The Fifth Sunday of Lent ~ See, I am doing something new! It’s Mercy! It’s Forgiveness!

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The Fifth Sunday of Lent ~ April 3, 2022

“See, I am doing something new!” says Isaiah.

What is this “new thing” that is promised?

It is mercy. It is compassion. It is forgiveness.

It is Jesus our Lord!

We saw this in the wondrous story of the Prodigal Son proclaimed last week. That story was meant to show us that our God wants to be regarded as a gentle, loving Father who’s always on the lookout for his wayward children. A Father who treats us as “nobility” ready to place a ring on our finger, shoes on our muddy worn-out feet, a fine robe about us and who then throws a party in our honor.

That story, too, was  aimed to confront the Pharisees. They were compared to the elder son who muttered and sputtered about all the attention that the younger brother was getting.

In today’s story, the scribes and Pharisees led a woman caught in adultery in front of Jesus. Their intention was to set a trap for him so they could have some charge to accuse him.

It was a terrible crime for a Jew to commit adultery. It was punishable by death by stoning. They planned a trap for him. The Mosaic law said she was to be stoned, but Roman Law forbade Jews to put anyone to death. There was no middle ground. No matter what he chose, Jesus would be breaking a law.

Let’s look at their concept of authority for a moment.  The scribes and Pharisees, according to Scripture scholar William Barclay, were the legal experts of the day. To them authority was intended to censure and condemn.  That authority should be based on sympathy, that it should be to reclaim the criminal and the sinner never entered their heads~ similar too much of our American justice and prison system today is meant to punish rather than rehabilitate. The scribes thought they had the right to stand over others and watch for every mistake and every deviation from the law with savage and unforgiving punishment.

Moreover, they were not looking at this woman as a person; they were looking at her as a thing, whereby they could formulate a charge against Jesus. This incident, Barclay suggests, shows vividly and cruelly the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees toward people. They were using her only as a man might use a tool, for their own purposes.

Picture the scene: the crowd wondering how—or if—Jesus was going to escape from this dilemma; the woman, fearful of her fate; the Pharisees, tasting victory. Jesus knew exactly what they were doing, and without a single word, exposed their hypocrisy, leaving them dumbfounded.

How? By writing something on the ground with his finger. What did he write? We don’t know. Check out these suggestions and then decide for yourself.

Maybe Jesus was just “doodling,” as we might do sitting at a boring meeting. It could have been his way of showing disdain for the entire procedure, of curbing his anger.

Maybe, as Barclay suggests, Jesus seized by an intolerable sense of shame, he couldn’t meet the eyes of the crowd or of the accusers or perhaps of the woman . . .  and in his embarrassment he stooped down so as to hide his face, and began writing on the ground with his finger.

Maybe, without naming names, he wrote a list of sins, sins that many in the group would have to claim but were unknown to anyone else there.

Or consider this. No one commits adultery alone, anymore than a prostitute acts alone. Could Jesus have indicated, in some roundabout way, who were the partner – or partners – of this woman? Why should the woman be accused and convicted when her willing partners walk away with their reputations in tact? In Leviticus 20 we read: “. . . the man who commits adultery .. . will be put to death, he and the woman.”

In the comment section following the blog, why don’t you offer your own opinion?

Barclay tells us that the normal Greek word for to write  is graphein; but here the word is used is katagraphein, which  can mean to write down a record against someone.

Jesus knew exactly the right balance between justice and mercy, something most of us have a hard time achieving. After he had finished writing whatever it was he wrote, he stood up, looked directly at the crowd, and extended the invitation: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Not a single stone was thrown; nor would there have been if all of us had been in that crowd. Can anyone of us claim to be without sin? Did Jesus condone adultery? No, he did not. But he read the hearts of every person there, and the message he delivered applied to each and every one.

He told them – and is telling us – that we are not to judge. Both Luke and Matthew proclaim: “Judge not and you shall not be judged”(Mt.7:1).  

He told her that he did not condemn her; that she should Go and from now on sin no more.” Thus, he was not condoning adultery; he was giving her a second chance. She would have to take the opportunity to make her life brand new.

God through this story and that of the Prodigal Son make it very clear that God is doing something brand new.

No one else can read hearts. We see deeds and misdeeds. God sees the whole self.

That is why he said to the woman and now to us: “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and avoid this sin.” Alone with Jesus she had everything she needed.

Are we content to having “only Jesus?”

We may not think about it often, but every day we may ask that we may come to treat others as Jesus did in this gospel. How often have we prayed: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?”

Do we think about what we are saying? It could be a little scary, if we did.

I’d like to be like this Jesus we see in the gospel today. I’d like to have that large of a heart. And I’ve prayed for compassion all the years of my ministry because there have been times my arrogance has taken hold. I was told that at times I was arrogant and not compassionate towards my brother priests. And so I thank God for the moments in which God has given me the gift to be compassionate.

