Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Virus "Stay at Home" - 30 Day Retreat - Day 9

God Works in Mysterious Ways—Through Your Sermon! by Danny MacMunn ...  Abraham Pleads for Sodom- Genesis 18

When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

The story goes on, and Abraham ultimately convinces God if there are ten good people in Sodom to spare them. It may sound a little crazy, but I've imagined this prayer as I talk to God lately.  I am praying He will save us from this pandemic because so many good - "righteous" - people are suffering.  One mystery that is entirely beyond my understanding is the mystery of human suffering.  Even the best rational explanations of why suffering exists and how it fits into the whole order of things fall short.

I do know from many experiences in my life, that it is impossible to see God's Providence as it is happening.  We can only see it when we look back in reflection on the past. In times of crisis, it is tough to sense that God is present and working to bring good out of a bad situation. However, when we look back at such times, we can often see the gentle hand of God at work. After 9/11, an event so far from God's will, the love, and charity that poured out of all people, not only in the United States but around the world, was astounding!

In times of tragedy, we may not be able to see that God is there, leading us to peace and comfort, and so much more. However, we can rest assured that this world is set up in such a way that all can be bent and turned toward good.  God's work always takes on the faces of the saints who stand tall in the crisis.  Pray for our healthcare workers!  Pray for the truck drivers and warehouse workers and grocery clerks.  They are the face of God for us in these difficult times.

Prayer:  Pray as Abraham did for the people of Sodom.  Ask God to spare us from this crisis because excellent people are being hurt.

Action:  Call a nurse you know to thank them and let them know you are praying for them.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Virus "Stay at Home" - 30 Day Retreat - Day 8

A call to all & the gift of hospitality - Do Not Depart

For the past few years, the Saint Brigid parish staff has been laser-focused on hospitality.  We have worked very diligently to create an environment of welcome.

Today I was struck by the questions:

What does it look like to be a people of hospitality in a world of social distancing? 

How can we welcome our neighbors in a world where they may be infected, or we may infect them? 

The answers to these questions may look a bit different in this time of isolation. Perhaps the answer is not physical hospitality but rather spiritual hospitality. Many of us have said things like, "I would pray more if I just had more time." Well, now is your time. The distractions are gone.

Now is the time to pray and read scripture.
Now is the time to sit in silence and meditate.
Now is the time to reflect on Jesus' identification with the sick, the vulnerable, and the sinful.
And now is the time to pray for each other!

While it is true we cannot share a hug, we can offer a spiritual hug and offer a prayer for each other.  We also have the time to focus on hospitality toward God.  Let's all spend some quite time inviting God into our hearts, asking God for a closer relationship. There can be no hospitality toward God without first a silent, meditative, prayerful invitation to God.

While it maybe from six feet away, we can all practice hospitality to a neighbor, even a neighbor that’s been a challenge. There are vulnerable people around us who may have been forgotten, ignored, or overlooked. Hospitality in a world of COVID-19 looks like thinking of them when no one else does. It looks like letting our neighbors (including that challenging neighbor) know you’re there if they need anything.

We can also send encouraging prayers via text or email to people cloistered in their homes, living in fear. Or we can send prayers of healing for people who get sick. There is no better time than this to reach out to our neighbors and simply let them know you are praying for them. Social distancing does not mean we cannot live out the radical Christian ethic of hospitality.

In the weeks and months ahead, our lives may change in ways we cannot now imagine. And our faith may grow in ways we could have dreamed without the testing of COVID-19. Christian hospitality shines brightest in days of persecution and plague. It is during hard times—dangerous times—when Christians demonstrate that real love takes courage, we model Christ to a watching world.

Do not fear, COVID-19 is not going to overcome the world. Christ is. “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).

Prayer:  Invite God into your heart, show him true hospitality.  Pray for your neighbors especially the ones who challenge you.

