A Lenten Message: Embracing the Future With Hope
Dear Brothers, Associates and Collaborators:
02.15.16: Greetings from Bungoma, Kenya, where I am starting this letter. John and I arrived in Nairobi the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. I do not want Lent to pass by without sharing a few thoughts with you. For me time has been passing very quickly. Being at the Postulant House in Bungoma, it is easy to experience hope for the future!
Lent is such a wonderful time for all of us to embrace the future with hope by deepening our spiritual lives as members of the Xaverian family. Lent calls us to renewed fidelity to our shared charism. You are very much in my thoughts and prayers during these weeks.
This Lent, I want my spiritual practices to more closely reflect what we currently understand of the Founder’s spirituality. Three aspects of his spirituality come to me: Ryken’s conversion, his life of compassion and his insistence on integrating contemplation with ministry. In a similar way, Pope Francis’ call to “deepen our commitment to express God’s mercy in every aspect of our daily life” also motivates me.
To do what Francis asks I turn to our Founder who, I believe, gives us a wonderful example of the commitment needed to express God’s mercy or compassion in all aspects of life. I am challenged by what Francis asks us. I am also encouraged by the Founder’s example. Ryken’s simple spirituality that we share as Xaverian Brothers, Associates and Collaborators gives me a direction to take.
As we know our Founder’s spirituality is shaped by the powerful experience of being put in his place. This moment in Ryken’s life was filled with the special grace of God’s mercy. Ryken experienced deeply God’s tender love and forgiveness. The experience impelled Ryken to turn to God. God converted Ryken to Himself. The result was that Ryken could not help but love God with his whole heart.
Father Howard Gray, SJ, in an article entitled, Mercy: Another Name for God, (Human Development, Fall 2015) points out that when we allow ourselves to be touched by the healing and forgiveness of God’s mercy then we are better able to embrace our own brokenness and need for forgiveness. Then we experience the freedom to turn to God and to love God.
Following our Founder’s example, in my prayer I ask God to lead me and to give me courage to face those aspects of my life where I need healing, where I need a change of heart and where I need forgiveness. To do this I am again reminded of the words of our Fundamental Principles:
You must be willing to spend time each day
in solitude and prayer opening yourself to
God’s living word.
In my prayer, events from my past for which I still need healing surface: a broken family relationship or a strained relationship with a confrere. My prayer often leads me to aspects of my life for which I know I need a change of heart: judging others too quickly; talking about others when they are not present; or being “so busy” I am not really present to the others who need my attention. Often I hear the other person, but my thoughts and feelings are elsewhere. For those aspects of my life, I ask forgiveness. Pope Francis’ humility in sharing that he is a sinner helps me to admit that I am also. I am then reminded of our Founder’s own spiritual awakening grounded in the powerful experience that God loved him unconditionally.
God is not obliged to give an account to anybody,
even if He wants to use a sinner.
Presently I am reading one of Francis’ books. I want to share a quote from it:
The Lord never tires of having mercy on us and wants to offer us His forgiveness once again–we all need it–inviting us to return to Him with a new heart purified from evil, purified by tears to take part in His joy.
The Joy of Discipleship:
Reflections from Pope Francis on Walking with Christ
I believe that what Francis describes above is what Ryken experienced. Often I have to remind myself that God never tires of having mercy on me. For me, being a perfectionist, that is a real challenge. In my reflection I ask God for the grace of gratitude. “Lord, help me to recognize and be thankful for your presence and love in my life today.” I also pray for the gift of courage to be open. “Lord, help me to be honest with myself and to come to you as someone you love. Help me then to overcome the obstacles in my everyday life that impede my expressing your mercy to others.”
Ryken’s example encourages me. In responding to God’s grace, our Founder became mindful of his need to turn to God and to allow God to gradually convert him to His love. I ask for that same grace for myself and for the Congregation. In experiencing God’s mercy, Ryken was impelled to devote himself to a life of compassionate love in the service of others.
As we begin Lent, I pray for the grace to recognize God’s mercy in my own life and that of our Congregation. I also pray for the grace that together we as the Xaverian Congregation–Brothers, Associates and Collaborators—minister God’s mercy and healing touch of love through word and deed to all who we meet in our journey of life. Our communities–are they communities of mercy? Are our schools places where students and teachers experience God’s mercy?
02.23.16: Presently John and I are at our novitiate in Kipushi where hope for the future is so very evident. Before leaving Congo, I will share with you some reflections on God’s mercy as experienced with our Kenyan and Congolese Brothers, and a few thoughts about the solidarity called for within the Congregation as together we embrace the future with hope. Let us seek new life.
Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and
instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.
In Christ’s Mercy,