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Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Day

"Behold, peace is no longer promised, but conferred; no longer delayed, but given; no longer predicted, but bestowed. Behold, God has sent down to earth a bag bulging with his mercy, a bag that, at the passion, is torn open so that our ransom pours out of it onto us. A small bag, perhaps, but a full one: for it was a small child that was given to us, but in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead." St Bernard of Clairvaux

That God's mercy in Christ is like "a bag bulging with his mercy," reminds us that God is waiting, especially as we begin a new year, to pour out upon us new gifts and new dreams, and it is for us to discover and discern how best to share God's mercy with all people.

Each year our Holy Father invites Catholics and all people of good will to begin the New Year by praying for world peace in the hope that all people will pause and remember that their own human dignity is compromised and threatened unless everyone works together for justice upon which a lasting peace might be built. This year, building on the gospel reminder that peacemakers will be blessed, Benedict's critique is sharp:
It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism. (World Day of Peace)
As the New Year begins, let us all acknowledge that the inequality between rich and poor and our own selfishness contribute, not to a lasting peace, but to world where violence is inevitable.

Today, re-imagine how you might help those most in need.

What do you think are the primary causes of conflict in the world?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year's Eve

"In adoring the birth of our Savior, we find we are celebrating the commencement of our own life, for the birth of Christ is the source of life for Christian folk, and the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body." St Leo the Great

All of us have experienced the rebirth that comes when a fraying relationship is renewed or a family member returns from overseas service. We feel renewed, uplifted and hopeful. What seemed dark and threatening is changed into a new life we thought might be lost. We experience a kind of rebirth that galvanizes and strengthens us.

Pope St Leo the Great says it beautifully. Christ's birth is our birth, too. We learn that God, no matter how far we have drifted from the path of gospel life, chooses to be with us, to be among us, to be one of us, and there is no way we can adequately articulate the wonder of this gift.

At the same time, while free, unconditional and total, God's love is not weak, but demanding. We must share God's free gift of new life with every other person, not because we will be rewarded, but because so many people yearn for the hope Christ's birth implies. God wants to gift us with new life each day. We have only to welcome God to know we are reborn day after day.

Today, let go of the past year in order to begin the new year with hope.

Who brings you new life?


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Holy Family

"Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." Col 3:12

Family life at the time of Jesus was very different from how we understand family life in 21st century North America. Gender roles were sharply drawn, leaving women especially with few rights, and although women and mothers were honored, they rarely owned property or had any education, making Jesus' relationship with women all the more interesting and challenging.

Women were important disciples in the community that formed around Jesus, and he did not hesitate to test social norms regarding women in order to minister to those most in need, all of which makes it difficult and even dangerous to use a contemporary understanding of family life when constructing a spirituality of family. Nevertheless, there are common threads and sentiments from which we can extract a family spirituality for contemporary Christians.

The letter to the Colossians reminds us that compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience are virtues we need to live if we are going to be in what the scripture's call "right relationship" with one another. Surely, these virtues are also important in and for every family. Unless parents are humble in their guidance of their children, their offspring will inadvertently learn that power is something to be used over others rather than with them, and this creates an unnecessary tension among family members. Only when everyone in a family senses their own dignity, even when receiving correction, can we avoid creating an "us" against "them" mentality which can never be good for family life.

Today, practice humility. Ask for guidance.

What do you think are the most important family values in the bible?


Friday, December 28, 2012

The Presentation

"Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:"Lord, now let your servant go in peace;your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel." Lk 2: 27-32

Waiting for someone you have never met is anxiety producing. Whether we are at a bus station or an airport, we scan the faces of the people who are exiting and wonder if they are the one we are to meet. Simeon, who Luke implies is an old man, waits each day until finally Mary and Joseph arrive to present their first born son for consecration in the temple, and when he sees the Christ, he does not hesitate. Simeon knows this is the One promised of old and sings for joy.

The question presented to us is the gospel is clear. Do we recognize the Christ among us? Do we take time to search the faces of the poor, the forgotten, the ignored and the despised in order to remind them they are the beloved of God, the chosen ones?  Saints of every age have reminded us of this obligation. Mother Teresa said it this way, "Every person you meet is Christ in disguise."

Today, expect to be surprised by Christ.

Has someone from whom you expected little revealed to you the face of Christ in an entirely new way?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Holy Innocents

"When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under." Mt 2:16

Today seems like a perfect day to celebrate all the children who have been lost, stolen or killed for the sake of power, money or unearned prestige, beginning with the children slaughtered earlier this month in Newtown, Ct. While we will never understand the twists a human psyche can take that result in the massacre of children, we know it happens, has happened before, and will happen again.

Perhaps because Newton, Ct., is less than an hour's drive from where I live, the specter of innocent children dying will not leave my spirit, and this is not an altogether bad thing. It is important for us to remember what happened in Connecticut. Too often we act as if life is ours for as long as we like and we can spend in any way that pleases us, but the Christian gospel demands something else.

All life is a gift from God and must be spent as a gift for others. When we fail to remember this most fundamental faith demand, we too often wallow in our own failures and losses. That our well- intentioned deeds do always result in success is not the point. That we freely offer others the gift of ourselves is. That is why Christ came among. He was and is a sign that God cannot and will not abandon us, even when we turn away from God and fail to live the Gospel. We have only to lift our heads to find God waiting to lead us again along a path of other centered love.

Today, remember the innocents: children, the disabled, the mentally ill.

How does faith help you face unspeakable evil?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

St John, Apostle and Evangelist

File:Cano - San Juan.jpg

St John the Evangelist was one of the inner circle of Christ's disciples and friends. Present at the Transfiguration, in the Garden of Gethsemane, at the Easter tomb, and the one disciple who, with St. Peter, went ahead of Jesus to find a place and prepare it for the Last Supper, John had a unique and important relationship with Jesus and the opportunity to know him "up close and personal." It would be fascinating to speak with John even now about the Christ he came to know in his daily life.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons we celebrate John's feast so soon after Christmas. John helps us understand, approach and draw close to the Lord everyday, not just as a baby in Bethelem. John's gospel is full of details not found in the synoptic gospels. It is John who introduces us both to Jesus at Cana where, out of obedience to Mary, his mother,  he performed his first miracle, and to the angry Jesus who drives the money changers from the temple. 

John's Jesus is the compassionate one who eases the pain of a newly married couple who failed to provide sufficient wine for their guests, and to the poor who are being cheated out of the little money they have by unscrupulous men more interested in how much they can extort from pilgrims than making their visit to the Temple an experience of transformation. 

Today, as we pause to honor John, Apostle and Evangelist, ask for the gift of compassion.

Who has helped you understand and know Jesus best?


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

St Stephen

"They could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which (Stephen) spoke." Acts 6:10

Every year it shocks us to celebrate the feast of Stephen, the first martyr, on the day after Christmas. Can't we have a day or three of softer and kinder celebrations? Why do we have to move so quickly from celebrating birth to exalting death?

The answer is not complex or very difficult. For Christians, a martyr's death is a birth, an exaltation and a confirmation of everything we believe. When someone is able to face and enter death freely for the sake of announcing good news, the entire community is reborn in faith. Everyone is changed by the sacrifice of those who willingly give their lives for the sake of God's reign.