These days I am very much aware of Jesus’ mercy for me. In my almost 79 years, I have had my share of serious sins. And I am glad God is a merciful God. And I pray that I’ve put down the stones I sometimes have clutched in my fist.

You see, a really terrible sin is to throw stones at people whose sins we ourselves could have committed.

Gossiping is a grave sin. It is a sin because it can seriously harm the reputations of the persons we are talking about–even re-telling something true about someone else is gossip. Gossip can ruin lives.

Instead, let us be known for being merciful.   And compassionate. And forgiving, when we pray: “Our Father.”

See, God makes all things new.

Mercy is a brand new thing that is part and parcel with the New Testament. Mercy is what Jesus is all about.   And, therefore, mercy is what we should be all about.

And Pope Francis talks about the mercy of God all the time and in 2016 declared a Holy Year of Mercy.

Close your eyes for a moment.

Think about one sin you are glad for which God has forgiven you.

Now, when you next celebrate the holy Eucharist, you really have something for which you can praise and thank your God.

Jesus, my Lord, my God, my All,

I praise and thank you this day for all of your love and mercy and forgiveness

that you have shown me all of my life.

Many times you’ve done brand new things in my life,

and as my 79th birthday is coming up and the 53rd anniversary of my priestly ordination, perhaps you will once again fold the newness that is your love,

and send forth your Spirit into me and lift me up to continue to serve you as best I can.

To You be praise and honor and glory, forever. Amen.

And now, before you go, here’s the beautiful hymn appropriate for our theme, Click here

And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.

William Barclay /  The Daily Study Bible Series /The Gospel of John / Volume 2 / The Westminster Press / Philadelphia 1975 pp.1-9.

With love, 

Bob Traupman 

contemplative writer

The Third Sunday of Lent ~ the Warning of the Fig Tree

The Third Sunday of Lent ( Year C) ~ The Warning of the Fig Tree

Before we begin, there are two liturgical texts for this and the following two Sundays.  An alternate set from Year A is often used when Catechumens are present.  But these are the prescribed texts for the day from the Gospel of St. Luke.

I must say that I found the first part of today’s gospel obscure–as did our scripture scholar, William Barclay. However, we can salvage this much: There’s a line in the first section about two catastrophes–incidents that are unknown to us, but then Jesus goes on to warn his hearers that if they did not repent they too would perish. What did he mean?

Jesus was warning them of what he foresaw and foretold: the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in AD 70 (cf. Lk. 21:21-24). He knew, sadly, that if they went on with their intrigues, their rebellions, their plottings, and their political ambitions, they were going to commit national suicide. He knew Rome would obliterate the nation, and that is what happened.

And there is a warning for us today. For years I’ve been imploring my readers to pray personal transformation for the sake of the transformation of our nation. And in the present atmosphere of our country, looking ahead to the next election, again such prayer, and Jesus’ warning is quite apropos, as is the second part of today’s gospel—the parable of the fig tree . . . .

Barclay offers us several things to learn about this famous parable that I hadn’t realized before.

First, the fig tree occupied a specially favored position. It was not unusual to see fig trees, thorn trees and apple trees in the same vineyards. The soil was so shallow and poor that trees were grown wherever there was soil to grow them but the fig tree had its chance, and had not proved worthy of it.

Very often, Jesus reminded people, and by implication in this parable, that they would be judged according to the opportunities they had.

Second, the parable teaches that uselessness invites disaster. The whole process of evolution in this world is to produce useful things, and what is useful will go on, while what is useless will be eliminated. The most searching question any of us can ask is—“Of what use were we in this world?”

During this Lent, it might be well to take stock of the opportunities that we’ve had in life and how we responded to them. Now that I’ve returned to my Diocese of Orlando this spring, that’s kinda what I’ve been doing.

Third, the parable teaches that nothing that only takes, survives. The fig tree was drawing strength and sustenance from the soil; and in return was producing nothing. That, Barclay says, was precisely its sin. There are two kinds of people in the world—those who take out more than they put in, and those who put in more than they take out. We’ve inherited a Christian civilization and the great freedoms of this land. It’s our responsibility to hand them on to the generations to come, perhaps better than we found them. As for me, I am grateful for the opportunities for education my parents and my bishops have provided me, and the gifts God has given me to serve him and his people.

Fourth, the parable tells us of the gospel of the second chance. A fig tree, our scripture scholar tells us from his research, normally takes three years to reach maturity. If it doesn’t bear fruit by that time, it’s not likely to bear fruit at all. But this fig tree was given a second chance. In our sinfulness, it’s hard for us to realize the true depth and nature of our sin. This Lent is a good time to make a thoughtful review of our life and create a clean heart. Won’t you make a good confession before Easter?

