Christ is Risen – Happy easter

Rejoice in the new life God has given through the Risen Lord!

During Lent, we have been invited to recognize, face and act against the many temptations that prompt us human beings to be, and act in a less-than-human way. At the hart of every temptation is an urge to turn to, become preoccupied with the self. By so doing, the one acting inevitably neglects, acts against or harms the ‘other’: the environment, ones neighbor and, ultimately, God. This, at times irresistible self-centering urge prevents human beings from giving the ‘other’ its justice, which is the minimum measure of love.

In his suffering, death and resurrection, Christ gave us the solution that can enable everyone to overcome this weakness, or sinfulness. He showed us, that even in greatest difficulties, it is possible to overcome the temptation of turning to the ‘self’. He demonstrated it that even in the gravest trouble, one does not have to act like a drowning person, capable of harming even those wanting to help. He showed us that in the act of dying to one’s self-centeredness and selfishness lies the gateway to a new life that one arises to: a life lived for the ‘other’. This, however, is a tall order. Still, by trying to recall Christ’s example and God’s many other gifts and and signs of love for us, with gratitude, it is possible. Indeed, we are all invited to try to live the mystery of this new life we are invited to arise to, to whatever degree it is possible.

This is the reason that we can say that Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection is the essence of the Christian message of salvation. Indeed, all are invited to live this new life, which is the only cure for the many troubles of our wounded world.

In this Easter season, let us contemplate and practice this mystery, of dying to oneself and rising to a new life, lived for the ‘other’.

Lent – A Time of Transformation Leading to New Life

After the Exodus, the People of Israel experienced the forty years of wandering in the desert towards the Promised Land as a time of testing. Prior to starting his public ministry, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert, where he prayed and fasted for forty days and was tempted.

These two turning-point events in the history of Israel and humanity as a whole had a common location: the desert. The desert is traditionally understood as a desolate place where the human being is deprived of every possible comfort and protection. There is no place to hide from the merciless attacks of the inhospitable elements. Heat, cold, hunger, thirst, and isolation quickly drive home the human being’s complete dependence, and the centrality of trust, hope, and love as sources of meaning in one’s life.  

The forty-year period (symbolic in itself) in the desert for the Jewish people was comparable to a boot camp of sorts, in which they gradually grew into their new identity as the People of God. During this time of trial and tribulation, of vigorous exercise and testing, God, like a good coach, stood by them, and their trust, hope, and love became strong enough to be able to recognize the fulfillment of God’s promises as they were entering the Promised Land.

In Jesus’ desert experience, he was tempted to the core. In his humanity he was enticed by the enemy of human nature to reject his complete dependence on God, to take matters in his own hands, and save himself from the adversities of the desert environment. He was prompted (“if you are the Son of God”) to deny his human condition and claim powers that would cancel out his radical dependence on God. He was prompted to turn stones into bread and become self-sufficient, defy gravity by jumping off the pinnacle of the Temple unharmed, and become an instant celebrity. Finally, he was offered great political power by worshiping anything other than God. By consistently rejecting the temptations of undue power, he prepared the rest of his human life on earth to become the perfect revelation of God. In his life, death, and resurrection he revealed what it means to be a fully alive human being, a true image and likeness of God, namely, to act as if everything depended on him, but trusting in God as if everything would depend on God alone.  

The forty days of Lent are an invitation to enter the desert with the Jewish people and, especially, with Jesus. During this time of transformation and growth, Christians are invited to dare to accept and embrace their complete dependence on God. By growing in inner freedom from those inordinate attachments in life that prevent them from trusting and loving God and neighbour, Christians become able to make significant sacrifices in acting out this trust and love.

To this end, when answering the call of Lent and creating mini-desert experiences, many Christians often choose to give up things or practices that give them comfort and joy in everyday life. Others may commit themselves to correcting or unlearning bad, selfish habits, or, to becoming better at doing acts of justice and charity. In general, however, all are invited to try to turn to God in prayer more intensely and earnestly. All these, one by one or combined, help to facilitate growth in inner freedom that enables a person to act as if everything would depend on that person, and to trust in God as if everything would depend on God alone. In short, the forty days of Lent are a time of testing or practice, during which Christians are invited to become better images and likenesses of God who will bring meaning and joy into the lives of their neighbour.

Wishing you and your loved ones a grace-filled Lent. 

The true gift of Christmas

‘Christmas’ (from Crīstesmæsse or Christ’s Mass), also known as The Nativity of the Lord, is one of the most important celebrations in the Christian tradition.

The meaning of this feast, however, can only be understood fully when viewed through the event of the passion (suffering), death, and resurrection of Christ, which remains the central mystery of the Christian experience.

