Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

- Maciej Rejniak, '11

Today's Gospel, I think, is quite problematic in the history of the Church. Jesus tells the crowd “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. ” Harsh words indeed. Words, that if interpreted in the wrong way, could serve as justification for violence, prejudice, and hatred. One only has to think of the Crusades, the Reformation, the various religious wars, and even today's upheavals to see evidence of this. If you aren't a believer in Jesus, a Christian, a Roman Catholic, then you are an enemy, someone who must be fought and destroyed, to make the world pure. This sounds almost Nazi-like. It also originates from the same man who preached to love thy neighbor as thyself. How can Jesus give us such contradictory messages? How can we believe him?

What I think needs to be determined is: if you aren't with Jesus, then who are you with? If Jesus is God, I think, than the only one who can be opposed to him is the devil. Perhaps this is why Jesus gives such a harsh response to the crowds rumors of him driving out demons in the name of Beelzebul, or the devil, because he wants to draw that distinction. It is as if Jesus is saying that if you do not serve the Lord, then you serve the devil, which does sound very harsh, and very daunting.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

- Matt Kowalski, '11

Many people note the stark contrast between God in the Old Testament and God in the New Testament. The former imposes strict commandments upon His people, offering little forgiveness or mercy. Individuals either follow the law to the letter or forsake themselves to hell. On the other hand, Jesus in the New Testament brings the idea that God is love, and no matter how many sins one commits, God will continue to love. He brings forgiveness to the world, offering a second chance to sinners. Despite these differences, in today’s Gospel, Jesus unifies these two snapshots of God, saying “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

To me, this statement seemed strange and ridiculous at first. Did Jesus not break Jewish law on multiple occasions and when confronted by the rabbi, scoff at the outlandish nature of their traditions? How could this same man assert he came to fulfill these same laws? The answer to this confusion lies in the meaning of the law Jesus refers to in this Gospel. He refers not to the many statutes laid down by the Jewish elders but to the source of the statutes, the Ten Commandments.

In making this declaration, Jesus reasserts the importance of the Commandments. Although we often forget about these rules in the New Testament tale, Jesus wants to remind everyone to stay faithful to this Old Testament law, for “not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” In thinking about God and Jesus, the Commandments never come to mind. I often fall into the trap of forgetting about these important guidelines to life, instead thinking of Jesus and his message. But the Commandments will remain important and alive as long as humans are around.

Yet, Jesus also tells us that he came to “fulfill” the law. This confuses me as well. How can Jesus fulfill law without changing any of it? And why would Jesus need to fulfill the law? Are the commandments somehow not good enough? The answer to this lies in Jesus’ reference to the “prophets.” Many of the Old Testament prophets spoke of a new king that God would send to his people, and here Jesus again affirms his connection with the Old Testament God by implicitly stating that he is the Son of God, the man prophesized of for centuries.

Twice Jesus connects himself with the Old Testament, reminding us not to forget our religious roots. Although Jesus breaks away from the extraneous traditions of the Jews, he does no want us to forget all of our history. That is why we continue to use and benefit from the Old Testament; it is intimately related to our faith.

Today, the Gospel challenges us to look away from the Gospel, if only for a time. It is a fallacy of mine and others to look only to the New Testament for spiritual direction. Jesus wants his followers to know and follow the Commandments and the wisdom of the prophets. And in doing so, one can become closer to Jesus, for he came to “fulfill” the commandments. In this Lenten season, hopefully we can respond to Jesus’ call to accept the God of both the Old and New Testament. Then one can come to a better understanding of God, becoming more capable of living the Catholic lifestyle.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 29th: Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

- Patrick Sier, '11

Today’s Gospel is one that has likely led many people to atheism. Now
that I have your attention I would like to explain why. Think about it, in our daily
lives it’s easy to get caught up in numbers. Luckily for me, I dropped
all my math classes this year. Beyond the easier course load, this is
also a blessing for my relationship with God. In today’s Gospel, Peter
is fishing for a number of times that one must forgive a transgressor.
Jesus replies to his repeated inquiries that we must forgive them “not
seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday of the Third Week of Lent

-Maciej Rejniak, '11

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells those listening to him “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.”, a statement that the Jews did not take kindly.

Weren't they the Chosen People, the ones who God has picked from all other races of the world?
Weren't they the ones who have lived according to God's law, even though it is difficult and unnatural to do so?
Weren't they the ones who fought for years in bloody wars for the Promised Land that God has given them?

A Jew listening to Jesus at the synagogue, I imagine, must have thought something like this:

“With what impudence this man speaks! We are the Chosen People, the ones who will bring all nations before the one Lord. We obey the laws and the prophets, we do the Lord's will. This man has no right to accuse us of such dealings, he is wrong, and we must get rid of him before he poisons the minds of the less educated.”

