Ash Wednesday with Meister Eckhart

We live in a very distracted world.  We are so busy that we have to multi-task.  We are so plugged in to our technology that we get information overload.  Life can seem like it’s too much.  The moment we try to focus our attention we get drawn away by something entertaining or by some task.  Everything in our culture works to distract us from the deeper questions of existence: what happens when we die?  What is life all about?  Why are we here?  Our split-focus keeps us living superficial and unhappy lives.

Among the more typical distractions are worrying about money, excessive entertainment, talking about people behind their backs, fantasizing, wanting to change people, seeking attention, preoccupation with what others think of us, wanting to get back at someone, and complaining.  These distractions are not hot sins but the little ways we get scattered.  Such a life leaves us unable to enjoy the moment because we are so consumed by things coming and going.  If we allow ourselves to be preoccupied by these distractions, we will not know real happiness.  We need guidance.

Over the course of the season of Lent each of our reflections will take a spiritual guide to help lead us more deeply into the Holy Mystery.  We will focus on a Christian mystic each week to highlight a theme from the scripture readings.  What is a mystic, though?  A mystic is a person who actively lives his or her relationship with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.  A mystic can be anyone.  They are not limited to monks or nuns.  God is within us all!  God invites all of us to be mystics, people centered on God alone.

Centering on God and not oneself constitutes the essence of Lent.  In fact, the scripture readings for Ash Wednesday also hone in on this message.  Conversion is the key word today, and for the whole of Lent.  Jesus calls us to conversion, to turn our attention to God and stop being so preoccupied with self-image and self-concern.  In today’s first reading, God says through the prophet Joel, “return to me with your whole heart.”  To get Lent we have to get conversion.  To convert is to put on the mind of Christ, which is a mind fixed on God.

Turning from self to God is also the goal of our first mystic guide: Meister Eckhart.  He was a fourteenth century German Dominican friar.  He was a preacher, teacher, administrator, spiritual director, and theologian.  He was a very active person: preaching in the cities, running houses of Dominican Friars, and teaching classes at the university of Paris.  He was a mystic in the world.  He was a mystic who preached to ordinary people the way to become one with God.  I chose him as our first guide through Lent because he seeks to free us from ourselves and for God, which, I believe, is the heart of the Gospel and the season of Lent.  Meister Eckhart calls this the practice of detachment.

For Meister Eckhart, detachment is the attitude of seeking God alone by inner nothingness.  It is a fundamental letting go of the exhaustion of possessiveness and control needs to rest in God.  Meister Eckhart writes, “To be empty of all created things is to be full of God, and to be full of created things is to be empty of God.”  To be more precise, detachment does not equal indifference.  It is best understood as a letting go of all, a radical freedom from our addictions and obsessions and radical freedom for God.  As Eckhart says, “detachment is wholly free of all created things.”

Meister Eckhart calls us to “let our intention be purely and only for God” and to “accept God in all things.”  He says, “If you truly have God and only God, nothing will disturb you.  Why?  Because you are totally focused upon God and only God.  Therefore everything is nothing but God to you.”  Similarly, he says, “all things become for you nothing but God, for in all things you have your eye only on God.”  The key is that we focus on God alone, and that means letting go of all our distractions.

To have God alone means to center our minds on God alone and to stop all self-talk and to withdraw from all thinking.  It means silence within and being God-aware.  God, though, is not a thing.  So we can’t be aware of God like we can be aware of an object or a person.  To be God-centered, then, is simply to be aware, present in the moment, not focusing on anything, and not thinking about anything.  It is letting our inner worlds become nothing.  Therefore, Meister Eckhart preaches that we should “sink down out of something into nothing.”  The detached person must remain in “a state of pure nothingness,” for this is the way to know the Transcendent Nothingness of God.