In truth, Christmas is a reminder that Christ did not cling to his Godhead (Phil 2:6) but freely let go in order to be with us. This "dying" reminds us that dying to oneself is the essence of being born in Christ and the clearest sign that faith empowers us to live a counter cultural life. As Christians we live for others, not for ourselves. We are not about self aggrandizement, but love of all creation for the sake of God's reign.

Today, take five minutes of silence to pray about how to help those in desperate need.

Who died for you so that you might live?


Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas

"The shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.'" Lk 2:16

How exciting life was becoming for the shepherds! Nobodies to whom no one listened, they were uneducated and probably illiterate, but they listened to the angels, and so should we.

Light has come into the world, the angels announce, a light that will never be extinguished. Life will never be the same. The hovering threat of eternal death has been destroyed, and the promise of life forever exalted. We have been saved, and our only task is to enter into the mystery of God's love, live justly, build peace and proclaim the reign of God. That this challenge has been offered not just to individuals but to the entire community of Israel is both important to remember and critical to live out.

While light is not something to which we often pay attention, without it, everything dies. Jesus will remind us often that we are not to put the light under a bushel basket but on a lamp stand so that all can see. The light of Christ means that we will never again live in darkness, but must we must also let the light that is our gift  enlighten life as it unfolds. This means that we celebrate all that is good, glorious and wonderful, but it also demands we address the injustice we can see because of the Light. Our task is simple, but demanding. Christmas is a day when we rejoice in the gift of Light and ask the grace to share it.

Today, live simply and enjoy the light of friends.

How best can we live the gift of Christmas light?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Praise and Thanksgiving

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."  Lk 1:46
The Venerable Bede, an 8th Century monk, in an attempt to help us understand the depth of Mary's gratitude, expands St Luke's language:
The Lord has exalted me by a gift so great, so unheard of, that language is useless to describe it; and the depths of love in my heart can scarcely grasp it. I offer then all the powers of my soul in praise and thanksgiving. (Universalis)
These days as we creep ever closer to Christmas, the church cannot get enough of Mary. Full of anticipation, Mary sings but knows that words and music, no matter how beautiful, cannot express her joy at being the mother of Jesus. She can only offer thanks, and we would do well to follow her example.

Thanksgiving is the ground and base of Christian spirituality. If we do not practice Thanksgiving, we will never understand the Eucharist or fully appreciate God's total and persistent love of us. Only when we live gratefully for each day of life and faith are we able to proclaim the Good News unequivocally and completely.

Today, imagine where you would be without the love of God.

What are you most grateful for?




Saturday, December 22, 2012

Asking for Help


"Blessed are you who believed." Lk 1:44

St Bernard of Clairvaux, in a remarkably moving and demanding sermon, begs Mary to help her sons and daughters:
Let humility be bold, Mary, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.
Reading Bernard's words always lifts my spirits. It is clear that the Saint thought of Mary as his sister, mother, and friend, someone to whom he could speak plainly and with abandon. Mary was not an historical figure, but a living, breathing companion with whom Bernard could plead and beg. His example should embolden us. Both Mary and Jesus are meant to be accessible players in our personal and communal lives. We should never be afraid to approach them and ask for help and guidance.

Today, imagine you are one of the people Mary passes on her way to see Elizabeth. Stop her and ask for direction.

What has helped you draw close to Mary and the saints?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mary's Warning

"He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty." Lk 1: 52-53

Too often we idealize Mary, the mother of Jesus. So accustomed are we to seeing her portrayed in a perfectly clean and ordered room, holding Jesus and gazing at him with love, we forget how hard her life was. Consequently, we very easily pass over the words of the Magnificat which remind us that God will cast down the mighty and lift up the lowly.

When we assume or act as if we are in control of life, we ignore the cries of the poor, dismiss the complaints of the lowly and laugh in the face of God. Authentic humility demands that we submit ourselves to God, let go of the false signs of power, and beg God to show us the path we should walk.  Mary did this when she said "yes" to God even though she knew little about where God was leading her. Because she trusted God, she was able to offer herself as servant to God and help us understand our Gospel role.

Christmas is near. Do not hesitate to ask God to prepare you to say "yes" to God in order to celebrate the feast with joy and the power only true humility brings.

Today, practice saying yes to all that God is.

What or who has taught you most completely that you are not in charge of life?




Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Hark! my lover--here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills." Sg 2:8

It can be startling when the church invites us through the sacred texts to think of God as an ardent lover, someone who so desires our company that he will spring across the mountains and leap across hills. Is this possible? Are we to believe that God not only loves us, but like a young lover, is in love with us?

The last days of Advent assure us that there are no metaphors that adequately express God's love for us. That God is a lover, though beautiful and inviting, barely touches the fullness of   God's love for us. God is a nomadic God. No matter where we go to seek food and shelter, or to escape pain and suffering, God is there as companion, friend, advisor and lover.

It ought to be clear to every believer that unless we slow down each day to appreciate God's love, we will miss its force and import. While the last days before Christmas can find us scurrying around for one last gift, we need to take time to respond to the God who yearns to be nearer to us than we are to ourselves.

Today, take five minutes to waste time with God.

What most helps you to prepare for the love of God in Jesus?


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mary's Delight

"Nothing will be impossible for God." Lk 1:35

Too many people try too hard to change themselves and change the world. They diet, get active politically, and encourage others but often for the wrong reason. Thinking, believing, even hoping that their efforts will be enough to make them comfortable and peaceful, they ignore the deeper reality. We live in God's world, and while it is important to work, pray and serve others with generosity, the results are not ours to control or distribute. We work for God's reign, not our own.

God can and will do anything, but the lens with which to view God most clearly is love. God loves creation, us, and all people. God's love is not weak, and is often deeply challenging. When we fail to witness to God's all encompassing love, our lives fail to announce the Good news, and God must remind us of this.

More often than not God gets our attention by allowing us to enter the unimaginable darkness that surrounds so many lives. When we have no answers to random acts of violence, we very painfully learn our limitations and realize that unless we turn our lives and life itself over to the all merciful God, we will walk a confused and distracted path that seems to have no answers or end.

Only when we let go and pray for the gift of acceptance can we be free. That's what happened to Mary when she said yes to the unimaginable, and it can happen to us as well.

Today, pause to remember in whose world we live.

How do you manage events and people you don't understand?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Zechariah's Silence

"But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words." Lk 1:20

In the ancient world of Israel, barrenness was a "disability, an unspeakable burden for women and a shame inducing cloud for men. Without a child, a woman was thought not to have an identity. Only children, especially males, would give her a voice and a place among others who gave birth.

On the other hand, men were rarely blamed for infertility, and the Talmud reminds men that if, after ten years, their wives could not bear children, they must divorce them in order to fulfill the law which commands men "to be fruitful and multiply."

No wonder Gabriel seems surprised after assuring Zechariah that Elizabeth would  bear a child in her old age. Sharp tongued, Gabriel rebukes Zechariah for not believing that God is about to lift his burden, and "punishes" him. Zechariah will not be able to speak until John the Baptist is born, and then only after he accepts God's name for the child.

