Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Reflection on Motherhood and Christ

I was thinking the other day about mothers and motherhood, and how mothers are very special people. If you think about it, mothers give nourishment to their children from their own bodies for the life of their children, much like Christ gave his own body to us to be our spiritual nourishment for life eternal. Just as mothers give their breast to the children so that they can grow from the milk they receive, so too does Christ give us his breast (that is the wound in his side) so that we can grow strong from the milk that he gives us... (his precious blood which washes away our sins). Also if we think of the Church both as the body of Christ and as Mother of Christians, we can think of the milk that the Church as mother gives us as being the sacraments, that is Jesus himself... again... the idea of the mother giving of her own body to nourish the children. Again... Mary, as model of the church, is also considered our mother... mother of christians. What would be the milk that we would receive from her chaste breast if not the graces that she obtains for us by her intercession? And oh should we not long to drink from such a living font, to receive such life giving grace from such a tender mother? She being in such intimate communion with God, would we not receive also the grace of intimacy with the Holy Spirit? And since we are to become other Christs, to be formed into the fullness of the maturity of Christ, is it not appropriate that we receive such nourishment from the one who gave nourishment to Christ in the flesh? Isn't it interesting how something so natural to us and something so beautiful can lead us to think of God and even lead us to want to receive more from him and from the prayers of his saints?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Lenten Reflection

“The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). These words from the Gospel of Mark, which we hear on the 1st Sunday of Lent, point out the essence of Lent, the time of celebration before Easter where the church prepares itself for encountering again the fundamental mystery of our salvation, the passion and resurrection of Jesus. The word “Lent” itself is an Old English word that means “spring,” and this imagery reminds us that while Lent is a time of giving up things, it also a time for us grow in faith, faith in God and in His steadfast and merciful love for us, in the mysteries of the life of Christ, and in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

“The Kingdom of God is at hand:” God’s Kingdom is His Sovereignty, His Dominion over our lives, His Holiness, His Goodness, His being Lord of history and the One Who can make all things turn out for good. It is His reign of steadfast and merciful love. Yet the words “dominion,” “sovereignty,” even “reign” scare us sometimes. “Dominion” can make us think of domination and oppression. “Sovereignty” leads us to fear the prerogatives of kings and rulers, of governments and states – something not to be violated without provoking a war. And we associate the word “reign” with “terror,” like the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution. The truth is, again and again we say how much God loves us, how merciful He is, but when we hear His footsteps, we run and hide like Adam and Eve did in the garden. We believe, but we need His help in our unbelief.

“Repent and believe in the gospel:” Jesus invites us to repent, to literally “think again,” to change our minds, as the original Greek word for “repent” suggests to us. We are to move from the state of mind of disbelief to the state of mind of belief in the “Good News,” which Jesus announces to us in His preaching and through His actions. This “Good News” turns what we think about a kingly God on its head. The Gospel announces God the Father’s everlasting and loving mercy, indicated to us in the parable of the Merciful Father and the prodigal son (Luke 15) and shown to us in the mercy poured forth in the passion and death of Jesus. It announces to us the Fatherly care of God in providing for our needs (Mt 6:25-34), the intimacy that God wishes to have with us (John 14:23), and the kind of gracious help and support God gives us in His Spirit, the gift of His very Self (John 14:26, Rom 8:11-27). What we learn from Jesus’s proclamation of the gospel is that God does not expect us to be perfect before we come to Him to receive His love because He knows that His love will heal us from our tendency to sin and place in our hearts a desire for what is true and good (Luke 7:36-50). Plus He will bring about the purification that we need (1 Thes 5:23-24). We learn that God knows more about us than we do (John 2:24-25) and still loves us so much as to give up His Son for our salvation (John 3:16). In short, Jesus proclaims the Good News that God is for us and not against us (Rom 8:31), that His Kingdom which He wishes to establish in our lives is one of an intimacy and communion with Him that transforms us into instruments of His peace.

“Believe in the gospel:” While it is true that faith is given to us from God as a gift, that we are able to say “Amen,” “yes” to the gospel by the grace given us through the Holy Spirit, faith is also a virtue that once we have received, we have to practice to maintain (CCC 153, 162). Lent proposes to us three ways of intensifying our training, of doing a spiritual boot camp, if you will. These are prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. Prayer keeps up our faith by renewing our connection with God in the Holy Spirit, without which we become dry branches and loose our vitality (John 15:1-11). During Lent can aim to put aside some extra time for prayer, meditation, or reading of scripture, or we can try to attend daily mass. Almsgiving reminds us that faith is not an intellectual practice only, but rather it spurs us to live a coherent Christian life by doing acts of charity. During Lent we can strive to put our faith into practice through donating our time to a charitable cause or to being present to those around us. Fasting reminds us of how much we depend on God for our everyday existence and helps us to appreciate more our daily bread as coming from God’s providence. This Lent, we can either choose to give up a certain amount of food or even “fast” from certain entertainments.

In whatever we do for Lent, we should remember to place our trust more in God’s mercy, grace, love, and providence, to turn more of ourselves over to Him and to His reign, to not be afraid to let His healing light and grace touch the shadowlands of our hearts. In our giving up things for God this Lent, let us remember to practice giving ourselves entirely over to God, not just our good parts, or even just the parts of us that need healing, but our whole selves over to His wonderful love. We can remember to pray often the words John Paul II prayed so often, “I am all Yours, and everything I have is Yours.” This is a very appropriate prayer for us to pray at mass while the gifts are being prepared, remembering that all the faithful take part in the sacrificial aspect of the mass through our baptismal priesthood and that we are called upon to offer to God our cares and concerns, our friends and family, in essence our whole life. This prayer, sung in the Byzantine Liturgy, often helps me remember this self-offering aspect of our mass and how central offering one’s self completely to God is to the spiritual life and in the lives of the saints:

Remembering our most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever Virgin Mary, and all the saints, let us commend ourselves, one another, and our whole life unto Christ our God. – To You, O Lord!

May you embrace the mysteries of Easter with greater faith so that His joy may be complete in you! Happy Lent!

And here is the link to Benedict XVI's lenten reflection: