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Archives for February 2018
The desert can seem to be a scary place. After all, there are snakes (not my favorite animal), scorpions, plants with spines that hurt, and it is extremely hot during the day and extremely cold at night. Given how retreats happen today in nice comfortable places, a room with heat or AC, meals, I can not think that Jesus could have a more comfortable place to be with the Father. However, the desert image returns us to the wanderings of the People of Israel for 40 years in the desert on their way to the Promised Land. They had to learn to depend on God for everything: water, food, direction. They had to learn to worship God alone and not golden calves. They had to learn that power comes from service and faithfulness to the covenant.
Jesus’s temptations are the challenges of the 40 days of the Lenten season. In his homily on Ash Wednesday, the Holy Father offers a plan for our Lenten observance. The first step is to pause. Jesus’s going into the desert after His Baptism was a pause before He began his mission. He challenges us this Lent to take a pause and honestly look at our lives as His followers.
Remember the second reading from St Paul on Ash Wednesday:
Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says: In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation
Our Lenten pause is a unique opportunity. Yes, God willing, we will be here next Lent, but the invitation is today…..Jesus stands in front us today and asks us a very simple favor:
Take a pause from the ordinary stuff of life and listen to me. Spend some time with me. Let me remind you about your call to continue the work I give you
There is no reason to be afraid of meeting Jesus in the Lenten desert. He wants us to take a pause to let him into our life anew or maybe for the very first time. Yes, Lent is hard work. In the pause of Lent, our extra effort at prayer asks us to spend more time with Jesus. In the pause of Lent, our effort to walk away from idols means we need to ask ourselves some very hard questions about what to get rid of. Finally, in the pause of Lent, only in Jesus we will find the living Bread of eternal life to sustain us in desert times of Lent and life.
And remember, do it all with joy! The joy of being a disciple of Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord.
Let us begin the fast with joy! Let us prepare ourselves for spiritual efforts! Let us cleanse our soul and cleanse our flesh! Let us abstain from every passion as we abstain from food! Let us rejoice in the virtues of the Spirit and fulfill them in love, that we all may see the Passion of Christ our God,and rejoice in spirit at the holy Pascha!
This is the chant that the Orthodox church sings at the beginning of Lent. These words can set the stage for us this year as we do Lent.
Begin the fast with joy
Lent is hard work, but a work that makes us better disciples of Jesus. Today is an invitation to each of us from God……Jesus stands in front of us and says “Commit your life to me”….our yes to this invitation is one of the most joyful things we can experience and one of the most challenging.
Prepare ourselves with spiritual efforts
Lent is a time to pray better. Prayer is opening your heart to God which is why Jesus tell us to “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” Lent is the time to go into the secret room of our hearts and allow God to talk to us. In this secret room, God will show us who we are: his Beloved Child.
Let us cleanse our souls and abstain
Lent gives us a harsh reality: we are not perfect, and we are sinners. Admitting that we are sinners is not saying we are bad. Admitting and naming our sins during Lent means own that we are not perfect disciples and need Jesus’s forgiveness and grace to change …just like the 12 and the disciples needed in the beginning of the Church. The ashes placed on our heads to day is the outward sign of our sinfulness. They are an empty sign if we are not ready to admit our failings and change our hearts. Our fasting forces us to be in solidarity with the poverty of most of the world. Our fasting also forces us to realize that we can fill up our lives with so much that there is no room for God. Doing without feeds the poor and opens up a space for God
Rejoice in the virtues of the Spirit
Lent is the time to pray for a virtue……and to ask God to show you and me what virtue we need. If we work on just one virtue and ask God to help us, then Lent will be so much fruit we will be amazed. I would suggest we all pray for the virtue of discipleship
See the Passion of Christ and celebrate the Holy Pascha…. holy Easter
We enter into a spiritual retreat today to prepare for the celebration of the most important event of Christianity. Our God loved us so much he embraced the Cross and rose again. Lent is about refocusing on that mystery and rededicating ourselves to the Jesus who embraced a Cross because he loved you and he loved me.
I have never worked with a family or individual who has told me that an addiction was an opportunity for blessedness. This disease untreated is not to blessed. I have heard it said in 12 step groups that addiction is the easiest disease to cure… and the hardest. Easiest because the answer is don’t use; hardest because the struggle is don’t use. The feelings associated with addiction…hurt, guilt, self-loathing, pain, anger, sadness…are hardly a blessing. A person dealing with an addiction has only one thing in mind…when and how do I get a fix? A person caught in the chains of addiction does not see God or blessedness; only the need to use.
If we look at with the eyes of faith we don’t deny the reality of the pain and devastation that addiction inflicts, but we can see where God is…..He stands in solidarity with the addict calling him/her to sobriety , freedom and peace; he stands in solidarity with the family members in their worry, their struggle and the need to practice tough love. Blessedness is the awareness of a God who can free a person from the entanglement of an illness that affects everything. Giving one’s life over to God or a Higher Power is to accept that you are blessed and always have been…. even if you have been high or drunk. Blessedness is the awareness of the God who walks with us in the darkest valleys with his rod and staff to protect us; even from our own selves and desires. Before we can accept Jesus into our lives, we need to know we need him. We all have parts of our lives that are unmanageable …. not just someone with dealing with addiction. By giving over our lives to God we rely only Him, not a substance, not a behavior.
For an addict, the freedom from a drug is to carry a cross that no one who is not an addict or alcoholic will ever understand. Sobriety is hard work and can never be done in isolation. The Christian community must stand in solidarity with these, our brothers and sisters, who need us. This is not enablement; our solidarity is to help the person to heal and find their way, without judgement. Our solidarity is to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. We need to speak to the people in power who can provide the resources to treat and help the addict and the family. We need to speak with one voice for those who society looks down or forgets about. Our blessedness as God’s people is when we do what Jesus did….to challenge the structures of our day which contribute to the problem and not the solution. If we, the Christian community, speak together, we will not be ignored. It is not helpful to make criminals out of the person who is addicted; yes, there needs to be accountability, but to put someone in jail and offer no treatment is not a solution. We, the Christian community, need to work for treatment programs that will address not just the issue of addiction, but the underlying issues that addiction hides…. poverty, hopelessness, depression, mental health issues. An addiction is not limited to a certain race or socioeconomic grouop….it can affect anyone. The opioid issue is not new; but, now that it is affecting the suburbs too, there is an outcry. The Church, you and I, needs to be the voice for those addicted in the suburbs, but also in the poorer sections of our cities and in the rural towns.
There is no blessing in an addiction; if it not treated. There is blessedness in the sweat equity of recovery because God is the source of the person’s power. There is blessedness when a family can heal from the effects of the addiction. There is blessed when the Church speaks out loudly to the people in power and demands more resources for treatment, to call for structural changes to give people more opportunities once they are clean and sober, to demand more resources to treat the mental health issues under the addiction, to see the addicted person as a brother or sister in pain, not a criminal or someone to be ignored or hidden.
Our blessedness will only flower in its fullness when we accept the call of Jesus to stand arm and arm with one another, no matter who the person is standing next to us. Our blessedness will be when we can see in the other person the source of all blessedness…Jesus.
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