It is difficult, especially when one has lived for a long time with a "disgrace," to believe that God will intervene. Most of us have prayed to have our burdens lifted without success and wonder whether our prayer is pure enough for God to hear. When our darkness deepens, we even wonder if God is listening at all. The key, of course, is to accept life as it unfolds and live with unanswerable questions, but this is often easier said than done.

Today, ask for the gift of speechlessness in the face of the unknown and undecipherable.

How you manage your darkness?



Monday, December 17, 2012

Joseph's Acceptance

"When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home." Mt 1:24

How many of us would be willing to listen to a dream and take a pregnant woman into our homes as our wife?  Joseph did and 2000 years later we continue to ask what kind of faith he had that enabled him to do this.

Joseph must have been a prayerful man accustomed to quiet reflection and a centered Jewish life. Nothing else makes sense. It would not have surprised us to learn that Joseph completely rejected Mary for being pregnant by another man, but this is not the case. Matthew's gospel assures us that before his dream Joseph was prepared to put Mary aside quietly, to divorce her without much rancor or vindictiveness, and after the dream he welcomes her, lives with her, leads her, nearing the end of her pregnancy, to his own town in order to register with the Roman authorities.

In his submission to the God of his dreams Joseph becomes an icon of obedience and submission, and a challenge to all of us who are tested by life's twists and turns and tempted, in our pain, to turn away from God, family and faith. That Joseph accepts a role about which he knew little because he was convinced that God was asking him for the total gift of his life reminds all of us not to be afraid, but to seek in prayer and reflection what it is that God has planned for us.

Today, accept life as it unfolds.

What helps you accept life's changes and upsets?


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Doing Justice, Making Peace

"Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more." Ps 72:7

Justice and peace can be dirty works for some, even believers. Not convinced that the gospel is about establishing justice, they shy away from what sounds like political language, and when they do this they cheat themselves and others of the full force of the gospel.

The Jewish community into which Jesus was born and the Christian community that emerged from Jesus' life, death and resurrection are always concerned about justice and peace.  In the book of Amos we read: “Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing river." And St James says it clearly, "The harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace." (3:1) 

When we look at the actions of Jesus he is always working for justice. Turning over the tables of the money changers because they were unjustly charging pilgrims a usurious rate of exchange may be the clearest example, (Mt 21:12) but he also challenges the leaders of the Jewish communities who lay heavy burdens on the shoulders of the poor but do nothing to lift their burden. (Mt 23:4)

Today, lift another's burden because it is the just thing to do.

How do you feel about those who preach a gospel of justice and peace?




Saturday, December 15, 2012

Second Sunday Advent

"Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel." Is 12

As we continue our preparation for Christmas it is easy to forget that the Holy One of Israel is already among us. The waiting we are encouraged to do during Advent is not primarily about Jesus, but us. We are the ones who have to be patient with ourselves as we try to sort through all that we need to do. Only when we are patient with ourselves and others will we have enough time and energy to be joyful.

The wonderful gift of those we most admire in faith is that they seemed never to forgot who they were or what their mission was. Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa of Calcutta come immediately to mind as women who knew their work was of God, and their own success was secondary to the challenge they had to live the Gospel with integrity and hope.

When I think of friends who have died, I almost always remember their goodness and kindness, not their struggles with faith or family. It is a gift, I think, to focus on what worked for others and what works for us on the journey of faith. When we try too hard to rid ourselves of faults our lives can become self absorbed. We worry more about how we are doing than what God wants us to do and be.

Today, cry out with joy for what God has already done in you.

What is the best gift I can bring to the community of faith?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Elijah and John the Baptist

Although unnerving, it is always good to attend to people who come into our lives "with fire." These are the people who challenge and sometimes upset us. They remind us not to take life and its delights for granted, and even more to avoid condemnation by changing now. Not all of these figures are religious, but many are, and when we fail to listen to them our lives get even more confused.

Both Elijah and John the Baptist unnerved and upset their contemporaries. Prophets often do that. Elijah's words were like "a flaming furnace," consuming those who had turned away from God, but warming those who had lived according to the law and prophets despite being in exile.

John the Baptist consoled his disciples with a baptism of forgiveness, but unhinged others who wanted to hold onto a power that was not theirs. Drunk, Herod promises his daughter anything she wants, but when Salome asks for John's head, Herod realizes he has committed himself to a path that will lead to his own destruction.

As we prepare ourselves during Advent to say yes to God at Christmas, it is better to listen and reform our lives now. Otherwise, our yes will be hollow and our Christmas flat. The joy that Christmas holds will be replaced by empty gift giving and our spirits will know that a deeper reform is necessary if we hope to enjoy the fullness of Christmas' promises.

Today, fast for a few hours in order to appreciate the great gift of food.

What most helps you to reform your life?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

St John of the Cross

Quench my troubles, 
For no one else can soothe them; 
And let my eyes behold You, 
For You are their light, 
And I will keep them for You alone.
St John of the Cross -- Spiritual Canticle

The poetry of St John of the Cross is remarkable not only for its beauty, passion and power, but because he wrote most of it while in prison! John carried his cross not only in name but in fact. His own Carmelite community imprisoned him for nine months because he would not renounce the reform of the Carmelites which he had helped found. Though he did not deserve the hard sentence he received, John did not complain but used the time to reflect, pray, and memorize the poems he wrote in the dark. Clearly, God supported him while imprisoned in a 10x6 ft cell, and that was enough of a consolation to keep John alive and growing in spirit.

Though most of us will not have to endure months in a dark cell, all of us do have dark moments. When a friend falls sick, a relative dies, a niece or nephew loses his or her job, or the marriage of friends collapses, we are often are unable to find a word that helps others make sense of the mess, and the darkness they feel overshadows us as well. 

The example of John of Cross can help us. When darkness comes, remember the one who is the light. Pray more, even without consolation. Laugh more even if you don't feel it, and take more time for quiet and reflection. Sometimes when we are strong enough to say nothing, our message is the strongest.

Today, sit in the dark and pray for someone in pain.

How do you manage the dark periods in your life or the life of your family?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

St Lucy

"I am the LORD, your God, who grasp your right hand; It is I who say to you, 'Fear not, I will help you.'" Is 41:13

Sometimes the church is accused of exalting virginity as a virtue and forgetting that marriage is a sacrament that celebrates human and sexual intimacy as spiritual practices. While an overemphasis on celibacy can happen, it does not have to be this way. St. Lucy, about whom we know little except that she refused to renounce her faith when a fellow she refused to marry "accused" her of being a Christian, is a good example.

Chastity was not just a personal virtue for Lucy but a social one. When she opted for celibacy rather than marriage, she renounced pleasure as an end in itself and proclaimed a God whose love promises us happiness forever, not just in this life.

Lucy's determination to to give herself totally to God in imitation of Jesus has profound implications for our life today. No doubt Lucy had to endure the taunts of young friends who thought her foolish to renounce marriage for faith, but Lucy knew what she was doing. The culture around her in 4th century was dotted with 40 room villas that exalted pleasure for itself. That Lucy rejected this life and lifestyle challenges us still at the beginning of the 21st century when our own country is sprinkled with 40 room McMansions, replete 10 baths for a family of four. Maybe Lucy wasn't so crazy after all.

Today, take a moment to reflect on your own values in a over sized culture that exalts wealth for its own sake.

