Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Reflection for February 20, 2013 – Wednesday of the First Week in Lent (The Sign of Jonah)

            It’s been 7 days since Ash Wednesday and unless we gave up bathing for Lent (eww...) that physical reminder is gone from our foreheads for another year. Yet, the Church, in her wisdom does not allow us to forget the lesson.
            When Jonah was first called by God, he wanted to avoid it. We probably felt that way too  when we realized Lent was getting close. But just like Jonah found himself unavoidably in Nineveh so we are in Lent. We’re here, so we might a well do it right.
            So, how do we do Lent right? Of course the right disciplines for Lent are different for every person and so it isn’t my purpose here to give any kind of listing for what specific things you should be doing. Rather I would like to point out nature of the response of the Ninevites and suggest that we do likewise.
            As Jonah was proceeding through Nineveh announcing that in 40 days it would be destroyed the people of Nineveh, who obviously did not want to be destroyed, responded to his voice with fasting and putting on of sackcloth. What I think we should note is the reason given for their repentance. The passage does not say that they repented and put on sackcloth because they believed Jonah but rather because they believed God. Jonah clearly was the one who was speaking yet it was God that they believed. They recognized that it was God speaking through Jonah that they ought to listen to and they did so to their own great benefit.
            In today’s Gospel Jesus makes reference to the story of Jonah for a two-fold purpose. The first purpose is to rebuke them for seeking a dramatic sign to “prove” him. Jesus’ ministry isn’t about flashy signs. The Jews would have known this story and gotten his point immediately. The second purpose, related to the first though more subtle, is that he identifies himself with Jonah. We might say that Christ is like Jonah in that he calls for repentance, but it would be more accurate to say that Jonah prefigures and points to Christ. Either way, Christ is calling the people of Israel to repent but not just them, us as well.
            Jonah was not God yet God spoke through him and the people listened. Christ is God and does the will of his Father in heaven and so we ought to listen to Him all the more. In this season of Lent let us be quick like the Ninevites to repent and turn from our former selves so that we may not be destroyed by our sin but that God may show us his mercy.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Secular Culture Didn't Understand the Pope Before so Why Would It Now? (Don't Feed the Trolls!)

Everyone cares about the Pope all of a sudden. I mean, everyone. It's for an obvious and legitimate reason, of course but it's still fascinating for so many non-Catholics to be concerned about what the Pope is doing. It's the kind of fascination that often happens when a well-known world leader does something out of the ordinary. I'm not criticizing that.

In contrast to other world leaders however, the Pope (and more generally the Catholic Church) is often lambasted severely, usually with little good reason. The Pope/Church says "Hey modern culture, you're kind of screwing this up. How about changing directions huh?" and modern culture says, without really reading what he said or thinking it through, "What? How dare you tell us how life is supposed to be lived. The newest ideas are always the best ones. You're the ones that are all messed up!"

Catholics have come to be accustomed to this so you'd think that all the drama that has come with this surprise resignation of the Holy Father would be like water off our backs. If only it were so easy! No matter how used we get to people saying ridiculous things about the Church it's still often very difficult to handle the commentary.

Yesterday a random person on twitter replied to me contradicting a tweet ("All of this is about God, not about any of us, not about Pope Benedict himself. ") of mine. Their reply (which I won't quote) was hardly more substantial than "Nuh-uh!". Of course my instinct was to reply with something like "Yeah-huh!" You know, something to really show them what's up!

Fortunately (I suppose) I've made that mistake before so instead of replying in haste I had a look at their profile to see what their other tweets were like, to see if they were someone looking for trouble or for real dialogue. It was a string of low-content, negative tweets directed to people who had obviously said something positive about Pope Benedict/the Papacy/the Church. (I'm not using hyperbole. That's really all it was.)  "Aha!" I thought to myself, "a troll!"

But what does one do with a troll, with a provocateur, especially one pushing buttons on matters of religion? You want so bad to respond. It's so tempting. They're just so wrong! DON'T DO IT! You'll be playing right into their hand.

