Sunday, February 26, 2017

Continuing Conversion: Shedding the Old for New: Lent 2017

What a difference a month makes! I am not in an entirely different place than I was when I wrote my slightly frustrated post last month, but February has continued to be a month of reflection and conversion. Lent is really late this year! Usually in February Lent has already begun, but Lent doesn't begin until March 1st- this Wednesday- and I am clearly feeling ready for some renewal.

It is amazing to me how each year my spirit kind of aches for Lent. Even though Lent is a challenge and not a celebratory time, each time around the end of winter, my body and spirit tend to ache for a discipline, a challenge- a need for change and renewal. This is what Lent offers us: a discipline and a time of renewal.

February truly has had its ups and downs. It has gone from 30 degrees to literally 80 degrees this month. Spring also seems to ache to come earlier this year. But even though the winter and cold (like Lent) may not be the most fun things, they are necessary. And while I LOVE the warm weather, it doesn't feel quite right not having gone through some of the depths of winter (Climate change IS a thing, guys!).

And so enter Lent. A time built-in by the Church for us to reflect and retreat no matter the weather.

As you can see from several of my last posts, this election has taken a toll on me, moreso than ever before. I have truly struggled to see where my Christianity fits in with all of the craziness going on online, in our country, and in our world. The Gospel is so clear to me, but to see so many people interpret it so differently has truly thrown me. And so this month I have had to really delve into and question the Gospels and what they mean to me. In many cases, I came to the same conclusions because I think that Jesus is clear. But how do I approach or treat my brothers and sisters- other Christian ones at that- who do not have the same thoughts?

I received solicited (and sometimes unsolicited) advice from a priest friends, Catholic friends, non-Catholics and sought out other local Catholic community- namely my parish RCIA community- but I was still confused. Some told me to be more vocal and not be silent. Some told me that I seemed too angry and needed to focus on peace within so that there could be peace without.  It was very timely, then,  that we had a retreat for RCIA candidates here in Richmond in the middle of February when I was really in the middle of grappling with a lot of what I have just mentioned. Taking that time was necessary and I hadn't taken even a morning like that in a while; just a time to be alone with my thoughts with the guidance of a spiritual director and Catholic community.

Even for a couple of hours, I felt a conversion. I also had a mini conversion driving (I hardly ever drive any more since everything I need is mostly within walking distance and certainly within the city proper) on the highway to seek out spiritual direction for the first time in a long time as well. As I was driving, I was called back in my mind to "previous lives" where I had struggled and grappled (sorry to keep using the same verbs!) with truth versus temptation in different ways than I am dealing with it now. But reflecting on those moments and remembering how I got through them gave me the tools and the hope that I needed to get through this month and this time and bring me refreshed and ready for the next part of the journey: Lent.

So here we are ready to start Lent this week. One of the comforting things I received when seeking help and guidance from my Catholic community were some suggestions for spiritual reading which I haven't done in a while. I am reading Richard Rohr's "Eager to Love" which is a book about St. Francis, but not in a way that I have ever seen done before.

I love how the book cover even seems very Lenten: sparse and gray....

I'm only a few pages in, but this is definitely a book I will have to devour slowly. There are so many nuggets for reflection on every page. Even though I have studied a lot about Christ and St. Francis in my lifetime, this book gives me new perspective on things I already have known. Namely, how both St. Francis and Christ kept the truths of old, but shed unnecessary or irrelevant practices and ways to make the Truth also NEW.

This is exactly what I needed right now and I didn't even realize it. I believe this is part of the solution to our cultural and ecclesial climate right now: we hold onto the Truth which is ancient but also timeless while moving forward to make things new. We need both the old and the new. And this Lent, I want to reflect on what I might need to shed in order to hold onto Truth and make way for the new.

I am grateful for this month of conversion and struggle so that I can enter the desert with Jesus this Lent and continue to shed some of the old and emerge hopeful and rejoicing at Easter.

In terms of practices for Lent this year: I'm thinking of continuing this spiritual reading, making a holy hour once a week, and giving up snacks and alcohol (except wine. Is that bad? I didn't want to be unrealistic ;)

I toyed with giving up social media, but I just need to be disciplined with it in general and practice it in moderation. I do think that I need to be vocal right now in some cases and so I am discerning and picking and choosing those moments. I am hoping that my Lenten practices will also help me be more open to listening to these moments with the help of the Holy Spirit.

