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A Season Of Grace And Gratitude

How do I know that God loves me? Because, when I pay enough attention, I can see how much he cares for me, I can see his grace flowing in the world. It is quite a treat to be able to “see” it. It only happens on some occasions and it is a minor miracle when it does. I can’t seem to maintain this “open-to-grace-mode” as often as I should. But this is exactly why I need the liturgical life of the Church, to remind me at regular intervals of the whole world (the visible AND the invisible one) and to remind me of my responsibilities in it. It tells me again and again how God’s love is coming at us with every breath and with every sunrise and how it is a gift.

The proper response to a gift is to say Thank You, to express gratitude, with joy and respect. It does not always come naturally (ask any parent!). But our hearts and souls can be exercised and trained just as well as our muscles. I know how much I appreciate being around kind and grateful people and it makes me want to emulate them. To think that there is a lovely dance between grace and gratitude and that the link between the two is within me is very encouraging to me.

It is easy to forget it when listening to the news. It seems that new threats and fears are popping up every day and the media are doing such a good job of keeping us informed. I’m kept up to date on the latest Wikileak and the exact foreclosure statistic, I hear about every political accusations hurled from one party to the other. Bombarded with useless data, I’m expected to accept forced austerity (in my case, unemployment) and economic uncertainty. This is why I can’t always see the grace of God at work in the world, I keep being distracted and confused.

But the truth is that it is not just the media, there are enough forces within myself – such as my own arrogance or apathy – to obscure the delicate ballet of grace and gratitude. I try to resist the temptations of glorified anger and the general trends of whining. But only the season of the Church gives me the reboot I need: it helps me to focus on relationships, to pay attention to goodness, to practice the works of mercy. And there is much personal growth at stake here since I need to trust that there is also a point in the end where “all is grace” as the saints have already told us. Because there is something so poignant – and ever so graceful – when one can still hold on to gratitude even in the midst of suffering, it’s called dignity and courage and it generates our admiration and it transforms the world in the process. Yes, the creation is drenched in grace.

This is the goal of the season of Advent, to grow, to become richer in the only wealth that truly matters and to welcome God, the God of love and forgiveness and hope. God has come to us once and God is coming again.

And to think that I am offered a place at this banquet, at this extraordinary exchange! Thanks be to God.

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Of Scriptures and prayers, Facebook and food…

During Advent, I decided to read the story of Jesus again. I wanted to rediscover the story of the Incarnation one more time, so I decided to read every night a few chapters of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. (Yes, I am that kind of a person — I assign myself reading projects.) I decided to read it as I would read an adventure story, without checking footnotes, without researching words, without doing any cross-referencing. I wanted to let the story flow of its own and to immerse myself in it.

So I started reading every night. And the most interesting thing happened. As I was progressing daily on my reading assignment, I could not help but notice that “the story” was surfacing again and again at other moments in my day: It was getting fleshed out, and it was coming from a variety of sources. First, I noticed it during prayers, and then during the liturgy. Sudden insights were bringing the story to a new level: my reading was enlarging it, was revealing more and more of the bigger picture, teaching me about the transcendence of God. And it delighted me.

What surprised me most is that I started picking up additional bits and pieces of “the story” in the most unusual places, even on Facebook. At night, I was reading about this amazing Good News. And, during the day, I kept noticing the “goodness of my neighbor.” The links between the original story and the one unfolding itself today were becoming highlighted like golden threads. Jesus brought us a whole new worldview, coupled with the ultimate interior journey — the Christ-like inner path — and it is summarized in the two commandments of love of God and love of neighbor. And this is exactly what I was able to see on Facebook. Once in a while (and you can never know when it will happen) one post will generate the most interesting discussion. It starts with a quirky statement or a profound one and then suddenly there is a flurry of comments. It can be about abortion or the death penalty or the criteria for a just war, or it can follow simple questions: “Why do we dream?” or “Is God reading our status updates?” (By the way, my answer was, “Yes, since he knows every hair on my head.”) There is a lot of honest seeking and searching, and much kindness and caring, underneath the quick exchanges. I love my friends’ jokes and the gentleness that can shine from one end of the world to the other just because someone said they were struggling that day. Those are precious, blessed moments. And I was able to pick up on them because my “grace and goodness antennas” were sharpened by my nightly readings.

