For a while now, my three year old son has been telling us that when he grows up he wants to be a superhero. Recently, my five year old daughter asked me if superheroes are real. We spoke a little about how the Saints are the real superheroes. After that conversation it struck me how true that is: the Saints are the real superheroes.
Many of the superheroes we know and love from comic books, movies, and t.v., are people like Batman or Superman, who, most of the time, live ordinary lives without performing the superhero actions their hidden life selves are known for. They tend to dress, work, and speak as would anyone else in their specific state in life, in their line of work, in their economic status, etc. Unbeknownst to their neighbors and friends, they possess superhero abilities.
Lent is upon us…only a few more days…as this upcoming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. With that in mind I thought I would post a few thoughts about Lenten resolutions, just in case anyone might find these thoughts beneficial, especially if Lent is taking you by surprise, or if you haven’t yet made any Lenten resolutions.
First, the three traditional Lenten practices are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In general, it is encouraged to work on all three areas during Lent. It’s a good thing to up our spiritual practices during Lent, doing a little more than we typically do throughout the year. In this post, however, I want to focus on a different way of making good Lenten resolutions. I don’t mean to detract from the traditional, “upping it,” as it were, during Lent. By all means, do a little more this Lent than you typically do throughout the year, and than you likely will when Lent is over and we enter the joyous Easter season. But here I want to focus on small resolutions that we can maintain throughout the year.
I want to begin with a personal anecdote that is not directly related to Fatima. In the academic year of 1996-1997 a junior at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio was running for student president, thinking that he would be able to have the most impact for good on campus by exercising that position his senior year. As a prominent member of the student senate he played a prominent and very public (both on national radio and outside of the U.S.) role in a number of significant changes that took place on campus. Notwithstanding his valiant efforts, he lost the presidential race. Unsure what to do, he turned to an older friend and mentor, and decided to become an R.A. in a dorm and lead a Bible study for freshmen in the dorm. This incoming senior would-be R.A. and Bible study leader, was a student leader in a very large para-church (primarily evangelical Protestant Christian) organization on campus, which, at least for the following two years (if I’m not mistaken), represented the largest para-church organization on any college campus in the world at that time, boasting about 1,000 members at their weekly meeting. His mentor, who happened to be Roman Catholic, was a staff member with that organization (at one point full-time, but by this point, part-time on a volunteer basis). That summer they decided to fast and pray for the future Bible study which together they would co-lead. They studied Scripture and church history together that summer, and they prayed and fasted that the future study would bear fruit for the kingdom of God.
The first time I met Pope John Paul II…well, perhaps “met” is the wrong word when you’re in a crowd of seven million people? Yet, as I think back to that World Youth Day in the Philippine Islands, “met” is the only word that describes what happened. I didn’t merely see John Paul II. No. Even in a crowd of millions, I had the feeling that he loved me. As his eyes fell upon each of us, I felt loved by him, as if his eyes were the very eyes of Jesus.
I can imagine Jesus looking at people with these same eyes. Pope John Paul II had so given himself to the Heart of Jesus that his eyes spoke with the Heart of Jesus. One can understand why the crowd that gathered that World Youth Day in the Philippines was the largest crowd ever assembled in human history: these young people gathered not simply to see Pope John Paul II; they crowded around the Bishop of Rome because in him they saw Christ.
Continuing on with our journey through Benedict’s Message for Lent this year, we come to the Second Sunday of Lent, which is the Transfiguration. The Holy Father writes:
The Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord puts before our eyes the glory of Christ, which anticipates the resurrection and announces the divinization of man. The Christian community becomes aware that Jesus leads it, like the Apostles Peter, James and John “up a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17:1), to receive once again in Christ, as sons and daughters in the Son, the gift of the grace of God: “This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor. Listen to him” (Mt 17:5). It is the invitation to take a distance from the noisiness of everyday life in order to immerse oneself in God’s presence. He desires to hand down to us, each day, a Word that penetrates the depths of our spirit, where we discern good from evil (cf. Heb 4:12), reinforcing our will to follow the Lord.
A few days ago, I posted some quotes and reflections from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. This will likely turn into a series, as I find more and more awesome Lewisian utterances! Consider the following:
What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’–could set up on their own as if they had created themselves–be their own masters–invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside G0d, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history–money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery–the long terrible story of man trying to find something other God that will make him happy.
This quote by itself could generate a post (if not more) alone. To be brief, let me point out one point that struck me. I think Lewis is suggesting that man will most mess up, when he attempts to be his own author. The self cannot self-construct itself. It may only be discovered in others, and in sum, in the Ultimate Other, namely God who is the Creator.We possess nothing: not ourselves, not the capability to invent or construct the self, and certainly not the power to invent entities of happiness or self-satisfaction. I propose that the most mature self is the emptiest, most kenotic, self. That’s when the “self” is, in fact, most itself: when it is in the hands of God at the service of others.
In Jeffrey Morrow’s recent post, he suggests a prayerful reading of Pope Benedict XVI’s lenten message. I second that suggestion. The Holy Father’s words are touching, beautiful and enlightening. As somewhat a response to Morrow’s post, I have decided to write a brief, personal reflection over the text of the Pope’s lenten message. What I would like to do is develop this into a short series given each week of Lent. I propose this because the Holy Father, in his message, offers a theological synopsis of each Gospel reading on the given Lenten Sundays. Hence, he writes this message with a chronological, theological flow in mind. As best I can on a blog and with my limited theological knowledge, I want to reflect upon and follow the theology weekly. And I invite you, reader, to accompany me on the journey! Let us begin:
The Holy Father begins with an invitation to the Church: to intensify her journey in purifying the spirit, “so as to draw more abundantly from the Mystery of Redemption the new life in Christ the Lord”. Through this invitation, Benedict introduces Baptism, explaining that this life “was already bestowed upon us on the day of our Baptism, when we ‘become sharers in Christ’s death and Resurrection’, and there began for us ‘the joyful and exulting adventure of his disciples'”. After quoting from the writings of Paul, the Holy Father comes to a beautiful conclusion:
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” -Blessed Mother Theresa
Wired with Sound
The average college-aged male spends between 4 and 14 hours a day in electronic media. If you add-in sleep, our time for work, and personal interactions, there’s not much time for anything else.
I often find myself having to really focus on paying attention to people in everyday surroundings; avoiding the temptation to multi-task while I’m around others.
Entering Into the Silence: Reflection
The silence of the church is so different than the constant sensation we find outside.
Coming from such a sound and media-saturated environment, it’s hard to get settled into the silence. Why do we find it so difficult?
In the letter to the Philippians, there is a beautiful passage, a hymn and prayer of the early Church that confesses faith in Jesus Christ:
[T]hough he [Christ] was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness…he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth. (cf. Phil 2:6-11)
Saint Claude la Colombiére is a 17th century Jesuit saint. It is unfortunate that there are not more of his writings in English translation, yet. However, of what we have, a small book of excerpts, there is a great deal of spiritual wisdom and depth to be found. In this post, I would like to highlight and briefly examine a few of the beautiful passages of such a reverent and intelligent servant.
In an excerpt of some retreat notes, the Saint writes on the power and beauty of prayer:
[Prayer] is the only means of purifying us, of uniting us to God, and of allowing God to unite himself to us and be glorified in us. We must pray to obtain the apostolic virtues; pray that we may use them to help others, and pray also that we may not lose them while serving others.