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Saturday, 28 February 2015

Lent Reflections: 2nd Sunday of Lent 2015

Second Sunday of Lent, Year B – March 1, 2015

Moriah. Sinai. Nebo. Carmel. Horeb. Gilboa. Gerizim. Mount of Beatitudes. Tabor. Hermon. Zion. Mount of Olives. Calvary. Golgotha. Mountains are often used in the Bible as the stages of important encounters between God and his people. Though we may have never visited the lands of the Bible, we are all familiar with these biblical mountains and the great events of our salvation history that took place there.
Today’s Old Testament and Gospel reading take place on two important biblical mountains– Mount Moriah and Mount Tabor. Both readings give us profound insights into our God and his Son, Jesus, who is our Savior.
First let us consider the story of the sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham as portrayed in Genesis 22:1-19. The story is called the “Akedah” in Hebrew (Anglicization of the Aramaic word for “binding”) and it easily provokes scandal for the modern mind: What sort of God is this who can command a father to kill his own son?
The binding of Isaac, then, is a symbol of life, not death, for Abraham is forbidden to sacrifice his son.
How many pagan voices were assailing Abraham at this moment? What would a contemporary father do if he were to be called on to sacrifice his only son to God? He would be thought mad if he even considered it — and unfaithful to God as well. What a poignant story indeed! 
“Take your son, your only son Isaac whom you love … and offer him as a burnt offering. … So Abraham rose early in the morning.” 
Because Abraham listened to the Lord’s messenger, his only son’s life was spared. The binding of Isaac, then, is a symbol of life, not death, for Abraham is forbidden to sacrifice his son.
What happens on Mount Moriah finds an echo in what happens atop Mount Tabor and Mount Calvary in the New Testament: The mounts Moriah, Tabor and Calvary are significant places of vision in the Bible. For on these peaks, we see a God who never abandons us in our deepest despair, terror and death. God is with us through thick and thin, through day and night.
These mountains teach us that it is only when we are willing to let go of what we love most and cherish most in this life, to offer it back to God, the giver of all good gifts, that we can ever hope to receive it back in ways we never dreamed of or imagined. Only then will we experience resurrection, healing, consoling light and new life.
We can only speculate on what lies behind the story of the Transfiguration — one of the Gospel’s most mysterious and awesome visions (Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36). Peter, James and John had an overwhelming experience with the Lord on Mount Tabor. Following the night of temptation and preceding the blackness of Golgotha, the glorious rays of the Transfiguration burst forth. Before their eyes, the Jesus they had known and with whom they walked became transfigured. His countenance was radiant; his garments streaming with white light. At his side, enveloped in glory, stood Moses, the mighty liberator, who had led Israel out of slavery, and Elijah, the greatest of Israel’s prophets.
Jesus needed the light and affirmation of the mountaintop experience in his own life. In the midst of his passion predictions, he needed Mount Tabor, to strengthen him as he descended into the Jordan Valley and made his way up to Jerusalem. For every disciple since, it is the same. Those who follow Jesus must ascend the mountain to catch a glimpse of the mystery of God’s presence in our world and in our lives.
And yet Mark’s story of Jesus transfigured reminds us that gazing in contemplation is not enough. The disciples are told to listen to Jesus, the Beloved of God, and then return to their daily routine down in the valley.
The awesome Gospel story of the Transfiguration gives us an opportunity to look at some of our own mountaintop experiences. How have such experiences shed light on the shadows and darkness of life? What would our lives be without some of these peak experiences? How often do we turn to those few but significant experiences for strength, courage and perspective? How has the mountaintop experience enabled us to listen more attentively to God’s voice — a voice calling us to fidelity and authenticity in our belief? When we’re down in the valley we often can’t see Christ’s glory.
The most consoling message of the Transfiguration is perhaps for those who suffer, and those who witness the deformation of their own bodies and the bodies of their loved ones. Even Jesus will be disfigured in the passion, but will rise with a glorious body with which he will live for eternity and, faith tells us, with which he will meet us after death.
So many voices assail us that we find it difficult to listen to God’s voice. Before light envelops us, we need to go through darkness. Before the heavens open up, we need to go through the mud and dirt. We must experience both mountains — Tabor and Golgotha — in order to see the glory of God. The Transfiguration teaches us that God’s brilliant life included death, and there is no way around it — only through it.
It also reminds us that the terrifying darkness can be radiant and dazzling. During moments of transfiguration, God penetrates the hardened, incredulous, even disquieting regions within us, about which we really do not know what to do, and he leaves upon them the imprint of his own face, in all its radiant and dazzling glory and beauty.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Lent Reflections : 1st Sunday of Lent 2015

GospelMK 1:12-15

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, 
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.

After John had been arrested, 
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

I've picked out the Gospel reading for this first Sunday of Lent because I think it really puts across the themes we ought to think about during Lent. 

This reading really struck me because we often think of Lent as a time where we give something up - a form of penance, but this reading shows us that penance, in any form, is not easy. Even Jesus was tempted, but he fasted and prayed. In the same way, when we are tempted to break our Lenten promises, we should remember this and also fast and pray. 

Here's why:

Following Jesus' example, we fast because we want to bring out the true hunger and thirst for God, and also to discipline the desires of our hearts for worldly things - food, water, shelter, sex, material things to make our lives more comfortable. But, in actual fact, our deepest need is for God, and fasting helps us to realise that. People seek God, but so often in the wrong ways. They look for him outside when He is actually there within, in the depths of their hearts, waiting for them to speak to Him. That is why we must pray, to communicate with God, because any relationship needs communication, and without it, well, the relationship breaks down. 

We should also give alms, because in the last judgement, we are challenged to feed the poor and help those less fortunate than ourselves.Jesus says, "Whatsoever you have done to the least of my brothers and sisters, you have done to me". Think about how you can "do" something to help those who are not so well off in your community. Maybe start a lenten alms box. :)

Lenten Challenge: Pray about what you can "do" this Lent, and Fast to help the true hunger of God come into your life. Find a way to give back to your community, and give alms. 

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Preparation for Lent - A reflection by Fr John Jesus Moloney CSJ

