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Lenten Reflections – Thursday, March 6, by Bill Thornton

(This post was supposed to go up on Thursday morning, but life interfered and here it is on Thursday night, and into Friday!)

A reflection from Bill Thornton. Bill is a frequent contributor to the blog, along with others from the Hosanna Praer group.

It was different in the old days.

I remember Lent of 1951. I was 12 and in the 7th grade. Poor Sister Marie Louise was already showing signs of losing contact with reality. (She was institutionalized at the end of the school year, but they did not have anybody else to teach 7th grade.) Sister decided that, besides giving up candy for Lent (as she thought we would), the whole class was going to attend daily Mass. Just so we are clear, this meant that we had to leave home unfed and without water, walk a half mile (I checked on Google maps. I would have guessed much farther.), attend Mass, receive Communion, return the same half mile home, eat breakfast, brush our teeth, and walk back to school by 8:30.

To demonstrate our devotion to the task, all of us (7th graders remember) had to wear “crowns” made of purple construction paper with seven purple crosses sticking up from the headband. For each day that we attended Mass (and checked in with Sister), we would get a paper rose that we paper-clipped to one of the crosses. Imagine our embarrassment when we walked around school wearing those paper crowns with or without roses.

The second thing that Sister decided that we should do for Lent was memorize each week the Sunday Gospel – in French since we were in a French-speaking Canadian parish. We did a lot of memorizing in those days, and this would have been only a minor annoyance, except that I was assigned an additional chore in this regard, namely to “help” Arthur to memorize the Gospel. Arthur had come over to parochial school from public school in 7th grade because the public school teachers gave up on him, and, on top of that, he knew no French. (By the way, the nuns gave up on him at the end of the term.) I do not recall what I did to be awarded this particular privilege, but it must have been quite something, since the sisters all thought that I would be the one to became a priest, and therefore could do no wrong. Anyway, it was my task to sit in the back of the classroom for hours on end trying to think of something to enable Arthur to utter something that sounded something like the French scriptures. If Arthur did not come close enough, I was – so to speak – French toast.

As I said, I remember Lent that year, and it was different.

So what did I learn from my 1951 Lenten experience? Well, for starters, attending daily Mass is a good thing to do during Lent; walking a couple of miles before school won’t kill you; neither will wearing a silly paper crown at school, although you may wish you were dead. Also, there is nothing wrong with really getting into the gospels during Lent or at any other time. I am pretty sure that I did not learn anything from my interaction with Arthur – except maybe some obedience.

What I learned from remembering the experience is one of the lessons that the Ash Wednesday Gospel taught us: You can’t learn anything about a person’s Lent by watching from the outside. Some people might want you to judge them that way – they look like they are fasting and they like to be seen praying and giving alms. But Jesus says, that’s not what you should do. Whatever you choose to do, it should be something that God alone can see and judge.

In his 2014 Lenten message, Pope Francis quotes from 2 Cor 8:9 : “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” Developing this statement, the Pope says that we will not convert the world with our own physical resources, but, just as Christ did, with our poverty. We are spiritually rich because of Christ’s poverty, but if we want to help others to be spiritually rich, we can only do it if we are poor in spirit even as Christ was. There is no contradiction between being spiritually rich and being poor in spirit. When God gifts us with his grace, we become spiritually rich, but when we try or at least aspire to pass the riches along, we must understand that the gifts never belonged to us and never will. The gifts always belong to God and we only hold them “in earthen vessels” for the benefit of others. Perhaps we should use this Lent to increase our understanding that everything we have is gift and to pray for guidance from God as to how we ought to become poor as we approach the world to share these gifts.

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Thursday March 21, 2013 – Lenten Reflection by Bill Thornton

imagesIn Revelation (3:20) Jesus says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” It is always this way. If there is any movement toward a closer relationship between God and us, it always begins with God. The next step is how we respond to God’s approach.

There is a good example of how this works in the story in John’s Gospel of the cure of the man born blind. This is a long story so maybe you can follow this link and read it now.

The first thing to notice is that this story is not like the stories of other miraculous cures, here the blind man does not approach Jesus or ask to be healed. He is just sitting where he always sits, and doing what he always does, being blind and begging. I know just how he felt. I have stayed in the same place doing the same thing and being blind and begging from time to time.

