Thursday, March 31, 2016

Thursday of Easter Octave: Restless Love

He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” - Luke 24:35-48 

I have always been a skeptic. I was undoubtedly the annoying kid that asked, “Why?” about five times a minute. In one of the Sunday CCE classes before my first communion, I asked Sister Mary, “Why did Jesus have to die? Why didn’t God save Jesus?” Sister Mary responded, “It’s because God loves you. Jesus died for our sins.” I began feeling extremely guilty lying to my mom and hitting my sister the night before. I mean…Jesus died because of it!Then Good Friday came along and I rejoiced because popcorn was strewn around Jesus’ feet during the veneration of the cross. The answer no longer mattered.  

As I got older, the questions came back. The need to understand and analyze returned. I kept askingwhy. I knew the answers were there, but I failed to grasp it. This Lenten season has been different from the previous. I am more prayerful, perhaps because I am more troubled. The need for comfort is more pressing. I dream more, both troubled and happy dreams. In one of the happy dreams, I was a child climbing into God’s lap as he read stories from the Bible. The image was fuzzy. I don’t know what was said, but I knew it made sense.  

Today’s gospel drew an image in my mind. Jesus knew he was going to suffer. He also knew he would rise again on the third day because it was written in the Scriptures. He did this for us, to repent for our sins. The image of Christ continually dying and rising for us tugs at the heartstring, and Sister Mary’s words came back.God loves you. Often, usually when my spirits are low, I wonder if I am worthy of such love. Today, I wonder if I have read the Scriptures wrong. Maybe instead of asking if I’m worthy of such love, I will continue to pray for clarity and better understanding of His words. 

Lord, please clear my muddled mind and help me understand your words. 

Kath Tran 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Wednesday of Easter Octave: Divine Ooze

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” — Luke 24:13-35

Did my spirit promptly rise with Jesus this Easter Sunday as our Lord triumphantly stepped out of the tomb to church choirs singing ALLELUIA? To be honest, no. The “He is risen” cue went up signaling that it was safe for everyone to sing and dance again, so I scrambled to the closet of emotions and grabbed good ol’ ’excitement,’ gave it a dust and threw it on. Hooray! Jesus is risen! Although, underneath, sorrow was still tossing and turning in my heart.

I must say though, a core grace that has always swooped in and saved my butt over 33 measly years of life is this: throwing myself onto the floor at the mercy of God’s feet. When I can’t see God’s face, I know I can always find His feet. But isn’t that how it so often works? Spiritual growth begins when I’m dead honest with myself and God in the moment. Jesus can rise all the live-long day till kingdom come, but if God is saying, “I want you to stay put, Marty,” then that is what it is. When I am able own up to where I am, here and now, in a raw and honest way, and stay close to gentle companionship — be it we are completely anxious and lost together on the road — I find that I live in a way that allows new life to rise up in and around me.

Ironically enough, yesterday, during a random conversation, a few murky areas in my heart made more sense out of the blue: Mom’s slow dying, dad’s inner turmoil, painful misunderstandings, friends suffering… these painful ‘life dots’ connected themselves, in an unsolicited way. Though the clarity didn’t interest me so much as the feeling that accompanied it. It felt like a weird oozing calm, yet a familiar enduring gentleness. There was certainly a kind of ‘heart warming’ effect that quieted my soul yet compelled me to name it on the spot: yep, that’s Him. Unmistakably. Recognizing this “it” lead to a kind of sacred flashback. Holy cow, Lord, You were the gentle resilience embracing the arrows that flew that day, that’s what that moment was. You were the forgiveness I had for myself after my patience ran dry the other day. You were the steady loving eyes that allowed me access into dad’s hell, that’s what that other moment was. You are the electricity of joy that I feel when mom is near. You are this divine ooze that allows me to see and hear and bear so much more than my sanity would ever ask for, that’s what this is.

But don't these moments play out in this way sometimes? On any given day, we go about spinning our metaphorical web through life unassumingly, perhaps lucky enough that day to let God be God and us be us. It is on one of these days, when we may suddenly witness new life happening — like clouds that suddenly fill the sky as soon as you look away.

My friend, how would you describe this experience? I hope to God that we never tire of rushing to be with one another; that we never second guess our desire to be at each other’s sides, to be with gentle souls we know and trust, to walk together on this holy yet hazardous road, and to share our ‘empty tombs’ and ‘burning hearts’ that ebb and flow to the steps of Christ risen.

