Monday, February 29, 2016

Monday, Third Week of Lent: Divine Mondays?

“If the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it [to be clean and cured]? - 2 Kings 5:12

I am a retreat addict. I am drawn to transformative experiences and get high on helping people encounter God. These special moments occur, more often than not, on retreats or service trips. I have a tendency to look for God on mountaintop experiences, in the dramatic, through the extraordinary. God in burning bushes; Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead; Grace through a blinding light, knocking Paul off a horse.

However, more often than not, I experience the Divine in ordinary, hidden, humdrum ways.

In today’s readings, God works wonders beyond human expectations, understanding, or even imagining. Naaman was a mighty and favored army commander of the king of Aram. But he had leprosy. He travelled a long distance replete with horses and chariots, carrying a special letter of introduction by his king, bringing significant wealth, to seek healing from the king of Israel. When told to simply to wash himself in the river, he got angry. He scoffed: “Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all the waters of Israel?” He had his facts: the muddy waters of the Jordan are no match hygienically for the mountain spring waters of Damascus. Yet, ritually, it is the other way around. Naaman was ready for the extraordinary. He did not expect the unspectacular. Yet, when he trusted God’s invitation through the prophet Elisha, he was cured. A similar phenomenon echoed in the Gospel. The people could not accept that Jesus, the familiar, homegrown carpenter, could be a powerful prophet like Elisha.

More often than not these days, I experience God in everyday prayer, routine work, and unremarkable human interactions. Formal prayer is typically quiet, uneventful, almost nothingness. I simply try to be present, listen through my own yawns and silent protestations, occasionally catching a glimpse at Jesus’ smile. Work can be tedious and boring. Being present to people in ministry often means befriending those who society deem “unimportant”, socially awkward, often obscure in any group setting.

Yet, showing up in prayer, on the job, with “unexciting” people slowly slowly brings me in greater contact with God, beyond the boundaries of my human understanding, or imagining.

Hidden One, help me to show up, be present, and trust you, wherever my feet and hands take me today, a Monday.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Third Sunday of Lent: Trusting in the Ebb and Flow

“But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did …” - Lk 13:1-9

Today’s gospel takes us into familiar territory, places where people suffer and question: Why? Jesus does not answer the question, but calls each of us to repent and journey into one more season of cultivating, pruning, and growth. He proposes to change the way I live, unravel and reweave the way I understand life, let go of my projections, and be more willing to stretch myself towards the direction of goodness and light. He invites me to be open to an idea that in all things there is both something broken and beautiful, a shadow of hope in every sorrow, and how rejoicing is no less rich when it contains a splinter of grief.

As a child, I learned about the waves while swimming in Marina Del Rey. If I tried to stand and face the wave, it would smash me. But when I trusted the water and let it carry me, I found authentic moments of peace and sweetness. Years later, each wave represented a choice and how God would encourage me to live a bigger story - one not about me and not consisting of an answer, timeline, or map.

As I mine back through my heart and memories, I noticed my most sacred moments developed when I allowed changes to work their way in my life and when I chose to float instead of fight. In trusting God and surrendering my tendency of self-reliance, I respected the things that change forged in my life and learned humility in receptivity, awareness, and simplicity. Repentance is the means to reclaiming the life entrusted to us, the way to become most authentically who we are and who, at the deepest level, we long to be.

What might repentance look like in the waves of my life?

Tam Lontok 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Saturday, Second Week of Lent: Indebted to Others

“My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” – LK 15: 1-3, 11-32

Last month, I moved from a place I consider a second home, Los Angeles, to a foreign place, Argentina. Aside from speaking the language, I still feel quite lost. My experiences have shown me the goodness in accepting my indebtedness to many others.

When praying with the story of the prodigal son before, I have experienced it from different perspectives in the story. Sometimes, I recognized how I fail to truly appreciate my gifts. I would run home, desperate for pity, and would receive much more: mercy and complete embrace from Love. Other times, I would feel annoyed and almost betrayed by the grace extended to another lost person seeking for healing, especially when that person has hurt me. On occasion, I even imagine myself being deeply moved, embracing, and offering unreserved besos.

