Posted by: mmreflections | March 12, 2011

Exam Time! March 2011

“Happy the sinner whose fault is removed, whose sin is forgiven.  Happy those to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, in whose spirit is no deceit.  As long as I kept silent, my bones wasted away; I groaned all the day.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength withered as in dry summer heat. Then I declared my sin to you; my guilt I did not hide.  I said, ‘I confess my faults to the Lord,’ and you took away the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:1-5)

During my Junior year in college a spiritual retreat was scheduled for the students; one week for women, the second for men.  Much to my surprise, since not overly interested in a spiritual life at the time, I accepted the invitation to attend with a best friend.  The retreat facilitator was a priest from a nearby monastery. It was a week-long retreat on the life of Christ.  Something occurred on Friday evening which surprised me and was to leave an indelible mark upon my remaining days in college and, for that matter, the rest of my life.  The priest was talking about the passion of Christ:  the anguish he was experiencing at the realization of his impending death, the lack of concern from his closest friends, the betrayal, the mockery, the humiliation and finally his unbearable suffering and death.

As I listened to his words warm tears flowed down my cheeks, my nose was running and the fear of my friends seeing me crying was troubling.  I had never taken time to really imagine what Jesus must have gone through during his passion.  The silence in the chapel was intense!  Then Father Dan stopped speaking and everyone and everything became absolutely still, a stillness I have never forgotten.  I struggled to keep from crying out loud.  Thoughts of my own sins and failures had me relating to the closest friends of Jesus who had denied, betrayed and turned away from him when he needed them most.  The silence was broken when Father Dan looked out at us and said,  “I see all your tears and wet cheeks, I see you all  holding back your feelings.  But what good is it if tomorrow you forget what happened tonight and go right back to life as usual?”  With that comment the chapel silence was broken by a bunch of big tough guys and  little tough guys breaking down, crying and blowing their noses.  I was no longer alone with my emotions or my fears.

As we enter the season of Lent we are invited to not only reflect on the painful sufferings and death of Christ but are challenged to examine our own lives and to ask ourselves whether we are living as the sons and daughters whom our Creator intended for us be.  Are we fulfilling the true purpose for which we were created?

It was Socrates, years before the coming of Christ, who in his search for answers about the purpose of life itself concluded that the “unexamined life is not worth living.”  During this season of Lent we are called to examine our lives to discover the obstacles preventing us from being the children of God we were intended to be.  This is the time for us to allow the Spirit of God to expose and shatter the false gods we have consciously or unconsciously set up in our lives.  This is also time for us to get rid of the excess baggage we are carrying that is weighing us down.

Plato, the Greek philosopher who followed on teachings of Socrates, had his own description of the unexamined life.  He described people as prisoners taken into cells, bound up and forced to face a wall in front of them.  They saw nothing but shadows.  Behind them were their captors who with figures held up to the light created these shadows on the wall.  After long captivity, the prisoners began to see the shadows as reality.  When they were released from prison and came out into the bright light of day they were unable to distinguish reality from unreality.

Unfortunately, those who choose not to take time to examine their lives will soon find themselves living and believing in shadows of what is really true, just and valuable for them.  In my youth I dreamed about how great life will be when I finish grade school, middle school and high school.  What an illusion that was!  More illusions about life came one after another; there was my first job, going away to college and away from home, graduating from college, my first professional job, army days, seminary, ordination and priestly life.  As the years unfolded and with the deepest longings of my heart still remaining unfulfilled, it became necessary or, better still, imperative to examine my life more closely and distinguish reality from unreality.

This time of Lent is a great opportunity to take this challenge of examining our lives more seriously.  I must smile at the many years when I decided to take the time of the Great Fast more seriously.  “This year I am going to stop eating candy for Lent!”  If I made it through Lent without eating even a tiny bit of candy, I felt proud of myself; I really observed this time well.  I blush at the thought.  The prophet, Isaiah, had much to say about our fasts: 

“Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?  This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:  releasing those bound unjustly, setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.  Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer.  You shall cry for help, and he will say, ‘Here I am!'” (Isaiah 58:5-9)

How do we begin to enter into this time of examination and prayer more seriously and more earnestly?  I have discovered a way that is really easy in some ways but also quite difficult.  Silence!  Silence!  Silence!  Stillness!  Stillness!  Stillness!  There is so much noise all around us!  A friend of mine recently said to me, “I can no longer stand the noise in my home.”  There is a radio playing at all times in the kitchen and other rooms, the television is on continuously and no one is watching, at the office my coworkers seem to be talking endlessly, people on cell phones while I am eating lunch seem oblivious to the discomfort they are causing others.  I go to a nearby park  just to regain some sanity before returning to my office.

The  most significant impact on my own spiritual journey came about when I learned to sit quietly away from the maddening crowd, away from news, books, music, phones and other people.  At first it was difficult because all the concerns and distractions of life would bombard me during these quiet times. I persisted, however, struggling to be still and wrestling with the bombardments.  It seems there was some invisible force blocking my efforts. Soon fifteen minutes of silence became twenty minutes of silence.  Distractions diminished and I found the stillness to be a blessing.  When I returned to ordinary duties something was different.  I felt more peaceful and happy.  Problems confronting me for years vanished.  A light came on and I saw things about my life that were unproductive and obstructing me from doing what I felt called to do or to be.

In our distraction filled society it would be worth considering how we can make the necessary sacrifices to make this time of fasting more profitable by giving up noise and embracing silence and stillness for a period of time each day.  Let’s call it exam time with the Lord.

 “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the water I will be with you; in the rivers you shall not drown.  When you walk through fire you shall not be burned; the flames shall not consume you.  For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy one of Israel, your savior..”  (Isaiah 43:1-3)

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Responses

  1. Lot to think about Uncle Mike-actually 2 great messages in one- the importance of self reflection and the importance of silence! I also liked the examples of meaningful fasting! If we all did even just one-what an impact we could make in this world!

  2. Thank you, Father! This is a thought-provoking, challenging, and encouraging reflection.

  3. Dear Fr. Mike,
    As always you have touched our inner selves.This is a lesson I will never forget. As always you have filled another ‘gap’ we weren’t aware of.
    God Bless

  4. Fr. Mike,
    I really like the concept of ‘contemplative prayer’, although it does require much practice to shut out all of the noises and distractions! Taking time to still ourselves and just BE in our Lord’s presence can be so rewarding, as you stated. It’s a struggle for me, but I do try in earnest. It makes me feel much more ‘centered’ and focused on God….especially at the end of a long day.

    As always, you’ve shared much ‘food for thought’ as we begin this holy season of Lent. God Bless you!!

  5. Dear Father Mike,
    Thank you for offering this guidance. You’ve provided some important direction as I begin my Lenten journey.
    Michael


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