Sunday, February 18, 2018

Reflection for Sunday, February 18, 2018

First Sunday of Lent
GN 9:8-15
PS 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1 PT 3:18-22
MK 1:12-15

The scripture for this Lenten reflection speaks to us about covenant.  It is a familiar story about God’s covenant with Noah and his sons and their descendants who come after them.  God declares God’s covenant not only with Noah, his sons and descendants, but also with every living creature.  God’s covenant is to never again use the waters to become a flood destroying all mortal beings.

What is interesting about this covenant in our scripture is that it is unilateral.  It is a covenant that only goes one way.  The covenant flows out of God to God’s creation.  How incredible God’s relational love is that there is no expectation in this passage for Noah, his sons and descendants to covenant back to God. 

As I sat thinking about this relationship God has with creation and God’s unilateral covenant, I began to think about how I might have that kind of love, living a unilateral covenant with others.

My mother Cay Hartmann who is now deceased, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  Not being able to live in her own home, she came to be a resident in the Alzheimer’s unit at Laclede Groves Senior Living Community.  Because my brother does not live in St. Louis, I was the one who visited with her several times a week.  I was the one who collected her clothes and washed and ironed them and returned them to her.  I was the one who fixed her hair and put on her make-up before taking her to her doctor’s appointments or to a family gathering.  I was the one who nervously went to the women’s departments trying to buy bras and underwear which I had no clue what size to ask for.  I was the one who each month was present at the Social Work/Nurse meetings as they discussed my mother.  I was the one who sat for long periods of time as she reminisced about a time long before I was born since her recent memory was so often shadowed by the fog of Alzheimer’s.

One could say I was obligated to do all these things because I was her son.  After reading this scripture passage and thinking about this incredible loving unilateral covenant that God is showing us, I began to erase from my memory the obligatory mindset.  Yes, I guess one could say as her son, I was obligated to care for my mother who no longer could care for her own needs.  But now I believe I made a unilateral covenant with my mom.  I expected nothing in return from her.  I wanted no promises from her.  I wanted no tit-for-tat.  I simply unilaterally covenanted with her because I loved her that much. 

What would happen to our biological, work, church, and/or neighborhood families if our mind-sets – our hearts expressed our relationships in a loving and compassionate unilateral covenant.  Would our lives be different?  Would our communities be different?  Would our country be different?  Would our world be different?  Thank you, God, for showing us yet another way to express love.

Rob Hartmann is Manager of Pastoral Care Services at SLU Hospital.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Reflection for Saturday, February 17, 2018

Saturday after Ash Wednesday
IS 58:9B-14
PS 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
LK 5:27-32

We love to be invited places. Whether it was to a birthday party as a child, a wedding of a friend or family member, or simply to grab lunch, invitations make us feel valued and loved. Sometimes a simple invitation can lead to something much greater, even life changing. For me, an invitation to sit at a friend’s lunch table the first week of high school led to finding a group of friends I can’t imagine my life without. Simply being invited to hang out in the dorm room of a new college acquaintance led to one of the strongest friendships I have today. However, the reason these invitations all had such incredible outcomes was due to one reason -- I said yes.

In the Gospel today, Jesus invites Levi, a tax collector, to follow him. This invitation leads to a “great banquet” with others celebrating in community with one another. This undoubtedly joyful celebration only came about because of Levi’s “yes” to Jesus. Whether we realize it or not, we are given the same invitation by Jesus every single day. Accepting this invitation to actually live, with Jesus by our side, is life-changing. Yes, there will be hardships, we will be challenged, and we may question our faith from time to time, but there will also be more joy than we have ever dreamed of. Accepting the invitation to live a life with Christ leads to a “great banquet”. This banquet exists both here on earth with the people we encounter and ultimately in heaven with Love itself. Jesus invites each of us specifically, waiting desperately for our “yes” to the Greatest Invitation. Our yes allows us to experience the “great banquet” life with God truly is -- a life full of selflessness, peace, and overflowing joy.

One last thing about this invitation -- it has no limits. Levi was a tax collector, and tax collectors were stereotyped as thieves and traitors, marking them as unworthy of Jesus’ attention by His dedicated followers. However, Jesus chooses Levi, an “unworthy” tax collector, to come follow and dine with Him. With this action, Jesus is saying, “It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done, or how you decide to live your life -- my invitation is still there.” His love has no boundaries, no requirements, no attachments. It just is, given without hesitation to each one of us. There is no such thing as unworthiness.

This Lenten season, let us be more aware of the daily invitations we are sent to engage in our communities, in our relationships, and in our conversations, and let our “yeses” be shown through the love we share between one another.