So, detachment is letting go of self and centering on God.  To focus on God necessitates a letting go of our distractions.  Of course, we will still get distracted.  Our worries will overwhelm us.  Items on our to-do lists will consume our attention.  We’ll get lost in busy-ness or in our emotions or in a fantasy world.  It’s human.  It’s to be expected.  When we are distracted, we simply and gently return to this divine nothingness.  We bring our minds back into God’s Presence.  Practically speaking, we may return to God a thousand times in a few minutes.  That is normal, and very good.  Just keep coming back.

The season of Lent, then, becomes clear and challenging.  We let go of self and focus on God alone.  Whenever we are preoccupied, we gently return our awareness to God within.  We come back to the nothingness within.  This syncs up with the traditional Lenten practices Jesus recommends in the Gospel: alms giving, fasting, and prayer.  Focused on God we turn to our neighbors in mercy – alms giving.  We stop those habits that trap us in narcissism – fasting.  We give our full attention to God – prayer.  All three practices are summed up in the word conversion.  Turning away from self and toward God, we are training our minds to focus on the happiness and love we long for.  Meister Eckhart reminds us, if we truly have God alone, nothing will disturb us.  Nothing will distract us.  If we seek God with single minds and hearts, God will transform us and through us, the world.

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Insights on Love from Quantum Physics

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Reflection
Divine Love is more than feelings, deeper than sentiment. Love is active. Love does something, changing us and the world. If you’ve ever been in a relationship you know this. If you truly love another person you grow, change, and begin to think less of yourself. Last week’s reflection looked at love as transformation. This week the scriptures tell us love is all about connection and that love is eminently practical. God transforms us when we connect to love and it leads to concrete practices: choices, behaviors, and disciplining our minds. So in this reflection we will ponder love’s deep connectivity and practical nature.
We start with Paul’s image of the Body of Christ in our second reading. Paul writes, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” We are all one body in Christ through the Spirit. Even though we may seem separate and like individual parts, we are one whole. This is a startlingly amazing metaphor when we think of what quantum physics now tells us. This branch of science speaks of the unbroken wholeness of the universe. Physicist Fritjof Capra writes: “Quantum theory…reveals a basic oneness of the universe…As we penetrate into matter, nature does not show us any isolated ‘basic building blocks,’ but rather appears as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of the whole.”(The Tao of Physics). This is truly incredible, for quantum physics says we are all one! Just like Paul’s spiritual vision of the Body of Christ, we may seem separate but that is an illusion. Everything is one undivided whole.
Now, because of this undivided wholeness that is the universe, quantum physics also talks about a phenomenon called entanglement. Ilia Delio describes it: “Quantum entanglement is nonlocal interaction or unmediated action at a distance, without crossing space, without decay, and without delay…The idea of nonlocal action at a distance requires a connection that travels faster than light.” This means that something done in New Jersey, for instance, instantly affects people in Mongolia, and everywhere else too! Later Delio notes, “Our human thoughts are linked to nature by non local connections.” Not only what we do, but what we think affects the world, because everything and everyone is part of an undivided wholeness.
So what does this have to do with the love Jesus preached in the Gospels? What we do affects everything and everyone. Whether we are acting selfishly or selflessly in our lives, we are affecting the whole world negatively or positively. Quantum physics confirms what the mystics know, namely, that our thoughts and actions matter. They have a real effect on everything! We can’t afford negative thinking because it hurts the world, literally. Ilia Delio says, “Our thoughts are not neutral or private; they do something.” Our consciousness affects the world for good or ill. Contemplative prayer, then, is incredibly important! We need to commune with the God within. For, with this consciousness of deep connection with God and the universe (which is contemplative prayer), we will transform the world. Our thoughts, actions, and our very consciousness influence everything.
Because love is deep connection, love is incredibly practical. Love becomes more practical than ever! We are so connected, so one, that whatever we do – even whatever we think – has an effect on the universe. If you think negative thoughts, that shapes the world. If, instead, you are thinking about people with love, if you are present and open to God in this moment, that has a much greater and even transformative effect on the universe.
If you want to do something about all the social ills of our time, start by little acts of love – interior acts and exterior acts. Putting it concretely, we can help Syrian refugees by forgiving the person who cuts us off on the highway. We can positively affect the starving through intentional acts of kindness. In short, the liberation Jesus proclaims in today’s Gospel reading is fulfilled when we love.
Jesus reads from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”  He announces that this passage is fulfilled because he is love incarnate. His God-consciousness, his absolute oneness with God, made him like a star’s furnace constantly churning out nuclear explosions of divine love that affected all existence because of the undivided wholeness of the universe. He liberates the poor and oppressed because he radiates love. He fends off war, violence, and all evil because he IS love. We will do the same when we love with the love of Christ.
Etty Hilesum makes this connecting and practical love very real when she writes, “Why is there war? Perhaps because now and then I might be inclined to snap at my neighbor. Because I and my neighbor and everyone else do not have enough love. . . . Yet there is love bound up inside us, and if we could release it into the world, a little each day, we would be fighting war and everything that comes with it.”
Love is connection. It is the deep connectivity proved by science and described by Paul. This deep connectivity is possible only because of God. In fact God IS this deep connectivity, its center and power. God sustains and moves this unbroken wholeness. To love most powerfully we have to love with God’s love. We have to plug into the infinite energy of divine love pulsing within us and waiting to be unleashed on the world. We do this through prayer. In prayer we connect with the God within and by doing just this we change the world. For, remember, our thoughts matter. Our consciousness affects the world. Prayer, then, is the most powerful thing we can do! As our first reading from Nehemiah says, “rejoicing in the Lord is our strength.”
Ilia Delio writes, “Prayer is centering the mind on ultimate life-energy—God—through which we are connected to the entire universe.” So, God-centered-ness, God-consciousness or the mind of Christ, will be infinitely more powerful and explosively transformative than anything we do on our own. In truth, we will love only when we are centered in the God within. We truly pray when we let go of our thinking, abandon all our distractions, and center on God by an inner silence and interior nothingness. Only when we are aware and open and empty in the moment are we in God and therefore in love. Then we can change the world through the undivided wholeness that is our universe.

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Reflection for 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Reflection

How many times a day do we each say, “I love you”?  We use this four little word, love, a lot.  There are many ways to understand love.  For our Catholic faith, love is not sentimental but truth, for at the center of every creature lies the mystery of infinite mercy and love.  This four letter word, “love,” however, tends to be overused.  Still, love stands at the very heart of our faith: God loves us in sending Jesus Christ to save us.  Jesus calls us to love God with our whole selves, and each other as Jesus loves us.  Our culture does not quite seem to get what the Gospel means by love.  Further, there are so many ways we use the word that it gets hard for us to parse the meaning of and practical pay-off to love.  There is a need to describe love, Gospel love, alternatively.  We need to plumb the depths of this eternal mystery.  We will do so in this reflection and the next three reflections, which lead us into the season of Lent.

In this Sunday’s scene from the Gospel of John, Mary asks Jesus to help out some newlyweds whose wine supply has run low.  Jesus does so and produces such an abundance of excellent wine that one of the guests remarks how this defies expectations.  Usually, couples reserve the low quality wine for later in the party, when no one would notice.  Instead, the better wine, and a whole lot of it, shows up near the banquet’s end.  This is a great sign of Jesus’s mission of revealing divine love.

It’s quite banal to say Jesus came to reveal God’s love.  It is such a common Christian phrase that it hardly has any effect on us.  The story of Jesus transforming water into wine suggests, however, that the love Jesus came to reveal and let loose in the world has a huge effect on us.  It has to do with our transformation.  So here is an initial way to understand the love of God revealed in Jesus: love transforms.  Love means transformation: interior change leading to change in the world.

God transforms our interior and moves to our exterior.  Divine transformation changes our minds first.  But, this does not mean changing our opinions.  Rather, spiritual transformation is a shift in consciousness, becoming more aware of what already is.  It is becoming more aware of God within us and among us, working to bring us more and more into the divine life.  So transformation is a new heart and a new mind that lead to new behaviors.  A new way of life pops up from a new inner life.

