Friday Week III, Office of the Readings

The first part of psalm 69 that is read in today during the Friday Week III of the Office of the Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours (using the Christian Prayer breviary) really jumped out at me today during my prayer. I would like to share the psalm extract with you here as well as some Lenten flavoured reflections.

Antiphon: I am worn out with crying, with longing for my God.

They offered me a mixture of wine and gall (Matthew 27:34)

Save me, O God,
for the waters have risen to my neck.

I have sunk into the mud of the deep
and there is no foothold.
I have entered the waters of the deep
and the waves overwhelm me.

I am wearied with all my crying,
my throat is parched.
My eyes are wasted away
from looking for my God.

More numerous than the hairs on my head
are those who hate me without cause.
Those who attack me with lies
are too much for my strength.

How can I restore
what I have never stolen?
O God, you know my sinful folly;
my sins you can see.

Let those who hope in your not be put to shame
through me, Lord of hosts;
let not those who seek you be dismayed
through me, God of Israel.

It is for you that I suffer taunts,
that shame covers my face,
that I have become a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my own mother’s sons.
I burn with zeal for your house
and taunts against you fall on me.

When I afflict my soul with fasting
they make it a taunt against me.
When I put on sackcloth in mourning
then they make a byword,
the gossip of men at the gates,
the subject of drunkards’ songs.

What an amazing psalm to read in the middle of the Lenten season! What an insightful and powerful Spirit guided the hand that ordered the Hours in such a way.

Part of my Lenten obligation for this season was a commitment to begin praying the Liturgy of the Hours more completely and in order to do that I reasoned that it was about time to get the prayers off of my phone and into my hands in physical book form. Last week, my Christian Prayer book came in and since that time I have been that busy Catholic with book tabs and prayer cards marking the various points of prayer through out the day. Having the large book and making a real attempt to pray the Hours entirely means that I have to lug the thing around with me wherever I go– including work. Right now the book sits on my desk with me and I have had some people ask about it. A few times I’ve walked around my work with it in my arms (usually headed toward a quiet spot to pray a particular hour) and I’ve heard some sneering. A big thick red book with gilded pages, coloured cloth book tabs and gold lettered “CHRISTIAN PRAYER” in the front, it becomes pretty obvious that I am carrying some sort of religious book around. The prayers themselves have caused me to “burn for zeal for [God’s] house” as we say in the psalm but they have also caused “taunts against [God] to fall on me.” This psalm speaks to me on such a deep level, it actually gave me a little shiver after I read it this morning.

Reflecting on the Way of the Cross this Lent (which is something I try and do each Wednesday after Low Mass in the evening), Jesus calls us to take up the cross and pick up the yoke. He assures us that “my burden is light” but the devil is literally in the details here, because the Evil One is the reason Christ has to remind us that the burden is light. Satan is always there to make things far worse, or rather seem far worse than they really are. But this psalm put that reluctance and that struggle into context and by context I mean it puts it right at the feet of Christ Himself. This is more than just a poem complaining about life, this is a person reaching up toward the Heavens and calling out to God, placing their burden and their own struggle at the feet of God. What a powerful and moving sentiment. What a perfect image for the middle of Lent when our obligations and our own temptations are beginning to mount.

During this Lenten season there is no doubt in my mind that when you fast you will be taunted. When you wear sackcloth and mourn and deny yourself certain pleasures in the face of those who take no issue indulging during the Lent season, you will be taunted and call out. You will be made to feel small and worthless and made to feel as if the waters are indeed rising all around you. Your throat will become red and raw from crying out to God but this is what we are meant to do, this is how we deal with struggle in our faith. We lift up, we reach up and we lay our struggles at the feet of the Lord.

I feel that it is appropriate to end this reflection with the prayer from Morning Prayer (Friday, Third Week of Lent), which also the prayer I used today to close out the Office of the Readings.

Merciful Father,
fill our hearts with your love
and keep us faithful to the gospel of Christ.
Give us the grace to rise above our human weakness.
Grant this thought our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Christ in Social Media and Current Affairs

The world is a complex and a complicated place. There is a lot going on whether we are talking about the local level, around your community, the state/provincial level, the federal or national level and right up to the international community. In our modern age, we seem to be bombarded with current events that are happening all around the world. The 24 hour/7 days a week news cycle and the instantaneous nature of the internet have collided to bring every day people reams of information and data about the world around them; not just what is happening close to home, but what is happening literally on the other side of the world. This is both a blessing and a burden in disguise. Never before in the history of our humanity have we have such readily access to such a vast and articulated amount of information. Never before has the entire human race been so connected, so close. And yet, it seems, never before have we felt so far from one another, so isolated in our own little worlds and ideologies.

Social media plays a huge role in how we see the world– certainly a larger role that I think most Christians realize. In a world where information is boundless and accessible, we have built systems that serve to filter what we see and hear and this in turn creates pockets of intense ideology and thought often with little or no dissenting opinions or ideas among the ranks of followers and collaborators. Take Twitter for example. Users are able to curate their own list of followers, they can block (and are encouraged to block) users which opinions or ideas that they do not agree– opinion and ideas that are fleshed out in 280 character snippets, leaving much to the imagination in most cases. If you are a Marxist, chances are your followers and people you follow lean along the same flavour of the political spectrum and chances are you are validated over and over by fellow Marxists, content in your own comfortable worldview without ever feeling challenged in your opinions and formulations on the activities of the world. This is not necessarily a good thing and from a Christian perspective I would like to unpack that issue a little here.

Anyone can create a social media account and begin spreading their thoughts and opinions on the internet. This is a good thing. It is wonderful to see such a broad range of opinions and diversity of those participating in the discussions. But what also comes from this is the fact that consumers of user generated content are left holding the bag to determine what is false, true and actually worth exploring more. Tweets generally do not contain enough information to dive deep into issues and explore all sides of a coin, generally they are short, snappy statements that capture a sentiment related to a larger concept or idea that is shadowed in the Tweet. This rapidly makes the fact that anyone can create an account a bad thing. Often the most retweeted and popular remarks on Twitter are not from so-called subject matter experts, but from clever users who are able to capture the perfect balance between wit and common sense in a 280 character Tweet that is relatable to the broadest group of people.

So what can Christ teach us about social media? Perhaps it seems a little silly to ask that question. Literally no one in the Bible had a Twitter or Facebook account. Jesus did not take selfies during His Sermon on the Mount to share on his Instagram account. Saint Peter didn’t create the hashtag #RealMessiah to share the Good News with his friends and family. And #HeIsRisen certainly was not trending in the aftermath of the Resurrection. But Christ does have a lot to teach us about the use of social media in our lives and the formation of our opinions on current affairs around the world. For the average Westerner, the message from Christ regarding these things may be a little hard to swallow, because in this age of social media and the internet, we’ve come to believe that as humans we are all little gods who are entitled to opinions and ideas based on the sheer fact that we are capable of cooking them up in our brains.

The first, and obvious, lesson that Christ teaches us about our use of social media as Christians is that we ought to comport ourselves online in a manner that does not permit us to surrender the fundamental aspects of our faith. Namely, our Tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook likes and Snapchats should be aimed at the glorification of the Lord. The anonymous nature of being online does not change the fact that we are held to account for our actions individually, and as much as Twitter doesn’t know who you are when you Tweet, God does. And regardless of the username and the creativity of the fake name you’ve used, God knows everything that you have said and done online. Everything. Even the “in cognitio” feature of Google Chrome cannot withstand the all seeing eye of God. The same rules of how we ought to act among real people in the world apply to how we act around virtual people in the online social media universe. So ask yourself, does your online presence bring glory and honour to God and to His Son Jesus Christ? Do you allow the Holy Spirit to guide your online footprint, or do you hide behind a false impression of anonymity and become a little less Christian when sitting behind the keyboard? If that answer is a yes, you need to rethink your use of social media and perhaps consider this warning from Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew:

And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30)

The second lesson that Christ teaches us about social media is about the content of what we share and the opinions that we are forming while we use social media. Especially for those of us who are maybe a little more political when we are online with our social media accounts. A concept that I have been fleshing out for a long time in my head, but have been unable to fully grasp, is the idea that Christ was killed by real geo-politics that were alive and well at the time of His ministry in Jerusalem. You had a Roman governor who was already in hot water with the emperor of Rome for having some issues holding down dissent within the region. No doubt, Pilate was not a fan of his tenure in the Middle East and we know that historically the man was a careerist who most likely wanted nothing more than to end his time in the Holy City without issue so that he could move on to bigger and better things in Rome. On the flip side we have the leaders within the Temple who represent a segment of Jewish society that are affluent and are willing to work with their Roman overlords in order to keep the peace and maintain their own power over the Jewish people in the region. It was the mutual intersection of the Jesus-problem for these two worlds that the cross literally comes to bear upon the world. It would have been difficult for Jewish leaders to seek the crucifixion of Christ from the Romans had the Romans not already been troubled by any sort of dissent during the largest religious festival of the year at the time. Equally, it would have been hard for the Romans to assert their authority in the punishment and eventual killing of Christ had the Jewish authorities in power at the time in that region not wanted to work with the Roman leaders in order maintain the status quo. The death of Jesus in Jerusalem can easily be explained from a historical perspective using a cursory understanding of politics and specifically geo-politics that was present at the time of Christ. But what does that say about politics in general? I think it is a lesson of what happens when the wishes and desires of mankind (which are the driving force of all politics) do not include Christ. When we remove Christ from our political lives, we contribute to His death on the cross– and to add injury to insult, often under the guise of a well-intentioned policy or idea. Because no one would deny that keeping the peace during a large religious festival is a bad thing– unless in that process you murder the Son of God.

How often do we remove Christ from our politics? In the Western world, I would wager that for most of us it happens all of the time. Indeed, the vague concept of separation of Church and State has seemed to manifest itself into a public policy process that is completely void of Christ and worse void of almost any sort of Christian inspiration or basis. Given what we unpacked earlier, this is a dangerous road to be heading down. Separating the Church and the State when it comes to having an official state religion or having civil leaders who are interchangeable with religious leaders is one thing (and something that is good and Christian actually), but separating the State from the Church when it comes to how we individually formulate our ideas and opinions on matters of current affairs is dangerous and entirely unChristian. And I go back to the sentiment that I expressed earlier in this post; never before have we had access to so much information, so many events to form opinions and ideas over. For the Christian who has removed Christ from that opinion formulating process, it can all seem very confusing and overwhelming. Which is exactly why we need Christ in our lives and in the formation of our political understanding of the world. For example, perhaps you are confused over the migrant crisis and the issue of immigration to help those around the world who are poor and in need. Perhaps you are having trouble finding a balance between welcoming these people in need and the security of your own country. And yet, Christ is clear on all fronts regarding this issue. We are to help the poor. And if our brother strikes us, we are to turn the other cheek. Very clear. A funny thing happens when we bring Christ in our political realities, things start to fall in place and the path becomes very clearly illuminated. Albeit, no easier to walk and actually put into action (which is I wager the hang up for most people). The bottom line is that Christ teaches us that in our use of social media and specifically when formulating/sharing our opinions we must include Him, otherwise we are lost and confused without a compass to guide us through these current affairs.

Lent is the perfect time to reflect on how we are using social media as Christians and how we are formulating our opinions and ideas about the world around us. Do we cut Christ out of the equation? Do we find that we are lost and confused when it comes to working how we think and feel about a particular issue of the day? Do we profess to be Christians in the pews but rapidly lose that sentiment when we are typing on our phones in the church parking lot? Perhaps it is time to invite Christ into our political lives. Perhaps it is time to ensure our social media accounts and online presence is reflective of the Christian nature of our real lives. We also focus on fasting from certain foods during Lent, and this is an old tradition. But I propose an idea, perhaps we can start to consider fasting from social media and the internet. Just as food nourishes our body and can be bad for us if we eat bad food, so too does social media nourish our brains and souls and can be bad for us if we consume bad social media. Perhaps this Lent, consider fasting from social media and the internet. You might be surprised what starts to happen with your relationship with Jesus.

God of power and might, wisdom and justice,
through you authority is rightly administered,
laws are enacted, and judgment is decreed.
Assist with your spirit of counsel and fortitude
the  government leaders around the whole world.
May they always seek
the ways of righteousness, justice and mercy.
Grant that they may be enabled by your powerful protection
to lead our country with honesty and integrity.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Reflections on Lenten Sacrifice

Yesterday the whole of the Church entered into Lent, that penitential period of fasting, almsgiving and prayer. We marked the beginning of Lent with a contrasting message, one that we are very much from and in this world, “remember, from dust you came and from dust you shall return.” We marked our foreheads with one of the most ancient markings of our faith using the ashes from palms raised in the mimic of celebration from the previous year’s Easter celebrations reflecting on Christ entering the city of Jerusalem. The second message that we are not destined to remain in this world or to be in the world in the life to come. That soon, in forty days to be nearly exact, the Body will be raised and a new covenant will be established between humanity and God.

So with Lent underway, Christians the world over have no doubt began their Lenten obligations, in some cases giving up some sort of an indulgence over the period. Last night during his sermon on the subject, my Rector reflected on what people give up for Lent. He stressed that we do not need to give up something that carries with it any sort of superhuman quality to overcome. He informed us that this Lent he would be giving up the occasional glass of whiskey that he enjoys from time to time. He emphasised that although it is not a daily occurrence, or something that he found he absolutely had to do, it was something which he took immense pleasure in doing when he had the chance. For that reason, he found it a fitting indulgence to give up. And he reminded us that a funny thing will no doubt happen as Lent progresses; by the mere fact that he has make whiskey taboo over his Lenten period, he will probably start to desire and want it more, such is the nature of humans with these sort of things.

I could not agree with Father Travis more on the subject of sacrificing indulgences. Often we get distracted because we focus on what we should be giving up as if Lent is a secular time to “better oneself” or “overcome a particular bad habit.” That is not the point of the Lenten sacrifice at all. It is about giving up an indulgence, about giving up something that you enjoy doing, something that you don’t keep as a dark part of your life (those should be sought out to be eradicated at all times). There is a whole list of things that I could give up for Lent because they are sinful or keep me from God. These are things that I struggle with daily in my life to be more Christian and more holy. These are not things that are appropriate for me to give up during Lent, indeed I should be striving to give them up all of the time and always. What I give up is meant to force me into the desert of my own soul by denying me an indulgent escape that I would otherwise use to avoid being in that desert. Lent remember is a mimic of Christ’s time in the desert before His own public ministry– we too must spend our time in the desert. And Christ’s time in the desert was a further mimicking of the Jewish exile when they spent forty years with no real place to call home, to settle down and worship God.

This Lent let us strive to enter the deserts of our souls, to force ourselves to feel the longing, loneliness and confusion of being part of a temporal world and yet carrying a spiritual hope for the world to come. Let us sacrifice an indulgence that we enjoy in life, that is good for us and not use this time as a secular means of overcoming a bad habit or undesirable trait. Let’s bring ourselves closer to God.

Christmas Eve-Eve

When I was younger and the lead up to Christmas had much more anticipation surrounding Santa Claus and presents, my brother and I would call the day before Christmas Eve, Christmas Eve-Eve. It was a childish joke that played on linking the night before Christmas (when we would have a big family party at the house and exchange gifts with our cousins) with the actual day of Christmas in an effort to shorten the countdown to the entire affair. As I grew older and left the house, Christmas Eve-Eve fell out of my lexicon and became a day to finish up last minute gift buying and preparations for the Christmas season. And now that I am an adult, I am enjoying reflecting back on how Christmas Eve-Eve came to be and how it still exists as a thing within my life, including my spiritual life.

Advent is all about preparation. “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). These words are giving true meaning when John the Baptist speaks out in John’s Gospel, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord…” (John 1:23). In the catholic tradition, we light a set of four candles one by one each Sunday as we count down the remaining days of preparation in anticipation for the feast which celebrations the Incarnation and birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We read passages such as those from John’s Gospel that speak of preparation from John the Baptist and readings from the prophet Isaiah who spoke clearly of the coming of Christ. We also look at letters from Paul which speak of the second coming of Jesus and our requirement to always be ready and on guard because “of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matthew 24:36). We reflect on the three aspects of the Incarnation of Christ; in the flesh as a child, in body and blood in the Eucharist and in glory at the Second Coming.

Christmas Eve-Eve started for me as a child trying to close the gap in the wait between the start of Advent and Christmas day itself. It was a childlike view of Christmas as a time to exchange gifts with my cousins and spent the night eating and playing around the house with them and the whole family. It meant no school for a chunk of time and spending time outside in the snow. I had very little responsibilities because I was a child and as a result the wait and preparation held little or no meaning. Today, as an adult, I do have responsibilities and there are certainly a long list of temporal duties around Christmas that add physical weight and meaning to the Advent preparation. This sort of preparation can add to stresses and anxieties that arise from the holidays, like those Anna Dimmel writes about here in A remedy for what we don’t like about Christmas. But we cannot forget, as she writes, we can find Christ and spiritual meaning in these stresses and anxieties as well. And this year in 2017 is especially unique because the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve will fall on the same day, with services occurring in the morning and late evening with two very different meanings. Linda Ryan writes about this in her post A Short Ending to Advent.

On Christmas Eve-Eve we all stand on the threshold of the whirlwind that becomes the next few days. In the temporal world we will visit with friends and family, eat a tremendous amount of food, keep warm, and expend a lot of energy being social. In the spiritual realm, hopefully a lot of us will find time to go to Church and listen to the Word of God and celebration His Incarnation and birth among us here as fully human and fully God. Indeed there is a longing to feed the unbounding joy that is within each and every one of us who acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, and joining with fellow Christians and celebrating that event is an expression of that joy and thanksgiving.