What woman do you most admire and why?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Our Lady of Guadalupe

A careful, meditation on the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is very revealing. Mary appears as a shy, pregnant, peasant woman with bare feet.  Her hands are folded in petition like ours would be in the presence of God and an angel holds her up as an icon of devotion.
Every time I look at this image I think of the hundreds of young women I have met in the developing world. Often too timid to look in your eye, they speak softly and always with respect. More important, they answer questions directly and with few words. These women amaze me not only because many of them have good educations and have contributed to their communities with great generosity, but because they do everything without drawing attention to themselves. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a woman from the developing world who identifies totally with those she has come to address and lift up, but she also challenges us not to take ourselves too seriously. She is a disciple of her own son and as such reminds us to follow him with humility and passion. Together, her image suggests, we are held up by angels, making our cause great and our voice important.

Today, walk humbly before the Lord and ask for guidance.

Has a quiet, unselfconscious woman ever touched your heart?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Power and its Dangers

"The Lord our God comes with power." Is 40:10

Power can be a dirty word in religious circles, and it should not be. While speaking of God's power does not bother most, power in the hands of people who abuse it can be devastating. While power can be manipulative and destructive, it can also be uplifting and ennobling. How to hold and use power creatively for and with others is the task of every adult believer.

Parents understand this well. Making decisions for their children when they are young and helping children make good decisions as they grow into adulthood is a legitimate and necessary exercise of the power parents are given by God, but every parent also must also learn when they need to let go of their children in order to teach them how to make decisions and choices that benefit others and exalt God. Not easy for most parents, letting go of power and control over their children.

Power with others, not over them is the key to understanding the power God wants us to have. When we work together for the good of all, we know that the power we have makes a difference in the world and sets a tone for Christian behavior that brings glory to God who gives us freedom to create a world in which every person has access to basic human needs.

Today, work with someone else to advance the mission of God.

What person of power do you most admire?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Everyday Meditation

"We have seen incredible things today." Lk 5:26

Advent is a time to ask ourselves whether we are really paying attention to the action of God in the world. Many people in the United States feel overwhelmed by Advent, not because the liturgical season is so demanding, but because the time before Christmas is given over to choosing and buying so gifts, many of which are neither needed nor appreciated. We have fallen into customs that bind us unnecessarily and burden us with useless worry.

There is a simple solution to this quandary. Ask yourself at what time of the day you are most awake, most alert, and most productive. When you honestly determine this, give a piece of your most important time to God. Rather than do one or three more tasks, sit quietly, breathe deeply and let your mind rest in gratitude for your life, your friends, and God. After this kind of basic meditation you will be much more alert to the "incredible things" of God all around you.

Today, take five minutes to do nothing.

When do you like yourself best?


Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Splendor of God

"Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever." Bar 5:1

Because we so often fail to live our values deeply and authentically, we find ourselves mourning and in misery, unable to see the glory of God all around us, and what a shame it is when this happens. We suffer a small hurt or don't feel especially well and we lose track of where and who we are. The Jewish people, unable to hear the prophets cries to reform their lives, find themselves in exile and slavery, but Baruch reminds them that all is not lost.

The prophet and Advent itself challenge us to let go of mourning and remember we are God's glorious creation. No matter what we do or how often we fail to live our faith, God is waiting and willing to be born in us again. We have only to let God dwell within and among us for everything to be different. Because a few Jews, even in exile, never failed to honor the one God and keep holy the Sabbath, God forgave everyone their sins. The same gift can be ours if only we ask for it.

Of course, this is often more difficult to do than we imagine.  When we enter personal or family dark periods, it can seem almost impossible to look up, recognize all the good around us and celebrate that even in our mourning we are loved, but the Advent readings urge us never to give up and always to try again.

Today, put on the splendor of God by taking a slow walk to appreciate the great gifts of creation.

What gifts of God usually help you to put off darkness and cloth yourselves in light?




Friday, December 7, 2012

Immaculate Conception

"The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it." Gen 3:13

Why do we blame others so easily when we are embarrassed or ashamed?  Uncomfortable and confused, we try to get out from under the microscope to bargain for time and examine why exactly we do this. Of course, there are any number of answers, all of which can teach us about ourselves, but at root we look for scapegoats in order to escape the consequences of our actions.

Countries and churches do this as well. Our own Catholic church was guilty of this fault when the sexual abuse scandal first surfaced. We blamed psychologists and psychiatrists who gave our leaders bad advice when they suggested abusing priests could safely return to ministry. We deflected attention from ourselves by reminding everyone that the worst sexual abuse offenders were family members, not priests, which is, of course, beside the point.

Honestly facing our failures and sins is made much easier when we have Mary, the Immaculate Conception, as our intercessor. This feast celebrates that Mary, without from sin from the first moment of her conception, is always free to pay undivided attention to us, her children. Free of self absorption, she reaches out for all those who look to deny their sin or turn away from their guilt, by inviting us to honesty and integrity, to admit our wrongs, and reach out in compassion for others.

Today, acknowledge one sin and ask for the grace to face its consequences.

How do you practice honesty and integrity in your life?


Thursday, December 6, 2012

St Ambrose

"Keep the word of God.... Do not forget to eat your bread, or your heart will dry up." St. Bernard of Clairvaux 

St. Ambrose knew that the scriptures were like bread for the heart. Unless we nourish ourselves regularly, we will certainly lose our ability to function. Anyone who has had an intestinal disorder knows this well. The first thing a doctor tells someone struggling with a stomach virus is to remain hydrated. Our bodies are radically dependent upon water to function properly and without additional nourishment we risk serious consequences even when we do not feel like eating.

So convinced was he that God's word had to be preached in clarity and power,  Ambrose was not afraid to take on Emperor's and Kings in defense of the faith, and  though he was often disliked for his directness, like a physician who insisst we eat and drink when we only want to sleep, he was convinced that the unvarnished word of God had to be preached and lived simply  if it was going to nourish us and keep our hearts from drying up.

Today, read a scripture passage as if it were bread.

Whose challenging preaching moved you to transformation?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

God's Rock

"Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock." Mt 7:24

What is the rock upon which we are to build our lives? God's fidelity is a good place to start. Though it seems natural to think about a sound financial footing and doing what we can do assure ourselves of good health, these are not the rocks about which Matthew speaks. God's living word must be the foundation of our lives, and God's word is true, lasting and clear.

When we listen and act on God's word, Matthew assures us that we are building on rock, not sand, but the struggle continues. At times, we interpret God's word in ways that do a disservice to the power of the word. When the gospel tells us to ask for whatever we want and need it will be given to us, we have to be cautious. Jesus is not frivolous. We cannot pray for a new car and expect it to be delivered the next day. Rather, the scripture demands that we pray for the strength to do whatever it is that will foster God's reign. When we pray to be strengthened for this role, we can be sure of a response.

Today, ask God to sustain you along the path of faith.

What gifts has God given you when you asked for help?




Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Giving of our Substance

"The LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines."Is 25:6

The generosity of God is a constant Advent theme, but we can only appreciate it if we stay attuned to our bodies. Because we too often reduce the spiritual life to peaceful "feelings" and what happens within us, we miss the power of God's goodness. Isaiah stretches us to think of God providing us not just with food and wine, but with rich food and choice wine because he has conquered sin and death.