I'm so pumped for Lent! What will be your shedding of the old to make room for the new this season?


Hope in Grace and Conversion

*** post was originally written on 1/25/17 but posted a month late! Oops! ****

"I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that all of you agree in what you say,
and that there be no divisions among you,
but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.
For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters,
by Chloe's people, that there are rivalries among you.
I mean that each of you is saying,
"I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," 
or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ."
Is Christ divided?
Was Paul crucified for you?
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel,
and not with the wisdom of human eloquence,
so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning." - 1 Corinthians 1: 10-13, 17

This reading from last Sunday's Mass struck me as I sat in Church surrounded by my Christian brothers and sisters but having felt earlier in the weekend alienated from some of the Christian community. 

This past weekend Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. I have tried for years not to be political in my posts, but as many of you know, last year I could sit silent no more. As a Christian, I felt that too many of our brothers and sisters would be hurt by the things this man was saying and would do. I thought that many other Christians would recognize this, but instead, I felt myself having to defend the faith and truth of the Gospel against other Christians. 

I have long said that neither political party in the United States is pro-life. Republicans are anti-abortion, but pro-guns, pro-cutting taxes for the wealthy, pro-death penalty, pro-cutting universal health care for those who are sick, deny that climate change is happening... How are these things pro-life? Oppositely, Democrats support a woman's right to choose abortion and clearly are out of touch with the poor middle class who ended up voting for a man who hasn't paid taxes in 18 years instead of a woman who has served their country for longer.
( I know that this paragraph sounds really biased right now, but this is what I am grappling with right now and something I have struggled with for years, so I appreciate you indulging and being patient with me...)

But some of these things are up to one's interpretation and some are absolutes. How are we to tell what is non-negotiable and what is not? This is why we can't put our trust in party or a man. But we also can't just sit by and do nothing. So I, personally, have to turn to the Gospels. 

The Gospels tell us these things:

That the Samaritan- the foreigner, the stranger- who helped the stranded, beaten man on the side of the road is the example for us, rather than the priest who passed by and did nothing (Luke 10:29-37)

That the woman who places her two coins as an offering is greater than the wealthy who give from their surplus (Luke 21: 1-4)

That a thief who is repentant and sorrowful has a chance for redemption (Luke 23: 39-43)

To give everything we have to those in need, to share our goods (Matt. 5: 38-42)

And from the letters of Paul and John:

"If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?"- 1 John 3:17

That we are all connected and what happens to the least of our community, affects the body- 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

This is just a small smattering of the social justice issues covered in the New Testament. And more than just one issue or marginalized group fall into these examples: the unborn, the poor, the sick, the foreigner, the outcast, the sinner. Again, how are we to know which gets precedence? The Church fights for all of these groups. As Christians, we should fight for all of these groups. All of these groups are voiceless and need our help. So why are we arguing? I wish we could rally together as St. Paul asks in the reading that I posted above and recognize that as Christians we need to fight for all of these things.

Speaking of St. Paul, today is the feast of his Conversion. St. Paul was a Jew who persecuted Christians. Then he had an encounter with Christ and became the advocate that you read from above. Change is possible, but we can't just sit by and wait for it, we have to be open to it. At RCIA last night at my parish, we talked about Grace. Similarly, Grace is all around us, freely given to us, but because of our free will, we have to choose to accept it. We have to be open to it. 

Once Paul encountered Christ, he was not silent. Once he saw what was true, he wrote letters, encouraged communities, and pointed out (lovingly) what communities needed to work on. I will admit, I am struggling to be open. I am struggling to be hopeful or encouraging. But I am praying for conversion to be more open to my brothers and sisters and also to understanding where God is leading us in all of this. 

Conversion has always been one of my favorite themes thanks to St. Paul and where the Lord has led me in my life. It is a very important theme right now and I am grateful for the nudges towards conversion even it is coming from a place I didn't expect or wish that we didn't have to go through, namely, this time in our world and country right now. 

I continue to look to St. Paul and the saints for help because they, too, have been witnesses in hostile times and climates. I pray for their intercession in a new way today. 

St Paul and all you holy saints and angels, pray for us.