I Can't. You Must.

One of my students, Sister Jerilyn, shared this prayer with our class last night. The prayer is attributed to Oscar Romero. 

 I looked this prayer up online, and one commentator astutely noted that this prayer was Romero's personal way of praying Jesus' prayer of surrender in the Garden of Gethsemane:  "Not what I want but what you want" (Mt. 26:39). 

I looked this prayer up online, and one commentator astutely noted that this prayer was Romero's personal way of praying Jesus' prayer of surrender in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Not what I want but what you want" (Mt. 26:39). 

Your Paper-Thin Wings

At Saturday’s retreat on prayer, my retreatants and I reflected on how we are made for prayer. We are human; we are free; we are made for relationships. Prayer is our relationship with God. God is not “up there” while we are “down here.” Rather, God is with us, and he desires intimacy with us. Although prayer is indisputably challenging, we were made for it. It was meant to be.

To illustrate this point, I shared something I recently heard on a Radiolab podcast (with four kids in four schools this year, I do a lot of driving and a lot of podcasting!). Radiolab was investigating how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Do you know how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly?

A caterpillar does not simply grow wings inside its chrysalis. No, first the caterpillar dissolves into a goop. That’s right, goop. If you cut open a chrysalis during this stage, goop spills out! Somehow that goop becomes a butterfly.

But where do the wings come from?

As it turns out, the wings are already formed inside the caterpillar. Careful dissection of a prepupal caterpillar reveals paper-thin, transparent wings, tiny antennae and even legs! The structures of “butterfly-ness” exist just below the caterpillar's outer skin, waiting for transformation.

We were made for prayer, friends. The wings are already there, paper-thin, transparent, and a bit pent up. With God’s help, we can stretch out and fly.

I hope you will enjoy this Radiolab broadcast:  “Goo and You.”

  "Life history of the silk moth (Bombyx mori). A, caterpillar; B, pupa; C, imago; the cocoon is cut open to show the pupa lying within."   Source: J. Arthur Thomson, M.A., LL.D. Outlines of Zoology (New York, NY: D. Appleton & Company, 1916).

"Life history of the silk moth (Bombyx mori). A, caterpillar; B, pupa; C, imago; the cocoon is cut open to show the pupa lying within." Source: J. Arthur Thomson, M.A., LL.D. Outlines of Zoology (New York, NY: D. Appleton & Company, 1916).

Homily Gem #2

I heard this on Sunday and thought it was a beautiful idea:

When praying for someone who is sick, you can use the words of Lazarus’ sisters, who said to Jesus: ‘Lord, the one you love is ill.’
— Fr. Declan Creighton

Fr. Declan was referring to the story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). 

How did Jesus respond to Mary and Martha, when they sent word that their brother was ill?  He said, “This illness is not to end in death.”  Of course, several verses later, we find out that Lazarus has indeed died.  And yet with Mary and Martha, we believe the words of Jesus, “Your brother will rise.”

Do you have a loved one or a friend who is facing a serious illness?  This story from John’s Gospel is fertile ground for prayer and reflection:  the delay of Jesus in coming to Lazarus’ side, the faith of the sisters, the tears of Jesus, the power of his voice that raised Lazarus from the tomb, the unbinding of death’s trappings, the foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death and triumph.

Lord, the one you love is ill.  I trust you.  You know what is best.  In your time, raise him, untie him and let him go free.

 "This is not to end in death."  The death and raising of Lazarus foreshadows the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Botticelli,  Pieta  (detail).

"This is not to end in death."  The death and raising of Lazarus foreshadows the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Botticelli, Pieta (detail).

The Sacred Dynamic of Frank Conversation

Last Sunday’s Gospel reading was the familiar story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42).  As the reading began, I wasn’t expecting to hear anything new.  I know this one; I know the words of Jesus; I know the lesson.

But I was blessed to be surprised.  I was surprised by the words of Martha.  Not because she sounded distressed, or frustrated, or annoyed with her sister.  I wasn’t surprised by her resentment or even her logic. 

I was surprised by how bold she was with Jesus, how frank, how confident.

Thinking back over the Gospels, there were many people who were quite deferential toward Jesus.  They spoke and acted with fitting respect for the masterful teacher and wonder-worker he was.  But there were others who were surprisingly informal with Jesus.  Perfect strangers approached him – they asked him for things, they touched him, they laid their heaviest burdens on him.  Indeed, many who approached Jesus did not just ask; they commanded!  Remember Jairus:  “My daughter is at the point of death.  Come and lay your hands on her” (Mk. 5:23) or Bartimaeus of Jericho:  “Let me see again” (Mk. 10:51).

Martha’s command was just as direct:  “Tell her to help me.”

Certainly the presence of Jesus made people take notice.  There was charisma, authority, even power over the natural world.  But apparently he was not intimidating.  There was something about his presence that drew people close, unmasking them and inviting frank conversation and bold requests.

Now of course, when we are frank and bold with Jesus, he may be frank and bold with us.   Martha may not have liked Jesus’ gentle rebuke.  But John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus loved her (Jn. 11:5), and she certainly knew that.   There was no need for Martha to hide her heart from Jesus.  The honesty, the unmasking, is what allowed Jesus to penetrate that heart, to love it and transform it.  This is the power of honest prayer, the sacred dynamic of frank conversation.

One Hour Retreat for Holy Week

Last year as Holy Week approached, I recommended reading all of Mark’s Gospel in one sitting as a one-hour reflection.  If you have not had a chance to do so, you may wish to do that this year.  Try to forget everything you think you know about Jesus, sit in a quiet place, and listen to him.  You will encounter a raw, passionate preacher and miracle-worker, one who has an urgent message for you.

If you have already read Mark, this year I recommend Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel (Jn. 14-16).  In last week’s blog post, we reflected on Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, an event that is only narrated in John’s Gospel.  Also exclusive to John is the lengthy discourse that follows.  In this farewell address, Jesus speaks his final words of comfort, his final declaration of unity with the Father, and his final commands to his friends before he lays down his life for them. 

You have read or heard these words before.  They are beautiful, haunting, mystical, profound and personal.  Are you a disciple of Jesus?  Then he is speaking to you.

Sometime in the coming week, sit down with your Bible in a quiet place, or click here to read the text online.  Or click here to print a copy of the text; you can then write your own thoughts and responses to Jesus on the paper.

After class this past week, one of my students commented that John 14-16 should be required reading for every Christian, every few months.  Indeed, we need this personal and profound reminder from Jesus, that if we do not love one another as he has loved us, if we do not lay down our lives for one another in small ways and large, then Jesus will not be present in this world.  With the privilege of being Jesus’ friend (15:15) comes the joyful and challenging responsibility of sharing that friendship with others (15:13).  This is when he truly abides in us, and we in him (15:10).

Reflection questions for John 14-16:

What kinds of things would you say to your loved ones if you knew you were dying?

How do you think the disciples felt when Jesus told them he was leaving, and how does Jesus comfort them?

What is the relationship between Jesus and the Father, and what is their relationship with believers?

How will the Holy Spirit work in our lives in Jesus’ absence?

What is the new commandment of Jesus?  How does Jesus love?  How must we love?

What does Jesus say that especially strikes you as you prayerfully read this text?  What is he speaking to your heart?  How do you respond to him?

  Christ's Entry into Jerusalem,  Hippolyte Flandrin

Christ's Entry into Jerusalem, Hippolyte Flandrin