March 17, 2017
Reflections for Lent -
Holiness and prayer meant for everyone -
Connecting liturgy with ordinary life -
Serving suffering people
In this edition:
1. Lent: Pastoral reflections.
2. The Gospel and the world.
3. Praying and other "good habits."
4. Quoting the pastoral letter:
a) Made in the Lord's image.
b) Connecting liturgy and life.
c) To know oneself.
5. Holiness for real people.
6. God's answer for the suffering.
1. Pastoral Insights and Reflections for Lent
Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez says he is "convinced that in this moment it is urgent for us to rediscover [the] 'greater things' for which we are born." That's why he developed the new and lengthy pastoral letter released Ash Wednesday and titled "For Greater Things You Were Born."
He writes, "We must learn again to see what the saints can see -- that the human person is something marvelous in the universe," God's "masterpiece," in fact.
The pastoral letter offers "a series of reflections on what the incarnation of Christ reveals "about our human nature, about the great dignity and possibilities of our lives" and about "God's desire for our happiness."
Because his reflections on prayer, holiness, human dignity and the basic Christian vocation in the world seem useful and thought-provoking for individuals and groups during Lent, I want to report in this edition of the jknirp.com newsletter on some of its principal themes.
To be clear, however, while dated for Ash Wednesday the pastoral letter does not speak explicitly about Lent. The archbishop finished it during Christmastime.
Still, homilists, catechists and religious educators, adult discussion groups and others may find the pastoral letter insightful during Lent. Its full text can be located online at www.archbishopgomez.org.
A basic concern on the archbishop's part is that "as the reality of God is fading away, the reality of the human person is disappearing too. We are becoming strangers to our own selves. We no longer know who we are or what is inside us."
Thus, "we need to reclaim and re-propose the vision of the human person that we find at the heart of the Gospel."
Society's present-day troubles point to "a deeper problem," namely that "society has lost a sense of the truth about the precious nature and dignity of the human person," he states.
The archbishop confesses he is "growing more concerned these days about the direction that our society and culture are taking, and what that means for how we live our faith and carry out our Christian mission in our homes and communities, and in our parishes, schools and ministries."
But, he exclaims, "nothing can contain our greatness!" He recalls that "the first disciples lived their Christian identity and proclaimed their faith" with an "overwhelming sense of astonishment. And so should we."
Archbishop Gomez, reiterating his basic message, affirms that it is time for everyone in the church to "be alive with a new sense of awe at our greatness in the eyes of God."
2. The Gospel and the Real World
A key point Archbishop Gomez makes in his pastoral letter is that "when we think about how we should order our lives together, when we think about the basic principles of government and what laws and polices we should live by, we need to base our thinking on the truth about the human person."
Many "troubles and injustices" are encountered in society, the archbishop observes. These include:
"The sad persistence of racist thinking and practices."
"Bitter divisions along lines of money and education, class and family background."
"Cruel indifference to the sufferings of immigrants within our borders."
"Coercive agendas to redefine marriage and sexuality, and 'normalize' abortion and euthanasia."
"The brutal realities of human trafficking."
"The epidemics of pornography and addictions."
"Inequities in our criminal justice system, starting with our continued practice of executions."
"The violence and deviancy in our popular 'entertainment.'"
Those examples all point to "a deeper problem," he believes - that "society has lost a sense of the truth about the precious nature and dignity of the human person."
Others he meets within society, Archbishop Gomez writes, are also "anguished by the injustice in the world and the innocent suffering they see." They challenge us: How can we claim that God is good and that he loves us when he permits such evil and violence to exist in his creation?"
Yet, says the archbishop, "God is good, and God will bring good out of every evil." Certainly, "there is no easy answer to what the Scriptures call 'the mystery of iniquity,'" he continues, "but we know that every soul matters to God, that every life is sacred and precious to him."
The Gospel "is the most radical doctrine in the history of ideas," Archbishop Gomez states emphatically. He writes:
"If everyone believed what Jesus proclaimed -- that God is our Father, and we are all brothers and sisters created in his image with God-given dignity and a transcendent destiny -- I cannot help but think that every society could be transformed overnight."
