Christus Vivit

Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit has just been released.  I have not yet had a chance to read it, but you can read the document in its entirety here.

Although directly addressed to “all Christian young people”, Francis says upfront that he is “also addressing this message to the entire People of God, pastors and faithful alike, since all of us are challenged and urged to reflect both on the young and for the young.”

Feel free to comment with any reactions if you have read the document.  As always it is good to read the document yourself, rather than rely on summaries by others.


The Older Brother

I offered a reflection on the Gospel at the Masses at Church of St. Thomas More in St. Paul this weekend.  The Gospel was Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son.  I invited parishioners to consider what they might learn from each of the characters in that story, starting with the older brother.

At some level, who doesn’t have at least some sympathy for the older brother, especially those of us who are oldest children, who feel like we do most of the work.  James Martin refers to the son’s complaint that he worked so hard for years and never got even a young goat to celebrate with his friends and writes

In one explosive sentence, the son vents the feelings of all those who have ever felt ignored or underappreciated for their hard work.  In my experience, most Christians are trying to lead good lives and therefore are more like the dutiful elder son than the wastrel younger one.  We are more likely to feel the older son’s emotions: resentment over not being appreciated, jealousy over the success of someone who does not “deserve” it, anger at what we deem as favoritism, and sadness at feeling excluded.

We do not always express our feelings as explosively as does the older brother, but we know his feeling; we often at least secretly harbor resentment that we are not treated as we should be treated, not rewarded as we deserve to be.  Even Henri Nouwen admitted in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son

Often I catch myself complaining about little rejections, little impolitenesses, little negligence.  Time and again I discover within me that murmuring, whining, grumbling, lamenting, and griping that go on and on even against my will.  The more I dwell on the matters in question, the worse my state becomes.  The more I analyze it, the more reason I see for complaint.  And the more deeply I enter it, the more complicated it gets.  There is an enormous, dark drawing power to this inner complaint.  Condemnation of others and self-condemnation, self-righteousness and self-rejection keep reinforcing each other in an ever more vicious way.

The older son is trapped by his resentment, and it is worthwhile for us to examine ways we can so easily resonate with older son’s point of view.

For example, it is good for those who have long been part of the church (who have been with the father always) to recognize aspects of own sinfulness, not just the sinfulness of those not part of the in-group.

It is important for us to ask: When does pride, jealousy, anger/resentment, self-righteousness get in the way of us rejoicing with God?

The older son embellishes his brother’s sinfulness (he speaks of prostitutes, which is not in the description of what the younger son does) – where are we guilty of exaggerating the shortcomings of those in our midst?

These kinds of questions are important because, as St. Ignatius would tell us, for those of us trying to lead lives of prayer, trying to live in the way Jesus invites us, the temptations to sin are subtle.  And so we need to be attuned to the kinds of feelings experienced by the older brother and where they lead us.

Note: You can listen to the entirety of my reflection here.

Be It Done Unto Me

For your reflection on this feast of the Annunciation, here is an excerpt from Caryll Houselander’s poem, The Reed

She is a reed,
straight and simple,
growing by a lake
in Nazareth:

a reed that is empty,
until the Breath of God
fills it with infinite music:

and the breath of the Spirit of Love
utters the Word of God
through an empty reed.

The Word of God
is infinite music
in a little reed:

it is the sound of a Virgin’s heart,
beating in the solitude of adoration;
it is a girl’s voice
speaking to an angel,
answering for the whole world;

it is the sound of the heart of Christ,
beating within the Virgin’s heart;
it is the pulse of God,
timed by the breath of a Child.

The circle of a girl’s arms
has changed the world–
the round and sorrowful world–
to a cradle for God….

Be hands that are rocking the world
to a kind rhythm of love;
that the incoherence of war
and the chaos of our unrest
be soothed to a lullaby;
and the round and sorrowful world,
in your hands,
the cradle of God.

Happy Feast of the Annunciation!

