Sunday, March 20, 2011

Second Sunday of Lent

"But Jesus came and touched them, saying, 'Rise, and do not be afraid.'" Matthew 17:7

When He touches us, we have no need to be afraid. Yes, He is the Lord of all creation and the Ruler of the universe. And yet, we have no need to be afraid. For He is the One who became man, was tempted "in all ways, even as we are tempted, yet without sin," and suffered and died for us. We have no need to be afraid.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Feast of St. Joseph

Lent, Day 11

"...and all who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers." Luke 2:47

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lent, Day 9--St. Patrick's Day

In lieu of my daily Lenten posts, I invite you to learn more about St. Patrick.

Click this link to Learn About Saint Patrick!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lent, Day 8

" the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here." Luke 11:32b

What does it mean to repent? Many people think that by saying they're sorry, the issue should be closed. I said it, so that should end it. Not exactly. Because sometimes we say we're sorry for the wrong reasons. We got caught. We don't want someone to think poorly of us. We want the "bad" situation to be done and over with, so just say "sorry". To try to lessen the uncomfortable feelings that come with whatever we have said or done.

The right reason--and true repentance--is saying, "I'm sorry" with a heart that longs to change. To have a true desire to never do the wrong again. To undo the damage as best we make amends. To restore relationship.

The story of Jonah is full of comparisons between Jonah and the people of Ninevah. Most people know the story: God called Jonah to preach in Ninevah. Jonah ran the other way. Fish swallowed Jonah. Jonah said he was sorry for disobeying. Fish spit out Jonah. Jonah preached. The citizens of Ninevah repented in sackcloth and ashes. God spared them from His judgment. Jonah pouted! So was Jonah really and truly sorry for not having gone in the first place? I'm not sure. It seems that he almost hoped they would NOT repent, so he could see God bring some type of disaster upon Ninevah and punish them.

Amazing, isn't it, that Jesus uses those same Ninevites to show His own greatness? If those wicked people could repent at the preaching of the reluctant prophet, how much more should the people of Jesus' day repent at the preaching of the Son of God? Wow.

And this is where we stand today. If a wave of repentance could sweep through the populace of Ninevah, what is stopping us from bowing our heads and hearts and allowing the Holy Spirit to sweep us clean?

Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day of grace. Let us respond with hearts ready for change!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lent, Day 6

"Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of Mine, you did for Me." Matthew 25:40

Just a brief note tonight, as the day has almost gotten away from me.

If we read this entire passage (Mt. 25:31-46), it can seem a bit of a mystery. Sheep? Goats? And what does that have to do with feeding hungry people, visiting the sick, and going to prisons? I think it can be summed up this easily: If we want to truly be followers of Christ, we will show our faith by our actions!

Look around you: who are the "least"? And what can you do for them that will truly show them Christ?

*check out the website for Operation Rice Bowl for ideas on how you can help "the least"

Sunday, March 13, 2011

First Sunday of Lent

I'm experiencing quite a mixture of emotions on this day, March 13, 2011.

First, the joy of having been at Mass this morning. Today was the Rite of Sending, in which we send those preparing to be received into the Catholic Church to our cathedral in Cleveland for the Rite of Election. It reminds me of the day 4 years ago when we attended the rite, shortly before our family's reception into the Catholic Church. A very special day, and exciting to see the hundreds of others who were on the same journey.

Today was also the sort of "prologue" for our church's annual mission services. Each year during Lent, a special speaker comes and conducts the mission services. The purpose is to encourage our parish to pursue our mission: living as God's people and reaching our community for Christ. Our speaker this year is Fr. Damian Ference, who teaches at the seminary in Cleveland. He is a man filled with energy and a passion for Christ. The words he spoke this morning rang so true: Satan's lure to us is to make us self-centered, rather than God-centered (I'm paraphrasing).

The other emotion I'm feeling today is one of melancholy. Today would have been the 44th birthday of my friend Denise (see previous post ). Denise and I became friends in Bible college back in the late 1980's. She was one of the best friends I ever had, and we had some really fun-filled times together. In fact, the first date I went on with my now-husband--Denise was on, too! You see, it was "Spinsters' Spree"--the girls did the inviting. She and I double-dated with two guys named Keith! We went to Branson, which was in its pre-every-celebrity-owns-a-theater days. We all played putt putt golf and ate at a small diner-style restaurant. It is a memory I will cherish forever. So much laughter! (Where but in Branson, heart of the Ozarks, will you find a mini-outhouse as part of a putt putt golf course?!) Other memories of her I will always cherish: working together in music theory class under the close eye of dear Sister Swaim (musician extraordinaire). Ministering together on the streets of Springfield, Missouri, as part of the street witnessing team. Singing together in oratorio choir, as well as taking part in the many recital groups. Laughing until our sides ached, as we sat on her pink bedspread (always pink for Denise!) or my blue comforter (always blue for me!).

