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Be Resurrection People
A reflection for Easter
Easter Sunday begins in darkness. While it is still dark, the women go to the tomb. They do not expect resurrection. They are prepared to anoint the dead body.
But reality has more in store for them than they know – rolled back rocks, empty tombs, angels, appearances of the Risen One. Resurrection cannot be predicted. It is the unfolding of light, the seeing of what was previously unseen. Even more, previously unthought.
This is how hope arrives. It is not the projected desire of what we presently know and want to have more of. It is a fulfillment that only takes place through the transformation of dying. Death does not have dominion. The fullness of life has hidden passages, varieties of invitations. “Love never ends.” (1 Cor. 13:8)
When we internalize the hope of resurrection, we become resurrection people. Most definitely, we create our plans and vigorously pursue them. But as we do this, we are attentive to all that is going on, to the emergence of opportunities that were not on the drafting board. Once things are set in motion, motion sets things before us that we did not see coming.
In short, we live from the future that, on one hand, we do not know but, on the other hand, we sense is right. And once it arrives, we recognize it is what we have wanted all along. The vastness of the universe as well as the intuitions of our own hearts resonates with what is unfolding before us. The river on which we journey is opening into the sea.
What is always emerging is the interdependent unity of all things. And we are servants of this Reality, both humble and creative, both worshipers and partners. And fear, always a player, is no longer totally in charge. It cannot banish hope in the Ground of Love who holds us.
The resurrected future is our home, asking us to make it present now.
Be Companions to Those Who Suffer
A reflection for Good Friday
Crosses are centerpieces in our churches and very often hang on a wall in our homes. If that were not enough, we make the sign of the cross on our bodies. It is the premier symbol of Christian faith.
During Lent, and especially on Good Friday, we meditate on what the cross means and calls us to do. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose, I came to this hour.” ( Jn. 12: 27) Jesus’ hour is his suffering and death. As the Word of God, he came to share our full humanity, including our mortality. That is his purpose.
“The Word became flesh” (Jn. 1: 13) so that all flesh is accompanied by the Word. Christ has entered into human suffering so no one who ever suffers will suffer alone.
This truth of accompaniment is hard to realize. When our physical bodies break down or the secureness of our social life is disrupted, we become vulnerable in ways that terribly frighten us. We sense we are separating from relationships, disappearing, falling out of the existence we have fought so hard to establish. It is difficult to hold onto the faith conviction that Christ is with us.
That is where the community of faith comes in. We gather around those who suffer to alleviate and accompany that suffering. When we do this, we hope we are signs of the interior presence of Christ to all who suffer. To center ourselves on this truth, we look at the cross, hold the cross, kiss the cross, make the sign of the cross.
Christ is with us. We are not alone, and we are more than our suffering.
Be Bringers of Peace
A reflection for the sixth week of Lent
We seldom take anything home from Church, maybe a bulletin. But on the last Lenten Sunday before Easter, we are offered and most likely accept to take home palm. We may not think much about it, but symbolically a lot is going on when we do this.
The Palm on Palm Sunday and the ashes on Ash Wednesday are inter-connected. Ashes are the result of burning the previous year’s palm. On Ash Wednesday, we begin the Lenten practice of re-determining our priorities and strengthening our commitments to be true to ourselves. On Palm Sunday, we have completed this inner work and are ready for action. Ashes lead to palm.
What does the palm symbolize?
Palm Sunday remembers Jesus, riding a colt - the foal of a donkey - entering Jerusalem from the east for the feast of Passover. Crowds strew palms on his path.
But Jesus was not the only one entering Jerusalem on that day. Pontius Pilate and Roman soldiers were entering from the west. It was an imperial procession – cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, banners, golden eagles atop poles, the beating of drums, clouds of blinding dust rising from marching feet, etc. All meant to show force, emphasize occupation and domination, and terrify onlookers.
The two processions are contrasted. The horse of military might is set against the lowly colt of peace. (Zachariah 9-10) The terrified onlookers are replaced by people singing and praising God. Jesus enters Jerusalem as one who brings peace to a violent world. There is a cost to this commitment to peace. Palm Sunday is the first day of Passion Week.