During Sunday Eucharist, the priest pours a drop of water into the wine that will become the Blood of Christ.  Water symbolizes our humanity while wine symbolizes divinity, God.  Our humanity gets absorbed in God’s mystery, not lost but transformed.  When we love God we come to realize our humanity is suffused with divinity, as surrounded and penetrated and within divinity as a drop of water in a glass of wine.  In loving God, we come to see that, as Isaiah says of the people Israel, we are not “forsaken” but God’s delight, for God dwells within us and us in God.  God never forsakes us but delight in us as we are – each of us, no matter what we’re done.  Pope Francis, like Jesus, calls this “mercy.”

A true realization of divine love within us changes us in a significant way.  We become aware that God does not seem to mind our imperfections and our weakness.  Instead of what we might expect, God works through our weakness.  We might expect that getting closer to God means we become more sinless.  But, divine love changes us in surprising ways.  God seems to accept our weakness and transform us through it while not magically erasing our weakness.  Right in the middle of our weakness, God gives us a new heart, a new mind, a new spirit, a new way of living.  We change forms (trans-formation).  God brings us from one form – egocentricity – to another form – selflessness.  This happens as we love God, as we open to God and allow divine love into our lives.  As St. John of the Cross says, “love effects a likeness between the lover and the loved.”

Divine love effects a transformation in us.  God’s Holy Spirit then puts us to work.  Via transformation of love, God makes us aware of gifts the Spirit has given us.  Through the Spirit, God calls us to love one another using our gifts.  “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”  These gifts – healing, discernment, faith, prophecy, as Paul calls them – represent at least some avenues by which God desires us to love others, to serve and give ourselves.  They are more than natural talents though God certainly works through our natural talents.  The Spirit gives us our spiritual gifts according to how God wants us to love and effect a transformation in our world.  Our spiritual gifts represent opportunities for us to live God’s will.  As Pope Francis says, “sanctity does not consist especially in doing extraordinary things, but in allowing God to act.”

So, our transformation starts when we surrender ourselves to God and let God change us.  Service through our spiritual gifts happens along with an inner transformation in love, that is, when we become aware of God’s powerful love within us moving us to love in very specific ways through our spiritual gifts.  Divine love evokes our gifts and helps us put them to work so love becomes practical and personal.  It all starts with a journey into prayer.  Eventually, though, divine transformation comes to invade all of life.  The stuff of our everyday existence provides God with multiple occasions to change us if we but surrender.

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Baptism of Jesus – Reflection

Many Americans have had the experience of getting anesthesia.  Last summer when I had three wisdom teeth removed I thanked God for medication that kills pain.  I had both local anesthetic and nitrous oxide (laughing gas).  Even the normal discomforts of dental work were taken away.  I felt none of it.  I was so loopy I even found the situation kind of funny.  The loopy-ness of the laughing gas says something about getting painkillers: they make one less conscious.

As it turns out, we rather enjoy being less conscious.  Carl Jung once said “ninety-five percent of people live ninety-five percent of their lives unconsciously.”  We like to numb ourselves.  We prefer it to dealing with the pain reality often brings.  Dulling the pain of life could be a national pastime when we examine the typical experience of Americans.  Television stands out as a prime example.  There is a new phenomenon called “binge-watching.”  A television series drops online through a service like Netflix and one can watch the whole series without stopping.  It acts as a great way to dull the pain of reality.  Due to this psychic numbness we miss out on the joy of knowing we are God’s beloved.

Immediately after Jesus gets baptized the heavens open and the Spirit arrives.  A voice comes from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  This story reveals Jesus as God’s Son.  It also reveals that you are God’s beloved child.  What is true of Jesus is true of you.  You are God’s delight!  You are God’s joy!  Do a simple spiritual exercise right now.  Close your eyes.  Be quiet within for a moment.  Then, repeat within: “I am God’s delight.  I am God’s joy.”  Synchronize your repetition of this prayer with your breathing.  For every breath you take reaffirms God’s joy over you.

