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Saturday, December 3, 2011

St Francis Xavier

"The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest." Mt 9:8

Although the church has been proclaiming loudly for the last fifty years that every Christian must be a missionary, the message has been slow to find acceptance at the core of the Catholic community's faith life.  Too many of us, educated in faith before the Second Vatican Council, reserve the word missionary to those who like St Francis Xavier in the 16th century leave their homeland, cultures and families and travel around the world announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ.  While it is good to honor those women and men who have given their lives to cross cultural and overseas mission, the word mission simply means sent, and we are all sent at Baptism when we are reminded of Jesus' command to, "Go and make disciples of all nations." (Mt 28:19)

At the end of every mass, when the priest or deacon echoes the words of Jesus, saying "Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord," it does not merely mean that mass is over and we ought to rush for our cars or the religious ed program or the nearest diner for breakfast.  Rather, it challenges us, having been renewed in our faith by sharing God's word and Eucharist, to bring the Good News to those who have never heard it, forgotten it or rejected it. Further, we are to do this without fear relying on the Lord to give us the words and personality that allow others to know that God has come to set us free from sin and self absorption so that together we can be the body of Christ on earth. Being a missionary means not only that we speak the gospel with words, we must become good news by the choices we make about lifestyle, work and the place of prayer in our lives.

Today, ask to be sent as you are to those who have never heard the gospel.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Compassion

"Son of David, have pity on us!"Mt. 9:27

The word pity in English always makes me uncomfortable. It sounds patronizing, something one might show a defenseless enemy, but perhaps this is all the blind men in today's gospel account really want or expect. The blind would have viewed themselves as beneath contempt because of their disability. Everyone knew blindness was a punishment for sin, either your own or your parents.  Blindness made you into a beggar.  Unable to work, you would have to sit by the side of the road and ask people in their charity for food and clothing.

Not infrequently, we can feel like blind people.  A new illness strikes us or a family member and because we have little experience with which to deal with this new invader, we feel like we are groping in the dark for answers.  A rare form of cancer or a difficult to diagnose heart ailment strikes a friend out of the blue, and everyone begins scrambling to understand, to find a doctor, to get a second opinion, to choose a form of treatment, and all of this before acceptance, the key to spiritual health, has a chance to emerge with its healing hopefulness. At times like this, we yearn for someone to take pity on us. Pity is enough because it is concrete and understandable, but in the long run, we realize that Jesus offers us something much more empowering.  He offers us, not just a light in the darkness, but compassion.

Compassion, in English, implies something more heartfelt than pity.  It is the quiet presence a friend offers when we are lost, confused, anxious and doubtful.  It is rarely surrounded with a multiplicity of words.  Rather, it looks like an open hand extended to us with love and tenderness.  It is not condescending or judgmental.  It is the simplest form of love and lets us know that we are not something to be fixed, but someone who needs a companion and friend with whom to take the next step.

Today, offer a stranger compassion.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Knowing our Rocks

"For the LORD is an eternal Rock." Is 26:4

Sometimes we get confused about who or what our rock is.  Too often we rely exclusively on our knowledge, insight, wealth or experience as guides, and while all these tools are important and helpful, they cannot be our rock.  For a Christian there is only one Rock, the Christ of God, the one who was promised from the beginning, who came among us as a man and who continues to guide and direct us.  The Christ, our Messiah, is the fulness of God's love and the new Covenant. Keeping the memory of Christ's love fresh is a daily challenge.

When Jesus, in today's gospel, reminds us to build our house on rock, not sand, he invites us to use our  imaginations. Picture a house with four corners each of which is built on a rock, and ask yourself, in a transparent examination of conscience, what the rocks of your life are that others see in you.  To do this more simply, ask yourself what your passion is, how you spend your time, who you trust? Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, this reflective exercise almost always reveals some sandy spots.  For some it is an addiction to alcohol or other chemicals that obsess them. Others know this because our behavior, no matter how careful or hidden, gives us away. For others, their rock is success at any price, despite its effects on their family.  For too many, it is blindness to the world as it is, and for a few it is using prayer and religious devotion as an escape. None of these rocks last.  They crumble and our house begins to list and topple.

Christ is the house in which we live and Advent is a time to do ordinary maintenance on the foundation.

Today, pick one pillar and work at making it a cornerstone of your life.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

St Andrew

"Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men." Mt 4:19

What must it have been like to be the brother of Peter?  Having a sibling whose voice is often heard in the gospels and who not infrequently makes a fool of himself, might have been both intimidating and embarrassing. Could Andrew also have been a naturally quiet person who preferred to help others, someone who was always looking out for the less than strong?  One young man I know, a person in recovery, often says, with a soft smile: I am exercising my right not to have an opinion. Perhaps Andrew was like this since we hear almost nothing of his voice in the Gospel except to speak up when Jesus is looking for food to feed the crowds who are tired and hungry. Andrew is the kind of saint who wants to help his companions by attending to their ordinary, everyday concerns, but has little taste for the arguments they often had about how best to announce the gospel. 

The gospels also challenge us with Andrew's openness. Although a disciple of John the Baptist, as soon as he hear the Baptist say of Jesus, Behold the Lamb of God, he stops what he is doing and follows the Lord. What was it that caused Andrew and Peter to leave everything immediately when Jesus called? Although the text does not tell us, there had to be something about the power with which Jesus spoke and carried himself. They had what we might call today, a conversion experience, and though they might have been able to explain their actions, they knew that following Jesus was their vocation. 

