First Sunday of Lent [2/18/18]
As we enter into the Lenten season, there are many ways for us to exercise a spiritual journey: fasting, more intense prayer, supporting and caring for those less fortunate. But there is a practice that is more powerful in our spiritual life, and that is the exercise of memory. When we sin, we rarely sin as a deep desire to do evil, or to withdraw from God. Instead, we are forgetting how beautiful and life giving our relationship with God can be, the source of peace and tranquility amid stress and fear. Our relationship with God provides us with courage and fortitude in a time of despair or shame.
This can be a time of joy and ratification which conquers resentment, anger and shame. In proclaiming the ‘time of fulfillment’, Jesus is calling to mind the covenant that God has made with us, a covenant that goes back to the prophets of the Old Testament. Jesus reminds us that his Father loves us. Jesus mission was not to scold us, but to recall our minds and hearts to the love that we sometimes lose sight of.
When we lose sight of true love, it is one of the most damaging consequences of sin. Think for a moment of a particular sin that you keep falling back into, time and time again. Can you recall what your life was like before it took hold of you? Can you recall times when you felt free from the influence of sin? Can you recall when your relationship with God was rooted in pure love and freedom? Sometimes our memories are clouded by experiences of misplaced trust, betrayal and rejection. Whenever we find ourselves wrestling with habitual sin, we forget what life is like otherwise, where we were once free and capable of other choices.
An exercise of spiritual healing is an exercise of remembering. Take some time during Lent to recall what your life was like ‘before the fall of sin’, but do not treat them as just memories. Instead, invite the Lord to share an intimacy of authentic love, of confidence and hope. When we reflect on these memories; we recall the grace that has never left us. It has only been forgotten in the times of our challenging lives.
This Lent, let us by all means give up habitual sins, but don’t give up the memories. God won’t either!
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time [2/4/18]
Why am I here? There are numerous ways of interpreting this question: why are you reading this article? Why are you in your job or why are you in your marriage? Better yet, why are you on this earth?
As the questions get deeper, the stakes get higher. Every one of us wants to believe that there is a purpose for why we are here. And while we might answer with: “Because God wanted me to be here.” Do we really think that when we are having a busy morning or struggling to get the kids to school or dealing with a stressful family issue, settling down with some quality time with our spouse or family members? Let’s face it, we tend to be purpose driven people and all too often, we allow that purpose to be defined by others! The purpose we have is often determined by the roles we play as we move throughout our lives. Sooner or later, this type of purpose is going to fail us and we are going to be miserable. Our relationships will sour, the things in life that are going well will start to fade, and our success will start to falter. This will all lead us to a spiritual crisis.
In today’s Gospel, we encounter Jesus with a clear conviction. “There is no doubt that I may preach there also.” to his purpose in life: “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also.” Even when Jesus’ preaching to the people of Israel does not go well, he does not waver. What was the source of Jesus’ confidence? His father’s love. The love that God the Father not only had for Jesus, but the same unconditional love that he has for each of us.
In today’s Gospel not only does he heal the sick and expel demons, he does something that each of us need to make time for, or extra time, and that is prayer. “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” Jesus’ identity was formed in the time he spent day after day with his Father in prayer, just as our identity is formed when we spend time in prayer. He did not just know that he was loved, he actively let himself be loved.
Prayer is a great freedom, the freedom that comes from knowing that we are loved, and really feeling it in our hearts. We must let go of our misery. Only when our hearts are truly free can we discern the true purpose of life. So, if you really want to know why you are here, pray for the grace to know that you are really loved.
I am here because God desires me to be here.