Today, I realized how indebted I am to many gracious, patient, and merciful people. I use these phrases often: ¿Me podrás ayudar?(Can you help me?);No entiendo.(I don't understand.); and¿Dónde está...?(Where is...?). While Carolina was working away, I interrupted for help to call a taxi four times. I could not figure it out and was stranded in a storm. I kept hanging up on the frustrated taxi driver accidentally. Florencia accompanied me to staple papers and Luis showed me how to light my stove without burning down my apartment building.

This is every day, all day: humbled because I am not being able to figure out even small things on my own, trustful that someone will help me - usually beyond my needs. I am grateful and accept their care for me - the foreigner. Thankfully, I have endless moments where I can say my most frequent saying:¡gracias, chau!

When have I received someone else's patience and mercy?  
How can I extend that patience and mercy to another?

Vivian Valencia 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Friday, Second Week of Lent

"Remember the marvels the Lord has done." –  Ps. 105:5

Today’s readings invite us to remember and ponder deeply the wonders the Lord has done through our ancestors and in our own lives.  We are encouraged to love, trust, and wait patiently for the "marvels" of the Lord to unfold, particularly in times of anguish, loneliness, and hopelessness.

While contemplating on these readings, memories of painful experiences crept up.  Revisiting these moments helps me to see clearly how God has transformed these challenging times into joy, love, and life.  
My husband is a tennis fanatic. He eats, sleeps, and dreams with and about tennis.  When it comes to this sport, everything else becomes insignificant.

I remember the many nights I had prepared dinner then waited and listened for the rattling sound of his keys.  Some nights the wait would last from sundown to sunrise.  I called and texted him but he didn't respond.  My mind began formulating unfortunate scenarios: what if he was in a car accident? what if he was attacked or murdered, the endless "what if's" tormented my thoughts night after night.  I communicated my anger, frustrations, and worries with him and asked him to please call if he was not going to be home at an expected time.  Despite his promises, he continued to come home late without calling.

As days passed, the situation worsened.  I thirst for an emotional, mental, and physical connection with the man I love but I was left with a sense of abandonment, invisibility, and belittlement.  I prayed to God to please lift this agony from me but I was weighed down by an indescribable painful loneliness.

In the midst of hopelessness, a desire to live and live fully sprung unexpectedly and uncontrollably.  I was invited to face deeper issues that had imprisoned and kept me from fully living and loving most of my life.  As I worked through these issues one by one, little by little, I become more free.  Free to choose life, to choose love, and to choose to be loved.  What a joy it is to experience such freedom!

If I had given up on hope, love, and life while in despair, would I be able to experience the freedom and joy I have today?

I can only respond to this question with great gratitude: My Lord has awakened life in me.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Thursday, Second Week of Lent: Where Do I Place My Trust?

“Cursed are those who trusts in human beings, who make flesh their strength, whose hearts turns away from the LORD … Blessed are those who trust in the LORD. They ares like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out it roots to the stream: In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still produces fruit.” - Jer 17: 5, 7-8

In a homily on today’s readings, Pope Francis gets at the heart of our faith: Do we trust in ourselves, or do we trust in God? Trusting in ourselves does not give life, like a “barren bush in the wasteland desert” (Jer. 17:6). Trusting in God gives life, like a fruit-bearing plant, even in sustained heat and drought conditions. Biblically, faith means trust, confidence in.

The longer I live, the more I stumble on the subtle and obvious ways in which I rely on human capacity more than God’s goodness and mercy. The more I accompany people in life, the more I realize that the central question of faith is not whether God exists, or whether God cares. These are important questions, but they primarily engage intellectual thinking. They do not necessarily translate to life-giving actions or transformative habits. Rather, I am discovering that the key question of faith is, “Do I trust that God loves me, personally, intimately, unconditionally, without limit?” Wresting with this question yields greater capacity for change. When we allow this question to confront our values and our ways of relating, we can better discover who we are meant to be and how we are meant to live. We become more loving, just, merciful.