Madelyn Ennis is studying Occupational Therapy.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Reflection for Friday, February 16, 2018

Friday after Ash Wednesday
IS 58:1-9A
PS 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 18-19
MT 9:14-15

In today’s readings I am reminded of the multitude of voices that exist, even if there is one clear one to which we should listen. I am reminded that there are competing ideas of what is good and true, even if the message from Jesus is clear.

Lately, I have trouble making sense of all the voices I hear throughout the day. Sometimes it does feel like they are voices in my head, because I consume these voices without the context of others. Whether it is reading email or the news on my phone, zoning out by looking at pictures on Instagram, listening to the radio or to podcasts, I hear these voices when I am alone. While solitude can be refreshing and invigorating, solitude makes it more difficult to discern what is real and true. Our interactions with others confirm our reality, but when there are so many voices that I am hearing on my own, I struggle. It is too much to decipher alone. In thinking of the multitude of voices, inaction becomes an easy choice. When there is too much to do or too many choices to make, inaction is the easiest choice. Further, listening should be actionable, and thus relational. Listening can be the feeding of the poor or the sheltering of the homeless. 

The idea of fasting during Lent can be interpreted many ways. It can be a literal fast or a change of habit, and I use it as an opportunity to reevaluate a part of my life and to hit the re-set button. I’m hoping that this Lent I can be mindful of the many voices I hear every day, and that I can practice discerning the truth from them. I hope I am open enough to hear others, to engage with them, and I hope I listen more carefully to the clearest message we have, to love God and to love others above all else. I hope I evaluate how I enact that love, as I do think it is literal and actionable. My fast can be an evaluation of to whom and how I listen to people, how I make my listening an action, and to engage in a community through listening.

Julie O'Heir is the Program Coordinator for the SLU Prison Program.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Reflection for Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thursday after Ash Wednesday
DT 30:15-20
PS 1:1-2, 3, 4 AND 6
LK 9:22-25

Art and literature are fascinated with the consequences of our choices. For example, the Broadway musical If/Then and the Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sliding Doors both explore how a young woman’s life might proceed differently based on one simple choice. Science fiction writers—and some theoretical physicists—go much further, positing that every choice we make bifurcates reality into an infinite multiplicity of parallel universes. Today’s readings present us with three big “if’s,” along with some consequential “then’s,” that encourage us to make some choices about how we will live out the Lenten season, and really, how we will live out our lives.

Moses’ challenge to the Israelites culminates a sweeping recap of the Exodus and the establishment of the covenant and the law. It follows a long exposition of the blessings that flow from fidelity to the covenant and the curses that result from infidelity. The choice is stark and seemingly a no-brainer: “Choose life.” But, as U Penn psychology professor Angela Duckworth notes, “The problem with human beings … is that they repeatedly make decisions that undermine their own long-term well-being, even when they know full well they are eating the wrong thing, that they are spending their money on the wrong thing, and they are spending their time in an unprofitable way.” Even though the option of following the covenant is highly incentivized, we know that the Israelites will repeatedly turn away from God—just as we do ourselves.

In the Gospel, Jesus presents an “if” that gives a deeper, more challenging context to our choices. If we wish to follow him faithfully, then we must deny ourselves and take up our own individual crosses, repeatedly and consistently. The expected incentives are inverted: our gain is found in loss, and the truest living is achieved through dying to self.

At the outset of Lent, we are reminded of the high stakes before us. We can choose to abide in the covenant, or to turn away. If we seek to follow, we must be prepared to choose every day the path of self-emptying love. Incentives and reasoned argument may not be guaranteed to result in good decision making, but we’re not without aids. St. Ignatius encourages us to prayerfully imagine the “then’s” of our “if’s” in order to discern the best course of action. And through the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we can respond to God’s invitation to each of us to choose life and experience it abundantly.
David Brinker is Assistant Director of the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA).

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Reflection for Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ash Wednesday
JL 2:12-18
PS 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 12-13, 14 AND 17
2 COR 5:20-6:2
MT 6:1-6, 16-18

Happy Lent!
So how often do you hear that phrase associated with Lent?  Probably not very often. What does the beginning of this period of grace, love and mercy mean for us in this context? Psalm 51 refers to “the joy of our salvation” and this joy begins today.  So Happy Lent!

Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means "spring." The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry. Lent summons us, and enables us, to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly and in every aspect of our life.

As Paul tells us, we are “ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.”  And as we “spring” forth into Lent, this period of joy for our salvation impels us to prepare to accompany Christ on the journey.  To do this we must prepare ourselves.

In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus calls us to a joyful preparation.  Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving we find our reward in Christ. God will repay us for this preparation.
I’m joyfully preparing myself for this period of time.  Lent for me is a time to reconcile; to reconcile myself to God, to others, and even to myself.  Perhaps the best way we can all do this is to reflect on some questions.  I invite you to reflect on these questions with me.  I invite you to prepare with an open heart, with joyfulness, and with love.

So what is our prayer life like?  Can we spend some more time in prayer with Jesus during this period?  How do we imagine Jesus?  Can we have an intimate conversation with Jesus during this time (or several!) where we talk together just as we see one of our best friends?  Can we explore a new method of prayer?  For example, I’m planning to spend more time in prayer using the Pray As You Go App:  Don’t be intimidated!  Load it on your phone!
What are some new ways of fasting for us?  Can we fast from using unkind words?  Can we reflect with Jesus on some attachments we have and try fasting from them?  What about our habits – are there any habits that we have that inhibit our love for ourselves?  For example, I’m planning to reflect on how much time I spend worrying about things – and talk to Jesus about those worries, trying to abstain from them.

What can we give?  Can we reach out to someone we know who doesn’t have many friends?  Can we give the gift of time?  Can we intervene when we hear someone making a slur or belittling words toward someone else while we are walking down West Pine?  Can we avoid being an apathetic bystander when we hear words of hate?  Can we get out of an “us vs. them” mentality?  Let Jesus help you to be courageous in the “giving”.  For example, I’m planning to write a handwritten letter (yes – even mailed with a stamp!) to someone who has been instrumental in my life.

I share these questions because I really want you to reflect about this period of Lent as a joyful preparation – and to act!  Because our faith calls us to this action.  Our faith calls us to be an ambassador for Christ in all aspects of our lives.  Happy Lent!

Susanne Chawszczewski, Ph.D.

Director of Campus Ministry

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Reflection for April 13, 2017

Holy Thursday
EX 12: 1-8, 11-14
PS 116: 12-13, 15-16BC, 17-18
1 COR 11: 23-26
JN 13: 34
JN 13: 1-15

Jesus is apt to come, into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable moments. Not in a blaze of unearthly light, not in the midst of a sermon, not in the throes of some kind of religious daydream, supper time, or walking along a road...He never approached from on high, but always in the midst, in the midst of people, in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks.
                                                                                                         --Frederick Buechner

Reflection for April 12, 2017

Wednesday of Holy Week
IS 50: 4-9 A
PS 69: 8-10, 21-22, 31 and 33-34
MT 26: 14- 25

"Were you There" is a notorious hymn sung throughout Christian churches during Holy Week. The lyrics repeat a series of questions, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?" When the choir at my parish began to sing this hymn on Palm Sunday, the haunting questions took on a new timbre of urgency.  I do not think the hymn is intended to provide a hypothetical scenario for us.  Rather, the chilling questions are meant to shake our soul and remind us that Jesus Christ -- the executed God -- continues to be crucified in our midst.
The idea of "the crucified people," is not wholly new to our theological vocabulary. Various liberation theologians, including Jon Sobrino and Ignacio Ellacuria, brought the term to the forefront of liberationist discourse with the following argument: Jesus Christ, God incarnate, identified himself with the poor, the outcast, and the marginalized during his ministry. Because of this, the Messiah was crucified; God was publicly executed. The task of our Christian discipleship today is defined in light of this fact. In Jesus the Liberator, Jon Sobrino writes, "Galilee is the setting of Jesus’ historical life, the place of the poor and the little ones. The poor of this world—the Galilee of today—are where we encounter the historical Jesus and where he is encountered as liberator. And this Galilee is also where the risen Christ who appears to his disciples will show himself as he really is, as the Jesus we have to follow and keep present in history: the historical Jesus, the man from Nazareth, the person who was merciful and faithful to his death on the cross, the perennial sacrament in this world of a liberator God" (Jesus the Liberator, 273).
In other words, the lives, sufferings, and death of the marginalized, the persecuted, and the oppressed illuminate the meaning of Christ's own life, suffering, and death (and vice versa).  And yet I worry this statement has become too commonplace for those who exist in the confines of liberal academia. We write about it. We talk about it. We employ the term "the crucified people" in a way that groups the oppressed in an abstract category and renders it meaningless. But do we sit with this term? Do we let it break open the content of our spirituality? Are we brought to repent for how many times Christ continues to be crucified among us? In a recent segment of Catholic Women Preach, M. Shawn Copeland asks us, "If our God so suffers, is so exposed to the brutality and power of the world, what shall become of us? It is a daring and daunting theological prospect—for God and for us. For as we believe that our God suffers, we who confess, who worship, who love are called to a share in the suffering of Jesus, a share in the suffering of the peoples of our world."
Are you prepared to enter into the passion of Christ?
Were you there when they crucified God? Did you stand by idly? Or were you compelled to action?