Sunday, February 25, 2018

Transfigured by Prayer

From the Catholic Liturgy for the 2nd Sunday o Lent, February 25, 2018. Gospel: Mark 9:2-10. Theme: Transfigured through Prayer.

If we were to search a database for the most common religious name given to a monastery, we would discover that Transfiguration is top on the list. The reason for this is that monasteries are meant to be places of prayerful encounter with God, usually built in the mountains or wilderness, where a Christian can be alone with Jesus, together with others seeking this same intimacy. And in our 2,000-year Church tradition of spirituality, the Transfiguration story has always been help up as a lesson in what it means to have a prayerful experience of God through the prayer form which we call meditation.

Why is this? Because meditation is all about personal intimacy with Jesus, about coming to know Him as He really is, and in the process getting to know ourselves as we really are. This is something that Peter, James and John experienced on that mountain with Jesus. They went away, alone together with Him, and as they gazed upon Him and rested in His presence, his true inner self, His divinity, began to shine through the flesh of his humanity. The disciples were caught up in this awesome revelation and Peter spoke freely to Jesus about what he was feeling in this experience. Finally, when it was over the Father’s voice directed them to listen to Jesus and they returned to regular life re-energized to follow our Lord.

This is a very good description of Christian meditation, which we are all called to practice, every-one of us. We intentionally take time to go someplace where we can be alone with Jesus in our prayer-time. We read a story out the gospels or choose a mystery of the rosary or reflect on a recent experience we have had in our lives. We imagine the story and see how it might have meaning in our lives. We reflect on it thoughtfully, ruminating over it, asking Jesus to show us what He wants us to learn from it. And then we remain quiet and listen for the voice of the Beloved Son speaking to the ears of our heart. An idea, a word, some message that pops into our minds. And then we leave our meditation time and return to our duties, re-dedicated to Jesus in our resolve to follow Him and put his words into practice.

For 2,000 years, the saints and teachers of prayer have told us that the Christian who practices meditation regularly will come to experience a mystical transfiguration in their own lives. They tell us that if we devote time every day to this form of prayer we will grow in our intimacy with Jesus, and gradually become more aware of the presence of God living within us by grace.  And this divine-indwelling will shine through the flesh of our lives, and draw others to seek and experience the living God.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Touch That Transforms

From the Catholic Liturgy for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feb. 4, 2018. Gospel: Mark 1:40-45. Theme: The Touch That Transforms.  As we see in today’s Gospel story about the leper, Jesus went about Galilee touching and transforming lives.  His healings were a sign that the Kingdom of God was breaking into human history, that God’s healing love was bursting into the life of anyone who would trust in Jesus and allow His touch to transform them. The touch of Jesus still heals us today, if like the leper, we seek and receive His touch with genuine faith. So, I think the big question is: what is real faith? What do the gospels mean when they say that we must have faith to be changed by the touch of Jesus?

Well, first of all let’s learn what it doesn’t mean. It does not mean that we have to work up some kind of frenzy of super-positive thinking, do a kind of mental gymnastics, to psych ourselves up to believe that a miracle will happen!  If this was faith meant then we would be making it into a purely human work, with God has a kind of cheerleader urging us on. This false – but sadly pretty common – mistaken idea of faith can lead to deep disappointment or even abandonment of a relationship with God when our hoped-for healing doesn’t happen as we expect.

The faith that gives birth to healing and personal transformation is simply a child-like trust in God our Father, a confidence that He will only do what is good for us, for He sees the whole story of our lives and not just this particular moment as we do. There is no psyching up but only crying out.  There is no fake pretending or mental gymnastics, but instead there is a peace and serenity in believing that whatever happens is best for us in the grand scheme of things. This is why the leper simply says to Jesus. “If you want to…”, in other words, “I know you can and I surrender to your decision.”

I have personally seen this kind of life-changing faith in the 12 Steps of Recovery, when a person sincerely gives up control over his or her life situation and surrenders in trust to the will and care of God. There’s a saying about this kind of faith that comes to us from AA but is applicable to every one of us: “Let go and let God.”  In other words, trust in the One who alone can direct all things and who has promised to do so in a way that is for the good of those who trust in Him. Say to Him. “I know that if you want to, you will do it.” And then let Him be God and act in your life.

