Second Sunday of Lent

 

(c) The Fitzwilliam Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Transfiguration, art by Giovanni Battista Moroni (c. 1520-1525-1578) The Fitzwilliam Museum

 

 

Cycle C: Luke 9: 28-36


Jesus is transfigured on Mount Hermon and resolves completely to accept his impending death.


 

Luke tells us that Jesus was transfigured while he was praying. We do not know for certain what he was praying about, but his conversation with Moses and Elijah provides a clue. “They appeared in glory and spoke to him of his departure (Greek exodus) which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem.” The exodus or departure referred to here is Jesus’ death. In Luke’s gospel, this is the first time that Jesus had contemplated his death.

On Mount Hermon Jesus made a choice: he resolved to embrace his death fully. At his baptism Jesus accepted his mission as the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, but only now does he confront its stark and gruesome reality. It is one thing to say “yes” to suffering that lies in the far future. Imminent suffering presents a completely different reality. Jesus was changed at the transfiguration because he came to a resolution regarding his own death.

We have all experienced the great release of energy that results when, after years of irresolution, we make an important life decision. We do not realize how much energy living in a perpetual state of avoidance, vacillation, or procrastination consumes until we experience the incredible relief that follows such a decision.

The choice Jesus made at the transfiguration also protected him against any inner vacillation. When Jesus came down the mountain, “He set his face (Greek sterrizo) to go to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). Sterrizo means to make fast, or to fix with an unalterable purpose. Saint Teresa encouraged her sisters to embrace the cross with a “determined determination.” In doing so, she wrote, “that person struggles more courageously. He knows that come what may he will not turn back” (“The Way of Perfection” 127).

A definitive choice protects us from inner vacillation. In The Lord of the Rings Tolkien portrays this symbolically. At the council of Elrond, a decision has to be made. Someone has to take the One Ring of Power into the evil land of Mordor and cast it into the fire of Mt. Doom. Frodo, who had lived comfortably all of his life, makes a fully conscious choice to be the Ring Bearer. At this point in the story, his uncle Bilbo Baggins gives Frodo a mithril coat.

This coat, as un undergarment made of an extremely strong but light metal, will protect the wearer from many dangers — arrows and the thrusting of spears. Why, asks Jungian analyst Helen Luke, does Bilbo present the mithril coat precisely at the moment that Frodo decides to be the Ring Bearer? What does it symbolize? Luke writes:

It was at this moment of his complete acceptance of exposure to every kind of danger, without thought of success or failure, that he was given the protection of the mithril coat…. It is not difficult to see the relevance of these things to ourselves. It is surely true that in the life of every person there is one major turning point — a moment of choice when one’s basic will (the Frodo in oneself) may say “yes” or “no” to the challenge of one individual way and to the inevitable suffering and danger it involves. It is certain that, if we say “yes” … then in proportion to the single-mindedness of this decision, we too are given protection…. Every day there is the temptation to go back on our choice … but each time we decide to take up a responsibility we have sought to evade … then, in the very moment of our willing self-exposure and conscious acceptance of the task … we can often literally feel a new invulnerability. (75-76)       

Like Jesus, when we decide to embrace the cross with determination, we are transfigured and given courage that protects us against inner vacillation.

~ A Meditation by Marc Foley, O.C.D.

 

 

Christ “was transfigured, not by acquiring what he was not but by manifesting to his disciples what he in fact was; he opened their eyes and gave these blind man sight.”
St. John Damascene

 

 

Life’s Only Meaning

 

Jesus the Beloved art by Amy McCutcheon
Art by Amy McCutcheon

 

 

Life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
(John 17:3)

 

Each day of our lives holds within itself the possibility of this knowledge of God, this holy wisdom. How deeply we should long for this revelation of the Father.

Let us seek, let us listen with all our hearts and care for nothing else. Then perhaps we shall be able to exclaim with perfect truth: ‘My heart knows you now, Jesus Christ my Lord, and everything worldly has lost its meaning. ‘

With perfect truth. That is, my life henceforth will reveal the truth that nothing has any meaning to me except Jesus Christ my Lord.

There is no easy way to this, only that the grain of wheat must die; the humble acceptance of our painful human lot; no complaint, no rebellion, no dodging . . .
Becoming identified with the Son of Man, the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sin of the world by bearing the full weight and effect of it with no vestige of responding evil — only worship of his Father and infinite compassion for us.

 

~ A Meditation by Ruth Burrows, O.C.D.

 

 

Happy The One Who Loves God

How happy the heart that by love is elated,
in which only God all its thought has embraced,
renouncing for him every thing that’s created,
and finding its glory and joy by him graced.
Thus living with all thought of self so negated,
because in God all its intention is placed,
and so in great happiness and joyfully
it travels the waves of this turbulent sea.

