The Lenten season is a time for repentance, conversion, and reconciliation. The parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, in conjunction with the USCCB’s “The Light is ON for You” campaign, are joining together to offer numerous opportunities for the faithful to partake in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Every Lent, Catholics receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation or speak with a priest after being away from the Church for 10, 15, 25, or more years. As part of this year’s initiative we invite you to make a commitment to pray in a special way for family members, friends, col-leagues, and neighbors who are alienated from the Church or who are inactive in the practice of their faith. Join us this Lent in quiet prayer for all those who are seeking to reconcile with God and the Church.
Here at St. Ann, we will have a Penance Service on Wednesday night, April 2, at 7pm in the church. We will have extra confessors around to celebrate God’s mercy and his desire to reconcile everyone to His love. If you have been away from the sacrament for awhile, this is an excellent opportunity to experience God’s mercy again in your life.
In addition to those prayers, I ask your prayers for our two candidates who are journeying toward the ‘full communion of the Catholic church” this Easter. Carrie Walther is an UMSL student, majoring in Music Education, who approached me last fall, wanting to know all about the Catholic church. Dee Henderson is our teacher’s aide over in the school. Her journey began when her children were baptized two years ago into the Catholic faith. Now they will be one at the Lord’s altar. Please keep them in your prayers as they continue their formation and preparation to be received into the church.
Finally, a lot of things happen behind the scenes to make our fish fry a success. This afternoon, as I was working in my sitting room, I heard the sound of the radio in the gar-age. I went down and there were Al Durand and Pat Boul working away at restoring one of the fryers which stopped working after the first week. It turns out it was a wire that had worked itself loose. I hope they were able to fix it. Obviously, we have managed without it, but it is immensely helpful to have both fryers up and running. Thanks to the both of them, and ALL the folks who do so many things simply and quietly behind the scenes! You truly make this a blessed parish.
The iconic images of the three monkeys – See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil – certainly contain some decent advice for our living. In the best interpretation of those axioms, they are a choice not to consciously be involved in things that are less than our truest and best selves. Make the choice not to look at things which will tempt you, listen to things that will degrade one another, say things that will be harmful or hateful to others. We get that.
But it can also be a way of traveling through life as spectators, as accomplices in a wide variety of evil because we choose NOT to be involved in the ‘stuff’ of life. It is easy to see this in the political sphere, while doing Social Justices courses in the seminary. How many dictators or corrupt regimes did we as the United States support in the 60’s and 70’s because it was ‘in our best interest’, while turning a blind eye to the pictures of the atrocities, a deaf ear to cries of the victims, muting our voices of protest because it will cost us access to oil, to minerals, to airbases vital to our strategic interests.
Closer to home, I confess, I am challenged by the readings of Lent 4.5, because they make me AWARE of the concrete effects of my use of food, water, energy and the like. I lived quite comfortably not seeing that it took 1,500 gallons of water to make one pound of beef. I loved not hearing that my energy uses consumes the equivalent of 20 lbs of coal a day. In a different, but connected vein, it was hard for me this week to accept that my not speaking out to my legislators made me complicit in the execution of another man who needed to be kept behind bars because of his deeds, but not killed to prove murder is wrong.
See no evil. Speak no evil. Hear no evil. – These are not always the best way to go through life. Ask the blind man who was cured by Jesus in today’s gospel. Because those dynamics swirl around him.
The blind man’s parents make the choice to ‘speak no evil’ – “He is of age, ask him.” They knew they were likely to be expelled from the temple if they spoke up. So they throw their son under the bus in their conversation with the Pharisees. “He can speak for himself.” Don’t get us involved. It will cost us everything if we are thrown out of the temple.
The Pharisees choose the opposite – to “hear and see no good.” Unwilling to take the blind man’s testimony that he indeed had been born blind and now was cured by Jesus – their ‘seeking of the truth’ was the exact opposite – an increasing hardening of their hearts. The more the blind man stood his ground on the miracle and who had done it, the more deaf they were to accept the logical consequence – that Jesus is more than a prophet. The evidence was right before their eyes – they knew this beggar, they had seen how blind he was, yet, because this too would cost them, would force a choice of belief upon them, they chose NOT to see and to hear his testimony.
The blind man is the only one whose behavior is exemplary. He chooses to listen to Jesus when he calls him aside and smears the mud so he can see. He chooses to see, to explore the implications of his healing – “I just know this – I was blind but now I see.” But he doesn’t stop there – he keeps asking: “What does that mean about Jesus? And what does that mean about my life? Bit by bit, he chooses to speak up in ever deepening testimony about Jesus. He is: The man called Jesus; a prophet; a man from God; and finally Lord.
