Palm Sunday | 29 March 2015
French | Dutch
Dear Brothers, Associates and Collaborators:
For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life. Jn 3:16
For the past six weeks we have been preparing ourselves to receive ever more deeply God’s gift of love, His Son. Through Jesus, eternal life, communion with the God of love, is restored. Our self examinations, our acts of penance and our active practicing the Christ-like virtues of patience, compassion and forgiveness are intended to purify our minds and hearts so we are able to accept more deeply God’s intimate love for each of us.
Last Saturday evening John Hamilton, Ed Rice and I went to Mass at Resurrection Church. The liturgy was vibrant. The reverent expression of faith of the young and elderly was uplifting. I could not believe, however, it was already Palm Sunday! The weather was very cold and windy. For other reasons, though, it did not seem like the beginning of Holy Week. I found myself asking a number of personal questions. Did I really enter the spirit of Lent as I had intended? Did I spend enough time in prayer? What held me back? This year distractions, some necessary, some not so necessary, seemed to fill my Lent from the Ash Wednesday that Larry and I celebrated with our Brothers in Bruges to the Palm Sunday. My attention was often diverted. Some how I feel I fell short of where I wanted to be. My Lent feels very incomplete.
I found consolation, however, in our Founder’s faith journey. We are who we are today because this simple shoemaker felt in his heart the powerful love that God had for him. My thoughts frequently return to our Founder. Ryken left us a spiritual path that is rich in its simplicity. Our Founder’s humility allowed him to acknowledge he was a sinner. This same humility opened him to receive, in the words of Saint John, eternal life. At the time of his conversion Ryken felt in his heart the immense love God had for him. Ryken did not leave us tomes on the spiritual life, but he did leave us a clear spirituality that calls us both as individuals and as a community to an intimate relationship with God.
…enter into an intimate relationship with God…
To do this
you must be willing to spend time each day
in solitude and prayer,
opening yourself to His living Word. FP
Ongoing attention to that relationship is a must.
…Your Founder, he too,
came to the understanding
that a continual conversion is needed. FP
Following Ryken’s counsel, I understand better what conversion means for me–the turning from my selfishness, from those aspects of my life that are real obstacles to my love of others and of God. Conversion also calls me to turn toward eternal life. I realize my Lent does not stop next weekend. As Ryken was called, so I am called to eternal life. But what was John talking about when he wrote, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life?” Jn 3:16 I did some reading about the meaning of eternal life as found in John. John does not use the term to mean life after death. He uses the term to mean the very life of the God Himself, the God of love. He explains it this way…
Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one You sent, Jesus Christ. Jn 17:3
Ryken also spoke of this type of knowledge of God. Due in part to his own personal experience of God’s love for him and due in part to the popular influence in Catholic Holland of spiritual writers such as Jan Van Ruysbroeck, Ryken exhorts us today saying that…
It is this communion with the living God
that is at the heart of your life. FP
John describes this communion with God by relating some of Jesus’ most intimate thoughts to His Father just hours before he was arrested.
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their Word, so that they may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may be in us, that the world may believe you sent me. Jn 17: 20-21
Experiencing eternal life or communion with God is indeed life changing. As with any conversion experience, the Holy Spirit urges us, moves and guides us to the grace of God’s love. God’s life calls us to be and to do what God is and does–love. We need to stand ready. How do I stand ready to answer God’s call to me? Our Founder was impelled by God’s love.
Eternal life is to “love one another as I have loved you.” Jn 15:13 Eternal life is to care for others and to overcome our isolation and selfishness as individuals and as a community. When I read John 3:16, the very core of our faith, I am struck by John’s stating that eternal life, life in God’s love, is meant for everyone. This intimate communion with God is inclusive, meant for everyone who believes. The inclusivity of the Father’s love clashed with the rigid exclusivity expressed by some of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day– the Pharisees, high priests and Levites, the scribes and the doctors of the law. When Jesus challenged their thinking, he signed his death warrant.
In my reflections I cannot help but think of those excluded from the life of the faith community by some of our Church leaders? Divorced and remarried Catholics? Women in the Church, especially women religious? Do I as an educator remain silent when gays, especially adolescents, are told they are “intrinsically disordered”? Given what we understand today about human development, what does that language mean? What does such language do to youngsters’ self esteem?
My reflection on eternal life is also personal. How inclusive am I? Whom do I exclude consciously or unconsciously? As a Congregation, how inclusive are we? Whom do we invite in and whom do we exclude? Do we even think of raising our voice to object to exclusivity when it is unjust? Or do we just sit still lest we rock the boat?
