In this week’s Gospel, Jesus gives us a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so also you should love one another. (cf John 13:34) The commandment to love others is not really new. In the Old Testament, God asked that we, “love our neighbors as ourselves” (Lev. 19:18). However, Jesus has certainly stepped up the game, so to speak, to move us from loving someone else as much as we love ourselves to loving the other the way Jesus loves. He is inviting us into a sacrificial love; one that always seeks the good of the other despite the cost to us.
In reflecting on this statement of Jesus’, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “It is impossible to keep the Lord’s commandment by imitating the divine model from outside; there has to be a vital participation, coming from the depths of the heart, in the holiness and the mercy and the love of our God. Only the Spirit by whom we live can make “ours” the same mind that was in Christ Jesus. ” (2842) In other words, we can’t keep this commandment by ourselves, by “watching” Jesus and then by our own efforts attempting to imitate him. We can only love in this way by loving others from inside the heart of Jesus, by being incorporated into His life and love, and living and loving through and with Him.
How can we do this? In the second reading (Rev. 21:1-5), we have the image of the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. The new heavens and the new earth, the Holy City are not something we create or can bring about. They come to us from heaven, gifts from the hand of a loving God. Gifts can only be received or refused. As St. James reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17) God gives and we receive and in doing so, we begin to live more and more within him. “In him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
It is important to note that even as we are more and more incorporated into His love and life, we do not cease to be ourselves. We need not fear that in striving to be receptive and receive this love from God, that it will cost us the loss of our independence or our uniqueness. For the One sitting on the throne says, “Behold I make all things new.” God is not making new things, but making all things new. This is a work of renovation and the result of the work will be that we will be made whole, we will become as Matthew Kelly often says, “the best version of ourselves.”
Allowing our work to be God’s work, opening ourselves up to be more and more receptive to His love and His grace not only allows us to participate in the renewing of the world but we become fully alive and fully ourselves in the process. Who wouldn’t want that?!
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“Not having any righteousness of my own… but that which comes through faith in Christ… depending on faith to know him and the power of His resurrection.”
Phil 3: 9-10
I have been thinking this week about the biblical understanding of “knowing”. The quote above comes from the 2nd reading of the 5th Sunday of Lent and a commentator on the reading reminded me that in the Scripture the word “know” typically does not mean simply knowledge of a person or idea. Rather it implies an intimacy, a deep knowledge; a very close relationship with. In today’s terms we might say it doesn’t mean to know about, but to know.
For the past week I have had the privilege of caring for my 3-year old grandson. His parents came from Minnesota a week and a half ago to see my youngest son perform in St. Thomas More’s Spring Musical and to celebrate with him his last production (he graduates in May!). They went home the following Monday and we offered to keep Tomás for a few days until my husband traveled to Minnesota on Thursday. The unexpected snowstorm has delayed that trip and we have found ourselves with almost an extra week with a lively little 3-year old. I am a mother of five so I spent a lot of years with toddlers in my house and so it is fair to say that I know what it is like to care for them. But this week, I have realized that remembering the joys and challenges is not the same as living through them and I think it is fair to say my memory could be likened to knowing about and my past week could be described as biblical knowing! In reality, how soon we forget.
The same could be said for the remembering we do each year as we enter into the holiest time in the Liturgical Calendar, the Triduum. The desire of Jesus is that we would truly enter into the experience of His passion, death and resurrection in these next three days. All of us know the story. But do we know it? Do we take the time and make the effort to truly enter into the drama and experience it alongside our Lord and Savior rather than just passively sitting by and half listening to a story about a guy we only know about? I feel challenged to enter into the story more deeply; to allow it to soak deeply into my heart; to be more receptive to the transforming grace of our redemption made truly and really present every time the Mass is celebrated.
I wish you all a holy Triduum and Easter! The Alleluias are just around the corner!
“My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.”