The next thing about the story is that Jesus reveals that God has a plan for this man. Jesus says that the man has been born blind “so that the works of God can be made visible through him.” Wouldn’t we like to think that God’s plan included the idea that the works of God could be made visible through us? I think that God does have that plan even if it does not always include something dramatic like a miracle.

What happens next is rather strange. Jesus does not speak to the man, but rather puts mud on his eyes – dirt and spittle. How rude! How gross! And then Jesus says, “Go wash your face.” The blind beggar does not object or complain, he just moves toward the pool. Has his self-respect been so degraded by others over the years, because of his condition and what he has to do to maintain a living, that he does not even stick up for himself? Anyway, he goes and does what he was told, just like always. By obeying Jesus, when every instinct would be to be angry and fight back, the blind beggar gained his sight.

We will come back to the beggar, but for a minute let’s talk about the other people in this story. Jesus said that the cure was to make the “works of God” visible. The bystanders have, in a sense, seen the works of God. What is their reaction? It is as if they had seen a street magician. The are curious and maybe amused. “Where is he?” they ask, “we want to see more.” Just like the crowds that gathered around Jesus after he had fed the multitude.

What is the reaction of the Pharisees? All they can see is that Jesus broke the rules. They were more concerned with themselves – their rules – than the “works of God.” The beggar’s parents were afraid. They feared that acknowledging the “works of God” would create problems for them within the synagogue.

Back to the beggar: He had no choice but to face the reality – look the miracle in the face, if you will pardon a pun – that he was blind and now could see. He took on the opposition of the religious authorities. He called Jesus a prophet and said that his miraculous power must have come from God. He even took a shot at “evangelization,” when he said, “Do you want to become his disciples too?” When Jesus again sought out the beggar, the man professed faith in Jesus and worshiped him.

At the end of the story, Jesus has a conversation with some Pharisees about what had happened, how the physical cure of the beggar was supposed to be a lesson about their spiritual blindness. And it is clear that they understood the message. Some of them said, “Surely we are not also blind are we?” It makes you want to grab them by the shoulders, shake them and shout “Yes, yes, you understand. Now go change.”

An old technique for reading and meditating on the Scriptures is to put yourself in the place of each of the characters in the story. Am I like a bystander and simply curious, like a parent and fearful, like a Pharisee who is blind and more concerned with ancient rules than the “works of God,” or can I be like the man born blind.

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Lenten Reflection – March 14, 2013 by William Thornton

jeremiah17_9-10“The heart is more devious than any other thing, perverse too:
who can pierce its secrets?
I, the Lord, search to the heart, …” Jeremiah 17:9-10

It was not modern psychiatry nor TV soap operas that first discovered the complexity of the human heart and its tendency to sink to the lowest level. The prophet Jeremiah knew all about it. He probably did not need divine inspiration to get this point right. He could cetainly look at the people around him and perhaps into his own life. Lately, the Lord has been reminding me that I can be (and have been) as devious and perverse as any one. You will forgive me if I do not go into detail.

The words “devious” and “perverse” are related in thought, if not in derivation. “Devious” comes from the Latin word “via” meaning “way,” as in “I am the way.” “De” means “off” or “away.” I am devious if I am off God’s way or even some expected or “normal” way. Those around me can’t figure out where I am or where I am going or why. “Perverse” is based on the Latin “versus” meaning “against” just as it does in English. The prefix “per-” in this case means “very much,” as in very much against or against for no reason.

So, in one way, the prophet is saying that the heart is the seat of our free will. I do not know what “Original Sin” is. I never understood the whole idea. What I do understand – somewhat – is free will. God gave me my free will so that I can freely choose to love him the way he freely chose to love me. However, I have spent a good deal of my life making a different choice (deviating, if you will) and opposing him (being perverse). That just makes me human, and it makes me like all other humans. If grandparents call kill their young grandchildren, as we have seen in two recent instances, then I am capable of doing the same thing – not that I am planning to do something like that nor is it likely that I would do something like that. But it is something that a human person – like me – could do.

So what stops me from doing that or some other terrible crime? You have heard the old saying, “ There but for the grace of God, go I.” That’s really the answer, that God’s grace freely given to me keeps me from doing the worst things that I am capable of. You may ask why God does not give his grace to others who do do the worse things that they are capable of. God actually does give them the grace, but why do they continue to exercise their free will in a deviant and perverse way? There is an answer but the theology is far to difficult for me to explain.

But still God searches “to the heart.” He loves, he forgives. I obviously can not search to the heart of any one, but if I could, I probably would not find it to be more devious or more perverse than my own. How then can I be judgmental, how can I be unforgiving, how can I be “holier than thou?” The lesson is clear: if God loves and forgives me after he has searched to my heart, how can I fail to love and forgive those around me? Oh, wait, is that what the Lord’s prayer means?

We are rushing headlong to the end of Lent. In the readings for the Holy Office for today we hear Isaiah tell us, “Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near. Let the wicked one [with the devious and perverse heart] abandon his or her way” Is 55:6-7 And we hear from Hebrews, “Continue to have confidence since the reward is so great. You will need endurance to do God’s will and gain what he has promised.” Heb 10:35-36.

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Lenten Reflection, Thursday, February 14 – By William Thornton

edenI noticed something remarkable the other day.  The Old Testament Mass readings for Monday and Tuesday, the two days immediately before Lent, together make up the Creation story from Genesis.  (Gen 1:1–31; and 2:1–3)  I do not know whether this is what happens every year or whether this year is unique.  What makes this fact remarkable?  Well, the first reading at the Easter Vigil is the very same Creation story.  Therefore, the seven weeks of Lent are set between two tellings of the seven days of Creation.

The liturgical readings for Lent form, in effect, the life and teachings of Jesus, the Word of God. This is the same Word of whom John said:

“All things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be.” (Jn 1:3)

So if the Genesis story represents the all-powerful God, the Lenten liturgical readings tell us that that same all-powerful God lived in the same world as we do, and suffered the same pains as we do, and finally died for us, and for Continue reading

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December 6, 2013 – Advent Reflection by William Thornton

Thursday, December 6, 2012

 

Advent is a time of anticipation.  I am not talking about anticipating the birth of Jesus.  We all know that he was born over 2000 years ago.  The waiting by the Jews for the coming of the Messiah is a metaphor used by the Church at the beginning of a new liturgical year that something is coming.  We don’t know what is coming – good or bad.  Remember Tony’s song in West Side Story?

 

Could be!
Who knows?
There’s something due any day;
I will know right away,
Soon as it shows.
It may come cannonballing down through the sky,
Gleam in its eye,
Bright as a rose!
Who knows?

 

Who knows indeed.  Sunday’s gospel spoke of a different kind of thing “cannonballing down through the sky.”

 

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay. …
People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.”

Tony was anticipating something “bright as a rose,” what he actually experienced was death, his own as well as that of another young man, and the deep sadness of two families and two communities.  Although the circumstances are quite different, our community and parish family is now experiencing similar deep loss and profound sadness.

 

The gospel for today’s liturgy speaks of houses collapsing and being completely ruined by a violent storm.  As we read it, we cannot help thinking about the recent deaths and property damage and losses on the New York and New Jersey coastlines.

 

Advent tells us that “something’s coming” during the next year.  That something may be “bright as a rose” or bring total dismay, we do not know.  Again, it may begin as the rose and end in dismay, or the other way around.  The Church is telling us that you may or may not like change but it is certainly coming, and, if you are a Christian, you had better be ready to accept it – no, ready to welcome it – and use it to advance your relationship with God.

 

Advent is not about forecasting disaster, indeed the new things may be wonderful developments for many, hopefully most, of us.  But bad or good, changes require response and adjustment whether it is painful or joyful.   Jesus’ parable is really not about losing one’s home in a storm.  And it certainly does not mean that “good people” get good news and “bad people” get what they deserve.  No!  We all know that good and bad happen to all of us at different times and to different degrees.  The parable is really about how being connected to God allows us to survive when we lose our homes, jobs, health or loved ones.

 

In today’s reading from Isaiah, the one city survives because its people are “just,” they “keep faith,” and trust in God.  In Jesus’ parable the persons who survive the storm, acted  on the word of God that they heard.  Justice, faith, and trust are not enough to protect us from experiencing the difficulties of life, but the can lead us to hope.  The hope that Advent teaches us is based on accepting the truth that with God nothing is impossible.  We hope that God will get us through the most difficult of experiences to happiness somewhere on the other side.  And we hope that as it said in Sunday’s gospel, we will be able to “stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

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