Thursday, February 25, 2010

February and Lent

This, so far, has been a month with many happenings.  We have gone from big snowstorms to a springlike day with robins eating the berries on our holly bush outside our dining room window.

I have never seen robins in February before - actually a flock of robins, all with fat orange-red breasts - and, mostly in pairs, descending to eat the multitudinous berries on the bush.  As of today, there is not a single berry on the bush and it is, once again, just as last week, overburdened with the snow which is heavily coming down.

As nature changed each day this month, so have my reflections.  One reflection was on Sr. Patrick Joseph Cahill who went to God after battling many illnesses since she moved to our retirement home for religious.  In spite of her suffering, she spent the past several years with a smile, helping others in many ways, giving others lessons with a "grabber" device, offering kind words, preparing prayer for the sisters, lectoring, using her computer skills, visiting.  How wonderful to reflect on the gifts she shared with others in spite of her infirmity.

February brought the blessing of throats to our parish, and many worshipers to Mass for Ash Wednesday.  I was so moved by these people, mostly struggling immigrants, who came to share their hopes for the season ahead.  I suspect that they, like I, have heard the question asked of Peter by Jesus on the feast of the Chair of St. Peter: "Who do you say that I am".

My reflections also moved towards the closing of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of our foundress, Mother St. Jean, a courageous woman, who, after the death of her husband, followed her call to serve women and children in B├ęziers, France, leaving all her wealth to "know and love God, make God known and loved, and proclaim that Jesus Christ has come in order that all may have life".  That's my call too, and I find it rather awesome.

I have reflected on my ministry at the Fordham Westchester Library.  Each day I meet our graduate students, many in social work, who are doing research papers, and who really want to live their lives in service of others.  It is amazing to hear some of these women and men express the fact that they are experiencing a call, and trying to develop their skills at their own expense and with the task of writing papers with difficult reference standards, doing an internship, and balancing their lives with their families. I pray for them and live in awe of their dedication.

And the whole month has brought me and so many of us in the US to reflect on the tragedy of the earthquake followed by huge tremors in Haiti.  It is a time to thank God for the safety we have experienced in our lives and to pray for the comfort and consolation of those who have suffered in ways I cannot even imagine.  And, though we could contribute to help them, we are at a distance and feel inadequate.  The horror becomes more real to me when I realize that our student volunteers are going to help the people of New Orleans who live in desolate conditions several years after Katrina.  I often ask how Lent and the problem of human pain and suffering can make sense.  Sometimes I recognize the gift of Jesus offering Himself to us for salvation, but the human suffering we have witnessed in Haiti, New Orleans, war-torn countries, leaves me begging Jesus for an ever deepening understanding of this mystery.

Then there is the question of Lent - what is it really about.  I had a bit of an insight the other day when we were praying about the people of Nineveh.  Jonah was preaching doom and gloom, actually hoping the Ninevites would be destroyed.  Yet, the Ninevites, especially the king, had a glimpse that God was utterly merciful, would really listen to their prayers if they changed their hearts, and, as a result, changed their ways.  So, I have looked at my gifts and the gifts of others in the various communities which are a part of my life and asked myself:  How can I better see the gifts of others? How can I as a person be more respectful of the gifts and less sensitive to the faults of others?  How can I listen better, hear better? How can I let Jesus transform me through my flittings around daily life?  Perhaps the Lenten fasting this year is mostly about lookiing for the good in all of creation, being thankful, allowing awe to touch my heart, and to give up the burdens of criticism and harsh judgment which are so often part of me. How do I let others know that the mercy of Jesus' gift of salvation has really touched me and are, ever so gently, but firmy, touching me more and more each day.