One of my favorite memories was the weekend her twin sister, Erlene, and her younger brother, Bruce, came to visit campus. It was kind of eerie to me, how much Denise and Erlene looked alike!Same laugh, same smile... Yet, there was always the difference of clothing (always purple for Erlene!). I need to dig out the pictures from that weekend. It was a blast!
Best memory of all, though: just having her as a friend, and someone whom I never doubted when she said, "I will pray for you." She meant it with all her heart. Prayer warrior is one of the attributes she was definitely known for. Oh, and the all-night CMF prayer meetings! Having the chance to be in her wedding...and me wearing a PINK bridesmaid's dress, of course!

As I said, today would have been Denise's birthday, as it is today Erlene's. However, Denise's battle with brain tumors ended just a few short years ago on March 24, 2006. This is her brother's poem, which he posted on Facebook recently. It gives you a glimpse into the battle she fought. If you can't access it, let me know. I can re post the text here. Anyone who has watched a loved one battle cancer will be able to relate to his poignant words.
In summary, this is a reflective day for me. Reflecting on God's grace "in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Reflecting on my sinfulness, and thankful for that grace! Reflecting on happy memories of a dear friend. Reflecting on the brevity of life. Rejoicing in the privilege of having known Denise and having shared her friendship...a rare and shining gem.

God bless, dear friends. And happy birthday to Erlene...I know this is a joyful/tearful day.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday, March 12

"He said to him, 'Follow Me.' And he left everything, and rose and followed him." Luke 5:27

There are so many things we can learn from today's Gospel reading in Luke 5:27-32. I'll do my best to walk through it slowly here.

First, Levi (Matthew) was a tax collector. This meant that, though he was Jewish, he was an employee of the Roman government. Tax collectors in those days were wealthy men. Not that the government was such a generous employer, mind you. The main reason was that the collectors would collect the necessary tax required by the government, but then also add an extra toll for their own pockets. (Remember Zacchaeus?) So, for obvious reasons, the general Jewish populace did not have much regard for the tax collectors. Jewish they might be by birth, but the others saw them as traitors.

Yet, Jesus chose him as one of His followers. Just as surely as He called Andrew, Peter, James, and John...He CHOSE Matthew. The lesson to learn here? More than one, I'm sure. One I see is that God loves us, no matter how heinous our sins may seem to society. His love and His grace are able to set us free so completely that we will "leave everything, rise, and follow Him."

Matthew's response is amazing, isn't it? He left all. Wow. He walked away from certain wealth to...what? Follow this where? Wherever He went. Again--wow!

We see a parallel to what Zacchaeus did, too. Matthew gave a great feast for Jesus. Who else did he invite? Well, the only other people who were his friends: tax collectors. This is a great picture of what happens when someone has been changed by grace. They want others to have the same experience!

Well, then the Pharisees come along in their robes of righteousness, always judging everything Jesus does. How could he stand to eat with these totally unholy people? Tax collectors, sinners, and such, oh my! I do love Jesus' answer to them:

"Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." I'm sure that was one of those "you could hear a pin drop" moments in time. Ouch. To paraphrase, Jesus was saying, "You Pharisees think you are righteous, and in no need of forgiveness. I will not waste my time feasting with such. These men know they are sinners. They want to spend time with Me. That's why I'm here. To offer them forgiveness and new life."

What's interesting is to go beyond this passage to the next few verses. The Pharisees quickly changed the subject from "who" He was feasting with to the fact that He was feasting at all. Why aren't Your disciples fasting? Way to take the focus off yourselves, guys!

Okay. Now to the point of this post!

Lent is a time of fasting, repentance, drawing closer to the Lord, and allowing the Holy Spirit to do the soul inspections we so desperately need. How do we respond? Do we "leave all and follow" and then make a way for others to learn how to do the same? Or do we look down our noses at those we deem "less holy" and preen in our own self-righteousness? For example, would we stand in line to make confession, wondering what we will ever say, because, really, our sins aren't that big, and we're sure that the guy ahead of us, who has been in the confessional for a very, very long time must have sinned more grievously and have much more to confess. So of course, we don't want to bore the priest with our piddly little problems. Hmm.

What I really love about Lent is the opportunity to really "come clean" with God. To allow Him to purge me of all the stuff that clutters up my spirit and stands as a gulf between me and Him. To shake loose the things that have so easily ensnared me so that I may once again run the race unhindered and unfettered.

Let us call out to the Author and Perfecter of our faith, and let Him do the housecleaning necessary, so that we may more easily set aside "everything" and follow Him without hesitation.

