Today we observe Ash Wednesday and begin our journey through Lent.
I have decided to “fast” from writing on Oboedire during Lent. This includes the suspension of all three weekly postings.
I will resume writing on Saturday, April 19, with the “Ancient Wisdom” meditation for Easter Day.
I pray that the following words from Henri Nouwen will describe your experience of Lent…
” Lent is a time of returning to God. It is a time to confess how we keep looking for joy, peace, and satisfaction in the many people and things surrounding us without really finding what we desire. Only God can give us what we want. So we must be reconciled with God … The season of Lent, helps us in a special way to cry out for God’s mercy.”
When we begin to live in the light of faith, we see that our salvation incorporates us into the Church. We come to Life as one member of the larger Body of Christ. We cannot live apart from the Church any more than one part can live separated from the body.
This is why “churchless Christianity” will never work, even though some of the concerns it carries are valid. The cure for whatever damage the Church has inflicted on our faith is not our separation from it, but the renewal of it.
Christ gathers all believers to himself, functioning as our Head. We are “one” in him. We cannot individualize or privatize our salvation without destroying what Christ gave himself to accomplish–namely, the joining together of what sin had separated. No family is complete when there is an empty chair at the table, created when someone decided to leave home.
So, as Pope Francis says, “Faith is necessarily ecclesial.” This does not mean the Church is perfect; in fact, it is often very flawed. This does not mean it always lives up to our expectations–even legitimate ones. But it does mean the Church is “of God” (Who must both praise and purge it), and it is the family into which we are incorporated when we believe.
And like the individual parts joined to the larger body, as we are joined to the larger Body of Christ, we find the life of God present and active in us so that we can continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Read: Exodus 24:13-18
Meditation: “Preparation Before Revelation”
God met Moses on the mountain with a “firey revelation” (v 17) that resulted in the giving of the Ten Commandments. But the lesson tells us that this happened on the seventh day after Moses made it to the top. The first six days were cloudy and silent.
How many times do we have to read passages like this before we realize that preparation always precedes revelation? In a world that idolizes “instant gratification” in our gadgets and gurus, appatently we have to be reminded of this again and again.
“I went to church, but I didn’t get anything out of it”…..”I read the Bible today, but it didn’t speak to me.” Comments like this correctly describe the way it is some days in our spiritual formation. But they also raise the question of how ready we were to receive anything in the first place.
Moses’ reception of the Ten Comnandments was one of God’s “big deals” of all time. But it came on day seven, not day one. I am guessing it happened that way, so Moses had time for all the other “voices” to subside. That way he could hear The Voice when it spoke.
And so it is since then, the saints of the ages have told us in a million different ways that solitude and silence come before instruction, inspiration, and insight. This is why some of them waited and listened for days (or longer) before they heard anything.
The six days leading up to the seventh for Moses should be a reminder to us that “drive-through spirituality” is really no spirituality at all. There is no fast lane where we can “have, it your way,” or have it served up quick, so we can get back on the road to living life speedily and superficially.
This week, I offer a guest column–an excerpt from an article in Contemplative Journal describing the transformation taking place across the earth in work environments where compassion is replacing control….
“Across the globe, in board rooms, in cubicles, on the factory floor–wherever you find workers, a quiet revolution is underway. What began as a movement toward greater spirituality in the workplace has morphed into multiple understandings of what this phrase might mean. It’s characterized by compassionate business practices and a work environment in which employees are recognized and encouraged for the unique, creative capabilities they contribute to the team. Interwoven in this metamorphosis is the fundamental knowing that all individuals–regardless of position, are deserving of respect; that respect is a given, not an added benefit.
Whatever name you choose to call this revolutionary way of business, and whatever tradition, secular or spiritual, might inspire it, compassionate business practices begin within each individual’s core and spread throughout the company through their thoughts, actions, and words. When an organization recognizes the importance of humanizing the workplace and its leaders begin to implement compassionate practices, the climate and the culture of the organization is transformed.”
The light of Christ comes to us and shines out of us as we put our faith in him. Our faith is comprised of two basic features: (1) our trust in Christ as the Way, Truth, and Life, and (2) our following him through obedience.
This is nothing short of a “new creation” (2Cor 5:17), which transforms us into beloved daughters and sons. It is all of grace, not works, lest the very egotism that led us into sin originally rear its head again in our Christianity. We “work” as a result of our salvation, not as a means to earn it or parade it.
The salvation experience is not a one-time thing. No matter the nature of our entrance into faith, it is only the beginning of an ongoing relationship with Christ that will continue beyond this life in heaven. Conversion is not a date to be remembered (although”the hour I first believed” is holy) so much as it is a launch to be celebrated from that day forward.
Pope Francis rightly describes it by writing, “Faith in Christ brings salvation because in him our lives become radically open to a love that precedes us, a love that transforms us from within, acting in and through us.” Through the Holy Spirit the risen Christ abides in us, and we abide in him (John 15).
Egotism is gone (“the old is past away” 2Cor 5:17). We no longer live as an “I” (what Galatians 2:20 literally says), but rather we live as those in whom Christ dwells. This indwelling expands and enriches us in every way. We now have the eyes to see and the ears to hear that God intended for us all along.
Read: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Meditation: “Be it…Do it”
The arrangement if this week’s Old Testament lesson makes it clear that holiness is not only a profession, it is a performance. Every illustration of holiness is an incarnation of it.
Today, we often hear people say, “Words are cheap.” Apparently, they were in Israel’s day too. So, God made it plain that the only valid declaration of being holy was living a holy life–and doing so in the concrete situations in which we find ourselves.
Thousands of years later, the greatest hypocrisy is to testify to something, but not live it. The world ignores words without deeds, and it should. But there is no greater validation of faith than the living of it.
God’s great desire is for us to “be” holy, but that desire remains unfulfilled until our claim becomes our conduct.
Not long ago, I heard a person ask how we can admire Mother Teresa so much after her admission that she lived so long and intensely with a sense of God’s absence. Questions like these have arisen following the publication of ‘Come Be My Light’ (2007), essentially a collection of her writing prepared by Brian Kolodlejchuk. Realizing that the question persists, I want to respond to it. Mother Teresa’s experience can be understood when two things are combined.
First, the general ebb-and-flow of the spiritual life. It is a pseudo spirituality that projects perpetual positiveness. Years ago, I began to pay attention to the stories of people whom I admired (ancient & modern, dead & living) who shared their experiences of spiritual dryness and the more profound experience of the dark night of the soul. Suffice it to say that these saints helped me to see that struggle and fluctuation are signs of true spirituality, not the absence of it. In this general sense, Mother Teresa bore witness to genuine Christian spirituality, standing among “the great cloud of witnesses” who do the same.
But there is a second factor to be seen–and one that some misinterpreters of her experience either ignored, or failed to see. And that is the fact that early in her Christian life, Mother Teresa prayed to be given the heart of Jesus–a heart (as you will recall) that included his prayer, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When Mother Teresa’s prayer was answered, she understood that a depth of forsakenness was given her–a depth that would produce an amazing empathy for the suffering and dying, and a compassion to care for them.
We all participate in the first level, but fewer experience the second level. What we see in Mother Teresa is the kind of life that occurs when someone experiences the pain of “forsakenness” and turns it into solidarity with the sufferers, and service to them in Jesus’ name.
Thankfully, we do not have to descend to such depths to love and care for others. But let us also give thanks for those who have lived on that level, and whose lives (far from being a contradiction of faith) actually illustrate a profound level of faith–a level which shows us the heart of Christ himself.