It’s Jesus’ way to give us chance after chance after chance. Peter and Paul would gladly witness to that. God is forever kind to those who fall and rise again.

And that perhaps is the most important meaning for us to receive from this parable today, God never gives up on us! He will never give up on you! Ever! Ever, Ever! God doesn’t abandon us; it is we who abandon him. And that perhaps may be our sin. That we think that we aren’t any good. That we’re not worth it. But that’s really a sin of pride, isn’t it?

Fifth, the gospel makes it quite clear there’s a final chance. If we refuse chance after chance, if God’s appeal and challenge come again and again without us even turning towards him, the day finally comes, not when God has shut us out, but we by deliberate choice we refuse his grace and turn our back on him definitively.

But even in that, there may be something psychological that is operative in that person that would diminish that person’s guilt, and save him in spite of himself.

Awake, O sleeper, rise from death,

And Christ will give you light,

So learn his love ~ his length and breadth

It’s fullness, depth and height 

For he descended here to bring

From sin and fears release

To give the Spirit’s unity

Which is the bond of peace. 

For us Christ lived, for us he died

And conquered in the strife. 

Awake, arise, go forth in faith,

      And Christ shall give you life!  

And now here’s a Lenten hymn for you, “Beyond the Days of Hope and Mystery.” Click here

And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.

With love,

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

William Barclay the New Daily Study Bible the Gospel of Luke / Westminster John Knox Press / Louisville, KY  1975-pp. 204-9.

Have you been to the mountain?

ac41068bbc62b251c480536bf778d8c4The Second Sunday of Lent ~ March 13, 2022

Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountaintop and there they have–well–a “peak” experience extraordinaire. 

It’s a great story.  It contrasts with last week’s story of Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil.  Today Jesus is receiving a wonderful affirmation.

According to our Scripture-scholar friend William Barclay, this story is another of the great hinges in Jesus’ life on earth—and we’ll see why. He was just about to set out for Jerusalem, setting his face toward the cross.

In Luke, when prayer happens, something significant usually follows. (Magnificat)

He took his favorite disciples, Peter, James and John up on the mountain to pray, On the mountain top, Moses and Elijah appeared to him. Moses was the great lawgiver of the people of Israel; Elijah was the greatest of the prophets. It was as if the princes of Israel’s life and thought and religion were affirming Jesus to go on. (Barclay)

There’s a vivid sentence here about the three apostles . . . .

            “When they were fully awake they saw his glory.”

 In life we miss so much because our minds are often asleep.

~ There are many of us who are so clamped in our own ideas that our minds are shut. “Someone may be knockin’ at the door” but we are often like sleepers who will not awaken.

~ There are others of us who refuse to think about anything. “The unexamined life, said Socrates, “is not worth living.” How many of us have thought things out and thought them through?

~ We can drug ourselves mentally against any disturbing thought until we are sound asleep and “Big Brother” can taken over. Ever seen the “Matrix?”

But life is full of things designed to awaken us.

~ There is sorrow. Often sorrow can rudely awaken us, but in a moment, through the tears, we will see the glory.

~ There is love. Barclay references a poem by Robert Browning telling of two people who fell in love: She looked at him; he looked at her—“and suddenly life awoke.” 

I remember a similar experience in reading Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain for the second time several years ago. When I finished it I found myself immersed in joyous tears for weeks on end—filled with love for Jesus that this young monk and elicited in me. This Lent, I’m trying to re-enable that experience–true!

~ There is a sense of need. It’s easy enough to live the routine life half asleep; then all of a sudden there comes some completely insoluble problem, some unanswerable question, some overwhelming temptation, some summons to an effort that we feel is beyond our strength. And that sense of need can awaken us to God.

We would do well to pray, “Lord, keep me always awake to you.” 

Source: William Barclay /Gospel of Luke pages 147,8.

But here’s a couple of other observations from the February 2016 issue of the Magnificat liturgical magazine:

After the disciples witnessed Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah, this appears in the text . . . .

While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.(Luke 9:34)

The overshadowing of the divine Spirit does not darken, according to Saint Ambrose, but reveals secret things to the hearts of people. It is the luminous cloud the soaks us from the dew that sprinkles the minds of people with faith sent by the voice of the almighty God.

He’s talking about mystical experience that arise from deep prayer or centering prayer sometimes or even just experiencing an amazing sunset or an exhilarating conversation with a friend.

Anyway, what a gorgeous sentence that is “a luminous cloud that soaks us / from the dew that sprinkles the minds of people with faith . . .  Wow!  Think on that one.

Immediately following, we here from the cloud a voice that said,

       “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

It is a call to heed Jesus’ teaching about his Passion and our need to take up our cross and follow him: Jesus is he Messiah who suffers.

       “After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent” . . . . 

Their silence was a mark of awe. As it was on the last day of Jesus’ life, when he said, “It is finished.”