In Romeo and Juliet the character Tybalt is a troll, an agitator. (Don't be impressed. I had help with this reference.) He starts arguments and wants a fight not because he has any real purpose but just because he likes causing trouble. There is nothing to be gained by fighting with him. So also there is nothing to be gained by fighting with an internet rabble-rouser. They'll just bring you down and get you stuck in a pointless exchange. It's tempting to try and be the shinning savior but at some point we must remember that God is on our side and that there have always been and there will always be people that misunderstand the Church and anything and everything to do with it. It's part of being a Catholic but we have comfort in knowing that Christ is with us through all trials and all days, to the end of time. In some arguments there are no winners so just give them to God and leave them be* and I guarantee you'll be much happier in the end.

*I am all for intelligent and thoughtful discussion, however. If someone is genuinely curious and hoping to learn more, by all means, engage their curiosity and answer to the best of your ability.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Reflection given for Ash Wednesday Prayer Service - "Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned."

            Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned. If we weren’t sinners we wouldn’t be here. There would be no need to make this sign of penance, this putting of ashes on our forehead. But as it is, we are sinners, and so we rightly, with the psalmist, ask for God’s mercy and mark ourselves as repentant.
            In our sinful nature, ironically we think quite highly of ourselves. We are prone to spend a fair amount of energy insisting and trying to prove that we are the greatest or at least better than those others. It is pride that makes us forget that no matter how much we exalt ourselves God will always be greater.
            Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned. We mark ourselves with ashes, with simple dirty ashes, to remind ourselves that compared to the unfathomable greatness of God we are but slight and of no account.
            Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned. We have exalted ourselves and tried to take the Lord’s place and yet He does a curious thing. He humbles us…yet does not leave us there. In His infinite wisdom the humility He shows to us has the surprising consequence of exalting us up to be like Him. He makes us far more than we could ever make ourselves.
            Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned. Through our humility the Lord will create a clean heart within us. He gives us joy in salvation and a willing spirit to sustain us. If we but humble ourselves the Lord gives us joyfully all the things that we would in pride try to take but in humility he gives even greater things that we never thought of, gifts that eye has not seen and ear not heard.
            Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned. So let us today remember that we have fallen, that we are sinners in need of the Lord’s mercy. But let us also remember that the Lord truly is merciful and that he loves us so much that He humbles us so that he may later exalt us and lead us to the place prepared for us in heaven.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Reflection for Feb 6th, 2013 - Memorial of Saint Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs

No one lives a perfect life. Of course this is true in regards to sin but it is also true in regards to the trials that we all must endure. If someone were to insist to me that their long-term state in life was merely a string of happy coincidences where there were no obstacles to overcome, well…I would probably just nod and slowly back away from that person because they are not living in reality. The reality is that while in many ways we are highly blessed by God He also does allow us to endure trials for our own good.
          The author of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us: “Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him, for whom the Lord loves he disciplines.” Many a teenager or would-be atheist would decry God saying “If he really loved us he wouldn’t allow us to suffer.” but any good parent knows that’s not how it works. If children are protected from every trial and never allowed to overcome a challenge they never cease to be children. And so would be our case if God did not allow us to endure trials, trials that can bring us to spiritual maturity.
          Of course, the trials experienced are different in nature and degree for everyone, that is, we all have lesser or greater crosses to bear. The trials of today’s saints, Paul Miki and his companions, martyrs in 16th century Japan, were much different from ours yet they accepted them from God just as we ought to. When they were arrested for being Christians they did not deny it but rather, to the great confusion of their executioners, took great joy in dying on crosses just as Christ had done. God gave them this opportunity to accept discipline and because they did they are forever exalted among the company of saints! God called them to the highest discipline of martyrdom and they joyfully complied. It is unlikely that we will be asked to suffer physical persecution for our faith but we are still called to give of our lives over to God and through his discipline find our path to greater holiness.