The other day I read the following twitter feed from Pope Francis ”The Lord is knocking at the door of our hearts. Have we put a sign on the door saying: “Do not disturb”? This statement got me to thinking, do I really allow Jesus to enter my heart when I take the time to pray? Or do I make the motions, but keep parts of who I am to myself?
One of the hardest concepts for me to accept is that God desires all of who I am, my weaknesses and my strengths. When we do not take the time to pray or reflect on God in our lives, we are telling him, “Do not disturb’ I will be fine on my own, I do not need you or I do not have time to be with you.”
The image of Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts is inspired by the scripture passage from Matthew7:7-8 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
The season of Lent begins on March 5. This could be an opportune time to take away the “do not disturb” sign from our hearts, open the doors and let God in. Allowing God to enter our lives invites us to a new way of living and seeing where we and God can walk together.
Do you have any of your own ideas for the season of Lent? You can share them with the other readers.
Easter comes at the end of Lent, what a better way to be renewed and refreshed!
Valentine’s Day is upon us and the stores are decorated with hearts, cupids and beautiful boxes of chocolates in the form of hearts, ready to be offered to anyone wishing to express their love to someone special in their life. Valentine’s Day is about love and lovers and the heart is a symbol of that love.
The Bible speaks to us of love and in the Greek translation, several words signify the various forms of love. Three Greek words for love stand out for me and each form has the possibility to open us up to the mystery of God.
The first is eros, which signifies the more romantic love that is associated with Valentine’s Day. Eros is that sensual love that is passionate and strong with emotion. Poets and songwriters are often inspired to write about this kind of love as a “longing” that occupies much of our psychic energy. But Plato and Socrates suggest that eros is also a love that opens us up to beauty and awe.
Philia is the love that is associated with friendship, which also includes loyalty to family, to the community, to commitments. Philia is more “head-centered”. There is a bond created between people who experience philia and usually it is mutual with a give and take between the partners.
The third kind of love is agape. I believe that agape is the most spiritually transformative of all the loves. For the Greeks and for the Bible writers, agape meant a spiritual love that was truly unconditional and selfless. The giver of agape gave love even if the receiver was undeserving of that love. God’s love is more like agape. His love is without bounds and conditions. We as receivers of that love need only to open ourselves to that reality, even when we cannot understand it fully. We get a glimpse of agape through others when they give freely of themselves without asking for something in return. One of the best descriptions of agape in the Bible is in 1Corinthians 13, a passage often read at weddings.
Have you ever thought about the different ways that you love? Is there a form of love that you need to nurture as we celebrate Valentine’s Day this year? Is there someone you need to love more fully?
The Quebec provincial government will soon be voting on a bill allowing doctors to legally perform medical acts which will, under specific circumstances, hasten the death of a patient. The more common term we use is euthanasia or assisted suicide.
Dying is an act of life, much as being born is an act of life. Each and every one of us will be called to pass through that doorway, some of us quickly, others more slowly. Part of the journey of life is to take the leap of faith to embrace the act of dying in the best way that we can.
A few years ago, my father-in-law passed away. From the time I knew him, he was always a man of wisdom , kindness and peace. As time went on, he became senile and through the last five years of his life, his children watched as he changed into someone anxious and lost. He was no longer present to them, nor was he able to see joy and hope. It was difficult to see this profound change in him as he turned into a stranger. As a devout Catholic, we knew that he wanted to live his life to the fullest, come what may.
On the surface, it was hard to see the worth in his life, but yet as I look back, I see that his children needed to see the vulnerable part of their father so that they could touch on their own vulnerability. One does not need to be productive in life to have value or worth. Towards the end, when he lay dying in a hospital bed, struggling to breath as his organs were shutting down, all of his grandchildren wanted to see him for one more last time. He had been a good grandfather to them.
It is not always easy to understand, but suffering, and being present to someone who is suffering helps us to grow as human beings and as a community. It gives those around the suffering person an opportunity to grow as they move beyond themselves to be present to another.
