Archive for March, 2009

Our Thirst for the Meaning of Life

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

  March 15, 2009

Third Sunday of Lent (Year A)

Ex 17: 3-7; Rom 5: 1-2, 5-8; Jn 4: 5-42

Dc. Larry Brockman


Thirst!  What are you thirsting for?  Are you like the Israelite people, concerned totally with living in the world?  Exodus describes the Israelites journey to escape slavery from the Egyptians and establish a new land flowing with milk and honey.  But once they had escaped from the Egyptians, the Israelites lost sight of what that really meant.  They were caught up in the details of the journey and everyday life.  Their concern was over food and water- their mere sustenance, not the dream that God had for his people- the covenant God had made with them to give them the promised land.  And so, they agitated for food- which God provided in the manna and the quail; and then the water, as we heard in the first reading

Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman starts out the same way.  She is there for sustenance- until Jesus shakes her from her apathy.  Here is a woman who was obviously not happy.  She had gone through 5 husbands, and was with a 6th man.  She had not found what she was looking for in any of the relationships that she had. 

Although those were different times and places, and different circumstances that don’t seem relevant in our day and age, the fact is that our society is just as restless and thirsty as the Israelites were.  We are looking for the quick fix- the infusion of government dollars, to quench the thirst of a runaway financial fire.  As a society, we are looking for quick gratification rather than the ultimate answers that treat the root problem. 

And we are restless as individuals too.  We are thirsting- thirsting for that which will satisfy us in this life.  But we mistakenly seek the momentary quenching of that thirst by the pleasures of life just like the Samaritan woman did, and so, we need the “living water” that Jesus spoke about. 

There’s a very interesting book I once read called “The Holy Longing” by Ronald Rolheiser.  The book talks about spirituality.  He says that “Spirituality concerns what we do with our desires”.  Isn’t that another way to say that Spirituality concerns what we do to satisfy our thirsts?  So maybe what the woman at the well really wanted, was to find herself spiritually.  And we are all in the same boat.  We are all seeking the real meaning of life, thirsting for an answer that will satisfy us over the long haul. 

It seems to me that there are a number of modern obstacles to developing our spirituality:  First, we put a wall between the living of life and our experience with the Church.  Once we leave mass on Sunday, we have a tendency to leave the spiritual part of our lives behind.  But the reality is that our spirits are longing for God to be right there along side of us in everything we do because that’s what it means to be a Christian and that is what brings us lasting joy and happiness.  Second, we have a tendency to reject our Christian heritage in favor of a wave of 21st century knowledge.  Yes- knowledge in science, technology, medicine, psychology, and all the modern fields has advanced at a rapid pace.  But, if we really believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and that God speaks through the tradition of his Church, then when it comes to living our lives in such a way that we can find meaning in our lives and grow closer to God,  we need to look to our Christian heritage for those answers.  God is spirit- and our spirits will be nurtured best by engaging the Church for nourishing our spirituality. 

What is it that our spirits are thirsting for?  In the book I mentioned, the author identifies four essential elements of a healthy spirituality.  These are basically derived from the things we are asked to do during Lent- Prayer, Almsgiving, and Fasting:  First, he identifies private prayer and proper personal morality.  Prayer should begin in our homes, with our families.  But, our parish abounds in opportunities to develop this element.  The adoration chapel, prayer groups, and adult education programs are constantly being advertised. 

Second is social justice.  Yes, that means all of us need to be involved helping others less fortunate than ourselves.  Again, social justice begins in the home, in the way we relate to our families.  But we need to do more, we need to extend ourselves, and hopefully as a family.  Again, there are opportunities in the Parish.  As examples, we have a fantastic St. Vincent de Paul program, a very active respect Life Program, and we participate in feeding the poor through Helping Hands. 

The third element is Mellowness of heart and soul.  This element is achieved by self sacrifice and community.  Fasting, or self sacrifice, helps to sensitize ourselves to what suffering means to others.  It helps foster a sense of compassion.  In addition, we tend to be bitter and angry about some of the things in our life; or we may tend to be self absorbed and weak.  In any event, community is a great way to treat these weaknesses.  That community begins in our own homes, with our family.  But we need a larger community.  We need community with a group of people that listens when we need a friend; and that we can enjoy life with as we share our common values.  Belonging to such a community softens our bitterness, and gets us away from self.  Again, the Church is the place to find that people to form that community. 

And the fourth element is belonging to a worshiping community which we are all doing already when we come together and witness to our faith. 

But all of these elements need to be in proper balance.  That is the key to a healthy spirituality.  You need to be involved in all of these elements, not predominantly one or another. 

We are in the middle of Lent, the perfect time to reflect on our lives, find the living water, and grow closer to God.  In our midst, there are catechumens who have chosen to make a significant commitment to our Church.  Unlike us cradle Catholics, they have chosen the faith that we profess.  They are a great example of people in the middle of the process I have outlined this morning.  For those of us who are already Catholic, and who thirst for the real meaning of life, like the woman at the well did, recall the words of the great St. Augustine.  “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” 

Facing the Challenge of Life

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

  March 12, 2009


Thursday of Second Week of Lent

Jer 17: 5-10; Lk 16: 19-31

Dc. Larry Brockman

Once a year I like to visit my son in Seattle.  And in the 5 or so years I have done that, I can’t remember a single time I wasn’t approached by a homeless person on the streets of Seattle.  It is usually close to the waterfront, shortly after I have dined in a fine seafood restaurant.  And so, this gospel reading often comes to mind.  The homeless person always shakes me out of a sense of contentment.  I have just reached my destination- ready for a nice vacation, and good times with my son and his family.  Aren’t I entitled to a fine meal while I am on vacation without having to be accosted by these people on the street?  Why are these people always there- every year?  And how is it they always seem to know who the visitors are?  Why can’t they just go away?   

One way of looking at it is that I have worked hard for my retirement.  Indeed, I worked for 40 years, saved, and was able to retire.  Now, I am entitled to a life of relative leisure, especially when I am on vacation.  Or am I. 

Jeremiah says “Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in the flesh…”  And if I set my agenda, if I am always in control, then isn’t that seeking strength in the flesh?  So, maybe there is another way to look at it.  And that is that I have been truly blessed by God.  I was fortunate to have been able to work 40 years and earned a safe retirement.  But the challenge of life does not end with attainment of success, or for that matter even with retirement.  Rather, the challenge of life continues, no matter what your status in life is.  That challenge is to trust in the Lord, as Jeremiah advises rather than in yourself.   

When you are approached by a homeless person on the street, begging for food, you have some options.  You can ignore him, and just walk away; or you can listen patiently to his plight, and then admonish him to get a job like you did; or you can give him some money; or you can take him somewhere and buy him a meal  The question is:  What will you do? 

Get Ready for the Time of Fulfillment

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

  March 1, 2009

1st Sunday of Lent

Gen 9:8-15: 1 Pet 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15

Dc. Larry Brockman

This is the time of fulfillment!  That’s what Jesus said as he emerged from the desert after 40 days.  My prayer is that you and I can do the same- that we can emerge from our Lenten desert experience with joy and the sure knowledge that we are in the age of fulfillment.  But, that will only happen if you take Lent seriously, and use it as a time to reflect on what is important for you to do with the rest of your life, so that you can feel that you have reached the time of fulfillment.  And, we have the full forty days of Lent to do that.   

Just what is the significance of the number 40?  Well, recall that Noah endured a flood which lasted 40 days and 40 nights.  That flood purified the earth of the evil that had angered the Lord.  Noah and his family emerged after that 40 days with the first of God’s Covenants with man.  The gift God gave was a new chance for his people to start anew once the evil that had plagued the world before the flood was washed away forever.  That is what we are being called to do during Lent- to be purified of whatever evils plague us in our lives and respond anew to God’s love with our lives.   

The evils that we need to purge can be many things- things like complacency that dulls our sense of what God’s will is for us; attachments that interfere with our spiritual journey to grow closer to God; or fear about taking a step in a new direction that would help us to grow in our relationship with God.  These are just three things, but in all these cases, we are being challenged to a change of heart because it is the evil in our hearts that must be purified if we are to make significant changes in our lives.   

Now the Church advises that we use three tools during Lent to help us to deal with a change of heart.  They are fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.   

What about fasting?  Fasting can be any form of self denial; it doesn’t have to be food.  You could give up TV, give up beer, give up playing cards.  Fasting is giving up something that gratifies you.  Why should you do it?  Because when you fast, you learn to appreciate the hunger that so many people experience in this world.  Fasting gives you a sense of compassion for the suffering of others because the new sacrifice you make helps you to identify with the suffering of others.  And in this way, fasting can open up your hearts to the needs of others that God wants you to act on.   

The second tool is prayer.  You first need to enter the equivalent of the desert to pray.  That means you need to get away from things and people so you can spend some quiet time praying.  You need an environment that is devoid of distractions so that when you pray, you can hear God speak to you.  And, you need some time for the dialogue that follows, so that you can respond from the heart.  And so, by following Jesus into a type of desert during these 40 days, your prayers can be much more meaningful.   

The third tool is almsgiving.  Now, if almsgiving means dropping a few extra coins in the collection basket or sending a check to your favorite charity, then you’ve missed the point.  Almsgiving is intended to prepare you for your response to the calling you hear in your prayers.  Almsgiving is a sacrifice you make to help someone else.  If you give something freely out of your hearts in almsgiving, then it will be that much easier to give of yourselves in the response  God is calling you to make in your prayer.   

The Gospel tells us that Jesus was tempted over the forty days.  Indeed, all of you will be tempted as well.  All of you will find the road to abandon your desert experience of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, as wide and well defined as a six lane freeway.  But the road through the desert will be ill defined and difficult.  The thing to remember is that end game.  You see Jesus emerged from his desert with great enthusiasm and happiness, proclaiming that the time of fulfillment was now, and that the Kingdom of God was at hand.  Jesus did that knowing what his mission was going to be. 

None of us would want the pain and suffering of Jesus mission.  None of us, fortunately, will have to endure that kind of suffering.  But, when you emerge from the Lenten desert knowing what God wants for you.  You will experience real joy, no matter what the consequences.