See no evil. Speak no evil. Hear no evil. How seductive those cute little axioms are. How easy a path they open for us that is NOT involved in the good of this world. Maybe the simple way to pray into this gospel is to pay attention to your resistances. What DON’T you want to see? When do you flip the channels on the news station? What articles in the paper do you skip over on a consistent basis because you know they will challenge your comfort zone? Likewise, what don’t you want to hear about? What truth in the Lent 4.5 readings, in the words from the Pope’s meeting with President Obama splashed across the pages, or even from our spouse/roommate as they gently challenge our behaviors are you being invited to let change your heart and your behaviors. Finally, will you speak out in the political arena, even though it is ‘just’ a municipal election on April 8th?
Because the same Lord who cured the blind man awaits us at this table and bids us to see, to hear and to speak, that all our brothers and sisters might know the love and life we know in Jesus.
Of many things…
If you remember, back in the fall, I forwarded information about the Children’s Education Initiative which provides assistance without raising taxes on any Missouri taxpayer; instead, taxpayers will be able to claim a tax credit for 50% of their donation to a “Children’s Education Foundation.” For example, if a person gives a $1,000 donation, he or she can receive a $500 tax credit. 50% of the funds so raised will go to public education, 40% to private education and 10% to Special Education. If sufficient signatures are obtained, this proposed constitutional amendment will be considered by voters at the November 2014 election.
This weekend, we are providing one more chance to sign the petition. IF YOU HAVE ALREADY SIGNED THE PETITION, you do not need to resign. If you have not signed and wish to do so or have questions, ask any of the Knights of Columbus in the back of church.
Just a word of thanks to Kathy Dolson and the Boy Scouts who have helped to make our Fish Fries sustainable, as we learn the ins and outs of recycling and composting. This is an important step in the stewardship of our planet. Our children’s children’s children will thank us for being farsighted in our care of the wonderful green earth.
If anyone needs any wood (You’ll need to split it), there is a pile that has been sitting close to the fence line in the green space between the back parking lot and the cemetery. Please help yourself. (but do not drive your car/truck into the field, as the ground is more than a bit soggy.)
It is time to start thinking Sponsor’s Dinner Dance. If you are out shopping and see one of the ‘must have’ items at a bargain price, think about donating it to support our school and parish. Or if you have services to provide, or skills to share, or a one of a kind collectible that could be a part of our silent or oral auctions, now is the time to get those into the auction committee. And mark your calendar now, for the last Saturday in April’s 44th Annual Dinner Dance.
Dr. Tom Wagner, a friend of mine, and also a counselor, gave a presentation on resilience and how you keep on going when times are difficult. In the course of that talk, he used an image that aptly describes anyone who has ever wrestled with their own desire to be loved by a parent/sibling, friend/boy/girl friend who did not love them back, or least, who did not love them back in the same way they wanted to be loved. He describes that process as “Going to an empty well.” You’ve tried for years to have your mom or dad ‘get you’ and understand you; you long to come to some kind of forgiveness for wrongs addressed or redressed; and experience some kind of healing from them. But they don’t seem either aware or capable of filling that wound within you. And no matter what you try, how hard you strive to make the other ‘love you like you think you need to be loved’, it doesn’t happen. The well is empty. But here’s the kicker, he says. We keep trying, don’t we? We keep going back to an empty well, expecting there to be water there. We do a hundred DIFFERENT things to get their affection, to earn their love, to become the favored one, never fully ‘getting’ that no matter how many times you let that bucket down the well, there is just no water there.
The Samaritan woman knew all about trying to get water from an empty well. She was now on her sixth attempt to find water from the well of a relationship. Five times she had ventured into that relationship called marriage, hoping that somehow, this time would be different, that somehow, in giving herself away, perhaps too easily, she would find water. And now, she has seemingly even given up on that. She comes to the well during the hottest part of the day – because she knows there will be no one there. No one to ask, even if they ask with a kindly heart (which most of the time they wouldn’t), how THIS marriage is going? No one to rub salt into a wound that never seemed to disappear. No one to shame her and make her face the emptiness of years of going to the well expecting love and finding nothing.
John, in perhaps the most amazing and tender gospel story ever told, wants us to see ourselves in this widow. And he wants US to be offered the living water that this woman was offered. So he gently takes us where Jesus took the woman.
You can so picture the scene. Jesus starts the conversation with her. She is shocked: she’s a woman, she’s a Samaritan and she is gathering water at a time when no one gathers water. Strikes one, two and three. And he begins by inviting HER to be generous. “Give me a drink.” She pushes back, because it is the only thing she knows – how to protect herself, how to keep the wall up. “How can you ask me for a drink?” Jesus presses on – “If you ask me, I will give you living water.” Not the stuff of empty wells, not the stuff of the broken dreams and the broken promises of your marriages – but a WATER that SPRINGS UP within you for life eternal. That is what I want for you. That is my thirst for you. But you have to stop going to the empty wells of your life.