In a statement this week, the archbishop of Montreal, Msgr. Christian Lépine, stated that “Causing the death of an innocent human being is causing the death of our own self…” We are not solitary beings, we are all interconnected and when we hasten the death of someone or encourage them to do so, we lose some of our own humanity and the whole of humanity loses too.
I often find myself caught in a constant flurry of busyness going from one place to another and from one event to another. There are days when I feel as if my agenda is too full and I do not have time to breathe or think of what to say or do next. It is like going on a treadmill that never stops.
This week I read an article that speaks about slowing down and trying to open my eyes to seeing things anew. Seeing our world with new eyes helps to change perspective.
I experienced this change in point of view this week when I happened to be driving through the Laurentian mountains. The weather was not ideal as there had been some snow cover on the road. Ordinarily, I would have kept on driving without taking time to stop, but something told me to take advantage of the rest stop in the area and buy a cup of coffee. As I got out out of the car, I took a few moments to look at the scenery. What a sight!
Snow blanketed the fir trees as if they were clouds sitting on the branches. There was a wind blowing the snow around creating an aura of mystery. My first thought was to turn to God who created such a vast and beautiful scene. I was filled with awe and gratitude. I realized that this had only happened because I took the time to slow down and take a look. I am reminded of the phrase from Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God”
We cannot always go to the forests and catch the magnificence of the mountains, but we can take some time each day to “stop and smell the roses” as the expression goes. Surprises can come up in the form of someone smiling, a luminous reflection or a kind gesture.
Have you ever slowed down unexpectedly to see what is happening around you? You just never know what you may see.
Has Christ been divided? (1Cor. 1:13) This is the theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, celebrated from January 18-25. During this week Christians from different faith denominations come together to pray and dialogue on their common faith in Jesus Christ.
What does unity mean and why do we pray for unity?
Christian unity for me suggests a coming together to acknowledge what we have in common and to come to know each other better in a spirit of fraternity and charity. Prayer for unity helps us to discover who we are as Christians. But unity does not mean uniformity, it is acceptance of diversity. When people of different ideas and beliefs come together to pray and dialogue, I truly believe that we are richer for it. Prayer joins us together in our encounter with Jesus Christ.
Dialogue implies listening to the other, seeing the richness of their faith, all the while acknowledging the qualities that my beliefs bring to the table. When I discover what others think and believe, my own faith grows as I can see new aspects of God that can enrich me. Dialogue also helps me to know my neighbor as someone of value and importance.
We can together help to build a society that is more Christ-like. As Christians of faith, we come in union to help the poor, work for just legislation in our governments and spread the gospel to others. Dialogue also makes us vulnerable as we witness the suffering of others and we reveal our own weaknesses and needs. In dialogue, no one is better or superiour to the other.
The document on Christian unity from the Vatican outlines some of the ways we can work towards Christian unity and many churches this week are organizing activities around this event. Why not come and see what is happening? How can you celebrate Christian unity this week?
It goes without saying that the current Pope is making heads turn and making many people pay attention to the church in a new way. In fact, this is part of a Pope’s job description, and so Catholics are rightly proud of Pope Francis for fulfilling his duties with ‘aplomb’.
Perhaps the most noticeable word that has been applied to Jorge Mario Bergoglio since his election to the chair of Peter is ‘humble’. That word appears over and over again in various news reports, and rightly so. But like every media meme, the ascription of one particular attribute to a person is insufficient for a good understanding of him. In the case of Francis, it is no different. Humility is one virtue among others, and it is arguably the one that the Church most needs at this time.
But there are other virtues, charisms and skills that Pope Francis has been exercising in service to the church and these are no less important. Today, a fresh and relatively good report from the New York Times (though it takes a gratuitous rhetorical swipe at Pope Benedict, and near the end, it mistakes pink as a liturgical colour for Christmas, rather than Gaudate Sunday in Advent, but anyway…), Pope Francis is described as firm in his efforts to clean house – within the church bureaucracy – known as the curia- and other institutions at the Vatican, including the Vatican bank.