You may never have had a mountain top experience like Peter, James and John have had.  Yet even ONE mountain top experience  — one “peak experience” as Abraham Maslow likes to call them can be life-changing.

Any close encounter with God can be life-changing.

As I conclude, I encourage you to make the intention to be open to joyous experience of your own when such moments come.  When they come, embrace  them.  Try not to resist or deny them as many of us do.  Surrender to the moment and experience it as deeply and richly as you can.

And now before you go, here is the Eucharistic hymn sung by the boy choir at King’s College in Great Britain Ave Verum Corpus. Click here.

And here are today’s Mass Readings.  Click here.

Acknowledgements: William Barclay / The New l Study Bible / The Gospel of Luke                                                                                     Westminster John Knox Press / Louisville, KY / 1975, 2001

Magnificat.com / Yonkers, NY

With love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

 

 

The First Sunday of Lent: The Fidelity of Jesus ~ May we learn to be faithful too!

 

First Sunday of Lent ~The Fidelity of Jesus 

March 6, 2022

This is a story about fidelity in the face of temptation.

This is a story about the Jesus I know and love.

Before I get into my own thoughts on this important opening story in the life of our Lord, I’d like to share some notes from our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay.

He says that the word to tempt in Greek peirazein has a different emphasis than its English counterpart. We always think of tempting as something bad. But peirazein has a different emphasis; it means ‘to test.’

One of the great Old Testament stories makes this clear. Remember how Abraham narrowly escaped sacrificing his only son Isaac?  God was testing him, not tempting him!

So, with Jesus, this whole incident was not so much a tempting as the testing of Jesus.

We have to note further where this test took place. The inhabited part of Judea stood on a central plateau that was the backbone of southern Palestine.  Between it and the Dead Sea stretched a terrible wilderness, fifteen miles by thirty-five miles .  It was called Jeshimmon, which means ‘the Devastation.’  The hills were like dust-heaps; the limestones looked blistered and peeling; the rocks bare and jagged, with heat like a vast furnace and ran out to the precipices. 1,200 feet high, that plunged down to the Dead Sea. It was in that awesome devastation that Jesus was tempted or rather the Father was shaping him–testing his mettle–for his mission.

Then there are these other points to take note .  .  .  .

First, all three gospel writers seem to stress the immediacy with which the temptations follow the baptism.  As St. Luke describes it: “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days to be tempted by the devil.”  Barclay suggests to us that we would do well to be on guard when life brings us to the heights since that’s when we’re in the gravest danger of a fall.

Second, we should not regard this experience of Jesus as an outward experience. It was a struggle that went on in his own heart and mind and soul.  The proof is that there is no possible mountain from which all the mountains of the earth could be seen. This is an inner struggle.

It is through our inmost thoughts and desires that the tempter comes to us. His attack can be so real that we almost see the devil.

(Pope Francis in a meditation in the Magnificat liturgical magazine was saying that Christian life is a battle. And then cautioned when someone said “you’re so old-fashioned; the devil doesn’t exist, ‘Watch out! The devil exists. We must learn how to battle him in the 21st Century. And must not be naïve. We must learn from the Gospel how to battle him.’)

Third, Barclay goes on, we must not think that Jesus conquered the tempter and that the tempter never came to him again.  Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. In Christian warfare, says Barclay as well as Pope Francis, there is no release.  Some people think they should get beyond that stage; Jesus himself never did, even in his last hour in Gethsemane.

Forth, one thing stands out about this story—these temptations could only come to a person who had special powers and knew he had them.  We are always tempted through our gifts.  We can use our gifts for selfish purposes or we can use them in the service of others. (A word to some of today’s political leaders perhaps?)

Fifth, the source must have been Jesus himself. He was alone in the wilderness.  No one was with him in his struggle, so he must have told his men about it.

We must always approach this story with unique and utmost reverence, for it is lay lay laying bare his inmost heart and soul.

The story of Jesus moving into the desert this year, this year, is from the Gospel of Luke.

Here’s what Barclay has to say . . . .

No sooner than Jesus has been immersed in his own baptism by John in the Jordan River and basks for a moment in that glory, the battle of temptations begins.

Luke tells us that  the Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness for his testing time. The very Spirit that came upon him during his baptism.

In this life it’s impossible to escape the assault of temptations; but they’re not sent to make us fail. They’re sent to strengthen the nerve and our sinews of the mind and heart and soul. They’re not meant for our ruin, but for our good.

The Lord once found his people in a wilderness, a wasteland of howling desert (Dt 32:10) That’s where we first find Jesus and that’s where he first finds us—in a wasteland of sorrow, confusion, suffering, sin. Magnificat

Barclay gives the example of a football player who is showing signs of real promise. The manager isn’t going to put on the third team where he’ll hardly break a sweat, but on the first team where he’ll be tested and have a chance to prove himself.

