March 22, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Mother Rebecca Stramoski
March 22, 2015

            Jn 12:20-33
            We spoke last week of the attraction of the cross.  Today this message is repeated: Jesus lifted up will draw all people to Himself.  This repetition is not surprising since last week we were talking about the cross as the center-piece of our lives where all paradoxes, graces, and salvation flow.  So we remain again at the foot of the cross looking with love at Jesus who is looking lovingly at us.  Love always attracts and the cross of Christ is the greatest love.  But there is a catch to this seemingly simple attractive force of love.  We love, but unfortunately, we love many things.  Yes, we do love the cross but we also love our comfort and our will and our possessions and our time…and the list goes on!  Our arms are not big enough to embrace all the things we love! 
            I read a book during retreat that used the image of a magnet and its attractive force.  If you put a nail close to a magnet, the nail sticks.  Put another nail by the nail on the magnet and it sticks too.  We can repeat this on and on until we have a trail of nails piled high.  Things begin to get heavy and messy as the strings of love pile on and on. 
            This is a reason we want to return daily to the cross…to make Christ crucified the center of our passion and the only desire of our heart.  When the soul is filled with Christ it has no more longings.  So here comes another image.  A horseshoe magnet can rapidly pick up pieces of iron.  However if you put a piece of iron right across the two ends of the magnet, it will cease to attract anything else.  The magnetic circuit is completed, and the magnet rests perfectly quiet, refusing to go beyond its own circle of pure content…and content.  When my soul is filled with Jesus, He completes the circuit of my soul’s passions and longings.  He is my salvation and all my desire – I have no need to pick up other things.  Haven’t we all experienced this?  Hasn’t your soul come to a complete rest when it has been absorbed by Christ?  When He has drawn you to Himself, have you not entered into rest?  Just as Jesus said, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Mat11:28).   This peace is another fruit of the attractive force of the crucified Christ.  
            Lent is a time of recommitment…a time for us to examine our lives and set things in proper order with God – with our sole passion being for Christ.   Jesus says in our gospel today “that to serve me is to follow me”, but adds “where I am”.  Jesus says follow me “where I am”- not where I think I should be or where I want to be, but simply, where He is.  Without that completed circuit, so to speak, this one phrase can cause us many troubles.  Purity of heart allows us to see Jesus where He is.  Or like those Greeks in today’s gospel, with our whole being (heart, mind, and soul) we beg “Sir, we would like to see Jesus”.    
            So let us look at where Jesus went in His earthly travels.  We heard at the beginning of our Lenten season that Jesus was led into the desert.  So we should not be surprised when we find ourselves in desert places.  This is where we must all eventually travel.  The desert is not a comfortable place to be.  It is the place of the heart which we must enter - where things are stripped down to essential truths so that our love, desires, and thoughts may become single focused and pure.  It is a difficult road that leads us to the truth of who we are, but it also leads us to the truth of who God is, which brings us to peacefully rest in His heart…where that magnetic circle is complete.  It is where “the grain of wheat dies” in order “to produce much fruit”; where “we lose our life” so as “to preserve it for eternal life”
            But what led Jesus into the desert?  Certainly it was not the flesh because the flesh does not seek out the uncomfortable and barren spots.  Rather we are told that it was the Spirit that led him into the desert.  For only the Spirit can give us the courage to enter our consciences honestly and recommit our lives and purify our hearts. 
            Jesus was led to another place as well…the cross.  With this in mind, can we hear the words of Jesus again:  “to serve me is to follow me where I am”.  In other words, to serve God am I willing to follow him all the way to the cross?  Can I truly say with St Paul, “I want to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified”.
            When I was new in the life I was speaking to someone in community about my struggling with something.  (To be honest I can’t remember what it was but at the time I thought it was huge!!  You know how that goes!!)  I told her I had been taking it to the cross of Jesus every day and yet it was still with me!!!  She responded that I don’t go to the cross and throw my troubles up to Jesus hanging there…I need to mount the cross with Jesus.  I was shocked, or more accurately, “awoken” by that statement!  Later, what came to mind was St Paul’s words “I have been crucified with Christ and the life I live is not my own but Christ living within me.”  Subconsciously I was thinking that if I took my sufferings to Christ He would take them away, but I realized this was a cross I was to bear for Him and with Him.  It was God’s choice on whether it was more beneficial for me to carry the cross or not and God’s discretion on when this suffering would turn into new life.  It was like I was expecting Jesus to be where I was and how I thought it should be, and not following where Jesus actually was and where Jesus wanted me.  It is easy to slip into this way of praying if we are not careful.    
            So yes, Lent is a time to enter our hearts honestly and to look at our commitments and promises.   Sometimes we prefer distractions or even to entertain the temptations in the desert.  But distractions bring a lack of peace and a multiplication of loves like the nails piling high on the magnet.  So whether we are being led to the desert or to the cross, let us stay focused on Christ…let His love attract us to Himself.  This is the only way we can “look forward to holy Easter with that joy and spiritual longing” that St Benedict prescribed during Lent.    
            So let us embrace the cross with joy, peace, and trust, and let its love attract us, knowing that Christ did all of this…for us!

March 21, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Mother Rebecca Stramoski
March 15, 2015

Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

            In today’s gospel Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”   Later in John’s gospel, Jesus will address this message to everyone: “when I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself.” 
            When a charismatic leader dies a lot of his personal power and attraction dies with him.  What remains is a memory and perhaps a few books and insights.  But with Jesus it is all different.  The Lord’s power to draw all people to himself is mainly in His death, when he was lifted up on the cross.  How ironic it seems that His main attractive force is the cross.  What remains in Jesus’ death is not a memory but a living presence and a Spirit of driving force.  The written words that remain speak as personally to us today as when they were written two thousand years ago!  They are not just insights but have the power to save.
            I remember BJ recalling how Colum would give him a scripture passage to ponder in prayer each day.  She gave him a verse from 1 Cor (2:2): “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified “.   BJ came back the next day and asked for another passage.   But Colum told him to stay with that one sentence for a full week.  He was surprised - how could he meditate on one verse for a whole week?  But Colum told BJ that unless he understood Christ crucified, he could not be a true disciple of Jesus. In other words if we don’t understand Christ crucified we have missed Jesus’ central message and His greatest act of love.  The cross is the center-point of Truth’s many paradoxes.  It is at the cross we understand that death is life, loss is gain, weakness is strength…and our darkest moments are filled with greatest light.  Jesus’ glory arose in His humiliation, love in his suffering, and mercy in his dying words.  This is what we want to emulate in our own lives:  humility grounded in truth, a love stronger than death, and a mercy without limits.  Jesus taught us this not only by his words but by his life – to be His disciple we must do the same.  This is why Colum was saying we must know Christ as crucified, for His cross is the attractive force of God’s love and it is by this that we are saved.  Do you find the cross attractive?  Is it something you want to embrace in your life?  Do you see the cross of Christ as the center of your life?  Pope Benedict remarked in his Encyclical, “God is Love {and} it is only by looking at Jesus dead on the cross that this fundamental truth can be known and contemplated.  In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move.” 
            In this Lenten Season we want to spend time at the foot of the cross and let Jesus teach us, inspire us, forgive us, love us, and encourage us.  As Pope Benedict said, it is the place of infinite love and eternal life.  Love and eternal life have been the two greatest desires of all humankind throughout all ages!   The cross is an attractive force because it offers us both.  Jesus held on to nothing in order to give us everything.  To be like Christ is our ambition and our mission - to love like Him and divest ourselves of everything that is not Him…that is not love…that is not life giving.  But in the cross we don’t just see Jesus’ greatest expression of love.  In the cross we see what humanity is capable of - we are capable of tremendous love, like Jesus, but it requires a self-transcendence in surrender and trust.  We must spend time at the cross to learn this lesson and received its grace.
            St Bernard confirms this when he said, “We too when faced with our trials in community, with the crosses we must bear, here is our greatest opportunity to love, our greatest chance to be generous.  So like Christ, we desire to embrace the cross.  We don’t want to erase, but rather embrace, the crosses of Life and Love for the sake of our God.   Divine nature never worked more nobly and beautifully than when human nature must suffer because it is in our weakness that God’s power is strongest.” 
            When I was on retreat I would stay in church and pray after mass.  There was an 8 foot crucifix behind the altar and by its side was a huge icon of Jesus holding open the Scripture passage “I am the Light of the world.  He who follows me will not walk in darkness but have the light of life.”  At first I thought the two being put so close together was strange, but as the days went on I came across in a book I was reading:  “Not to Bethlehem, where the stars of Christmas burned, do we look for our greatest comfort, but to that place where the sun was darkened at midday and the face of eternal love was veiled.”  (Charles Spurgeon)  Yes, how true this darkest of days became our greatest light.  The cross…this is our guiding star in the Lenten Season.  If we are struggling or grieving, look to the cross.  “If the first glance does not quiet you and bring you consolation and peace, then look and look again, for every grief and trial will die where Jesus died.”
            Let us make this Lent a time in which we sit under the cross of Christ and give God our whole being – our mind, heart, soul, and time.   And let us allow the cross to bring us comfort, love, mercy, and salvation, for today Jesus is attracting us to Himself!...The question is “will we come?”!