Laetare’s Invitation

A rainy Laetare Sunday: a reminder that Lent is quietly slipping by.  There is a beauty to coming this far in the “full forty” as well as  a gentle invitation to the become more conscious of the sacred in so secular a world.  But how?

That path is as unique as each individual: no route or method is guaranteed, and it is all about the journey itself.  It s a judgment free zone that encourages exploration, pursues healing and wholeness and accepts the reality of who we are as humans.  Simultanenously flawed and gifted, each of us stands on a the threshold of a new path every morning.  Morning offers that chance of another beginning, an opening to make different choices, to look at old options in a new way, to see strength in what we have done and purpose in what we will choose.

The story of the Prodigal Son is paired with Laetare Sunday.  It is a classic parable, a story line that defies settings or centuries.  A father awards one son his inheritance while the other son stays at his side to work.  The first fritters away his fortune in what sounds like debauchery while the other devotes himself to the labor of living.  When the first reappears and seeks some form of support, he is welcomed by the father.  The second is infuriated for the acceptance seems a reward that somehow belittles  the virtue of his own choices.  The father’s magnanimous welcome seems almost incomprehensible.

In so many ways, that story is about choices and paths and choosing how to live.  It is about admitting mistakes and examining motiviations, naming attitudes and nailing communication.   It is about the power of family, the ability to forgive and the reality that life demands suffering beyond imagination.  It is about the agency that every person exercises and a reminder that we exist in familial and cultural enclaves even though we all belong to humanity itself.  If allowed,  the parable of the Prodigal Son becomes an invitation to consider and reflect on the choices we are making and have made and will make.

Will we dare to reconsider, to wonder what our lives are really all about?  Will we wonder about the sacred?  Breath in both the hard crisp edges of  nature and its softer, enticing beauties?  Find the inner strength of quiet in a Buddhist garden?  Be brave enough to re-read Bible verses?  Reconsider the concept of Providence or diety?  Find a group of like-minded people to share with?  Will we dare to perceive similarities rather than differences in the human family? Can we excuse, forgive, support one another?   Can we hear the whisper of the Divine and dare to confide that to one another? Will we allow the concept of a generous, forgiving God in the seriousness of this technological society?  In a world of virtual reality, can we entertain the idea of something or someone that transcends reality? Can we open to the possibity of a God? Or find comfort in a tradition or ritual? Can we move towards spiritual homes?

In the end, Laetare Sunday is a milepost, not a destination.  Maybe it is something of a resting place to consider next steps and moments.  The really “good news” about Laetare Sunday is not that we are half-way done, but that we have begun.  And so the Lenten journey continues.








Fully Human

Lent remembers Jesus’ entrance into public life, his trials in becoming known, being challenged, experiencing success, temptation and betrayal. It is his ascendancy into adulthood in a sometimes hostile and unforgiving environment.  Even more, it is about establishing relationships, building bonds, moving towards an end and a literally incredible new beginning.

Lent is about taking the time for relationship with God and with one another, with all that entails.  It means finding time for recognizing opportunities and building those connections with meaning and purpose.  It is about deliberate, intentional choices to take care of what is most primary, fundamental in life:  self, one another and the world.  There are tender and classic ways to approach this situation.

There is a walk in the woods, a run on the beach, breathing deeply under a blue sky.  There are the Stations of the Cross, the chance to go to Confession, weekly Masses, the Rosary, Bible study.  There are the haunting melodies of sacred music and the beckoning brilliance of  the Easter Vigil’s Exulstet.  There are budding daffodils and crocuses, lily of the valley, and the tentative greens of reawakening plants.

There are friends to be seen, conversations to be had, grace before meals to be shared.  There is the chance to focus on that which truly matters: the breath of life….Lent is the chance to consciously choose to breathe deeply of the world and know its gifts:  the miracle of snowfall, the clarity of blue skies, the roar of the ocean and the courage of the moon lighting the night; the softness of a child’s hand, the whisper of a treasured secret, the laughter with an unexpected choice,  the full-fledged bear hug.

All of these are part of the promise of Jesus’ entrance into public life: it is embracing what is created, celebrating what exists, and loving each into something more.  It is not without risk, challenge, and yet it offers comfort, redefines hope and generates joy.  Ultimately, it is the invitation to live fully with all the inevitable suffering that is part of being human.

Lent is like a walk along the seashore where footprints create trails that live only with the ocean’s assent.  Lent is like learning that the path itself is not as meaningful as the being on the journey, knowing that each decade offers different opportunities.  Lent is about creating memories as much as remembering, and most of all, Lent is about doing and being fully human and fully alive.  And that is what the public ministry was all about: fully human and fully alive.

Time: we live within its increments, its desires, cordoned to its measures from birth, memories dancing to decades and diminishment  its less-than-welcome ending.  The public minstry was captured in time: Lent is another  chance to discover and rediscover what it means to be human and alive.



Within the practices of Lent– the ashes, the fasting, the reflection– there rests the reality of Resurrection.  The “full forty” of Lent stretches through spring: it is about rebirth at every age. And it repeats, every year, the truth that living Christianity as flesh and blood human beings with emotions, preferences, needs, and wants is an incredible challenge.   Lent is a reminder to be aware of who we are and how we can be better as humans who are being in this world.  It is also a reminder that ultimately, as a Resurrection people, there is joy in to be found, relished and shared in this life.

Resurrection has been captured in the artwork of gret masters and in the verbiage of scholars and theologians.  But resurrection is present in every life.  That sense of being grateful to be alive, to find the beauty in a sunrise, and the music in a child’s voice, those are Resurrection moments.  Resurrection is about overcoming, re-discovering, and celebrating.

Lent is the work that helps name “Resurrection” for every person at each stage of life. It is different in every year, each decade, because we as humans are constantly changing. Allowing Lent to speak, to be heard, enables Resurrection to be heard as well.  Those sacrifices of Lent like giving up candy or alcohol or spending additonal time in prayer are conscious steps towards becoming better humans.  There are so many ways for this to happen: yoga, cycling, choir practice, work at a food pantry.  Affirming the uniqueness of each person’s choice and journey is a movement towards appreciating the fullness of Resurrection.

Lent exposes the possibility that in those moments when Life overwhelms, managing, coping is possible.  Accessing every available aid: therapy and support, friendship and prayer makes that  possible.  Lent suggests that is what God wants for us: to become more and better at being who we are and who we can be for ourselves and others.  So Lent is not simply about purple garments or not eating meat on Fridays or fasting on Good Friday.  Lent is about a “full forty” of working on becoming a better human being, one ready to live the Resurrection.

Living the Resurrection is what Christianity is about.  The sameness of practice or the consistency of ritual does not deny that Christianity is actually all about the journey.   And the journey in Lent actually leads to the empty tomb.   The “Mary Magdalene Moment” at the empty tomb, that moment of shock and caring,  belongs to each person if so allowed.  It is the place where self confronts the reality of who we are and the miracle of who we can be.  It is the place where we confidently experience full acceptance and know the capacity to trust and be trusted.

Mary Magdalene stood by that tomb, heard her name, and was ready to choose to live Resurrection.  She was all about finding the goodness that resides in self and others.  In the middle of Lent, finding that light of goodness and knowing that moment of desire to be a better human being for self and others is all that leads to the Resurrection Moment.



Faith and Forgiveness

There is a dynamic tension between “church” and faith“.  Seeking an understanding of the very definitions, the meaning and practice of each, is embedded in the secular, in cultural and ethnic perspectives, in the digital world.   Variables like personal experience, familial ties and even birth order can play a role.  Porous and dense, the terms themselves obscure clarity and resonance.  And yet, there is a gift in each.

“Faith” is a confidence in something greater than self, something intangible and yet concrete.  For me, it  is trusting in the existence of a higher power, a transcendent reality, and living to nurture that trust in belief and actions.  It is a strength of belief that rests in a trustworthy other.  It is about prayer, a comfort in quiet, an attentitveness to persons and to nature, to the who and how of creation.  It is about anchoring the mysterious dimensions of human existence in the realm of the spiritual with a certainty that the spiritual exists in complementary comprehensible and incomprehensible realities.

“Church”, on the other hand, refers to the gatherings of believers in groups with the rituals that bind and build community and the traditions that celebrate and sometimes sustain faith.  “Church” is a collection of flawed individuals somehow seeking the same thing, the grace of becoming better persons following a particular path with all its pockmarks and potholes and intricate turns. “Church” grants places and positions, status and service opportunities.  It is a closed circuit, in a way, with light as the hopeful byproduct.  And there are many moments when its malfunction or dysfunction generate a chaotic confusion that diminishes and even damages both church and faith. 

“Faith” offers an alternative to that confusion. “Faith” at its depth offers forgiveness with confidence and purpose. “Faith”  can see the brokenness and dares to move from accusation to change, adaptation, and forgiveness. “Faith”  does not cry for revenge nor demand restitution: instead, “Faith” quietly embraces the chance to re-order, re-build and restore what has been hurt and broken.  Inspired by trust and imbued with hope, “Faith”  fuels resilience without rancor, judgement or stigma. “Faith”  accepts reality and understands the cultural complexity of human communication and process, but it is far more than the organization or the institution.  

In this time, when social, political and religious institutions are questioned and challenged and discredited at every turn, there issues a tempting option.  Walk away from the church and its abuses, crimes and failings.  Be done with the hierarchy and the traditions.  Find a way more comfortable, less hypocritical and demanding.  Fill the time another way more meaningful and significant to self.

And then there is the very gentle whisper of “Faith” .  “Faith”  means looking humbly into the mirror and seeing the truth that each of us is capable of so much more than suspected, that there but for the grace of God go I…..“Faith”  means finding the resources within self to proffer forgiveness, to be willing to help re-build, to trust that God is weeping with us but not abandoning us. “Faith”  finds its home in forgiveness of self and others, in attempting to move forward with courage, a sense of responsibility and an awareness of purpose,  and a consciousness of intention.  

In a secular world where the gift of science has all but replaced what was perceived as mystery, there is still a place for belief in that higher power, that sense of providence. “Faith”  offers the trust that is an antidote to narcissism and a coping mechanism for anxieties.  It is the recognition of the Unknowable; even in the Digital Age, there are simplicities left to be practiced and explored.  If that can be in the quiet of a sanctuary,  before a monstrance in a chapel, steadily fingering a rosary, so be it.  It is mindfulness with an attentiveness to that which transcends human difference and connects human journeys. 

A church can exist as a structure, a building, but to be a community, members of a church need more than the bond of ritual and tradition. To be a living, breathing presence in a community, a church needs members gifted with faith who dare to waltz with confidence in the Divine and a deep grasp of the secular. 


Little Things

Ash Wednesday is hours away.  Winter is rumbling through its final bursts of white.  The digital world is erupting again  in scandalous exposures of wrong.  Somewhere in the rawness of all that is the quiet truth that goodness abides in each person.  Goodness  manifests in the simplicity of glances exchanged, moments spent, lives touching.  In the end, those little things are what really matters.

Little things: a card or a note, an unexpected gift, an offer to help, an outside-the-box suggestion, holding the door, speaking a kind word, smiling at a child, making eye contact with the wheelchair bound, offering that penny.  Little things speak of the goodness that resides within.  More than that, “little things” place the other at the center: the action itself indicates that something outside of self is noticed, valued, important.  In a world frenzied by immediate gratification and the prying eyes of posted videos, little things quietly and gently suggest that there are alternatives to the relentless exposure of social media and the cruelty of cyber-bullying, to the nuances of texting relationships and the loneliness of a technologically  interconnected world.

Little things remember that everyone is doing the best they can with what they’ve got, even if it does not seem like it.  That little action is about recognizing that simply being human creates untold challenges, and in this moment, kindness matters.  It is devoid of judgement and exploitation.  It  not about gaining advantage or credit.

Little things validates the idea that, just as we are capable of mercurial and volatile emotion, of denial and defense, we are equally capable of incredible kindnesses, gentleness, warmth and graciousness.  Stripped away from cell phones and screens, practicing little things nurtures the grace and goodness that re-births the divine spark in each of us.

Little things is an echo of Therese of Lisieux’s nineteenth century philosophy, of Francis of Assisi’s Brother Sun and Sister Moon, of Jesus’ Beatitudes.  Each became an anchor of sorts, a reminder that in a world of complex social institutions, layers of cultures and subcultures, competing purposes and divergent goals, there is a definitive place for simplicity, stillness and intentionality.  Those little things, after all, are found in the moments of stepping away to that space where the needs of others are visibly manifest.  Stillness within,  gentle taming of self-concern, allows the recognition of a need for  action.  Intentionality  empowers the deliberate choice that makes little things  happen.

Little things are the sustaining moments of certainty that give  life to the Christian message.  Practicing the art of little things provides a rhythm of being  that reminds us that we are the hands and heart of Christ; little things belong to each of us and can benefit all of us.

The institutional church may be buried in perplexing and tragic scandal; God may be weeping for the brokenness of humanity.  Little things remind us that there are  humbling moments of grace, of awareness of God’s presence in the world that are made possible through one another.   It is not something that rests in the realm of the ordained or is tasked to the hierarchy.  Little things speaks of the goodness of a God who cares and nurtures that reality through human conduits.  Little things enable the least of us to embrace each of us with and give hope to the whole of us.