we are not able to express our gratitude in proportion to the gifts we have received? Or that our selfishness, however small, frustrates us from loving our parents, siblings, friends, romantic other, or children with a completely pure heart? We may have been blessed with that one ecstatic moment, perhaps infinitesimally short, during a prayer when that deep longing is satiated. Or when staring into a lover’s eyes utterly vulnerable but with complete self-forgetfulness. Or when feeling the grasp of a tiny hand on our index finger and realizing how wondrously made we all are. In these grace-filled moments freely given, love overwhelms us both in its reception and our desire to reciprocate. It overwhelms us because we feel bounded by some unidentifiable limit imposed upon us…perhaps our bodies, or time, or space, or our shortcomings or those of others.

Our love is imperfect: If I am being honest with myself, there are many instances when my apparent acts of love do not originate with love but rather something I do to feed my pride and ego. The gesture is present, but the motivation taints it. Or sometimes, I believe I can love myself better than God can by simply choosing something that feels good rather than something I know deep down I have been led. In these cases, I have separated the love within me from God. I fooled myself into thinking I was the source of love. However, since God is the source of love, my expression of it is an imperfect copy at best and a counterfeit at worst.

Despite these constraints and human lapses, I do desire to love authentically and as fully as I am able. The frequent shortfalls only heighten my sensitivities to how I cannot do it myself and that there can be no love except through God. So how can I love my family, friends, and myself most purely?  By remaining in God first. Then love can be brought to perfection within us.

Lord God, keep me within your love, so I may see the afflicted with your eyes, hears the voices of the suffering with your ears, and love those you entrust to me with your heart.

Michael Jamnongjit

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Tuesday after Epiphany: The One Looking

“In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us.” - 1 Jn 4:10
“Jesus’s heart was moved with pity for them.” – Mk. 6:34

I celebrated Christmas with my 5-year-old goddaughter last night. It marked the last event in five days of continuous hosting people in our home. These days were filled with chaos, laughter, boogery-nosed kids, and lots of family. When each day was ending with the house a mess, more dishes in the sink, and more laundry piled up, it was tempting to go into hermit mode.

I imagine Jesus and his disciples feeling similarly in today’s Gospel. They were stretched beyond their limits and ready for a break with some “me time.” Jesus, being so moved by the hunger of the people, shows his disciples (and us) that we are not fed by selfishness and self-preservation. We are fed by acknowledging our limitations and allowing ourselves to be seen as empty-handed before others and God.

When my goddaughter was just a few weeks old, I remember one afternoon my best friend and I just sat on the bed looking at her together. That moment was sacred and still, full of hope and the gift of just being present. The baby threw up in my hair approximately five minutes later. Sure it was gross, but all I could do was laugh and then head home to take a shower. The moment was still perfect. I was already affected by the act of looking and really seeing.

We are defined by the One who looks at us with love, not what we do or achieve. Can I imagine God looking at me like this? Just spending time gazing at me- even in my muck, confusion, and chaos?

Jen Coito

Monday, January 4, 2016

Monday after Epiphany: We Receive From Him Whatever We Ask

When challenging times create rifts between loved ones, how do we find ourselves together again?

I asked myself this question recently. In an attempt to be seen and heard, I’d sent a letter to a loved one, attempting to convey some boundaries I felt had been crossed as well as reassuring loving words about my love for them and desire for them in my life. The letter was not received well; The response ladened with harsh toned angry language. It had been misconstrued and its intention, misunderstood. I felt confused and rejected. Even as I tried to apologize, the situation worsened. We could not see eye to eye. It got pretty dark.

I thought to myself, "How can such animosity can exist between people who genuinely love one another? Between family members?"

I began to re-read our correspondences repetitiously with prayer to try and make sense of things. Two questions came to light:

Jesus, how do you see this person?
Jesus, how do you see me?

"We receive from him whatever we ask" - 1 Jn 3:22

It would take some time, but I began to remember and rediscover the goodness this person had brought into my life - all their wonderful and beautiful qualities. I remembered their kind and caring words; The prayers they had once said for me. As the reminders flowed, I continued to remain with what Jesus was trying to show me.

I revisited the words that were exchanged. I began to see that they were born out of hurt, pain, and fear, not spite or malice; That the other party was also struggling to tell me something. I began to be able to put myself in their shoes and see their point of view.

