Reflection from Chapter Meeting

+JMJ+

Every month our chapter gathers for a community meeting, where our Religious Assistant (a Dominican sister) usually gives a Gospel reflection. Today, Sister was not able to attend the meeting, so I offered this reflection for our chapter. I share it with you all tonight: may we all strive to be athletes of God!


I come to gather nations of every language;
they shall come and see my glory…

…They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations
as an offering to the LORD,
on horses and in chariots, in carts, upon mules and dromedaries,
to Jerusalem, my holy mountain, says the LORD.  – Is 66:18, 20

When I sat with the readings this week, I immediately started to picture these few verses from Isaiah, where we hear of the gathering of every nation and every language on earth in one large parade towards Jerusalem as none other than the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Over the past few weeks we who have been following the Games have seen Michael Phelps swim for his 23rd Gold Medal. Usain Bolt from Jamaica boasts a perfect 9 gold medals over three Olympic Games. Kenyans, Ethiopians, Japanese, Chinese, North Korean, South Korean, Brazilian, brown, black, white and every color in between—all of the best athletes from every nation, speaking every language, gathered in one place to challenge one another, test their skill and hopefully come out victorious. I love these fraternal gatherings because imperfect as they are, they give us a small glimpse of what Isaiah’s vision of that parade of nations could look like.

olympic
Parade of Nations: 2012 London Olympics

And this is the same imagery that carries over to the Gospel today, where Jesus says: “And people will come from the east and the west, and from the north and the south, and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.” (Lk 13:29)

These are beautiful images, which call us to remember that God does not want to exclude a single person from this invitation to Heaven. Through Christ, He opens the path to eternal life with Him not just for the Jewish people, but for the entire world. Yet the big question remains: If everyone receives this invitation, how are so many barred from entry at the door?  It’s one thing to be invited: but how do you actually get in to the Master’s house? If it’s not enough to know the master, let alone eat and drink with him and listen to his teaching in the streets, what more must we do?

In a rare lectionary feat, it seems the second reading can shed some light on how to get into that house—and if you’ll continue to humor me, I’d like to approach it again through the lens of the Olympics. How does one get to the Olympics? Training. You discipline your body and sacrifice in many ways so that not only are you good enough to compete, you are good enough to win. In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes: “Therefore, I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it a slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:26-27) At the end of his letters to Timothy he says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7) He uses the imagery of the athlete to describe the training he puts his body and his soul through in order to keep the faith and win the crown of heaven.  This is actually picked up in various ways first by the Church Fathers, then the desert fathers: the type of athletic training an Olympian, a gladiator or a warrior would undergo was called “askesis” in the Greek, and it is where we get the term: asceticism. We hear of that training directly in the Letter to the Hebrews today as Paul talks about the Father who disciplines us—

“At the time,
all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it.” (Heb 12:11)

I am sure the Olympic athletes would agree.

And like a good coach, like a great Father, God doesn’t just train or discipline everyone in the same way. The marathoner requires very different discipline than the sprinter; though their activities look much alike—they are very different. Our Christian lives, our lives as children of God, may look very similar on the outside, but we know that they are very different.  God calls to us and challenges us in unique ways, wanting us to be the very best version of ourselves—and therefore he trains us all in different ways.

He doesn’t want any repeat saints.

There’s already a St. Catherine of Siena. What God really wants next is a St. Catherine of Boston.

Yet in this singularity and uniqueness, God has also decided to put together some “teams.” Our families, our parish community, our friends. Sometimes we are called to train together; and certainly as Lay Dominicans we share some common training ground: prayer, study, community, apostolate- these are the ways in which God, through Dominic, has put together a good training regimen for our little team—our family.  At times we may be very sympathetic to Paul in this reading today: some times our four pillars may seem a cause not for joy but for pain—we are rightly challenged by this way of life. If it were easy, there wouldn’t really be a point, would there?

