Give into These 4 Temptations

We Catholics spend the 40 days of Lent reflecting on those temptations that distract us from loving and serving God fully. The 1st Sunday of Lent’s Gospel of Jesus’ temptation in the desert sets the course clearly and directly.

With Lent behind us, let’s look at the 5 temptations we should give into as the Easter readings and Gospels and the early Christian community instruct us.

Forgive. From the call of the Baptist to the preaching of Paul, Jesus’ message of repentance and forgiveness rings loud and clear. When faced with the pain and grief that we cause others when we treat them without charity, we are called to summon the strength and unconditional love to forgive. Like the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, forgiveness should be our practice for Easter.

Praise. St. Paul is almost effusive in his praise of the goodness and kindness of the early Christian communities. He is specific and precise about what prompts him to recognize the communities. His model is worth duplicating. Praise must be concrete, not generic (as in “good move to the left on that penalty kick” rather than “nice job”.) Practicing it on adults is even more important in a world where adults, especially parents, are mostly on the giving end of it.

Listen. Have you ever noticed how much the apostles take from Thomas when he doubts that they have seen the Risen Lord? No interruptions. No cutting him off. They listen to his declarations of disbelief fully and completely. And then when Jesus tells them that they know where he is going, Thomas jumps in and says, “We don’t.” No laugh off. No chastisement. Jesus and the apostles model how to be a good listener. Jesus listens to the words, but also hears what is said behind, underneath them. And he responds to all of it. After the speaker is done. . . My mother was right. “Listen more, speak less.”

Welcome. Perhaps the most controversial of these temptations given our political climate, but it is one of the strongest threads in our Easter season Scriptures. Jesus, the stranger, is welcomed to supper in Emmaus. New believers are welcomed daily into the community of faith without limits or ceremony. Jesus prepares them to welcome the Holy Spirit during these final weeks. Welcomes are sometimes surprising, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes challenging, sometimes unexpected. But we are called to extend them — always.

Follow. We think about Jesus so often as the one we follow that we often forget that he too was a follower — of his Father. For leaders, it is tempting to always feel compelled to be setting the direction and standing at the front of the line. Resist that temptation, and follow its sister — to follow.

Prodigal Forgiveness

A photo by Sonja Langford. unsplash.com/photos/eIkbSc3SDtITiming is everything, so they say.

Jumping at the right moment to grab the long, downfield pass into coverage. Striking the 100 mph fastball with the meat of the bat. Knowing the exact moment when to take the souffle out of the oven. Remaining silent until it’s absolutely necessary to speak.

“Father, give me my inheritance.” How long had the younger son been contemplating this request. What had precipitated it? Why now? Why couldn’t he wait?

Imagine if that request had come today, how long it would have taken to liquidate the estate, and give the son what he wanted. And yet he did.

Add to that the months, maybe even years, that it took the prodigal son to spend it all before he realized that his coffers were empty.

And from the time he left, the father probably started and ended each day looking at the horizon, hoping to see him return. Then he did. Without warning. Lavishly embraced by the forgiveness willingly and generously given by the father.

Fifteen years ago, most of us remember where we were, watching the Twin Towers crash to the ground and disappear into ash and dust or the destruction of the Pentagon or the crash of the flight that ended in a Pennsylvania field.

As I listened to the parable of the Prodigal Son Sunday, I wondered if and when we will be able to open our arms bravely, lovingly, and without restraint and forgive those who harmed us as the Father forgives us all.

Timing is everything. Isn’t it time?

Lose What You Got to Lose

bridgeAs a middle-aged adult, I learned how to play bridge.

In a game that is very competitive, it is hard to believe that the “first rule” of bridge (at least, the first and best rule that I have learned) is lose what you have to lose first.

Last weekend, my partner and I bid a hand, and when she laid down her cards, we had a perfect fit . . . except that we did not hold 3 of the Aces and 1 King. Four tricks that we had to lose in order to take the other nine. It was clear what I had to do, force the opponents into playing all of those four cards before I could capture what we were capable of winning.

Not all bridge hands are like that . . .  that clear, that easy, that straightforward. At least, not for me. But I’m barely more than a novice.

But what a paradox–lose in order to win. It took the first 3 years of playing before I was able to accept that sometimes I had to lose in order to eventually win the game. Three years of being obstinate, frightened, and stupid.

I can identify with the prodigal son in all of this. Foolishly taking everything that is mine (i.e., all of the winning tricks) at the cost of eventually losing the most important thing (e.g., self-love, father’s love, the game.)

The paradox. Lose in order to win. Be exalted, and you will be humbled. First shall be last. Sinner welcomed home.

None of us is perfect, especially in the ways that we negotiate our leadership. There are always points, discussions, issues, and actions that we are going to face that we’re just going to lose.

These losses don’t necessarily mean we are going to lose the “game” or the goal toward which our ministry and leadership is directed. But we need to know when to lose, when to agree to disagree, when to concede, and when to ask for forgiveness. It’s only then that we can truly move forward.

 

 

 

 

By Your Love

We’ve all been lost at some point in time. Lost in love. Lost at sea. Lost in a crowd. Lost in faith.

Like a sheep or a coin.

Sometimes we get lost without knowing it. Who of us doesn’t know a story of someone who as a child got separated from Mom or Dad in a big store, and couldn’t for (hopefully) the briefest moment find the way back.

Sometimes we choose a path, headed in a direction that we think will lead someplace we want to go. It happens in relationships–the ones we stay in too long. It happens at work–the jobs that we chose for the now not-so-right reasons.

Like the prodigal son.

The promise of faith is that we will always be found, searched for desperately and welcomed with generous and loving arms. By your love, we are found.

 

What Makes People Say and Do the Things They Say and Do

downloadThe recent violence in Orlando has sparked many reactions, comments, and reflections on the incident–and many have wondered what makes those most vocal say and do what they have said and done.

As so often happens, the speakers and doers at the center of this past Sunday’s readings jolt us out of the commonness of everyday life to say and do the unexpected. Nathan, a prophet, cuts down the mighty King David with his words of the sin that David has committed. Paul professes his nothingness without his faith in the Son of God and grace from God. And a “sinful woman” (yes, that is the NAB’s translation) takes all that is precious to her to the house of a Pharisee, a man who would berate her and leave her in the dirt for nothing, in order to wash and kiss the feet of Jesus. Then, of course, Jesus does the most unthinkable–he forgives her.

The theme for the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Congress is “Blessed as Living Witnesses.” I thought it all somewhat ironic–waking to the news of this act of terror, listening to these readings at Mass, then reading and hearing the reactions from the media, politicians, commentators, and religious leaders.

What kind of “living witness” are we called to be? What kind of “living witness” do we want to be–and do we expect of others? Do we aspire to be like Nathan, Paul, and the sinful woman? What unexpected words and actions would it take to follow that path?