Saturday, February 28, 2009

Remain in Waiting

“Remain in Waiting”
Lent 2009 – First Sunday Year B (Mar 1)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

Years ago, when I was seventeen, I had to undergo a surgery for my sinusitis problem. The nurse came early that morning to my room in the hospital, and pushed my bed to the operation room. Well, not really. I was pushed into the “waiting room” which for me was so bone-chilling. I was lying on my bed, and another patient was there beside me, waiting for his turn. I waited, and waited, and waited. It felt like ages, and I became so scared of the surgery. I was already working out on a plan to safely sneak out when the nurse came and pushed my bed to the execution room.

Many years later, December 1996, I went to a small parish just on the skirts of Naples, Italy. Yes, it was my first Christmas ministry as priest. Even in Naples, for my tropical skin, it was freezing. My room was spacious, but with no heater! I sat on my bed, thinking seriously, and wondering about my decision. I was already planning on how to go back to Rome and forget everything about Christmas ministry, when there was a knock on my door. It was time for work. That Christmas vigil I spent hours cramped in the tiny confessional booth, and went back to my room, trying the best I could to make me warm, and fell asleep in despair.

Bone-chilling room, time of waiting, possibility of plan changes, these are the three elements in both incidents. In either case, I was tempted to run away from where I was. Yes, in waiting, I was tempted to run away to a safer place. Waiting in a bone-chilling temperature made me think of returning to my comfort zone. In a sense, for Jesus, those forty days in the desert were a period of waiting. As he was waiting for his public ministry, he was tempted. The Gospel of Mark does not recount the nature of the temptation that Jesus had. We only know that Jesus “remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.” This allows us to think that the temptation was simply “to cut it short.” The temptation might have come to Jesus’ mind in the form of question: “Should I wait longer?”

Looking at various moments in my life, I can see that this is one of the most brilliant strategies that Satan uses to make me fall. Satan always wants me to cut it short. Time for waiting can be a time for Satan to seduce us. Are you waiting for God’s answer to your prayer? Be very aware, as you wait, you may be seduced to cut it short, to no longer wait, to start executing your plan your own way. This is precisely what Satan wants us to do. Jesus knows this, and so He remained in the desert at all cost. The good news is: waiting in the desert always means to be among wild beasts, and yet always in the good company of the angels. When you are tempted to cut your waiting short, just look around, and you will see angels around you. Remain in waiting. This is what God has been doing. Since the flood in the time of Noah, God has decided to wait. Had God cut it short, you and I would not have lived now. We have to remain in waiting, because it is what God has been doing all this time for us. Time of waiting is time for God to prepare us for something big.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Unimaginable Change

“Unimaginable Change”
Lent 2009 – Day 4 (Feb 28)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I love Harry Potter. Surprise, surprise! There have been times in my life when I really wished I had been given that magic wand. No, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t think of doing anything nasty against others. If I have that magic wand now, I will learn two basic commands: to clean up my room and to wash my car. After a long day of working, it would be heaven if with a right spell and movements with the wand, all the clutters on my desk will immediately put in order. In addition to this, it would be heaven to have my car always clean and shiny. (Oh by the way, on a side note, I consider my car as a “she,” and I named her “Naomi.” It is black and beautiful. Yes, you’re right it’s like a car version of Naomi Campbell. Please don’t tell my Superior or the Bishop about this). Especially in this rainy season, that magic wand is really in high demand. When I desperately try to find something hidden in the clutters on my desk, or when in the morning I walk to Naomi who sadly has become like the one who has just finished the Paris-Dakkar rally, I am brought back to earth. No, the truth is, I don’t have that magic wand. The truth is, I have to do something with the clutters on my desk. The reality is, I myself have to touch the mess!

Again, Lent is a joyful season. It’s joyful precisely because we are made aware (the more the better) of the messiness in our lives, and yet at the same time aware of the crystal clear promise from God. The prophet Isaiah invites us to look far ahead. If we engage ourselves to do good to others, “our light will rise in the darkness, and our shadows become like noon.” Amazing, isn’t it? Think about this. What you think as the darkest side of your life right now will turn to be the brightest. Your sins, with which you might have been wrestling (and may be you begin to loose hope for any signs of improvements), will be transformed to be blessings! What you have been trying to hide so far will be brought to light and thus be made light! I don’t know about you, but for me, this is indeed a great hope. Lent is a joyful time of the year. It is time for the unimaginable changes in our lives. The only condition is simple: let Jesus do it for you! Just lay back, relax, and watch Him working in your life, your family, those who have hurt you, and those whom you have hurt. Let Jesus’ hands touch the messiness in all that. Be aware of that Someone whose power is way beyond yours, even without that first class hand-made magic wand!

This is just how Jesus works. I would even say, this is His most favorite job. There is nothing else that would excite Him, than making great and unimaginable changes in people’s lives. If you still doubt, look at Levi, a notorious tax-collector. That man, probably with a very negative self-image from the stigma given him by society, didn’t have a slight idea when he got up from his sleep earlier that day. All he knew was that a young man with beard came to him and said: “Follow me!” At the end of that day, he realized that he had been transformed. Amazing, isn’t it? I know, I keep saying “amazing” not to persuade you into this seemingly journey of transformation. I’m doing it for myself, since I have to admit, I do need God’s grace to be amazed by the possibility of the unimaginable changes for me. The ruins in my life, the messy, dark, greasy parts in my life history, the choking dust under the rug of my hypocrisy, and all that, “will rise in the darkness, and become like noon.” Yes, it is the unimaginable change I want to believe during Lent. If you are not convinced yet, at least, pray for me for that courage to believe. I know I am sick and badly need a doctor. I know that Jesus is approaching with smile and eagerness to whisper softly in the depth of my heart: “Follow me!” I know these words will not only heal me, but also those I have hurt along the way.

Fasting for Somebody

“Fasting for Somebody”
Lent 2009 – Day 3 (Feb 27)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I live with young Jesuit scholastics preparing for priesthood. Paraphrasing a popular song in Indonesia, one can say “Jesuits are human too.” For me personally, this time of Lent is always interesting. Somehow, interesting things always happen around the beginning of Lent. This year is no exception. It is said that on Ash Wednesday, one should fast. And so it is. But if you come to our house on Ash Wednesday (and I bet that this is true in any religious houses where the superior is not so strict with the younger members), you will be surprised that some of us are still awake until late. As the clock ticks close to midnight, some would gather in our dining room. One after another, they would look inside the fridge with brighter eyes. When finally it is 00:00, you can guess what happens. Yes, they suddenly become so fast in…putting some “forbidden” food into their mouth. Ash Wednesday is over, and so legally at midnight, the rule of fasting automatically ceases. I am always marveled by this: because of fasting, during the day they become so so so slow, but at midnight they suddenly become so so so fast. I wonder if I am allowed to call this “the miracle of fasting the Catholic way.”

Hearing the strong criticism through the prophet Isaiah today, we learn that the people of Israel were also wrestling with the true meaning of fasting. Two things appear. First, their fasting is a “bribe” for God. They thought that their fasting turned out to be useless, since God had not noticed it. Second, their fasting is all about “what is not.” Fasting was understood as “non-action.” If usually they eat, then when they fast, the just don’t eat. Simple and clear; no strings attached, no grey area.

In response to this, God is very clear. God does not need our bribe to be kind. God is kind and merciful, because God is love, always, all the time. The problem is not with God, but with us. It is us who are not always willing and ready to let God be God. The problem lies not out there, but within. Fasting is not our way to convince God to do what we want. It is the other way around. Fasting is our way to convince ourselves (of course, always with God’s grace) to conform what we want to what God wants. So, again, fasting is our way of letting God be God, and us be us. Simple and clear; no strings attached, no grey area.

Not so much about “non-action,” fasting is about “action.” If we fast, but we don’t love our neighbors, or at least have a slight desire to love them, our fasting is meaningless. Jesus brings this point further and much more challenging. Fasting is not “saying no to something,” but “saying yes to SOMEONE.” Jesus is the Bridegroom, and we are His close friends. Fasting is not so much about “refraining ourselves from something that we like” (such as food), but “reaffirming ourselves TO SOMEONE whom we love.” Therefore, true fasting is meaningless without at least a tiny bit of motivation to do this for our personal relationship with Jesus. Fasting is always relational. Fasting is a celebration of our personhood, since there is this Jesus who is God, yet is willing to share our human personhood. So, stop confounding yourselves with questions like whether cheese, milk, or egg should be considered “meat” (since they are animal products). Start looking at Jesus. He is the real reason for our fasting.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Season of Life

"Season of Life"
Lent 2009 – Day 2 (Feb 26)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

If you look around, it is easy to understand that human beings will do everything possible to stay alive. Achievements in medical treatments, for example, have indeed been successful to avoid many possible deaths. Take any example of health problem, and imagine what would have happened if this problem had occurred years ago. What inevitably led people to die in the past has become “an easy case” for today’s physician. Yes, today, we know a lot more about avoiding death.

