Reflection for the Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 14, 2015
For by grace . . .
“Ever since I was little I liked to help old people,” said the elderly woman residing in Safe Harbor. Those words emanated from her after she lovingly removed her own sweater and wrapped it around another resident. It wasn’t that the other resident requested or deserved such caring attention. It was an instance of God’s grace bubbling through her and overflowing in kindness toward another. The woman whom some would label confused and beyond rational action followed the way God created her to be. She was called to perceive a need and to respond to it.
According to the letter to the Ephesians, God’s great mercy flows out of God’s great love for us. God raises us out of our prideful pursuits and petty profiling to be partners in bestowing kindness. “By grace you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Grace is total gift. God’s love does not come with strings attached. Salvation is not something to be earned or grasped. Christ lived, died and rose so that gifted with the reassurance of God’s unending love for us we are “raised up with him and seated with him in the heavenly places.”
We are “raised up with him and seated with him in the heavenly places.” That is astonishing to hear, to hear that in this very now we are with Christ “in the heavenly places.” Yet that is what the inspired writer of Ephesians states in chapter 2.
The good news gets even better, as the writer of Ephesians shares that all, no not just some are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” In other words, God’s grace undergirds our growing in awareness of God’s daily call to see with God’s compassion the needs around us.
For by grace . . .
Sister Margaret James frequently guided Sister Monica in her wheelchair up and down the cloister walk and for fresh air outings in the garden court. Sister Margaret James didn’t have to do this, but for love of her younger sister she couldn’t imagine not giving Monica those rides.
We can’t imagine not helping and sometimes it seems we can’t help but help. Again, recall Ephesians: “We are created in Christ Jesus for good works. We have been made alive together through God’s love. We are what God has made us.” The consequence of God’s gift of grace is that we desire to walk the way of grace –compassion, kindness.
For by grace . . .
He was just a little kindergarten child, but God’s grace showed forth in him. It wasn’t that he appeared exceptional in the academic setting of kindergarten or that he excelled above others in good citizenship.
However, one memorable day after an ordinary decision was made by the teacher this little child reacted in an extraordinary way. The teacher determined that this child should be rewarded for his good behavior and thereby said he could work in a special area. Most children would beam and gratefully go and stay in that area. At first that seemed to be the result of being chosen. Upon hearing another child express disappointment at not being chosen, the chosen child said, “You can take my place.”
God’s grace fills even little kindergarten children to go beyond themselves and respond to the feelings of others. That little kindergarten boy was called by God to respond with grace to the cry of another.
Each of our journeys begins with God’s grace, is accompanied by God’s grace and ends with an eternal sharing in God’s grace. We don’t have to wait for God’s grace to appear among us. We don’t earn God’s grace through our efforts. We trust in God’s great love for us and with joyful gratitude are given a place with God now and forevermore.
Sister Dorene King
Homily for the Third Sunday in Lent
Ex. 20:1, I
But Jesus would not trust himself to them because
he knew them all, and did not need anyone
to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well. (Jn. 2:25)
As we ponder these Scriptures and recall the many names attributed to Jesus: Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Son of God, Jesus the Good Shepherd, Jesus the healer, Jesus the comforter to name only a few. In this Gospel passage from the Gospel of John for this Third Sunday of Lent, we find yet another name we can attribute to Jesus. Jesus, the psychologist. He testified about human nature. He himself understood it well (Jn. 2:25). This gives us much comfort as we continue to embrace the call to conversion of heart knowing that Jesus understands our human nature.
As Jesus continues his journey into public ministry, he sets his face toward Jerusalem where he will carry out most of his ministry. His first act in Jerusalem is the cleansing of the temple. The temple was to serve as the center of worship and praise to God. However, Jesus discovers that the buying and selling of the animals for sacrifice had become a money making opportunity for the merchants. (Not unlike the drug trafficking of our day where the drug barons receive the riches from the buying and selling done by the little people.) In this cleansing episode, Jesus is consumed with Zeal for his Father’s house and the need for the people to understand the importance of the Passover feast.
