Thursday 31 March 2011

Lent Day Twenty

Frederica Mathewes-Green: Asking and giving forgiveness

One evening recently the members of my parish formed a big circle inside the church. The ends of the circle overlapped and my husband, the priest, faced a subdeacon. He bowed to touch the floor, then said, "Please forgive me, my brother, for any way I have sinned against you." Greg responded, "I forgive you," then bowed and asked forgiveness in turn. When my husband gave it, the two embraced, then each moved on to the next person in line.
As the circle advanced, every person had a turn to stand face to face with every other person, asking and giving forgiveness. Joy mingled with tears. A woman I'd quarrelled with opened her arms wide and said with a smile, "C'mere. This is going to take awhile."
We do this every year at the beginning of Lent, just as Orthodox Christians do all over the world. But when I described it to a non-Orthodox friend she wondered how we could give forgiveness without discussion and negotiation. The other person might hurt you again. You might even suspect their repentance is phony.
How can you give forgiveness? By remembering how much God has to forgive you. It's that simple. Forgiveness is never what a person deserves--if we got what we deserved, it wouldn't be forgiveness. When we forgive, we give a costly gift, just as God gives us, and we can't control whether the other person will use that gift well or badly. But we can refuse to go on being chained to their past behavior through bonds of anger and judgment. Anger is an acid that destroys its container. We give forgiveness every year because we need to do that to stay healthy. We ask for forgiveness, because we need that even more.

The Third Week of Lent ~ Thursday

Loving God,
I hear your invitation, "Come back to me"
and I am filled with such a longing to return to you.
Show me the way to return.
Lead me this day in good works I do in your name
and send your Spirit to guide me and strengthen my faith.
I ask only to feel your love in my life today.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Lent Day Nineteen

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Discipleship and death

Whoever enters discipleship enters Jesus' death, and puts his or her own life into death; this has been so from the beginning. The cross is not the horrible end of a pious, happy life, but stands rather at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ. Every call of Christ leads to death. Whether with the first disciples we leave home and occupation in order to follow him, or whether with Luther we leave the monastery to enter a secular profession, in either case the one death awaits us, namely death in Jesus Christ, the dying away of our old form of being human in Jesus' call.
Those who are not prepared to take up the cross, those who are not prepared to give their life to suffering and rejection by others, lose community with Christ and are not disciples. Discipleship is commitment to the suffering Christ. (quoted in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, Plough) Bonhoeffer (1906-45) was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was martyred by the Nazis.

The Third Week of Lent ~ Wednesday

God, you love me as your own child.
May I bend my life and will toward you
so that I might accept your teaching and guidance.
I am so grateful for your support in my life,
now and in the eternal life you are preparing for me.
I beg for your help and Spirit in my life today.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Lent Day Eighteen

Dorothy Day: Works of Mercy

We do what we can, and the whole field of all the Works of Mercy is open to us. There is a saying, "Do what you are doing." If you are a student, study, prepare, in order to give to others, and keep alive in yourself the vision of a new social order. All work, whether building, increasing food production, running credit unions, working in factories which produce for true human needs, working the smallest of industries, the handicrafts--all these things can come under the heading of the Works of Mercy, which are the opposite of the works of war.
It is a penance to work, to give oneself to others, to endure the pinpricks of community living. One would certainly say on many occasions: Give me a good, thorough, frank, outgoing war, rather than the sneak attacks, stabs in the back, sparring, detracting, defaming, hand-to-hand jockeying for position that go on in offices and "good works" of all kinds, another and miserably petty kind of war. Saint Paul said that he "died daily." This too is penance, to be taken cheerfully, joyfully… So let us rejoice in our own petty sufferings and thank God we have a little penance to offer, in this holy season. (By Little and By Little: The Selected Writings of Dorothy Day, Knopf) Day (1897-1980) co-founded the Catholic Worker movement.

The Third Week of Lent ~ Tuesday

God of infinite love,
I thank you for this reminder of your love
and your call that we be more patient,
gentle and compassionate with others.
Here in the middle of Lent,
I turn to you to beg for your help.
Please soften my heart.
Help me to let go of judging others.
I ask you this, in Jesus' name.

