Bringing Life Out of What Seems Lifeless

April 6, 2014

Periodically in Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent are: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130; 1-8; Romans 8:8-11,; John 11:1-45.

Icon of Lazarus’ Rising from the Dead

A theme throughout the Scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent is that God can bring life out of what seems lifeless. The first reading from Ezekiel clearly teaches this lesson when it says, “I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” Paul too, in his Epistle to the Romans, says that, if the Spirit dwells in us, the Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies. The Gospel is the familiar story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. All three readings tell us that God indeed can bring life out of what seems lifeless.

I want to consider the third reading in particular because I am drawn to the character of Martha. I like Martha. She’s practical and sensible. She’s a doer, an activist. And she speaks her mind.

Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill, it took him two days to get his act together and move on down to Bethany before he raised him from the dead. Why so slow?

When she heard Jesus was coming, Martha acted. She hurried from Bethany to meet him along the road. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” You can hear the gentle rebuke in Martha’s voice. She might as well have said, “Thanks, Lord, for coming, but aren’t you a little late?”

When Jesus asked the assembled folks to take away the stone from the entrance to Lazarus’ tomb, Martha matter-of-factly cried out, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.”

How often do we feel like Martha? “God, if you had given me a good home background when I was growing up, I wouldn’t be in this stinking mess I’m in now.” “If I had better teachers, I would have gotten better grades.” “If you hadn’t made me gay, my life would be so much easier.”

Yes, God, I feel your loving presence now that I sit comfortably in my easy chair with my cat on my lap and sipping my cup of tea, but where were you when I needed your help? Where were you when I was trying to figure out who I was and where I was meant to be? Where were you when I was in a grave of sorrow? Where were you when I felt angry or down in the dumps, or impatient or fearful?

To Martha and to us, Jesus says, “Even though you did not recognize me in the turmoil and the crises, I was there. I am with you all the time. Even when you feel down, I can pull you up to life.

“When you think I am late, I am already there, waiting for you to see me, to call me, to talk with me. I can lift you up to life, even when you have hit rock bottom with self-pity or fear. I can haul you up out of any sinfulness or cruelty or foolishness.

“Just talk with me. Come and waste some time with me. I can bring life out of what seems lifeless.”

–Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry


Thirsting for Living Water to Recognize Christ in Others

March 23, 2014

Periodically in Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for the Third Sunday of Lent are Exodus 17:3-7; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Romans 5:1-2,5-8; John 4:5-42.

Samaritan Woman at the Well, by He Qi, China
http://www.heqigallery.com

The Gospel for the third Sunday of Lent is the story of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman as she came to draw water from Jacob’s well. After their extended conversation, the woman acknowledged that Jesus is a prophet and wondered if He is the Christ. She goes into the town of Sychar to tell the townspeople about this amazing person she has just met. Many come to believe in Jesus as the Christ, because of the woman’s testimony, but others believe because of their personal encounter with Him.

Sometimes I just wonder… What if I were that Samaritan woman and I had a personal encounter with Christ? Would I recognize him?

I fancy myself meeting Pope Francis, perhaps on one of his alleged nightly walks among the poor of Rome. Yes, surely I would recognize Christ in him.

I see Christ in Pope Francis because he celebrated his birthday with homeless men and he embraces children, even if they are stricken with a deformity. I saw his compassion when a murdered transgender person was found along the tracks of Rome’s railroad station. Her family would not claim the body, but she was buried in Francis’ Jesuit church in Rome. Yes, I see Christ in Pope Francis because his actions remind me of Christ. But what about others?

What about those I find unattractive or repulsive or those I don’t admire? Where is Christ in them? When someone gets on my nerves or another dominates conversations, how can I recognize Christ in them? When the wealthy fail to understand that they are robbing the poor if they do not share their wealth, or when those in charge of Catholic institutions fire lesbian or gay personnel when they marry the person they love, how can I recognize Christ in them?

At those pearly gates, I will probably ask Jesus, “When did I see you poor or deformed or transgender or annoying or failing in justice?” And he will answer, “As long as you did not see something worthwhile in the least of these, you did not see me.”

There must be something in them that God loves. I pray for the grace of patience and compassion to find that something that is worthwhile so that I may see the Christ in them.

I want to be like that Samaritan woman. I want my water jar to be filled with living water so that I may recognize the Christ.

–Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry


Awkward Walks: The Transfiguration, Coming Out, and Pope Francis

March 16, 2014

Periodically in Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for the Second Sunday of Lent are  Genesis 12:1-4; 3:1-7; Psalm 33: 4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; 2Timothy 1: 8-10; Matthew 17:1-9.

The walk down Mount Tabor must have been awkward.

Scripture does not record what Peter, James, and John were thinking after the Transfiguration.  Perhaps they were edified by the mystical experience of God’s favor resting upon Jesus, alongside Moses and Elijah.  Or, more likely, I think they probably felt confused, frightened, and a bit distrustful of Jesus.  And that’s the real Transfiguration story – how the disciples struggled in their relationships with Jesus after the revelatory mountaintop experience – not the revelation itself.

Peter, James, and John ascended Mount Tabor with their own clear ideas of who Jesus was – friend, teacher, and fellow Galilean.  But now he’s suddenly different.  Whatever happened on that mountain, their perception of Jesus was changed in a profound way.  Jesus was still the same person as before the Transfiguration experience, but he was something more in their eyes as well — something which they had not known previously.

In their struggle to understand the Transfiguration, I wonder if the disciples felt a bit betrayed by Jesus, as if Jesus had intentionally withheld some big part of himself for all the time they had known him.  Maybe Peter, James, and John looked at Jesus and wondered with a certain sense of disbelief, “I thought I knew this guy.”  Perhaps they questioned, “Why didn’t he tell us sooner?” or “What else is he hiding from us?”  Or maybe, “Gee, this is more than I can handle.  I should go back to my fishing nets!”  These thoughts are why I imagine the walk down Mount Tabor was pretty awkward and filled with long silences.

I can think of two contemporary examples that illustrate transfiguration experiences – and the over-riding importance of a revelation’s impact on relationships compared to the revelation itself.

First, “coming out” by LGBT people to family and friends can be a transfiguration experience.  Disclosure of one’s own sexual orientation and/or true gender identity to loved ones is a big revelation.  However, it does not change the individual, but rather how others perceive and relate to them.  Like Peter, James, and John, family members and friends might experience feelings of confusion and mistrust.  They may experience similar questions as the disciples.  But, like the disciples, they must find ways to understand and incorporate this “coming out” revelation into their own perception of their loved one if the relationship is to continue.

Second, institutions can have transfiguration moments in the same way as individuals.  The first year of Francis’ papacy has been a transfiguration experience for me.  Pope Francis has revealed to me a new way of being pope that is profoundly different from his recent predecessors.  Now I find myself in the role of the apostles – afraid and distrustful – because I am not sure how to relate to this new Pope.  I love Pope Francis and want to be his cheerleader, but my negative experiences of previous popes have made me wary of religious authority figures.  It is taking me time to sort my own feelings between what I thought the papacy was and what Pope Francis is showing us it can be. 

The time following a transfiguration experience can be confusing and awkward – like the long walk of the disciples down Mount Tabor.  We may not be sure how to respond or how to relate to new revelations.  But it is important that we keep walking, keep talking, and remain open to see what happens next.    

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry


Entering Our Own Deserts of Temptation

March 9, 2014

Periodically in Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for the First Sunday of Lent are  Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11.

           The Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent tells the story about the temptations of Jesus in the desert. The wilderness is a classic place for confronting ourselves, a place where we analyze our motives, question our thoughts, desires, and behavior, and investigate our future. In the desert there are no roads or maps, just the time and space to know God and ourselves in a clearer way.

This is hard stuff. I don’t like to confront myself or question what I do or what I think, but if I want to grow closer to God and understand myself better, then Lent is a good time to do it.

Like Jesus, I find that I am often tempted to turn stone into loaves of bread–bread that is delicious, sweet-smelling, and good. I am tempted to reject the stone that is hard and tough and inflexible. I am tempted to love the bread and not the stone. I like those people who are “bread,” not the “stone” people. I like the people who agree with me about LGBT issues, not the stone people who need conversion to justice. But Jesus is asking me to love the stone people too. This is hard stuff.

Like Jesus, I am too often tempted to throw myself down from the pinnacle of the temple of life into the depths of work, expecting that God will catch me and take care of my emotional and social needs. At other times, I’m tempted to throw myself down into the pit of comfort and avoidance of responsibilities I don’t like or that feel too challenging, expecting that God will somehow see that it all gets done. I think Jesus is asking me to stay on the pinnacle of the temple of common sense and find some balance in my life. More hard stuff.

Like Jesus, I have been tempted to possess all the kingdoms of this world by having the good opinion of others. How crucial is the desire to be loved and respected, to be understood and thought well of, especially by those I care about. These are the kingdoms I desire. But Jesus is asking me not to pay homage to these human kingdoms for “God alone shall you worship and God alone shall you serve.” To believe that God’s boundless love and joy will fill me when I’m misunderstood and rejected—very hard stuff.

As we begin this Lenten journey, the lesson of the desert seems clear. Jesus went into the desert to know himself and his God better. He did not let temptations come between him and his God.

What are your stones, your temple pinnacles, your worldly kingdoms? What temptations do you find in your Lenten wilderness that will help you know yourself and God better?

–Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry


What Are You Giving Up?

March 5, 2014

LentPeriodically in Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.

“What are you giving up?” 

I know Lent is approaching when I start to hear this question. Even a couple of my non-Catholic friends ask me. I usually offer some vague non-committal response because, like my New Year’s resolutions, I don’t like it when other people notice when I inevitably depart from my Lenten intentions. But each year I give up something nonetheless.

I was taught that giving up something during Lent brought me closer to God by sharing in the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary. If I didn’t feel a bit deprived, then it wasn’t working. So, this year. I intended to forgo coffee, which is an admirable sacrifice for a guy with a Starbucks monkey on his back. I was planning to reap the spiritual fruits of my sacrifice because I could unite my (admittedly very minor) suffering with that of Christ. How noble! But now that Ash Wednesday is here, I’m starting to think that I might have missed the mark. Let me explain.

I recently read an article by Fr. Joseph Donders, who paraphrased St. Augustine on fasting: “Don’t believe that fasting suffices. Fasting punishes you, but it does not restore your brother… How many poor people could be nourished by the meal you did not take today?” Perhaps my original understanding of Lenten sacrifice was a bit self-centered and more navel-gazing than anything. It was all about “me and Jesus” rather than “me, Jesus, and my neighbor.” Giving something up for Lent is not an end in itself; rather, it should readily redirect my attention from myself toward others.

Likewise, St. John Chrysostom offers this insight: “Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him.” The primary beneficiary of my Lenten sacrifice should not be myself, but my neighbor in need. Self-denial frees my mind and my resources. What money or time I do not spend on myself, I need to spend for the benefit of others. And that’s the crux of the issue – giving something up during Lent requires me not only to think about the needs of others, but to do something to meet those needs.

Most recently, Pope Francis in his Lenten message emphasizes the connection between self-denial and charitable outreach: “We would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty.” Lent rescues me from myself and frees me to think about others – particularly those who suffer from poverty. From now onward, perhaps I will change the annual Lenten question from “What am I giving up?” to “How can I share with my neighbors in need?” I think the latter question more accurately reflects what we are called by the Gospel to do each Lent. I’m still going to give up coffee for Lent, but not quite for the same reasons as when I started. I hope your Lenten season is filled with many spiritual gifts – and perhaps you might join me in asking, “How can I share with my neighbors in need?”

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry


Can We Give Up Judging for Lent?

March 5, 2012

Today’s Gospel lesson (Luke 6:35-38)is perhaps one of the hardest ideals for human beings to put into practice:

“Stop judging and you will not be judged.”

I think this is harder even than “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek” because human beings seem programmed to make judgements about situations, people, ideas.  We are constantly evaluating ourselves and others.

For those involved in LGBT ministry and advocacy in the Catholic Church, judging becomes an occupational hazard.  Since our goal is justice for all, we are eternally judging events, incidents, statements, people to see if these meet standards of fairness and equality.  If we want to make the world better, how can we not be judging these things?

I think that the dilemma can be resolved in two ways.  The first is understanding what is meant by “judging.”  We get a better idea of this definition when we read these lines in the context of the fuller passage in which it occurs:

“Jesus said to his disciples:
‘Be merciful, just as God is merciful.
Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.’ “

The type of judging Jesus says we should avoid is judging which becomes condemnatory and unforgiving–the type of judging which puts the judge in a morally superior position and the judged in a morally inferior one.  Our judgements should never become occasions for us to think we are better than other people–even people who don’t share our thirst for or understanding of justice.

The second way to resolve this dilemma is to follow the example of today’s first reading (Daniel 9: 4b-10).  The reading, which is Daniel’s prayer addressed to God:

“Great and awesome God,
you who keep your merciful covenant toward those who love you
and observe your commandments!
We have sinned, been wicked and done evil;
we have rebelled and departed from your commandments and your laws.
We have not obeyed your servants the prophets,
who spoke in your name to our rulers and parents, and all the people of the land.
Justice, O God, is on your side;
we are shamefaced even to this day.”

Instead of placing himself in a superior position to his adversaries, instead of seeing himself as the arbiter and provider of justice, Daniel acknowledges that he is weak and flawed, and that justice comes from God alone.  He offers a model of how we should respond when faced with injustices:  not pointing figures, but recognizing how we ourselves fall short of the ideal.

Daniel’s example of humility and non-judgement of others is one we might aspire to for Lent.  Can we give up pride and judgement for Lent, as a way of drawing closer to the God of justice?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Welcoming Wild Beasts and Angels As Part of Lent

February 27, 2012

Jesus in the Wilderness by Stanley Spencer

I usually get Lent wrong.  I usually think of it as a time when I’m supposed to be holier, when I’m supposed to fast, pray, give alms, do good–all as a way to prepare myself for the celebration of Easter.  All of that usually lasts for about a week or so, but that’s not the only way in which I get Lent wrong.

The reading from Mark’s gospel on the first Sunday of Lent tells how Jesus spent his own personal “Lenten” time.  Only four verses long (Mark 1:12-15), it’s probably one of the shortest gospel readings of the liturgical calendar.  The first two verses state:

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.”

Jesus’ forty days of preparation were filled with two things that I rarely allow into my observation of Lent: wild beasts and angels.  Jesus went into the desert for forty days and faced wild beasts.  When I observe Lent, I usually try to escape from the wild beasts of my life: the petty jealousies, the boastful pride, the unforgiving anger, and so much more. I try to pretend they are not there.  I try to eradicate them by ignoring them.  Jesus’ way was different: He faced up to them and He went among them.  Lent, He shows us, is not about working towards being a better person, but about facing the negative aspects of our lives, acknowledging their existence, and resisting the temptation to be ruled by them.

In facing temptations, Jesus didn’t earn their purification. Instead, he allowed angels to minister to Him.  In other words, what I do is not what is important in Lent.  What’s important is being open to allow God to enter my life.  It’s not about anything that I do, but about allowing God to do things in my life.  My American sense of independence and self-reliance rebels against that kind of thinking.  Shouldn’t I be doing something to work for salvation? Well, yes, but I think this gospel is reminding us that Jesus’ way was not the path of earning salvation, but of being open to God’s presence in the world.

The second half of the gospel reading shows us why Jesus spent 40 days in the desert with wild beasts and angels:

“After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

When he returns from the desert, Jesus goes about beginning his true ministry.  It’s a resurrection of sorts, in which His new life is characterized by His ability to see and know that God’s Reign is already active in the world. He has a new perception about ordinary life:  that it is already filled with God’s justice and love. The only thing left to do is to preach this news to others with the sure hope that they will turn their lives around and begin living the reality of God’s Reign on earth.

For those of who work for LGBT justice and equality in the church and society, this gospel reading has some very good news.  We have a tendency to spend a lot of time observing what is wrong and unjust in the world. In our desire for justice, it can seem like a lot is depending on what we do as individuals to help right those wrongs.  Lent can be a good time to refocus our attention inward on facing up to our own demons and beasts, as well as allowing our eyes to be open to angels and all the ways that God wants to work in our lives.

Moreover, Lent can be a time to prepare ourselves for a new life of seeing that God is already active in the world and that our role is not to create justice, but to witness and testify to God’s action for justice.  Our job is to refine our vision to be able to see God’s justice, to let others know it exists, and to invite them to see it, too.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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