March 20, 2017
“Son, why have you done this to us?
Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
And he said to them,
“Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them.
Now that my children are in their twenties, I store their childhood photos and artwork in a closet near my front door. I’ve often told myself that if there was a fire, I’d rush to that closet and retrieve as much as possible. Like so many mothers, my family memories are far more valuable than possessions.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was the great keeper of memories. In a humble stable, as she rocked her newborn, the shepherds drew near and the star above the manger glowed brightly. These were relatively simple moments, but the scriptures tells us she treasured all these things in her heart. In small things, Mary uncovered the glory of God.
But what about the more complicated moments of Mary’s life? Remember when Jesus was lost in the temple? The stern reprimand she gave to Jesus reflected her frustration: “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety!”
Jesus replied: “Didn’t you know I needed to be in my Father’s house?”
Did Mary understand the meaning of her son’s words? Or did she spent months, even years pondering that one poignant remark?
When Mary stood at the cross, maybe she remembered that day in the temple and thought: Yes, it makes sense now. Gabriel told me my child would save the world. Jesus ALWAYS knew who he was…
During these Lenten days, take some time to treasure your memories. In the remembering, spiritual clarity may come. As you open your heart to the past, you may discover the glory of God.
March 21, 2017
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
Psalm 25:4-5AB, 6 and 7BC, 8-9
Who has taught you about the Lord? I would say that my late daughter, Sarah, was one of my greatest spiritual teachers. Born with Downs syndrome, Sarah had many physical and mental limitations, including a significant visual impairment. Though she wore thick glasses, she was always very intentional about looking into the eyes of others. It didn’t matter if people were heavy set or skinny, good- looking or disheveled, tattooed or absurdly dressed. Her eyes were filled with light and she would look at everyone with love and they usually smiled back. It was almost as if Sarah was looking into their hearts, and loving them, as Christ would.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where people don’t really look at one another. I’ve often thought that if aliens came to Starbucks, they would see a room filled with people sitting alone and staring at screens; computers and cell phones. They would probably assume that since we didn’t look at one another, we were a robotic people.
Sarah taught me that eye contact is a powerful thing, especially in this age of electronics. When we look into the eyes of someone, we are acknowledging that we are all part of God’s family, next of kin, brothers and sisters in Christ.
Back in the fifteenth century, Saint Teresa of Avila penned these beautiful words:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, No feet, but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on the world….
As you continue your Lenten journey, try looking into the eyes of those who cross your path. See Christ and be Christ in the world.
March 22, 2017
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-19
This past winter, I caught a nasty cold virus that lasted almost three weeks. Between work commitments, family gatherings, and putting my mother into assisted living, I was worn out. After visiting the doctor, I was sure she would prescribe a treatment of antibiotics. But after checking my lungs with a stethoscope, she said: “All you need is rest.”
Over the next few days, I took some time off work and spent a few days on the couch watching movies. One night, the kids brought me dinner and we played scrabble at the kitchen table. “No cheating!” my son in law said as I purposely misspelled a couple of words. Each day, I snuggled under blankets and took long naps in the afternoon. In the quietness, I talked to God and read the scriptures. After taking good care of myself, my body was healed. More importantly, my soul was renewed.
Rest. God commands it of us. But in our busy, non-stop culture, “do-nothingness.” isn’t easily embraced. Our to-do lists are long and the hours in our days pass swiftly. Oftentimes, it’s an illness or an emotional collapse that causes us to say: “I can’t keep this up…I’m burnt out.”
Lent is a wonderful time to rest in Christ. If possible, take a couple days off before Easter arrives. Give yourself permission to read, pray, and nap. Though fasting is a Lenten practice, it’s okay to go to the fish fry or enjoy some great tuna noodle casserole with a friend. Do-nothingness will renew your soul.
March 23, 2017
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert…
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
A few years ago, there was a popular commercial that highlighted the problems with cell phone reception. As a man with horned rimmed glasses talked on his phone, he kept asking: “Can you hear me now?” The catch phrase made us laugh because we’ve all felt the frustration of a poor phone connection.
One of the best ways to get a good connection with God is through daily prayer. For me, prayer is a discipline that requires me to leave the noise of the world behind. In the silence of God’s presence, the Lord often speaks through my thoughts.
Sometimes the face of a family member will come to mind. Other times it’s a memory that needs to be healed or a friendship that needs my care. Even when I’m distracted by a worrisome thought, I pay attention because the Lord might want to uproot a fear that is blocking God’s power in my life.
In what ways do you make a good connection with God? Perhaps daily Mass or reading the scriptures helps you to feel close to the Lord. As you discipline yourself to be still, you may get a better reception on God’s voice. When you close your eyes and open your heart, maybe you’ll hear God whisper: “Can you hear me now?”
March 24, 2017
I will be like the dew for Israel:
he shall blossom like the lily;
He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar,
and put forth his shoots.
His splendor shall be like the olive tree
and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.
Hosea 14: 2-10
In Minneapolis where I live, there’s an Ash tree that grows on the South shore of Lake Harriet.
At the base of the tree, a little door is adorned with shiny hinges and a carved lions head that serves as a knocker. Most of the locals know that an invisible elf moved into the tree in the year 1995. The imaginary gnome is known as “Mr. Little Guy.” and he allows the public to leave notes in the tree for safekeeping.
It’s well known that Mr. Little guy answers each message with a carefully typed response. Each time I jog past the little door, I can’t help but smile. His tree brings hope and enchantment to the entire neighborhood.
In the scriptures, trees are images of hope too. In the book of Genesis, we are told that a tree of life grew in the garden of Eden. In the Old Testament, we hear about the “splendor” of the olive tree and the “fragrance” of the Lebanon Cedar. And during Lent, we remember that it was a tree that provided wood for the cross.
I find myself thinking of the Good Friday liturgy. At my home parish, our priest carries a large cross to the altar and proclaims :“This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the Savior of the world. ”
For me, this is always an emotional moment as I call to mind the suffering and death of Jesus. When I look at the cross, I can almost hear nails pounding through wood and the piercing of his holy hands. I tell myself that it had to happen this way, though it’s hard to understand a divine plan that required so much pain. Only through the suffering of our savior could we receive the gift of eternal life.
As you prepare for Easter, consider taking a walk in the woods. Let yourself take in the beauty of the trees and brush your hand over bark and branches. In the stillness, find a branch to take home and make a simple cross from the broken twigs.
May your home-made cross become your tree of hope.
Here’s a great poem for your Lenten Journey:
O Cross of Christ Immortal Lucius Chapin (1760-1842
O Cross of Christ, immortal tree
On which our Savior died,
The world is sheltered by your arms
That bore the Crucified.
From bitter death and barren wood
the tree of life is made;
Its branches bear unfailing fruit
And leaves that never fade.
O faithful Cross, you stand unmoved
While ages run their course;
Foundation of the universe,
Creation’s minding force.
Give glory to the risen Christ
And to his Cross give praise,
The sign of God’s unfailing love,
The hope of all our days.
MARCH 25, 2017
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor 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.”
A couple of years ago, my sister Annie moved to Kansas City. Before I made my first visit to her new home I googled her address and a satellite view of her neighborhood surfaced on my computer screen. As I zoomed in on her home, I could see her front porch and the pine trees that framed her property. Though I had never driven on the freeways that connect Minnesota to Kansas, I felt confident that I knew right where I was going. “I can’t wait to see you.” I told my sister.
When I think about that trip, my thoughts turn to Gabriel, the angel who delivered God’s message to Mary. I wonder if God gave him specific directions before he set out to visit the young handmaiden of the Lord.
Perhaps God showed Gabriel a panoramic view of the earth from heaven; houses, streets, lakes, mountains, and trees. I wonder if God said: “Gabriel, See this little town? It’s called Nazareth. And here’s the house of Mary. I’ve chosen her to be the mother of my son.”
Perhaps God let Gabriel view Mary’s heart. Tell her not to be afraid Gabriel. She’s pure, selfless and strong. Much will be required of Mary and she needs to know that I will be with her.
Gabriel knew where he was going. God gave him good directions and he delivered his message to Mary with confidence. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” (Luke 1: 31)
Like Gabriel, we all have a mission that God must clarify. Lent is a wonderful time to ask: Lord where do you want me to go? What message do you want me to deliver? Who am I called to support and encourage?
In the stillness of prayer, you will receive God’s directions. If the Lord leads, you will know right where you are going.
March 26, 2017
Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing;
but it is my Father who glorifies me,
of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’
You do not know him, but I know him.
And if I should say that I do not know him,
I would be like you a liar.
But I do know him and I keep his word John 8:51-59’
Who has helped you to know God? In my life, I came to know God through Sarah, my late daughter who was born with Downs syndrome. When she was very young, we told her: “Sarah, your name means God’s princess.” She immediately embraced this identity and believed that she was royalty. Her room was lined with hundreds of fairy tale books and she had her very own crown collection. Each day of her life, she wore a different crown. “God lives in..in..my hhheart.” she would often say.
One busy afternoon, I received an unexpected teaching from Sarah that I’ve never forgotten.. As I made dinner at the stove, I was completely preoccupied. My two teenage daughters had sports events in different places and Sarah needed to be at a conference at the same time. Lost in my thoughts, I told myself: “I can’t be everywhere.”
Meanwhile, Sarah sat at the kitchen table with a crown on her head. (She was in her late teens then, but still a child in so many ways) As she calmly turned the pages of Snow White, she said: “Mom…you…you…are wearing a crown too. You just can’t see it.”
That afternoon, Sarah deepened my understanding of God in a way that no one else could. She was reminding me that even in the harried moments of motherhood, I was a princess. A beloved child of God. Her simple teaching transformed my image of God.
God often uses family members, friends, and the leaders of our church to impart his truths. Let us open our minds and hearts to the spiritual sages in our life. God may have something to say.