Gospel Reflections: Lent 2013 (recycled wisdom from Fr John Jesus Moloney CSJ).
Lent 2013
This week's reflections will be a few thoughts on how to live the Lenten season.
Prayer, fasting, alms giving
The Church traditionally says there are 3 things we ought to "do" during lent. Putting stress on the word "do". We emphasize very often the interior dimension. That lent is about attitudes, ideas and intentions. In the traditional practice of the Church, lent is about doing things. Things that involve the body as much as the mind. That involve the exterior of your life as much as the interior.
There is a very Catholic principle that goes like this..... what your body does your soul will follow. We like to give bodily expression to spiritual movement, acting out with our whole person the conversion process. That’s why we love pilgrimages, going on our knees to pray, sign of the cross, rosary; that engages the body, mind and will, we love "smells and bells" as we say because they awaken the body and lead the soul into the divine.
Take pilgrimages for example; lent is all about conversion, "metanoia" in the Greek of the Gospel, "beyond the mind"; to go beyond the present way the mind perceives, to change the way we see things. To travel to a place of pilgrimage... (Bible full of pilgrimages...Abraham leaves his home and sets off...Moses journeys to the promised land, Mary to Hill Country to visit her cousin Elizabeth, Jesus to Jerusalem....) to mimic the arduousness of the spiritual path, the soul follows the lead....
The 3 great practices of lent are prayer, fasting and alms giving. Lets look at each one in turn.
Prayer has been defined in all sorts of ways over the centuries. There are many many different ways of practicing prayer.
Prayer is a conscious and disciplined accessing of the center. Jesus Christ wants to be the center of your life. That power around which all of your talents, abilities, your powers revolve. Jesus says I want to live in you, I want to be your life, your mind, your will. To pray, is to access that center. To become aware of it. To live in it, to be open to it in a conscious and disciplined way. Lent the Church says is a great time for this practice of prayer.
Here are some very practical things; The Jesus prayer.... its a very ancient prayer form and very simple. Its roots are biblical. It flourished especially in the East, in the monasteries of the Byzantine Church. The Jesus prayer unfolds this way. As you breath in deeply you say "Lord Jesus Christ Son of God" and then as you breath out you say "Have mercy on me a sinner". Notice please how it involves the mind, you are thinking about Christ, you are thinking about sin, about forgiveness. It involves the will, the desire and it involves the body. As you breathe in you fill your lungs, you are signaling to your body, that you are filling your life up with Jesus Christ, you breathe Him in. Then as you breathe out, "have mercy on me a sinner". You are breathing out all the negative spirits in your life. You are breathing out sin, negativity. If you read the book "The way of the pilgrim", its a very short little book. It’s all about a young man who discovered the Jesus prayer. And it changes his life. He was leafing through the bible on day and he found St Paul's invitation to pray constantly. And he wondered what that meant. So he sought out various spiritual masters. Until he finally came to someone who finally explained to him what it meant. He said it means you should practice the Jesus prayer. "Lord Jesus Christ Son of God. have mercy on me a sinner". How many times ? Hundreds of times. Thousands of times. As you make your way through the day, maybe pausing and very consciously saying it in a very focused way. But let that prayer seep into your bones. Let it seep into your lungs, your body, your mind. And what this young man discovered was that his whole life changed as he let the Jesus Prayer work its way through his whole being.
The beauty of the Jesus Prayer is that you can pray it in a very concentrated way, you can spend an hour in the morning, in the evening with this prayer. Sit before the Blessed Sacrament and pray it. Or you can pray it for a minute, maybe in the midst of a very busy hectic day. Facing though decisions, take a minute, take 30 seconds and pray this prayer. Lets say you are caught in traffic, you can give yourself over to frustration or you can give yourself over to prayer, to access the deep center. To make contact with Jesus Christ.
The second great practice of lent is fasting. Jesus himself fasted for 40 days in the desert. It’s an ancient and powerful spiritual practice. Why do we fast ? Because we have a hunger for God. Which is the deepest hunger. We`re meant to feel that hunger, to access it so that it can direct us towards God. What's the danger ? (and every spiritual master East and West recognizes this), the danger is that if we allow the superficial hungers of our lives to dominate, we never reach the deep hunger.
Thomas Merton once said that the hungers for food, for drink and for shelter, for sex are like children because they are insistent, they are immediate, they want satisfaction now. The way a little kid does, give me this now, therefore these desires can dominate the soul very quickly if we let them. Fasting is a way of disciplining those desires. Quieting those desires. Not responding immediately to them so that the deep desire, the deep thirst and hunger might emerge. Unless you fast you might never even realize how hungry you are for God.
How about some practical suggestions...the Church tells us clearly to follow certain dieting recommendations during the Lenten season, abstaining from meat on Fridays, having certain days of fast, these really aren`t all that stringent and Catholics are encouraged to follow them. But maybe we could try skipping a meal once a week during lent, and taking the money you would have spent in that meal and giving it to the poor. Or skipping a meal and during that time pray the rosary. To substitute the hunger and thirst for God, in a conscious way, for the hunger and thirst for food and drink.
But here's the thing, don't simply do it as a kind of masochistic self-punishment. "I'm fasting from this meal and now I'm miserable....I'm not smoking and that’s making me crazy" ...... rather feel that hunger, that need, that lack, and then treat it as a kind of sacrament of your divine hunger. Feel that hunger and say "Lord I know this is symbolic for me of the hunger and thirst for you".... feel that as you fast.
The 3rd practice, the one that’s often the most overlooked; alms-giving. During lent we are encouraged to give alms to the poor. Because we are members of a body. The Church is not a club, a society, not a collection of like-minded people. The Church is a body. We participate in Christ, we are the cells and molecules of his body. What that means of course is that we are connected one to another. Just as the organs of a body are interconnected. If the liver has a problem its the whole body's problem. The lungs have a problem...the whole body is affected. So we Christians say and believe that if you have a problem, that’s my problem too. Because we are connected. If someone in the far corner of the world is hungry, is thirsty or alone or afraid, I can't say; "that’s their problem". That’s our problem. We give alms because we are connected to each other.
How do you give alms ? Here are some concrete suggestions..... as a kid in Ireland we used to have a poor box, the "trocaire box" as we'd call it. During lent put a poor box next to your door and then every time you leave during lent, put something in that box. It could be 50 cents, 1 dollar, 10 dollars...whatever, and encourage your family to do it too. Knowing that each time there is somebody in the body of Christ who needs it.
Another ancient practice is to set an extra place at your table, at dinner. To remind you of that person in the body of Christ, who is starving. Who doesn't have enough to eat. And then take the money you would have spent to prepare that meal, put that in the poor box.
Here is one that’s very difficult....St John Chrysostom said that "If you have 2 shirts in your closet, one belongs to you and the other belongs to the man who has no shirt. If you have 2 cloaks in your closet, one belongs to you and one to the man who has no cloak". Go into your closet this lent, we all have more clothes than we actually need. Find something in there that you don't need, and give it to someone in the body of Christ who has far greater need of this than I do.
This lent forget about fussy introspection, ask not am I happy ? Ask; am I giving, doing, caring, follow the Gospel's recommendation and do 3 things....pray, fast and give alms.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Blog Update: Vocations Chat


Vocations Chat has been put on hold for the time being as both Emily and I have a lot going on at the moment. It will likely be running again after Easter.

The time will probably change to a Friday evening, but this is yet to be confirmed.
Please email Kim Lee if you have any requests, need help with this.


FMM Assunta Convent Visit for the Year of Consecrated Life, FMM in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia are having an evening session for enquirers and discerners to find out more about Religious Life, and in particular, the life of an FMM Sister.
Date: Friday, 6th February 2015
Time: 8pm - 9pm
Venue: Assunta Convent, 7 Lorong 4/52B, 46050 Petaling Jaya, MALAYSIA
There will be a post-visit article on the blog sometime after the visit to let you all know how it went! Please watch this space! God bless! Kim Lee Foundress