Unfortunately, this is not automatically the case with another kind of death: a spiritual death. When the people of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land, they were strongly reminded by their leader, Moses, to choose life, not death. In the Hebrew mind of the time, this death means both physical and spiritual. It is physical, because it can literally entail life-threatening dangers, such as wars or plagues. Yet, it is also (and more importantly) spiritual. Here death means being cut off from God, the true and the only source of life.

Here lies the difficulty with sin. When we sin, we are physically still alive. So what’s the big deal? If I know with my whole being that sin leads to death, I would avoid it at all cost. Yet, in my daily life, sinning does not really kill me. Even if last night you have been unfaithful to your spouse, there was no lightning that stroke you to death. You can still breathe and put on a nice mask when you meet your spouse at breakfast this morning. Our society is in need of sincere fear of spiritual death.

When you pretend as if everything is all right, you actually deny your very existence. You train your mind to live as someone else, not the real you. Continue to do this, and guess what happens? You are accustomed to feel and think that you are indeed that someone else. More poignantly, you train yourself to “not-really-exist.” In other words, you train yourself to live as a dead person. And indeed, you are dead spiritually. Any uneasiness you feel when you wake up in the morning is a clear indicator that something is not right. That is a sign of your spiritual death.

Jesus knows perfectly our inability to feel in our own flesh the spiritual death caused by our sins. For this reason, He will embrace that physical death for us so that we are spared from the terrible spiritual death. The Son of Man died physically for you and me. We don’t need to go that far because as of today all we need is to get in touch with our spiritual death.

Lent is indeed a joyful season, as the first Lent Eucharistic Preface loudly proclaims. It is joyful, because it is the season of gaining back our life, not only our spiritual life, but more importantly our divine life in Christ. Lent is a joyful season to train your mind to choose Christ so that you may live.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Touched by Love

"Touched by Love"
Lent 2009; Day 1 – Ash Wednesday (Feb 25)

By Deshi Ramadhani, SJ

I was standing in front of the check-out counter at the Graduate Theological Union library in Berkeley, California. A person next to me asked the librarian with a low voice: “What’s going on? I saw black marks on people’s foreheads.” Without hesitation the librarian replied, still with a low voice: “They are Catholics.” I just smiled, though my mind spoke: “Duh…what ignorance…where have you been all this time? And here we are in this so-called inter-denominational holy hill.” I did have sympathy for that person, but that incident keeps coming back in my memory every year on Ash Wednesday.

Yes, we are Catholics. Every year we make a bold statement to those around us with some “black marks” on our foreheads. Contrary to our normal and human tendency in any other days, we do not wipe and clean our foreheads. That “dirt” does not embarrass us. Not only that, it even makes us proud. It is the time of the year when we make a bold and public confession: “Yes, we are Catholics! Yes, I AM Roman Catholic!”

Dirt becomes our identity as Roman Catholics. It is a very deep symbolism that we will carry throughout Lent. The prophet Joel reminds us: “Rend your hearts, not your clothes!” In the Hebrew mind, the heart is the center of consciousness. Rending our hearts means breaking our own center of consciousness. It means that we loose control of our own likings. More precisely, we let go of our own grips on our likings of sins. If sin is dirty, when we let some dirt be placed on our foreheads, we actually say to God: “I no longer hide my sins. Here it is. Here they are.”

Yes, sin is dirty. Therefore what Jesus reminds us is very suggestive: “When you fast, don’t show off!” If your stomach feels the pains of being empty, don’t tell the whole world by the expression on your face. But why? Isn’t it the most natural way of being human? Exactly at this point we may miss the great teaching of Jesus. We pull out the dirt from our hearts and put it on our foreheads, because we make a decision that from now on the only ingredient in our hearts will be God’s love.

We make a bold and public confession by the black mark on our foreheads. However, the more important confession is somewhere hidden in our hearts. The dirt on our foreheads shouts to the whole world that our hearts have indeed been touched (again) by God’s love. For some, to be touched by God’s love is scary. It may end up being asked to let go of many things in life. Yet, for me, it is even scarier to have hearts devoid of God’s love.

Today, we are proud of what usually is considered an embarrassment: dirt on our face! Dirt speaks up loudly that we are reconciled with God. Dirt therefore points to that divine love, the only love that will satisfy all our longings. Yes, we are Catholics. Yes, we are touched again in this joyful season by God’s love.