That’s what temptation is meant to do—to enable us to prove our strength of character and to emerge stronger for the fight.

From this episode, our first lesson should be that human life on earth is a life of warfare and the first thing Christians must expect is to be tempted by the devil. Reading in the Gospel that Jesus was tempted right after he was baptized, they will not grow fainthearted and fearful if they experience keener temptations from the temptations from the devil after their conversion or baptism than before—even if persecution should be their lot. Magnificat

And then there’s this: Forty days is not to be taken literally. It’s the regular Hebrew phrase for a considerable period of time. Moses was said to be on the mountain with God for forty days.

And it was Satan that tempted Jesus.. The word Satan in Hebrew means adversary.

The other title for Satan is the Devil: the word comes from the Greek diabolos, which literally means a slanderer. It’s a small step from the thought of one who searches for everything that can be said against a man (adversary) to the thought of one who maliciously and deliberately slanders man in the presence of God.

In the New Testament, we learn that it is the Devil or Satan who causes human disease and suffering. It is the devil who seduces Judas. It is the devil who is destined for the final destruction.

And I wrote this many years ago. . . .

This is a story about earth-shaking silence that bore the sound of deafening harsh voices and one soft and gentle voice Who sent Jesus among us so we could know we had a father/God who loves us with an everlasting love.

First, a harsh voice prompted Jesus to turn stones into bread as a way of manipulating others to get them to follow him.  Jesus could have made people dependent on him; instead, he shared with them what he realized: Our common dependence on the Father of all, who gives us our daily bread.

Another harsh voice tempted him to throw himself down from the parapet of the temple, a 450 ft. drop,  and have his angels come and raise him up.  He could put together a traveling road show of clever signs and wonders.  Things would be easier that way.  People would easily follow a clever magician.  But this would draw people away from the Father, not toward him.

The soft voice was simply asking Jesus to reveal the real order of the Father’s kingdom.

Jesus realized  his mission in life was to reveal Abba’s love as Father of all.   Jesus was to let the world know that there was a soft voice within us all, who is there to affirm and to love, to test and to guide.

A third harsh voice promised Jesus the whole world, saying: “You’ve got the power to gain the whole world.  You can be king of this world.

And Jesus sadly realized that many of his followers, even in the Church, would succumb to greed of every form.  They would kill in Crusades and Inquisitions in the name of love.

As he was tempted, he was led into a soul-embracing love of the One he was to reveal.  In the desert, Jesus must have knelt down and promised in all simplicity to seek and to do the will of the Father from moment to moment.  And in that act of fidelity, in that decision, the new covenant surely was sealed in Jesus’ heart.

In the desert and its temptations, the whole of humanity was drawn into the possibility of intimate experience of the divine.  Because one person was willing to be led into the holy of holies, we all can go with him.  We can go–provided that we–like Jesus, are willing to be tested and cleansed, strengthened and purified.

In this story, at the beginning of Jesus’ mission, is the answer to the question: Why did Jesus have to die?

The answer was:

To surrender himself into the hands of evil people was the only way Jesus could be faithful.  God could have intervened on behalf of his own Son.  But that was out of the question.

The world could not accept God as a gentle Father.  They found his message of love much too demanding.  And since the authorities could not and would not accept him and his message, the only recourse left to him was simply to give witness to that message–even to the end.

He chose to be faithful to the soft Voice of the Father, not compromise the message, even if it led to his death.

Jesus had to suffer and die because, because tragically, that was the only way the world would allow him to be faithful to the Word he heard ~ and preached.

The Father was more pleased with the fidelity of one son than he would have been with the spread of a message that did not reveal his love.

This is a powerful lesson  for those among us who would COERCE others into being good.

The false voices which Jesus tamed and quieted ~the voices of greed or accolade or power–we must tame and quiet, relying on his power as elder Son.

The soft voice of the Father to whom he was so devoted, the voice that was the source and object of all his fidelity, each one of us should train ourselves to hear.

And then learn . . . day after day after day to love . . . more deeply . . . more intimately . . . more really–the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is the Jesus I know and love.

And I ask him to teach me the gentle ways of the Father.  Through Jesus, may we be faithful too.

Luke ends today’s Gospel passage by saying: “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him . . . for a time.”  Words that we should prayerfully consider and take heed.

And before you go, here’s a scene from the movie Godspell   when Jesus’ ‘disciples’ realize something is about to happen and they sing “Where are you going? / By my side”, ending with the prophecy of Judas’ betrayal. Be there with them; it seems quite faith-filled and what the real disciples might have felt. Click here.

And here are today’s Mass readings, if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.

 

With love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

Ashes to Ashes ~ Dust to Dust ~ Can we rise again?

Dear Friends,

Ash Wednesday is upon us once again. Easter is late this year ~ Sunday April 17th.