I was reminded that Jesus sees the goodness within us above everything else that we do; That we are never beyond redemption. His love for us is that powerful. He sees us with eyes of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. He sees beyond our walls, His eyes piercing through the fronts that we put up, straight through to the core of ourselves. And, loves us in spite of and because of our humanity.

I began to see beyond my own pain and the hurt of the other party; I saw who was hurting the most - God, because there was discord between us, whom He loves so deeply and unconditionally. It was just difficult to see that in the beginning because I think sometimes the deepest wounds in our lives are caused by those who we love the most. And, vice versa - that we have the ability to inflict pain in others lives because of how much the other loves us.

But, when we do this, at the core is God who, in my humble opinion, when it comes to matters like these, does not choose sides. Rather, His desire is communion and unity. So, He hurts the most because it does not matter per say, who started it, who said what, who was right or wrong, or who needs to apologize. There is a conflict within His Body, among those whom He loves the most.

Lord, with humble hearts, we ask you for peace, compassion, understanding, mercy, and forgiveness in the conflicts that create separation among us. We ask you for reconciliation.    

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Memorial of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen: Pause & Rest

"Remain in him.” – 1 Jn 2:28

For many of us, the past few weeks have been a flurry of activities: traveling, visiting, hosting, gift giving, cooking, resolution making, etc. For me, a very blessed time with my family and meaningful conversations with my brother Jesuits guides me along the way.

As I enter 2016, I notice a desire to pause a little more, to take some time of quiet, to let the blessings of Christmas and the New Year sink in, to marinate in the mystery of a God who delights and longs to dwell deeper in me and my relationships. The first reading today speaks six times of remaining or resting in what gives us life.

I am invited to pause and rest in grace. It may not be long, deep, or grand. It is simply encountering the divine in me, in this present moment with its obvious and disguised blessings. Short pauses to welcome grace that opens up greater awareness and meaning. Three times a day makes a difference in my pilgrim path today.

What about you?

Terry Hershey’s poem from his The Power of Pause can help with these short pauses:

"What if life isn’t about finishing on top,
but knowing when to stop?

What if life isn’t about learning to live with stress,
but learning to live with less?

What if life isn’t about pushing yourself to the limit,
but embracing everything minute?

What if life isn’t about constant action,
but [forgoing] distraction?

What if life isn’t about what you chase,
but resting in God's grace?"

Lord, help me rest more in Your love and care today and focus less on my agendas, expectations or worries.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Solemnity of the Mary, the Mother of God: Happy New Years…Again

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; In these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son.” - Heb. 1:1-2 

Happy New Year...again! This is the third “new year” Catholics have celebrated in the last five weeks, with varying degrees of fanfare: the start of the liturgical year at the start of Advent, the start of the Year of Mercy on Dec. 8, and now the calendar year. Though for those of us in the dioceses of Southern California, New Year’s day is not a Holy Day of Obligation, the ideas of resolutions and obligations that resonated for me as I reflected on today’s feast.

I often find myself associating obligation with burden, and the things that pile up that I have to do, but when I take the time to see the bigger picture, I’m reminded of the grace of my “obligations.” The word itself comes from the same Latin root as the word religion. A root that means “to bind.” Catholic marriage preparation often focuses on the idea that the Grace of the Sacrament is not limited to the moment that vows are exchanged, but flows through each day’s choice to be faithful - in the full sense of the word - to those vows. So, today has me reflecting on those things that bind me up, and support me through the day. The obligations of my life, like Jen, our son, and our daughter on the way, are not burdens, but ballast, that keep me rooted and steady in many ways.

I haven’t made New Year’s resolutions for a number of years. I saw a figure that almost 40% of resolutions are busted by the end of January. In my life, that figure seems fair. This year, I’m going to make a New Year’s day resolution. I’m going to pray the examen today. At the end, I intend to resolve to do it again tomorrow, but I’ll have to make that choice again then. The word obligation is, like the word sacrament, connected to the idea of making a pledge or promise. Maybe I can get around the negative connotations of obligation by thinking of Sundays and the handful of other feasts we are expected to be at mass as Holy Days of Promise.

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

What is one thing I can choose today to be faithful to the people I’m bound to in my life? What is the blessing at the root of my most pressing “obligations”?

Jason Coito