I am in awe after the past weekend in Houston. Listening to 38 people share their experiences on a silent retreat touches me deeply. Everyone talked about his or her personal struggles to trust God. Many testified how healing and freeing it was to allow God to simply “be with” them in their fragility, foolishness, loneliness, vulnerabilities, pain, or difficult life circumstances. One man shared how he was invited to deeply listen to a song he wrote five years ago for a couple’s wedding. The song centers on how the couple was “made for each other,” that they were “good together.” Yet, he was shocked to hear the song as if the “Creator of all things” were singing it to him, nudging him to embrace tender trust: “What good am I without you?” The man broke down in tears as he realized that God is writing this love song in his own heart and life. God has been patiently waiting for these past five years to give him the confidence that they are “good together,” despite his fears and protestations. His song and sharing haunt me, beckoning me to consider where I place my trust.

LORD, grant me humility to become more aware of where I place my trust. Give me the gift of greater confidence in your goodness and mercy.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Wednesday, Second Week of Lent: Drinking the Cup

Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink? – Matthew 20:22

At first glance, this question seems simple.  Jesus seems to be asking these men if they can drink out of the same cup that He is drinking from.  I think my answer would have been the same as theirs…”Sure, I’m capable of drinking out of a cup!”  However, as many of us know, the questions that Jesus asks of each of us are often a bit more complicated to answer.

For some of the disciples, following Jesus and drinking from His cup meant that they would endure painful suffering and eventual martyrdom. A disciple of Christ had to be willing to lay down his or her life.  In many ways, we are asked to do the same as we strive to share in the Kingdom of God.   As we follow along the Christian way, we are often met with many choices, struggles and temptations. Are we ready to make these needed sacrifices in our daily lives as Jesus did for our sake?  Are we ready to lay down our lives in humble service of one another?

In Henri Nouwen’s book, “Can You Drink the Cup?” he says, “drinking the cup is an act of selfless love, an act of immense trust, an act of surrender to a God who will give what we need when we need it.”  Perhaps this is what the Lenten Season is asking of us – to work towards greater love, trust and surrender.  Perhaps, this Lenten Season is asking us to drink the cup!

Lord, what kind of cup do you have in mind for me?  Give me the strength and courage to follow your will.  Make me a servant of your love, so I may truly seek to serve others, rather than be served myself.  Inflame my heart with your love, so that I may give generously and serve joyfully!

Sr. Jenny Zimmerman, SND

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tuesday, Second Week of Lent: Remembering Jesus

“Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.” -Matthew 23:3

My own church community, the Roman Catholic Church, has embarrassed me many times. The Crusades, the Dark Ages, the rejection of solid science, the wealth, the political corruption of popes, the abuse of children, liturgies full of rigidity, the marginalization of certain “types” of people...the list can go on and on. There have been quite a few times in my life when I’ve wondered, “How much is too much? At what point is it worth it anymore?”

I think I’ve learned a lesson, though. I’ve learned that when I am feeling this embarrassment about my Church, it is usually when I am not making an effort to be close to my best friend, Jesus. The embarrassment comes when I am placing my faith in the hands of something temporal: the actions of other people in my Church.

While I certainly seek full unity of heart with everyone in the Church, I’ve come to see that when I place my faith in the example or actions of others, that is a burden that no one can handle. I know for one thing that I cannot handle that burden, so why do I place that on others?

Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel hit right at the heart of this. He is acknowledging the teaching authority the Scribes and Pharisees have (much like the authority we believe our Church leaders have), but he is reminding his disciples to not place their faith in the teachers themselves. His invitation is to a faith in the one who is the Servant of all, the One who takes all the burdens on Himself.

Let this be our prayer today: 
 Jesus, my dear friend, it is so hard for me to remember who you are for me. It can be so hard for me to let you be everything for me. I need your help today to do this. I need you to help me keep my attention on you. I can taste the freedom you bring when I let you do this. You are the ultimate example for me. Thank you for even a tiny glimpse of this example. Amen.

Tony Cortese 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Monday, Second Week of Lent: Loved Beyond Our Weaknesses

 Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle

"The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want." Ps. 23:1
“Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” Mt. 16:16

The church today celebrates Christ choosing Peter to be the primary authority and servant to the church. It might seem after a cursory reading through of the Gospels that Peter is a peculiar choice to lead the church Jesus is building. He is often shown to be impetuous, bumbling, doubtful, and infamously cowardice. These are hardly qualities one looks for in today’s leaders. However, what makes Peter so endearing is his eagerness to love beyond his own humanity and shortcomings and his openness to allowing Jesus to embrace and work through him.