Sometimes the touch of Jesus responds to this kind of faith instantly and directly with an immediate, amazing healing as we see in the leper story. Other times, Jesus keeps touching us over a period of time, and through the hands of others whom He sends to help us, gradually bringing us to the transformation we sincerely seek, because there are things He wants us to learn along the way.  But one thing is for sure: if we approach Jesus with the faith of the leper, with the attitude of letting go and letting God take over, we will indeed be healed, transformed, changed from the inside out.

During his ministry on earth, Jesus in his humanity was limited like us by the boundaries of space and time, but the Resurrection has freed Him from these limitations.  He is now alive and present and active wherever He is needed and also remains truly alive and active among us in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.  So, as you approach Holy Communion, come forward with faith and confidence that the Risen Lord Jesus is going to touch you personally, individually. When the consecrated Host is placed into your hand or onto your tongue, receive the touch of Jesus, and tell Him what needs to be healed in your mind, body or spirit. Say to Him, “Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean, you can make me whole, you can heal me and make all things new again.”

Sunday, February 4, 2018

We Are All Fixer-Uppers

From the Catholic Liturgy for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feb. 4, 2018. Gospel: Mark 1:29-39.  Theme: We’re All Fixer-Uppers.  I have to confess that I am an ardent Home and Garden TV viewer. I especially like the fixer-upper shows and it amazes me how someone can look beyond the mess and destruction of a run-down house and see its possibilities. I enjoy watching the various stages of renovation – demolition day, re-wiring, laying new floors, brightening up with new paint…and suddenly you see what is basically the same building, but totally renewed and restored to what it was originally meant to be.

It seems to me that the restoration of fixer-uppers is a good way to understand the mission of Jesus that we see beginning in today’s Gospel, because we are all fixer-uppers, every single one of us. Some of us might be like houses that only have the cement foundation going for them, because everything else has been so terribly mistreated and broken down. Others of us might only need a few cosmetic touches, but all of us without exception need some work to be done so that we can be made new from the inside out.  And God, I think, is like those HGTV stars. He can look beyond the mess and even destruction we may have made in our lives and see the possibilities and He has a burning desire to restore us to what we were always meant to be: his holy and happy sons and daughters. That’s why he sent his only Son into our world as one of us: to heal what is sick, to drive evil out, and to fix what is broken. We call this work of restoration, salvation.

So, the big question is:  How do we let Jesus be that Savior, that Master Carpenter of our lives, and cooperate with Him in this task of our personal restoration?  Well, like any fixer-upper job we need two fundamental things: a plan or blueprint to follow, and the resources to get the job done! And the good news is that Jesus has provided both of these for us.

We find the blueprint, the model of what we are meant to be in the person of Jesus. His words, his actions, his relationships…these all show us what it means to live a fully renewed and restored human life.  This is why frequent reflective reading of the gospels is so vital. This is why Pope Francis never tires of giving this daily gospel-reading advice in so many of his talks.

But head knowledge is not enough to effect a change in us. No matter how many times a contractor looks at a blueprint, the house is going to remain in its dilapidated state until he gets going and starts the actual work. The same is true for us. We need to get busy living the gospel in our daily lives and practicing charity towards those with whom we live, work and socialize. But we can only do this consistently and effectively by God’s grace, His supernatural power, which he gives to us through the sacraments, especially Confession and Holy Eucharist.

In Confession, we haul away the junk and debris that have accumulated in us. We receive the power to stand strong against temptations and evil is cast out of our lives. And through intimate contact with the Risen Lord Jesus in Holy Communion we become one with him. He truly lives within us and His power flows through us. When we keep up this Eucharistic relationship week after week – even daily for those who can – the work of our renewal and restoration kicks into high-speed and its success is guaranteed.

So, let’s bring to Jesus in our prayer, in our conversations with Him, whatever it is that is keeping us back, whatever is holding us down, whatever is oppressing us. Let’s take up the blueprint of the Gospel and follow its plan. Let’s invest in the resources of the Sacraments so that Jesus can touch us, heal us and cast evil out of our lives.  Let’s allow God to restore us fixer-uppers into what we were originally meant to be: his holy sons and daughters who spread His Kingdom of love, mercy and compassion on planet Earth.