Luke 15: 31
I know it was last Sunday’s gospel, but the story of the Prodigal Son is just one of those that stick with you! It is such a rich story and I think every time I hear it in the liturgy, it touches my heart in a different way. This story and I go way back. When I was in high school, we had a guest priest at my parish for a weekend and this was the Gospel. This priest had a gift for preaching and I still remember how he broke open this story and shared with us the deeper significance of the Father asking for a ring, sandals, and a robe for the younger son; namely that these items symbolized the restoration of the son as a son. For me it was the first “Aha moment” with the Scriptures, realizing that they contain much more than meets the eye.
This year, it is the plight of the older son that has my attention. Fr. Pablo Gadenz pointed out to me that the elder son never calls his father, Father. He also doesn’t call the younger son his brother, rather he calls him your son. He doesn’t have a desire to celebrate with his family, instead complains that he has never been given a young goat to celebrate with his friends. Lastly, he says, “all these years I have served you . .” which could also be translated, “slaved for you . .” All of these things lead me to ponder. Even though the older son has never left his father in a literal sense, it seems that he has departed from his father in a very real way. He has removed himself from the family and sees himself as “slaving” for his father. He, too, needs his sonship restored. It reminds me of the line, “This people’s hearts are far from me.” (cf. Is. 29:15, Matt. 15:8)
The difficult question is, does he realize his plight? Does he know the reason for his anger, his resentment, his feelings of unjust treatment? Has he slowly drifted into this sense of isolation and the feeling of not belonging, not being loved? Does he realize his choices led him there and he has the power to come back into the embrace of the Father? And the even more challenging question is, do I?
The Father’s love, mercy, and forgiveness are constant. He goes out to meet both sons. The younger son, having realized his plight, receives the Father’s mercy and forgiveness and is restored. We all can find ourselves in the positions of the older and younger sons at different times in life. But I think the place of the older son can be more challenging. The renouncing of the Father’s love is more subtle. The outward behavior seems exemplary. He has followed all “the rules”. And yet, he still finds himself an outsider.
Last October, the Chancery staff retreat was led by Deacon James Keating of the Archdiocese of Omaha. One of the stories he told us has come to my mind recently as we approach the season of Lent. He shared:
When I was a small boy, I used to think my mom lived in the laundry room. Caring for a large family, she seemed to always be doing a load of laundry. One morning, I came down to the kitchen. As I drew near, I heard my mom’s voice from the laundry room, “Jimmy, don’t touch the cookies!” She had been up early and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies were on the counter. I inched over to them. I looked longingly at them. I smelled them. Finally, I climbed up on the counter to sit next to them. I looked carefully at the full plate, picking out the biggest one and thinking, “that is the one I will choose when she gives me permission to have one.”
Suddenly, I heard the sound of her coming up the steps. Panicking, I leapt off the counter. The plate of cookies came down with me, crashing to the floor, shattering the plate and sending cookies in all directions. When she entered the room, I was standing in the midst of the mess with my head down. “Jimmy, did you do this?” my mom said. “No.” I whispered, head down. “Jimmy, did you do this?” my mom said again. “No.” I whispered once more, my head still down. Tiptoeing through the mess, she came to me, and lifted my chin. My eyes darted back and forth. I was reluctant to look into her eyes. Finally, unable to resist “the mom stare”, I looked at her. With her eyes locked on mine, she said once more, “Jimmy, did you do this?” “Yes.” I said as the tears welled up. She hugged me tightly and while I was secure in her arms and enveloped in her love, she whispered to me, “Don’t ever lie to me again.” This, he went on to say, is precisely how the Lord deals with us. He does invite us to own up to the mess of sin and chaos which surrounds us. Gently, he asks us, “did you do this?” However, he ALWAYS does so within the embrace of His great love for us.
As we prepare to enter the season of Lent, the Church invites us to repentance, to a metanoia (a complete change of heart, a turning around – away from sin and towards the Lord). I find myself asking this question, “What am I going to do for Lent?” I believe the better question is, “What does the Lord want to do in me this Lent?” Deacon Keating’s story inspires me to have the courage to stand in the midst of the shattered plates and scattered cookies in my life. To look Jesus in the eye and have the courage to receive the truth of the brokenness in life and take responsibility for my part in it. Most importantly, though, it inspires me to allow myself to be received into the loving arms of Jesus and allow Him to hold me tightly. And then to listen as he reveals to me the real root of my sin and the way out of it.
