Tag Archives: Lent

And Ye Would Not

It ain’t always pretty.

Matthew 23:37

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

Love doesn’t always look like a fluffy little bunny or a bouquet of pretty flowers. Sometimes, love comes as a heavy burden, or an injection of medicine, or a strong arm that knocks you to the ground just in time. Jesus is like this.

We often like to think of the Resurrection only. We have images of Jesus looking all bright and shiny and handsome, smiling, with his arms open wide in welcome – setting aside images of Jesus stripped, beaten, bloodied, his arms forced apart and nailed to a wooden beam. We’ll think of Jesus during his earthly ministry with little children gathered at his feet and blind people being gently touched by his soft hand – and not think of the whip in the temple or the rough carpenter’s hands praying in agony.

I have even seen Crosses that bear upon them an image of the Resurrected Christ, fully clothed. What’s with that???risen-christ-on-cross

That moment in the Bible when Jesus beckons the little children to come to him – this is not a purely happy moment filled with pleasant niceties. It comes with a rebuke. The disciples want to shoo away the youngsters, who are generally seen as a distracting nuisance – but Jesus says, “No.” He goes against the grain, disrupts the general practice of the time, upsets social protocol, and gathers the children to him. In the divine eyes of Jesus, every human being is a child – His own beloved child, whom He wants to hold in His arms and love unconditionally. In our modern time, to the people who, perhaps, make children over-precious and nearly adore them, this makes perfect sense. Of course Jesus wants innocent and lovely children near him. But… Jesus also wants the outcast and reviled near him. Jesus lovingly wills to die next to two thieves being executed for their crimes. Do we think of that? This is true love of humanity.

Why, then, did Jesus drive the money changers out of the temple with a scourge that he made out of cords? (John 2:15) Why did he not have mercy and forgiveness upon them and just give them a big old hug? Jesus did have mercy and forgiveness upon them – he did what he did for love of them. He spoke to them in a language that they could understand about the wickedness of their acts and the dark path down which they were leading themselves and the people. This is a moment in the Bible when we can see Jesus as most obviously human – one of us. He is upset by the callous, unloving intentions and methods of the money changers, who are not interested in helping the people to be reconciled with God. Their interest is in making a personal financial profit from people’s desire for God, using the religious laws of the time to their self-centered advantage. This cannot stand. I’m thinking that Jesus is so filled with justified anger that he cannot humanly utter a pretty speech to sway them. This is the time for Jesus to use his muscles, muscles formed hard and strong from laboring in manual construction, and shake open the eyes of the drowsing, slap the petty and cruel upside the head, and zealously protect and cleanse the Sacred Place of his Father with a show of human force. I suppose that he could have turned all of the money changers into gnutes or rained fire and brimstone upon their heads – but, instead, he did what any one of us human beings could do… and, perhaps, should do: disrupt the status quo.

Nobody likes to be told that what he or she is doing is wrong, even when it is wrong. Nobody enjoys changing his or her comfortable life for a promised, but unseen, improvement. We are naturally drawn to the comfortable, the soft, the easy, the shiny, the entertaining and sensually pleasing – yet, we are supernaturally drawn to the truth, to true love, to God. There is nothing more sublime, perfectly beautiful, and fully pleasing than God and true relationship with God – but that relationship requires a disruption of physical comfort, self-centered desires, and mundane niceties… in order to truly love.

The Savior of the World cannot simply be an extraordinarily good man who sets a lasting example of kindness, patience, and a generous sharing of resources. The Savior of the World cannot merely come to make the world a prettier place – but to set it free from such a cheap desire. How else can God get through to us and break us from our habit of, and addiction to, self-centered pleasure? How else can God work with human hands, through all times and in all places, to lovingly hold the suffering and lead the wandering home? How else can God show us the fullness of what we human beings can be, except to become one of us and to give Himself so completely and utterly to us in unconditional love that he lets us torture and beat him, ridicule and reject him, and kill him like a common thief? The dead body of God-Incarnate hanging on a cross speaks more profoundly than any Sacred Book that could ever be written, more intimately than any lightning bolt Revelation from the sky, and more fully and truly than any radiant smile of the depths of divine love and how utterly God wants to gather us to Him.ChristCrucified-father-Barron

