Monday, February 29, 2016

How to Notice and Name our Encounters with Christ

"The Road to Emmaus"

The Christ question is not whether we have ever encountered the crucified and risen Lord, but when, and if we have noticed.

Usually, I miss the moments in "real time." But, later, when I have a chance to look back on different experiences, these encounters become more clear.  In fact, at least for me, there seem to be a number of recurring categories of such experiences:

Sometimes they are mountain-top moments. I have found that stepping away from the daily routine, seeking silence, and opening myself to a day of reflection or a retreat often leaves a supernatural impact on my life. Old insights return.  New clarity or direction or peaceful reassurance emerges.

Other times they are everyday eternal events. These seemingly routine realities--the shimmering sunrise or sunset, the graceful flock of geese or the carefully placed cardinal outside my window, the smoldering logs in the fireplace at the end of the night--often serve as hints of the eternal breaking into time. Christ, the Eternal Word and the Light of the world, has taken on created human nature in order to take it up, once and for all.

Oftentimes they are liturgical lessons or sacramental seconds. Though my long-suffering teenage children do not approve, during the recessional song I often start a pew-dance (its first cousin of a line dance, but without moving into the aisle, and with no para-liturgical connotations!). In recent months, Sunday Mass has been marked by the joy of the Word speaking through the Scriptures, or catching my ear during the homily, or jumping out of a Eucharistic prayer, or tugging at my heart through a line from a hymn.

The most dramatic times have been blessed bottom-outs. These humbling reminders help me remember that I cannot save myself. It turns out that being fallen involves periodic falls; conversely, being redeemed brings recurring experiences of redemption. The power of God becomes most evident when my not-so-almighty self admits my own powerlessness. Thanks to such moments, I realize that my In-Dependence makes sense only when it is lived as Dependence-In my Lord and my God.  

The most frequent times are pointed inter-personal experiences--particularly with the Lord's beloved "least"!  Christ told us that he will come in and through the people we meet. Whether it is a look in someone's eye or a surprising word or gesture, it makes me marvel how many different faces of Christ are all around us.

The most memorable times are the living love of family fellowship, which refracts the Light of Christ as through a prism. I may be tempted to think that being born into a family, or being grafted onto a family through marriage, is just a twist of fate. But the love that pours through these relationships might be the most mysterious reminder of Jesus' ability to work in and through all those we meet.
These categories are not exhaustive, of course, because the Lord of heaven and earth is full of surprises.  However, the more attentive I am to these different types of encounter, the more they are able to transform my heart.  Day by day, of course!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Countdown to Divine Mercy

"All souls cannot be alike.
They must differ so that each divine perfection
may receive special honor.
To me He has manifested His infinite mercy,
and in this resplendent mirror
I contemplate his other attributes.
There each appears radiant with love."

+St. Therese of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul

During this Jubilee Year, should we be surprised to realize that infinite mercy is the key to St. Therese's "Little Way" of spiritual childhood?

Following a special moment of grace at Mass, this most beloved saint of the past century penned an "Act of Oblation to Merciful Love." Her joyful self-offering to the Lord, the showering of roses upon those who ask her intercession, and her promise to "spend her heaven doing good on earth"--indeed, all of her teachings as the youngest Doctor of the Church--center on becoming a conduit of God's merciful love.

If we want to allow this divine perfection to continue transforming our souls, and thereby our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and world, we need to look for ways to enter more deeply into the mystery.  Thanks to the Marians of the Immaculate Conception (the "Divine Mercy" priests), there is a new "do-it-yourself retreat" rooted in St. Therese's profound insights about God's mercy.  Its goal is to prepare participants for consecration to Divine Mercy on the second Sunday of Easter, and here are the details:
  • Through March 1st, 33 Days to Merciful Love can be ordered for the cost of a good-will donation, plus $5.25 for shipping (800-462-7426).
  • From March 1st through April 3rd, the the text will walk us through Lent to Divine Mercy Sunday, a pinnacle of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Seven Insights about "Verbalizing" Lent
If we thought of Lent as being more like a verb than a noun, what would it look like "to lean into Lent" or "to do Lent"? Starting with the source and summit of the season Himself, here are seven pieces of advice which might help us "to Lent" more meaningfully this year than ever before:
  1. Jesus of Nazareth: "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Lk 9:23). Authentic Christian discipleship is a far cry from the inane illogic of world ("God wants me to feel happy; I think that doing X will make me feel happy; therefore, God wants me to do X..."). Jesus wants us to see and love our crosses as much as he did, since they are the path to doing the will of the Father; he wants us to realize that when we take them up daily, he does most of the heavy lifting for us.
  2. Pope Francis: "I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day" (EG, n. 3). I love the daring invitation to have "at least an openness"!  However we "do Lent," it should better dispose us to noticing and naming these daily encounters with the Lord who is always walking with us.
  3. My Grandmother (and yours?!): "Offer it up!" Redemptive suffering may seem too counter cultural to deal with, given a world where we are tempted to eliminate anything marked by pain or inconvenience. But Grandma's timeless wisdom makes sense for anyone who has ever done something difficult in the name of a loved one, or on behalf of those enduring some hardship.

Monday, February 8, 2016

"The Name of God is Mercy"

Roberto Benigni Promotes Pope Francis' New Book

Stories touch hearts. Once a heart is touched, it stands open to the possibility of healing and hope.

This is one of the main reasons people around the world are drawn to Pope Francis: He is a masterful storyteller. Enticingly entitled The Name of God is Mercy, the pope's new book provides the most recent evidence of his gift for speaking to the soul of his readers.

This accessible and engaging interview has the potential to soften even the most hardened cynics. Indeed, for those who are courageous enough to maintain "at least an openness" to letting Christ into their lives (EG, n. 3), this book has to potential to open new doors. Whether it be for Lenten spiritual reading, an Easter gift for a loved one, or a fresh way to enter into the Jubilee Year, commit to picking up The Name of God is Mercy as soon as possible!

Here is a sampling of the kinds of stories that leap off the pages:
  • Pope Francis' own life-changing confession. The Holy Father's revisits this pivotal event from his teenage years--an experience which continues to inform his own appreciation for Reconciliation. The story invites the reader to consider listening for Christ speaking through this great Sacrament of Mercy.
  • The back story and definitive explanation about the pope's famous line, "Who am I to judge?" A must read, given the ongoing obfuscation of what the Holy Father really thinks about this pressing issue of the day.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Punxsutawney Phil, Presentation Day, Plus More

Secular and sacred calendars collide every year on February 2nd, a day devoted both to a certain groundhog and to the Presentation of our Lord at the Temple.

As followers of Jesus in the 21st century, we are called to be in the world, but not of it. We are challenged to see God in all things--and all things in light of God. We are invited to embrace personal conversion, but also to contribute to cultural transformation.

So what's the deal with Phil and the Presentation?! The question of 2/2 is whether this day is merely a coincidence of scheduling or a providential reminder that there is always something more going on than meets the eye. Here are a couple considerations for your musings:

Check out the humor and humility of God:  Why would the Lord of the entire cosmos create such a curious looking creature, if not to make us smile? Why would God establish a Law to which his own Son needed to submit and thereby transform, if not to reveal his own desire to serve his creation?
  • While Phil foreshadows a prediction about the question of when spring will arrive, the child Jesus fulfills a promise about the ultimate issue of how God will deliver us from slavery and death.