So, you may ask ~ what are ashes all about?

We Catholics like symbols.  (So does Harry Potter.)

What can they tell us about life? And death?  And reality?

When the priest smears ashes on the penitent’s forehead he says one of two poignant phrases:

REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE DUST AND UNTO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN,

or  REPENT AND BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL.

So, it’s a sign of humility, a sign that we are part of the earth, that we are dust.

Are we to reflect and ask ~ Are we just dust?

Have made an ash-heap of our life?

Are we sitting in an ash-heap?

Is there nothing but ruin, smoldering embers around us?

If so, do we despair?

Or can we dream of re-building?

Whether or not, the answers to these questions apply to us literally, it is important to humble ourselves before our God.

That’s what the ashes signify. And Ash Wednesday is a day of fast and abstinence from meat to remind us that we should begin this penitential season well.

Here’s an article that explains the theological significance of the season of Lent.

Consisting of forty days, in commemoration of the time the Lord Jesus spent in the desert before starting his public ministry, Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in which we believers prepare ourselves for the joyful celebration of the Paschal Mystery.

While the phrase “paschal mystery” is fundamentally Christian and should be a term readily known by every Christian disciple, most believers are unaware of its meaning and miss its significance.

With this observation in mind, let’s ask: What is the Paschal Mystery? Why does it require a penitential season to prepare for its celebration?

The Paschal Mystery is nothing more or less than the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the fulfillment of ancient prophecies, the purpose of his messianic mission in destroying sin and death, and the unfolding expression of his immense love for us. The Paschal Mystery is the source of our belief in eternal life and the foundation of the hope we have of dwelling forever in heaven.

Anyone who claims the title of “Christian,” therefore, must realize what the Paschal Mystery is and what its role is in our desire for redemption.

It is for this reason that we believers needs Lent. The mystery of the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection requires constant reflection and re-living in the lives of believers in order for the mystery to be fully assimilated in our hearts and appreciated in our everyday lives. With the pace of life and the multiple distractions presented by our world, it’s too easy for a Christian to miss the mystery. And so, Lent comes and commands a pause. It orders us – through various penances, some universal to all believers, while others of a more personal choosing – to slow down and see the mystery, feel the love, and desire heaven above all things.

And so, Lent is not a season about self-help or self-improvement for their own sake. It’s not just about giving up caffeine or chocolate (although these could be good penances) or about eating right or being more punctual (although it could be good to improve these habits). No, above all these things, Lent is about the believer deepening in her knowledge and experience of the Suffering, Crucified, and Resurrected God who loves her and seeks to be with her. It’s about grasping – and being grasped by – the radical and self-emptying love of Jesus Christ.

A good Lent, therefore, is reflected in a devout and attentive celebration of Holy Week and Easter. The rejoicing that’s a part of these holiest days should not occur because the believer sees it as a reprieve from a dislikable and contested time of penance but because the believer has been purified even more from darkness and is able to more profoundly understand and share in the Lord’s Paschal Mystery.

The purpose of Lent, therefore, is a microcosm of the life and worldview of the Christian believer. Knowing ourselves to be the sons and daughters of the Resurrection, everything we think, feel, and do is placed in the light and hope of eternity. This gives the disciple of Jesus Christ the strength to forgive an enemy, control their sexual passions, suffer patiently, and selflessly serve others. When the Resurrection is lived and heaven is seen as a real possibility for the righteous, then everything is worth it and everything becomes ordered to it.

It doesn’t do a Catholic much good who show up on Ash Wednesday, get a smudge of ashes on their forehead without the slightest intention of doing what they symbolize:  CHANGE.

And so, dear friend, don’t just give up something  for Lent. Get at the root of your life where you need to look at the real stuff.

I invite you to go deeper into the practice of your faith.

Make the sign Mean Something!

Let it transform you from inside out.

The question is:  Do we ~ you and I ~ have the COURAGE TO CHANGE?

So, let’s do Lent well ~ together.

During Lent, be ready to walk with Jesus to Jerusalem.

Find out who this Jesus is ~ for you.

And what wisdom he has to offer us that will help us to change and enrich our lives for the better.

Whether you are  Catholic or not, perhaps you will find some wisdom,

some meaning for your life in these pages.  Join us as we walk the journey together

as Jesus did ~ through suffering to death to new and risen life these six weeks of Lent 2019.

God of  pardon and of love,

Mercy past all measure,

You alone can grant us peace,

You, our holy treasure.   

Now before you go, here’s a short hymn about an offering of ashes. Click here.

And here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.

With love,  

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer  

Thursday~ The Jesus I know and Love

Centering Prayer ~ Silence and (part 3) Friendship with God

Centering Prayer and the Need for Silence in our Lives (Part three) Friendship with God

In the past two issues of this Blog on Centering Prayer, we looked at the basics at how to get into it. In this one, we go a little deeper to take a look at where Centering Prayer is leading—towards real abiding friendship with God at the center of our being. I turn here to another book by Episcopalian priest Cynthia Bourgeault Wisdom Jesus. It was recommended by Father Bill Sheehan, O.M.I. at the last retreat I made with him this past January at the Passionist Retreat Center in North Palm Beach, Florida, He quoted extensively from it and I will do so here. (The image above is Father Bill teaching a group at that retreat with the traditional Passionist cross in the background. I captured the image but was a little nervous because I didn’t want to disturb the proceedings. Father Bill was at the moment talking about Cynthia Bourgeault’s teachings.

In her first chapter, she gives a bit of her story and says that she needed to learn not what to seek but how to seek.”

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks again and again throughout the gospels. Which really means, according to Bourgeault, “Who or what in you recognizes me?

In West civilization, we all grew up with the notion of St. Augustine’s doctrine of original sin that had so pervaded Protestant and Catholic teaching that many of us grew up with a sense of man’s depravity rather than goodness,

This mindset still can have a powerful hold on us today. I recall a dear old lady-friend telling me she couldn’t receive communion because “She flatuated and enjoyed it.” Now, that’s a bit of scrupulosity but it’s an indication of what Cynthia is saying here. This lady thought such a minor thing was a sin that would make her liable for the fires of hell!

And Cynthia was saying that when she gives Centering Prayer workshops, she’s utterly dismayed that when she speaks of the divine indwelling (“The Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” someone in the audience vigorously corrects her.

In the East, there was not a soteriology—a theology that Jesus is Savior—but a sophiology—a word that has its root in wisdom.

Later, Cynthia tells us that for the earliest Christians Jesus was not Savior but Life-Giver.

“In the original Aramaic of Jesus and his followers there was no word for salvation. Salvation was understood as a bestowal of life, and to be saved was to be made alive.”(p.21.)

 Bourgeault suggests this may seem strange to us, maybe even heretical. As the evidence is collected from the Gospel of Thomas, and the Nag Hammadi collection, from the Syriac liturgies, from the African desert fathers and mothers, from Celtic poetry, the same sophiological messages emerge.

The point is that the primary task of the Christian is not belief in theological premises but to put on the mind of Christ. In the West—both in Catholicism and in much of Protestantism our emphasis is on correct dogmatic teaching. (Perhaps we ought to re-think the recitation of the Nicean Creed at Mass on Sundays for something that reflects, “putting on the mind of Christ?)

The Hebrew equivalent Life-Giver is da’arth—the same word used for “love-making”—as in “David entered Bathsheba’s tent ‘knew’ her.”

The Greek word Gnosis is used in the New Testament and St. Paul uses it repeatedly to describe the intimate experiences of being known in Christ. (Throughout my blog writings, it has been my fervent hope and prayer to draw my readers into a closer friendship with Jesus. To get to know and love him personally and richly.)

Now let’s fix Jesus geographically because this is important to his education. Jesus grew up in Galilee. The Silk Road ran right through Capernaum where Jesus did a lot of his learning and teaching. He would’ve been exposed to a lot of ideas—as Cynthia says seemed “as the New Age of the time.” She thinks he “soaked up spiritual teaching like a sponge.” Jesus was his own person, doing his own thinking, but his mind was expanded beyond his Jewish upbringing to include other spiritual traditions that were brought to him from traders on the Silk Road, particularly Buddhism and Persian light mysticism. (p.25.)

Now let’s take a look at this teaching of Jesus from the Gospel of St. Luke . . . .

 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  Do to others as you would have them do to you. [ . . . .]  “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.  But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

In this passage we can see the“razor edge of Jesus’ brilliance”, as Cynthia puts it. He’s transforming proverbs into parables. A parable is not a moral lesson—the closest thing to it is a Zen koan—as I’ve offered before in my Blogs—“a deliberately subversive paradox aimed at turning our usual mind upside down.” One of her colleagues referred to parables as “spiritual hand grenades;” their job is not to confirm but to uproot.

Throughout all four gospels, we hear people saying, “Where did he get this teaching? Where did he come from? No one ever said anything like this before.”

Jesus response to these questions was always the same: “Come and see.” And this will be true for us as well as we complete our journey through Centering Prayer—and this the point of this third and final blog on this subject.

Within his Near Eastern context he emerges as a fully attuned, even cosmopolitan teacher, yet recognized fully to his Hebrew audience. We begin to see it’s not proverbs for every day living or ways of being virtuous that he’s laying before us.

No. “He’s proposing a total meltdown and recasting of human consciousness, bursting through the tiny acorn selfhood that we arrived on the planet with into an oak tree of our full realized personhood. (p.27,)

So the question is: How do we put on the mind of Christ? How do we see through his eyes? How do we learn to think and feel as Jesus did? Or as a friend has on his email address, “WWJD”—What would Jesus do? Or as I have often prayed, “let your Body and mine become as one and your Blood course through my bloodstream.”

