Lent – 5th Sunday (Year B)

In today’s Gospel we see three possible reactions to the voice of God actually speaking to a gathering of people for a festival in Jerusalem; Jesus gives the crowd an analogy of self-emptying – he uses the metaphor of a grain of wheat, saying a single grain is only a grain; but if it falls into the earth and dies, it bears much fruit. He is saying that to live only for one’s self is a very narrow and limited existence. To surrender one’s life in the service of others for God, on the other hand, provides a much wider, deeper, and fuller expression of our true potential as sons and daughters of God.

Then comes the moment when Jesus says to God, “Father, glorify your name.’

And there is a response; the Gospel says a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

This is where we hear different responses to the voice of God; St. John’s gospel says everyone in the crowd heard it; some said, ‘it’s just thunder’. Others said, “it was an angel speaking to him.” In that first response, we see an attempt by some to ignore the significance of this event – that God is present, speaking to Jesus, who has called God, ‘Father’; that Jesus speaks from a direct and very intimate relationship with God.

If it’s only thunder, I don’t have to give it any attention. It’s just meaningless noise.”

In the second response, we see a ‘limiting’ of the voice; it’s an angel speaking to Jesus – that means the message is limited only to Jesus, so the rest of the bystanders, while being impressed, don’t have to concern themselves with any special demand that is being placed on them. “If the angel is speaking only to Jesus, nothing is asked of me.”

But there is a third response; and that third response only comes when people recognize Jesus as God; and in that third response, there is a realization that when Jesus speaks, it is God speaking; and Jesus says, ‘anyone who would be my servant must follow me’; this follows almost immediately after his analogy of the grain of wheat; the metaphor for self-emptying; this prophetic remark that indicates that Jesus is going to empty himself for God and for others to the point of dying on the cross to bring all people back to God; to ‘draw all people to’ Himself.

We get to choose which of the three responses we make to God’s voice; to ignore – to limit – or to follow and serve;

The Church, instituted by Jesus himself, provides ways in which we show in a concrete way, that choice to follow and serve- in our participation in the life and mission of that same Church. They are ways we grow in a life bound together by liturgy, sacrament, and practical action. These are called the ‘precepts of the Church’, and there are five of them.

They are: to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation; to go to confession at least once a year; to receive Holy Communion at least during the Easter season; to observe days of fast and abstinence as set out by the Church; and to help provide for the needs of the Church.

I’d like to focus if I may on that last precept; This is Solidarity or Share Lent Sunday, a day that as Catholics, we observe a sense of solidarity with the poor and marginalized of our world, particularly those in developing and underdeveloped countries. The need is great, and even in difficult economic times, we are asked to support the work of the church, in what we call the Third World, particularly on this day through campaigns like Share Lent. Some might suggest our taxes are enough to go towards helping the poor of this world; we forget that the poor make up the majority of the world’s population.

As citizens we might pressure and demand our political leaders spend our tax dollars as we would want; but we have to recognize that as Christians; as followers of Christ, it is not just up to governments to take care of the marginalized; often it is the ‘grass roots’, the people, who must take matters like these into their own hands, and as servants of Christ, follow where He leads.

It is for this reason, that we are asked to consider giving as generously as we are able to support the work of the Church- the fifth precept – particularly on this Solidarity Sunday, and throughout the year; we are not asked to bankrupt ourselves, or impoverish our families; we are asked to honestly consider how much we have given in the past, and how much we are reasonably able to give now and in the future.

It is up to each of us to decide how we will support the work of the church; to decide how we will listen to the voice of God speaking through the poor of our world; to decide whether we will ignore his voice; whether we will limit his voice; or whether we will follow and serve where His voice calls us through Jesus; being that single grain that bears much fruit.

famine

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Lent 1st Sunday (year B)

There is a large hardware store chain with the slogan, ‘Never stop improving’.

That, it seems, is something that we as Christians are called to in our lives, to ‘never stop improving’; never stop growing in our depth of love for God; never stop growing in our appreciation of the great things God has done in our lives; never stop growing in our desire and ability to serve our neighbors, loving them as we love ourselves.

We are called to continually grow ‘upward’, reaching towards union with God, and drawing others into that union as we journey.  In the 1600’s, a lay Carmelite monk named Brother Lawrence wrote a book, ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’, considered by many to be a spiritual classic.  Brother Lawrence wrote that if we are not moving forward in the spiritual life, we are actually moving backwards; once we enter into that relationship with God, we can’t simply stand still and accept the mediocre – it is a relationship that by its very nature demands that we grow and progress and deepen.  Imagine being in love with another person and saying to the object of our affection, ‘Okay, I kind of love you – so this is how much I am going to love you– just this little bit and no more – then I can focus more on myself’.  I’m pretty confident that a relationship like that would sour and die pretty quickly.