When we take home palm, we commit ourselves to the way of peace. We may not know all that this entails. It may mean struggling for peace in our families, our communities, our country, our world. But wherever we find ourselves, we carry the agenda of peace.
Embracing Your Cross
A reflection for the fifth week of Lent
Jesus put his basic teachings and values in such clear, easy-to-understand language. “A new commandment I give you that you love one another as I love you.” “In this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
One of the many things I love about Jesus is that he just doesn’t “preach-at-us.” No, what Jesus asks us to do he has done himself. He denied himself and took up his cross, one of extreme suffering and rejection. He invites us to embrace our cross while living a life like his of compassion and care for the least and the vulnerable among us.
Pope Leo the Great has reminded us that “anytime is the right time for works of charity but Lent provides a special encouragement…As we prepare to celebrate that greatest of all mysteries by which the blood of Jesus Christ did away with our sins, let us first of all make ready the sacrificial offerings of works of mercy.”
As we come nearer to the great week of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, let us try to use these next couple of weeks to prepare ourselves.
What are we bringing to offer to our crucified and risen Savior as we celebrate the joys of his Easter victory? May we imitate Jesus by having a bit of victory in our own lives overcoming selfishness and getting to know Jesus and his way of life more intimately, more joyfully, more generously, more fruitfully.
This Lenten reflection was written by the late Bishop William R. Houck, President Emeritus of Catholic Extension. Reflections from Jack Shea will return during Holy Week.
Repent and Rejoice
A reflection for the fourth week of Lent
The Lenten season is one of repentance and gladness. Our Lenten efforts are not supposed to be 40 days of gloominess and darkness. Repentance illuminates our true senses and opens our eyes.
In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke, the main theme is reconciliation.
The son comes to his senses and repents. The father was longing for his son to return home. Upon his arrival the father welcomes his son with open arms and celebrates his coming back with a feast. The father rejoices and celebrates that his son who was lost has been found.
In the sacrament of reconciliation, God also rejoices and celebrates because we too have returned home to the Father. We too have been found. If a man in his human nature can forgive and embrace his son after having despised and offended him, how much more our heavenly Father will rejoice and celebrate when we return home!
During Lent we are called to turn back to God and grow in communion with Christ. We are called to be ambassadors for Christ! We are called to be ambassadors who allow others to taste and see the goodness of the Lord through our own relationship with Christ.
God loves and forgives us always. All we need is to truly believe in him, to have authentic faith in his mercy and ask him for his forgiveness. Just like the father of the prodigal son, he longs for us to come home; he longs to share his love and mercy with us. As he is merciful to us, let us be ambassadors of his love and mercy to others.
This Lenten reflection was written by Alma Benitez, the Director of Stewardship and Development for the Diocese of Yakima. This reflection has been edited. Reflections from Jack Shea will return during Holy Week.
Be Righteous as He Is Righteous
A reflection for the third week of Lent
In this third week of Lent, I find myself reflecting on how my Lenten practice is going so far. Is it helping me to bear fruit in my life or am I more like the fig tree in the gospel this week? Am I doing something that will create a temporary adjustment or am I setting myself up for the kind of permanent growth that the Gardener will be proud of?
I remember vividly one year when I decided on a Lenten practice like this and was very pleased with myself until hearing the readings at Ash Wednesday Mass. The words of Matthew 6 really struck me. “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them.”
Was I choosing these things for others or for myself?
Later in Matthew 6 we hear: “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that others may see them. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (Mt 6:5)
Time with God was what I was missing each Lent. On top of giving up a food or adding a practice, I needed to set aside time to be with my Father in silence. Maybe this third week of Lent, think about adding prayer time to your other Lenten practice. Take some time to talk to God about where you are in your journey. Ask God to cultivate the ground around you and fertilize it so that you may continue to bear fruit in the future.
