“Risen” and the Joy of Being Christian

Although last Sunday was the 2nd Sunday of Lent, still a long way off from Holy Week, I had two experiences of Easter joy, one at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan and the other at the Showcase Cinema in Yonkers.

Family Time in the Cathedral

The experience at the Cathedral was the Rite of Calling for the candidates preparing to be received into the Catholic Church this Easter. Several hundred candidates from all over New York City went to be presented to the Cardinal and to be ceremonially called by him to deepen in their conversion in these last weeks before their acceptance into the Church.

We were all expecting a simple ritual in which the candidates would stand in their spots when their parishes were announced, but they ended up doing something different this year: every single candidate and his sponsor were actually invited up into the sanctuary to be with Cardinal Dolan. Since there were several hundred candidates, it took well over twenty minutes for everyone to get into the sanctuary, but no one seemed to care. Everyone seemed to be thrilled to have the opportunity to be close to Cardinal, and the gesture of allowing the candidates into the sanctuary was a nice symbolic anticipation of their upcoming entrance into the family of the Church.

The Cardinal characteristically enjoyed the opportunity to be close to his flock. At one point, he took a little infant named Elizabeth into his arms and held her for a few minutes explaining to her what was going on, “See all of these people, Elizabeth? They’re coming into the Church!” Later on, he let two boys hold his crosier and then he had them wait until the end of the ceremony to process out with him. He shook hands and patted folks on the back – you could tell that he was enjoying himself and that the people were equally thrilled to be with him.

The whole experience was familial and joyful, and the candidates were very excited and energized. They left realizing that they are coming into a big Christian family this Easter, one that goes beyond the boundaries of their parishes. Cardinal Dolan, the spiritual father and shepherd of this Catholic family of New York City, had welcomed them with warm words and beaming happiness that communicated to them the joy of Christ and his Church.

For me too, it was encouraging to see so many people so excited about entering into the Church. I think sometimes I take for granted how beautiful it is to be a Christian, but seeing those candidates so enthusiastic about their new faith renewed my own appreciation for it.


Risen

Later that evening, I joined other New York seminarians to watch Risen at a local theater. There too, as I watched the artistic re-telling of the Resurrection, I felt anew the joy of being Christian. The movie follows the fictional story of a Roman tribune named Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) who is charged with the task of finding the body of Jesus. The most powerful parts of the film  were the moments in which we were given imaginative glimpses of the Easter joy the apostles. Easter is something that we can take for granted, and we often forget how intensely emotional and exciting it must have been for them to see the risen Christ. The movie does a good job at helping us imagine what it must have been like.

Risen draws the viewer into the Easter experience through the character of Clavius who goes through his own spiritual journey as he reconciles the fact that the very man he helped kill on the Cross is somehow still alive.  Make sure you see it sometime before Easter, and let yourself be drawn into the story. Good works of art allow the viewer to vicariously experience a reality otherwise imposible to have. Risen will allow you experience the shock, joy, amazement, and love that the Twelve must have experienced when they saw the Risen One.


I returned to the rectory on Sunday night filled with new energy and eagerness to continue my preparation for priestly ministry. Both the experiences at the Cathedral and the cinema refreshed in me the joy of being Christian. God used both events to remind me of that amazing Easter mystery that happened 2,000 years ago but even today continues to inspire great personal conversions and artistic retellings, as it will continue to do until He comes again.

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God-Lights

National-Geographic-Channel-Captures-Dodge-Appeal-of-Living-off-GridIn the Hoh rain forest on the Olympic peninsula of Washington State, there lives a man by the name of Mick Dodge. This Washington native, whose great-grandparents settled the terrain he now inhabits, took off his shoes twenty-five years ago, left the modern world, and walked into the wilderness. When asked how he manages to live the way he does, he gives a characteristically quirky response:

“My family has perfected the art of dodging civilizations for hundreds of years. All I have to do is follow my feet.”

Leaving Everything Behind

After watching a show about him on the National Geographic Channel, I found myself very intrigued by this forest dweller. I was fascinated by the lifestyle that he had embraced: he lives in a tree, doesn’t wear shoes, and brushes his teeth with a pine-cone. Talk about simplifying your life!

The episode I watched showed him looking for meat after going days without any protein…

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Practical Ways to Do the Seven Works of Mercy During Lent

In my last blog, I proposed the idea of spending more time at leisure this Lent in order to contemplate God’s beauty. In this blog, I would like to suggest another idea that is complementary. Contemplation of God leads to action, so let your contemplation of His Beauty lead to communication of His Beauty. The Corporal Works of Mercy are excellent ways to transmit the beauty of God’s love to others.

Below are some practical ways to carry out the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy within the context of your ordinary daily life.  Many days, you may be able to do nothing more than say a prayer for those in need of a particular Work of Mercy, but don’t underestimate the power of your prayer, and remember that just the fact that you took the time to think and pray for those in need is itself something meritorious.

I suggest assigning a particular Work of Mercy to each day of the week, as I do below. Each day, strive to be generous, but do what you realistically fits within your particular state of life.

Feed the hungry (Mondays)

  • Prepare an extra nice meal for your family or friends.
  • Make a donation to a charity that feeds the poor (like Food for the Poor).
  • Bring a food donation to your local soup kitchen.
  • Say a special prayer for those suffering from hunger.

Give drink to the thirsty (Tuesdays)

  • Make a donation to help those in a drought-stricken area. (Catholic Relief Services has some exceptional programs to help alleviate the water needs of the poor in Ethiopia.)
  • Offer to bring a drink to a family member. (Remember what Christ said, “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” – Matthew 10:42)
  • Say a special prayer for rain for those suffering from drought.