We stone prophets. That’s what we do. We “kill the messenger”. That’s what we do. God knows. And God loves us so much that He is willing to let us do that to Him. God loves us so much that He sends His Only Begotten Son to us – to do with what we will. Christ loves us so much that he is willing for us not to like him. He is willing for us to be annoyed with him, to mock him, to try to drive him over the edge of a cliff. He is willing for us to kill him, for he will do what he has come to do – he will love us. He will show us the way to deepest and truest joy, he will become the way. Jesus gives us the promise of things yet unseen and does not couch it in niceties. He gives his very body and blood for us to gnaw upon – and if we refuse to understand it, then he is willing to let us walk away. He will not force us to love him in return, he will not force us into his arms. But, he will weep for us, weeping tears of blood, and he will be vulnerable for us, pierced through in the excruciating pain of crucifixion. And the first sign of the veracity of his promise will be an empty tomb.

© 2015 Christina Chase

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Cometh Out Of the Mouth

It’s not about giving up candy, it’s about freedom…

Matthew 15:11

Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

I can’t help but note the timing of the random receiving of this particular quote. It’s the first full week of Lent, a time when many Christians are “giving up” little pleasures. We do this in remembrance of Jesus’s 40 days in the desert, a time that he spent fasting and praying – and overcoming temptations. In ancient days, Christians were much more serious and involved in fasting for the observance of Lent. Now, we only fast at the beginning, on Ash Wednesday, and at the end, on Good Friday. But, in between, we try to make small sacrifices in solidarity with Christ and in repentance for our sins. Life is full of temptations, and we don’t always overcome them as he did, but, rather, succumb to them. Therefore, Lent is a penitential season, a time to reflect upon our own weaknesses and the sins that we have committed, sorrowfully penitent for going against God’s will.

So, many people give up candy or desserts, or sweets in general. Some people don’t drink coffee or soda during Lent, or maybe they give up going to restaurants or out to see movies. The modern thing to do seems to be giving up Facebook for the 40 day observance. I’ve given up daydreaming. That may sound funny, but, often when I need to lie down to rest, I don’t watch television. Rather, I make up my own stories in my own head. Sometimes the stories bleed out into the times when I am not needing to rest and there are days when my “head is in a cloud.” This is rather a difficult thing to give up because it is so easy to do. I don’t need to open a cupboard or refrigerator or click an icon on my computer screen in order to indulge. I merely think. And I’m always thinking.

Do I make this sacrifice for Lent because daydreaming is bad for me? No, although, I suppose it would depend on the daydream. Many things that I have written, however, things that are of substance and worth, have begun in daydreams, or what I like to call “imaginings”. I imagine a character with a certain background and personality, put that character into a particular situation and then imagine being that person. I imagine interactions with other people, many conversations, often including ethical or moral dilemmas, motivations for why people do the things that they do, moments that can speak deeply to different individuals at different times, and so on. I explore “mob mentality”, being a religious person in a secular workplace, the challenges of modern preachers, and the challenges of maintaining integrity in politics. Other people can do these things through reading, watching TV programs, movies, or listening to radio talk shows, but, when I do, I notice that I am mostly absorbing other people’s opinions. I will take facts and real life scenarios from various sources, but then I choose a deeply empathetic approach to understanding life – by actually imagining walking in someone else’s shoes.

