Sunday, February 26, 2012

1st Sunday of Lent - Desert Experience

In this morning’s Gospel St Mark tells us that “the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert and he remained there and was put to the test by Satan” (Mk 2:12f)– a very stark picture at first glance!

Immediately before this passage we read about Jesus’ Baptism when He, the sinless One, took on the burden of our sins and was baptised by John. The heavens were opened and the Spirit descended on him and the voice from heaven declared: “You are my Son, the Beloved, my favour rests on you.” Strengthened in the conviction of being the Beloved of the Father, at once the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert…..

In the Old Testament the desert symbolised both the place of testing and the place of intimacy with God. We read in the Book of Deuteronomy:
“Remember the long road by which the Lord led you for forty years, to humble you, to test you and know your inmost heart – whether you would keep his commandments or not …learn that the Lord was training you as a man trains his child.”

For the Old Testament prophets the desert symbolised the place of intimacy with the Lord as we read in the Prophet Hosea:
“I am going to seduce her and lead her into the desert and speak to her heart …there she will respond to me”.

Hosea continues:
“when that day comes I shall make a treaty for them with the wild animals …and I will let them sleep secure.” (2:21)
and there follows these beautiful lines:
“I shall betroth you to myself forever
I shall betroth you in faithfulness and love
And you will come to know the Lord.”

For me these lines throw light on Mark’s description of Jesus being with the wild animals but the angels looked after him – the Father’s care for those who trust in Him.

The monastic way of life had its origin in the desert and in monastic spirituality the desert symbolises both the place of testing and the place of intimacy:-
The place of testing whereby we experience our own sinfulness and poverty and thus come to share and carry in our hearts the pain, the suffering and anxiety of all our fellow men and women as we journey through the desert of this life to our Father’s house.
The place of intimacy with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a silent witness which is a reminder to all of the truth of God’s existence and is worthy of the gift of our whole lives and at the same time is an invitation to everyone to enter “that space in the heart where every person is called to union with God.” (Verbi Sponsa).

This Lent may we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit into the desert of our own hearts – we need not be afraid of the wild beast or whatever obstacles we meet on the way for we are never alone – Jesus has already travelled through the desert for us and has conquered Satan and accompanies us every step of the way.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lent and Vocation Discernment

A few thoughts for the beginning of Lent.

I have always found Lent to be a very fruitful time for Vocation Discernment.

I think it was because since I was a small child the high point of Easter for me was Holy Saturday night when, having intensely lived all that God had done for us in Christ (during the Triduum) I renewed my Baptismal Promises. I think part of the attraction was that it was a real, public, solemn, formal commitment to God that I could make before I was old enough to make my First Communion. So I always saw Lent as a time to prepare to make this re-commitment. To examine my life and see where I was failing to live as a Christian; to give more time to God (prayer, ‘holy’ reading, daily Mass etc.) and also to do things for others – Jesus said [Mt.25:40] “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me”. This meant that my renewal of Baptismal Promises would not be just words but something I was living. Lent showed that I was serious about what I was saying, and of course it was meant to expand out to the rest of the year. But it is good to have that set time to stop and take track and re-centre my life on God.

I think this 'way of doing Lent' really helped my Discernment during the years when I was discerning my Vocation. Since every Lent was a preparation for a solemn re-commitment and inherant in that commitment was my determination to do God's will, whatever it was. So not only was I spending more time with the Lord (prayer, Adoration, Mass), which is vital for Vocation Discernment, but that time was being spent as a preparation for making a commitment and God responded by showing me more and more clearly with each Lent where this commitment was to lead me. Most of my major 'breakthroughs' regarding where God was calling me occured during Lent e.g. realising I was called to be an Enclosed Contemplative, when I had been planning to become an Apostolic Sister. Even now that I'm a Sister, Lent is always a very fruitful time for those extra little 'nudges' that God gives (I'm sure he gives them often but during Lent I'm finally back in 'listening mode'). So for those of you who are discerning your Vocation, embrace Lent this year as a particularly graced period for discernment!

Monday, February 6, 2012

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Touch of the Master’s Hand

In Sunday’s Gospel Mark recaptures a lovely gesture by Jesus; Peter’s mother-in-law had gone to bed with a fever and when Jesus arrived at Peter and Andrew’s house, they told him about her. Jesus went to her immediately, took her by the hand and lifted her up. He didn’t say - Poor woman - no, he took time at the end of a long day in the synagogue where he was teaching and healing to make this sick call, taking her by the hand and lifting her up.

This lovely human gesture of Jesus, how often do we not see these human hands reach out to the help of whoever may need it. Later in that same chapter Mark mentions the leper for whom Jesus felt sorry. Again he stretched out his hand and again touched him and said - Be cured.

Do you remember too, the time when Jesus came through the locked doors and stood among the frightened apostles, showing them his pierced hands and feet - those same hands so brutally pierced for you and for me.

Later again he would lift up his hands and bless them before ascending to his Father. I wonder was it from his Father that the human Jesus came to realise the power that he had in those hands.

Isaiah tells us how God spoke to the people of Israel when they ere frightened of their enemies - “I have taken you by my right hand and formed you” (Chap. 42) - this word formed is the same as used in Genesis (2:7) to describe the Creation of Adam - God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life. Michaelangelo immortalised this moment in his painting in the vault of the Sistene Chapel, of God the Creator reaching down to touch the hand of Adam with the tip of his finger. And again in Isaiah, “see I have branded you on the palms of my hands”. Later still the people tell God that they are clay and he is the potter, “we are all the work of your hands”.

And so when Jesus touched this good lady, we need not be surprised that fresh energy and life flowed through her enabling her to get up and serve them. Surely the touch of the Master’s hand.

As I pondered on this whole scene an old poem (author unknown) came to mind - The Touch of the Master’s Hand.

The auctioneer was trying to sell an old and battered violin - the bids were slow in coming and secretly he wondered if it was worth wasting time on it. And suddenly:

From the room far back, a grey-bearded man
Came forward, and picked up the bow.
And tightening the strings,
He played melodies so pure and sweet
As sweet as Angels sing

The people cheered; but some of them voiced:
“We don’t quite understand, what changed its worth?”
Swift came the reply - “The touch of the Master’s Hand”.

And many a man with a life out of tune
And battered and torn with sin.
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd,
Much like the old violin.
A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game, and he travels on.
He is going once, and going twice.
He is going and almost gone.
But the Master comes and the foolish crowd
Can never quite understand
The worth of a soul, and the change that is wrought
By the touch of the Master’s Hand.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord - World Day for Consecrated Life

Just a short reflection on one of the important people associated with today’s very special celebration – and that is the Prophetess, Anna.
As we read St. Luke’s account of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Mary and Joseph, our attention is drawn very much to holy Simeon – the floodlight is as it were, centred on him. But of no less importance is the Prophetess Anna. All we know of her is told in just three verses – 6 lines in all, and then there is no further mention of her in the Gospels – yet all the essentials of someone living a dedicated contemplative life, are present in these few lines.

Indeed, had Anna lived in the time of St. Dominic or thereafter, she would surely have had a kindred spirit with him. I could not help pondering on her embracing our way of life with a holy eagerness. Be that as it may, we do know that from the time of her early widowhood, perhaps when she was in her early to mid-twenties, she gave herself to the service of God in the Temple.

Just to reflect on a few vital facts which St. Luke elucidates for us: …..’she never left the Temple serving God night and day with fasting and prayer’ – and then as Mary and Joseph brought in the Child Jesus…’Anna came by just at that moment and began to praise God….and spoke of the Child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem’.

As we reflect on our Dominican motto – To Praise, to Bless and to Preach – it is all there in holy Anna’s life in the Temple – the prayer of praising, blessing and the preaching – Laudare, Benedicere, Praedicare.

It is quite possible to conjecture that Anna and Mary knew each other from earlier years. We know from the Church’s tradition that Mary was presented in the Temple as a child by her parents. Anna would almost certainly have been there at the time and could have been Mary’s Guardian. She could have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit to whom she was so attuned, as to the whole mystery of Mary’s future divine motherhood – for St. Luke tells us: ‘she spoke of the Child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem’.
Reflecting on these highlights of the Prophetess, Anna, the words of Fr. Fernandez O.P. in his letter to the nuns quoted in our Constitutions, seem most appropriate:
‘Faith teaches the singular excellence of that form of life in which one can devote oneself without hindrance to praising God, to begging unceasingly for the Graces necessary for the salvation of the world and to the embracing of everyone in the heart of Christ.
This is our call - Anna also lived a similar life to the full in the Temple.

On this day set aside for those consecrated to God in the Religious Life, we can surely take inspiration from her and invoke her patronage as we strive to live ever more fully our motto - Laudare, Benedicere, Praedicare.