Easter Fragility

I have a Word document called “Blog Ideas 10” on my desktop. It is 74 pages long and 27,909 words deep. I’ve used this same document to write my blogs for so long that I don’t even remember another document, though there must have been a “Blog Ideas 1,” “Blog Ideas 2,” etc. Those, apparently, are ancient history.

In “Blog Ideas 10” is a very long string of blogs—some that have been published and some that never made the cut. There are quotes and ideas and concepts I’ll never develop. There’s even a story about looking for a dime on the floor of the library that I thought was very funny, but when I tested it out with my mom, she said, “I don’t get the point.” That one went where all mediocre blogs go to die: page 72.

Today on pages one and two of “Blog Ideas 10,” there are five blogs that I have started to write to you and have stopped. Some of them were Lent themes, but Lent has come and gone. One was for the Triduum, which has also come and gone. Here are their names:

·       I Will Hug It
·       I Will Spit You Out of My Mouth
·       God Is Lover Not Protector
·       A Note to My Fellow Smelly Sheep
·       It Is My Joy to Tell You to Hope

Perhaps it is more fun for you to imagine the contents of what those blogs would have been. Perhaps I’ll finish them. But it might be a while.

For now, swirling around me is so much bad news—and at Eastertime, a time of joy. A world struggling, friends struggling, a country and a church divided, strangers in comas, people moving away, death and dying, time flying. I’m not usually one to give in to melancholy, but lately, I admit, it’s tempting.

And so this melancholy has brought me to a place where all writers stand from time to time. The place is: “Everything has already been said.” The echo through the centuries: “There is nothing new under the sun.” The downtrodden (but wise) author of Ecclesiastes developed the theme: “What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun! Even the thing of which we say, ‘See, this is new!’ has already existed in the ages that preceded us” (Ecc 1:9-10). The cycles of life and death have been established. Is there anything new to think or experience or say?

As my children sat at the Easter table dyeing eggs, my son Julian broke three of his ten eggs. “I keep dropping them,” he said. Easter eggs have been breaking for ages preceding us. Easter can be a fragile time.

Friends, family, and those of you who are strangers to me, I pray for you today. I don’t pray for your happiness or your protection. I don’t know how to pray for those things right now. But today I see in your heart the fragility of Easter, and I hold it as gently as I can, like an egg I dye with my children. As others have done for me in the ages that preceded us.

* * * * * * * * * * *

 
“Inspire in us to let go of whatever brings no life. Easter in us, Holy One.” — Jesse Manibusan  An egg dyed by the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, Meriden, CT.

“Inspire in us to let go of whatever brings no life. Easter in us, Holy One.” — Jesse Manibusan

An egg dyed by the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, Meriden, CT.

 

Why Do We Fast?

Happy Shrove Tuesday!

While we all know that the most important kind of fasting we can do during Lent (or anytime!) is to fast from hurtful behaviors such as gossip and greed, we might be wondering if there is still a place for “traditional” fasting in our spiritual lives.

Can’t the two types of fasting go together? Of course they can! Anything we do with our bodies is not meant to stop there. Fasting with our bodies—if done thoughtfully, with meaning and purpose—can change our hearts. And our changed hearts can change the world.

I hope you will enjoy my Lent article “10 Reasons to Fast This Lent” in this month’s St. Anthony Messenger, available online here. The print magazine includes some creative ideas for fasting.

And for those who are local, I hope you will join me, Sr. Virginia Herbers, and Deacon Art Miller as we team up with Peter DeMarco and the Saint Ann Choir for a One-Night Lenten Mission on March 13 in Hamden, CT. Details are below.

Lenten blessings!

OneNightLentenMission_2019_8.5x11.jpg


This Holy Week: Just the Hem of His Garment

This Holy Week, remember those in the Gospel who only wanted to touch the tassle of his cloak, the hem of his garment (Matt 14:36). Some days, some years are like that. You may not feel that you can keep up with Jesus on the way to Golgotha. You may not feel that you can shoulder that heavy wooden cross. You may not feel that you succeed at walking along the path with him, or listening to him, or always doing what he asks. But do you see him passing by? Can you reach out your hand, like the woman who was ill for twelve long years? Perhaps – like her – you find yourself on the ground, reaching out – grasping, believing, stretching – “If only I could touch the hem of his garment, the tassle of his cloak” (Matt 9:21).

It is faith that has you there, reaching out for Jesus. And this year, that is enough. This Holy Week, accept where you are. Jesus will pass by that place.

And just as he was aware of every person who touched him (Lk 8:46), he is aware of you. He will take your hand and speak the words you need to hear: “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (Lk 8:48).

This Holy Week, just the hem of his garment is enough.

Trust in the Lord  by Liz Lemon Swindle. For more of Liz's beautiful art, visit  lizlemonswindle.org .   People brought to him all those who were sick and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak, and as many as touched it were healed (Matt 14:35-36).

Trust in the Lord by Liz Lemon Swindle. For more of Liz's beautiful art, visit lizlemonswindle.org.

People brought to him all those who were sick and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak, and as many as touched it were healed (Matt 14:35-36).

Sunday's Gospel: Jesus Loved a Good Paradox

The following is republished with permission from my column in Catechist magazine. For subscription information, visit catechist.com.

This Sunday’s reading from John’s Gospel (click here to read John 12:20-33) prepares us for the imminent death of Jesus. We hear Jesus’ own words of dread (“I am troubled now”), but above all, we hear hints of the glory to come.

The Gospel’s message about Jesus’ death is conveyed in several paradoxes. (A paradox is a meaningful combination of two seemingly opposite truths.) The first paradox Jesus uses is from nature: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Jesus’ death, painful as it will be, will bear fruit. Death, which seems like an absolute end, will do something. It will produce.

Another paradox encourages the disciple of Jesus to espouse the same attitude of self-giving: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” Of course, Jesus does not literally want us to hate our lives. The powerful language is meant to convey the reality that Jesus is about to live out. It is only in willingly giving ourselves up that we actually preserve our lives. It is only in willingly giving ourselves up that we follow Jesus and remain with him.

The greatest paradox of all is the fact that in death Jesus is glorified. One might think of death as a defeat or an end, especially a violent death such as the one Jesus will face. But Jesus is clear: In his death, he will be glorified! Because of this perspective, the Passion Narrative (the story of Jesus’ suffering and death) in John’s Gospel has traditionally been called the “Book of Glory.”

This is an essential reminder as Holy Week approaches. It will not be a week of doom and gloom. It is a week of glory!

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you are ready to lay down your life like a grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies. May I be there with you, to witness your glory and imitate you so that I also may bear fruit.

Frantisek Burant, Drypoint. Courtesy  Sacred Art Pilgrim .

Frantisek Burant, Drypoint. Courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim.

But I Say to You

There’s a line from C.S. Lewis’ brilliant and imaginative book The Great Divorce that comes back to me a few times a year. It convicts me, in a good way.

In The Great Divorce, folks who have died are freely offered entrance into Paradise (which Lewis describes fantastically). There’s just one hitch. They have to give up the thing that’s dragging them down, the thing that holds them back, the thing they’ve clung to all their lives. They don’t have to cure themselves or fix everything. They just have to let go of a burden. Turns out, after a lifetime of habitual living, that’s pretty hard to do.

One plucky soul has a lot to say to his heavenly guide about why he thinks he’s just fine as he is. What need is there to change? Why would someone dare to ask more of him? And so comes the fateful line: “I’ve done my best!” His heavenly guide responds, “Have you? Have you really?”

The question pains me.

No, I haven’t. I really haven’t.

There’s a lot of talk these days about not being too hard on ourselves. And that’s good in the sense that self-loathing and undue pressure are hurtful and counterproductive. But in affirming our humanity and accepting our shortcomings – and letting go of some of the empty expectations the world places on us – we mustn’t excuse ourselves from the very high standards that God has for us. Not expectations that emerge from a task-masterly nature or a cool unkindness. I’m talking about expectations that emerge from love.

The Sermon on the Mount is a case in point. To paraphrase Jesus, “You have heard it said that you should not kill. But I say to you, do not even be angry with your brothers and sisters.” Or, “You have heard it said that you should love your neighbor. But I say to you, love even your enemy.” If we are full of excuses (and full of ourselves), we will simply never achieve these things.

We are loved beyond our own imagining by the God who created us. The Scriptures describe a God who is enamored with his people, who cannot leave or abandon them without betraying his very self. But because of this undying love, he wants us to strive higher, harder, longer and without compromise. Yes, he loves us as we are. And yes, he demands more from us every single day.

Sometimes we can honestly say, “I did my best.” But sometimes we just say that because we don’t want to try harder. What does “trying harder” look like in your life? How will you give him more, this God who loves you so?

P.S. I loaned my copy of The Great Divorce to someone, so I’m paraphrasing here! I highly recommend the book. It’s short, creative, and it makes wonderful Lenten reading.

A mixed media piece depicting a scene from  The Great Divorce : "Ghosts." © Monica Dyer. Shared with permission. Visit Monica's website to see some of her beautiful artwork:  monicadyer.net .

A mixed media piece depicting a scene from The Great Divorce: "Ghosts." © Monica Dyer. Shared with permission. Visit Monica's website to see some of her beautiful artwork: monicadyer.net.