Obviously, there is a lot more to John’s story of the woman. But what if we stopped there this week, and spent some time looking at how WE are still going to empty wells.
• We want our marriage to be a great thing, but he left the washrag on the middle of the shower floor again. And he’ll never learn unless I beat him over the head about that. (We know how effective THAT is!)
• We long for connection, but we seek it via texted conversations while sitting at a table with three other live human beings that you could talk to. (I see this all the time at the Newman Center.)
• We spend hours of time surfing Facebook, typing in witty comments to people’s postings, adding our own brilliant thoughts about life, but at the end of the day, we’ve never opened our hearts to anyone about the things we fear, the hurts in our hearts, the dreams we hope for. Facebook is an interesting well, a great way to share pictures and get information ‘out there’. But unless it connects me to a real life person, it becomes an empty well.
• In our Lent 4.5 this week – I was shocked to find out the amount of water it takes to grow one pound of beef – 1,500 gallons. To continue down that path of inequality in water consumption is an empty well for our planet
• Finally, even when we want a relationship with Jesus, it takes work. Prayer, like conversation, demands consistency of energy, of effort, of vulnerability and sharing. If I think my one hour of mass on Sunday is enough praying for the week, then even that, though a good start, is an empty well. There will be no water there that wells up within us without that relationship that is deep and sustained.
Tom Wagner taught me a lot about empty wells. So did Jesus. Mostly, they taught me not to GO THERE. Don’t go to an empty well, expecting water, because an empty well cannot give you what your heart and soul desires. You can visit the parent, the family member, the acquaintance who has always been an empty well for you, but don’t visit them expecting ‘water’. Visit them because it is what you choose to do and how you choose to love them.
This week – get in touch with both your thirsts and your empty wells – all the places you are tempted to go expecting water. Recognize them for what they are – empty. And, like the woman at the well, realize that your Lord is thirsting for YOU, wanting to give you LIVING Water. Enter, as did the woman, in that relationship with Jesus that becomes LIVING WATER within you.
Abram went as the Lord directed him. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it. Leave the land of your kinfolk and your Father’s house – leave all that you call ‘home.’ Many of us have done that – because of marriage, because we left home for college, because of a new job opportunity, because our health requires a different climate, because of a new assignment in the priesthood. It strikes me that the physical moving is the easy part. We get used to the new neighborhood, the new school, the new rectory, the new routines to our lives. In all my leavings, the most in depth changes are not due to the physical landscapes I have left. There are lands even more difficult to walk away from than “home”.
The most difficult land of all to leave goes by a kindly sounding phrase: your comfort zone. We know what is expected of us in our comfort zones. We know who we are, surrounded by neighbors and family members. Even the daily decisions about faith are made easier when everyone around us is more or less on the same page. No one will challenge us, too much here. And if they do, we’ll shrug them off as ‘one of those crazy people’ or one of those prophets, or even as a ‘living saint’ – because that takes US off the hook. That is extraordinary discipleship they are living. No way God could be calling little old ordinary ME to that stuff.
Even the disciplines of Lent become ‘familiar comfort zones.’ I’ll give up my alcohol, my chocolates, my eating between meals. I choose my extra time of prayer, my extra generosity to the poor, my extra efforts to be patient and helpful to the crabby neighbor. Yet somehow, those practices, even with the best of intent, never really transform us, they never transfigure our living the way Jesus was transfigured on the mountain.
• We fear to leave the land of self-will to embrace the land of surrender.
• It is so hard to leave the comfort zone of hoarding and embrace the land of simplicity, as we are being urged to do with Lent 4.5.
• We hope to leave the land of fear to walk in the land of trust.
But until we see Christ for whom He is – the one who calls us to absolute discipleship – I don’t know if we’ll ever have the courage to leave our comfort zones. The disciples did not want to leave the mountain. “It is good, Lord, for us to be here.” We know who you are and who we are. You, whom we have followed – you are more than what we hoped you would be. Let us stay here!
And yet, when they hear the voice: “They fell to the ground and were very much afraid,” They understood there was more to this seeing, an invitation to leave the comfort of the vision and the mountain top. Matthew is anxious to tell us two important truths about what gets the disciples back on their feet. One, they hear Jesus calling them, telling them “Do not be afraid.” And two, “When the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.” If we really trust it is Jesus calling us, and if we really keep our eyes focused on him, then it becomes easier to leave our comfort zones.