I would love nothing more than to fully live the Psalmist’s verse, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” There have been handful of moments I have been graced with the self-forgetful awareness of a oneness with God, and there was nothing I would have preferred over Him during those beautiful moments. But more often than not, my ego craves recognition and praise, my bodily desires surge upon me, my skeptical mind demands and doubts. How am I to resolve what seems contradictory to a total trust in God?

Perhaps St. Peter can be a model for us in moments where we wrestle with our fallible humanity. St. Peter does not ask Jesus to fix him or make him perfect so he can tend the flock of faithfuls. He does not let his limitations and inadequacies be an obstacle to his vocation. He embraces Jesus’s love for him and allows it to flow through the weaknesses. When we stop fighting with what we perceive as hang-ups within ourselves and allow God to be present in our struggles and love us in our totality, we experience more freedom to be our true selves and live out our calling as St. Peter had.

Lord God, through the example and intercession of St. Peter, may we be opened to your unconditional love beyond, and perhaps because of, our humanity to more joyfully and graciously live out your dreams for us.

Michael Jamnongjit 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sunday, Second Week of Lent: Sitting When We Want to Build Tents

“O Lord GOD,” he asked, “how am I to know that I shall possess it?” - GN 15:5-12, 17-18

Today’s epistle from Paul and reading from Genesis talk about being a citizen. With Pope Francis’ return to North America and the funeral of one of the highest ranking Catholics in the United States government makes this an interesting topic during our election season. In the midst of many partisan views and sound bites, Paul pushes me back to the basics. While making decisions about how to conduct my life, with whom to stand, and the effort to be who God made me and calls me to be, how do I give a preferential option to the example of Jesus Christ?

Who I am and how I live my life regularly fall short of the “model I have” in living the Christian life. I get overwhelmed by the enormity of the images of death and hatred. I get impatient (especially during my commute) and react in ways that I am ashamed of, even if it does help fill my CRS Lenten Rice Bowl a little faster. I take for granted the abundant blessings that I have received. It is my own failure each day to ignore the little transfigurations of my own life, in which Jesus’ glory is evident, though only witnessed in hindsight.

Abraham’s testimony in Genesis and the story of the Transfiguration remind us that our faith is rooted in repeated affirmations of God’s goodness, in millenia-long unfolding of God’s mystery to us. We are called to be heirs to and citizens of a Kingdom, already and not-yet in our midst. We are heirs who receive, but do not possess. It is in our nature, at least in mine, to want to set a tent, to concretize, to know I possess the promise. So I take some time this Sunday, second week of Lent, not to build tents, but to sit in the wake of the events of salvation history and allow the echoes to block out the week’s events clamor. I will try to fall silent to make sense of what I have seen and bear witness when the time comes.

Jason Coito

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Saturday, First Week of Lent: Infallible Love

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. He invites me to ask myself, “Who are my enemies?” Growing up in a broken household, I found it difficult recalling a particular moment where I felt loved as a young girl. My parents divorced despite my constant effort in trying to be the “perfect” daughter. Crippled by fear and hatred, there was always a deep sense of sadness and loneliness inside of me. I began to build an invisible brick walk as a shield to protect my heart from damage and pain. The very people who I loved and cherished became my enemies because I could not learn how 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 and He never fails to stop loving me. He is the missing father, mother, and ultimate lover that I seek. He loves me for who I am and 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 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 to be a witness of your true love on this earth. Help me to shatter the brick wall I have built over the years and cultivate within me your love to befriend all of my enemies.

Thuy Phuong Trinh 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Friday, First Week of Lent: Exchanging Mercy

Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live? – Ezekial 18:21-28

Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:20-26

As humans, we like to go by the numbers. We ‘play the game of life’ and ‘score points’ with God. But I have learned He does not work this way. I am either going in the right or wrong direction and any deeds done in the past will not alter my course. However, I can turn around and walk in the right direction by changing my heart. And when I choose to do so, God forgets the past. I am able to receive God’s forgiveness and mercy wholeheartedly.