God calls Jesus and each one of us “my beloved” and “my delight.”  But do we really know we are God’s beloved and delight?  Have we really accepted God’s love for us?  At his baptism Jesus fully opens to divine love.  He allowed God to love him.  That is the gift of baptism – Jesus’ baptism as well as our own.  We must likewise be open to let God love us.

What does it mean to let God love us?  Certainly it means letting go of our inner defenses and walls and consenting to God present in us.  To let God love us is a profoundly Trinitarian experience.  At his baptism, Jesus let God love him and that allowed him to enjoy his relationship with God the Father as the Son in the Holy Spirit.  To let our guard down and allow God into our hearts is to relate to the Father through Jesus the Son in the Holy Spirit.  When we let God love us we experience the Trinity.

God is loving us always, but we have so many defenses against letting this incomprehensible love into our hearts and minds.  If we did we would change, for love means letting go of what we want to be with another.  We each resist the allure of divine love, choosing instead to do what we feel like.  But what would it be like if we let God love us?  It might mean setting aside our preferred thing to do and spending time with God.  To just be in the Presence, especially when it doesn’t necessarily feel good, is an act of love that cracks open our defensive hearts to let in the incomprehensible love of God.

Still, there are times when we get surprised by how selfish we can be.  Only after we have or have not gotten our way do we realize just how unloving we have been.  However, no matter what you’ve done, before ever being aware of it, right in the middle of your most selfish moment, God loves you.  God accepts and delights in you as you are, not as you were or will be.  Further, there’s nothing you can do to earn this love or take it away.  Nothing you do – no matter how stupid or sinful – will ever stop God from taking joy in your very existence.  Hence we always can turn back to God and let in divine love.

Philip Bennet writes, “There are no experts in the spiritual life, only beginners.” (“Let Yourself Be Loved”)  This means beginning anew, opening up to the incomprehensible love of God anew and fresh every moment.  Don’t waste a second.  Return to God now.  Pay attention to God now.  Sink down into silence and let God love you now.  Be present here and now in divine love.  This is what the word “conversion” means.

Begin again this very moment.  Throw out all numbing activities and open yourself to the real, to what is, to ever-present divine love waiting to enfold you and transform you.  Conversion does not happen once or even a few times in a lifetime.  Even more, conversion does not happen just every day.  It happens every moment.  Let down your defenses and take the risk of being vulnerable.  Let go whatever numbs you to reality, for that is where God loves you.  To do so is to experience what Jesus experienced at his baptism: God loving us as we are.  So, we can be baptized again and again throughout the day, always letting in God’s delightful love and letting this love flow through us to others.

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Epiphany Reflection

Have you ever been driving and suddenly  realize you don’t remember driving the past few minutes?  You think, where was I?  Or, maybe you have been hearing someone but not really listening to them, your mind being preoccupied with something totally different?  It seems that there are times when it is difficult for our minds to be in the here and now.  We tend to get lost in thought, daydream, or just plain get distracted on a regular basis.  It can feel like we’re somewhere else, not fully awake to the moment.  Spiritual authors of all kinds are quick to tell us that we sleepwalk through life.

God uses many experiences in life to rouse us from this sleep.  God intends to wake us up so we pay attention to the great gift being offered to us: the divine life.  Such is the case with today’s feast of the Epiphany.  The word “Epiphany” means a showing.  Mary and Joseph show the Christ child to the Magi who have been seeking him out by following a star.  The story symbolizes God using Jesus Christ as the great awakening.  Christ is God saying to all humanity – as represented by the Magi – “Get up!  Wake up!  It’s morning and time to get out of bed!”  Sometimes God employs an annoying coworker, or a beggar on the side of the road, or a simple desire to be quiet and pray.  All are epiphanies, God trying to grab our attention with varying degrees of obviousness.

Through various epiphanies God wakes us up from our dreamlike state to face reality.  However, we resist.  We have a propensity not to be so enamored with reality.  We prefer fantasy.  We find it easier to live automatically and not needing to pay attention to what’s going on.  Reality can be hard to accept.  Our illusions seem so much more comforting and entertaining.  Sleepwalking through life allows us to manage reality so not too much gets in and we can go about the business of our day.  Still, we miss out on the joy of divine life right here and now.