So today I’d like to take a few minutes for us to reflect in the quiet of our hearts on the ways in which God disciplines us. Take to heart this image of you as God’s athlete—God’s champion—like the martyrs of Rome whom Eusebius called the “athletes of religion”, we are part of that great parade of nations called to the Heavenly Jerusalem. Set your goal on that narrow gate, which is, in fact, the person of Jesus Christ and with that single goal in mind, think about:

What training regimen has God uniquely set before me in order to achieve that goal?

What challenges has He thrown my way, in big ways and in small ways?

Where are my victories?

Where are my failures?

What little acts of discipline does God ask of me in order to strengthen me?

To make me more myself? And will I accept them?

…..

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,” Jesus said, to which Paul coaches us: “strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet!” (Heb 12:12-13)

+LORD, as we continue along this path of training, make us strong. Do not let us grow weary in the face of hardship or challenge—show us the narrow gate and give us the fortitude to strive for it, no matter what. Make us your champions, make us your athletes, so that we may join your children from every corner of the world in the great parade of saints. Amen.+

 

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Judas and the Year of Mercy

+JMJ+

Here were are at the crossroads of another Lenten Friday. Today, I’m drawn to the contemplation of mercy that is the whole summation of Good Friday, which we will celebrate in just a few weeks.

I think about God’s great mercy in sending His Son (John 3:16) and the unfathomable love and mercy involved in Christ’s passion and resurrection.

I think of Mary, John and the Church: that even in his hour of death, Jesus provides for his loved ones (John 19:26-27, 31-34).

I think of Simon Peter, who betrayed our Lord three times over and was mercifully permitted to confess Christ in reparation (John 21: 15-19).

There are so many characters who receive Christ’s mercy even as He is pouring out His blood for us (the women of Jerusalem, the repentant thief, the soldiers…), yet there is one figure in this whole narrative who does not seem to fit with the theme of “mercy.”

“Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chiefs and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? Look to it yourself.’ Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off and hanged himself.” — Mt 27:3-5 (NAB)

800px-Vitrail_Cathédrale_de_Moulins_160609_59In Matthew’s Gospel we read that Judas is truly, sincerely repentant. That cannot be doubted. Yet, in Christian history, Judas has not been regarded in the same way as the repentant thief. Judas has been placed in Hell for his sins– where is the great mercy in his story?

Dante placed Judas in the innermost circle of Hell as the worst traitor in history:

“That upper spirit, Who hath worst punishment,” so spake my guide, “Is Judas, he that hath his head within And plies the feet without.” Canto XXXIV, Inferno

Judas is being shred to bits in the mouth of Lucifer for all eternity because he betrayed Christ’s trust– for Dante, betrayal is the worst of sins.

Yet we know that Jesus did not “trust” Judas in the way Caesar trusted Brutus. Jesus knew his betrayer was in his midst and even permitted him to leave (Lk 22:21-22)  Jesus did not stop Judas from greeting him with a kiss in the Garden (Mk 14:44-45) If the condemning sin of Judas is in his betrayal, we seem to have a huge theological contradiction: for how can Judas sincerely repent of his betrayal and *still* be cast into Hell for that same sin?

No, Judas’ final sin was not his betrayal, great as it was. Judas’ sin comes precisely at that moment of repentance. In a strange twist, Judas turns to the chief priests and elders to seek some sort of forgiveness. Of course they cannot give it. Of course, they turn him away, for they, too, share his guilt in Christ’s death. Faced with this rejection, Judas now has a choice.

I like to imagine a different history, one where Judas is so sorry for his betrayal that he runs to Jesus. He breaks through the crowds lining the streets as Christ passes by on the way to Golgotha. Rather than conscripting Simon the Cyrene, Judas volunteers to carry the cross of His Lord. He joins Mary, John and Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross and receives a shower of mercy as Christ’s blood and water gush forth in a font of forgiveness.

This is not what happens. This could have happened. Yet rather than seek out Christ and face his sin, Judas despairs of being forgiven. He is ashamed. He is embarrassed. He is scared of the reparation Jesus might demand from him. Worst of all, he fears that Jesus will reject him. 

Judas’ sin is in his lack of trust. Judas’ sin is that he does not believe Christ is powerful enough, kind enough, loving enough and merciful enough to take away his sin as he did those of the young paralytic (Mk 2:1-12) Judas believes that he cannot be forgiven, even by God. This is the sin of despair.

“By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to his justice– for the Lord is faithful to his promises– and to his mercy.” CCC #2091

In the pain of the harsh knowledge of his sins, Judas completely despairs of hope in God and commits suicide. Taking his own life is the final act of despair: he refuses to live a life that he believes cannot be forgiven.

Where is mercy in this story? We have to believe that it was on offer the entire time. At any point, Judas could have asked Christ to forgive him and it would have been granted. Yet for lack of hope, he did not. For lack of understanding, for lack of fortitude, for whatever reason: Judas did not ask Christ for forgiveness. Instead, he abandoned hope.

I’ve been thinking about this because on an academic level, Judas is one of the biggest wrenches in questions of providence and theodicy. But I think on a personal level,  Judas makes us squirm because we all identify with him, even if a little bit.

How many times do I shy away from the confessional because I am embarrassed? To whom do I turn instead of God when I am faced with my sins? Have I ever thought that God didn’t love me because of my sins? Or that He would be fierce and unmerciful in punishing me? Do I continue to punish myself and struggle to embrace God’s mercy after I’ve received it? 

In this Year of Mercy, it is very important for us to strive to imitate Christ in his compassion and forgiveness towards others, yet we cannot do so if we fail to accept his mercy for ourselves. It is a precept of the Church that we must confess our sins at least once a year, not because the Church wants to keep tabs on us, but because she knows the the dire consequences of giving into that temptation to avoid asking for forgiveness. No matter what our sins, big or small, we must all learn from the tragedy of Judas: do not despair. God’s mercy abounds for us all.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” — Romans 15:13

light
Lenten Wednesdays, 6:30-8 PM

 

Some Thoughts on Giving

+JMJ+

The other day, I clicked “submit” as the interwebs whisked away my donation money and transferred it from my bank account to the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters to aid their Ebola relief efforts. Our friend, Deacon Dr. Tim Flanigan is currently in Liberia and we pray for his health and safety regularly.

I felt good for a few minutes, knowing that we had contributed a relatively large sum to his work (objectively, it was a very modest donation– but I felt a little bit like the woman with two coins and that was nice).  I basked in the glory of my generosity.

Then I had this sinking feeling…

Sooo… that’s it? 

I won’t see that money again. I have no way of knowing who it might help, if anyone at all. I felt generous for a few moments, but then I started to feel down about it, perhaps a little despondent that the best I could do was send a few measly dollars.

…Dr. Tim is the one who is really helping. He and all the medical staff. The people who do something are the real heroes, not me…

Then I realized it was stupid to feel bad that I did something good, but not as good as what other people are doing. Seriously? This again? ugh. God must be so tired of me by now. In fact, He is so tired of me thinking this way that He gave me a teeny, tiny consolation.  As I was feeling down, the thought suddenly came to me that perhaps clicking that “submit” button is quite similar to prayer.

When you pray for someone, you are offering up an intangible– it’s not a service or direct contact with the person you’re praying for… the results are often unnoticed or unknown. But it still works. It is still a spiritual work of mercy. Your prayers, once uttered, are whisked away to the Father and the graces are transferred to others as He sees fit. God can work great miracles with a tiny prayer.

Bottom line: don’t ever feel bad for doing something good. Keep doing good. And don’t worry that it’s not good enough.

Pondering…

+JMJ+

The past few days have been tough. There are things to do, lots of pressure towards the end of the semester and oh yeah– kids.

I was in the shower the other day while hubby took care of getting the kids breakfast and since that’s the only time I really have to myself, that’s usually when I find a few minutes to pray.

“Jesus,” I asked, “…why?”

“Why did you bother to come and be born as a baby, grow up, spend years teaching, die that horrible death and then rise again? I’m doing what I can here with my life and yeah, I could be doing better, but why did you do that for us? My days are spent cleaning toilets and changing diapers and making lunch that no one eats. Why did you expend all that Greatness just to come for things that are so… mundane?”

I sat with that thought for about thirty seconds (that’s a long time these days) and then suddenly I got a response.

 That’s exactly why I came– so that the mundane (things of this world) could attain to heaven. 

Ask a silly question and you get a silly answer, I guess. 
But it put a few things into perspective when I greatly needed it.  This world isn’t our eternal home, no matter what the tabloids or the politicians or any philosophers say. This life can’t fulfill our desires and our worldly desires can’t give meaning to this life. It’s mundane. And it always will be. But thanks to Christ it is infused with the Already-But-Not-Yet of the Kingdom and that gives everything (even dishes and diapers and half-eaten lunches) meaning and hope.  That’s why He came, because God doesn’t want us stuck in the mundane forever– but He does want us to live in it and be leaven for it now. 


Rosary For Busy Moms: Pt. #2

+JMJ+

Happy Solemnity of Saint Joseph!

Well, we *still* don’t have wireless back, but at least I can sit here tethered to the wall like the good ol’ days and get some posting done.  Today, I’m continuing my series on the Rosary.  In Part 1, I talked a little bit about the history of the Rosary.  In Part 2, I’m tackling the question:

How Can I Fit the Rosary 
Into My Busy Day?

Lots of wonderful, holy, virtuous people will tell you that making time to pray will actually make your schedule “fall into place” better.  I happen to agree with them, but one of the biggest obstacles to working on a prayer life is simply finding the “right” time in what seems like an already-packed schedule. Though saying the Rosary only takes 15-20 mins (unless you’re like me and go into ecstasy every time you pick one up– that’ll take you longer), it can seem a daunting task to find those precious few minutes.  So here’s my first tip: start by doing it at the same time you do something else. 
1. In the Car
You may be busy shuttling the kids and the groceries from place to place, but driving isn’t an activity that prohibits one from listening to music and singing along wildly– why would it prohibit you from saying the Rosary? You can either pop in this wonderful CD by the MaryFoundation…
Get Your Copy Here
…or keep track of the decades with a little pocket rosary or with your fingers. I find the latter easier because my hands are on the steering wheel anyway, so I just press a little with each finger as I go through the decade. I love doing this because the kids are always in the car with me and they absorb so much of it just by listening.  Sometimes they even pray along!
2. During Your Walk/Exercise
In summer I find myself taking advantage of the city by walking.  Some of you may have regular times when you go for a run, swim, etc.  Instead of immediately pumping up the jams, play the Rosary on your iPod. If you’re saying it on your own, though, try to match the rhythm of your breathing to the prayer.  This is an ancient meditative technique (commonly used with the Jesus Prayer) and could even help with your workout.
3. While Doing Chores
Some days, sitting on the couch for fifteen minutes just isn’t going to happen.  At time like those, I just say my Rosary while I’m washing dishes.  This poses its own difficulties because my hands are covered in soapy water and I can’t spare the fingers to grasp anything.  So I took advantage of a blank spot behind our sink and did this: 
It’s a cross with ten little decorative paper swatches taped to the wall. Fancy, no? Everyone thinks I’m just skimping on the decor, but we know better. This has been a huge help on those super-busy days and it also helps me to think about allllllllllllllll the work that I do and how it serves my family– it’s a reminder that every chore can be a form of prayer. 
4. Throughout the Day
Don’t have fifteen minutes doing any of these things? Say your Rosary in segments throughout the day. For example: 
First Decade- in the shower
Second Decade- in the car
Third Decade- in line at the grocery store
Fourth Decade- back in the car
Fifth decade- while you’re setting the dinner table
AMEN.
This is just a start. I can guarantee that if you’re just beginning (as I was six months ago), it will be hard. I still find it hard most days, but even on those days when my brain seems to be fighting me, I can sometimes feel a tugging at my heart that helps me.  Those are the days I expressly try to quiet myself and NOT say the Rosary at a time when doing something else.  But enough about me. Now I want to know: 
Do you say the Rosary regularly?
If not the Rosary, do you have another prayer you like to say on a regular basis? 
How do you make the time? 