Action:  Send a prayer to someone you know needs one.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Virus "Stay at Home" - 30 Day Retreat - Day 7

Who Betrayed Anne Frank?
Times of crisis can cause us to let go of the worries of our day to day bustle and cause us to think about the truly important things in life.  Crisis times set at zero, the ordinary concerns of daily life. They invite us to ponder with proper awe the seriousness of the real mystery of life. Challenging times can deepen our faith and bring out the best in us.

Lately, Anne Frank and her family have often been in my thoughts.  Anne Frank was a Jewish teenager who went into hiding during the Holocaust. Her family's happy, tranquil life, as well as the lives of all other German Jews, were derailed by circumstances beyond their control.  Despite her enormous challenges, Anne's diary is amazingly optimistic.  She is an inspiration for us now.

She said in her diary: "I still believe that people are really good at heart ... if I look into the heavens, I think that it will come out right and that peace and tranquility will return again."  Thirteen-year-old Anne wrote this in her diary while she and her parents were hiding from the Nazis in World War II.

Was Anne's faith in the goodness of people merely an opinion?  Or was it rooted in something deeper than mere logic?  Anne expressed this belief in the face of horrifying events that drove others to despair.  I can't help but ask myself - why?  What was it about her that allowed her to find goodness and optimism in her challenges?  She is a model for us as we too face a challenge beyond our control.

Pope Francis seems to have a similar optimist spirit.  He sees his personal mission as welcoming people to the life and energy of the gospel as an antidote to the despair and cynicism of the world. As such, he has been welcomed by millions of men and women as a breath of fresh air. 

He said recently,  "We find ourselves afraid and lost. We were caught off-guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented ... all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other."

On a rainy evening, in front of an empty St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis offered a prayer of hope for Christians around the world battling to stop the virus and save lives.  "May God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace, Lord, bless the world. Give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts.”

Peace be with you!

Prayer:  Repeat Pope Francis' prayer several times today.

Action:  Offer a word of hope to someone you know who is really struggling. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Virus "Stay at Home" - 30 Day Retreat - Day 6

A Time for Devils and Goblins - Official Site | CSLewis.com

My daughter sent this to me today - wow!

C.S. Lewis wrote something back in 1942 that is absolutely shocking. This is from is wonderful book The Screwtape Letters.  Satan and Jesus were having a conversation. 

"SATAN: I will cause anxiety, fear and panic. I will shut down business, schools, places of worship, and sports events. I will cause economic turmoil."

JESUS: I will bring together neighbors, restore the family unit, I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table. I will help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters. I will teach my children to trust me and not their money and material resources!"

WHOA. I've been praying for new perspective (HIS perspective) in 2020. He is answering that prayer mightily... in a way I could never have imagined.

This is a strange time. A time when we are being called to be teachers, chefs, housekeepers, managers, coaches, grandparents, cheerleaders, and spouses of the year! And I also think that we are being called to be faithful followers of the CREATOR of the universe... the One who is all knowing, all powerful and IS IN THIS pandemic... the One who loves us deeply & holds us! 

I've been praying Psalm 91 everyday (... for 91 days with Young Life - praying for healing and full restoration to the earth). The whole psalm is powerful... but clinging to verses 9-11. 

"If you say, 'The Lord is my refuge,' and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways."

Be at peace dear friends.  This will pass.  And strangely enough we just may be better off for this experience. 

Prayer:  Pray a rosary for all the members of our parish.

Action:  Call someone who is living alone. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Virus "Stay at Home" - 30 Day Retreat - Day 5

Today let's just meditate on Psalm 91.  This psalm bursts with assurances about the protection of God. It is filled with words we so desperately need to hear right now. 

At this time of challenge facing the coronavirus, this Psalm speaks God’s power, presence, intentions, and protection against fear. Described as a covering for His people, God’s comfort is a wing of security amidst this world’s uncertainties and suffering.

Enter deeply today in the words of this scripture.  We believe, teach, and confess that Holy Scripture is the Word of God. These are God's words, take them into your heart.

Psalm 91  God Our Protector

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
will say of the Lord,
“He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly diseases.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the diseases that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your home.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Virus "Stay at Home" - 30 Day Retreat - Day 4

Times like these can cause us to be laser-focused on the mystery of Life and Death. Typically many, if not most of us, rarely give these ultimate issues a moment’s thought.  It’s easy to take life for granted. It’s easy to ignore where our life comes from, to ignore the creator of life. We allow God to fade into the background of our day to day existence. The coronavirus has reminded many of us of the fragility of life. And for some of us during this crisis, God has been brought out of the background.

Even when we can’t feel God, he is still there, always there, never leaving or forsaking. His love is big enough to span even the distance of our wandering heart. It is not God who moves away from us; it is not God who is distant.  It is our relationship to Him, which is in question and not his relationship to us.

We cannot grasp the master plan of the universe, which allows for so much suffering and pain; we can, however, respond positively.  We can find meaning amid the suffering, and we can offer real and practical help to those in need.

We all ask the question: Where is God when it hurts? That is the question that never goes away. A hospice worker once wrote: “God does not prevent the hard things that happen in this free and dangerous world, but instead shares them with us all.”

A fundamental Church teaching, which is so important to remember in times like this, is that God enters the world through us.  How we treat each other makes all the difference as to whether those around us will feel God's presence.  If God is to be present in our lives right now, it will most certainly be because others saw the living God in us.

Pray:  In silence ask God to make Himself present in our life, and to show you how He needs your help right now.

Action:  Call someone who is living alone and chat with them for a while.  Reach out to a senior and give them some encouragement.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Virus "Stay at Home" - 30 Day Retreat - Day 3

Image result for serving the homelessIn the Los Angeles Times, there was an article describing the heroic work of outreach workers who daily walk the streets to help the homeless.  These amazing people may not think of themselves as missionaries – but they are.  Actions speak so much louder than words.  As we shelter in place, our prayers can go up to God asking Him to bless the heroes in our streets, and in our hospitals, and first responders.  We can share in their mission through our prayers. 

St Therese of Lisieux wanted with all her heart to be a missionary, but it was not God's plan for her life. As she was a cloistered Carmelite nun, Therese’s vocation was a call to prayer within the convent walls. Many of us who are “cloistered” in our own homes due to the Coronavirus are being called to imitate St. Therese.  Instead of going out into the world, God is calling us to use this time of confinement to pray for the good work of others.

In Saint Peter's first letter, he wrote:  My dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful test you are suffering, as though something unusual was happening to you. Rather be glad that you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may be full of joy when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4: 12-14

All of us are being asked to cooperate through this time of isolation for the common good. Those of us who have faith can pray for God's mercy, and encourage those around us to be brave. Now is not a time for despair.  It is time to put our faith to good use.  This is not a crisis anyone wants, but this crisis can show to the world how Christians respond. It is time to demonstrate what being a Christian means.  To display the joy of the Lord in our attitude toward this challenge.

In silent prayer, contemplate how completely alive God is and how completely He gives Himself to you.  Meditate on a God who is the breath of life, who gives life and restores life. Find peace in knowing of His love for you - and share it.

Reach out to someone experiencing fear with a reassuring word.
Pray for those who are sacrificing their safety to help others.
Pray for Fr. Joe's Village, Catholic Charities, the San Diego Food Bank and other frontline organizations.  Pray for the homeless and those who in this time of trial are helping them.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Virus "Stay at Home" - 30 Day Retreat - Day 2

When I was sick with cancer a few years back, someone told me to meditate on this biblical verse - 
1 Thessalonians 5:17-19  
Pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus.”

I could not imagine how to be thankful for having cancer, but I tried.  And miraculously, it changed everything. I began seeing my cancer as a gift, a gift that was changing me for the better, a gift that was leading me to a more meaningful life. A life where I learned how to thank God in all circumstances.
That lesson is coming in handy during this time of isolation and fear.  We must never forget if we’re praying about it, God is working on it. God is making things happen for us even when we don’t see it, even when you can’t feel it, even if it’s not evident. God is working on our prayers.  

Sometimes God’s plan is painful and hard. We must never forget He told us to take up our crosses and follow Him. And we must also never forget God changes caterpillars into butterflies, sand into pearls and coal into diamonds by using time and pressure. He is working on us too right now in this time of tension and anxiety.

A wise man once said: “You are where God wants you to be at this very moment. Every experience is part of His divine plan.”

St. Ignatius of Loyola warns us against two specific dangers during a time of retreat.

1. The danger of “self-centeredness." I should always keep in mind that I am wanted even more than I want to be wanted.  I must realize that I am being acted upon by the force of God.  He is drawing me.

2. The second danger is that of "Discouragement."  I must not look at the negative sides of things only.  I must not fall into the trap of only considering my faults, the ability I do not have, nor the past which I have left, nor the current challenge I’m facing.

Today acknowledge the power of being wanted and the power of one wanting me to be wanted.  Let go, fall into the arms of God. 

Enter a period of silent prayer. Asking God"  "What do you want me to learn from this?"

Pray to understand the Truth that God loves us wildly and wants the best for us –  “Taste and see how good the Lord is.”

Reflect on the words of Mary when she was facing an unexpected challenge:  Luke 1:38 And Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Virus "Stay at Home" - 30 Day Retreat

I've been asking myself how can I make this isolation more productive. We are all a little fearful of this whole mess.  The antidote to fear is getting in touch with God and his love for us.  So I thought I'd try having a retreat during this time.  I'll post it here on my blog for anyone who wishes to join me on this journey. 

Day 1 - “Come and See”

John 1: 35-39 The next day, John was standing there again with two of his disciples, when he saw Jesus walking by. "There is the Lamb of God!" he said.  The two disciples heard him say this and went with Jesus. Jesus turned, saw them following him, and asked, "What are you looking for?" They answered, "Where do you live, Rabbi?"  "Come and see," he replied.

"Come and "See," that is the call of our retreat.  To follow Jesus, to get to know Him, and see what he desires of us is the goal.  Like the disciples Jesus called, we too are asked to respond to his invitation, to follow Him, and get to know Him. The hope of this retreat, this time in forced isolation is to make it productive, spending time with Jesus, asking Him: What do you want of me?  What are you looking for from me?

In newspapers, magazines, T.V., the internet, etc. there are opinions expressed in the advertisements concerning what we should do, look, think, say, dress, etc.  Christ is the opposite.  He expresses no superficial opinions on what we should do, look, think, say, dress, etc. Instead, he communicates to us – the truth – of how and what we should do.  He said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will never pass away."  So why then do we listen more to the opinions of others that will pass away then His truth?  During these challenging times, let us focus on the truth of Christ, which will last?

During this retreat, let's be open and listen, obediently to Christ - not the world.
Let’s ask ourselves - What in my life am I afraid of?  Why am I fearful? 

As followers of Christ, as members of his Body, we must develop self-knowledge – the kind of knowledge that will lead us to love. We must want and desire to love and be loved with all our being. To come to Christ and see Him with fresh eyes. In this retreat, let's pray that we may genuinely seek to know the Risen Christ, here and now present.  In doing this, we are seeking His peace – the peace of a real friend. The peace beyond all understanding.

In the end, we want to be able to say: I hope in Christ because I have found that I am loved more than I can possibly love, and I am wanted by God even more than I want to be wanted.  When we "come and see" this incredible love God has for us, we are asked not merely to luxuriate in this love, we are asked to share it. Jesus told us – “If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”  Let's all use this unique and strange time in our lives to love God and love each other more than ever. 

Prayer: O God allow us to put our hearts where Christ's is.  We beg you that we may be open to Christ, to be more loving and even more loveable, to worry less, and love more.  Amen