You may be wondering, if it isn’t bad for me, then why am I giving it up? Well, if my imaginings were truly bad for me, then I shouldn’t be doing them any time of the year. It would be silly to give them up for 40 days in solidarity with Christ and then take up my bad habits and sins again at Easter. If people are overeating sweet things in their ordinary lives, suffering from gluttony, it may be a good idea for them to give up sweets for Lent – but also beyond Lent. The idea of Lenten sacrifice is to give up some little non-sinful pleasure for the 40 day observance. Some little thing that you enjoy but that is not bad for you, in and of itself. One of the best reasons for doing this is to open your eyes to how you live your everyday, ordinary life. We often become dependent upon little pleasures – thinking that we can’t start our day without a cup of coffee or that our days are not complete without checking Facebook. What would life be without desserts? Would the world stopped turning? Of course not. Lenten sacrifices can help us see that we are stronger and less dependent on “things” then we may have thought.

When I started giving up imaginings for 40 days, I discovered that I could think on those big things without the fictional characters and still enjoy myself, and still have ample inspiration for writing. In fact, I found that I prayed more often for other people in various situations instead of imagining being like them to see what it was like. In a way, this gave me greater sympathy and solidarity with my fellow human beings. You see, the imaginings are not bad in and of themselves. They will not defile me. But, perhaps the time that I am spending on them keeps me from doing something else, something else that could also be good for me, maybe even better for me.

If someone is very grumpy during this season of Lent and reasons that he or she is grumpy because he or she has given up coffee or chocolate, then that someone has missed the point. You cannot give up soda or social media for Lent and then let yourself be an unkind and self-centered person. For, you will be forgetting that third practice which is part of the Lenten observance: alms giving. Alms giving and prayer are connected to fasting. In other words, being generous and mindful of God’s intimate presence is easier when you let go of little things, mere things, that may have a hold on you in your everyday life. Know that you are free. Know that you are not enslaved to particular activities or certain foods. Do not let yourself become a blind slave to habit.

Be quiet and still and open yourself up in prayer to the transcendent reality of God. Remember that you are but dust and to dust you shall return – but also remember that you are likewise of spirit and to spirit you shall return. For, the dust from which you have been formed has become animated by the breath of God. Though you may be living your life in service only to the dust and ashes of life, those things that are self-centered and fleeting, you can return to the fullness of life in service to the eternal things of the One who has loved you into being. Christ lived and died and rose from the dead just so that you can do that. So, take the time to truly connect to this truth. Pray.

Be mindful of the things that you take into yourself every day, through your eyes, ears, and mouth. Remember that your body is sacred – although it is mortal, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, of God, and this means that your skin, your stomach, your words, your mind, are sacred to God. Refrain from indulging in the fleeting things of the earth as if they are what is most important in your life, as if the loss of them would be the end of your happiness, your joy. You are made for more than merely these things – leave room for the things of eternity, for courage, for honesty, for freedom from slavery, for love. The poor in spirit are blessed because they have nothing to lose. Know that if everything else falls away, you are still beloved in time and space and for all eternity. So, be in solidarity with Christ who emptied himself for love of God and love of you. Fast – sacrifice.

Be generous with the gifts and talents that you have been given. Remember that the person next to you – whether at home, at work, or on the street – is your other self. You are both, we are all, images of God, with the inherent dignity and sanctity of human beings, God’s beloved creations. And we suffer. Christ suffered. We are bound together by an eternal bond of sympathy that is the depth and fullness of being human – don’t neglect or ignore that. Do not be so caught up in your own suffering that you forget about the suffering of another. The smallest acts of kindness yield true love, love that heals and lifts up. You know that you don’t need all the things that you have in your life – so share some of your wealth with those who struggle with just the basic needs of survival. And be gentle, be patient. Try to be understanding. Be kind. Give alms.

It is not the food that you put in your mouth that keeps you from the fullness of life. But the words that come out of your mouth can – the words of meanness, the words of pettiness, the words of unlove. Do not let what you say and do become a barrier between you and your fellow human beings – and between you and your Maker. Learn the freedom of Christ and the joy of Christ this Lenten season. Free yourself from selfishness – free yourself for love.

If we try to do this, then we will be able to truly celebrate newness of life at the end of our 40 days.

© 2015 Christina Chase

Careful and Troubled about Many Things

Martha, Martha, Martha… We cannot just go out and do and expect greatness – we must first have direction and meaningful purpose.  If we do not first listen to what God wants of us, then our actions are just busy-ness without holiness as our end.

Luke 10:39-42

39. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.

40. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.

41. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:

42. But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

It wasn’t Martha’s serving of others that was wrong – for Jesus said that he himself had come to serve and that, if others wished to follow him, then they, too, must serve.  However, in her serving, Martha was “careful and troubled about many things,” she was “cumbered about much serving” and complained about it.  Was there, then, true love in Martha’s heart that inspired her serving?  Or was she, on that day, being one of those people who takes pride in being seen as hospitable and laying out a sumptuous table?  Martha’s pride seems rather evident for she questions whether or not Jesus cares about her plight, about justice, and then proceeds to tell him what to do.  Compare that to Jesus’s mother at the wedding feast in Cana when she brought what she saw as a problem before her son – she did not tell him what to do, but, rather, told the nearby servants to listen to Jesus and do what he told them to do, whatever it would be.  There is deference here and trust in Jesus, something which Martha did not demonstrate in serving (but which she did demonstrate later when her brother Lazarus died).

Martha’s sister Mary, on the other hand, was purposefully sitting at Jesus’s feet to listen to him.  She left Martha with the details that the older sister had chosen to encumber them both with, choosing, rather, to hear the word of God.  Mary’s humility here is visually evident as she sits in a low place, at the feet of Christ.  Her eagerness for and attentiveness to what Jesus says is not lost on him.  She “heard his word” – it won’t be lost on her.

Jesus reminds Martha that there are only a very few things that human beings truly need.  This makes me think of how we need to eat in order to survive – but we don’t need to dine with elaborate meals that are difficult to prepare and serve.  We need shelter to keep us safe – but we don’t need spacious houses appointed with every convenient or luxurious amenity.  And as Christ tells the over-anxious server, “But one thing is needful”.  As he makes clear elsewhere in the Bible, “Man cannot live by bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of God.”  Martha seeks to attend to Jesus the man in the flesh, but Mary seeks to attend to the Word of God.  By her choice, Mary is truly serving the Word of God made flesh, who is Jesus Christ, because she is attending to what he says and seeking humbly to learn from him as his disciple.  Meanwhile, Martha is busy.  Yes, she is adopting the role of a servant, which should be a good thing – but she is adapting the role of a servant to suit her own self-centered needs, worrying and troubling about many things that are not necessary.  On the other hand, a God-centered servant listens to God’s word, attentive to what is truly necessary for every human being: divine love, mercy, redemption.

The fact that I’m writing this two days before the beginning of Lent is not lost on me.  Soon, Catholics around the world (and other Christians, too) will be “giving up” something for the season of Lent.  We humans, like Martha, can daily encumber ourselves with the care and trouble “of many things.”  How many of these things are needful?  Letting go of some of them for the 40 days of the Lenten discipline can help open our eyes to see how very few things we really need.  Some people think that they can’t function in the morning and start their days properly if they don’t begin with a cup of caffeinated coffee.  If they give up that coffee for Lent (and stick with the deprivation through the first week or so of difficulty) then they will see that they were able to live and function well without that supposedly needful thing.  Someone else may want to give up daytime television or staying up late playing video games or going onto Facebook every day – and the time that that person will gain every day can be spent being with family and friends, thus nurturing essential relationships, or reading to expand the mind and soul, or embarking on that creative project he or she has been dreaming about but has not yet started.  I often see Lent as a kind of spring cleaning – I get rid of the clutter of things in my life so that I can get back to basics and remember what is truly important: love.  The giving and receiving of love that is divinely sourced – this is what is truly needful.  So, I will try, with the grace of God, not to worry and busy myself about things that, in the end, don’t matter at all.  And, being thus freed, I will be more aware of who I truly am and of what – Who – I truly need to be ever joyful, to be fulfilled.  I sit at His feet…

Christina Chase