I’m Not a Saint

Christ is not asking us to be successful or productive. Christ is looking for us to be present…present to God (in prayer), and present to each other, present to each other in acts of love and mercy, especially present to the poor and the suffering. But we don’t really take Jesus seriously. We don’t love our enemies. We don’t turn the other cheek. We don’t forgive 70 x 7 times. We don’t bless those who curse us. We don’t share what we have with the poor. We don’t put all our hope and trust in God.

We say: I’m not a saint. We say: This Gospel stuff can’t be meant for everybody. We say: The Gospel is an ideal. But the gospel is not merely an ideal. The Gospel is the Way.

Lent gives us the chance to see we have strayed from the Way. Lent is a time for self-examination, a time for repentance a time for acts of self-control and acts of charity through self-emptying.

But mostly Lent is a time to enter into the suffering and death of Jesus which opened the reign of God’s grace and eternal life to all humans. Lent is a time to take Jesus seriously.

SILENZIO: a new film from Gerry Straub

SilenzioPoster1

Silenzio is a film without words. Except for the brief prologue and epilogue, there isn’t even a hint of narration; all you will hear is beautiful, soothing, inspirational music. Moreover, about half the film consists of still photographs. Silenzio is about beauty, stillness, and silence. The sole purpose of the film is to reveal and celebrate the resplendent countryside and medieval towns that Saint Francis of Assisi loved very much. Along the way the film visits many exquisitely beautiful churches whose walls are covered with magnificent, centuries-old art. While the film takes you to the far-flung corners of Franciscan Italy, it is our sincere hope the film brings you to a deeper place of peace and tranquility within yourself. Don’t just watch the film…inhale it.

 

Silenzio is a cinematic tool to help you enter into the stillness and silence that is necessary for a time of meditation. Divided into ten short chapters, the film is not intended to be viewed in its entirety all at once. We hope the viewer only watches a chapter at a time on a daily or weekly basis…to help them quiet the frenetic pace of modern life and to open their eyes to the beauty and sacredness of life. The film is also a cinematic photo-album for anyone who has visited Assisi and wants to recapture the allure and spiritual enchantment of the holy little city that sits on a hill gently inviting visitors to embrace a spirit of contemplation and service.

The film can be ordered directly from the Pax et Bonum Communications website.

The Desert Within

According to the Gospel of Mark, the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. Is the Spirit driving me into the desert? Seems like lots of things are driving me, but I rarely feel the Spirit driving me. Lent is a time the Church sets aside for making space for the Spirit, a time to move away from the normal distractions of life and be renewed by the Spirit of Life. Lent is a time to look at what drives me, what excites me and see if those things actually drive me away from the reality of God. Lent is about empty spaces, desert places, that give me the opportunity to feel the Spirit drive me into the desert of my heart and mind in order to purge them of all those desires that are not healthy. We don’t have to wait for Lent because we can enter the spirit of Lent anytime.

In the wilderness for forty days, Jesus was tempted by Satan. The desert, with its lack of clutter and people, has endless stretches of time to look closely at the wasteland of my life. The desert challenges me to come back to my true self, the self made in the image of God, an image I have tarnished by my self-destructive behavior, my yielding to the drives and desires that do not reveal the beauty of God.

The desert reveals my essential neediness and vulnerability. But the desert, with its vast horizon of empty space, is a place where I learn that I am not alone. In the desert, you find the Spirit who shows you how to be your true self.

A Nun, a Farmer and a Priest

In August of 2009, I spent a week in Paray-le-Monial, France, where I spoke and showed film clips to a gathering of 4,500 Catholic young people from all over Europe. Centuries earlier, a nun from Paray, which is located in the heart of the Burgundy region, had a remarkable vision which gave birth to deep devotion to Jesus. She was a simple nun. She lived in a small, rural town surrounded by lush fields and rolling hills far from the centers of human power. She lived the hidden life of a cloistered nun, a dedicated life of prayer and adoration. Yet, she saw something no one else had seen. And what she saw is still touching and transforming lives more than 325 years after her first vision.

In so many ways our sophisticated, modern world is so vastly different from hers; yet, in the most essential ways, life today is still very much the same as it was for this obscure, humble, veiled sister living long ago and far away in a monastery in Paray-le-Monial in the 1670’s. We still all seek communion, all need something beyond ourselves. We need to know the heart of God, to give our hearts to God and to each other.

Jesus revealed his most precious heart to Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a divine heart beating and overflowing with endless love for humanity, a human heart bowed and broken by the suffering endured by countless humans around the world because of poverty and violence, unjust and chronic poverty, unwarranted and brutal violence.

During a free day, I made a side trip to the village of Ars. Long ago, in this remote village in the south of France, St. John Marie Vianney (1786-1859), known as the Curé of Ars, noticed an old farmer who used to sit for hours in the humble, empty church. When the saint asked him what he was doing, the farmer replied: “He looks at me and I look at him.”

It really is that simple, but modern life is so connected to so much we are easily disconnected from the All. Television and the internet have turned our interior dwellings into shanty towns. Instead of looking in, they prompt us to look outward, and we become what we gaze upon. When praying, we turn away from ourselves and turn toward God. Lent, which begins in two days, is the perfect time to try to disconnect from things that distract of from God.

The Center of Everything

Christ is at the center of everything. Christ was with me when I had much, and Christ was with me when I had nothing. Whether I’m aspiring to holiness or trapped in my sinfulness, Christ is with me

Whether I’m full or empty, whether I’m happy or sad, whether I’m flourishing or falling, Christ is with me. Whether I’m being pure or lustful, Christ is with me. Whether I’m feeling in communion with everyone and everything or whether I’m feeling a hopeless loneliness, Christ is with me.

I often forget that in all experiences of my life I need to be alert to the presence of Christ. It is essential that I feel and sense God’s presence, feel the invitation of the Spirit to inform every experience of my life and to then reform my life. It has been the worst experiences of my life that have taught me how to grow closer to God.

The Gift of Love

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good,
for his love endures for ever.”
-Psalm 118-1

At the heart of love is a desire (eros) to be one with the beloved. This passionate desire for unity is so strong it feels the absence of the beloved. Love wants what it is missing so badly it hurts. But while love desires the love of its beloved, love also wants to give itself away to its beloved. This gift of love (agape) exists side-by-side with the desire for love (eros) within our hearts. It is the very union of eros and agape that love reaches its fulfillment.

God loves us, wants to be one with us. But we shunned that love, turned our backs on God. God’s passionate desire for us, even after feeling the pain of our rejection, is joined with God’s gratuitous gift of endless love to us in the person of Jesus. In Christ, humanity and divinity are wedded in everlasting love. As we desire the one we love and want to give ourselves completely to that person, so too does God love us, wants to be one with us and fully share the eternal wonder, joy, and hope of divinity with us. It is not enough to simply desire God. We need to give ourselves to God.

Authentic Transformation

Outside the inevitable suffering
caused by death and accidents,
most suffering bubbles up out of
our craving for transitory things
and our worldly attachments.

It is easy to become attached
to the kind of secure certainty
peddled by religious fundamentalism.
But this kind of “knowing”
is a road block to true knowing.
Clinging to the comfort of certainty
is just as bad as all our temporal attachments.

It is difficult for God’s Word to enter
our inner temple
because its entrance is blocked
by our endless array of attachments.
In order to be heard,
God requires silence and detachment from us.

Without daily contemplative silence
it is impossible to have
a true encounter with God’s Word within us,
where authentic transformation begins.


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