Mercy is not a one-way street. It is more like a spiral inviting me to give it as well. The root of the word, mercy, is merc, which means commerce or merchant. There is an implication of exchange in the word and action. I remember the relief I felt when I forgave my father for being an alcoholic. Although I thought it was too late because he had already passed, I was mistaken. He came to me in a dream filled with light and we embraced one another in reconciliation. Suddenly, I realized that he knew my forgiveness and mercy. It is like what Shakespeare said:

“The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes…”

The image of rain from heaven is perfect. After the rain waters the earth, it returns to the sky as water vapor and repeats the cycle of blessing.

All the water on earth
has always been on earth
or in earth’s atmosphere,
they say;
a circle of living water
giving life to the earth
and finding renewal in the sky.
Do I cool my feet in
water from Jacob’s well?
Do I bathe in water that
baptized Jesus?
Do I drink a tear
That Mary wept
at the foot of the cross?

Sharon Sullivan 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

First Thursday of Lent: Prayer as Talking to a Friend

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7-12

Prayer is like venting to a wise friend. I can say a lot and not all would make sense, but I would find myself comforted and reassured by their attentive listening and compassionate gaze. Despite a regular prayer practice, I find myself getting stuck at times. During these particular moments, I am invited to return to three simple reminders from other companions along the way:

Just talk 
Prayer is about connecting with God and begins with simply talking to Him. As an analytical person, I tend to get caught up in content and technique. When I come to this awareness, I remind myself that I am in a safe space with someone trusted (Jesus), where vulnerability, humility, and honesty can lead to transformation and healing.

As a friend, He knows me 
With our closest friends in whom we feel accepted, we can become more courageous to bring our fears, hurts, and uncertainties to the light. In his Letters to a Young Poet, the poet Rilke famously said life is about “living with the questions,” and Jesus knows this, because on a fundamental level He understands the human condition. As human beings, He understands our struggles with excessive self-reliance and ego along with tunnel vision and fires of restlessness. As our friend, He knows each and every one of us. I sometimes imagine Him laughing kindly and compassionately towards my tendency to overanalyze and worry, my perfectionism and inclination to solve every problem, my habit to do, do, do, and my attachments to expectation and entitlement. But, by being fully human and fully divine, Jesus understands the questions beneath my questions and the needs beneath my needs.

Friendship (and prayer), above all, is about presence 
Teresa of Ávila wrote that “prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God”, and it is in the subtle but profound gift of presence where friendship is found.  It is an understanding and support that transcends words. As my friend, Jesus is by my side whether I realize it or not and He is always present and waiting. This is the spiritual posture thatis the moment-by-moment opportunity of prayer.

Lord, invite me to pause, stay with my breath, and remember that you are here with me. Shift me from my head to my heart and allow me to share:

What is on my mind today?
Do I feel invited to share or ask for anything?

Albert Wolff 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

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

The act of reconciliation is one sacrament that continues to fascinate me. Growing up in a household of strict rules, the idea of confessing your sin and to be forgiven was unheard of in my family. It seemed too good to be true. How could God be that understanding?

I was always afraid of confession as a child. The church where I grew up hosted a burning of the sins once a year during the Lenten season and I made sure to attend annually. During this particular mass, all were given an index card and pencil to write down their faults. After the homily, we lined up by the altar to lay down our confessions into the fire and were all forgiven.

As years passed, I thought reconciliation would be easier. However, I was mistaken. The years did not help my fear of confessing my flaws and shortcomings. In fact, I became more shameful of my actions. The spiritual examination prior to confession made me question why I would do the things I did. What was I thinking? If I cannot 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’ message and encouragement of making room in our hearts for those who have sinned, made mistakes, and are in jail.

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

Katherine Tran 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

First Tuesday of Lent: Our Father?

We say the Lord’s Prayer so often that we usually do not pay attention to what we are saying, but each word is carefully chosen and filled with meaning. I know a man who, faced with imminent death from cancer, decided to go through the Lord’s Prayer word by word. A week later he was still on the first two words, as if he had all the time in the world. 