 

~ A poem by Saint Teresa of Ávila, O.C.D.

 

 

 

 

 

First Sunday of Lent

 

Sandro_Botticelli_-_Three_Temptations_of_Christ_(detail)_-
The Three Temptations of Christ, art by Sandro Botticelli

 
Cycle C: Luke 4: 1-13


Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread and to worship the forces of evil in order to acquire an earthly kingdom.


 

At the beginning of Macbeth, as Macbeth and Banquo are riding home from war in the flush of victory, three witches greet Macbeth with three titles. The first is his own title, “Thane of Glamis.” However the other two, “Thane of Cawdor” and “King hereafter,” belong to other men. Then the witches vanish into thin air. As Macbeth and Banquo continue their journey, a messenger from the King meets them upon the road and bestows upon Macbeth the title “Thane of Cawdor” as reward for his valor in war. Macbeth is confused; he knows that the Thane of Cawdor lives. But when he learns that the King intends to execute the Thane of Cawdor shortly for treason, Macbeth begins to tremble.

Why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs
Against the use of nature?
(1.3.147-49)

Why does Macbeth’s murderous ambition to become king awaken? Since the witches’ first prediction has come true, he sees the second as a real possibility. Possibility is the form of all temptation. We are not tempted in our weaknesses but in our strengths and talents. The charming are tempted to seduce others by their wiles because they know that they are likely to succeed; the knowledgeable are tempted to make an impressive show of their knowledge; bullies or those with strong personalities are tempted to intimidate others. Those who know how to manipulate another’s guilt are tempted to make people do their bidding….

None of us has ever been tempted to turn stones into bread because we don’t have the power to do so. It is not a possibility; therefore, it is not a temptation. The particular forms of Jesus’ temptations are not our own, but what he was tempted with is the same — the abuse of power.

In one sense, all temptations are temptations of power, for power provides us with what we want, be it wealth, pleasure, possessions, prestige or revenge. Nothing entices us more than the possibility of getting our own way. But nothing corrupts us more than its pursuit. For the insatiable lust of getting what we want will not be satisfied until it devours our mind, heart, and will.

 

~ A Meditation by Marc Foley, O.C.D.

 

Ash Wednesday

 

Ash Wednesday art by jaki kaufman
Art by Jaki Kaufman

 

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18


Jesus commends us to fast, to pray, and to give alms but cautions us not to perform these actions for the sake of acquiring a reputation for holiness.


 

In T.S. Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral, Thomas à Becket is accosted by a temptation to martyrdom, that is, to win fame and glory by his death. When he realizes the nature of the temptation, he exclaims, “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason… A Servant of God has a chance of greater sin and sorrow, than the man who serves a king. For those who serve them” (44-45). Becket’s words go to the heart of today’s gospel. Giving alms, prayer, and fasting, all good deeds, may be done for the wrong reason. Acts meant to serve God may also serve our egos.

Deeds that serve God differ from those that serve our egos because of the motive that underlies them. As John Chrysostom comments upon today’s gospel, “Since even if you should enter into your closet, and having shut the door, should do it for display, the doors will do you no good” (“Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew” 132). We can draw as much attention to ourselves by standing in a corner as by basking in the limelight. In this regard, Jerome warns us, “Don’t seek the fame of avoiding fame. Many who avoid having witnesses of their poverty, their tenderness of heart, their fasting, desire to win approval for the fact that they despise approval” (160-61). The motive out of which our choices arise is all-important because it determines the nature of our actions. If we give alms in order to be known to be generous, then our action is not a deed of generosity but of pride.

It matters little what we pride ourselves in because the lure of pride does not lie in the object of our pursuit but the distinction that it confers upon us. But, ultimately, the distinction that pride bestows betrays those who practice it. For whenever our pretense has evoked the praise of others, we become enslaved to the admiring audience that we have created. The Greek word translated in today’s gospel as hypocrite (hypokrites, meaning actor) is instructive in this regard. Every actor knows that he is only as good as his last performance and stands in dread of a bad review. The more our self-esteem depends upon the opinion of others, the more insecure we become.

Being insecure in self-esteem is the core dynamic of what psychologists call a narcissistic personality disorder. This might strike us as strange because narcissists often project a grandiose persona of self-assurance. But their personas are fragile. Narcissists easily become depressed and full of self-doubt when they receive less than rave reviews for their performances. They are like kites. When the winds of approval and applause are favorable. narcissists fly high; when the winds of acclamation subside, they fall into the doldrums of despondency and despair.