Epiphany is the feast that calls all Christians to become contemplatives.  This is no esoteric thing, however.  Being contemplative simply means being awake to reality.  The contemplative accepts The Reality: God.  The contemplative simply opens up to God and lets God be the center of life.  The contemplative journey, then, is a matter of awakening to the God who is within us and all things.  We are already one with God but we have not yet fully integrated this deepest dimension of our identity with the rest of our lives.  We think we’re separate from God.  So, we need to allow our oneness with the mystery of God to become radically and insuppressibly real for us.  We do this through a practice of meditation or, as the ancients called it, contemplative prayer.

Contemplative prayer has to do with awakening to the incomprehensible mystery of God within us, one with us.  It is rising from the sleepiness of self-preoccupation, and even from self as the fixed point of reference.  God becomes the reference for everything in life, not one’s own ego with all its opinions, hurts, and its skewed view of reality.  Rather than living in ego, the contemplative lives in God, and God just Is.  So, the one practicing contemplative prayer does so by just being, by simply accepting The One Who Is.  Just to be is to be in Reality as It Is.

What often gets in the way of seeing reality is what goes on between our ears, which is our thinking.  We cannot think our way into an intimate relationship with God.  Because God is mystery, God escapes our thinking.  Thinking can be a portal into God, but it often becomes the only way we approach God.  When we think about God, we end up experiencing God as some “thing” out there, in the far-off heavens above.  Thoughts about God make God appear, as St. Theophan the Recluse says, “outside you.” Contemplative prayer has to do with knowing God within you as well as beyond you.  Theophan is but one of a horde of holy people who testify that thinking about God is a difficulty if you want to be one with God.  He and others suggest unknowing: communing with God beyond the thinking mind in a loving state of interior silence.  That is contemplative prayer.

Meister Eckhart offers another metaphor:  “The sun never stops shining; but if there is a cloud or mist between us and the sun, we are not aware that it is shining.”  Just so, we are always already one with God but often not aware of it because we are so preoccupied with our self-talk.  Christmas, the feast of the incarnation, means God is always already one with you!  God is one with each of us, here and now, closer than we could possibly imagine.  Still, we don’t perceive the truth because of all our interior noise, just as clouds block out sunlight.  Being a contemplative just means waiting for the clouds to disappear so as to enjoy the sun.  We just be and eventually the clouds, all our inner noise, disappear.  In this way we awaken to the divine life within and are transformed.  Through contemplative prayer we change, and the difference is like the difference between being asleep and being awake.  It is a wholly new consciousness, which is free of the traps of fantasy and able to enjoy That Which Is.

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Holy Family Reflection

Holy Family – Reflection: Luke 2:41-52

There is no ideal family.  Families come in all shapes and sizes.  It seems modern society displays far greater diversity in family life than ever before.  In addition to the traditional mom and dad and 2.5 kids, there are single parent homes, families with grandparents raising their grandchildren, uncles and aunts caring for nieces and nephews, foster families, and gay couples with their own children.  I am sure there are even more combinations.  As we celebrate Holy Family Sunday, we should recognize how varied contemporary family life actually is so as to help us understand and approach family life with more mercy.

Our Gospel today relates how there was a bit of an issue in the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  Upon leaving the great festival in Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph could not find Jesus anywhere.  He had stayed behind in the temple.  Once they discovered him in the temple, the twelve year old Jesus seemed a bit surprised that they did not think to look for him there.  If that was your son, how would you feel inside?  Mary and Joseph had lost Jesus.  At the very least, there seemed to be a lack of communication between Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.  This story suggests that the Holy Family is like any other family.  Not even Mary and Joseph had it all together.  They were human, and so was Jesus.  Despite two members of the family having no sin, they were still not without weakness and limitation.