Rosary for Busy Moms: Pt #1

+JMJ+

If you want lots of heavy theology on the Rosary, go read Rosarium Virginis Mariae.

I’m here because I don’t have time to read that stuff anymore and my suspicion is neither do you, but as an aspiring Lay Dominican, part of our rule is to say a daily Rosary and so I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

I have to admit that for much of my life, I considered myself someone for whom the Rosary just “didn’t do it.” I have much preferred Liturgy of the Hours or even the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  For some reason, the Marian emphasis of the Rosary just threw me for a loop.

Imagine how I felt, though, when I realized that the Rosary is based on the Psalms.
(Oh no, she didn’t… she seriously must have lost it. Doesn’t she know the prayers and meditations all come from the NEW TESTAMENT? Pshhhh, I’m never coming to this blog ever again.)

Yep, the psalms. I hope to dedicate many more posts to this wonderful devotion, but today the lesson is:


A Very Brief and Incomplete History of the Rosary

Wayyyyyyy back in the ninth century, the lay people were looking for more ways to pray (good for them!). The monks had it easy, really. They prayed the Psalter (150 Psalms) regularly through the eight Canonical Hours (aka Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours) and let’s face it: just like today, it’s hard to get through all of that praying if you’re trying to run a household and raise a family.  Plus, the vast majority of people couldn’t read, so even if they magically got hold of a book they wouldn’t know what to do with it.

And so some bright person thought:
150 psalms. What if I said 150 “Our Fathers” instead? 
Some people did this. Others shortened their 150 prayers to the simple Angelic Salutation given by Gabriel to Mary: “Hail, Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with thee!”
Genius!

The great idea caught on, but there was a little bit of trouble. “How do we keep track of 150 prayers?” Some people kept pebbles in bags (but that got heavy), some people tied knots in ropes (but these ended up being quite long and hard to carry). Finally, a smart person realized that if they just put fifty beads on a string, they could go through the beads three times and that would equal 150! Brilliant!

Then, some time in the thirteenth century, Biblical scholars started looking at the psalms and they said:

“Gee, this is interesting. There are three major categories of psalms: lament, thanksgiving and praise (liturgy). We could think about all the lament psalms in the context of Jesus’ passion and death. We could think about the psalms of thanksgiving in kind of a joyful way and all those liturgical psalms speak of the glory of Jesus’ Resurrection and the great mysteries of the Church.” 

— Verbatim Quote from Anonymous Parisian Doctor of Theology

Do you see where I’m going with this?
People were already in the habit of saying THREE rounds of FIFTY Pater Nosters/Angelic Salutations. Now, they had an easy way to divide those rounds and contemplate different aspects of Jesus’ life and mission.  At the same time, people were also contemplating the role of Mary in these great mysteries.

Then along comes…

…Father Dominic! This intense man with the fiery red hair and his little band of beggar preachers begins using these meditations and prayers as weapons against the wide-spread Albigensian heresy.  He preached the little psalter of Mary as a way to protect oneself against error and to win souls for Christ. Even though Dominic wasn’t the source of the Rosary as legend has often claimed, he and his friars are certainly a primary source of its widespread popularity.  Mary may not have fabricated the Rosary in St. Dominic’s mystical vision, but she certainly showed him how to use it.

Over many years, the form of the Rosary has solidified into the three sets of mysteries, each with five decades (totaling 150 Hail Marys).  This numerical tie to the Psalter was obscured with the introduction of the Luminous Mysteries by Pope Blessed John Paul II, but the roots of the Rosary remain the same.

The Rosary is still a wonderful weapon against error, encouraging us to meditate on the life of Jesus and to come to know Him through the Immaculate Eyes of His Mother.  I cannot say that it has been easy to try and incorporate the Rosary into my daily prayers, but it hasn’t been as difficult as I had expected.

Oh– and if anyone loves trivia as much as I do, you’ll be happy to know:

Dominicans still wear their rosaries as part of their habit, dangling down the left side of their waist–  in the place where a soldier would keep his sword.