The Roman Catholic Church in The Bahamas is part of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope. The diocese was elevated to a full diocese, as the diocese of Nassau in June 1960. On June 22nd, 1999, the diocese was again elevated as the new Archdiocese of Nassau.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lenten Mission 2012 Day 1

We interrupt our regular programming to bring you breaking news coming from the Loyola Hall on Gladstone Rd, as the Catholic Archdiocese of Nassau's Annual Lenten Mission kicked off its first night with a bang. Fr. Philip Chircop, SJ, a Jesuit Priest from the small island of Malta in the Mediterranean, and currently of the Archdiocese of Toronto took us back to our clay beginnings of journeying in the desert. Tonight's topic touches on the pleasure and the gift of being earthy and real. Are you ready to go out into the desert to be cleansed?

Those who were at last years Mission recalled going out into the deep waters; hopefully all who made it there found what they needed to find? The first order of business is that we celebrate, even though there is this beautiful paradox in our faith, of entering a season of Penance of "40 days", and yet we call it the celebration of Lent. The penitential practices during this season are very familiar; "the practice of prayer, the practice of fasting, and the practice of giving, and yet we call it the celebration of Lent.

Many of us, as have myself, have heard the saying "Oh you Catholics with your rituals and celebrations, but as Fr. Chircop suggested: if we learn how to do it (that is, pray, fast and alms giving) during Lent, once Lent is over, those 3 practices don't stop, they will continue even after Lent is over. And guess what? Those three practices are non-negotiable, you cannot pick and choose, either one or the second or the third. They are clear in scripture and are three "non-negotiable" practices if we  want to become and allow ourselves to be transformed into the Body of Christ.

And so we began our Lenten Mission under the theme "Near occasions of GRACE"; with the subtitle "we now interrupt our regular programming." Because we often go through life on automatic pilot, as if we're in a trance, the subtitle was quite appropriate to keep us on track. We go through life as if we are hypnotized, doing what we do out of routine. Even the beautiful practices we have as believers, that give us life can become routine, if we allow it. There is nothing more dangerous when Mass becomes routine, nothing more dangerous than when our devotions become routine, and nothing more dangerous than when our prayer becomes routine.

So Lent comes along, with 40 days that we may wake up and remember, rekindle, restart, recreate and try once again, because once Lent is over it's easy to fall back into the rut routine. The wisdom of the Church says, here it comes again, we need a new boost, we need a new shot. A wise Church that reminds us once a year, through its Liturgical cycle that we need to wake up and remember, "remember that God loves us no matter what." In the theological language we call that GRACE.

By definition, the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines GRACE as "favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. GRACE is a participation in the life of God." It is a gift that is freely given to us by God, but we must be willing to receive it. To receive GRACE you only need to do one thing and one thing only, hook up to the source, hook into the source of life, and GRACE will flow through you, near occasions of GRACE. Fr. Philip uses the phrase "near occasions of GRACE" because we talk so much about the "near occasions of sin", that we need to focus a but more on "near occasions of GRACE." We don't earn GRACE, we cannot buy GRACE, nor can we invent GRACE for ourselves. GRACE is there for those who want to believe.

By being so programmed doing routines, many of us have gone deaf! We don't know how to hear, so "we now interrupt our regular programming." Wake up, see and hear as if for the first time that God loves you. Consider this for a moment: "There is nothing you can do in life that can make God love you one ounce more, and there is nothing you can do in life, nothing, that can make God love you one ounce less." We call that GRACE. God is love, but how we respond to that love and the free gift GRACE offered to us is another story.

God's GRACE, like God's mercy is fresh every morning. Whatever we are in life, whatever we're experiencing in life right now, know that God is bigger than our biggest mess. And that is what we call GRACE! God is bigger than our biggest sin. Acknowledge it, know it, and name it! God wants to embrace us with all of our weaknesses, with all of our fears; then we start changing. Don't be afraid, acknowledge your fear. We often hear that phrase in scripture "don't be afraid, or be not afraid." We even sing it:

Be not afraid,
I go before you always,
Come follow Me,
and I shall give you rest.

If you pass through raging waters
in the sea, you shall not drown.
If you walk amidst the burning flames,
you shall not be harmed.

If you stand before the power of hell
and death is at your side,
know that I am with you, through it all

But isn’t so easy to forget this? Therefore here we are once again during Lent, to remind us of this.

Here’s a beautiful story about being trapped: A baby camel seeks unanswered questions from other camel his mother for answers that he seem to be lacking.

Baby camel: Mommy why do we camels have such big flat three toed feet? Hmm, why?
Mother camel: So that when we cross the desert we won't sink in the shifting sands.
Baby camel: And mommy why do we camels have long thick eyelashes?
Mother camel: So when cross the desert, the sand won't come in our eyes and blind us.
Baby camel: Mommy why do we camels have a big hump on our back? Hmm, why?
Mother camel: So that when we cross the desert we will have enough food, enough fat stored in us, so we won't go hungry, and we won't go thirsty.
Baby camel: Ah mommy, I think I understand; "big feet, we won't sink, thick eyelashes, we won't go blind, huge hump, we won't go hungry or thirsty".

And then baby camel looks at mother camel and says "mother if that's really true, what on earth are we doing in the Toronto zoo?

Let us be honest here, doesn't this story sound like your life's story? We are those camels. If we wake up sometimes and find ourselves trapped, imprisoned, not free, find ourselves focusing more on fear than GRACE, then that's when we are no longer free to move, when fear takes all of our energy, it drains us of our energy. Lent comes along and tells us to name all that imprisons us. What in your life imprisons you right now, or choking your freedom? God came to give us the gift of FREEDOM!! Are you a free beloved son or beloved daughter of God? Name everything that is holding you back and take the time to journey back to the desert with baby camel.

We can not avoid the image of the desert during Lent (40 days in the desert). The desert cleanses, the desert heals, the desert wakes us up, the desert rearranges our distorted priorities. At the moment you allow your heart to be embraced by the larger compassionate heart of God you will know what GRACE tastes like. Journey with baby camel into the desert; take all the baggage you may have, with all the fears you may have. The important thing is to get up and go, the 40 days of Lent have already begun.

The Gospel of Mark tells us that after Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit pushed Jesus into the desert and the He was with the wild beasts while the Angels ministered to Him. So too are we to go back to the desert with baby camel, to acknowledge the wild beasts within. We all have them! They are alive and kicking inside of us; when you want to punch someone in the face, when you want to gossip against someone, or when you want to harm someone or something that's the wild beasts within you. We need to go back to the desert with baby camel to acknowledge the wild beasts and at the same time to welcome the Ministry of Angels. We can not expect the Ministry of angels if we don't humbly acknowledge the presence of the wild beasts. This Lent make some time to name the wild beast within. What is the one thing that aches you the most? For some it's pride, or anger, or lust, while for some it's sloth. We call that in the Catholic Church the seven capital sins or the seven deadly sins. Just focus on one, and work on that one. And then you will start sensing what GRACE is really about.

We go to the desert in other words to wake up, to remember who we really are. As we journey without fear during these 40 days we should know that we are not what we have. We are not our possessions, we are not what we own, we are not our car, we are not our house, we are not what we wear either. Don't allow what you wear or what you have or what you do define who you are, otherwise there is no place for GRACE. A Jesuit brother from New York likes to put it this way: "If who you are what you do when you don't you aren't" (you seize to exist). While in the desert listen for those words: “you are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter." That's who we are, and we need to find a way to tattoo that phrase somewhere on our heart, and on the wall of our soul, deep within.

Remembering the story of the younger brother who left home after receiving his due from his father, the dangerous word of “mine” comes to mind. Don’t we all do it? St. Ignatius Loyola use to say "all that you have is a free gift from above." When the younger brother received what was his, he left, but that did not seem to last very long because when the money finished, everything finished with it. With no more money, and no more friends he ended up in the companionship of the pigs, he now found himself in the desert (metaphorically), face to face with his own reality. He hit rock bottom! He found himself in this metaphoric desert of conversion. He woke up!

WAKE UP! WAKE UP! This is why we need to go to the desert. Let us allow ourselves to be in the company of the little camel, and in the company of the younger brother, that's where conversion starts, through "waking up." Here’s a great story of the need to wake up: It was Sunday morning and mother knocks on the bedroom door of her son. Son, it is Sunday morning, it's time to wake up. And the son replies, mother leave me alone I know it's Sunday, I don't want to wake up. Mother, lovingly, persistently, knocks a second time. Son, it is Sunday morning, it's time to wake up. The son equally persistent says "mother leave me alone I don't want to wake up! Two reasons, I don't like them, and they don't like me (whoever them are). So the mother a third time knocks on his bedroom door and says son it is Sunday morning and you better wake up quick and these are my two reasons: you are 45 years old and you are the pastor. WAKE UP! WAKE UP! Lent comes around for one reason and only one, for all of us to wake up, and to remember.