Fr. Demetrius Dumm notes in his book, The Mystical Portrait of Jesus, “One can imagine that Jesus used the whip of cords to take swipes even at the pillars of the temple for it had become symbolic of a religion that became so rigid and stagnant that it was unable to welcome the God of Change and progress”. (p. 98) Jesus brought a new focus to ritual cleansing—that of moral cleansing, which the Jewish leaders did not understand. They asked for a sign. Jesus replies, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The leaders simply could not understand what Jesus meant, however, many people began to believe in him when they saw the signs. They listened to his work and pondered them in their hearts. This kind of listening is intuitive, springing from the very core of our being; where we are most open to God and most receptive to the Word that God speaks. (Benedict’s Way, p. 30)
The entrance antiphon speaks of this openness and receptivity to the Word of God. “I will pour clean water upon you and cleanse you from all impurities and I will give you a new spirit, says the Lord. Jesus, the psychologist knows our needs. He knows our strengths and our weaknesses our failures and our good deeds. He also knows that we would need guidelines to remain faithful to our Lenten journey. In the reading from the Book of Exodus we have the guidelines, the Ten Commandments, to keep us from falling into sin. These are the benchmarks below which we should not fall. Beyond these guidelines Jesus also teaches us the lesson of complete surrender and total self-giving on the cross.
Fr. Ronald Rolheiser in his book, Sacred Fire stresses that as mature Christians we need to go beyond the benchmarks and move to total surrender. He proposes ten core principles that are invitations to greater holiness and mature discipleship:
1. Live in gratitude and thank your Creator by enjoying life.
2. Be willing to carry more of life’s complexities with empathy.
3. Transform jealousy, anger, bitterness and hatred rather than return them.
4. Let suffering soften your heart
6. Bless more and curse less
7. Live in a more radical sobriety, which means being honest
8. Pray, affectively and liturgically, praying with others and for the world.
9. Be wide in your embrace
10. Stand where you are supposed to be standing and let God provide the rest.
To be responsive to these invitations, we need to develop a spirit of deep,
attentive listening. Christina Baldwin, in her book Seven Whispers: Listening to the Voice of the Spirit uses the metaphor of the telephone to describe the movement of the Spirit. She writes: “The connection is always open: it is our half of the relationship to stay available for incoming calls.” (P.7) The problem is not in sending the calls but in receiving the calls to conversion. If we stay attentive we will gradually learn to decode the Divine Mystery in our daily life experiences. We will recognize the glimmers of hope that the Spirit sends to us daily on our Lenten Journey.
Sister Mary Josephine Torborg, O.S.B.
Associate Professor of Theology and
The College of St. Scholastica
Reflection for the Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
Psalm 116: 10, 15-19
I was eighteen when I had the chance to climb a mountain. Hau Ling Peak. It took a good deal of concentration, but my aunt and uncle focused my attention on the top and what I would see when I reached it. It was so high and windy, and felt removed from everyday life. Houses and cars seemed no bigger than pinheads.
Mountains: they’re majestic; they’re immovable. They have stood there since time immemorial. In ancient times, they were metaphors for peak spiritual experiences, for feeling closer to God and seeing life from a different vantage point. Many times people would feel or be different after coming down. Our readings this weekend are no exception.
So I invite you. Come up the mountain with me. Let us encounter God, let God encounter us, and let us never be the same.
When Abraham went up the mountain to sacrifice Isaac, he thought he was doing the Lord’s bidding. The understanding of sacrifice was to dedicate something (or someone, in this case) to the Lord so that no one else could use it for common purposes. Isaac was Abraham’s heir. Abraham wanted to dedicate all he had, his whole family, his prestige, his immortality, to God. Everything belonged to God. This was a good thing.
Like Abraham, we desire to dedicate to God all we have. And we do. We go up the mountain. But then Abraham experiences an epiphany. How is he to dedicate Isaac to God? His former understanding is to give up his son, to sacrifice Isaac. But instead he hears a voice from heaven and sees a ram caught in the bushes. He understands that God wants him and Isaac to “walk before the Lord in the land of the living,” as the psalm for tomorrow reads. Why sacrifice the sheep? Perhaps he is sacrificing the old thinking, or celebrating the coming forth of a new thinking.
Jesus takes his disciples up on a mountain. When he becomes dazzling white and converses with Moses and Elijah, the disciples are terrified. They then want to build tabernacles or tents to commemorate this awesome event, to come and worship at a specific place. This is also a good thing.
Like the disciples, we desire to commemorate our profound spiritual experiences. And we do. We go up this mountain. But then the disciples experience their own epiphany. A cloud, a shadow, a voice. They were not only to commemorate this experience, but to listen to Jesus. They were to listen to Christ, the one who would lead them into a fuller understanding of life and truth. We will be able to interfere with this charge?
What is our mountain? With these stories, we may gain some insights into what our own mountains look like. As per Abraham, we desire to give to God all we have or ever will have. But how do we dedicate it? We may not hide our gifts and desires under a rock, and say that we are giving them up as a sign of dedication to God. That is one understanding. But maybe we can use our gifts and our desires, all of them together, to witness to God, to “walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”
Like the disciples, we can wish to commemorate our experiences. However, if we stop there, we will be incomplete. Additionally, we can listen to Christ, who will lead us into a fuller understanding of life and truth. No one can take that inner listening away. No one can stop us from living in Christ’s life and truth. We may not be able to recognize the significance of it, much as Jesus’ disciples puzzled over the incomprehensible statement about “rising from the dead.” They did follow Christ as much as they were able at the time, and it was enough. We follow Christ as much as we are able at this time, and it is enough.
I wish I could say that climbing Hau Ling Peak when I was eighteen was a transforming experience for me. I did not see visions or hear voices from heaven, much as I would have liked to. Maybe I was. Going up the mountain, I was terrified on the steep slope with nothing to hold onto and loose gravel under my feet. Coming down, I was more confident and didn’t need to hold my uncle’s hand. Listening to that experience tell me that transfiguration is possible in the ordinary things of life.
Sister Gretchen Johnston
Reflection for the First Sunday in Lent
It wasn’t easy being Jesus.
It wasn’t easy being driven out into the lonely wilderness
where He was tempted by Satan.
It wasn’t easy for him, though He was the Son of God,
to face Satan, the essence of evil,
It wasn’t easy for him as he anticipated the mission that lay before him,
the mission he had been given by His heavenly Father.
But Jesus wasn’t alone in that bleak uninhabited place.
Jesus wasn’t alone because His heavenly Father sent angels
to comfort Him,
to be present to Him,
to walk side-by-side with Him, to companion Him.
Out in the wilderness,
Jesus was preparing.
He had a mission to accomplish, a message to proclaim.
The message: to proclaim the long-awaited good news of God,
His heavenly Father.
He came to announce that the time of fulfillment had come,
that the Kingdom of God was near.
His listeners could experience that awesome mystery
if they repented of their wayward lives, their sins,
their separatedness from God
if they believed Jesus’ word and took His word seriously.
Repent. Believe. Two common words but requiring a life-long patter of living a
It requires discipline, a conviction that Jesus’ message is meant for them
for us, a new focus in our way of life.
The Kingdom of God had come to earth
and it would bear fruit in the lives of those
who opened their eyes and ears to Jesus’ words.
With Jersus’ message, lived out in the lives of his followers,
the world would be a different place.
We are that world today,
attempting with all our hearts to live as Jesus did.
With His help, our God-sent mission will be accomplished.
Sister Martha Bechtold
February 22, 2015