In the ancient world people expected their kings and leaders to provide a great feast after a victory over their enemies or when a new covenant of peace was sealed, and Isaiah uses this image to help his listeners understand the fullness of God's love and God's inclusiveness. The feast which God provides is not only for those who participated in the battle, but for everyone, and Jesus reprises this theme when he insists that his disciples not send the people away hungry who have been listening to his message of hope.

We should have no doubt that Christ asks us to accept the same challenge. We must not be stingy, but give of our substance to those most in need, and we need to do this without regard to class, race, culture and background. God demands we give all who are hungry rich food and choice wine.

Today, share something you really treasure with a stranger.

What rich foods and choice wines have you received from God?


Monday, December 3, 2012

New Shoots


"A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse." Is 11:1

When Isaiah promises that a new shoot will come from the stump of Jesse, he reminds all believers that God can make something extraordinary from nothing. At the same time, the prophet is not speaking about a miracle in a classic sense. Rather,  Isaiah wants us to remember what happens often in the natural world. There are trees with so much inner life that even when they seem dead, we can take one of their broken branches, stick it in the ground, water it often and before long  it takes root and becomes a young  tree.

Clearly, a branch of Jesse’s tree, even when it seems dead and lifeless after its exile in Babylon, is stronger than we think. God will plant it again so that his faithful followers might have life and believe in his promises.

The challenge to believe that God wants to do something great and new in us, even when we are tired and feeling ragged, is upifting. God’s love is enduring and, like a broken  branch, stronger than we can imagine. We have only to plant and water it and it will take us to Christmas.

Plant a good deed in someone’s heart and let God do the rest.

Are there “miracles” in nature that remind you of God’s love?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

St Francis Xavier

"Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed." Mt 8:8

St Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuits along with St. Ignatius Loyola, was the among the first Jesuit missionaries. With his mind and spirit focused on going to China, though opposed by many, Francis left Italy without language skills or money. Despite these difficulties, Francis kept his eye on the prize and at every stop along the way preached the gospel, baptizing thousands in India and Japan, and though he never realized his dream of preaching the gospel to the Chinese, left communities of faith scattered across his missionary path.

Francis Xavier is a powerful reminder of what we can become when we place our total trust in God and let God do God's work wherever we are sent. None of us walks the pilgrim path of faith without obstacles. St. Augustine reminds us that we are like pieces of pottery, shaped by instruction and fired by tribulation, and should never fear the kiln. Rather, he encourages us to focus on what God is making of us while we are being tried by fire. (Augustine sermon)
Today, ask God to tell you where you ought to go to proclaim the gospel.

What are your strengths when trials come?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The First Sunday of Advent

"Be vigilant at all times." Lk 21:35

The lesson of Advent is simple, direct and uncomplicated. Pay attention to life as it unfolds. If we look at life with eyes of faith, we will discover God everywhere and in every circumstance. For those living in the New York, Connecticut and New Jersey areas, this was especially evident in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. Though there was massive destruction, there was also a generous and wondrous response.

Thousands of people in the Tri-state area, deeply moved by the need of their neighbors, collected, food, clothing, batteries, flashlights, pumps, generators and so much more for those whose homes and neighborhoods were flooded and destroyed, and their response continues even today. The people responding to those in desperate need have already begun to celebrate Advent because they paid attention to the signs of the times and acted for the good of others.

Today, listen to creation.

What situations keep you vigilant and responsive?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Staying Awake

"Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life." Lk 21:34

With Thanksgiving just past, the notion of a drowsy heart is not difficult to comprehend. Late on Thanksgiving afternoon, most of us grow tired from all the feasting and talking. Some even sneak away for a nap. The combination of reconnecting with family and friends, and overeating make us drowsy, even in heart. Jesus warns us about this.

While Thanksgiving is a convenient way to understand Jesus' caution about carousing and drunkenness, it is not the best of examples. Thanksgiving happens once a year, and Jesus is warning us about an insidious attitude of entitlement. When we are full of food, ourselves, comfortableness, even family, we can take our blessings for granted, and forget our dependence on God for life itself and all its gifts.

As another liturgical year ends, the church asks us to recommit ourselves to a life of faith and service, thereby demonstrating to the world that God is still alive within and among us.

Today, breathe deeply and thank God for the gift of life.

What circumstances cause you to have a drowsy heart?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

St Andrew, Apostle

"For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved." Rom 10:9

Salvation, Paul reminds us, is more than simple belief in God. We must tell others about God's goodness to all of human kind. We must announce the graciousness of God with power and conviction. St Andrew did this so intently that he was martyred for his faith.


Peter's brother, Andrew hears the invitation of Jesus to follow him and does not hesitate. He leaves everything to be a disciple of the Lord. Even when he was being martyred he asked to be crucified on an X shaped cross because he did not think he was worthy of being crucified in the same way Jesus was.

When we learn to speak honestly, courageously and naturally about the great gift of our faith, our discipleship is deepened and our witness becomes more powerful.

Today, Confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.

What are your biggest hurdles on the road to salvation?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

God's Invitation

"Blessed are they who are called to the wedding feast of the Lamb." Rev. 19:9

The poor in almost every time and culture are rarely invited to important weddings. Unable to afford a gift, or even dress properly, they are not only ignored,  they are not even seen or considered. That is why the gospel is so unnerving and empowering.

All are called to the wedding feast of God with humankind. No one is excluded because of race, culture, ethnicity, or poverty. God desires all of us to come closer in order to know and experience the depth of God's love. Nothing says this more dramatically than being invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Almost everyone has been startled and delighted by an unexpected invitation to a wedding or a party. It thrills us to realize that others see us as worthy guests, not simply because of what we can bring, but because of who we are. When people honor us by wanting us to know and enjoy their closest friends we see ourselves very differently. Knowing that God finds us desireable and important changes everything.

Today, celebrate God's invitation to the wedding of the Lamb.

What invitations have you received to know and celebrate God more deeply?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

God's Glory

"Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!" Rev 15:3

What are the great and wonderful works of God that move you most forcefully to contemplation and transformation?

For some creation itself fills us with wonder and awe. St. Francis of Assisi might be the patron saint of these believers. Francis not only praises sun, moon, fire and water, he calls them his sisters and brothers. Gratitude for creation is the ground of Francis' unique spiritual path while disregard of God's creation is the root of sin.

Others focus their awe on the human person. Both the complexity and simplicity of people stretch us to wonder. We can think, feel, respond to others, love and laugh, and the ease with which we do all these complex actions is amazing. St Irenaeus says it this way, "The human person fully alive is the glory of God."(Irenaeus)

Taking time each day to thank God for all God has done and does can help us grow in the spiritual life. Grateful people exude a joy that both lifts others' spirits and gently challenges them to conversion.

Today, praise God for God's wonderful works.

What most moves you to wonder and awe?

Monday, November 26, 2012

The End

"Do not follow them." Lk 21:8

When we are desperate, we are tempted to follow anyone or anything. A serious illness, a child's disappearance into addiction, or the promise of wealth when we are struggling financially, can cause us to make very bad decisions. So anxious are we for relief, we listen to voices within and without that help us escape but not endure our trials through faith and authentic hope.

Jesus is clear. There will be people from every corner of our lives assuring us that they have the "answer" to our problems or concerns. When we listen and uncritically accept their directives or advice, we are almost certain to follow a path to nowhere. We might be more settled financially or find some temporary relief from our heavy hearts, but unless we learn to enter the darkness with trust in God, we will take the easiest path over and over without peace.

As Jesus prepares his disciples for life without him, he advice is caring and kind but uncomfortable. Don't run away. Don't expect to live without suffering or confusion, but be assured that I will be with you even to the end of time.  (Mt 28:20)

Today, sit still wherever you are and accept the discomfort of life as it is.

What voices do you listen to in crisis?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Expectations

"This poor widow put in more than all the rest." Lk 21:3

In our recent presidential election campaign, Mitt Romney angered and upset many people when a video of a meeting with wealthy donors emerged in which Governor Romney suggested that though 47% of Americans pay no federal income tax, they feel entitled to government help and support.

Entitlement is a dirty word in our culture these days, and for good reason. If people believe they need do nothing to receive help, it undermines the infrastructure of our country which depends on everyone doing his or her part to create a system that treats all people fairly. No matter what you think of Governor Romney or President Obama, when it became apparent that many of the 47% to whom Governor Romney referred were unemployed veterans, seniors and the working poor, his advisors quickly tried to explain his comments in a more favorable light.

One wonders, reading today's gospel, whether the rich to whom Jesus refers in today's gospel as not giving as much as the poor widow to support the temple, would want to explain their actions as well, but Jesus is not looking for an explanation. Rather, he is reminding those who manage the temple finances that the widow had a legitimate expectation of help since the Talmud directed observant Jews to care for widows and orphans.  That the rich ignored or dismissed the widow's gesture and goodness becomes a powerful lesson for the "wealthy" of every age.

Today, give from your substance.

Who has helped you when you were poor in Spirit?


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christ the King

"My Kingdom does not belong to this world."

When Jesus is asked whether he is the King of the Jews, he responds clearly and unequivocally that his Kingdom is not of this world, thereby rejecting a title that does a disservice to his Father and our faith. That the church celebrates Christ the King is simply a path to help believers and unbelievers understand that Jesus' role is not fundamentally political or hierarchical. Rather, calling Christ a King reminds everyone that the powerful in this world do not have ultimate authority over humankind. Only God does.

As we end another liturgical year, we pause to remember this foundational truth. God is at the center of all that is. We emerge from God's loving heart and return to God as shepherd, bread of life, flowing waters of salvation and King. We belong to God in all ways and for all time. God, like a father, watches over us, challenges us and unconditionally loves us despite our stumbles and sins. We have only to turn to God again at the end of a year to know that God is waiting, watching and anxious for our lives to be centered in love for God and all God's creation. In this way, Christ is our King.

Today, pause in gratitude for all that Christ does in us and through us.

Which title of Christ most draws you into the absolute mystery of God's love?

Friday, November 23, 2012

St Andrew Dung-Lac and his Martyr Companions

"Blessed be the Lord, my rock." Ps 144

Viet Nam has often been a difficult country and culture for Catholics, especially during the 19th and 20th centuries. Between 1820 and 1900 more than 100,000 Catholics were martyred for their faith, and the persecution continued in the 20th century when Catholics living in the northern part of Viet Nam had to abandon family and possessions and flee to the south in order to escape oppression or imprisonment.

Although we know very little about St Andrew, there are multiple testimonies about Catholics of his generation who were forced to renounce their faith and step on crucifixes to demonstrate their total lack of respect for the sacrifice of Jesus.  In the end, Andrew was beheaded for the crime of being a parish priest.

Reading about the Vietnamese martyrs reminds us of other people who have been persecuted, not because of some heinous crime, but for being who they are. Jews, especially in the Holocaust, blacks in the United States, homosexuals everywhere, and women whose voice is ignored or discarded simply because they are women.

Today, pray for anyone persecuted for their faith or identity.

How would you respond to religious persecution?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hope

"All the people were hanging on his words." Lk 19:48

When we are in dark or difficult circumstances, we often look for almost anything or anyone to distract us. We watch too much television or waste time on the computer, hoping for some respite from the ache we feel inside. All of this is natural and understandable, but spiritually unhealthy.

The people portrayed as following Jesus in the gospels might also be falling into this trap. The text tells us they "hung" on this words, but does not tell us why they paid so much attention to the Lord. Surely, not all of them were seeking to enter the mystery of God's love more deeply, nor were they so impressed with his power and insight that they would follow him anywhere. Like people everywhere who have lost their jobs or cannot make sense our of their family's life, they look to Jesus for an escape.

Authentic hope is not rooted in the avoidance of the feelings that can torment us when we are in crisis, but in the letting go of our struggles so that we can know the Lord more deeply and trust in his wisdom more completely. God has promised to be with us in the dark as well as the light, and it is our response to Gods' commitment that can make all the difference.

Today, enter a dark corner of your life and look for God.

What do you do when your life is falling apart?


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Day in the United States

"May God grant you joy of heart, and may peace abide among you." Sir 50:23

Like most national holidays, Thanksgiving is a two edged sword. For those recently divorced or separated, going home for a Thanksgiving meal and celebration can be painful. Thanksgiving is a family day, but for those whose families have collapsed there is embarrassment, even shame. On the other hand, for those newly married or who have become new parents, Thanksgiving is a joy, a day to bask in the delight and pride of being family.

How families welcome and celebrate all their members is the measure of their faith and fidelity at Thanksgiving and throughout the year. God reminds us to welcome all to the table of plenty, (Ps 23:5) and Jesus challenges us to to go the highways and byways (Lk 14:23) to seek out the lost and forgotten. Finding ways both to acknowledge the loss and celebrate the joys of family members enriches everyone and assures family and friends that no matter how our life unfolds, our family, like God, will never abandon us.

Today, love someone unconditionally.

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving with someone in mourning?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Presentation of Mary

"To everyone who has, more will be given." Lk 19:26

The Feast of the Presentation of Mary is much more central to the spirituality of the Eastern church than the West. Considered one of the East's twelve most important celebrations, Mary's presentation in the temple is found in the non canonical infancy narrative of James. Given to God at three, Mary would remain in the temple readying herself for the time when she would become the Theotokos, the Mother of God.

Discerning and defining Mary's role in the history of salvation has always been important to Christians. Mother of Jesus, Mother of God and Mother of the church are all titles of Mary that evoke hope in people's hearts, but it is Mary's Presentation that reminds us of God's cares for us even before we imagine it.  While most of us come to God when we are ready, God seeks us out long before we are aware of his love.

Today pray for someone not expecting it.

What is your favorite title or feast for Mary

Monday, November 19, 2012

Zaccheus

"Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house."

Why should Zaccheus come down quickly to join Jesus? Were others vying for the Lord's attention? Were Jesus' disciples urging him to meet with new followers in order to further instruct and form them? Whatever the reason, Zaccheus listens and responds to the Lord and becomes a model for us. 

Often enough we are not exactly sure what we are do to help build God's reign, but others times we know exactly what it is the Lord is saying and we resist. Like those invited to a wedding feast, we think of or make up excuses for not living the Gospel. We don't like how God seems to be acting in our life. We wonder if we are making everything up about life in the Spirit, or we fight God's call because it demands that we let go unconditionally, and we are the kind of persons who want clear explanations before we act.