Clothe the naked (Wednesdays)

  • If you are a parent, take the time to go clothes shopping for your children.
  • Gather up old clothes in your house and give them to Goodwill or Salvation Army or some other charity.
  • Say a special prayer for the poor in need of good clothing.

Shelter the homeless (Thursdays)

  • Do something to improve your home for your family. (Organize a messy closet, clean a room, or fix something that has been needing it for a while.)
  • Volunteer at or make a donation to your local homeless shelter.
  • Say a special prayer for a homeless person whom you have seen recently.

Care for the sick (Fridays)

  • Visit a sick loved one or friend.
  • Call an elderly family member family or friend to check up on him.
  • Volunteer some time at a local nursing home.
  • Pray for someone you know who is struggling with a serious illness.

Visit the imprisoned (Saturdays)

  • Consider volunteering in some way to help prisoners. (Prison Fellowship has opportunities to volunteer on its website.)
  • Pray for someone you know or heard about who has recently been imprisoned.

Bury the dead (Sundays)

  • Make a stop at your local cemetery to pray for the repose of the souls of the people buried there.
  • Leave flowers at the grave of a family member or friend.

If you are consistent in trying to do something each day this Lent, no matter how small, you will experience in a new way the joy of living these words of Our Lord:

“Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” – Matthew 25:40

 

An Idea for Lent: More Leisure

Lent is sneaking up on us more quickly than usual this year: Ash Wednesday is February 10th, almost the earliest it can be. In preparation for this beautiful time of the year, I would like to offer some thoughts on how to make the discipline of the next six weeks spiritually fulfilling.

The first thing to keep in mind is the fundamental reason for Lent. This season is not just about making ourselves suffer with some annoying sacrifice. The primary reason behind Lent is to draw closer to God through detachment from our sins and from whatever can distract us from Our Lord. As you decide on your Lenten commitment, it is important to keep this mind and to discern what will help you, in your particular situation, detach from whatever is distracting you from God. It may be the case that a challenging sacrifice such as fasting or giving up TV will indeed bring you closer to God, but be open to the fact that God may be asking for something else.

“Be still, and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10

In particular, I would like to suggest that you consider allowing yourself more leisure. But first, let me clarify what I mean by leisure.” I am not referring to laziness or even simply to rest but to something more. Laziness (also known as sloth) is a vice that consists in refraining from action when action is due. Rest is ceasing from action in order to recuperate energy for further action. Leisure is the opposite of laziness and much more than mere rest: it is ceasing from normal activity in order to open oneself to the contemplation of the beauty of this world, and ultimately to the contemplation of God, who is Beauty Itself.

Going back to your Lenten commitment: I can think of few better ways to detach from distractions and focus more on God than by commiting yourself to spending more time at leisure. The more you allow yourself to bathe in beauty, the more you open yourself to God. Since all beautiful things are reflections of the Beauty of God, you are learning about God whenever you take time to contemplate the beautiful. Even if your mind and imagination are not directly applied to God Himself, He is nevertheless revealing Himself to you through whatever beautiful thing is the object of your contemplation.

But to be at leisure, you must break away from the ordinary daily concerns that can distract you from God. Let’s get practical on how to do this. First, you will have to decide when you will be at leisure, and than you will have to decide how you will be at leisure.

Leisure Time

The evening is the most natural time to be at leisure, since, by then, you are physically and emotionally tired from the activity of the day. Allowing yourself an hour or so to be at leisure will enable you not only to rest but also to raise your mind to things that are greater and more beautiful than your job. You will go to bed not worrying about work but rather thinking about the beauty that you contemplated.

Ideally, all day Sunday should be dedicated to leisure. It is dies Domini – the Day of the Lord – and should be treated as such. Just as we dedicate sacred space to the contemplation worship of God, so should we dedicate sacred time for the same purpose. Going to church on Sunday is the first priority of Sunday, because it is during that time that we turn out minds and hearts directly to Our Creator. However, the rest of the day should be a prolongation of this turning towards God in the form of resting and contemplating the beauty of His creation.

Obviously, exactly when and how long to be at leisure depends on the situation of each person. Some people simply have to work on Sundays and others have to work late hours, but the point is that each should set aside a reasonable amount of time that works with his schedule.

Leisure Ideas

The ways of being at leisure are numerous, but they all share in common this imitation of God on the seventh day: cessation of work and contemplation of creation. You can be at leisure hiking in the mountains, walking in the park, or simply sitting in your backyard marveling at the beauty of nature. Leisure can take the form of being with friends and family, enjoying the beauty of the beloved people God has put in your life.

Leisure can be sitting down with a cup of tea and a well-written book. It can be watching or participating in an athletic event and enjoying the beauty of human athletic talent. It can be attending a musical performance and relishing the beauty of human musical creation. It can be watching a good movie or documentary, going to an art exhibit, or going to a museum. It can be the enjoyment of the finer things of life like good food or vintage wine.

Leisure can also be the development and exercise of creative talents. This Lent may be a good time to start learning that instrument that you have always wanted to play, or it may be a good time to begin that book that you have been thinking of writing. It may be a good time to take up or begin again whatever beautiful art is calling you, be it musical, visual, literary, culinary, or linguistic.

Stick to It!

Even though leisure is a very attractive thing, it is still going to take discipline to make sure that you have it. There will be times when you will be intensely tempted to forego your commitment in order to finish some pressing project or chore. In those moments, resist the temptation! Remember that life is so much more than your work or chores. Sit down, take a deep breath, and turn your mind to your novel, or your instrument, or whatever beautiful thing you have chosen for your leisure time. Before you know it, peace will settle in and you will enjoy that special spiritual dimension which is our privilege as humans and creatures of God.


For more on the topic of leisure, please read my post Why You Need Leisure.