Martin Ngo, SJ

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tuesday of Easter Octave: Patient Trust

"Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping. Jesus said to her, 'Mary!'” – John 20:11-18

As of late, I have been weeping over my childhood, filled with painful moments in need of healing. My father, who carried his own unacknowledged wounds, transmitted his anger onto his children. As I grew up with an unbalanced self-image, my family also contributed to the shame I carried. When I swore to never be like my father, I also repressed the anger that screamed inside of me. For twenty years, I rejected my dark self and buried it, thinking that it would enable me to move on with life.

The truth was I needed help. It came in the form of a class on psychological healing and spirituality with Father Jim Clarke, who said, “If you don’t transform your painful emotions, then you will transmit it.” Evidently, uncontrollable flashes of anger already erupted in my significant relationships. My shame also geared me towards co-dependency many times. So against my ego, I set out to address my dark self in order to move forward.

I am now at the first step of healing – the most difficult step – which is to identify the painful emotions and hold them with respect. I need to resist the twenty-year habit of running away from them. I need patience and courage to sit with the anger and shame – to feel as bad as I feel and be okay with it. In other words, I am mourning and weeping like Mary Magdalene. The first lesson in healing is to admit I cannot change what happened in my childhood, but I can choose to let go of its effects by holding my pain with tenderness.

“Behind every trauma or suffering, there is always a resurrection.” Father Jim Clarke’s words remind me of God’s promise. Transformation not only takes place in contemplative prayer, it can also happen in experiences of deep immersion. God understands our struggles and promises new life. Just as Jesus came to Mary Magdalene in her weeping, we can trust that Jesus will meet us in our suffering. And so, I am befriending my pain with patient trust that transformation is on the way… 

How has the image of death and resurrection touched you?

Jesus, I hold my anger and shame in my hands and offer you all that I am. Be with me as I learn to let go of my pain. I trust in you.

Van Nguyen 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Monday of Easter Octave: Wholehearted Offering

“God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses.” – Acts 2:14, 22-23

The resurrection of Jesus has been one of the most difficult things for me to relate to in my walk of faith. The crucifixion has always been something more tangible for me. In the crucifixion, the raw humanity of it all is on full display. And not only is it on display in the gospel, but it is something I can see take place all around the world today. All around the world people are suffering and dying because they are standing up for something or someone. This I can touch, taste, hear, see and smell. Crucifixion is very real. But the resurrection? Not so much.

One response I often have is to turn the resurrection of Jesus into an allegory. I tend to focus more on how the resurrection story reveals a deeper message about how we must die to things we are attached to in order to live. And I am convinced that there is truth to that. I firmly believe that the resurrection of Jesus is an allegory. But the real question for me really becomes: what if it is something more?

If you have doubts about the tangible reality of the resurrection like I do, perhaps you are keeping God in a neat little box you have created. I do this all the time, especially with the resurrection. I keep Jesus in the box of how I have come to see this thing we call a “body.” I keep thinking that our bodies are something we own, something we have control of. And sadly, that can even spill over beyond my own body to someone else I’ve objectified.

We are presented with a scene in Matthew’s gospel today where the chief priests are worried that they have lost control of Jesus’ body. They even create a lie that the disciples stole the body just to maintain the illusion of control. This is probably a natural reaction for anyone in that position. We have developed a certain understanding of the body.

But what would happen if each of us opened our bodies to new possibilities? What if instead of holding onto my body, I let it go? What if I truly offer my body as pure gift? Is it not possible that our bodies can transcend the three-dimensional world we think we are limited to? This, I now believe, is what happened to our Lord. All because he offered his entire self, his entire body. Lord, show us what this was like!

Tony Cortese

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Sunday: Fall in Love, Stay in Love

“Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” - Col 3:1-4

In today’s Gospel, sadness and sorrow filled Mary Magdalene’s heart as she came to prepare the body of Jesus. Her grief shifted to panic when she discovered the stone removed along with an empty tomb. She ran to tell Peter and the other disciples that He was gone. They were just as bewildered when they arrived to the tomb. Moments later, their heartache and confusion transformed into joy realizing that Jesus has risen from death to eternal life.

Reflecting upon this scripture, I could imagine how Mary expected the stone covering to be properly in place over the tomb and how fathoming anything good to unfold from the tragic events of the previous forty-eight hours was inconceivable. It also appeared that no one else amongst the disciples anticipated the resurrection as well. Mary Magdalene and the other disciples remind me of how God continuously invites me to be more courageous in taking greater risks to fall in love and stay in love.

In moments of despair, when I am tempted to fear the worst, or fail to imagine that God’s love can permeate every single disturbing happening, He encourages me to wrap my heart and mind around the unbelievable and trust that my fears can be carriers of grace. By forgiving what is unforgivable, accepting what is unacceptable, embracing the myriad of diversity that shakes me up, and pleading for a resurrection inside my own battered heart, I can expand my idea of mercy and find a God, who patiently waits for me, comforts me, and makes me whole again.

What would it take for me to turn around and believe?
What is it that I cannot imagine and keeps me searching in the empty tomb?

Tam Lontok

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Holy Saturday: Silent Rest of God Sleeping

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence over the earth today, a great silence and stillness because the King sleeps.” – from an ancient homily on Holy Saturday (in the Office of Readings)

Something strange happened to me in February 21, 2012. I spent an all-night vigil inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which housed the tomb of Jesus. I stayed mostly in the Chapel of the Angels, the small antechamber where the angel announced to the women that Jesus had been raised. As I sat looking in the tomb, a deep silence ensued. Something beckoned me to wait. Waiting for what I know not of. I tried to fill the silence with prayers of petitions for people, with moments of distractions and yawns. Gradually, something dawned within me. I don’t know what it was, but a deep sense of peace and trust grew within. Then a quiet, gentle joy slowly emerged. I can’t really explain it.  Such peace and joy lasted the entire night, at a consistent depth and duration that I had never known before. A simple and powerful truth grabbed me: Jesus’ resurrection happened at the same place where he was entombed. At the same place where death lays new life arises; where fear treads, love dances; where grief dwells, hope springs; where we struggle, Christ’s peace rests.

It has been four years, yet this experience still quietly haunts me. It helps me to find meaning in the sudden and tragic death of my brother-in-law last September.

The full text of the ancient homily on Holy Saturday speaks of the great silence after Jesus' death as God-King sleeps. In the silence that seems like nothingness and meaninglessness, something unbelievably new and life giving is happening. Jesus descends into all forms of human death and dying, suffering and hell, sins and failures. In doing so, he transforms everything! Before Easter Sunday arrives, we are invited to rest in the silence of Holy Saturday. For God’s sleeping and resting awakens the joy of Christian faith. Something strange is happening.

What if today, we simply rest, doing nothing, in God’s tender embrace?

Lord, help me to rest in silence with you, to be in solidarity with all who are abandoned and alone, learning to trust in your faithful love which turns death into life.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday: Befriending Jesus’ Cross

“Behold, behold the Wood of the Cross, on which is hung our salvation.” – Good Friday Liturgy

It is, to me, a sign of providence that the Church came to commemorate Jesus’s birth on December 25th. Because the Church placed the feast of the Annunciation exactly 9 months before Christmas on March 25th, we always celebrate this feast in Lent, or within the Octave of Easter. Since we are in the midst of the Triduum, this feast will not be celebrated in the Church’s liturgy this year, but it lies beneath...the Incarnation and Resurrection refusing to be silent for long.

This Lent, I have prayed for friends who have lost loved ones: a sibling, grandparents. I have congratulated friends and given thanks for healing, for the births and conceptions of children and for birthdays that friends and families have celebrated. Even this weekend I will celebrate the wedding of a dear friend, snuck in between the Veneration of the Cross and the Great Vigil. I have struggled for solemnity on a Lenten Friday when my son rushes up, lightsabers in hand, to battle the forces of evil (narrowly missing the dog). Tumbled in this mix of cross and empty tomb, pain and joy, my prayer is not to rush too quickly to the disciples’ revelation in Emmaus, which is so much more inviting than the lonely cross.

I pray that I will be able to join with the disciples in their confusion and disillusionment and learn from it. I pray that I will be able to be with the Twelve in their fatigue, fear, and even their shame from the Garden to Golgotha. I know that what I want is their joy at recognizing Jesus, their courage to burst out of the upper room at Pentecost. I don’t want to sit with my own doubts and fears, my failings and self-judgment at the foot of the cross. I want Easter Sunday, I want Christmas Morning, I want beautiful Magnificats. I want the moments of quiet satisfaction with my wife that I imagine Mary and Joseph had, maybe on the way home from Egypt, or from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Instead, today I’m asked to befriend Jesus’ cross.

As I walk forward to venerate the cross this afternoon, I hope to let God sit with me in the midst of the things I’d rather not think about: the uncertainties of life, the possibility of loss, and the challenge of vulnerability. I hope that by doing this, I can experience the Cross as Jesus’ yoke, which Jesus promises, when born alongside him, becomes easy and light...but the lesson isn’t learned without the bearing.

How does Jesus speak to you at the cross? What part of the cross scares you?

Jason Coito