Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Lent: Supplication

This week, we hear the great analogy of the grain of wheat. Jesus uses this image to describe what He is about to do by dying, that He will raise up great fruit. His death and resurrection bring life, and though He knows that, he is troubled. Perhaps He was aware of so many who would reject Him, not to mention the mere thought of dying. He asks the Father that the Father be glorified, and the Father responds.
This is the final type of prayer we will address - Supplication. Sometimes called intercessions or petitions, it is asking the Lord for what we need. Ideally, it should be for others, and in the end have the same purpose as Jesus’ prayer - that the Lord may be glorified. When we pray in union with the Lord’s will, it is a selfless prayer, a prayer that submits further to God’s will, and a prayer that says that I will do what I can to assist. Consider the efficacy of praying for a good grade in a class we never attended or for which we never studied. We have to cooperate with the Lord, too. It is put best in the adage - work as if it all depends on you, but pray, knowing that it all depends on God!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Lent: Acting in Love

This weekend, we hear perhaps the most well-known and oft-quoted verse of all of Scripture: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” It rightful enjoys its pride of place! It is the verse that captures the Gospel at its core - that God loves us, and sends His Son to save us. It reminds us that God is a God of mercy, and that His mercy is stronger than His justice.
What so many miss, though, is that while God loves the world and does not wish anyone to perish by being separated from Him, there are people who will not come to Jesus Christ, who will not believe in Him. God allows them to reject Him, and gives the desire that they have chosen. People are not condemned because God hates them, or desires them to part from Him, but because they hate God and chose to reject Him through their sins. IN the end, even in condemnation, God is a merciful God, not 'imposing' Himself on the unbeliever and forcing them into a relationship with Him for all eternity, but rather allowing them to have their freedom, even if that means eternal separation from Him. There is no universal salvation - that all are saved. Our human will can limit the activity of God's mercy and grace.
God is rich in mercy, and as we hear in our second reading, we are saved by grace. We have to cooperate with that grace, to allow it to have an effect in our lives. Yes, God desires and loves each of us, but our salvation requires us to accept it. As St. Augustine said, “The God who created us without us will not save us without us.” We must consent to be saved. To receive His mercy, we need to admit our faults, and to stay in His mercy, we must avoid sin. While not necessarily an aspect of prayer, but a necessary condition for it, we need to remember that our actions need to reflect our prayer relationships with the Lord. Do we allow the Lord to love us? Do we submit to the Commandments, the precepts of the Church, to the loving yoke of redemption? Do we seek the light of the Gospel? But that consent requires our action - it is not by faith alone (James 2:24) that we are saved.
I met a woman a long time ago that claimed to prayer 4 rosaries a day - and not just 4 sets of mysteries, but all 3 sets (this lets you know it was a while ago) four times. I was not impressed. I knew, too, that she had just lost her job because some of her young male coworkers complained of her inappropriate language and questions, questions that were so inappropriate that they delved into sexual harassment. Did her prayer have an effect ion her life? The same mouth that spoke God's praise in the rosaries spoke such shameful things. Her actions did not match her prayers. We can pray all we want for the Lord to “lead us not into temptation", but if we keep going to those playgrounds, playmates, or playthings that are sources of temptation, what good does it do? Our prayer must be backed by our actions of love. This aspect of prayer, acting in love, is the difference between a hypocrite and a sinner-becoming-saint. The words and actions of the sinner-becoming-saint are aligned, or in the process of aligning, while the hypocrite simply says the right things, but does not follow it in right action.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Third Sunday of Lent: Thanksgiving

A few years ago, I read about a social scientist's observations of school children on a playground. He realized that the playground had no boundaries, fences, or markings as to the limits, and the students, not knowing what was the playground and what was not, utilized only a small portion of the actually ground. He made and the school took a suggestion, and suddenly, the students at play covered the wide expanses of the playground, utilizing every area. The difference? The construction of a fence. When we think of fences, we too easily think of them as limiting, but in the case of this playground, the fence gave them the freedom to play safely in the entire area. From this, and analogy could be made. Image a playground with no fence. On one side, there is a cliff, with jagged and dangerous edges. On another side is a wasteland filled with dangerous animals and venomous snakes. On the third side is a massive, blazing fire. Are the children truly free? No - they are not, in fact, they are extreme danger. It is only when someone has properly marked out the safe edges of the cliff, constructed a animal and snake proof fence, and a fireproof wall that the children are truly free. Until then, they will most likely be found huddling close to the school!
This weekend, we hear of the cleansing in the temple in the Gospel, and the giving of the Law in the first reading. Both of these, when looked upon as the world would, seem that Jesus is a cruel man and that the Lord is a demanding judge. In reality, it could not be further from the truth. There are boundaries on human behavior, and just like the boundaries of a playground, those who know them are truly free. In ,such the same way, there is a boundary violation in the selling of animals and the crass exchanging of money (with the corruption that so often accompanied exchanges) in the temple area, so Jesus drives them out. He cleanses the sacred temple by getting rid of the profane. In the commandments, God does the same. He sets the boundaries on human behavior not because He is mean, but because He knows how we best function. Rules and boundaries, which is what the Law is all about, are about helping us to function as individuals and society better. It is a gift of love from a God who not only knows us, but desires us with an unquenchable love. With that in mind, it is with profound thanksgiving that we approach these two-fold process of purification and submission to the Law of God. That is the aspect of prayer, therefore, that we are focussing on this week.
Thanksgiving is an act of stating our gratitude for what someone has done for us. With the Lord, we tell Him what He has done, and how we are thankful for it. Unlike adoration, which again is praising the Lord fro who He is, this is focussed on what He does. So often, though, we are not as thankful as we ought, and this aspect of prayer is often unexpressed. When we open our eyes to the Lord’s working in our life, we ought to have that sense of gratitude. Perhaps He is working in the shadows of our lives, those places of darkness of sinful patterns that He is healing, or perhaps he is cleansing a wound that while it hurts, will become a source of profound grace and presence to the Lord. Like the Law or the cleansing of the temple, when we see that the Lord loves us, we can turn to thanksgiving more easily.
Thank God for setting our human boundaries, which, when we follow them, keep us safe and free!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Second Sunday or Lent: Adoration

The Narrative of the transfiguration is read every Second Sunday of Lent. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up Mount Tabor. The landscape is not just a nice description or mere historical fact. Mountains are places of encounter, symbolically due to their closeness with the Heavens, one was expected to encounter GOd. There, Jesus reveals Himself to the apostles,giving them a glimpse of His divinity. They are transfixed by the vision. The evangelists struggle with find the words to describe the encounter with the Lord, probably because the three witnesses struggled. Moses, the one through whom the Lord gave the Law, and Elijah, the Prophet, are speaking with Him - these two began what Jesus was going to accomplish - calling the people back to the Lord our God. The apostles were caught up in praise of the sight, and though they struggled to understand, they knew that it was good. St. Peter proclaims it, along with stating his desire to remain there. This encounter with the Transfigured Lord is one that so moved them that St. Peter writes about it years latter as giving a proof of the Gospel in his second letter (2 Peter 1;16-18): "For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” They had already encountered Him day after day, understanding Him to be human, but when He reveals His divinity, it changes them. They we in true adoration of the Lord - they were praising Him for who He truly is. That is another aspect of our prayer. Like complimenting a friend on some quality, we too need to ‘compliment’ God in who He is. It is adoration and praise. God does not need our praise, but we need to give it, because when we do, we submit ourselves in love to the our loving, all-powerful God who is three Persons in one divine being. We need to remember that just as we are loved sinners (contrition), that we are invited into a loving relationship with the Holy Trinity, and that when we truly adore the Lord, we stand humbly in His presence not by our own merits, but by the grace of God.
Added to this aspect, we have another ‘adoration’. We are so removed from the Transfiguration. We do not have the privilege of walking with Jesus in the flesh, but we know that Jesus is the Son of God because of the witness of the Apostles. Just as we know that Jesus is God, we, too, need to place our trust in the apostles in other areas - especially of the teaching on the Eucharist. We too easily see the bread and wine, but do we see the Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ? Are we just as caught up in adoration when we are in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist? When we take time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, especially when He is exposed in the monstrance for our adoration, we are in the presence of the same Lord who was present on Mount Tabor. He invites us to adore Him, to praise Him for what He has done. Indeed, when we adore the Blessed Sacrament, we are drawn in to praise of God, and should declare “Look what Love has done!” by becoming food and drink for us, that we may be saved through Him!