No family is perfect.  All families have weaknesses and limitations.  Moreover, every family has dysfunction and areas of selfishness.  No one does it right.  We often look to other families and wonder how they seem to be getting everything done with so much style and ease.  We think, “How do they do it?”  They don’t.  The perfect family does not exist.  If we were to peek into such a family’s home life, we would quickly see flaws and hardships.  Codependency, addiction, abuse, and even violence infest many families.  On a more everyday level, little acts of selfishness tear at family love.

God’s mercy, however, remains the constant and ever-present reality.  No matter how selfish we are or how sinful we seem, God has mercy and waits for us to open our hearts to receive the divine mercy.  Precisely when we accept our imperfection, we meet the mercy of God always and immediately enfolding us, comforting us, and transforming us.  Julie Hanlon Rubio, a moral theologian, writes, “Often it is in a family’s imperfection that grace is revealed. In their brokenness, their need for God and each other is made clear.”  Faced with our individual selfishness as well as with the dysfunction in our families, there are two choices: ignore them or surrender to the mercy of God and let God transform self and family as God sees fit.  Another moral theologian, Joanne Heaney Hunter, writes “God builds on the imperfection present in every family life, and makes it holy.”

Even though there is no such thing as a perfect family, family life is still inherently positive and good.  God dwells in all our families, no matter what they’re like.  God loves our families.  Love may be an overused word to describe our families.  So, consider a different word.  For Catholics, family life is a life of communion.  This idea does not simply show that our family life is a shared life–that we all live under one roof, eat together, and do things together.  Communion expresses a deeper reality: that who we are is bound up with each member of the family. My life is the other person: wife, husband, daughter, son, sister, brother, father, and mother.  Further still, this communion does not focus on the family alone.  Our communion as a family opens out to communion with all in the Church, with all people, and with all creation.

The portal to this grand communion is our personal communion with God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is like a wagon wheel.  God is like the center of the wheel, each of us is like a spoke of the wheel.  The closer each spoke comes to the center, the closer each spoke gets to the other.  Then, all the spokes meet in the hub, the center of the wheel.  Letting God be the center of the family allows family intimacy to grow.  With this intimacy comes a closer relationship with everyone and everything in existence.  It all begins as each of us personally enters into a loving communion with God.  We commune with God in the silence of our hearts as well as in the praise of song and the solemn ritual of the sacraments.

One way to live this communion and deepen it is by obedience.  Jesus was obedient to his parents, Mary and Joseph.  Obedience can be a hard word for us.  Some background on the word may help.  The word “obey” comes from two Latin words: “ob” and “audire.”  Combined, these two Latin words mean “to listen to” or “to pay attention to.”  So, to obey means to listen to someone or to pay attention to someone.  Jesus listened to his parents.  Surely, Mary and Joseph listened to Jesus, too.  Obedience means we listen to someone in a loving manner by giving them our attention.   Obedience is fundamentally an other-directed action.  We break free of self-absorption when we obey.  We follow Jesus when we obey God first, that is, when we pay attention to God in prayer and by living in the Divine Presence throughout the day.  Then, through God we can pay attention to and be present to the members of our families, to our neighbors, and to the poor.  Who among us would disagree with the sentiment that we need to listen more to each member of our family?  The best avenue to this listening, which blossoms into a listening to anyone in need, occurs by listening to God in the silence of our hearts.  Commune with God within, and family communion will improve.  Communion with the poor, and all creation will take root– all due to obedience.

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Holy Family Sunday Reflection

Holy Family – Reflection: Luke 2:41-52

There is no ideal family.  Families come in all shapes and sizes.  It seems modern society displays far greater diversity in family life than ever before.  In addition to the traditional mom and dad and 2.5 kids, there are single parent homes, families with grandparents raising their grandchildren, uncles and aunts caring for nieces and nephews, foster families, and gay couples with their own children.  I am sure there are even more combinations.  As we celebrate Holy Family Sunday, we should recognize how varied contemporary family life actually is so as to help us understand and approach family life with more mercy.