(This poem appears in Houselander’s The Flowering Tree)

How Did You Arise Today?

How did you arise to greet this day?  Was it:

With gratitude for life?

With amazement at God’s presence in every person and every thing?

With courage to meet what will be difficult?

With desire for continued transformation?

With grief still settled in your spirit?

With longing for ever greater inner freedom?

With conviction to do what is lifegiving?

With a willingness to help those who will need your care?

With hesitation as you think of pain that may come?

With hope?  despair?  confidence? anxiety?  happiness? sadness?

However you arose, take a few moments today to share that with God.  To let God know what is lifting you up, or what is weighing you down.  And, equally importantly, give God a chance to respond.


Ashes and the Message They Convey

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. On this day, Catholics will “get their ashes” – we will all go to Mass or another service at which our foreheads will be marked with a cross made with ashes. As the cross is being made, we will hear the priest or other minister distributing ashes say to us either: “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return” or “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

Why do we hear these words?

The words “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return,” come from the book of Genesis; they are part of the words uttered by God to Adam and Eve after the fall. In the words of Pope John Paul II during one of his Ash Wednesday homilies, “Original sin and original sentence. By the act of the first Adam, death entered the world and every descendant of Adam bears the sign of death within him. All generations of humanity share in this inheritance.”

So we hear these words to remind us of death. But it is the alternative words that accompany our receipt of ashes that remind us of what it is that overcomes death. “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” These are the works in the Gospel of Mark with which Jesus begins his public ministry: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

Although we hear only one of these two formulations when we get our ashes, it is only together that they provide a complete message. It is true that we are sinners and that – left to our own devices we share in the inheritance of death. But we are loved sinners. And because of God’s love for us, God offers a path out of death – a path to new life, life everlasting. And Christ is that path.

May you have a blessed Lent.


Lent as Invitation to Metanoia

Tomorrow is the beginning of Lent.  We typically think of Lent as a time of repentance, a term that we think of in terms of being sorry for our sins and resolving to refrain from committing them again.  And that is certainly a worthwhile practice.

In a reflection in Give Us This Day, James Martin invites us to a broader understanding of what that word means.  He suggests that the word the Gospels use for repentance means something a bit different, writing that in the Gospels, “both John the Baptist and Jesus call us to embrace a metanoia.  This Greek word means a complete change of mind and heart.  So it’s not simply a regretting of sins; it’s a complete reorientation of one’s life.”

What will you do this Lent to further that metanoia?  Martin suggests asking God to help you become aware of the parts of your life where you are, not only sinful, but unfree.

Ask yourself: What are the areas of unfreedom that lead you to act in unskillful ways?  And what is the grace you need from God to become free?

These are harder questions than simply giving up chocolate or some equivalent.  But, as Martin suggests in his reflection “‘turning over a new leaf’ can be both profoundly freeing and profoundly joyful.”


A Prayer to the Holy Spirit

I’m going through some papers in my office and came across this prayer to Holy Spirit.  It seemed to me a prayer we could all use at this time.  (My handwritten note indicates “anonynous” author; if you have a source for it, I’d be grateful to know it.)

Come, Holy Spirit,
Replace the tension within with a holy relaxation.
Replace the turbulence within with a sacred calm.
Replace the anxiety within with a quiet confidence.
Replace the fear within with a strong faith.
Replace the bitterness within with the sweetness of grace.
Replace the darkness within with a gentle light.
Replace the coldness within with a loving warmth.
Replace the night within with your day.
Replace the winter within with your spring.
Straighten my crookedness.
Fill my emptiness.
Blunt the edges of my pride.
Sharpen the edge of my humility.
Light the fires of love;
Quench the flames of lust.
Let me see myself as You see me.
That I may see You as You have promised,
and be blessed according to Your word;

Blessings on your day!

Update: With gratitude to my friend Gerry, the source of the prayer appears to be Rev. Mother Rosalee Hill, R.S.C.J., although some attribute it to Anonymous and others to Father Moriarty.