Sunday, March 24, 2013

Making a Holy Week: Top Ten Tips

"View from the Cross" (James Tissot)
Here are ten tips for entering more deeply Holy Week and/or for making any given week more holy: 
10.  Rediscover Reconciliation--embrace this great Sacrament of healing. 
Why is it so easy to say "nobody's perfect,"
and yet so hard to confess that I have sinned?
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied" (Mt 5:6).
9. Wash Someone's Feet--gratuitously take on a "dirty job."
How much humility is required to do some work that seems "beneath" us?
"If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another's feet" (Jn 13:14).
8. Become an Agent of Mercy--forgive someone who doesn't deserve it.
How can we pray the Our Father without trembling at the conditional clasue, 
"as we forgive"?
"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Lk 6:36). 

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Holy Father

Joseph: "a righteous man" (Mt 1:19)
A napkin; a bow; a silent sign...
Have you ever been surprised by grace?  How about by the dignity of a gesture which secretly reveals both God's presence and the grandeur of the human person?  Last weekend, my family and I filled in for our friends who regularly serve dinner at the local homeless shelter.  A young man caught my attention early on because he asked if we would prepare two extra plates for his wife and daughter.  When they finally arrived, he came to get their food and then proceeded to meticulously--almost painstakingly--fold each napkin around the silverware.  He then carried the trays to his family and attentively waited on them.

Did you see the bow on Wednesday 3/13/13, when our Holy Father Francis emerged to greet the tens of thousands gathered at St. Peter's?  In a moment that deserves as much attention as it can possibly get, the "Servant of the Servants of God" bowed toward the throng and asked them to pray silently for him.  He then proceeded to offer his blessing as church bells pealed around the world.  Of course, this followed his request that everyone pray an "Our Father," a "Hail Mary," and a "Glory be..." for our pope-emeritus, beloved Benedict XVI.  The coverage of Pope Francis has been absolutely captivating, and he seems intent on carrying forward the new evangelization by leading with the evangelical counsels--poverty, chastity and obedience (CCC, n. 915).
How could the most famous saint--after the Blessed Mother, of course--have not a single line in all of the Gospels?  St. Joseph is a silent sign, a wordless witness, who somehow speaks to all people.  As the patron of the universal Church, St. Joseph is now hard to miss--the man has a statue in virtually every Catholic Church around the world.  But his quiet role of service as spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster-father of the Incarnate Word point to all those who humbly strive to do the will of our heavenly Father. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Pulling Through the Rough Waters

 "The surf that distresses the ordinary swimmer produces in the surf-rider
the super-joy of going clean through it."
(Oswald Chambers)

Once when I was getting a life-insurance quote over the phone, the sales rep found out that I worked for the Catholic Church and asked: “How does it make you feel that your first pope denied Christ three times?”  Inspired the Holy Spirit (and by a desire to get back to business!), I said that knowing the first pope was a repentant sinner made me feel like there was hope for me too.  He dropped the topic, and we moved on to finish the quote.

One of the many indicators of the authenticity of the Gospels is precisely the fact that St. Peter is depicted with all of his failings and faults and character flaws:  What kind of start-up religion would paint its first earthly leader in such a compromised light?!  When I came across the painting and quote above, however, I had a newfound appreciation for Peter’s heroic virtue, his "surf-rider" temperament, and his “all-in” attitude.  Rather than focusing on his initial brashness in asking the Lord to call him to walk across the water, or his well-documented fear of the rough water and failure to keep his eyes fixed on Christ, I found myself imagining how the Apostles must have admired Peter precisely for letting the Lord pull him through the rough waters.  Like any good fishing story, the tale must have gotten better and better, and the waves bigger and bigger, the more they looked back on it!

If you’ve ever somehow made it through a particularly challenging time, or overcome a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, you know the feeling.  In retrospect, as we look back, we can almost see the providential hand of the Lord leading us across the wild waters and through the danger. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Embrace Your Cross--Follow Christ

So what's the shape of your cross today?  At this moment in time, at this stage of your faith journey, what form is your cross taking?  Perhaps it didn't initially appear to have vertical and horizontal crossbars, but can you name the one burden or challenge that most concerns you right now?

It might be some physical pain or the suffering of a loved one.  It might be a self-imposed Lenten commitment (ongoing or failed), or it might be a self-inflicted consequence of a bad habit in need of uprooting.  But whatever your cross is right now, it's definitely your cross, isn't it?  Mine seems to "have my name on it".

In the Diocese of Joliet's framework of monthly themes for the Year of Faith, "Embrace Your Cross--Follow Christ" is March's theme, and this has been a helpful realization for me: The Lord has custom-designed my crosses and has personalized them just for me.  Jesus repeatedly says, "take up your cross."  Your cross is a perfect fit for you; my cross wouldn't be able to transform your heart right now.  And though I get tempted to think your cross doesn't look so bad, I know that yours is designed to accomplish the conversion and growth you need.  And mine are meant to help me say "Yes" to my ongoing metanoia or change of heart.  Today.