What is particularly interesting is to read a news report from the main organ of western liberalism (the NYTimes) that cheers on the Bishop of Rome in his exercise of papal authority. Liberal newspapers have not been known for their cheery coverage of papal authority. But I digress!
Whereas the newspaper plays up the division between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘moderates’, I think it would be fairer to see in Francis’ moves another more theological (and less devotedly political) motivation. Francis’ appointments and his personnel policy strikes me as firmly rooted in Paul’s ecclesiology – St. Paul’s idea of the church that is rooted in Christ and which is about simply preaching the gospel.
Here is some text from 1 Cor. 1 … I’m pasting in a fair bit because if you see how Paul – in his own inimitable way, admits that he’s forgotten about all the baptisms he’s administered in his zeal to do the One Thing Necessary … and what is that One Thing? Read on…
“10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
So. That one thing? Preach the Gospel.
Herein lies the same connection that Pope Francis outlines in his homilies and various presentations. (It’s canny how some things don’t change over 1940 years.)
Paul calls out the divisions among the Corinthian church: he decries the factionalism, the playing favorites, all of that takes away from Christ. There are to be no political parties in the church. And Paul simply refers his audience back to the gospel as the one reason why party factionalism is forbidden. So is gossip forbidden: that One Necessary Thing for party factionalism to succeed in the church. So, whereas the Times report may be largely accurate on the goings on in the Vatican, it is missing a bit of the forest for the trees. Francis is not launching a politically driven campaign, but a gospel driven one.
Francis’ papacy so far has been utterly fascinating for many reasons, but if we probe beyond the headlines that refer to his his humility and see also his firmness too, we understand more precisely how attached he is to the gospel. The preaching of the gospel. The living of the gospel. The One Thing Necessary.
And this is why I think of Francis as more ‘meek’ than humble. Meekness (as in: ‘Blessed are the Meek for they shall inherit the earth’, Matt. 5:5) involves the additional elements of patience and long suffering. The Pope is teaching us what it is like to be more humble, yes. But humility involves the willingness to endure hardship, something Francis knows from personal experience at the hands of those who exercised authority over him in the past (although here the Times report exaggerates, or at least does not provide any evidence for Francis’ alleged ‘war’ with curial officials in the past).
Francis’ way of living out humility is no laissez faire passivity. It is a passionate kind of meekness, the kind that suggests teaching and the intention to correct what is wrong – to invite his interlocutors to correct themselves. We read of this kind of approach in Paul’s letter to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:23-25):
“23 Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, 25 correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth…”
Francis the Meek. And, thanks to the internet, we all have a front row seat to how this all unfolds.
A Filipino blogger came up with a few suggestions for the kind of New Year’s resolutions that Pope Francis might recommend to his flock. The resolutions are based on Pope Francis’ homilies and writings that have been published during this past year. An abbreviated list is below and my personal comments are in italics. You may want to read the blog in its entirety with photos, quotes from Pope Francis, and instances where he “walks the talk”. It’s a great read. Here they are!
1. Don’t gossip. Pope Francis even compares gossip to murder.
2. Finish your meals. Many people lack basic food, let us not be part of the “Culture of Waste”
3. Make time for others. Little gestures of love are important.
4. Choose the more “humble” purchase. The biggest and the newest are not always the best.
5. Meet the poor “in the flesh”. Donating to charity is not enough, we need to be in contact with the poor.
6. Stop judging others. You may be judged unjustly one day.
7. Befriend those who disgree. We need to encourage dialogue and discussion.
8. Make commitments, such as marriage. Commitments help us to grow in love.
9. Make it a habit to “ask the Lord”. Prayer helps us to make decisions.
10. Be happy. Pope Francis’s first encyclical is called the Joy of the Gospel. This says it all.
Do any of these resolutions strike a chord in you? My own thought is to choose one for this year and work on it the best I can. How about you? Let me know your thoughts.
Happy New Year!
Christmas is a time of wonder and beauty. I am always awestruck by the beauty of the Christmas lights that shine in the night on every street or the snowfall as it blankets the trees and streets with white fluffy flakes creating a picture of serenity and peace. There is a sense of mystery that surrounds me especially at night as I see the shadows appear on the snow.
Mystery and wonder are also present in the Christmas story. I see mystery manifested in the Virgin who becomes pregnant and accepts to give birth to Jesus; in the pregnancy of Elizabeth, thought too old to bear a child; in Joseph who hears God tell him to care for Mary and her baby; and in the coming of God who became a tiny and vulnerable baby. That is mystery and that mystery lives on in us as we continue to keep Jesus at the centre when we celebrate Christmas.
God came to share our human condition and accepted to live life, through all of the messiness that comes with it. He was born poor, in an oppressed culture through seemingly ambiguous circumstances. He came to show his love for all of humanity. In his life on earth, he showed compassion, mercy and forgiveness. When we show these qualities to others and to ourselves, we are keeping Jesus our focus at Christmas.
Is there someone in your entourage who needs forgiveness or compassion this Christmas? Is there a place for a change of heart as we enter this time of remembrance and celebration? Can the mystery of Christmas be manifest through you this year?
I offer you this song as we celebrate this blessed time of year.
Merry Christmas everyone!
« What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God hundreds of years ago, if I do not give birth to the Son of God in my time and my culture. We are all meant to be Mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born. »
Advent is that time of the year when we embark on the same journey of hope that Mary and Joseph did over 2000 years ago, that courageous trek through desert and hills to give birth to Jesus at Bethlehem. So much of their commitment together was fraught with challenges. When they were first engaged, neither of them could have anticipated the events as they happened.
Mary and Joseph had to be people of hope. Hope that what the angel said to Mary was true, hope that the baby in Mary’s womb would be safe and hope for the people of Israel who had been waiting for a Messiah. It was the hope that they carried in their hearts that gave Mary and Joseph the courage to place their trust in God and risk bringing Jesus into the world. When we place our trust in God, then we can let the miracles happen.
Encouraged by the Meister Eckhart’s quote, can we think of ways to trust God and be people of hope so that we will also bring Jesus into the world for others, much as Mary and Joseph did so many years ago.
Some few weeks ago, the Quebec government tabled legislation designed to promote ‘secularism’, an idea ostensibly designed to promote the separation of the religions and the state – as opposed to what we have now – which … well, I suppose it’s fair to say that almost everyone thought that’s what we already had in this, our constitutional democracy without any official church and a diversity of cultures and religious outlooks comprising Quebec society. But, apparently, we needed more of it.
Of course, what this legislation promises is not so much the separation of religion from the state, but rather a society with less religion, as little as possible in fact.
The other evening, I was watching some of the reaction on the part of South Africans and others to the death of Nelson Mandela. In one media clip, a South African was asked the most basic and most important of questions about living under apartheid. ‘How did apartheid make you feel?’ the person was asked. The response was quick: ‘I felt like a second class citizen.’
Now, let’s do some realistic imagining of what Quebec would look like if Bill 60 were to pass. (A big ‘if’, considering how swift and negative has been the legal reaction to it.)
It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see this legislation as enacting two classes of citizens: those who are free of religious clothing (these may work for the government) and those who are not (those people may not work for the government).
It’s not simply a question of holding up a standard of attire at work – this may be a fair discussion in regards to fire fighters and police officers.
But, this legislation seems designed to impose an expectation among the citizenry that there are two kinds of people: the enlightened ones and certain others, whose marginalization should be given a formal legal stamp of approval in a Charter of all things. It’s rather shocking to see the promotion of a second class citizenry from within a tolerant and otherwise liberal society. For certain, Bill 60 is not about promoting neutrality.
Illiberal, intolerant and definitely NOT neutral: these are the words that aptly describe Bill 60.