Most of us have a narcissistic wound, for we are insecure in the knowledge that we are loved. So we go through life wearing masks, conning parts, playing roles, giving performances in the hope of winning love or at least curtailing disapproval. In this regard, we are all frightened hypocrites.

There is nothing wrong with receiving praise, but the more we seek it, the more we become addicted to it. Jesus is straightforward in what we must do. We must fast from any behavior that is designed to win the approval of others. Jesus’ counsels to “go to your room and pray in secret … keep your deeds of mercy secret … groom your hair and wash your face when you fast” are but three examples.

Augustine writes that when we fast from our play-acting, we are “cleansing the eye by which God is seen” (“The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount’ 92). We cannot see our Father who dwells in secret if our minds are preoccupied with our performance. Saint Teresa tells us, “All harm comes to us from not keeping our eyes fixed on [God]” (“The Way of Perfection” 97). As we begin Lent, let us direct our gaze inward, to the God who dwells in secret and who loves us.

 

~ A Meditation by Marc Foley, O.C.D.

 

Forgiveness

 

Forgiveness art by Charlie Mackesy
Art by Charlie Mackesy

 



How often must I forgive my brother?

~ Matthew 18:21


 

Perhaps the “work” that best expresses faith is — forgiveness.

Jesus clearly saw that lack of forgiveness was one of the most blatant characteristics of the people around him, and he seemed to appreciate how hard it is to forgive absolutely and forever.

This is because we have no real grasp of what God has done and continually does for us.

Our lack of insight makes us critical, intolerant, unforgiving. We tend to think we have been splendid when we have taken a snub silently, overlooked what seemed like hurtful behaviour on the part of another.

It isn’t like that at all, Jesus says. You are bound to have pity and to forgive. It isn’t a work of supererogation but sheer bounden duty.

Think of the little things I take umbrage at, react to, or perhaps cope with quite virtuously according to my own estimation . . .

Now Jesus isn’t saying: ‘I understand, my poor dear; yes, you have been badly treated and you did very well not to lose your temper or answer back.’

On the contrary he is saying: ‘It is unthinkable that you should take any notice whatever of such things, and you wouldn’t if you had the slightest idea of what your heavenly Father is always doing for you. What if he were to treat you in that miserable, miserly, unloving way!’

~ A Meditation by Sister Rachel of the Quidenham Carmel (Ruth Burrows) O.C.D.

 

“I cannot believe that a soul which has arrived so near to Mercy itself, where she knows what she is, and how many sins God has forgiven her, should not instantly and willingly forgive others, and be pacified and wish well to everyone who has injured her, because she remembers the kindness and favors our Lord has shown her, whereby she has seen proofs of exceeding great love, and she is glad to have an opportunity offered to show some gratitude to her Lord.” — St. Teresa of Avila

 

“Pardon one another so that later on you will not remember the injury. The recollection of an injury is itself wrong. It adds to our anger, nurtures our sin, and hates what is good. It is a rusty arrow and poison for the soul. It puts all virtue to flight.” — St. Francis of Paola

 

“‘If he trespass against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to you, saying, I repent; you shall forgive him’ (Lk. 17:4).
As the Searcher of hearts, the Lord knows that men are liable to very frequent trespass, and that, having fallen, they often rise up again; therefore He has given us the commandment to frequently forgive trespasses, and He Himself is the first to fulfill His holy word. As soon as you say from your whole heart, ‘I repent,’ you will be immediately forgiven.” — St. John of Kronstadt

 

 

May we always ask the Lord for the grace to forgive and to be forgiven!

 

 

I Made a Garden for God

I made a garden for God.
No, do not misunderstand me
It was not on some lovely estate or even in a pretty suburb.
I made a garden for God
in the slum of my heart
a sunless space between grimy walls
the reek of cabbage water in the air
refuse strewn on the cracked asphalt….
the ground of my garden!
This was where I laboured

night and day
over the long years
in dismal smog and cold…..
there was nothing to show for my toil.
Like a child I could have pretended:
my slum transformed…..
an oasis of flowers and graceful trees
how pleasant to work in such a garden!I could have lost heart
and neglected my garden
to do something else for God.
But I was making a garden for God
not for myself
for his delight not mine
and so I worked on in the slum of my heart.Was he concerned with my garden?
Did he see my labour and tears?
I never saw him looking
never felt him there
Yet I knew (though it felt as if I did not know)
that he was there with me
waiting……He has come into his garden
Is it beautiful at last?
Are there flowers and perfumes?
I do not know
the garden is not mine but his……..
God asked only for my little space
to be prepared and given.
This is “garden” for him
and my joy is full.
 
~ A poem by Ruth Burrows, O.C.D.
a garden for you wordpress
I made a garden for You, art by Darren Haley ‘Spring Chickadees’