In the coming days, let’s make room in our lives for some silence and invite the Lord in. Not to ponder, “What am I going to do for Lent?”, but instead, “Jesus, what do you desire to do in and for me this Lent?”
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Recently, I attended daily Mass at Our Lady of the Black Hills. Fr. Andrzej said in his homily that pondering the readings for that day reminded him of his preparation eight years ago to become a US citizen. As part of his preparation, he spent quite a bit of time studying and spoke about listening to a CD as he drove which helped him learn the information he would be tested on. In his words, we can spend a lot of time behind the wheel in our rural state! For those not born in the United States, the process for becoming a citizen includes demonstrating your ability to read, write and speak English, and a basic knowledge of US history and government. You must also be able to “demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the US Constitution.”
After hearing this story, I have been pondering our citizenship in heaven. We can learn from Fr. Andrzej’s example. As we prepare to take our place in heaven, we should spend time learning. As our Stewardship Characteristics states, “Dedicated disciples have a deep desire to study and to be life-long learners of the Catholic faith – to truly become students of Jesus. . . . Stewardship parishes have an intentional study plan for the whole parish community.” (Lively Faith: Study) Could we, like Fr. Andrzej, study while we are driving? Do we strive to memorize the information we will need to be good citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven as those who desire to live here among us learn our history and government? Could we pass the “test”? Do others see in us an “attachment to the principles and ideals” of Jesus and His Kingdom? How can I share the Gospel with those I encounter in such a way that they are intrigued and develop a desire to know more about this Jesus and His way of life? As the Characteristics state, “When we first find ourselves attracted to another person, we desire to know more about them. As we come to love another, the desire to know them more intimately grows. The same is true of our relationship with God and the Church.” Together, let us strive to ever more perfectly strive to “know, love and serve God in this world so that we may live forever with Him in the next.”
As Bishop Gruss reminds us in our pastoral plan, prayer “is the very foundation of the Catholic life.” And one of the behaviors which exemplify that we have incorporated this value into our lives is that, “We will regularly participate in the devotional life of the Church.” Prayer is a key element in our Stewardship pillar, Lively Faith as well. Good stewards, as disciples, are committed to prayer as the foundation of their lives. This novena also gives us the opportunity to practice another of the Diocese’s core values: solidarity. The virtue of solidarity flows “from the reality that we are all created in God’s image and likeness and our fundamental rights flow from the dignity intrinsic in each person.” Bishop Gruss goes on to say, “the dignity of the human person and the pursuit of the common good are what must shape the ministry of solidarity.” And the Characteristics echo this when it states, “Both our pastor and parishioners respect the dignity of the human person and pursue the common good with humility and docility.” In this novena, we desire and pray for both.
What strikes me the most perhaps, though, in reflecting on how we practically live our commitment to respect life as stewards is this line from Day 2 of the Novena: “Everyone we encounter is a gift, not because of what they can do or accomplish, but because of who they are — a beloved child of God.” If we were able to act out of this truth in every single interaction we had with another during the course of a day, we would truly be living a life of Generous Hospitality. Because Generous Hospitality, at its heart is simply welcoming the other as truly a gift and the beloved of God. Simple, but not easy.
Please also keep in your prayers those from our Diocese who have traveled to participate in the March for Life in Washington DC this week. Please pray for their safety and that they will be blessed during this pilgrimage. And please join me in praying a prayer of thanksgiving for their witness. Dedicated disciples, “are willing to make their faith visible, to share it with others and to witness inside and outside their parish.” We are blessed by their courage and their joyful defense of life! (quotations taken from Through Him, With Him and In Him, pp. 29, 33, 37 and 39-40; and Characteristics of a Stewardship Parish, pp. 14 and 16)