This Lenten reflection from 2016 was written by Alex Navas, a Catholic Young Adult Leader living in the Diocese of Tucson at the time of writing. This reflection has been edited. Reflections from Jack Shea will return during Holy Week
Be Faithful to Love
A reflection for the second week of Lent
Lent is closely associated with Jesus’ temptations in the desert. In Luke’s gospel they are sandwiched between his baptism and his homecoming. The temptations carry a message for all who know they are loved by others and by God. At his baptism, Jesus hears the word from the sky that he is loved by God. Immediately, the Spirit drives him into the desert to encounter Satan with his false interpretations of what being loved means.
Satan suggests to Jesus being loved translates into having his physical needs met at all times. Jesus should turn rocks into bread. But Jesus refuses that implication.
Satan suggest to Jesus being loved translates into power and prestige in society. If Jesus worships Satan, he will be given the power and glory of the world. But Jesus refuses that implication.
Satan suggests to Jesus being loved translates into being safe no matter what. Jesus should jump down from the top of the temple. But Jesus refuses that implication.
The temptations of being loved is to think we will be always full, always powerful, and always safe. It is no easy task to let go of these assumptions. But then what does being loved mean?
The Spirit who drove Jesus into the desert now drives him toward his hometown. In the synagogue, he reads the words of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord.” Being faithful to love we have received means loving others.
Be Salt and Light
A reflection for the first week of Lent
High potential and high danger. This double dynamic is how Jesus sees people in the Lenten Gospel that is part of the Sermon on the Mount. The people are described as “crowds.” They are ordinary people from the fields and streets, struggling to survive, hoping to flourish.
Jesus addresses them, 'You are salt for the earth. But if salt loses its taste, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing and can only be thrown out to be trampled under people's feet.” (Mt. 5:13)
The high potential is people are “salt,” the power to preserve and flavor their situations. The high danger is this potential will never be realized. Instead, this goodness will be lost and become “good for nothing,” not positively influencing people but being trampled underfoot.
But Jesus is not done. He develops and deepens this truth about people.
“'You are light for the world. ... No one lights a lamp to put it under a bushel basket; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in people's sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven.” (Mt. 14-16)
The people are not only salt for the world. They are light for the world, but this light must shine. When it does, other people will see these good works. More than that. They will recognize these good works are grounded in the goodness of God. The deep identity of the crowds is they mediate God’s goodness into the world. Bushel-baskets are to be avoided: lamp stands are to be provided.
Be True to Who We Are
A reflection for Ash Wednesday
Years ago, I visited my parents in Florida on Ash Wednesday. We went to Church to receive ashes. Afterward, my mother, unable to resist being close to a shopping mall, insisted we stop.
Inside, we passed a gaggle of teenagers. They watched us go by. “Hey,” shouted one, “the Catholics are giving out ashes. Let’s go.” Our foreheads had unsuspectedly become an ecumenical and inter-faith invitation.
Receiving ashes is a Catholic tradition that begins the Lenten season. But it has a universal appeal, tapping into something right beneath the surface of every human life.
“Remember, Human Being, you are dust
and unto dust you shall return.”
Ashes invite us to take stock of our lives in the light of the fact we are mortal. Although we may not want to look at the terrifying certainty of our own death, we do often need to check in with ourselves, to make sure we are on the right path. We can fall into ways of thinking and acting that we are not quite satisfied with. No one is exempt from drift. “A little scrutiny,” the saying goes, ‘is good for the soul.”
In popular culture, this type of reflection coincides with “bucket lists.” “What are the things we want to do before we die?” But in spiritual traditions, the question is deeper. “What do we need to do to be true to who we are?”
On the personal level, this question may bring us into gratitude and love. Who do we need to say “thank you” to? Who do we need to say “I love you” to?
On the social level, we may find ourselves asking, “What struggles should we be concerned with and active about?” “What commitments do we need to re-connect with?”
Catholic Extension is honored to publish this series of reflections from renowned author, theologian, and storyteller Jack Shea.
He is a consultant to dioceses, parishes, and faith-based organizations and former director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Mundelein Seminary.