In like manner, as Advent begins, it is good to remember our moments of insight and transformation and ask: What is it that continues to compel us to live the gospel, proclaim the gospel and serve others as gospel people? Often enough the answers I hear in answer to this question are simple.  Bill asked me to work on the parish picnic, they say, or Cheryl suggested that my skills as a facilitator would help a lot in the parish. These people are with us and among as as active parishioners because someone called them, just like Jesus called Andrew. As St Paul said to the Romans long ago. "How can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach?" (Rom 10:13)

Today, consider asking someone to live the gospel by helping others.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Of Lions and Lambs

"Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them." Is 11:6

Is there any more hopeful passage in the Scripture than the 11th chapter of the Prophet Isaiah? Because there are days for all of us when nothing seems to work, not our personal lives, not our church lives, not our lives as Americans or our life in the world, it can seem impossible not to despair about the state of our souls and the state of the world. We have become defensive and greedy in our personal lives and in our country, and while our Congress quibbles over the best path for renewal, almost 1 billion people are hungry, most of them children.

That is when Isaiah is so helpful.  That wolves are guests of lambs and leopards lie down with kids makes us think that God not only can do anything, he will, if only we find a way to work together for the good of all. Remember that at the time of Isaiah the Northern Kingdom had already been captured and the Assyrian army was massed outside the walls of Jerusalem. The Jewish people were being threatened with slavery and exile, yet Isaiah, speaking for God, promises divine redemption despite the faults of God's people.

One of the things that impresses me about the parish of St Pius X, where I am presently living, is the number of young people who are involved in helping build the parish and contribute to the larger community.  In preparation for a recent harvest event, it was teenagers who did all the preparation and all the work. They baked, they arranged tables, they helped paint the littlest children's faces and cleaned up afterwards. Just as important, the priest friar who directs the teens stayed out of the way and let them lead. While it is clear that we have a long way to go as a church and nation, when we focus on the good all around us, hope blossoms, our attitudes change and the world seems more manageable,. We have only to turn to God again to begin our return from exile.

Today, look for a sign of hope in your family or community and celebrate it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Beginning Again

"The poor are not alone in their distress; God is here to help." Office of Readgings

Last night there was a painful and troubling piece on 60 minutes. Called, Hard Times Generation: Families in Cars , it chronicled the lives of homeless children and families in Florida where one third of the 16 million homeless children live. Listening to children talking about the fear they have at night living in cars and trucks, often in poor neighborhoods, is sobering. 60 minutes found articulate, faith filled families with whom to speak, and while their testimony was graphic and clear, I kept thinking about the millions of other children who do not have the parental help, education or social skills to express their feelings in what the program called, the "hidden America."

One young fifteen year old, trying hard to normalize her life, almost casually said, "Yeah it's not really that much an embarrassment. I mean, it's only life. You do what you need to do, right." How hard this young woman is trying to accept what most of us would consider a hopeless life. How hard her dad is looking for work and loving his children each day. Somehow they are surviving and looking forward to a time when they will have their own homes again.

Listening to the program I was reminded of an antiphon from the Office of Readings for today, "The poor are not alone in their distress; God is here to help them." It is a good place to begin Advent. When we "listen to the cries of the poor," (Prov 21:13) and accept our own poverty of spirit, when we acknowledge how often we fail to live the gospel, and identify with those who are physically poor and homeless, we find God waiting and anxious to be with us in our aloneness. Standing, sitting, walking quietly at the beginning of Advent, full of gratitude and humility, allows us not only to see "hidden American," but the "hidden church," all those who live on the edges of our parishes and communities hoping we will notice them but not judge.

Today, as the ordinary days of Advent begin let us open our eyes and stand in solidarity with people everywhere who are hungry, homeless and lost.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent Begins

Sometimes we watch too closely, pay attention to too many details and get ourselves in trouble.  Not only to do we miss the forest for the trees, we get increasingly anxious about things we can’t control.  Parents sending their children to school for the first time often do this, and it can happen to me when I am on an airplane sitting on a runway, or trying to help a friend work his way through a troubling or difficult personal situation.  Both situations, while understandable and for some unavoidable, remind us of something wise people have said for a long time: Watch but don’t stare.

Watch but don't stare is good advice as Advent begins.  Advent is a time when the church, especially through the liturgy, encourages us to begin again, to let go of the past year, and enter the great mysteries of faith.  A simple way to do this is to read the Daily Scriptures throughout Advent   As we explore the history of salvation and prepare again to celebrate the birth of the God Man, the love God has for us, even when we sin, is never more manifest.

In today's text from Isaiah, the prophet asks God not to stare at his people and punish them. Rather, he suggests that God could have been more forceful in helping the Israelites remain faithful to the covenant. “Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” I can only imagine God smiling at Isaiah's intervention. After all, the Israelites did not listen to God speaking through the prophets when they were warned to reform their lives.  But Isaiah doesn't give up. Rather, he acknowledges the sins of the people, admits that they deserve condemnation, and finally reminds God that he is the potter and we are the clay.  Surely, God must know that no potter ever discards her clay.  Rather, she reworks it and shapes into something new.  That is what Advent is all about, asking God to reshape and mold us into heralds of the Great King.


Today, remember that no matter how often you have failed, God is ready, even anxious, to welcome you back into his love.