Of course, Jesus speaks the truth; the Jews did not listen to the prophets readily, and they more often then not turned away from the Lord. This is a truth that the Jews do not want to hear, a truth that is hard to bear. The Jews would rather kill Jesus than to be in his presence anymore, as even his presence reminds them of their failure to live up to the covenant that their ancestors have made.

Do we not commit the same crime that the Jews commit in the Gospel? Are we not also guilty of throwing the truth back in the face of someone if it does not comply with our worldview? Even if we bear that truth, do we not make lame excuses as to why we think it is wrong? Do we not hate those people, even if they are our best friends, our beloved, our idols, who have told us that truth? Do we not shrink away from them, hate them, look for their faults, put our guard up?

I have a habit of being blunt with people, almost to the point of being outspoken. If I do not like something, I tell someone right to their face, not caring about rank, age difference, or status. This has caused me to almost get detention on more than one occasion. This has caused me to lose some of my oldest friends. I am hated by some people who I was inseparable from just a few months ago.

This does not mean that I do not commit the same fallacy. Often times I hear things that too, I wish were not true. I too have broken contact with people. I think that everyone has, at least for a short while. It is in our human nature, I think, to do so.

In today's Gospel, Jesus was not afraid to speak the truth to the Jews. The truth may have hurt, it may have not been accepted at the present time, but it was spoken. Perhaps, in this Lenten season, we too, can learn what it means to speak the truth. We often deceive others and ourselves with lies that we start to wear a mask, even if we do not know it. Even though it is cliché, the saying is that the truth will always set you free. That freedom may not be free of sorrow or suffering, but it is better than living a lie.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sunday of the Third Week of Lent

Readings for March 27th: The Third Sunday of Lent

- Matthew LoPrete, '13

In today's Gospel, Jesus talks to a Samaritan about  matters of life and death, concrete and abstract.  It is odd for Jesus, a Jew, to be talking with a Samaritan in the first place, and the skeptical woman is quick to point this out.  When Jesus says he can give her "living water," she asks if He is "greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” The conversation continues, and Jesus tells the woman that not only the Jews will recognize the Messiah and achieve Salvation, but the Samaritans, though they are not the Chosen People, will too. She sees Jesus as a prophet until He corrects her, announcing he is the Messiah. The disciples return, begging Jesus to eat, but He will not.  He responds:
 “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.  Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’?  I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.  The reaper is already receiving payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together.  For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.'  I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”
Of course, the reaper in this case is the faithful group of Jesus' followers, while the sower is Jesus Himself. They can't live without each other. Jesus recognizes something humans do not: the real nourishment for mankind is the love and forgiveness He gives.  The woman didn't need water from the well.  She could die physically without the water on Earth, but with the living water of Jesus, she could live forever. As Jesus puts it:
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus' plan to convert the Samaritans was put into action in this reading.  Some of the Samaritans believed the woman when she told them she had seen the Messiah, but most didn't believe until they saw Jesus Himself. Although the most faithful of Jesus' followers, unlike these Samaritans, believed without seeing, this was a step of faith is good for the Samaritans. After they received water from the well, they would not rejoice just because their thirst was quenched; they would also cherish that they also had living water from Jesus.
This Lent, most of us will give up something to be closer to God, but sometimes we forget that we may also receive gifts from God.  Jesus is happy that Christians are willing to give up something close to their hearts for Him, but He also wants them to take in the gifts He gives.  Let's remember this Lenten season to use our extra time from what we sacrifice to accept the God's gifts of living water, eternal life.

Fashion Show Invocation

I was asked to give the invocation at this year's U of D Jesuit Mothers' Club Fashion Show. Due to several requests, I post the text below:

I would like to begin this morning with a brief reflection written by Saint Augustine of Hippo:

And what is the object of my love? I asked the earth and it said: ‘It is not I.” I asked all the things on the earth, and they all made the same confession. I asked the sea, I scoured its depths, I asked the living creatures that creep, and they all responded: ‘We are not your God, look beyond us.’ I asked heaven, sun, moon and star; they said: ‘Nor are we the God whom you seek.’ And I said to all these things around me: ‘Tell me of my God who you are not, tell me something about him.’ And with a great voice they cried out: ‘He made us’. My question was the attention I gave to them and their response was their beauty.

Heavenly Father, it is beauty that has brought us together. Please bless all of those gathered here today: the organizers who have given of themselves so generously, the models who show forth the imaginations of designers and the talent of producers, and all those gathered here in a celebration of beauty. May today’s celebration of fashion remind us that our friendship with you will never go out of style and, as we continue our Lenten pilgrimage, may we follow the greatest of models – your Son, Jesus Christ – who calls us all to be “Women and Men for Others.”

