Love Your Enemies

Scriptural reflection based on the mass readings of Tuesday, June 15, 2021 — eleventh week of ordinary time.

First Reading: 2 Cor 8:1-9
Responsorial Psalm: 146:2, 5-6ab, 6c- 7, 8-9a
Gospel: Mt 5:43-48

Today is a momentous day for California. After fifteen months or so, the state reopened today and officials have removed a majority of the restrictions that were put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19. While this state and others around the country are opening back up, we cannot forget that the entire world has suffered, and for most of the world, still suffering, incredible amounts of loss. There has been loss of friends, family, and colleagues, loss of income, loss of education, loss of options, loss of freedom, loss of hugs and handshakes, loss of community.

The pandemic has affected us all in some way – physically, mentally, and even spiritually. The stress that already existed in society were intensified by fear and frustration. Divides became wider and new fault lines showed themselves. Without the usual outlets to let off steam, people’s patience has been running thin. The rates of domestic violence, race-based violence, and gun violence are higher than pre-pandemic times. People needed scapegoats to blame for the virus and the painful effects of it. Suddenly, what were small irritations have become large problems. And enemies were made.

Who are the enemies? For some it could be someone who holds a different understanding than our own on religion, politics, gender equality, medical choices, race, immigration, climate change, or what it means to be a patriot. For others it’s people who have a different approach to policies reacting and responding to the pandemic.

In the past two weeks we’ve been making our way through the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, which is the Sermon on the Mount. We began with the Beatitudes – “blessed are they…” Today is the last part of the Sermon on the Mount. We hear Jesus recall what people would have been familiar with – that is, “you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But today, Jesus is being counter-cultural and is giving us a tall order – to “love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you.” Love your enemy, he says. We too easily throw that phrase around without realizing the gravity of what Jesus is calling us to do. It seems like an impossible ask! Of course, the gospel writer, Matthew, saved the most challenging part of the sermon for last. And it so happened to fall on the state’s reopening day. A turning point for renewed hope and new opportunities.

Are we really supposed to love our enemy with sincerity? Are we really supposed to pray for those who are working against us? Those who want us to fail? Even those who hate us? Or those who would cause us harm? Them, too? Yes!

This doesn’t mean that we don’t stand up for what’s right. But often times, in struggling for justice we retreat to our like-minded camps and echo chambers. I understand that there is safety when we surround ourselves with people who are on the same page as us, who think similarly as we do. Jesus is cautioning us about this. He says that extending love to those who love us is what the tax collectors do. They are friendly to who pay taxes and hound those who are unable or unwilling to pay. And he says that engaging with only our friends and allies are what the pagans do. It’s natural to be inclined toward others who are friendly toward us. But, if we only love those who love us back… or to love those who have been useful to us in accomplishing our own individual success, then how are we different than the rest of the world?

As people of faith, we are reminded that God is not stingy with blessings. God makes the sun rise on both the good and the bad, and causes the “rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” As followers of Jesus Christ, we have a higher calling. The challenge is to cultivate a love for both friends and foes, for those who are in our camps and those out of our camps. To treat people right, no matter how they treat us. We recall what we have heard in the Sermon on the Mount: 1) Jesus gives a blueprint for living a holy and righteous life in the Beatitudes; 2) Be a positive influence on those around us; 3) God’s laws help us to be in right relationship with others; 4) Seek reconciliation whenever there are rifts between people; 5) Do not take retaliation when you have been wronged; and today, 6) Love your enemies. It’s not easy, that is for sure; and we won’t always avoid making mistakes ourselves. So we pray.

We pray for God’s intervention in the other – the enemy, for sure. We pray, too, because God is also at work in us – to open our heart to see people the way God sees them, not the way we see them. To be perfect as God is perfect is to love our enemies as God would love them. This may be the most difficult thing we do as Christians. But when we humanize rather than demonize, we build a bridge across the divide in our communities, our country, and around the world. With each attempt to love our enemy is another step toward the perfection that Jesus is talking about. The path isn’t an easy one, but we don’t have to walk it alone. I look forward to joining you, as we accompany and support one another on the journey. Today is a momentous day for all of us. Today is turning point for renewed hope and new opportunities.

“I Thirst” – Good Friday Reflection 2021

In the past year, I’ve found myself changing the channel, switching to a different station, moving on to another article.  On my social media thread I scroll through stories of race-based hate crimes, children separated from their families at the border, and mass shootings, just to name a few.  I turn the page, scroll on through.  It’s all too much!  So, I just turn it off. 

While I may not want that to bother me right now, it doesn’t remove the reality that is all around me.  Just because I changed the channel doesn’t make the coronavirus disappear.  Turning to a different radio station doesn’t remove the frustration of a broken justice system unwilling to fix itself.  Scrolling to the next feed on my phone doesn’t make the distress experienced because of exclusionary church statements any less hurtful.  When I choose to put the newspaper down, racism doesn’t suddenly just go away. 

Perhaps it’s because I’m tired of being bombarded by news that upsets me, that I refuse to accept that this is the state of our country – the country in which I was born, where I live, and call home.  Possibly it’s because I don’t know what to do with my emotions of sadness, frustration, and anger when a I see a child of God suffering at the hands of another fellow human being.  I’m just a spectator, an onlooker.  Maybe because I’m frustrated with myself and my inability to do much. 

But, I can’t stop thinking of fellow Asian-Pacific Islanders being harassed in the streets, even friends of mine.  I can’t stop thinking about the people who were gunned down at the places where they work.  I can’t change my the color or my skin or the shape of my eyes, so I think back at the moments in my own life when I felt that I had to change the way I dress, rethink where I go, what time of day I wander out, and how I move about.  I think back to when I moved to the “mainland,” and made a conscious effort to relearn English to sound less like my own family and more like the people in the media… all this so I would make myself less of a target in order to fit into a sanitized social standard.  And, I can’t stop hearing the haunting, struggling voice of George Floyd, saying, “I can’t breathe.” 

When I read of this in the paper, when I watch this on TV, or when I see this on my phone, I can’t help but think about friends of mine who have been targeted simply because of who they are.  Being a brown skinned Filipino-American from Hawaii, I can’t help but imagine myself in their place.  It’s too much to think that I, too, could be next.  But, just because I choose not to think that I could be next, doesn’t change the fact that in this country, in this century, this is reality. 

In the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry, he went up to the mountain to preach.  We hear, in the 5th chapter of Matthew, Jesus taught his disciples, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  Jesus introduced a way of living in the Kingdom of God.  At the end of his life, Jesus on the cross, said, “I thirst.”  Jesus opened his ministry asking people to hunger and thirst for justice and ended up dying on a cross, thirsty… victimized for an injustice.  Jesus taught us to thirst for justice. 

In my frustration and impatience, I thirst for justice.  But, it is not the only thing for which I thirst – I also thirst for the other Beatitudes.  I thirst for mercy and that the cycle of hate between people will be broken.  I thirst to bring comfort to the families of victims and that the memories of their persecuted loved ones will be honored.  I thirst for meekness that I may listen well with a compassionate heart to the needs of my community.  I thirst for a purity of heart so I can see God in someone that is not like me.  I thirst to be a peacemaker that doesn’t simply bring about an absence of violence, but one that is willing do the hard work of reconciliation that cultivates a peace that is rooted deep within ourselves.  I thirst for courage to endure the long and uneasy journey toward righteousness.  I thirst for a humble spirit to know that I, myself, cannot do everything, and taking comfort in knowing that I am not alone.

I turn the page, change the channel, switch the station, scroll on through because it is not enough for me to be a bystander.  I am unsatisfied with being an onlooker.  My thirst calls me to stop being an observer while the kingdom is being built.  My thirst calls me out of my spectator role to be a co-worker in God’s vineyard.  When we thirst, God thirsts, too. 

Today, the day Jesus Christ died on the cross, is a door opened unto us to the promise of justice that Jesus made in the Beatitudes.  Jesus thirsts so that, one day, no one will ever again say, “I can’t breathe.” 

“To Die For” – Reflection on St. Oscar Romero

Recorded spoken reflection

Soldier, police officer, firefighter, health care worker are all high-risk occupations. A person might be motivated to become a soldier to protect democracy. Freedom is something to die for. Police officers put themselves in danger to protect the public because the safety of communities is something worth dying for. Rescuing people trapped in a fiery building is something firefighters are willing to die for.

During this pandemic other jobs, too, have become high-risk. Public transportation operators, cleaners, food service and grocery store workers, to name a few. To them, our safety, health, well-being, and the good of society are worth dying for.

What do these occupations have to do with Archbishop Oscar Romero? On March 24, in 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador was murdered while celebrating mass in a church-run hospital chapel for cancer patients and the terminally ill. In his earlier years as a priest, he often ministered to El Salvador’s elite. His appointment as archbishop was welcomed by government officials because he was not an outspoken critic of the widespread political violence, disappearances, and human rights violations.

A few weeks after becoming archbishop, Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande was killed like many other priests and women religious who cared for oppressed communities. The loss of Romero’s friend had a profound impact on the new chief shepherd. Today’s gospel, taken from the 8th chapter of John, gives us a famous line from the bible, “the truth will set you free.” Romero’s spirituality, deeply rooted in scripture and prayer, gave him the courage to publicly denounce violence and injustice. He sought to make God’s word come alive in the lives of the people. His weekly radio homilies empowered many of the campesinos, or poor villagers. Addressing widespread poverty, he said, “it is not enough to attend Mass on Sunday… God wants the garment of justice. God wants his Christians dressed in love.” He exhorted the campesinos to dress the part by questioning the “way we always do things.”

When Jesus implied in John’s gospel that the Jews were not free, they pushed back. They said they had no need of freedom because as children of Abraham they had always been free. Jesus continued to challenge their claims while pointing out their misunderstandings – that they were descendants of Abraham, not children of Abraham. They had only one father, God. For exposing this truth, the Jews tried to kill Jesus. He said to them, “you are trying to kill me, because my word has no room among you.”

Romero put on Christ’s garment of love… love for the truth and love for justice; but the word of God had no room among the Salvadoran government officials. The gospel message was an affront to the elite and the political authorities. The mission of the Church is hard. Romero said, “A church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed— what gospel is that?”

We are Christians. Like Romero who used the radio to preach, we, too, are called to be God’s microphone, messenger, prophet, and disciple. Being a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, is a high-risk endeavor. As baptized Christians we are responsible to hold the banner of God’s truth and divine justice. Christians have been perceived as threats to power structures throughout history because standing with the poor and vulnerable often upset the balance of power. Romero preached the challenging, yet liberating, truth and justice of Jesus Christ and paid the ultimate price of his life. Truth and justice may lead us to persecution, and in extreme cases, death; but it will surely also lead us to resurrection! We bear the name Christian, and while we may not be called to be disciples the same way as Oscar Romero was, as we approach drama of Holy Week, it’s worth asking and reflecting on what are we willing to die for?

Fortified for Mission

Trailer of the film, Francesco, which premiered on 21 October 2020 and is about the life and teaching of Pope Francis. This documentary highlights the challenges of our time, the urgencies that need answering and the mission of the Church in looking to those who suffer injustices. The film received much attention due to one scene in which the pope said in an interview regarding same-sex civil unions.

Based on Lectionary # 482
Reading 1: EPH 6:10-20
Psalm: 144:1B, 2, 9-10
Gospel: LK 13:31-35

Reflection on the Readings of the Day

Shortly after its premier in the USA, I watched the new documentary film about Pope Francis, simply titled, Francesco.  It’s not your typical biography. It’s a movie that shows us the reality of the world that we may not see or to which we have limited exposure. The movie touches about many issues including, climate change, war and peace, the refugee crises, clergy sexual abuse, religious intolerance, and social inequality. Through the example of the pastoral leadership Pope Francis, which is rooted in the example of Jesus Christ, we have a pathway to imagining what a brighter future can be. If there has ever been a moment when the world needed missionaries of God’s hope, compassion, unity, and redemption… it’s now. And it’s not going to be an easy journey. 

