Editors note: This is a reprise of a few articles I wrote a couple of years ago. I hope you enjoy them.
Thursday after Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2009
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
I’m here, somewhere above the clouds headed for my own 2009 wilderness experience. Isn’t the sight of the portside wing aglow in orange against a pink horizon and a deep blue sea just awesome! This Continental flight is zigzagging me across the south to Houston, back to New Orleans, then by car to Lake Charles in western Louisiana. I will be making an intensive seven-day retreat in the care of a good priest friend, Father Don Piraro, director of the Diocesan Spiritual Renewal Center there. While I’m there I will listen to the sounds of the bayou that surround the center and hopefully hop into a canoe and fetch a gator to look in the eye. Don and I went to the same seminary — Theological College of Catholic University in D.C. in the late 60’s. Father Don and I have discerned that I seem to be impelled / beckoned / drawn there to begin the next phase of my writing.
Tomorrow we will reflect on the temptation scene in Mark’s gospel. The writer of the shortest gospel says Jesus was “driven” by the Spirit into the wilderness to prepare for his mission. I will begin shaping the story I’ve been wanting to tell, the story of nearly forty years of my priesthood as I experienced it through the lens of my bipolar illness which has brought me to the heights of heaven and the depths of hell. I ask a remembrance in your prayer because this is “an acceptable time” for me as the liturgy said yesterday. I ask the Holy Spirit to help me listen deeply. And then respond richly with all the energy and creative talent God has given me.
Tomorrow we begin to reflect on Jesus’ forty-day retreat into the wilderness, (the Mass text for this coming Sunday) to prepare for his mission, but this morning I want to invite you to reflect on the important scriptures of today’s Mass.
In the first reading, Moses says: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendents may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
Now here are my thoughts this morning. (I invite you to make your own as well.) And please note that these are written, literally in flight, so pardon any malapropisms or whatever. . .
We often here the word’s Choose Life as a Pro-Life message; that’s important. But each of us are invited to choose life again and again, every day. This Lent is an acceptable time to choose the life that affirms and nourishes us and extricate ourselves from the dysfunctional communication and game-playing within the walls of our own home that cauterize the souls of our spouses and our children. Choose Life this day in the way you speak to and about everyone you meet today. Choice is an act of the will, the highest power of the human person. Choose your words carefully. Preside over / take responsibility for what comes out of your mouth; realize your words create life or death.
In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself? (Luke 9: 22-25)
My reflection: Jesus gives us a koan, a Zen word that denotes a riddle that often takes a long time for us to get it. Try to get into it this Lent. Ponder its meaning for you right now. Repeat it often until you get it.
It’s So counter-cultural. In our society people do everything to avoid the smallest bit of pain. They even have numbing pads so that you don’t feel your Accu-check stick. And we avoid emotional pain by not thinking through our problems. We might be tempted to do this by running away. A quicky divorce or a cruel text message to dump a girl friend who no longer suits you.
The Cross of Jesus is all about commitment. Lent places before us the Cross of Jesus and his loving embrace of it. He willingly stretched out his arms to be nailed. Jesus knew he would have to face immense suffering on his journey. He knew he would make people angry by telling the truth he saw in his heart. He knew that it would lead him to death every step of the way up to Jerusalem. The issue is Acceptance of whatever life calls us to. Jesus accepted the Cross because he chose to be faithful to his mission.
Jesus did a brand new thing. His message was that his Father-God embraces every person without exception. His message was that He, Jesus, transcended the Law; that the only law was to love. This went against the grain of those who saw him as a threat to all they knew.
In the desert, Jesus made a firm commitment to BE the truth that he saw in his heart no matter what. Jesus embodied that highest moral standard: to commit his life to justice and love, no matter what it cost him. His mission was very simple: Stay on message, no matter what. He was a person of absolute integrity. No one was going to dissuade him from being who he was.
Very sadly, many in the church say that they believe in Jesus but are quick to condemn, quick to hate. If you are one who has been condemned by the church or treated hatefully, I, for one, ask forgiveness from you for I know Jesus would never want that for you. And I ask for forgiveness and change of heart for those who do the condemning and the hating.
Finally, I would like to be in solidarity with so many of us these days have crosses to face that are profoundly difficult. Let us help each other to bear the cross we must carry. But remember, the key is acceptance. Acceptance, the willingness to be nailed is the secret to your recovery.
This is the Jesus I know and love: The one who has the strength to love, no matter what. He’s my hero. I would like very much to be like that. How ’bout you?
Now I have arrived in the Big Easy and before I head west on I-10 to the bayou country I’m going to have a bowl of gumbo. 11:55 AM CST. See you tomorrow — God-willing and the swamp don’t rise.