Make it work, O Lord, and let the celebration of beauty begin.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,


Third Sunday of Lent

- Ryan G. Duns, SJ

As many of you know, I am in my second year of teaching at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy. As I read today's readings - each one rich with meaning - I recalled a somewhat trivial event that, when examined, indicates what I think is so special about our school.

As moderator of the Student Senate, I have a pretty cool office on the "garden level" of the school, right off of the Student Commons. Depending on the day, I can have anywhere from between five and twenty students taking up space on the couches, chairs, rockers, and even the floor. I rather enjoy the company and I always marvel at the cross-section of students who seem to stop by: I recently described the typical scene as being that of the "Mos Eisley Cantina" (Star Wars reference) as guys from all over the universe seem to gather there!
A few weeks ago, a group of students were in my office, including several freshmen, one of whom realized - all too late - that his ride had gone home early, leaving him stranded. The kid began to panic and fret, as he did not yet know many of the upperclassmen and had no idea how he'd manage to get home. One of the seniors overheard the student's dilemma and sprang into action: "Where do you live? Hold on....let me get someone." The senior called one of his friends who had just left and told him to come back and take the freshman home, as they probably lived not far from each other.

What impressed me so much is this: it strikes me that, in many schools, the classes are pretty well divided and seniors and freshmen do not mix. In my office, however, students do mingle and even though these two guys didn't know each other, the senior's attentiveness and generosity saved the day and made a huge impression on 9th grader. That night, I received an email from the boy's mother who couldn't believe how kind the seniors had been in taking her son home, concluding that she knew they had picked the right school for her son.

I mention this because I think that today's Gospel speaks to how Jesus' ministry and God's Kingdom break through those boundaries that too frequently separate us. Simply note the incredulity of the woman when Jesus approaches her: "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?" This sort of behavior is unthinkable, transgressing what is socially acceptable. Yet Jesus is re-drawing the lines of the Kingdom: he breaks past our own too-limited notions of right and wrong and brings us into a new way of seeing one another. 

Perhaps the conclusion of the Gospel will be ignored by many in the homilies today. But, to my mind, it expresses a refreshingly anti-American value. By this I mean that it is not patriotic, but it does go against our typical work ethic that "You get what you work for" or "Reap only what you sow."  Jesus tells us that others have come before, others have scattered the seed, and now it our job to begin the harvest. If the United States bishops fail in the role as teachers, I think it because they are too occupied trying inventory the granaries and have become blind to the fact that the seeds of the Kingdom are sprouting up into the world. I sort of wish more of the clergy would cast aside the clipboards and abandon their fretful calculations and rush, instead, to call others to join them in the harvest. Here we find the nature of God's gracious love: He has done all of the work for us, He has sown where He so desired, and now we have only to take up our tools and call our neighbors that we might collect in what we did not scatter, that we might prepare a meal of thanksgiving, a eucharist, of the Lord's bounty.  

These aren't easy days to be members of the Catholic Church. This has been a pretty pathetic decade. As one who grew into adulthood in the tumult of the sexual abuse scandal (beginning at age 22 and now I'm 31), I have daily faced the limitations of the Church. While my faith has never wavered, my frustration has only increased as I see the bishops and clergy frequently engage in polemical attacks and retrenchment rather than finding the strength to bring the liberating and revolutionary Good News, the Gospel, into a world that is sorely in need of hearing it. May this Lent be a time when we listen carefully to the One who tells us all things, the One who reveals to us the shape and nature of God's Kingdom, and proclaim with the Samaritans:

"...we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world."

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

- Ryan G. Duns, SJ

While waiting at the doctor's office this morning, I began reading a marvelous book entitled Passage to Modernity: An Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture written by Louis Dupré. I was grateful to have this book as it helped me to pass the time as I waited amidst a throng of coughing and sneezing patients (me being one of them). [If you're curious, I was diagnosed with "walking pneumonia" and put on a course of antibiotics]

Dupré writes:
The quality of a civilization may be measured both by the complexity of its ingredients and by the harmony of their order. The more diverse elements it succeeds in integrating within a harmonious and unified balance, the greater its potential and, usually, its achievements are. (29) 
I refer to this because I think today's famous parable of the Prodigal Son is captured well by this quote. The Father in the parable operates within an economy very different from either son. The youngest son wants it "his way, right away." We know that this son squanders his inheritance and then, starving and envious of the food fed to pigs, realizes that he desires nothing more than to dwell within his father's house once more. The older son operates within an economy of resentment: the father's ready forgiveness is an offense to his "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" ethic.

Is it not amazing that the Father's house is big enough to accomodate both sons? Is it not equally amazing that the son who has stayed so very close to the father for such a long time is the one furthest away from the father's heart, whereas the one who has strayed furthest is, in a sense, closest? I cannot help but think my own Catholic Church fails to grasp this, with many commentators apparently so eager to decide who is "in" and who is "out" of the Church...even though, and not surprisingly, "in" usually translates into "agrees with me" and "out" means "I disagree"!

I think that we Christians fail, too often, to realize the revolution inherent in Jesus' words and deeds. We turn a parable like this into a pious platitude that short-sells the amazing and creative forgiving love of God. I guess we try to domesticate the saving power of God so that it doesn't challenge us too much to do anything extraordinary for the Kingdom.

Jesus' ministry demonstrates the shape God's Kingdom. God's mercy and love extends near and far, from the center to the margins, and draws all toward the Father's embrace. Perhaps today could provide an opportunity for considering whether we trust Jesus' teaching, whether we can imagine the wideness and hospitality of God's Kingdom, whether we can yield our hearts to being incorporated into the order of God's Reign. May we all reach out to the margins of the Church and invite others, through word and deed, to experience the saving love that is the Gospel. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

- Ryan G. Duns, SJ

Last weekend, I spent two days in prayer and fellowship with several other Jesuits. Before we celebrated the Eucharist on Saturday, one of the Jesuits posed the question, "What advice would you give to next year's Regents?" (Regency: a formation period for Jesuits; I am a Regent teaching in a high school). 

My response was simple: Just Say Yes. If I have learned anything over the course of my Jesuit formation, it is that God has always given me more than I could ever have imagined...even when receiving it was at first painful. When we began plans for "U of D Jesuit: Pledge Detroit!" last year, it seemed like a daunting task. Nothing like this had been executed before and I, in my second year, had to shoulder the burden of making sure it was done well. Were it not for the support of good friends and colleagues, the program would have failed. In the early stages of planning, in fact, it often did look like it would fail.

Back in August, our committee had a particularly disheartening meeting at one of the sites we were going to use for our project. Frustrated and dejected, I was playing with the radio of my friend's car when I heard the opening notes of a song that caught my ear. I can't recall ever hearing it before but, in that moment, the song "Just Say Yes" by Snow Patrol became my anthem for the project. Although I was tempted many times to abandon the project, I took courage and strength and peace in the simple Yes that I have grown accustomed saying to God. 

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. What is so remarkable about Mary, so Immaculate, is that she never uttered a 'no' to God. Her life, in a sense, was, prior to this day, an infinity of small 'yeses' to God such that, when visited by Gabriel, this world-shifting "Yes" could be uttered. Mary's humble "Let it be done unto me according to your word" comes not out of the blue but, rather, as a culmination of a life lived welcoming God's grace into her life.

Perhaps today will offer a few moments for each of us to reflect on how we might imitate Mary, she who is full of grace. Where are those places in my life that I am reluctant or wary of saying yes to God? Where are those places that I am holding out, bracing the door of my heart against what feels like God's incessant pounding? Where do I feel myself almost threatened by God's grace...a grace which is undoubtedly inviting me to leave the narrow confines of my current life and embark upon a new and deeper adventure of faith? 

The Blessed Mother had no strategic plan or forecast of the future. She had only the confidence that her "yes" would be matched by a greater "Yes" from the God she sought in her everyday life. We are, each of us, offered a similar opportunity to make God's life our life, to give flesh to God's grace here on earth. May this Lent give us both the opportunity and strength to say a deeper and more joyful 'yes' to God.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

Readings for March 24: Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

- Ryan G. Duns, SJ

The Lenten season can, at times, appear to be more like an endurance contest than a time of penance and reflection. By this I mean simply that, very often, folks enter into Lent strong out of the gate on Ash Wednesday with great resolve and and conviction: I Will Not eat another dessert; I Will Not have a drink; I Will eat less (and I will do all of these in the hopes that I can lose ten pounds in the process). Ironic that our frail human natures permit us to transform a time when we are called to learn to depend more and more on God keeps us, and not God, at the center of our lives!

Today's Gospel serves as a reminder our tendency to lose sight of what is most important in our lives. Our parable is not an excoriation of having wealth or having comfort; rather, it is an exhortation never to allow our own creature-comforts and selfish concerns become our absolute horizon. The glitter of the wealthy man's possessions so blinded him that what was essential - his fellow man languishing at door - was left unaided. 

I can't even begin to list the places and times I have been so similarly beguiled. Lent, as I have gotten older, is often the time I check-in through prayer and fasting to try and refocus on what is most essential in my life: the companionship with Jesus to which I have been invited, the service of the Church, and an invitation to help build God's Kingdom here on earth. As we near the end of the second week of our Lenten journey, perhaps it would be a good idea to reflect upon (1) how I have been or how I am blinded and (2) how I can easily allow myself to be blinded to the needs of others so that I retain my so-called illusion-free lifestyle. Such a refocusing may help me look outside my door or car window to see that the "poor" or "lazy" or "worthless" Other is, in actuality, a sister or brother.  

Let me see with eyes made new, O Lord!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent

-Justin Bland, '12

Today’s reading is interesting to look at, especially in the light of a movie we saw today in school. As Jesus heads to Jerusalem with the twelve disciples he already knows his fate and reveals it to his disciples. To know one’s own fate is a difficult thing to cope with, and yet Jesus embraces it. The fear of the unknown is what constantly challenges people today. I know for myself that not knowing what may come tomorrow or the day after, even in simple aspects, can be a frightful thing. In the same way the unknown can be a driving force for people in the future. The potential to do well for others or experience something different can be motivation for someone to move on from the past. Jesus merely showed us what our fate was, and even though we may not know what is coming next we must embrace it.

I find it somewhat coincidental that today we watched “To Save a Life” as an entire school. The film highlighted challenges prevalent in the life of teens and high school students. After watching how the people in the movie acted, I think many other students and I noticed how we may experience parts of the movie in our lives. The goal of life today seems to be who can be most successful and most accepted in the faces of others. In the reading Jesus says that whoever wishes to be great or first among others will be last. Jesus himself tells us that the meaning of life is not to be so great, but to be last. In the movie one moment in particular stands out. When the pastor of a church discovers that an eighteen year old member in high school is going to be a father, he reacts in a way that represents our society. The pastor says he is concerned about this because of the image it portrays. In a moment filled with anxiety for a teenager, a pastor does not reach out to the student, but is worried about image in society. This shows how life can be uncertain, but it happens regardless of our intentions. Sadly, I think this represents our society and demonstrates how we can change our actions to better live out Jesus’ message.

The reading today seeks for us to be the best of all humans and not seek for things we do not need. Jesus calls on all of us to ask how we can be better and to give our life for others. I am not immune to the problems of today, and I know act in the same way as many of people. I want more than I need and have things that may be unnecessary. Here, I think Jesus challenges us to keep others in mind when we go through our actions. All of us may be called to something different, but in the process of that calling we can do the small things that mean the most to others and. I believe this is the “Man for Others” we all should want to be.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

- Peter Walle, '11

As I have reflected during this Lenten Season, I have often turned inwards to ask an important question: how often do I actually embody God's laws, rather than simply appearing to do so? In today's Gospel, Jesus condemns the Pharisees and scribes as those who “preach but do not practice”. He subsequently calls His followers not only to do all that the Pharisees demand of them, but also to strive to live as far apart from their corrupt way of life as possible. In short – do what they say, not what they do.

How many of us are modern Pharisees? It is common to see someone take credit for the good things she has done, thus making them appear to be holy, upstanding citizens. What we rarely see, unsurprisingly, is people taking credit for their mistakes. God's call to humbleness is replaced with the human law of “individual purpose”. That is, our human actions have the tendency to conceal oh-so-conveniently placed ulterior motives aimed exclusively at individual gain. Personally, I find it easy to fall victim to this temptation. Being wrapped up in many leadership roles, service projects, and other responsibilities, I lose my sense of humbleness and instead fall into a cycle of self-centered work. But who doesn't? In high school, many students simply complete extracurriculars to get into a good college. In the workplace, although I have not experienced it, I would assume the naturally recurring cycle continues. Never mind doing a good deed simply for the sake of being a good person. Individual gain is paramount. I don’t mean to say that all people are just out for themselves. Rather, the problem is that we attempt to play god. We try to do everything – help others, gain glory, cure cancer, ride the occasional grizzly bear, and even enter the Matrix – and take credit for everything…without ever admitting our shortcoming. Eventually, something has to give.

Today’s Scripture passage calls us to look outwards, realizing that the self-seeking aspect of our lives is the one we must try to reject. Jesus speaks of the concrete consequences to falling into the role of the self-seeker. When infected with selfish desire, instead of one’s good deeds being for the “Greater Glory of God”, they tend to fall “on people’s shoulders”, creating unnecessary hurt and pain. In our quest to accomplish everything, we actually hinder true humanitarian progress.

Thus, in a time where we are constantly reminded of human potential, it is important to also be reminded of human weakness. It is important to address our own faults and negative tendencies in an effort to prevent hurt not just to our own faith lives, but concrete pain in the lives of others. Personally, by looking to God for the strength to remain humble, I hope to come to a greater understanding of what it means to be a true “Man for Others”.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday of the Second Week of Lent

- Maciej Rejniak, '11

“Treat others as you want to be treated”.

 A phrase that is seen and uttered countless times in elementary and middle schools across the country. By high school, it is ingrained in the psyche, and you either get it or you don’t.  As today’s Gospel  shows, this phrase has at its core the teachings of Christ. So, it would seem easy for us to follow this simple phrase, both as Christians and as former school children, right?

In reality, the opposite is true. We often set high expectations for others, criticize them if they fail, and then get upset when they make an excuse. Yet, when in the same situation, when we are the ones being criticized, we often make excuses, and feel that we are justified in them. If the other person doesn’t get it, well, then they do not understand you, and you feel upset at them.

This is very true for me. Having an almost OCD-like work ethic, I like things to be done quickly, effectively, and properly, without the foolishness that accompanies most things that teenage boys do. When something isn’t done my way, I become very critical, and being a very funny and sarcastic guy, I will be sure to humiliate you repeatedly until you do what is asked of you, or until I do it myself.

However, Christ’s teaching doesn’t only apply to schoolwork, extra-curriculars, or a job, it applies to everything.

We love to gossip, yet feel betrayed when someone talks about us behind our back.
We love to slack off, yet when someone else does we call them lazy.
We love to bask in our achievements, yet call 'arrogant' others who do the same.
We love to hold a grudge yet, when someone is angry with us, we expect forgiveness.
We love to be in charge, yet when others are we regard them as tyrants.

It would seem that our fallen nature makes us susceptible and weak to criticism, that we love to be the judge and jury, and not the defendant.  Society, in my opinion, makes this trend even worse, as its promotion of being a rebel, of acting and not caring about the consequences of actions, of putting material things above personal ideals makes living Christ’s teachings difficult. One just has to turn on the TV and you see it: reality TV, slander news, and someone famous having a breakdown. Society demands that we watch things like this and make judgments, that we say things such as “This guy is crazy”, and “what a dumbass”.

 We then turn that critical eye on ourselves and our peers. Perhaps this is why America is known as “the Prozac nation”, why depression is so rampant, especially among teenagers, why suicide and divorce rates are where they are…we do not know how to forgive the faults of others and of ourselves. In essence, we like to play God, an angry God, with sinners in our hand.

Christ tells us to resist this temptation. He tells us to accept people as they are, to forgive them their faults, and to leave their judgment to his Father.  Perhaps, if we aren’t so critical, if we do not always measure ourselves against others, we will not feel the negative effects of being judged.  Perhaps that is the way to be true Christians.

Lent should be a time of redemption, but also forgiveness. We should try to not only forgive those that had wronged us, but also ourselves. For example, those that I have criticized and made fun of in the past, I am trying to apologize and make it up to them somehow. Will I be forgiven, I hope so, but I do not expect it, at least not right away. We are human, and thus flawed, but love and forgiveness are gifts from God, gifts that are very hard to uncover. Perhaps, this Lenten season, we should pray for a deeper understanding of them. I know that I certainly will.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Second Sunday of Lent

- Grant Demeter, '11

In today’s gospel, Jesus brings Peter, James, and John to a mountaintop. He is transfigured, exuding brilliant white light. Moses and Elijah appear next to him. Peter offers to pitch three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. God’s voice rings out from the clouds, telling the apostles that “’this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’” The Apostles are afraid, but Jesus steps forth and touches them, and they see only Him.
This Gospel story brings up an important point in our understanding of our faith. When Moses and Elijah appear next to Jesus, the Apostles view them as three separate entities. We know, however that the images are engendered from Jesus’ divine light. What the Apostles do not understand is they are all derived from the same person. In other words, the teachings of Moses and Elijah are all contained within Jesus. The figures do not represent three separate ideas or beliefs systems that need to be contained in three separate tents. They all lie within the massive prism of Jesus’ teachings. No tent is needed to protect Jesus and his teachings, in being enclosed they will not better withstand the blanching glare of the midday sun or the whipping cold of the night wind. Jesus and His teachings transcend and encompass those of all the prophets and martyrs before him. His teachings cannot be enclosed in a tent. They lie around and within all existence. His divine truth penetrates all of God’s creation, in light and dark.
Poor Peter really missed the point on this one with his tent idea. He is blinded to the truth by Jesus’ divine light. He is not able to truly fathom it yet. So God casts a shadow on the Apostles and speaks to them, more bluntly revealing what they failed to see. Jesus touches them, and they can see the truth. They see Jesus alone. Here is the truth, revealed in partial darkness. Let us interpret this within the context of this ancient symbolism: Sight is understanding, light is truth, darkness is ignorance. The truth is revealed under the gentle cloud cast above our consciousness. Here we are not blinded by the light that our imperfect eyes cannot fathom or handle. As imperfect and cracked humans, we exist within shades of darkness, of ignorance. The divine truth cannot be revealed to us all at once, only in subtle shades. We pick it up bit by bit in what we can see.
Sometimes it takes a little something extra for our eyes to adjust, or sometimes we must adjust in stages.
Today’s gospel helps us understand that Jesus exists within all God’s creation, that he transcends and encompasses other teachings. We are not able to see his brilliant truth all at once, we must find it in these teachings and in God’s creation.

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

-Michael Ponkowski, '12

Change is a difficult, intimidating process. We constantly avoid it, we defy it, and we deny it as if it were a deadly disease. It presents burdens that are domineering and it creates a feeling of fear for the unknown, and when we are summoned to embrace a change, we are often reluctant to forge a durable path that is new and unfamiliar. Comfort is contentedness and to be content is to take comfort in the familiar, and even if this comfort poses obstacles along the way, it is preferred by many of us because it is easier and involves less work. However, change is a part of humanity, and as much as we resist it, change is an undeniable aspect of life. The development of a human person, as we grow and change in physique, mentality, and emotion, is an obvious change all humans experience. And just as we grow and mature, we all are born, live, and die, which are indeed changes that all of us experience.

“Take Mary your wife into your home… [who] through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her” is a terrifying command that many of us would be unable to accept. However, Joseph obeys this change in his life even though he was embarrassed by Mary’s pregnancy with a child that is not his own. Joseph was willing to transform his life when he recognized God at work, and eventually made Mary his wife and her child his own, and so became the earthly father of the Son of God who would “save his people from their sins.”

So it is with us that we should strive to do the same. We often encounter change, and although it may seem arduous and the temptation to avoid it is enticing, sometimes change will gradually transform us in these especially difficult times. By accepting Christ into our lives and acting as if God has meaning in our lives, we refine and purify our relationship with God; thus, acknowledging the need to do the good. Lent offers us this opportunity.

Lent is much easier and simpler than what is used to be. Back then, Catholics were supposed to fast on every day except Sunday with no eating in between meals, and the two lesser meals could not equal the main meal. Although those requirements are no longer in effect, and we are coddled per say, the purpose of Lent has not changed. The heart of Lent is our preparation for the Resurrection of Christ and the renewal of our baptismal promises, a reflection of our identity in Christ. Lent is a time for us to recover our identities as Followers in Christ.

During this Lenten season, we need to reflect upon our relationship with Christ and ask ourselves: “How is God inviting me to change my life today?” Whether the answer is “Jesus I will” fast, or give alms, or pray extra, or be nice to my younger sibling, a gradual recovery of the sense of the self in God will be attained if we respond with a humble, faithful obedience to God’s Word.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday of the First Week of Lent

-Stefan Blachut, '11

A blessing and a curse. These were the words that accompanied Moses return with the Commandments. This view can be taken on many of the readings at mass. During the season of Lent we engage this. We cut back on indulgences and often time reflect. It is easy to see why certain aspects of faith can be a curse. So, is ignorance bliss? I often find myself wondering, why do we avoid sin? Is it because of the fear of eternal suffering, or the desire to spend eternity with God. Does this outlook matter? The outlook that we take on a matter tends to determine whether or not it is a blessing or a curse.
At first glance at today’s reading, the most notable thing is that one must do a lot in order to reach God. Yet, we can reach him, though grace. If we see the Gospel as a burden, then faith is a burden. Lent is not a time to go without meat or give up things, it is a time to appreciate. Not to appreciate all the physical goods we have, but all the grace we have received and have been offered. During Lent we push aside physical things for spiritual grace.

Today I got word that my cousin committed suicide. From what I gather it is common for a suicide to come out of nowhere. I did not know this cousin all to well, we meet once or twice a year, as kids he nearly drowned me. However, as he and I grew he changed. He was very family friendly, often watching over the younger children. I can hardly imagine what caused him to commit suicide. A suicide is a difficult and complex thing. What possible blessing can be seen in such a tragic act? Grace. A young man has been offered the grace of God and we are forced to reflect. To see the blessings we have, the ones that Christ offers us in scripture.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thursday of the First Week of Lent

- Michael Koziara, '11

There are a lot of naysayers about prayer. It can be hard to believe that all we have to do is “Ask and it will be given to you.” They say that God has never given them what they actually wanted. They say that they've waited long enough and give up. They say that God doesn't care enough about them. They say God is too busy trying to bring peace in the Middle East or save lives in earthquake-stricken Japan. Rightly frustrated by life experiences and emotional roller-coasters, they don't see God granting wishes right and left.

Some say that God doesn't give us more than we can handle, but I was struck recently when someone proposed to me that hat's not true. For by giving us more than we can handle without Him we are forced to turn to Him.

It is not receiving God's help that's the problem. He works through others, He works through ourselves. The paitience part can be challenging, but the most difficult part is the asking – and knowing what to ask for. Think about it for a minute. In the Garden of Gethseneme, Christ asked that “this cup pass him by” but more importantly that His “Father's will be done.” The following day, Christ was able to carry out his the Father's will, and was supported by Simon of Cyrene. Christ left his suffering up to the Father, shouldn't we?

Instead of asking God to eradicate suffering, we should ask Him to help us through it and allow Him to work through it. We ought to ask for His grace, for fortitude and endurance, and for transformational suffering. As a slave, the young St. Patrick turned to God in prayer. His prayers were not answered with freedom for six long years, but St. Patrick later wrote that: “The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed...” St. Patrick's asked for – and received – not an end to suffering but spiritual growth, a greater love for God that ultimately empowered him to convert the Emerald Isle. Similarly, in today's first reading, Esther asked not to be relieved of her struggle, but to be given the strength, fortitude, and grace to reach out to King Ahasuerus. Like St. Patrick, Esther knew what to ask for, and God blessed her request and and granted her success.

We strive to be like Christ, to be like the saints and faith ancestors. One way we can do that is by not just praying, but knowing what to pray for. For then, what we seek “will be given” to us.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

-Anthony Di Ponio, '12

We are constantly given choices: Should I go to mass, or should I watch the big football game on TV? The answer may be obvious, but we do not always make the right decision. It is very easy to turn away from God, but that weakens our relationship with Him. And time and time again, He gives us another chance to come back. This is exactly what happened in the city of Nineveh. The people realized their faults when God threatened to destroy the city, and they quickly repented. We are lucky that God is so merciful.
Lent is a time of repentance. It gives us a chance for renewal of our relationship with God. So many opportunities present themselves during Lent. Some choose to “give up” something they enjoy as a sacrifice to God while others choose to do something positive for others. The Catholic Church also offers numerous opportunities for spiritual growth, such as attending Stations of the Cross, Communal Penance, weekly confessions, and many others. These sacrifices may be difficult to keep up during Lent, but they are extremely miniscule to Jesus sacrificing His life for us. Lent will end, and it is so easy to go back to our normal lives; but the real challenge for us is to keep that spirit and faith alive when Lent is over.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

-Tristan Lopus, '14

There was a boy with whom I went to school for five years before coming to U of D Jesuit.  This particular young man had the reputation of being the holy man of our class.  He had an expansive knowledge of the Church and its celebrations, had committed a vast array of prayers and scripture passages to memory, and he always raved about how he never missed a week of mass and was definitely going to be a priest some day.  However, he rarely seemed to practice his faith. He was obnoxious and defiant in class, disrespectful to teachers, and the only assignments he turned in were the ones he managed to copy from someone else.  This young man had quite a reputation for being religious and, indeed, he prayed frequently and went frequently mass.  However, he failed to act on anything he prayed about.  His prayers had little meaning.

In some ways it is unfair to pick on this particular guy for praying mindlessly, because the vast majority us do it.  We are so used to saying certain prayers that, when we say them, we simply recite words without thinking about their meaning.  In the gospel reading today, Jesus tells his disciples not to “babble like the pagans, who think they will be heard because of their many words.”  He does not want his disciples praying long, memorized prayers just for the sake of praying.  He tells them “this is how you are to pray,” and teaches them the Lord’s Prayer.  The Lord’s Prayer beautifully outlines so many essential facets of Catholic faith in only 55 words.  In its simplicity, it was new and different from the long prayers the pagans recited without any thought or intention behind them.  Ironic that, today, the Lord’s Prayer can easily become a long, meaningless prayer just like the ones it was meant to replace. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday of the First Week of Lent

- Patrick Sier, '11

Today’s Gospel gives us what many would consider to be a Manichean conception of the last Judgment. Humanity is not only separated into two wholly distinct and separated groups, but made his followers into what atheists would gleefully label as “sheep” in the eyes of Jesus. Isn't religion, after all, just another method of social control to turn people into thoughtless animals?

The parable unfolds along the lines of a distinction made between those who have cared for Jesus, who is present in one’s neighbor, and those who have ignored him. At first glance, this would seem a bit preposterous. Surely, the “sheep” could not possibly have cared for their neighbors at everyturn; further, is it not similarly unlikely that the “goats,” or damned, shunned every one of their neighbors at every opportunity? Perhaps this reading misses the mark. Perhaps it is that case that Jesus is not telling us how he judges us but, rather, a challenge to the way each one of us judges and acts in our daily lives. How should we behold our neighbor? With eyes that strain to see the face of Jesus.

Herein lies the challenge. It’s easy to see Jesus in the image of the crucifix or inside of a church. It’s hard to see him in the idiot driver in front of us, or the younger sibling, or that person making asinine comments on Facebook. If it were easy to do this He wouldn’t have had to tell his disciples this and many other adages on the subject.

This is what we should dedicate our Lenten season towards—not giving something up, but rather making a concerted effort to see God in those around us. Jesus gives us the gift of a new perspective by asking us to view our neighbors as Him. This Lent, make the effort to see others not as people, but as Jesus. Christianity is not simply about parroting creeds or reciting prayers. Rather, it is a way of seeing the world and acting in it: with eyes aching to see the Christ, we will encounter a God present in all things.

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame