Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Give Us This Day Our Daily Rice?

Just not the same as bread...
"Three types of bread are to be asked from the Lord when using the formula, 'Give us our daily bread,' that is the word of God, the Eucharistic bread, and bread for the body."    - Blessed James Alberione

Every morning, the sisters in my convent meditate on the day's Gospel for a half hour before morning prayer. Recently, I was sitting in chapel meditating on the Lord's Prayer. I was specifically meditating on the best word in the entire prayer - BREAD.

Those of you who know me, are probably not surprised that this is my favorite word in the prayer. I am a bit obsessed with baking bread. There is something so elemental about it. Aside from baking bread and building tree houses, I don't think there is much more one needs to know to survive in this world, (so I just have one more skill to learn). But then as my mind wandered into the delicious taste of freshly baked bread smothered in butter, a mind blowing, earth shaking thought, (for a bread lover like me), suddenly came to my mind.

If Jesus had been teaching in China, he probably would have said, "Give us this day our daily RICE."

Ok, I know I am losing some people here, (at least the normal ones). But, honestly it's when I have strange, off the wall thoughts like this that my meditations get good. And really, it is true. Some cultures do not eat much bread.  I imagine a person who evangelizes in some parts of Asia has to explain this one to confused people who are obsessed with rice, much like I am obsessed with bread. 

Before you wonder why I waste time on tangents like this in prayer, I will point out that thinking about the cultural limitations of the word "bread" led me to ponder why Jesus used that earthy word to describe our needs, both physical and spiritual. 

For most cultures, bread is a staple. It's as basic as you can get. It is what we need to survive.

So what is this bread Jesus tells us to ask for?

Catholics immediately point to the Eucharist. It is our daily bread (or rice, depending on where you live). Literally. It appears to be bread, but it is really God. (How crazy is that?)

But there is another dimension to the use of the word bread that only recently became clear to me. Now, maybe I am a little slow or just too Catholic, but I always thought of the Eucharist as my "daily bread" and had not, until recently, thought of the Word of God when I prayed that part of the Our Father. That is so embarrassing to admit and Protestants reading this are probably saying, "What?!? What is wrong with those Catholics?" but I just have to be honest (and reaffirm age-old stereotypes).

Oh bread, I love you more than life itself.
Now, as I am taking a class on the Old Testament, I am realizing why I had this blind spot.  I did not appreciate the presence of God in Scripture as I did in the Eucharist because my knowledge and understanding of Scripture, especially the Old Testament, was woefully inadequate. As I read Scripture now, and really look at how Jesus speaks, I realize that Scripture was Jesus' daily bread. This was a man who lived and breathed the words of the Scriptures. He is constantly quoting them,  referring to Old Testament prophecies and insisting on the necessity of their fulfillment. His entire life revolved around the Word of God, (which should come as no surprise because He is the Word of God incarnate). He is the living, breathing walking Scripture. And this is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church urges us to venerate Scripture as we venerate the Eucharist.

There are many great works of literature out there but only one is written by God. You could take a class on Scripture for the rest of your life and never plumb the treasures that are available in the Word, just as none of us will ever plumb the depths of the mystery of God Himself.

Jesus wants us to munch on his Word everyday, in more ways than one. He gives us the Eucharist so that we can be spiritually nourished in a way that involves our entire bodies and he gives us the Word that nourishes both our minds and hearts with its many layers of meaning, mysteries and puzzles. (And he gives us delicious bread to fill our tummies and keep us physically well, which is necessary for spiritual wellness!)


This Lent dear Jesus, please give us our daily bread. Help us to read your Scripture with the same voracious appetite we have when scarfing down a good piece of bread. Your Word is the stuff that will satisfy us. You are the person who satiates our every need. Please be with us this Lent in your Word and in your Eucharist and bring us closer to your divine life. Amen.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Revenge of the Lent Police

I am sorry ma'm,
I am going to have to cite you
for eating two cookies.
The thing most talked about among people as we begin Lent is the perennial question, "What are you going to give up?"

When I was young, my mother called me "The Lent Police" because I not only kept track of my own business during Lent but I also kept tabs on my siblings. I would regularly yell things like, "Mom, David is eating a cookie and it's Lent!" I was a real pain in the bum. I am surprised they still speak to me.

After my reversion to the faith, I found myself giving up things as if I was part of an aestheticism marathon, (and I planned to be first). One long and difficult Lent I gave up coffee. I was traveling in Latin America so this was a terrible idea, not only because the coffee is great, but refusing coffee from a Latino is a serious faux pas in that culture - the equivalent of dumping a bucket of dirty dishwater on their head. On top of that, I was a huge grump and suffered from splitting headaches for most of the trip. Of course, I no longer drink coffee so that is nice, but that horrendous experiment in aestheticism was probably something better done as a New Year's Resolution, rather than a Lenten practice.

What do I mean by this?

Coffee, you no longer allure me.
Really. I swear.
Lenten penances are not meant to be efforts at self-improvement or attempts to win an aestheticism race. Instead, during Lent we are called to choose acts of mortification that show our love for God. It's not so much in what we do, as the motivation behind it. I gave up coffee because I knew I was addicted and I don't like to be addicted to things. It was as simple as that. I did not give up coffee because I knew that it would please God. I did not give up coffee because it would create space in my life for God. I gave up coffee because I wanted to. 