Monday 28 March 2011

Lent Day Seventeen

Edith Stein (Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, O.C.D.): Thy will be done

"Thy will be done," in its full extent, must be the guideline for the Christian life. It must regulate the day from morning to evening, the course of the year and the entire life. Only then will it be the sole concern of the Christian. All other concerns the Lord takes over. This one alone, however, remains ours as long as we live … And, sooner or later, we begin to realize this.
In the childhood of the spiritual life, when we have just begun to allow ourselves to be directed by God, we feel his guiding hand quite firmly and surely. But it doesn't always stay that way. Whoever belongs to Christ must go the whole way with him. He must mature to adulthood: He must one day or other walk the way of the cross to Gethsemane and Golgotha. (Edith Stein: Essential Writings, Orbis)

The Third Week of Lent ~ Monday

Merciful God,
Free your Church from the sins of this world
and protect us from evil we see
and the evil we prefer to ignore.
We need your guidance, Lord
for we cannot do this alone.
Only with your help can we be saved.
Thank you for your desire to save us and love us.

Saturday 26 March 2011

3rd Sunday of Lent: The Woman at the Well

There she goes ...
     the Woman of Samaria.
          I can see her in my mind's eye.
She is wearing a loose dress,
     the colour of burlap, 
          somewhat like a long potato sack,
               cinched with a twisted cord of rope.
     It reaches down to a few inches above her sandalled feet.
She is wearing a headpiece of the same colour.
     It falls in folds halfway down her back.
On her right shoulder
          she is balancing a water jug,
               rather large in my eyes.
Surely it's heavy when it's full.

There she goes ...
     the Woman of Samaria ...
          walking to the well.
She travels down the well-worn path from town
     as it twists and turns,
          intimately acquainted, in her solitariness,
               with every curve,
                    every boulder and every lonely blade of grass.

Tunelessly she hums into the stillness
     of the noontime air.
Scuffing her feet,
          she raises little wisps of dust.
The perspiration beads on her upper lip
     and runs in rivulets down her back
          and between her breasts.
It is hot and sticky this time of the day
          but its the only time she feels safe
               to go for the water she needs.
     Safe from the taunts and innuendos,
          the glares and the hisses,
               the damning laughter of the other women.
The heat of the cloudless sky is more merciful than they.

Walking along - alone - lost in her thoughts
     she is startled to hear voices
          coming towards her
               just around the bend.
She casts down her eyes and moves over ...
     to avoid the men she sees approaching.
          Glancing up briefly
               she catches one hostile glare.
Glares are nothing new to her
     but this is different.
These men are Jews - not Samaritans - not her neighbours.
     They abruptly move further away from her
          as if she had the plague....
               Samaritans and Jews do not associate.

As she gets further along she no longer hears them.
Instead, the clicking and buzzing of countless insects grows louder.
     She relaxes and begins to sing a snatch of song,
               something she heard at a campfire one night.

          As the deer longs for flowing streams,
          so my soul longs for you, O God.
               My soul thirsts for the living God.
          When shall I come and behold the face of God?
               My tears have been my food day and night,
          While people say to me continually,
               "Where is your God?"

Despite her dreary hard life - she still hopes,
     still clings to the stories
          she heard as a child about Yahweh.

At last the well is in sight.
     But, what is this?
          A man - alone - sits by the well.
               A Jew.  Another Jew.
She feels tense, wary
     all her senses are heightened.
          Danger screams through every second that passes.
               She is alone...
                    a woman alone with a strange man.
She thinks: "Who IS this guy?
               What does He want?"
He is just sitting there
     looking dusty and worn and tired
          but strangely peaceful and calm
               and - despite the dust - radiant.

He smiles.
He speaks.
Breaks the silence and,
     in an instant,
          tears down the walls that distance ...
               that distance Jews and Samaritans
               that distance Women and Men.

He speaks.
     "Give me a drink."
It is so astonishing that
     she blurts back the question,
          "How is it, that YOU, a JEW - a MAN,
               ask a drink of ME, a WOMAN of SAMARIA?"

This man wastes no time debating
     but challenges her:
     "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is
          that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,'
               you would have asked him,
                    and he would have given you living water."

The woman is so startled, so overwhelmed,
     so on fire with excitement, she babbles:
          "You have no bucket!"
               "The well is deep."
                    "Where do you get this water?"
               "Are you better than our ancestor Jacob?"
          "Do you know what you're saying?"
To herself, she says,
     "I must be dreaming.  It must be the heat.
          I feel so dizzy."

This man goes on, in the midst of her confusion,
     "Everyone who drinks this water will thirst again
          but those who drink of the water I will give them
               will never again thirst.
          My water will become in them a spring
               of water, gushing up to eternal life.

"Sir," she pleads, "give me this water so I'll never be thirsty
     and I'll never have to come back here to draw water again."
She doesn't know what she is saying.
     She is standing on strange ground.
          Everything is upside down and different today in this place.

Then, the man totally blows her away.
     He knows everything about her, the whole sorry tale,
          and tells her,
               about her mixed-up life,
                    the five husbands
                         and the live-in lover she has now.
Back and forth this preposterous conversation goes.

Finally she tells him,
     "I know that Messiah is coming
          and when he comes
               he will tell us all things."

           "I am he!  The one who is speaking to you."

The words of the song from the campfire come back to her:
          When shall I come and behold the face of God?


Sister of Samaria,
     I reach out to you
          across the years,
To ask you about what happened that day.
     Can you tell me?
          Did he touch your heart?
               Did he really reach in and renew you?
What happened to you after he left
     and the days and months went by?
          What happened when you heard
               he'd gone up to Jerusalem
                    to hang on a Cross and die?
Or, were you there?
     With the other women,
          at the foot of the cross?
               With his mother,
                    in an agonizing wait,
                         when darkness fell on the land?

O, Sister of mine,
     without a name,
          You are not anonymous!
               Your story's been told.
                    We're telling it new.
                         You are not anonymous!

Sister of Samaria,
     I reach out to you across the years.
          If you were here
               I'd give you a hug and a smile and
                    I'd hold on tight.
But you are not here - so - the gift I'll give
     in your memory
     to love those who are here with me tonight.
          I'll give them a hug and a smile
               and I'll hold on tight.

Goodnight, Sister, Goodnight.

© Charlene Elizabeth Fairchild - 1994, 2002, 2005

Lent Day Sixteen

M. Scott Peck: Communal confession

Community requires the confession of brokenness. But how remarkable it is that in our culture brokenness must be "confessed." We think of confession as an act that should be carried out in secret, in the darkness of the confessional, with the guarantee of professional priestly or psychiatric confidentiality. Yet the reality is that every human being is broken and vulnerable.
How strange that we should ordinarily feel compelled to hide our wounds when we are all wounded! Community requires the ability to expose our wounds and weaknesses to our fellow creatures. It also requires the ability to be affected by the wounds of others. But even more important is the love that arises among us when we share, both ways, our woundedness. (The Different Drum, Touchstone)

Peck is a psychiatrist and the author of The Road Less Travelled (Simon and Schuster).

The Second Week of Lent ~ Saturday
God of infinite love,
you shower me with limitless gifts in my life.
In my every thought and action today
guide me to the bright and loving light of your kingdom.
Help me to be aware of
the many ways you allow me
to share in your life so intimately today.
Thank you for the gifts you have placed in my life.
Let me be grateful every moment of this day.

Friday 25 March 2011

The Annunciation of the Lord ~ Lent Day Fifteen

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Luke 1: 26-38.

Let us pray,
[That we may become more like Christ,
who chose to become one of us.]
Almighty Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
You have revealed the beauty of your power
by exalting the lowly virgin of Nazareth
and making her the mother of our Savior.
May the prayers of this woman
bring Jesus to the waiting world
and fill the void of incompletion
with the presence of her child,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit
one God forever and ever. Amen

Dancing with the saints: Retreat master says that's the key to Lent

The saints aren't just people to turn to when something is lost or a situation seems hopeless; they are examples to follow in prayer and in efforts to reform and renew the church, said the priest who was preaching Pope Benedict XVI's Lenten retreat.

Carmelite Father Francois-Marie Lethel, secretary of the Pontifical Academy of Theology, led the pope and his top aides in their Lenten reflections March 13-19.

He said his 17 talks during the week would focus on the saints and Pope John Paul II.
In addition to helping Pope Benedict and Vatican officials prepare for Easter, Father Lethel said he wanted to help them prepare for the beatification May 1 of Pope John Paul.

"This beatification, which will be an event of immense importance for the church and the entire world, requires deep spiritual preparation involving the entire people of God and, in a particular way, the Holy Father and his closest collaborators," Father Lethel wrote in the introduction to the retreat program handed out to participants.

The tradition of having weeklong, preached "spiritual exercises" for the pope and members of the papal household began with Pope Pius XI in 1925. But for more than 35 years it was an Advent, not a Lenten retreat.

Pope John XXIII broke the Advent tradition in 1962 when he spent a week in September on retreat to prepare for the Second Vatican Council. His successor, Pope Paul VI, made the retreats a Lenten staple in 1964 and hugely broadened the list of preachers, who almost always had been Jesuits.

Father Lethel is the first Carmelite to be chosen to preach the pope's retreat, and three famous Carmelites figured prominently in his meditations: Sts. Therese of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.

The three were chosen, though, not because they were Carmelites, but because of their influence on Pope John Paul, Father Lethel said in an interview with L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

He told the newspaper that the late pope is both an example of holiness and a reminder of how much Catholics today need the courage of the saints.

In the booklet for participants, Father Lethel wrote that two of the profiles in courage he would offer them would be St. Catherine of Siena and St. Joan of Arc.

"Catherine, with her commitment to the reform of the church profoundly wounded by the sin of its members, and Joan, in her passion and death caused in part by priests and theologians" who disagreed with her politically and so helped her be condemned as a heretic, "give us a profound lesson on the mystery of the church that is always holy and always in need of purification," he wrote.

"With their voices, which are strong and dramatic, yet also sweet and maternal," the two women saints would point retreatants toward "the urgency of conversion and holiness," Father Lethel wrote.

The Carmelite noted that in January, Pope Benedict himself pointed to Sts. Catherine and Joan of Arc as "examples of 'strong women' in the midst of great suffering and crises for the church and society."

"With these saints, the light of Christ comes to face the darkness of sin -- found even within the church -- to purify it, to reform it. Obviously this is very relevant today," he said in an interview published March 16 in the Vatican newspaper.

While the Second Vatican Council emphasized how every single Catholic is called to holiness, he said, it was Pope John Paul who really made Catholics -- and others -- aware of the fact that people in every culture and walk of life have answered and continue to answer that call.

During the more than 26 years he was pontiff, Pope John Paul beatified 1,338 individuals and canonized 482.

The number of saints he proclaimed exceeded the total number of saints created by all his predecessors together since 1588 when the modern sainthood process began.

The beatification of John Paul II is the crowning of an extraordinary pontificate carried out under the sign of holiness," the Carmelite said.

For the cover of the retreat booklets, Father Lethel chose a detail from Fra Angelico's "Last Judgment." The selected scene, sometimes described as "the dance of the saints," shows the holy ones holding hands and moving up toward heaven.

He said Pope John Paul's pontificate was filled with reminders that "the saints give each other and give us a hand to guide us on the path of holiness. This is the meaning of Lenten conversion: to commit ourselves even more to engaging in this 'dance of the saints.'

Thursday 24 March 2011

Your Hands

Lent Day Fourteen

Saint Francis de Sales: Divine solitude

Always remember to retire at various times into the solitude of your own heart even while outwardly engaged in discussions or transactions with others. This mental solitude cannot be violated by the many people who surround you, since they are not standing around your heart but only around your body. Your heart remains alone in the presence of God.
Such was the exercise King David practiced amid his many occupations, and he testifies to it countless times in the psalms, as when he says, "O Lord, I am always with you"; "I see the Lord always before me"; "I have lifted my eyes to you, O my God, who dwells in heaven"; "My eyes are ever toward God." Indeed, our tasks are seldom so important as to keep us from withdrawing our hearts from them from time to time in order to retire into this divine solitude. (Introduction to the Devout Life, Doubleday)
Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was bishop of Geneva.

The Second Week of Lent ~ Thursday

Loving God,
I hear your invitation, "Come back to me"
and I am filled with such a longing to return to you.
Show me the way to return.
Lead me this day in good works I do in your name
and send your Spirit to guide me and strengthen my faith.
I ask only to feel your love in my life today.