The "great parable of the Last Judgment in St. Matthew's Gospel" represents a call to recognize Jesus Christ's "presence in every man and every woman, but especially in the weak and vulnerable -- the hungry and thirsty, the immigrant and refugee, the naked, the sick and the prisoner," the archbishop writes.
Our world would be greatly different "if we all got up every morning and looked into the mirror and said, 'I am a child of God, and everyone I will meet this day is my brother or sister, one of God's beloved and worthy of my attention, my care and my love.'"
That belief, he points out, "is the foundation for the church's social doctrine," its "rich body of teachings on the right ordering of society and government."
3. Six Good Habits, Including Prayer
Praying is one of six good habits that Archbishop Gomez encourages in his pastoral letter to foster growth "in our relationship with Christ and deepen our sense of connection to his plan for our lives."
"Remember," he advises, that "prayer is just a conversation with God." So "step away for a few minutes from your ordinary duties to be alone and quiet with the Lord," and "raise your heart and mind to God" in order simply to "talk to him in honesty and simplicity, and open your heart to listen for his voice."
Tell God "what you are anxious about, what you want to do for him; talk to him about areas of your life you want to improve," the archbishop urges. He encourages those trying to develop the habit of prayer to tell God they "love him" and "want to love him more." Furthermore, he writes, tell God that "you want to do his will."
Archbishop Gomez also recommends the Jesus Prayer. "Sometimes," he says, "repeating the name 'Jesus' is the only prayer we need. And we can repeat his name over and over throughout the course of our day." The archbishop observes that many believers "pray the Jesus Prayer," meaning that they simply say: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
The five other habits encouraged by the archbishop call for:
1. Developing "the practice of the presence of God." The goal is "to be conscious that we are always alive in God's loving gaze and that it is possible with his grace to do everything out of love for him."
2. Reading "a passage from the Gospels every day -- prayerfully and personally, using the ancient technique of 'lectio divina.'" Why? Because "to imitate Christ we need to know him. And we can only come to know him by reading his teachings and reflecting on his life in the Gospels." Moreover, "the more we pray with the Gospels, the more we will feel Christ's call to change the world -- to shape society and history according to God's loving plan."
3. Meeting Christ "as often as you can in the Eucharist" and finding "opportunities to pray and adore him in the Blessed Sacrament." Archbishop Gomez writes, "In my own life, I can say that I truly began to grow in my relationship with God when," as a teenager, "I began going to Mass daily, following the example of my father."
4. Making "a daily examination of conscience" and going "to Confession regularly." He recalls how, as a teenager in Mexico, "it was common practice for us to go to Confession on Thursday evenings before First Friday devotions."
5. Practicing "the corporal and spiritual works of mercy -- seeking contact with our Lord through serving others, especially the poor, the lonely and the vulnerable." The archbishop writes that "love is the way we imitate Christ." So "we need to love others as Jesus loves them, beginning with the people who are closest to us, in our families, and moving outside ourselves to seek out the needy in our communities."
4. Quoting the Pastoral Letter
Not Just Something, but Someone: "We are made in the image of the Lord of history. . . . God is love, and so we are made in the image of love. I have always appreciated the poet Dante's description of God as 'the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.' . . . We are not just something, we are someone. Alone among all earthly creatures the human person can build computers, fly into outer space, and discover the inner workings of the human body and mind. Alone among all creatures the human person can write songs and poems, make paintings and symphonies. And alone in the material universe the human person can love, sacrifice and offer worship to his or her Creator." (From the March 1 pastoral letter of Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez titled "For Greater Things You Were Born.")
Connecting Liturgy and Life: "Jesus became man in order that we might become God. This is not an abstract statement of theology. It is the destiny and meaning of your life and mine. Everything in our ordinary lives -- our work and study, our loves, our family life, our works of charity, even our recreation -- all of it is made to be transfigured in the light of Christ. Just as the bread and wine we offer in the Eucharist is transformed into his body and blood, so our lives are meant to be transformed into the image of the living God. In every celebration of the Eucharist, the priest prays that this divine purpose might be accomplished. We do not usually hear this prayer. The priest prays it silently as he mingles the water and wine, preparing the eucharistic gifts. Yet he prays for all of us: 'By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.'" (From "For Greater Things You Were Born," by Archbishop Jose Gomez.)
To Know Oneself: "The question for you, my brothers and sisters, is: What is your mission in this world? What work has God committed to you? To know yourself, to know who you are, means knowing what God wants from your life, how he wants you to follow Jesus. . . . What St. Paul said when he met Christ on the road to Damascus is every disciple's prayer: 'Lord, what shall I do?'" (From "For Greater Things You Were Born," by Archbishop Jose Gomez.)
5. Holiness for Real People
"Holiness is our adventure, our mission!" Archbishop Gomez calls holiness a mission for Christians that is based in love.
"Now is the time for all of us in the church to rediscover what the Second Vatican Council described as the 'universal call to holiness,'" the archbishop insists. He considers it "vital to understand" that "holiness -- to be saints -- is the summary, the goal and meaning of our lives."
In Scripture, the word "'saint' means 'holy one,' and in the early church saint was simply another name for Christian," the archbishop says. He notes that "St. Paul addressed his letters to those 'called to be saints,'" and "his words are still intended for each of us."
Holiness is love, and "we are called to live for love," he explains. Love means "choosing to make a sincere gift of ourselves." But "as we know, love is not easy. Walking the path of love is a journey of conversion. It is a daily struggle with our inclinations to selfishness."
So holiness means working "to purify our love from any self-interested motives," the archbishop continues. He writes: "We want to love for the sake of love alone, without seeking anything for ourselves in return. And in the evening of our lives, we will be judged by our love."
His prayer is, Archbishop Gomez says, "that all of us in the church will dedicate ourselves once again to making holiness the goal of everything we do in the church." He calls for "creative and bold new ways to make the call to holiness and the work of sanctification a basic aspect of all our preaching, religious education and pastoral care" in the church.
He acknowledges "that holiness can seem like all too much for us" because of the feeling that "we are not good enough, not strong enough." That "is true about everyone," he observes. For, "no one knows better than we do how inadequate we feel, our limitations and weaknesses."
A common feeling, he suggests, is that holiness is so demanding that it "must be only for a select few." Nonetheless, he cautions against a fear of holiness. "God knows everything about us. And he calls us anyway."
God "will call us to great things, he will discipline us in love, but he will always give us the grace we need to accomplish what he is asking us to do," Archbishop Gomez writes.
6. Suffering and "the Answer God Provides"
It seems to him, Archbishop Gomez informs readers of his new pastoral letter, that America's current "divisions and dysfunctions are all pointing us back to basic questions: Who are we? What does it mean to be alive, to be a member of the human race? Where do we come from, and what are we here for? What is it that we should be living for? What is the 'good life,' and why should I even want to be a 'good person'?"
His entire pastoral letter is an attempt to respond to those precise questions, he suggests. It is at attempt "to explain a short sentence that we find in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: 'The vocation of humanity is to show forth the image of God and to be transformed into the image of the Father's only Son'" (No. 1877).
"Our lives are a path to God, a path that he chooses to walk alongside us," the archbishop writes. He says that "in Jesus Christ we see who we are meant to be and who we are capable of becoming by the gifts of God's mercy and grace."
In fact, "with the coming of Jesus the things of nature and 'ordinary' life are transfigured. The world becomes, in some way, 'sacramental' -- a sign and pathway that brings us into the presence of God."
This is seen "in the physical nature of the church's sacraments," he notes. Thus:
"Water gives us new birth as children of God.
"Bread and wine bring us into communion with the body and blood of Christ.
"Oil communicates God's healing touch in our lives."
In meeting Jesus, human lives are given "a new direction and purpose," the archbishop says. Thus, "we perceive what life truly means in walking with Jesus, following him and modeling our lives after his."
And, "moved by his love, we share the new life we have found with our brothers and sisters in the church, our new family, worshiping the living God, revealing him to others and serving our neighbors through works of mercy and acts of love."
Those others may well include the poor and people who suffer profoundly. The archbishop observes that saints have compared the Lord's "presence in the poor to his presence in the Eucharist." For, "in some way we cannot fully touch Christ's body and blood in the Eucharist if we do not also perceive him in the bodies of those who come to us in their suffering."
The archbishop views the world's suffering and injustice as "a call to service and empathy." His conviction is that "when the innocent cry out to God in their suffering, we are the answer that God provides."
This means that "we are called to be his voice of compassion, his hands of love and assistance."