The Lord call us and wants to stay in our house today. What is so difficult about this? Perhaps because we have other things planned or wanted some time alone, we resist, forgetting that God is never a bother if only we let God be God and live in God's presence with peace. The things we have planned can be moved to another time. The few moments of quiet will keep. God wants to eat with us. We need to learn to drop everything and respond.

Today, ask not what you are supposed to do today, but what God wants you to do.

What are your biggest resistances to God??

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Power of Sight

"Lord, please let me see." Lk 18:41

Sometimes the gospel stories seem stark, and lack detail. This makes sense of course when one remembers that only a few people in Jesus' time were literate, and the intention of the gospels was not to write a biography of Jesus but to announce him as Messiah, son of God and savior of the world. Details were not important in a written form. The story teller could elaborate and fill the text with passion and power. for those who could not read

But the Gospels are not always stark. When the blind man today says "please," we stumble upon an important detail and a telling moment. Not only is the request polite, it pleads with Jesus to look upon a man who is an outcast from his own family and community. Condemned to a life of begging and isolation, the blind man, like Moses, (Ex 33) begs Jesus for help, and becomes an example for all.

Jesus often reminds us that because we have eyes does not mean that we really see. Only those who see with the heart will experience the fullness of the revelation. The blind man, even before he is healed, sees and knows the Lord as Messiah and so approaches him politely, but with hope and confidence. The Messiah's task is to open the eyes of all to the wonders of God's enduring care and love for the world, and because the blind man remembers this, he is healed.

Our task is the same. If we want to see, we must first acknowledge God as creator and redeemer. Only then will we know the Messiah in our hearts.

Today, open your eyes again to the wonder of the created world.

When are you most blind?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

God's Love is Forever

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."

A person's word is important. In the ancient world everything was done in word and ritual, and oral agreements were binding. As we near the end of another liturgical year, the lectionary focuses on passages that help us understand that no matter how short life is, or how poorly we have lived it, if we turn to God in hope and faith, we will be saved. God's word in Jesus is true. God's word, Jesus, is true.

The faithfulness of God underlies our entire faith tradition. Though we are often unfaithful both as individuals and communities of believers, God has promised to accompany us in life, to love us, to guide us and welcome us to a place at the eternal banquet forever.

When Mark tells us in forbidding and threatening terms, "In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken," (Mk 13;24) we should not be frightened, but rejoice. The gospel writer only wants to wake us up and remind us that no matter what happens within and around us, God will be faithful.

Today, pray for a peaceful death.

How do you speak with others about death and dying?

Friday, November 16, 2012

St Elizabeth of Hungary

"While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me." Lk 18 4-5

While it is difficult to imagine St. Elizabeth of Hungary, like the demanding widow in Luke's gospel,  threatening to hit someone, it is not hard to see her pushing God on behalf of the poor and the needy. Married at fourteen, she led a simple life and had three children before her husband, Louis, died in battle. Making sure her children were well cared for, she committed herself to a life of total service and fed hundreds of people everyday until her own death at twenty four.

Renowned for her care of the needy, Elizabeth so unnerved her husband's family that they evicted her from the palace, an act that only emboldened her. She joined the secular Franciscan order, lived a prayerful and austere life, and was so popular during her lifetime that she was canonized four years after her death. Like the widow of the gospel Elizabeth's life keeps bothering us as we hear Christ's call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

Today, speak up on behalf of someone in real need.

How do you react to people who agitate for change?


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Everyday Faith

"Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it." Lk 17:33

Jesus regularly reminds his followers to read the signs of the times. Most of us do this naturally and organically when storms or other dangers threaten us. We check the batteries in flash lights, fill up bottles with drinking water and cover our windows with boards to repel hurricane force winds.

Unfortunately, we seem unable to read or follow danger signs in our spiritual lives. We drift away from the regular practice of our faith. We skip an occasional Sunday mass, and fail to begin a meal with prayer. We forget how rich the scriptures are, and take little time for quiet and reflection, all in name of  caring for our families or, God forbid, working in the church.

Jesus alerts his followers to these simple faults and warns them that the consequences will be great for those who fail to keep themselves centered in God. The language he uses is frightening. "I tell you, on that night there will be two people in one bed; one will be taken, the other left." Only those who are awake enough to God's will for them will be saved. It is not so much that his followers have done anything wrong, but have become lukewarm and dulled by an inattentive life.

Today, pay attention to the simplest of God's signs. Listen, look and respond to God all around you.

How do you avoid missing everyday signs of God's life within and among us?


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Exile

"I am lonely as a pelican in the wilderness, as an owl in the ruins, as a sparrow alone on a rooftop: I do not sleep." Ps 101:6-8

Being in exile is never easy or simple. Ask anyone who has been locked into a lifeless marriage, or has been isolated and made a scapegoat in their own family. The pain of being blamed for matters one did not cause and cannot control can be overwhelming.

The Pslamist offers us difficult but helpful images for "exiles." Pelicans do not belong in the wilderness. They cannot eat properly or live as they should. Neither are sparrows supposed to live alone. They fly in noisy flocks and in the United States we often seem sitting together on trees or under eaves of houses.

In trying to help us understand the awful conditions of exile, the psalmist pushes us to accept our fate and find a way to live faithfully within it. His pleading to God for help is a lesson for all. While none of us likes to be away from "home", sometimes it is necessary to appreciate life as God intends it, and being in exile reminds us that no matter where we find ourselves, God is with us.

Learning to pray in exile is essential for believers. Though we are not asked or commanded to be comfortable in exile, we must maintain our faith and pray from the center of our loneliness. Jesus' passion and death testify to this.

Today, reach our for someone who seems lost.

How do you manage those times when life is upside down and inside out?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Gratitude

"Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?"  Lk 17:17

Recent days in the New York City area, following Hurricane Sandy, have caused all of us to think about basic needs and services. Not only have most of us been without electricity for a week or more, thousands of homes have been destroyed and many other homes will not be habitable again for months, if ever. The south shore of Long Island and the New Jersey coast have been so battered and bruised that the people who live there are still in shock.

Unfortunately, for most of us, it takes a storm like this to make us think about what we so often taken for granted. Being without electricity and heat for days, and being unable to find gasoline for our cars makes us realize how dependent we are on the services which most of the time time we can find anywhere, and forces us to pause in gratitude.

Jesus reminds us of this same reality. It was a foreigner, someone without a voice or a home, who returns after being healed to thank him. The clear call of the Gospel is to be thankful each day not only for the simple gifts of food, water and heat, but for life itself.

Today, thank someone who provides you with a basic service.

How do you avoid taking life's necessities for granted?


Monday, November 12, 2012

St Frances Xavier Cabrini

"We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.” Lk 17:10

Frances Xavier Cabrini's parents read to her about the great missionaries of the 19th century, stirring the young girls imagination and filling her with dreams. Clearly, the influence of parents and grandparents is radically important in the faith formation of children, and although it is clear in the ritual of baptism that parents must be the first and best teachers of their children in the ways of faith too many today leave education, both secular and sacred, to experts, and we are all the less for it..