Of course, I am not saying that we should not give up things for Lent. 

One time at a Mass I actually heard a priest refer to fasting and negative penances, such as giving up something for Lent, as an outdated practice. His intention was good, he wanted to emphasize that positive practices of penance are just as important as negative, but it does not have to be either or. We can do both.

So this Lent, I decided to take some inspiration from the founder of the Pauline Family, Blessed James Alberione. Bl. James always emphasized that growth in the spiritual life must involve growth toward Jesus in the mind, will and heart. He once said, "Think of grafting yourself to Christ the Master. Graft to Christ your head, your heart, your mind, your activities, all your day."

Ok, so inspired by the Maestro, I divided possible things that I can do for Lent into these categories: Mind, Will, Heart. And then I asked the most important question - which things will bring me closer to God, and create more space in my life?

Here are some possible ideas if you are not sure what I mean:

Mind: Make the time to read something spiritual that you have been meaning to get to. Or try to think less negatively during the day.

Will: Give up something or regulate something in your life that keeps you from living prayerfully. Maybe you drive like a maniac, cuss and show people a finger that should never be unaccompanied. Stop driving like that for Lent, (and maybe it will stick!)

Heart: For me, this is a question of what you love. Lift your heart to God, whether it is through more prayer,  or adding a rosary into your daily commute. Basically, do anything that shows God that He is the king of your heart. Write a love letter to our Creator through something you choose to do during Lent.

I have found that these kinds of practices are more difficult. I am not going to get to the end of Lent without falling in my resolutions, that is for sure. But I think I will be closer to God than if I had chosen a list of practices based on what I felt like doing.

May you all have a blessed Lent!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Jesus is NOT a Marshmallow Treat!

Don't see Jesus here...
I often hear people speak of Jesus as if he is some kind of marshmallow treat - soft and squishy with no nutritional value. Usually when I hear the name of "Jesus" in this context I get the chills, as if the person is talking about someone I don't know. It is the same feeling you get when you hear a person speak about someone you love as if they know him intimately, when really they have just met him.

These people usually have good motives. They want to affirm that Jesus taught some nice things and he was surely some kind of "enlightened" being or a prophet of some kind. But at the same time they want to downplay the idea of Jesus as God. This point of view is becoming more and more accepted as it becomes more unpopular in our culture to assert that one religion is "superior" to another.

Relativism has seeped into our bones so much so that we are unwilling to assert anything that might conflict with another person's point of view. In fact, this trend of thought is becoming so common that most people don't even bother to adhere to a certain religion. If all religions are basically the same, then why not create our own spiritual practices and set of beliefs and stick to ourselves? It makes sense if this logic is true.

But the truth is that Christians do believe that Christianity is superior to other religions.

Gasp.

Now, before you get your knickers in a knot, let me make it clear that I am not saying that Christians are superior to adherents of other religions. I am not saying that Christians are better people. I am not saying that Christians even have a better relationship with God than other people. There is nothing superior about Christians in and of themselves.

When Christians make any claim that indicates that Christianity is superior, we are not making a claim about us (or we certainly shouldn't be). We are making a claim about Jesus.

Let's think about this logically. If we truly believe that Jesus is God then what other religion on earth comes close to claiming that God came down to earth in the form of a human being, making it possible for us to become like Him? We do not believe that Jesus is a Buddha, attaining enlightenment through spiritual practice. We do not believe that Jesus is a prophet like Muhammad. We do not believe that Jesus is one manifestation of God among many appearances of God in human history. No, we believe that Jesus is the Word of God. We believe that Jesus is the unique, unrepeatable incarnation of the Creator of the universe.

It does not offend me when people of other religions assert that their religion is more true than mine. I do not agree, but it does not offend me.

What is more offensive to me is the assertion that it is all true and that any declaration on the part of a religion that excludes the truths of other religions must be left behind. It is as if people believe thinking this way is outdated. "The world is full of greys and you are seeing things in black and white," I hear them saying to me in patronizing tones.

Where does Truth come from if not from God? I believe in Truth because I believe in God. I believe in Christianity because I believe in Jesus. I believe in Jesus because I believe He is God. I believe He is Truth incarnated.

I do not assert "my" truth above the truth of others. I know that I see the world through my own partial glasses. I am blind and stupid. I cannot see truth unless God helps me to see it. Just because I believe I belong to the religion of Truth does not mean I believe that I personally have a monopoly on Truth, (although this is the way some Christians behave).

I also do not believe that because my religion happens to contain Truth incarnated that other religions do not contain glimpses of this Truth, (glimpses they may see better than most Christians in some cases)! Other religions are full of truths, facets of the truth, that are found completely in the diamond of Jesus. Many Muslims, Hindus and Jews probably know Jesus better than I do and don't even know it!

The truth I assert above all others is not my own truth.

The truth I assert above all others is the Truth of Jesus.

Truth is a person.

He ain't no marshmallow treat!