How would Jesus respond today to the political and religious polemics that exclude so many people? I think down deep we already know that the risen Lord seeks an intimate relationship with all.
The question for me becomes, “What am I doing about these situations?” Will I stand with Peter in the courtyard on Thursday evening and deny I know the Galilean even though my Galilean accent betrays me? Eternal life calls me to find a way to be the voice, the eyes, the ears, the heart and the hands of the risen Christ. Do I have the faith, the trust and the courage to do so? How do we let the Spirit move us together as a Congregation? Where do I meet the risen Christ? His disciples asked the same question.
One of my favorite post resurrection stories is that of the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. After Jesus was crucified, the disciples did what Jesus told them to do. They returned to Galilee hoping to meet Him again. They also returned to Galilee to be and to do what they knew best. They were fishermen. They were despondent, confused, mourning. They lost the one who gave them hope, Jesus. After a night of fishing, they were disappointed. They caught nothing. Morning broke and a man on the shore asked them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” “Nothing,” they replied. The man on the shore replied, “Cast the net over on the right side of the boat and you will find something.” (Jn 21:6)
We know that these disciples were skilled fishermen who knew intuitively that if the fish were not biting on the left, they probably would not bite on the right either. Yet they must have sensed something special about this stranger. Was it the deep memory of a similar event that occurred a few years earlier when Jesus entered their lives for the first time? At that moment Jesus also asked them to cast their net despite the fact they had caught nothing during the night. (Luke 5:1-11) For the second time the disciples obeyed him and counter intuitively cast the net on the right side of the boat. Again the catch was plentiful as it was three years earlier. Moved by this deep memory, the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” The impulsive Peter immediately jumped into the sea and waded to Jesus still not completely sure it was the Lord. The disciples recognize Jesus not only in the miraculous catch of fish, but also in his invitation to eat breakfast as He hands each of them bread and fish. It is their obedience to what Jesus asked that opened their eyes in faith.
This above story of the risen Christ, I believe, speaks to our present life as a Congregation and Church. For the past fifty years we have lived in situations for which there is no apparent solution: the vocation crisis, the challenge of living in community and carrying out our mission, the place of our vocation in the Church. In all this, we have responded by being faithful to our charism.
The question becomes for us, how will we respond to the risen Christ when he asks us to cast our net one more time. Will we cast the net or just say no? No more. Will we be obedient to the risen Christ even if what He asks of us is counter intuitive? Will we let the Spirit lead us? Or will we cling to our need for control and certainty?
At our recent General Council meeting (March 20-23) in Duxbury, Massachusetts we spent a lot of time reflecting on this story. I will send you a report of all we have dealt with both at the January meeting of the General Council in Nairobi as well as the most recent one in Duxbury. I want to share the hope that the Council sees for our future together. To embrace the future with hope will mean that we listen together to the Lord in prayer and listen to where the Lord wants us to cast the net.
Jesus your brother,
has walked this path before you.
as Risen Lord,
He wants to walk this path again,
and His Spirit, the Spirit of God,
now guides you. FP
I have been blessed in the last five months to meet the Risen Christ in a number of places. Let me mention a few. While in Belgium, most certainly I encountered the risen Christ when visiting our Brothers on Mariastraat in the care that they are giving some of our critically ill Brothers. The words of our Fundamental Principles take on a deeper sense.
you will realize
that the cost of your discipleship
is your very life. FP
While in Kenya, John and I witnessed our Brothers and postulants giving caring service to the street kids. They also make pastoral visits to the poor living around our compound. In addition Brother Vincent sells vegetables to the poor of the neighborhood at a reduced price. In the two Bungoma communities I met the Risen Lord. It was inspirational.
It is through your gospel witness
lived in common with your brothers
that God desires to manifest
his care and compassionate love. FP
My most recent travels took me to Louisville for George Willenbrink’s funeral. The presence of the Risen Christ was truly present during the funeral. George’s simple heart allowed him to be the eyes, the ears, the hands, and the voice of Christ to so many people.
Stand ready to answer
if you are available for God
to become more present in your life
and through you to the world. FP
In his life, George did what God is and what God does—he loved others.
I give thanks for the ways in which you are the face, the ears, the eyes, the hands and the voice of the Risen Christ for the students you teach or counsel, the Brothers with whom you share community, or for the family members with whom you live.
You will be in my prayers and reflections throughout the Triduum. I am going to reflect on the gift of the Son that God offers us and the gift of our Founder who grasped the meaning of eternal life. I give thanks for you and your faithfulness to the charism we share which brings us into communion with God.