Here is a short summary of what he said:

Look at the word “father.” God created us and takes care of us. He is a good and loving father. Now consider the word “our.” Who does this include? Well, God created the whole universe, even the tiniest particles so far away that the strongest telescope can’t detect them. Since God created all of us, then everyone and even everything in the universe has God for its heavenly father. That makes these my brothers and sisters. Not only are everyone on this planet, but even the rocks on the farthest planet are my kin. Yes, even the rocks are my brothers. We are all connected by God, our Father. We are all family. How wonderful is this? Knowing this brings a profound peace and joy.

Wouldn’t it be a blessing to reflect prayerfully on each word in the Lord’s Prayer this Lenten season, listening to the nuances and implications?

Sharon Sullivan  

Monday, February 15, 2016

First Monday of Lent: A True Shrine

"The shrine of God is the faces of the many people we encounter each day.”Pope Francis at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico 

Last week, Pope Francis spent 20 minutes praying silently before the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe after celebrating Mass for over 40,000 pilgrims. I can imagine a palpable energy in the basilica and surrounding courtyards where the crowd gathered: a private moment that serves as a public witness to the grace that nourishes and drives his life.

In calling Juan Diego to build and care for the shrine, Mary “managed to awaken something he did not know how to express, a veritable banner of love and justice: no one could be left out in the building of that other shrine: the shrine of life, the shrine of our communities, our societies and our cultures.” The physical shrine draws our attention to the humble witness of Mary herself, as well as Juan Diego in his responding to Mary’s invitation. Yet, Pope Francis reminds us that the true call is to recognize the people in our lives who are suffering and in need as being the sacred place where God resides.

Today’s readings similarly challenge us to more than simply obeying the commandments and checking off the right things to do. In Lent there can be a huge temptation to reduce Lenten observances to fasting from meat on Fridays and giving up an obligatory daily indulgence. The Gospel and Pope Francis’ visit both draw our attention to wholeheartedly giving of ourselves: that in being fully present, we are more present to God.

What if today I spent 20 minutes gazing at the image of a person with whom I struggle? Without forcing or willing myself to love… could I imagine your face present in this person? Lord, is there somewhere you are inviting me to look a little longer today, with you?

reflected by Jen Coito

Sunday, February 14, 2016

First Sunday of Lent: From Loneliness to “Being With”

“Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.” - Lk 4:1

We never talk about loneliness; yet it is prevalent. More than ever, we are connected virtually through our devices, but we are dying from loneliness. It has become a raging epidemic in the American culture. It affects us all. It can paralyze us with fear and throw us into a maelstrom of activities, especially when we try to deny it. Despite conventional wisdom which judges that “it’s bad to feel alone; something must be wrong with you,” loneliness and its accompanying feelings can offer an opportunity.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus allows the Spirit to lead him into the desert. There, he faces his suffocating loneliness and its temptations. These temptations are existential; they visit us all: to rely to oneself alone, to lean on idols, and to test God. Yet, they are formative, preparing him to live out his life’s mission. Through his desert experience, he grew more radically dependent on God; he came to a deeper realization of who he was and who he was called to be – the Beloved called to reconcile others with God. It is telling that the Spirit that filled him at his baptism in the Jordan is the same one that led him into the Judean desert and guided him to Galilee to inaugurate his mission (Lk 4:14).

Perhaps we are not alone during the desert of our loneliness. Perhaps, they mark invitations to grow, to embrace this kind of suffering, integral to our formation in the spiritual life, particularly during Lent.

Like Jesus, when we allow ourselves to feel our loneliness and call out to God, something creative happens. Illusions are exposed and truths emerge, allowing us to stand with others who suffer their particular loneliness. And even though theirs and ours are not the same, solidarity is born. Compassion grows. Moreover, we come to know and love Jesus more intimately. Mysteriously, we grow in greater intimacy with ourselves, others, and Jesus. Our heart becomes more merciful, tender, and closer to the heart of God.

Embracing loneliness is easier said than done. It helps to simply voice our condition to good friends and support as well as call out to God as in today’s responsorial refrain: “Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.” In doing so, we welcome the Spirit that has always been indwelling since our baptism.

Jesus, help us to enter our loneliness with you and cling to God. Help us to walk with another who may be experiencing loneliness today.