Imaging GRACE being a beautiful pouring down of rain; when it really rains heavily, that's God's GRACE. It's there for everybody. The Gospel says that God sends His rain on good and bad people alike. In that case let’s go out and catch it, but if you go with a cup that’s all the GRACE you will get. How about going out with all that you have to collect as much as you can? Allow yourself to soak in it! You are now GRACE FULL! Are you Graceful?

Taking another look at the story of the prodigal son, if we want to start on the journey on the right foot, pray for the GRACE to be real, stop pretending. There are times when we need to loosen our Halo if it’s too tight, loosen it and be real. Do you wear a mask when you go to the office or to Church? The only way to enter the mystery of God (to use another beautiful metaphor) "is naked", "come as you are". No pretensions! You want to start on the right footing? Be real, be authentic. That's why we need to do the examination of conscience every night. Did I pretend today or was I really me? To be real is to come to yourself, to come to your senses. The conversion of the younger brother started when "he came to his senses" or as other translations says “he came to himself”. That’s when we wake up. In other words he left his analytical mind. The only way to go to your senses is to leave your mind, stop thinking. His empty stomach made him wake up; “here I am starving of hunger and there in my father’s house is everything and anything I can imagine. How stupid can I possible be?”

Before he starts on his journey he started rehearsing his confession. "I will go to my father and tell him I don't deserve to be taken in as you son, please take me in as you servant!" So he gets up and goes. His father sees him coming from a distance embraces him with hugs and kisses. He does not allow his son to open his mouth, we call that GRACE, in other words he's telling him "son I do not care what you’ve done, what I care about is that you are back. After the prodigal son the embrace of how wonderful it was to be back home he tried to confess to his father. He opens his mouth, but he changes his confession. "I don't deserve to be taken in as your son and all of a sudden he got wiser and he stops there, he doesn't continue with the second part(take me in as your servant). He knows now, he's back home as his beloved son. What do they do next? They celebrate! Another word for GRACE is celebration. Let us celebrate, let us celebrate! We are loved by God.

God became flesh so we should celebrate our humanity. God works through our flesh, through our brokenness, and through the times and moments like the little brother who ran away from home or like the older brother you get stuck in your self righteousness (I am better than he). Both are embraced by God. God is big enough to contain the younger brother and his stupid mistake and the older brother and his anger. God can contain both, and anything in between. What is mine is yours, we call that GRACE!

Here is a wonderful story. During a big storm a 3 year old wakes up in the middle of the night during thunder and lightening and calls out to his mother. He's afraid. The mother tries to use this as a teaching moment, "you don't have to be afraid, God is with you, now go back to sleep. A second clap of thunder and lightening he gets up screaming and yelling again and runs to his parents bedroom. Mommy, mommy, mommy, and mommy says "you don't need to be afraid and before continuing the son looked at her and sad "I know, I know mother, I know that God is with me, but right now I need someone with skin. We all need someone with skin. I have a suspicion that is why the Word became flesh, we all need someone with skin, a shoulder to cry on, a hand to caress us, someone to embrace us, someone to shake our hands and tell us it's okay. That's what it means to be real.

  1. To be earthy, to be real, never forget your clay beginnings.
  2. Consciously use your senses everyday, because we take that for granted too. Consciously from time to time, see something you haven't seen before, near something that you have t heard before, taste something that you haven't tasted before.
  3. Once a week, if you want to remember your humanity, your earthiness do a prayerful body scan, start with the crown of your head, go to the tip of your toe and thank God for how this body of ours that works in our favor; our eyes, our ears, our nostrils. Don't wait for a cold, or for the flu to remember. Thank God for your stomach, for your bowel movements. Don't wait for the time you are constipated.
On those points we end night one of our 2012 Lenten Mission. It was an exhilarating experience just to feel the energy in the auditorium as we soaked up the words of Fr. Chircop, having interrupted our regular programming.

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