But the serious relationship with God deepens and evolves and moves forward; and to do that, we are called to prepare our own hearts to grow in their ability to be open to and embrace the will of God, and to follow where Jesus leads us.

In this Sunday’s Gospel from St. Mark, Jesus leads us into the desert, into the wilderness – St. Mark says the Spirit ‘drove’ Him into the wilderness, implying that the need for Jesus to withdraw from the ‘busy-ness’ of everyday life to commune uninterrupted with God was overwhelming.   But this was not simply a vacation, or an end in itself.  There was a reason for Jesus to leave the concerns of this world behind and move into the desert to prepare for the start of His public ministry.

He had to, as they say, ‘withdraw for the sake of return.’

Jesus shows how with the desert experience, great things happen.  After setting aside the comforts and unnecessary distractions of daily life, Jesus begins his public ministry;  after battling temptations and physical demands– He emerges and ‘proclaims’ the ‘time is fulfilled; the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.’

While the season of Lent is a time for us to prepare for Easter, it is also a metaphor for our journey as pilgrim souls, all making our way back to God.

We don’t spend more time in prayer simply to give up our spare time…or give up ‘things’, simply for the sake of giving things up…we set some things aside that are luxuries to us, that we simply don’t really need for survival.  Where they become a problem is when we mistake those things that are ‘extras’, as ‘essentials’ that we can’t do without; things that become a priority over and above God and each other.

During Lent we often focus on the ‘withdrawing’ or ‘giving up’ of things as a negative, as a sacrifice to suffer through; but that is focussing too much on the ‘sacrifices’ as an end in themselves.  The purpose is to ‘withdraw’ from distractions, or ‘remove’ unnecessary things that have become unnecessarily important in our lives – things that really do nothing in building up our relationship either with God or with others.

Being in the wilderness , in the desert, really puts into perspective the difference between necessities and ‘extras’ – it is a time that one can very clearly see what is truly needed to sustain life.  Computer tablets and video games are great, but you can’t eat them.  Luxury items are nice, but they don’t provide fire for warmth or light.

In one sense, this movement into the wilderness by Jesus is given to us as an example; a separation from all the ‘busy-ness’ and materialism that creeps into our daily lives, and clouds our clear view of our path towards God.   He goes into an area where there is nothing in order to hear the Father speaking to Him, a place free from distraction and noise. When he is ready, Jesus emerges from that wilderness – not in a quiet and tranquil complacency – He emerges ‘proclaiming’ the message of repentance, of believing the Good news that the Kingdom of God has come near.  He is convicted, and boldly proclaims this Truth.

The Season of Lent gives us each that opportunity to enter somehow into our own desert experience, into our own wilderness.  That varies for each of us, and for some it may be a retreat – for others more time in prayer with the Blessed Sacrament – for yet others it may be something as simple as an extra five to ten minutes a day in prayer or reading Scripture; but in all of these, we enter into a brief sense of ‘wilderness’, a sense of reduced distractions and obstructions, so that we can more clearly hear God’s voice in our lives. Then like Jesus, we can emerge from that wilderness with a greater sense of God’s presence in our lives.

When we are truly convinced of God’s presence in our lives, then it’s not a sacrifice at all to continue on our Lenten journey.  It grows as a desire to ‘never stop improving’ with Christ.

dry

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

…thoughts while pruning…

How appropriate that it is this time of year that is optimal for pruning grape vines! The image of ‘pruning’ or ‘tending vines’ is often used in Scripture as a metaphor for putting aside worldly attachments to enter more deeply into the spiritual life. The significance of that did not escape me while I was pruning the vines in the cold air as the first full week of Lent begins.

This idea of pruning and setting things aside, especially during Lent, gave me pause to think about yet another annual event that coincides with Lent here in Canada, and thinking of those two things in tandem cause me to wonder about the impact of our small spiritual practices on the ‘real world’.

While the pruning of grapevines seems to always coincide with the Lenten season, the other ‘event’ that I’m writing about is a ‘promotional contest’ that happens each year at this time. It is a time when a major coffee and donut chain has a contest where patrons can roll up the lip of a paper coffee cup to reveal a possible prize – money, televisions, or more often, coffee or donuts.

Most corporations and chains have promotional deals to boost sagging sales.  This particular contest has been going on for a number of years, always coinciding with Lent…stay with me on this….

Traditionally during Lent, Catholics give something up (often it has to do more with edible treats than anything else) as a penitential practice until Easter; the timing of this donut giveaway promotion trails off around Easter…soooooo…

My question became; did the Lenten practice of Catholics affect this chain so much that they had to resort to enticing people to make more frequent visits in the hopes of winning ‘treats’ during Lent?

I don’t know; and I am not making an accusation. Rather, I am making an observation which, in my own mind, gives me some hope.