I confess, I was a bit resistant to Lent 4.5 when Barry Buchek proposed it two years ago, when it was too late to incorporate it into our Lenten plans. And a bit resistant when Kathy Dolson said: Let’s start recycling and composting at fish fries? Both of those seemed like crazy talk. It would have been much cheaper in a time when we are counting every penny, to say no. But they kept praying and keeping their eyes on Jesus. And I did the same. And now we’re doing both of them. 44 people are in small groups, studying and reflecting and praying about how to live a sustainable lifestyle as a response to the God of love. Two fish fries under our belts and only two grocery-bag sized containers going to the landfill. And though it is not exactly the same depth of commitment that Jesus makes when he leaves the mountain to go to the hill of Calvary, it is a step out of our comfort zone as a parish and as individuals. (I cannot think about ever using a plastic bag at a grocery store again. And since I always would forget to bring them, the last act of my putting food away is to put the reusable bags into my car. I am not done till that is done.)
This 2nd week of Lent, our Lord invites us, as he invited Abram and Peter, James and John, to leave our comfort zones, to leave the peace of the mountain top, and to journey the long road to Calvary. Perhaps the first step may be one suggested in this weekend’s Lent 4.5 bulletin. Maybe it will be the decision to keep your eyes focused on seeing Jesus alone in your prayer. But make no mistake: Jesus calls us, too, in our time and our space, to follow him down the mountain, away from our comfort zones – all the way to our own hills of Calvary, of trusting him with all we are.
A different kind of fasting…
A friend of mine forwarded me the following excerpt from a blog called Abby of the Arts by Christine Valters. It is worth the reading.
“I am called to fast from being strong and always trying to hold it all together, and instead embrace the profound grace that comes through my vulnerability and tenderness, to allow a great softening this season.
I am called to fast from anxiety and the endless torrent of thoughts which rise up in my mind to paralyze me with fear of the future, and enter into the radical trust in the abundance at the heart of things, rather than scarcity.
I am called to fast from speed and rushing through my life, causing me to miss the grace shimmering right here in this holy pause.
I am called to fast from multitasking and the destructive energy of inattentiveness to any one thing, so that I get many things done, but none of them well, and none of them nourishing to me. Instead my practice will become a beholding of each thing, each person, each moment.
I am called to fast from endless list-making and too many deadlines, and enter into the quiet and listen for what is ripening and unfolding, what is ready to be born.
I am called to fast from certainty so to trust in the great mystery of things.
And then perhaps, I will arrive at Easter and realize those things from which I have fasted I no longer need to take back on again. I will experience a different kind of rising.”
May your Lenten fasting bear much fruit…
Finally, we are going to conduct one more round of signature taking for the Children’s Educational Initiative. As you remember, the signatures are to sponsor a referendum in the fall for Missouri voters to approve, setting up tax credits for educational initiatives. 50% of the funding will go to public schools, 40% to private schools and 10% to special education. If you have NOT signed the petition yet, please take the opportunity to do so next weekend.
It is hard to reconcile the images of the beginning of Lent and snow on the ground. Having traveled twice now to the Holy Land, and seen with my own eyes both the lush greens surrounding the sea of Galilee and the harsh, hot desert around Jericho – the site of Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan river – it is hard for me to get ‘snow’ into my images of Lent.
Isn’t Lent supposed to be about the purifying fire of the desert? Isn’t this period about going out into the empty wasteland of both our exterior and interior deserts, there to listen for and discern the invitation of God to rend our hearts and not our garments. Aren’t the images of Lent those of a purifying fire, of gold that is tested by fire, of chaff that is thrown away into the unquenchable fire? What in the heck does all this SNOW have to do with that?
And then, a memory tickles, a line from Psalm 51, prayed each Friday as a part of Morning Prayer in the divine office.
Indeed, you love truth in the heart;
then in the secret of my heart, teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean.
O wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me hear rejoicing and gladness,
that the bones you have crushed may revive.
From my sins, turn away your face
and blot out all my guilt.
We know full well, that first morning look at snow, freshly fallen on the ground. There is a silence in the air, an unspoiled beauty, born of the one light Eden saw play, as the old song goes. And something in us stirs, a longing for that purity lost long ago, a desire for a wholeness that is not of our own making, a freedom born from a love beyond our ken.
It is that love which reconciles Lent and snow; love unveiled in its fullest measure on the Cross of Calvary. It is there that our Lenten journey converges with our Savior’s journey. And from the blood and water flowing from the pierced side of our Lord’s heart, we are indeed washed and cleansed and made ‘whiter than snow’.
Lent and snow? Perhaps we will see more of the white stuff before this winter is done with us. If so, count it a blessing – and an invitation – to remember and embrace the love that does make us clean.