Ms. Bourgeault is saying that, “Putting on the mind of Christ is what Christian orthodoxy is really all about. “It’s not about right belief; it’s about right practice!

So what about the phrase Jesus uses, “The kingdom of heaven is within you?” “”The kingdom of heaven is at hand?” That is, it’s here, now. “You don’t die into it; you awaken into it,” Cynthia suggests.

Where is it then? Relying on a colleague of hers, Jim Marion—and this makes a lot of sense to me—the Kingdom of Heaven is a metaphor for a state of consciousness; it’s not a place you go to, but a place you come from. It’s what we would call today non-dual consciousness or unitive consciousness, which sees no separation—not between God and humans and not between humans and other humans.

I have a major piece of writing on this, called “Spirituality in the Balance” as opposed to Either-or Spirituality that has a tendency to cause unhealthy splits in human behavior. I’d like to enter some of it here . . . .

The curse which affects all of us is dualism, which pervades both Church and Society.   It is also the curse of a deceptive spirituality. Earlier in my writings I wrote, I “was inwardly split ~ torn apart by two opposing forces,” In that, I embody the culture. My struggle has roots common to us all. Diabolein—to dispel or disperse—is a force that wants to tear us asunder—personally, ecclesially and societally. Dualism has been with us for a long time, running through the works of Plato, then Augustine, down to the present time. Symbolein—to draw together—is the opposite of diabolein and is a positive force. What we need is a “Both—And ” spirituality, both inside and outside the church that draws us toward wholeness and that sees that disparate elements contain each other and each has value.

Both—And is the spirituality of God and Jesus:

God has given us the wisdom

to understand fully the mystery,

the plan he was pleased to decree in Christ.

A plan to be carried out

in Christ, in the fullness of time,

to bring all things into one in him,

in the heavens and on the earth.  

            (Ephesians 1:8-10)

And again:

It pleased God to make absolute fullness reside in him

and, by means of him, to reconcile everything in his person,

Both on earth and in the heavens,

making peace through the blood of his cross.

                        (Colossians 1:19-20.)

The political scene in our country is split wide apart. Factions and divisions abound. We grow very weary of this. Government grinds to a halt by a refusal to cooperate. And then can we ever get beyond the dualism of pro-life and pro-choice so that there can be real healing? (This written in 2004!)

The Church also sees its factions and divisions. We become scandalized.

In our selves, we are often torn between “either / or” polarities.   Should we end a bad marriage? Should we get out of an oppressive job? We get discouraged.

Jesus is Redeemer of both the left and the right—and both darkness and light. No one captures all of the truth, except Jesus. He’s the Stillpoint, the center of the whole universe and all of us who are contained therein! He calls each of us to wholeness and holiness.

Consider the following sets of antitheses:

Both body and soul. Soul and body. We are human, after all, which is to be known as being a body and a soul; we are neither pure flesh nor pure spirit. We must learn to tend to both body and soul.

Both good and bad . . . Bad and good. There would not be good without bad, nor bad without good. Those who say there is no bad within them are hypocrites (they like to portray themselves as filled with truth and light. and, therefore, can be evil incarnate. The hypocrites crucified Jesus; they still do.)

Church and world . . . World and church. There would not be church without world, and the world needs the church to call it back to God.

Left and right . . .Right and left.   A person who is missing one of his arms misses something important. A church that does not embrace left and right misses part of the truth. So, too, a politic that does not embrace both left and right also misses part of the truth.

Sin and grace . . . Grace and sin. Jesus teaches us that it is the one who realizes he is a sinner is the one who is open to grace.

Spirituality and sexuality . . .Sexuality and spirituality. Every one of us has a body, and by that reason, are sexual beings, whether we are celibate or not. Spirituality needs a wholesome sexuality and sexuality needs spirituality to be redeemed and meaningful.

Heaven and earth . . . earth and heaven. As we strive for heaven, a place of bliss and fulfillment we remain rooted in our earthiness — “Dust thou art and unto dust we shall return.”

And finally to top off our reflection on all this . . . .

Cynthia shows us that Jesus’ most beautiful symbol for this in his teaching is in John 15 when he says,

“I am the vine; you are the branches, Abide in me as I in you. A few verse later, he says, As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.”

There is no separation between humans and God, which expresses the indivisibility of divine love. We flow into God—and God into us because it is the nature of love to flow.

And our final word will be from St. Paul . . . .

For this reason I kneel before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:14-19)

But before you go, here’s the full version of the Eucharistic hymn, Adoro Te Devote as it’s sung accompanying a Eucharistic procession in a Latin country with English subtitles. Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer