Friday, March 22, 2013

Who Crucified my Lord?

The answer is me.  Yep, sobering isn’t it?

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday.  It is the day we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to a hero’s welcome.  It is amazing how quickly the tide turned.  One day, they wanted him to be king and the next, crucified. On this Sunday, we will read the Lord’s Passion.  We will hear the story of how our King was welcomed with pomp and circumstance only to be crucified a few days later at Calvary.  What Happened?

I’ve heard this story since I was little.  As a kid, I looked at it much like a bad guy/good guy situation.  The people killing Jesus were the bad guys.  If I were there, I would be fighting them.  I would be leading the charge to protect Jesus.  I would be among the good guys.  With my child-like innocence, it is easy to lump myself in with the good guys because of the simple fact that I love Jesus.  I wouldn’t want to see him get hurt.  Yep, my child-like self had no doubt that I was a good guy.

Hearing this story as an adult is totally different.  How can a crowd turn like that?  How can you love Jesus one minute and hate him the next?  As I ponder these questions, I can’t help but wonder what role I would really play in the story.  It seemed that few people actually knew who Jesus was and fewer were willing to stand up and protect Him.  Would I really be as bold as I imagine?  Or would I silently watch with the rest of the crowd?  Or, perhaps, I would be chanting for his death in the heat of the moment.

As we see in this gospel story, it was the Sanhedrin that led the people to distrust and reject Jesus. They were the typical human beings. They were too proud to acknowledge Jesus' authority. They were too self-involved to look at the bigger picture. They were so involved with going through the motions of the law that they missed the spirit of the law that was embodied in their midst. They didn't want to give up their power. They didn't want to become humble. They would not open their hearts to God's love. Pride and selfishness is what drove them to influence the people and have Jesus nailed to a cross and die.  And these are the same traits I struggle with every day.   When I allow myself to take credit when I shouldn't, when I’m too proud to admit a mistake, or when take control when I should put it on the altar, then up goes the wall between me and my God. I become one of those people 2000 years ago, standing in the crowd, chanting for Jesus to be crucified.

Oh, Father, forgive me for who I am.  Show me the places in my life that are not filled with your light.  Give me the courage to empty myself completely to your love.  Grant me the grace to see the face Christ in those around me.  You are all that I crave.  My desire rests in your will.  Make me worthy of the life Christ won for me at Calvary.  All glory and honor belong to you, forever and ever. Amen.

Time for Lent

I had a brilliant idea this year- one that would make Lent more meaningful for my whole family.  There are no words to describe my excitement as I planned to pitch this idea to my unsuspecting loved ones.  So, at dinner last week, I presented the Lenten plan- we would, together as a family, choose a sacrifice and carry it out.  And throughout Lent, we would share our experiences and therefore, grow closer to each other and the Lord.  I know, it’s a pretty awesome idea!  Or at least that is what I thought…  While both my teenage son and little son gave me that “Seriously, Mom?” look, my husband stammered out “Well, honey that sounds like….fun?”  I pushed through their less-than-excited reactions and started with some suggestions- candy?  Soda?  And then the conversation quickly digressed.  As the other males were throwing around ideas like broccoli and homework, my little son brightens up and says, “I know, let’s give up church! Then we would have more time to play!”  Yep, we have a lot of work to do this year with Lenten Catechesis.  However, this little five-year-old has a point.  He is making an astute observation about how we manage our time.  In his own way, he is saying he wants more time to just be five.

As our culture marches forward in this post-modern age, we do so busier than ever. I don’t know about you, but my time seems to be spent before I even have a chance to possess it. My schedule sweeps me into motion like a rain swollen river, taking me on a wild ride until my head is finally deposited on the pillow at the end of the day. And when I look back at my ever so busy day, I wonder when I will ever really have time to just be. Time is ever so precious and we are starved for more of it.

So, I have to admit, when these special seasons in the Church roll around, I get a little anxious. How much busier will I be? How much more time do I need to commit to make the season meaningful for myself and my family? Is it even possible to find more time between the soccer and baseball practices, dance and gymnastics classes, band and academic competitions? How will I fit it in?

As we approach this season of Lent, we also need to remember that time is not something we are guaranteed to possess. But, time is a gift from God. And like all the blessings he bestows on us, we are called to give in return. Lent is the season when we are called to seek God out. We are called to know him more fully and more completely. We are called to sacrifice so that we can walk closer with Christ and know God on a deeper level. So, instead of chocolate or Dr. Pepper, why don’t we sacrifice some of the busyness of our lives? Let’s give up a favorite activity, and then use the time we gain for the glory of God.  Let’s make time for God during Lent.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Christmas Magic

I don’t know about you, but Christmas season always takes me by storm.  I barely have enough time in my normal life to get all the things done I am responsible for.  Pile the Christmas duties on top of that, and I am one big frazzled mess by the 25th finally rolls around.  This year has been no exception.  In fact, I sort of threw in the towel.  My house got decorated in the middle of December.  I didn't even bother with Christmas cards.  I didn't bake a single Christmas cookie.  The presents were wrapped less than 24 hours before they were opened.  And you know what?  It was okay.  In fact, I actually had time to observe and reflect.  So, you think I would have come up with a better answer when my little son asked me what we are celebrating at Christmas time.