Just reading the headlines, listening to the daily newscast, and scrolling through posts on social media are enough to make me anxious and almost afraid to face the state that the world is in. In the Gospel, we hear the Pharisees try to make Jesus scared, too, telling him that Herod is coming to kill him. You should get out of here, they say. But, Jesus is not afraid and doesn’t back down. He says to them, thanks, but no thanks — I’m going to continue doing what I am doing as long as I stay true to God. The same goes for us who are discerning our lives of service. Rather than letting the reality of fear and suffering to force us to retreat, the gospel is inviting us to refocus and persevere in healing the earth, bridging gaps, repairing relationships, and restoring dignity. He won’t, of course, send us empty-handed and unprepared. 

Our first reading gives us the tools for the mission in which we are being formed. The letter written in Paul’s name illustrates six things steeped in symbolism which we will need. First, be grounded in the truth. Second, be in proper relationship with God. Third, be ready to work for peace. Fourth, rely on your faith to protect you. Fifth, renew your minds and keep an eternal perspective. And sixth, carry the Word of God as our tool for softening and changing hearts. 

As the first reading comes to the end, it reminds us that the redemption of the world and our own readiness for mission are fortified through prayer in the Spirit, so that when the moment comes we will know what is the right thing to say, we will be bold in proclaiming the Good News, and we will have the courage to use our voice for good even when we want to hold back. 

As I watched Francesco, the soundtrack playing in the background caught my attention. It was a sampling of a familiar church song, but I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. It was a variation of The Servant Song, in a minor key. As we continue to prepare ourselves to serve as God’s missionaries of hope, compassion, unity, and redemption, I think the lyrics of the background music underscore what we hoping to achieve with the help of the Spirit:

I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the nighttime of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the peace you long to hear

I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through
 

Eliza Hamilton & Women in the Gospels

“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” is the finale song of Act 2 of the musical Hamilton, based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, which premiered on Broadway in 2015. A live film recording of the stage version was released on July 6, 2020. The song is performed by the character Eliza Hamilton, wife of Alexander Hamilton.

Based on the Lectionary # 447
Reading 1: 1 COR 15:12-20
Psalm: PS 17:1BCD, 6-7, 8B AND 15
Gospel: LK 8:1-3

Gospel Reflection

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story” is a repeated line from the musical, Hamilton, which was released to a streaming platform in July 2020.  The story detailed the life and career of Alexander Hamilton, an orphaned immigrant from the Caribbean who became General Washington’s aid during the American Revolution and who served this country in its infancy as Secretary of the Treasury.  Who gets to tell the story?  So many figures in history don’t get remembered due to their lack of prominence and privilege. 

When we think about the founding of the United States of America it wouldn’t be too difficult to recall names like Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, and even Burr, who shot Hamilton.  Similarly, in the Gospels the twelve apostles are (easily) recognizable: Peter, Andrew, John, Philip, Jude, Bartholomew, Thomas, James son of Zebedee, Matthew, Simon, Judas who was replaced by Matthias, and Paul. 

However, when I think about the women in the early years of our country, I can only think of a few names: Betsy Ross, Abigail Adams, and Martha Washington. That’s pretty much it for me.  So when I watched the musical, Hamilton, I was like Eliza Hamilton?  Who’s she?  Why haven’t I heard of her before?  She may not have been the central character of the story, but her role is crucial to firming up Alexander Hamilton’s legacy. 

Similarly when I think of the women in the Gospels, I can only think of a handful, too: the Virgin Mary, Martha and Mary, Mary Magdalene, the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, the widow and her last two coins, the Samaritan woman.  I also take note that not many were named.  Women weren’t typically written into the story back then.  I’ve already mentioned Mary Magdalene, but who are Joanna and Susanna?  What about the many other unnamed women?  What are their stories?  We may not know much about these women, but their presence and ministry play an important part in Jesus’ story. 

Luke, more than the other evangelists, didin’t shy away from illustrating how women accompanied Jesus and the apostles.  They weren’t groupies, either… in response to Jesus healing them, they supported Jesus’ mission.  These three short Gospel verses are monumental because their mention, albeit brief, underscores that even those who have very little evident legacy, those quiet disciples or unnamed supporters, would courageously risk their reputation in society in order to care for Jesus and join him in his ministry.  They not only helped to build the kingdom, they also provided for it “from their own means” so that it could carry out its mission.  Who gets to tell their story? 

Back in his day Jesus was countercultural and challenged customs.  Even after his death and resurrection, the ministry of women has never stropped.  Women and men are still being comforted and healed by Jesus, and like the women of the Gospel, some will respond by giving of themselves.  In our lives and throughout our own ministry as seminarians and future clergy, too, will be cared for, supported by, and joined by people who have been affected by Jesus Christ.  According to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, 64% of paid ecclesial ministers are women, and many more ministers and volunteers who remain unnamed.  Although it was not common practice in Luke’s time to do so, he took the risk to recognize and write the women into the Good News of Jesus Christ.  What risks will we take? 

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/091820.cfm

Paulists at Lake George Commemorate Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

At sunset on Sunday, August 9, Paulist Fathers novices, seminarians, and priests gathered lakeside at the dock of St. Mary’s of the Lake to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II by the United States.

I was honored to lead the prayer, which included elements of the Japanese culture. Origami paper cranes, which have become a symbol of support for a nuclear-weapon-free world, were also used as part of the service. Making each fold of a paper crane allowed me to be intentional about my prayer, remembering those who have died and those who still live with the effects of nuclear disasters.

The custom of toro nagashi or floating lanterns to commemorate those who have died culminated the service. With a blue and orange sunset as its backdrop, multi-colored lanterns light up the darkening sky. Each containing a prayer for understanding, forgiveness, and peace.

We responded to the invitation by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ statement on July 13 to gather in solidarity to pray for peace. Gathering for prayer for memorial occasions like this helps us not to forget the atrocities of war and to remember our responsibility to journey together with others to #WagePeace. I believe all of us, regardless if ordained ministers or a lay people, have a particular call to be instruments of understanding and forgiveness.

20/20 Vision for (the rest of) 2020

Scripture reflection based on the Mass readings of July 28, 2020

Reading 1: Jeremiah 14:17–22
Psalm: 79:8, 9, 11 and 13
Gospel: Matthew 13:36–43

The year 2020 was deemed to be the year of vision. Let’s take a look: we started the year with the worst wildfire in decades in Australia, tension between the US and Iran, then the drama of the Impeachment and trial of the US President and Brexit — that was just January. Since then we’ve seen giant murder hornets, election glitches, riots in the streets, and of course the one we know all too well, the trauma of COVID-19… I can’t believe we stayed up to cheer the stroke of midnight to welcome 2020 for all of this!

Today’s first reading from the prophet Jeremiah sounds like it could have been written for today’s reality. The prophet is brought to tears by the sight of devastation. He walks into the field and sees violence. One need not to go very far from here to see unrest and some violence in streets and seeing people be unfairly treated. Jeremiah sees hunger, even those who live comfortable lives are in want. In our day there isn’t anyone who has not been impacted, in some way, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. People, real people whom you may know, have lost their work and it’s affecting their daily lives. The highest unemployment rates since the pandemic started hovered close to 20%, and even though the national average has dropped to around 11%, Hawaii, Nevada, and Michigan are still above 20% unemployed. Just as Jeremiah noted, even people of respectable and secure positions are affected.

People respond differently to the realities of trauma in various ways. Out of frustration and anxiety, some blame themselves or society. Some fall into despair and lose trust. Jeremiah asks, “We’ve waited for you, Lord. Have you abandoned us, Lord? Are you punishing us?” Out of desperation he asks God to remember his covenant with us. But, here, I wonder if he might have just realized that it’s not God who needs reminding… we do!

To get through all of this, to make it through one month at a time, might it be helpful to remind ourselves that as God has not, and will not, abandon us. So, too, shall we not abandon God. But what about all that’s going on in the world? Science tirelessly pushes on for a cure and vaccine, politicians will trudge along governing, markets will continue to balance itself out, but don’t let that distract you. Stay focused, for our trust is with God.

We want to, and need to, have clear vision to chart this directionless year. There is a lot of good going on, but the weeds of frustrations, overwhelmingness, confusion will be there, too. This year is not yet over. 2020 is still the year of vision and vision is all about clarity. Don’t lose hope, Jesus tells us. Stay focused and don’t worry about the weeds, let God take care of that. Our vision is 20/20 when we stay focused on God.

Lenten Reflections – Doors & Divides

Reflection based on the Gospel of Luke 16:19-31
You’re invited to read the Scripture before the reflection

3rd Week of Lent

Are you the rich man? Or are you the poor man, Lazarus? The fact is that we have all been both the rich man and Lazarus at some point in our lives. We do not live in a world where we are only one or the other. I can remember moments in my life when things were falling nicely into place, things were good, and I was full of life. Likewise, I can also name times when I was sad, broken, and suffering. Today’s gospel is not a judgment about the rich man versus the poor man, nor about good versus bad. Today’s gospel asks us to consider the space that separates the rich man from Lazarus.

As the rich man was enjoying his extravagant life day after day, just on the other side of his door was poor Lazarus who was “covered with sores” and would have eaten any of the scraps that fell on the floor. When they died, the gospel tells us that Lazarus was carried to the bosom of Abraham – in other words, to a place of honor; and the rich man was sent to suffer the torment of flames. The door that existed between the two of them in life carried over to the afterlife. The door is important because it is what separated them, and it is what separates us today. We are invited to examine our hearts to find the doors that exists in our lives that separate us from ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbors, our enemies, and ultimately, God.

What are some of the doors we live with? Pride, busyness, loneliness, hurt, envy, fear, and that’s just me. We all have them. But, every time we take a step toward healing a wound, make an attempt to love our neighbors as ourselves, to treat a rival or enemy with compassion, we also open that door to bridge the gap among us. There is no right way to this, there isn’t a manual on how to do these things, difficult things.  Opening that door of separation is something we must experience in our own way.  It is not easy work, but it is possible.  Jesus modeled that for us in his life, ministry, death, and resurrection.

So, what doors are you going to open today?

Lenten Reflection – Signs

Reflection based on the Gospel of Luke 11:29-32
with reference to the Book of the Prophet Jonah 3:1-10

2nd Week of Lent

“Oh, God, just send me a sign!” At some point in our lives, we all have been on the lookout for signs.  Perhaps it’s at a major crossroads in life or when we have to make major decisions.  I’m so in love, should I propose marriage?  A new career opportunity just presented itself, is it time to change jobs?  Should I put off a medical procedure or do it now?  My house is getting too big for me to handle, is it time for me to downsize?  My work in ministry is exciting, I wonder if being a sister, brother, or priest is a possible vocation for me?  Oh, but if God could only send me a sign!

Signs seem to give us greater certainty in what we believe, and can ease any insecurities we might have.  At the same time a negative interpretation of a sign can leave us more confused or reinforce our low self-esteem, rather than lift it up.  But, perhaps what we are really hoping, deep down inside, for is some kind of validation.  When we actively look for them, everything is and can be a potential sign, if we want it badly enough.  We end up trying to pry the meaning out of anything, random things, and before we know it, we’re driving yourselves crazy… and after all of that, we still have no idea what we should do.

Signs of all kinds can be emotional connections to our faith, but signs should not be the foundation of our faith.  Our rock of faith is Jesus and he is the only sign we need to chart our lives well.  In the Gospel, as more people are gathering around Jesus, he senses that while people are curious to see wonders they aren’t really committed to follow him.  He calls them “a wicked generation.”  Why? Because he was appalled that they are looking for a sign even after all the miracles he had already done.  Jesus tells them, “no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah.”

Jonah would have been well remembered by the people, he was the prophet who was swallowed up by a big fish and after three days he emerged on dry land.  In a similar way, Jesus will die, and after three days, be raised to life again.  This reluctant prophet, Jonah, responded to God’s call to go to the far-off country of Nineveh who did not know his God and they responded.  If they had the wisdom to recognize the authority of Jonah and repent, then surely Jesus’ generation should have had been able to do the same.  Jesus tells them that “there is something greater than Jonah here,” referring to himself, the Son of Man.

We must realize that if we are waiting for extraordinary signs, we are missing the point, because Jesus is the sign we have been searching for.  Jesus calls us to be sensitive to how God works in and through us, and others.  All his works and energy reinforce that his word is the Word of God, and it leads us to a conversion of minds and hearts.  He gives us the Holy Spirit to recognize where God is mysteriously working in our hearts.  We may be looking, but do we see?  We may be hearing, but do we listen?  As we focus on the discipline of prayer this Lent, may we have eyes and ears of the heart to read this divine sign well.

Lenten Reflection – Fasting

Reflection based on the Book of Isaiah 58:1-9A

1st Week of Lent

In the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday and the early days of the season, we hear a lot of this question being asked: “What are you giving up for Lent?”  These forty days provide a dedicated opportunity for us to refresh our relationship with God.  Through the disciplines of prayer, alms-giving, and fasting, we give up the distractions and vices in our lives that prevent us from serving God.

Some people use Lent as a self-improvement program, thinking they may shed a spare tire or drop some pounds while giving up a favorite treat during this short period of forty days.  I myself have traveled down this road many times.  As high schoolers my classmates and I gave up chocolate.  In addition to giving up sugary drinks like soda, while at university my friends and I would set a weight-loss goal, something like losing 10 pounds by Easter.  In our youthful “we can conquer the world” outlook of life, we wanted to keep our eye on the prize and lose as much as we could as fast as we could; we weren’t really concerned about making healthy choices as long as we met our Lenten objectives.  Even though we might have achieved or come close to our goal, it was probably not our most prayerful moments.

In the first reading the Prophet Isaiah challenges us to look at how we fast.  He challenges us to consider our actions and asks, “Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?”  We cannot simply go through the motions and suddenly expect to become closer to God.  How is it that in my pursuit to abstain from meat, eat healthier meals, consume less soda, live an active lifestyle, and yet the focus is still on me?

Isaiah tells us: “See, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers.  See, you fast only to quarrel and fight and to strike with a wicked fist!  Do not fast as you do today to make your voice heard on high!”

My efforts in fasting have never been perfect and often find myself falling back into old habits.  Instead of feeling shame about my failure to follow through, I find comfort in how Isaiah defines fasting in a new way: by “releasing those bound unjustly” and by “sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;  clothing the naked when you see them.”

I am not saying that we should completely abandon our long-time fasting practices.  I, for example, will likely still give up soda and chocolates.  In realizing that we are only in the third day of Lent and while our intentions of praying, fasting, and alms-giving are still fresh and strong… in addition to fasting for our own personal care, perhaps we can take up Isaiah’s invitation to fast in a way that inspires us to take action for the cause of justice, and to be hungry for charity.

Offering gentle care for God’s children helps us to reorder our lives to God.  Isaiah’s challenge can be a bit overwhelming and it might not be clear as to where to start.  But, remember, God is not asking us to do it all, nor is God asking us to fast perfectly.  God is asking us, however, to step out of our comfort zone, leave behind the self-imposed or culturally-imposed restrictions, and turn toward all of God’s children.

Any service done in love is very acceptable to God and gives substance to anything else we may do for Lent.