Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Spy Wednesday

Wednesday in Holy week is known as Spy Wednesday because on this day, the gospel recounts, Judas made a bargain with the high priest to betray Jesus for 30 silver pieces.

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Didn’t Jesus know that Judas was not worthy of his trust? Perhaps he did. But that is the mark of Jesus’ mind and heart – that although someone may not deserve to be trusted (or loved) he loves them (and so trusts) them nonetheless. This is our saving grace for all of us “fall short of the glory of God.” In a very real way, we might all identify with Judas – someone to whom Jesus exposed himself, became vulnerable, and so was capable of being betrayed. Have we, knowing of Jesus trust and live, ever betrayed him? Maybe we are too swift to condemn.

So in our prayer this day, most of us can identify with the vulnerable, trusting, loving Jesus as well. Part of human living is to become vulnerable to another so that we can receive their love and trust. Our relationships grow deep and profound with those who threat that “offering with respect, kindness and affection.” And yet, on occasion, someone in that privileged position might have become more concerned about themselves and used that sacred position for their own advantage. How hurt did we feel when that occurred? How awful was that experience? Getting in touch with our own experiences of betrayal can set us in mind of what Jesus might have felt on the first “Spy Wednesday.”

But then, the grace. Knowing that Jesus shared that experience “in spades” (it cost him his life after all), we know that his love did not end. Judas’ sin was not so much the betrayal but his unwillingness to accept Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Peter, we shall hear, also betrayed. But Peter never despaired of God’s goodness and God’s willingness to redeem and make whole again. Judas betrayal was not worse. How he dealt with its consequences was.

I pray this day for the grace to forgive those who might have betrayed me. More especially I pray for the grace never to despair of receiving the forgiveness of others for the betrayals I have wrought. May God grant me this grace . . . may I thus be assured that I am truly reconciled, forgiven, redeemed.

n  Read Matt 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:1-6

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Better for one man to die . . .

Jesus underwent a legal trial – but it was all a sham since the outcome had already been determined by the leadership of the people – “better for one man to die . . .”

There are times in life when the processes we rely on to protect fail to do so. This is hard to stomach in a society that is alleged built on a core value like “the rule of law.” But no process is perfect. This is especially so in our personal lives and relationships. No matter how we build up our defenses (social or personal), we will always be subjected to others who are more concerned with self-seeking, face-saving, and power tripping. In the story of Jesus passion, he is subject to these same dynamics – people who should be protecting him from the Romans, who should be seeing in him their own aspirations instead see in him a threat to their own coziness with the powers that be. In the face of all this, Jesus makes little or no defense. Maybe he realizes that no matter how hard he would try, he would not succeed. Instead, he remains silent even before the powers that had the capacity to put him to death. However, I don’t believe that Jesus simply gave up. I see Jesus as adamantly refusing to stop to their level – to play their games. Instead, he acts to remain true to who he is – and the mission for which he was sent.

Wisdom can be seen as making peace with the unchangeable. We have the freedom to face the unavoidable with dignity, to understand how our attitudes can transform even deep suffering. The great psychologist Viktor Frankl maintained that in World War II concentration camps, what remained for the victims was “the last of human freedoms”—the ability to choose one’s attitude in a particular set of circumstances. What Frankl was asking for was not for people to be merely optimistic but to hold onto hope, even when the situation seemed hopeless. Are we responsible for our suffering when we did not do anything to cause it? Simply, no. And yes. We are not responsible for our predicament – whether it is cancer or the loss of our job or the death of someone dear. But we are responsible for what we do with the effects of these things, for what we build from what remains after fate has made a mess of our lives.

n  Read Matthew 26:57-75

Monday, March 21, 2016

Jesus' death, My death - it's real

It is never easy to pray on the passion and death of Jesus. Once we begin to meditate and reflect on Jesus’ death, it brings us perilously close to our own – not that such pray will lead to the end of our physical life – rather that this reflection makes us confront the reality that if the Son of God could not escape death as a human being, why do we think we are any different.

We live in a culture that eschews death. While our culture is not exactly a life-affirming culture, it is one that wants to ignore the realities involved with the end of our earthly life. People seldom die at home anymore – hospitals or nursing homes have become the venue for this rite of passage – and that usually with the mind that if there is a crisis every modern medical apparatus necessary to prolong life is available. Even when we finally die, death has no longer any place in our home. We long ago turned to “funeral parlors” or “funeral homes” for the final preparations necessary to dispose of our mortal remains. One of the reasons for the increasing popularity of cremation as a means of “final disposition” is that it helps us to avoid the realities of dying – that the body begins to decay and turn to dust. Few people spend any time with a corpse. Instead, we pay people to make it as “clean and tidy” as possible. I may digress a bit here and some of my colleagues in the funeral industry may take issue with these observations but on the whole, I think they are accurate.