Our Gospel today relates how there was a bit of an issue in the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  Upon leaving the great festival in Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph could not find Jesus anywhere.  He had stayed behind in the temple.  Once they discovered him in the temple, the twelve year old Jesus seemed a bit surprised that they did not think to look for him there.  If that was your son, how would you feel inside?  Mary and Joseph had lost Jesus.  At the very least, there seemed to be a lack of communication between Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.  This story suggests that the Holy Family is like any other family.  Not even Mary and Joseph had it all together.  They were human, and so was Jesus.  Despite two members of the family having no sin, they were still not without weakness and limitation.

No family is perfect.  All families have weaknesses and limitations.  Moreover, every family has dysfunction and areas of selfishness.  No one does it right.  We often look to other families and wonder how they seem to be getting everything done with so much style and ease.  We think, “How do they do it?”  They don’t.  The perfect family does not exist.  If we were to peek into such a family’s home life, we would quickly see flaws and hardships.  Codependency, addiction, abuse, and even violence infest many families.  On a more everyday level, little acts of selfishness tear at family love.

God’s mercy, however, remains the constant and ever-present reality.  No matter how selfish we are or how sinful we seem, God has mercy and waits for us to open our hearts to receive the divine mercy.  Precisely when we accept our imperfection, we meet the mercy of God always and immediately enfolding us, comforting us, and transforming us.  Julie Hanlon Rubio, a moral theologian, writes, “Often it is in a family’s imperfection that grace is revealed. In their brokenness, their need for God and each other is made clear.”  Faced with our individual selfishness as well as with the dysfunction in our families, there are two choices: ignore them or surrender to the mercy of God and let God transform self and family as God sees fit.  Another moral theologian, Joanne Heaney Hunter, writes “God builds on the imperfection present in every family life, and makes it holy.”

Even though there is no such thing as a perfect family, family life is still inherently positive and good.  God dwells in all our families, no matter what they’re like.  God loves our families.  Love may be an overused word to describe our families.  So, consider a different word.  For Catholics, family life is a life of communion.  This idea does not simply show that our family life is a shared life–that we all live under one roof, eat together, and do things together.  Communion expresses a deeper reality: that who we are is bound up with each member of the family. My life is the other person: wife, husband, daughter, son, sister, brother, father, and mother.  Further still, this communion does not focus on the family alone.  Our communion as a family opens out to communion with all in the Church, with all people, and with all creation.

The portal to this grand communion is our personal communion with God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is like a wagon wheel.  God is like the center of the wheel, each of us is like a spoke of the wheel.  The closer each spoke comes to the center, the closer each spoke gets to the other.  Then, all the spokes meet in the hub, the center of the wheel.  Letting God be the center of the family allows family intimacy to grow.  With this intimacy comes a closer relationship with everyone and everything in existence.  It all begins as each of us personally enters into a loving communion with God.  We commune with God in the silence of our hearts as well as in the praise of song and the solemn ritual of the sacraments.

One way to live this communion and deepen it is by obedience.  Jesus was obedient to his parents, Mary and Joseph.  Obedience can be a hard word for us.  Some background on the word may help.  The word “obey” comes from two Latin words: “ob” and “audire.”  Combined, these two Latin words mean “to listen to” or “to pay attention to.”  So, to obey means to listen to someone or to pay attention to someone.  Jesus listened to his parents.  Surely, Mary and Joseph listened to Jesus, too.  Obedience means we listen to someone in a loving manner by giving them our attention.   Obedience is fundamentally an other-directed action.  We break free of self-absorption when we obey.  We follow Jesus when we obey God first, that is, when we pay attention to God in prayer and by living in the Divine Presence throughout the day.  Then, through God we can pay attention to and be present to the members of our families, to our neighbors, and to the poor.  Who among us would disagree with the sentiment that we need to listen more to each member of our family?  The best avenue to this listening, which blossoms into a listening to anyone in need, occurs by listening to God in the silence of our hearts.  Commune with God within, and family communion will improve.  Communion with the poor, and all creation will take root– all due to obedience.

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