We were sitting in the crowded Church on Christmas Eve well before the start of Mass.  We arrived just in time to sit in the choir loft.  Those arriving after us were invited to sit in the hallway, so I was quite grateful for our choir loft seat.  This was not our parish church as we were visiting my parents.  My little son took in all the unfamiliar sights from the kneelers to the altar.  He even perused the hymnal.  After a few minutes of observing the crowded church, he looked at me and asked, “What are we celebrating, Mommy?”  He was astute enough to realize that something special was going on- this was “special” church. 

“We are here to celebrate Jesus’ birthday,” I told him.  And that was all I said.  He seemed satisfied with the answer but I could tell that he thought this “special church” was a little too much for a birthday celebration.  Or maybe he thought that it was weird that Jesus was having his birthday party in church without balloons, presents and cake.  Either way, as Mass started, I realized my answer was lacking.

Christmas used to be my favorite holiday.  But as I have grown in age and faith, Easter has become my new favorite.  This year, as the hustle and bustle hummed around me, I reflected on this change.  Why has Easter surpassed Christmas in my favorites?  What happened to the magic of Christmas?  I think it would be easy for me to point out the obvious: Christmas has been hijacked by consumerism.  Christmas is more about preparing for the presents than it is about preparing for the birth of Christ.  Retailers use Christmas to sell, sell, sell.  And us Americans buy, buy, buy.  It’s inescapable.  Even if I wanted to return to the true meaning of Christmas and forego the outrageous gift-giving, I can’t.  I can’t do that to my kids.  As I was venting on this topic to my husband, he politely disagreed with me.  He pointed out that Christmas brings joy to our culture.  It inspires us to give and find the good in one another.  I couldn't argue with him.  Although Christmas is consumed by our consumerism, it does bring out the best in us.  The atmosphere in our country is pointedly different at Christmastime.  So, why is the magic gone for me? 

My inadequate response to my little son’s question at Mass on Christmas Eve really got me thinking.  Was I truly bitter about the hijacking of Christmas by consumerism, or did I not fully understand what Christmas is all about?  Holy week and Easter are about an awesome reality- Jesus’ radical display of love, obedience and faith on the cross.  AND it’s about His defeat of death and thus, His gift of life to us.  AND, it’s about His gift of the Eucharist.   The Easter season of the Church is HOLY.  Our identity as Christians is all wrapped up in Easter.  Now, Christmas is just Jesus’ birthday.  Right?  Is that really what we are celebrating?

I am reading A Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser.  In his book, Rolheiser explains in depth about the meaning of the incarnation.  He speaks of the significance of the incarnation and it’s reality in our world today.  I think I have always looked at Jesus’ life on earth from a quasi-historical perspective.  He was born, he lived and walked on the earth, he died, he rose from the dead and then he ascended into heaven.  What I have failed to focus on is the reality that Jesus still lives here.  In my Baptist upbringing, I was taught that when you are saved, Jesus comes to live in your heart.  As I have converted to the Catholic faith, I never doubted the truth that Jesus lives in my heart, but I also never connected the significance of this with Christmas or it’s subsequent impact on the world.

You see, at Christmas, we celebrate the incarnation of Christ- the arrival of God into humanity.  Sure, it is the birth of Christ, but, more importantly, it is the arrival of Christ into the world- a world in which he still lives.  Before the incarnation, God did not exist in the world as he does today in Christ.  That fact didn't really occur to me until I started to think about my little son’s question.  Christmas is a very significant event in Christianity because it is the arrival of Christ into humanity- a position he has not vacated.  That is what we celebrate- Christ’s life intertwined in ours, his life in our hearts.

Just as Christ gave us his complete life on the cross, we are called to do the same.  Our lives are spent converting our hearts to the reality of the incarnation- to the reality that Christ lives in our hearts and in the hearts of the rest of humanity.  Our response to the incarnation is to live out the Greatest Commandment- Love God with all your mind, heart and soul and then love your neighbor as yourself.  This requires us to put our own desires on the back burner and seek the desires of Christ- not only the desires we find in the Christ of our own hearts, but also in the Christ we see in others.

So, Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s birth.  It’s a celebration of Christ’s arrival in humanity- his arrival in our very lives.  It’s a celebration of Christ’s presence in our world.  So, the question is will we let Christmas infect us?  Will we surrender our desires and let Christ pour his love into our souls and then let it flow out to touch others?  As we put away our Christmas decorations and roll into the New Year, are we going to truly live the life we celebrate at Christmas or was it just another birthday party?