In and through the birth of the Christ-child, divine life became grafted into human existence, into the human form of life, resulting in its transformation or salvation. Think about it this way: When we insert a shoot or twig of a rose as a graft into a wild rose, the wild rose eventually becomes transformed into a new plant with new, enhanced characteristics. In a similar way, then, Divine Life (in Christian terminology, the Second Person of the Trinity) entering human existence, became grafted into the human form of life and, from within, changed it for ever. Christ’s life became the standard of human life.

The meaning of this became fully articulated and shown in the life of Christ. His teaching, in word and action, is the form of human life that all human beings, as images and likenesses of God, are called to participate in by imitating it. At the heart of this revelation of the new and enhanced human life – of who God is for us humans and who are we for God – is sacrificial love, the minimum measure of which is justice. 

The full and ultimate nature of this sacrificial love has been demonstrated in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. Christians refer to this as the ‘Easter experience.’

The true gift of Christmas, therefore, transcends every form of sentimentalism or commercialism, no matter how well intended. The true gift of Christmas is a new form of human life that is truly worth living.

Merry Christmas!

Advent – A Time of waiting and hope

Reflections on the primal human experience of openness and desire for the ‘more’ and the ‘better’, that grounds all aspects of human life. In the Christian tradition this is often referred to as waiting and hoping for the fullness of ‘salvation’.

Did it ever occur to you, that we human beings are never sa’tisfied with what we have? We always seem to desire, hope, and search for something more, something better, something greater. We want not only more and better material things, but we also desire more and better knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and, perhaps, most of all, more acceptance, meaning, and love in our lives. We constantly reach out to the ‘beyond’, the unknown, and the ultimate. 

This constant openness and reaching out to the ‘beyond’ and the unknown is an ongoing display and witness to a fundamental faith and trust in that ‘beyond’ and ‘unknown’. Although we lack any tangible or logical certainty and proof, we are prepared to sacrifice, in some cases, almost anything, to discover, understand, and become familiar with the ‘beyond’. In the Christian experience, St. Augustine of Hippo is said to have put this succinctly in this way: “Our heart is restless, O God, until it rests in you.”

It is this genuinely and fundamentally human attitude or posture of desiring the ‘more’ that is at the heart of the season of Advent. This intrinsically human sentiment has been expressed very strongly in the Jewish scriptures. The Jewish people, in their lives as a group or community, were not satisfied with their situation marked by trials, tribulations, and sufferings. They reached out, waited, and searched for the ‘Ultimate Beyond’, whom they refused to name, to break into their lives, and make present to them the ultimate meaning, wisdom, and love that would transform their world, level mountains and raise valleys, lift up the poor, and exalt the oppressed. Their dream and expectation was that God’s love would govern everyone’s heart and mind. They waited and searched for the arrival (advent) of the Messiah, who would proclaim this ‘good news’.

Today, we humans are still struggling, searching, waiting for the ‘breaking in’ or arrival of the ultimate, (God’s knowledge, wisdom, meaning, and love in our midst). We wait and search for the ‘good news’ that will somehow end the flood of bad news showered on us 24/7, that attests to the abundance of distrust, greed, selfishness, and hate in our lives. Think of how many people, communities, nations, and races seem to turn on one another, of how the division between the poor and the rich is fast increasing, and of how human beings abuse one another and their environment.

The essence of the Christian experience is the recognition that the ‘good news’ desired by all, has actually already arrived in our midst, in the person of Jesus Christ more than two thousand years ago. His life, death, and resurrection introduced a form of life into the collective life of humanity that, when lived, discovers, grasps, and becomes familiar with the ‘Ultimate Beyond’, with the ultimate knowledge, understanding, and meaning of all there is, with God’s love and life itself.

The Christian experience, however, also knows that this discovering, grasping, and becoming familiar with the ‘good news’, requires our openness, trust, and faith. These are expressed in an ongoing search, in humility, and in a fundamentally selfless attitude towards God, the ‘Ultimate Other’. This attitude is not easy to maintain, especially when elements of our society strongly, and even militantly, advocate the opposite.

Advent, therefore, is a time of preparation for the arrival of someone important. It is a period of time when we can prepare ourselves, refocus our lives and priorities, and sharpen our senses that we might become better equipped and prepared to find the ‘good news’ already present in our everyday life but not fully recognized, in the person (life, death and resurrection) of Jesus Christ.

The core sentiments that underlie the experience of the season of Advent are trust, hope, and faith, expressed in the yearning for, and reaching out to, the ‘Ultimate Beyond’. The Christian tradition, therefore, rightly puts the season of Advent at the beginning of the liturgical year, the cycle of the Christian salvation experience. In the next four weeks, we are invited to revisit these fundamental human sentiments. What, or who, is worthy of our trust, hop, and faith?