Today let us make this our aim: To pray for those whom others condemn.

Friday, March 11, 2011

And So, We Pray

Taking a break from my Lenten posts today, to urge everyone to pray for the people of Japan. Also, for the safety of those in Hawaii, Alaska, and the entire west coast of the United States.

May God watch over them, protect them, and sustain those who have lost loved ones and homes.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Another Time, Another Lent

"Then He said to all, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.'" Luke 9:23

As anyone who has read my blog for very long knows, our family has been on a spiritual journey for several years. We first became familiar with Lent back in 2002. We had never practiced this in our former denomination, so it was very new to us. Honestly, I did not like the somber, minor key music very well. And boy, did I get tired of hearing about sin and repentance! We couldn't even say "Allelluia" for the entirety of Lent. What a downer! But I do have to say, when Holy Week came, and we celebrated Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and then...Easter...what a difference! I felt so much more ready to celebrate! My sins are forgiven because of the cross! I have victory because of the empty grave! Being able to say "Alleluia" again had even deeper meaning.

One of the things I like most about Lent (and there are many now) is Stations of the Cross. Every Friday, we have a time of remembering the Lord's progression from his betrayal, to the condemnation to die by Pilate, through each phase of Christ's journey to the cross...including His death and burial. It is powerful. Why? Because it is such a vivid reminder of the price of sin. My sin. Your sin. The world's sins. It is humbling to know that something we have done 2000 years later caused the suffering He endured. Yet He did endure, and willingly.

Yesterday, I watched a live broadcast of Pope Benedict XVI's Ash Wednesday Mass in Rome. This holy man, servant of God, allowing one of the cardinals to sprinkle the ashes on his head. The sign of repentance. A man who knows he has great responsibility and authority, yet knows he is a sinner just like the rest of us pilgrims. A humble man. A great leader because of his humility and acknowledgement of his need for repentance.

As we journey toward Easter, let us take every opportunity to allow God's Holy Spirit to do His work inside our hearts--examining, illuminating, convicting. And let us respond by repenting and allowing His grace to restore us and draw us ever closer to the Christ who died for us and rose again.

"Jesus, I believe that you are Lord! I choose to follow you and hold fast to you this Lent! Help me to be faithful to this choice in all that I do today."

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ash Wednesday, 2011

"'Yet even now,' says the Lord, 'return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. ad tear your hearts and not your garments.' Return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy...Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly;gather the people. Sanctify the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants." Joel 2:12-13, 15-16

And so begins another season of Lent.

There is often the question of "why does a priest smear ashes on your forehead"? It is a beautiful reminder that we are "but flesh"and, as the priest says upon imposing the ashes, "you are dust, and to dust you will return." We are fallible human beings in need of a Saviour. Yes, the ashes are not simply a smudge. They remind us of our need to repent.

Our assistant priest, Fr. Mike, encouraged us with this morning to make this Lent a season of becoming less selfish and more selfless.

So, if someone asks me what I'm "giving up" for Lent this year, I have my answer. Yes, I will eat less "junk". I will spend more time in prayer. I will fast, with the goal of drawing closer to God and becoming more like Him. But what am I giving up???


That's what I long to give up. With John the Baptist, I would decrease so that Jesus may increase. That others may see Him, and not me, in all my human-ness.

God, give us a blessed Lent.

"Lord, the trumpet has sounded, and I want to respond. Help me to rend my heart this Lent, so that it can be filled anew with your love and your Spirit."
from Five Minutes with the Word


Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Ready for Another Lent?

Today is what is commonly known as "Fat Tuesday" or Mardi Gras. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. For those of you from a non-liturgical background, this may all seem a bit foreign. I was raised in that type of background, but have learned a lot in the past few years.

As I've said in previous posts, too many people have such an inaccurate view of Lent, what it means, and what it's all about. The simplified explanation is this: We spend 40 days (not counting Sundays) of fasting and abstinence, as we imitate the 40 days of fasting Christ spent in the wilderness. These 40 days should be used to prepare our hearts for Holy Week, Good Friday, and, ultimately, EASTER! The whole idea of "giving up" something for Lent is this: anything that is a distraction, stumbling block, or barrier between my Lord and me is something that needs to go! These are 40 days that should be used for reflection and drawing closer and closer to God. It's not like making a New Year's resolution. It's all about growing into a deeper relationship with the God who gave His Son to die for me, and who raised Him from the dead to give me victory over death and sin!

Some dread this time of year. It is actually a time to be embraced! God loves us and so desires for us to have more intimate communion with Him. I have several friends who do not attend liturgical churches, but still go through Lenten practices for this very reason.

God bless us all, and give us a wonderful Lent.

Sunday, March 06, 2011