I finally finished reading the Acts of the Apostle after Christmas. The following night, as I was standing in my parents’ kitchen fixing an apple pie and listening to Nick Cave’s haunting song, “I Let Love In,” it all seemed to come together like pieces of a puzzle: the preparing of food for others, the will to focus on love and caring, the golden links between people and the blessed moments. I thought it was very appropriate that the conclusion would happen over food. I love cooking, and my epiphany moment even got me to change the recipe halfway through it: Since my mother cannot really eat the crust of pies anymore, I decided to switch to a Clafoutis and I created my very own apple Clafoutis (a baked French dessert) right there on the spot. It turned out to be a hit.

Does it really matter to be able to see the golden threads? Absolutely. It is the only way to face the constant avalanche of natural disasters, global conflicts and local crimes. Isn’t it interesting how a simple reading of the Incarnation fueled a deeper and larger reading of life? I already know what I will do for Lent: I am going to reread the Gospel of John and the Letter to the Romans.

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Hope has been dormant…

I have not used this blog in a while but it does not mean that hope was gone! Far from it. 

Puis je vis un ciel nouveau, une terre nouvelle – car le premier ciel et la première terre ont disparu, et de mer, il n’y en a plus.

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The Question of Hope Of all the questions the human mind can ask, three are of ultimate importance:
                1. What can I know?
                2. What should I do?
                3. What may I hope?
The three questions [1] correspond to the three “theological virtues” of faith, hope, and charity.
Faith in God’s word is the Christian answer to “What can I know?” [2]
Love of God and neighbor is the Christian answer to “What should I do?”
And hope for Gods’ Kingdom, the Kingdom of heaven, is the Christian answer to “What may I hope?”

Just as faith fulfills the mind’s deepest quest for truth and as love fulfills the moral will’s deepest quest for goodness, so the hope of heaven fulfills the heart’s deepest quest for joy.It is the quest that moves irrepressibly through the world’s great myths and religions, the masterpieces of its greatest artists and writers, and the dreams that rise from the primordial depths of our unconscious. However different the heavens hoped for, wherever there is humanity, there is hope.The question of hope is at least as ultimate as the other two great questions. For it means “what is the point and purpose of life? Why was I born? Why am I living? What’s it all about?”
Peter Kreeft

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The main contribution of Marmion to modern spirituality is that he opened the door to everyone and anyone. He said God does not limit Himself to the holiest of holy people but [comes] to everybody and that sinners are capable of reaching great heights as well as anyone else. He’s got the theology of hope, which he picked up when he was a chaplain in a woman’s prison in Dublin as a young priest, when he was dealing with very hardened criminals, people who had no hope. He was able to give them some hope for their future and also for the fact that they were not condemned by God, even though they were condemned by man.”

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God has placed hope in our hearts

I have a very simple and basic understanding of the virtue of Hope and that is why I started this blog. I thought I would throw my net over the side of the boat and see what I bring back and, in the process, I should deepen my grasp of what Hope truly is and why God wants us to exercise it…

In the “Dictionary of the Bible” by John L. McKenzie, S.J. I found the following comments:  “It seems no exaggeration to say the Old Testament breathes an atmosphere of hope throughout but it is true that Hebrew seems to have no word which corresponds exactly to “hope” and no precise concept of hope in the sense of “desire accompanied by expectation”. The words which most frequently express hope are kawah, to expect, and batah, to trust or to have confidence.

As a religious concept, hope rests entirely upon Yahweh, the “hope of Israel”. One must hope in Yahweh even when He “hides his face” Is 8:17; or seems to withdraw his favor, or when hope is deferred, Is 26:8. … His fidelity to His word is guaranteed by His covenant love, which is granted to the degree in which Israel hopes in Him…

In the New Testament, the Greek words elpis and elpizein, meaning expectation or to expect, are neutral, it may refer to expected good or evil… the words appear in this sense in the New Testament but hope as a religious concept is a much more enriched development of the OT hope.

The concept of hope is most fully developed in the Pauline writings especially in Roman. The paradox of “hoped against expectation” is that God can accomplish the impossible. Hope is of the unseen both to its object and its motive. Rom 8:24 and Heb 3:6. It is the hope of the glory of God which is the boast of the Christian, Rom 5:2, which must ultimately issue in the liberation of all creation from sin, Rom 8:20. Thus the Christian is saved through hope, which is joy. Paul does not think that hope is easily attained, it is the fruit of proved virtue….”

I will post more tomorrow.

Pretty explicit description of such elusive stuff… violet

 

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Hope is a process…

I remember reading somewhere that the section on “prayers” in the CCC was written in a basement in Beyrouth, in the middle of the Lebanese civila war, in the 80’s… And that section is beautiful! It is a treasure of Christian prayers, the need for prayers, the kind of prayers available to us, the method, the goals…

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