If in fact, the small practice of the Catholic population affected a major national corporation to the point that a major promotion had to be launched to counteract that small practice, imagine the significant impact that Catholics (or all Christians for that matter) could have on our society, government and corporations if they lived what the Gospels contain?  If they demanded society, governments and corporations respect all life, defend all of the vulnerable and weak, act justly; if they demanded that the recreational activities they participate in take into account their faith lives so as not to cause conflicts which impair their ability to participate in their faith communities?  If the content of the ‘arts’ reflected that sensitivity?

Imagine the change that could be brought, for the better, to our world, if Catholics and all Christians practiced what they preached in the small, ordinary, and daily things that make up their world.

It’s amazing the things that come to you when pruning vines on a cold February afternoon.

river

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

First Sunday of Lent

There is a large hardware store chain with the slogan, ‘Never stop improving’.

That, it seems, is something that we as Christians are called to in our lives, to ‘never stop improving’; never stop growing in our depth of love for God; never stop growing in our appreciation of the great things God has done in our lives; never stop growing in our desire and ability to serve our neighbours, loving them as we love ourselves.

We are called to continually grow ‘upward’, reaching towards union with God, and drawing others into that union as we journey.  In the 1600’s, a lay Carmelite monk named Brother Lawrence wrote a book, ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’, considered by many to be a spiritual classic.  Brother Lawrence wrote that if we are not moving forward in the spiritual life, we are actually moving backwards; once we enter into that relationship with God, we can’t simply stand still and accept the mediocre – it is a relationship that by its very nature demands that we grow and progress and deepen.  Imagine being in love with another person and saying to the object of our affection, ‘Okay, I kind of love you – so this is how much I am going to love you– just this little bit and no more – then I can focus more on myself’.  I’m pretty confident that a relationship like that would sour and die pretty quickly.

But the serious relationship with God deepens and evolves and moves forward; and to do that, we are called to prepare our own hearts to grow in their ability to be open to and embrace the will of God, and to follow where Jesus leads us.

In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus leads us into the desert, into the wilderness.  St. Luke says Jesus was  led by the Spirit ‘, implying that a need for Jesus to withdraw from the ‘busy-ness’ of everyday life to commune uninterrupted with God.  This was not simply a vacation, or an end in itself.  There was a reason for Jesus to leave the concerns of this world behind and move into the desert to prepare for the start of His public ministry.

He had to, as they say, ‘withdraw for the sake of return.’

Jesus shows how with the desert experience, great things happen.  After setting aside the comforts and unnecessary distractions of daily life, Jesus begins his public ministry;  after battling temptations and physical demands– He emerges victorious and the devil leaves him ‘until an opportune time.’  This also tells us the struggle of faith is not a ‘one time’ exercise or event.  It is one in a number of battles to be fought in a lifetime. But it has to start somewhere.

While the season of Lent is a time for us to prepare for Easter, it is also a metaphor for our journey as pilgrim souls, all making our way back to God.

We don’t spend more time in prayer simply to give up our spare time…or give up ‘things’, simply for the sake of giving things up…we set some things aside that are luxuries to us, that we simply don’t really need for survival.  Where they become a problem is when we mistake those things that are ‘extras’, as ‘essentials’ that we can’t do without; things that become a priority over and above God and each other.

During Lent we often focus on the ‘withdrawing’ or ‘giving up’ of things as a negative, as a sacrifice to suffer through; but that is focussing too much on the ‘sacrifices’ as an end in themselves.  The purpose is to ‘withdraw’ from distractions, or ‘remove’ unnecessary things that have become unnecessarily important in our lives – things that really do nothing in building up our relationship either with God or with others.

Being in the wilderness , in the desert, really puts into perspective the difference between necessities and ‘extras’ – it is a time that one can very clearly see what is truly needed to sustain life.  Computer tablets and video games are great, but you can’t eat them.  Luxury items are nice, but they don’t provide fire for warmth or light.

In one sense, this movement into the wilderness by Jesus is given to us as an example; a separation from all the ‘busy-ness’ and materialism that creeps into our daily lives, and clouds our clear view of our path towards God.   He goes into an area where there is nothing in order to hear the Father speaking to Him, a place free from distraction and noise.

The Season of Lent gives us each that opportunity to enter somehow into our own desert experience, into our own wilderness.  That varies for each of us, and for some it may be a retreat – for others more time in prayer with the Blessed Sacrament – for yet others it may be something as simple as an extra five to ten minutes a day in prayer or reading Scripture; but in all of these, we enter into a brief sense of ‘wilderness’, a sense of reduced distractions and obstructions, so that we can more clearly hear God’s voice in our lives. In that wilderness we can experience a greater sense of God’s presence in our lives.

When we are truly convinced of God’s presence in our lives, then it’s not a sacrifice at all to continue on our Lenten journey.  It grows as a desire to ‘never stop improving’ with Christ.

dry

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!