Jesus’ death was anything but “neat and tidy.” It was painful, awful and extremely messy. He was tortured and executed in the most gruesome way possible. In thinking on this unpleasant end, we cannot escape the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was truly human – regardless of what anyone might think of his divine status. Truly human – and experiencing death in the worst possible way. As we affirm the incarnation (that the Word was “incarnate of the Virgin Mary”), we also affirm that this Jesus knows our deepest fears – including suffering and death. Praying on this reality through this week forces us to realize that we, too, will die, but that in that inescapable reality, we cannot deny that the God to whom we pray knows firsthand the deepest suffering of any human person. It becomes the basis for hope – that no matter how bad it gets, there is always the possibility of redemption and resurrection.  
-- read Philippians 2: 5-11 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Whether I want to admit it or not, I am a sinner

When I undertake to reflect on sin and my sinfulness, I can never forget that I begin this work recognizing that I am a sinner who is loved. The history of God's people testifies to the truth that God seeks to free us from everything that gets in the way of loving ourselves, others, and God. The focus of my reflection, then, cannot simply be naming my sins. This can too easily become a form of self-preoccupation.

Instead, I must focus on who God is and who I am before God. With this orientation, I can discover the source of my liberation: the abundant and amazing mercy of God. Even as I begin to see how sin may have distorted my relationships, I can begin to recognize how generous and faithful God is. Once that begins in my mind and heart, I can become dissatisfied with my meager, self-directed response. Led by God's grace, most of us will naturally want to reorder our values and make real, tangible changes to the way we live. This is not the result of duty or obligation, but of love for that Someone who is greater than ourselves.

This day I pray for this grace: to deepen my awareness of and sorrow for my sins and a heartfelt experience of God’s merciful love for me.

-- read 2 Samuel 11:1-12:25.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


The Scriptures are filled with a history of humanity's sinfulness. Even though we prefer not discuss this notion - sin - we can't escape it. It's all around us. As difficult as it is to discuss the sin we see all around it is even more difficult for me to acknowledge that this reality is not only all around, it is within me as well.

Scientists tell us that there are tiny particles in nature smaller even than the atoms that make up the matter we can perceive. These particles are called neutrinos. They are so small that they are passing though everything than we can perceive - even the most solid matter. They are even passing through me! Wow! How hard is that to wrap my mind around??

Hmmm. That makes me think about spiritual realities. They pass through me, too. Grace and Sin both, like neutrinos are moving through me at all times. The question I have for the scientists is, "If neutrinos are passing through me, are they having an impact on me? Are they changing me in any way? I have not been able to get an answer to that one yet. But then, I don't know many nuclear physicists who could explain that kind of thing to me in language I would understand.

This I do know, however. Grace and sin are all around me - and pass through me - and they do have an impact on me. They can change me. My job is to become aware of each - and to respond to each appropriately.

As long as I think that the sinfulness I see in the world has no impact on me, I am deeply deceived. Only when I recognize the impact that sin has in my life am I able to get control of it. Only when I take responsibility for sin in my life can I respond and repent. Only then can I recognize the impact of that grace which is equally present to me and has a positive influence on me.

What I need to do is to recall Step 4 of the 12 Steps of AA: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. The point here is not to rehearse every sinful moment of my life, which is impossible anyway. Instead, invite God to lead me through my life history and reveal those moments in which I failed to love God, others, or myself. Only in this way can I get a handle on my own sinfulness. Only in this way can I stop generating those little neutrinos of sin that in turn have an impact on others. Only then can I begin to turn my life over to the God of love and allow those neutrinos of grace to have their greatest impact. the grace I seek today is to discover a deepening awareness and sorrow for my sins and a heartfelt experience of God’s merciful love for me.

-- spend some time reflecting on your own sinfulness

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Back to the work

As Lent treks forward, my initial zeal begins to wane --- badly. Just like people resolve all kinds of good and decent things at the beginning of the year (New Years' resolutions - remember them?), we all resolve to "do something" for Lent. The most sincere desires might result in more prayer, deeper meditation and study of Scripture, a more generous heart. More superficial disciplines - giving up candy or sweets or abstaining from meat on Fridays - by now are, for most people, relegated to memory.

Perhaps now is a good time for me to look at myself from the perspective of what Lent is as a season - a time of preparation for us to meditate on the death and resurrection of Christ.

In my prayer today, I sought to imagine Christ, our loving Lord, suspended on the gibbit of the cross. I am standing there looking up at him in his suffering self. How is it that he, who is one with the Creator of the Universe, has come to make himself a human like me? How is it that he has passed from a place of glory and eternal life to a life in time and space that will end just like mine - and that his end is a an end to be envied by no one - tortured, physically wracked with pain and suffering - and all to teach me that there is nothing I can do to separate myself from God's love, except, perhaps, to refuse that love. But how can you refuse such a love when it is communicated is such a way - that someone would do this for love of me.

This compels me to seek answers from my deepest self. Answers to questions like: Where is the pain in my life? What is causing it? At what point was love disrupted and some lesser thing allowed to become the center of my life?  Whom have I hurt, and how did that happen? What patterns in my thoughts tend to lead to behavior that is not loving? What patterns in my behavior tend to make my wounds deeper and my life harder? Where am I not free but somehow trapped or held back or stuck in unhealthy patterns? At what points am I saying no to God’s efforts to love me?

Wow! Big questions. I don't have the answers - not yet - and maybe won't for a long time. I pray for the grace to find a healthy sense of shame and confusion before God as I consider how sin in my life, my community, and my world has worked its pain on me and on others. But this is indeed what Lent is for. I still have plenty of time to get back to the work I started to do.

-- read Romans 5:1-11