Hearing the heroic stories of missionaries in her own home caused Frances Xavier to dream about becoming a missionary, and her concerns for Italian immigrants led her to cross the Atlantic ocean dozens of times and establish 67 different schools, orphanages and hospitals. From her youthful dream emerged  a woman and a religious community that was determined to make a difference in the United States and beyond and her life story makes us wonder who will excite the imaginations of  the children of the 21st century?

Today, dream about a world transformed by the gospel?

Who has excited you with a gospel dream?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

St Josaphat

"Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the one through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin." Lk 17:2

Sometimes it is an early event in our lives that causes us to pause and wonder about God and where God is taking us. St. Josaphat told a friend that as a boy when he was looking at an icon of the crucified Christ, a ray of light from the icon penetrated his own heart, an event he never forgot and which became the foundation of his spiritual life.

Today, Josaphat is honored not only for his martyrdom but as the patron of reunion between what the Second Vatican Council called our separated brethren and the Roman Catholic church.  The word brethren is worthy of our reflection. When we look at all people as children of God, and as our brothers and sisters, our attitude changes. Though we may differ deeply with some of our brothers and sisters, we never denigrate them as persons. Rather, we hold up what is good and exemplary in their lives.

Most of us learned this lesson from our parents. Never wanting to separate from their children,  parents insist on seeing the good in their children, even when their children separate from them politically and religiously.

That is what Josphat did, especially in his final hours. As a mob threatened his community, he asked: "Why are attacking my servants? Take your anger out on me,"St Josaphat and they did. Beaten, shot and beheaded, he died as any good father would in defense of his faith and his "children."

Today, pray for reunion among Christians.

Have you had an experience of Christ's love that continues to sustain you??

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Widow's Mite

"This poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury." Mk 12:43

It is easy to forget that there were no supermarkets in the ancient world, no place to shop and buy supplies for a week or more. The people of Jesus' day would have used whatever they had on hand to prepare a simple meal and may have gone to a small, local shop for barley, oil and the like. All of this to say that the poor widow is most probably giving the money she would use for an evening meal into the temple baskets, preferring to honor God and support the priests and temple personnel rather than eat herself.  Her sacrifice is deep, and makes a lasting impression on everyone who reads about her.

Two matters emerge for us in the modern world. While it is rare in the United States that people have nothing to eat on a daily basis, there are very hungry people here. More than 50 million Americans do not have adequate food each day, and most of them are children and seniors.

Just as important, more than 2 billion people in the world do not eat enough nutrient food each day and even worse, they have what scientists call, "food insecurity."  They may eat today but are not sure they have the resources to eat tomorrow or next week. The stress this kind of living creates can be overwhelming.

Nevertheless, despite their own hunger, the poor are often generous and giving. More, they have faith that moves mountains. Unlike some of us who blame God for every difficult turn our life takes, the hungry continue to pray, worship and offer service to those more needy than themselves, and in this they are examples for the rest of us.

Today give from your substance.

Who has most impressed you because of their generosity?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

"The waters of the river gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High!" Ps 46

Celebrating the dedication of a church is always important, especially parish churches. What a privilege it is to remember all the people of God, especially immigrants, who dreamed about building a place to worship that would help them praise God and honor all those who helped them settle in a new land. St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City is said to have been built by the dollar bills of Irish cleaning women who worked in the hotels and buildings around the Cathedral. Even today it is a place of pilgrimage for so many who visit, pray and remember the struggles of those who built this magnificent church.

It is the faith of those who have gone before us that we pause to remember today. Usually poor and often without work, the people who built our parish churches never forgot who they were even when life seemed unfair and overwhelming. Though they may not have had much to say in the society and land to which they came in hope of a better life, their faith sustained them and promised them, even if they failed to secure their dreams, that God would never abandon them.

The Lateran Basilica in Rome is no different. True, it is the church of the bishop of Rome, the Pope, but it is not only the Pope who prays there. Like every other pilgrimage site it is more than a place of beautiful architecture and art, it is the home of thousands of believers through the centuries who enter not to see the Pope but to encounter God.

Today, make a visit to a parish church and the let the faith of those who built it seep into your heart.

Do you have a favorite church or parish that continues to sustain your faith even today?


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Repentance Revisited

"There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance." Lk 15:7

Repentance is simple enough, but always difficult and often painful. Repentance is not simply saying you are sorry to someone you offended or hurt. Neither is it just asking forgiveness. Repentance is turning towards God again and humbly asking for the help you need to change your life in a permanent way, and it always implies that you will do this a day at a time.

This last dimension of repentance is often the most stressful. Although we know that change takes time, there is a false hope in us that we can turn towards God once and for all and be done with it. This is never the case. As situations in our lives change, we encounter new struggles and not infrequently old patterns of resistance return, making it likely that old faults will return and discourage us.

That is why it is so important to incorporate daily spiritual practices that root us in the mercy and healing power of God and offer us a way to counter our tendency to slip into behaviors that hurt both us and those around us.

Today, turn towards toward God in joy and gratitude even if you don't like it.

What practices have helped you continue a Gospel life despite your faults?


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Messianic Age


"If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." Lk 14:26

There are many "hard" sayings of Jesus, but none more difficult to grasp than his talk about hating father, mother, wife and children. What could this possibly mean? The prophet Micah gives us an indication and an insight.
Do not trust a neighbor; put no confidence in a friend. Even with her who lies in your embrace be careful of your words. For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--a man's enemies are the members of his own household. (Micah 7:5-6)
The Messianic age, about both Micah and Jesus are speaking, will be ushered in by dissension, and traditional social networks like families will be broken apart because they fail to listen to God and change their lives. Though difficult to accept, the answer is simple, even transparent. Because the people of Jesus' day refused to listen to John the Baptist or him, they will hasten their own downfall, and the same warning prevails today.

Not unlike the warning on a package of cigarettes that if you keep smoking you risk cancer, Jesus, the prophet of God, another Micah, makes it clear that unless we open ourselves to the fullness of his message, we hasten our own demise.

Today, ask God how to live the fullness of the Gospel.

How do you interpret Jesus' hard sayings?


Monday, November 5, 2012

Cling to Nothing

"Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped."

Asking ourselves about what we cling to or grab for is always telling. Sometimes it is a false security that money or power seems to give us. At other times, it is relationships, even if they are not working for us, our families or our faith. Whatever it is that grabs hold of us needs to be examined in the light of what St. Paul tells us about Jesus, who clings to nothing, not even his Godhead. This startling assertion by St Paul has been the source of reflection and prayer for Christians from the beginning of Christianity.

Paul is helping us remember that when Jesus claims the role of a pilgrim with no place to lay his head, he is offering every Christian an important image and challenge, one that forces us to reexamine our priorities and live, not as if life will last forever, but with gratitude for each day God gives us. Although it might seem maudlin to some that today may be our last of earth, it is also a simple fact, one which reminds us to live each day in faith and with the realization that God is always near.

No matter how we try to parse it, life as we know it does not last forever. Death is either a terrifying reality looming on the near horizon, or another stage in the life of a believer. Because faith gives us the certainty that life is not ended by only changed, we need cling to nothing as Christians but the sure and certain hope that the Lord has gone before us to prepare a place for us.

Today, live as fully as you can with gratitude and hope.

Have you had an experience that reminded you of life’s brevity?






 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Doing the Right Thing

"When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you." Lk  14:14

Luke's Gospel demands that we never forget who we are or where we came from. Addressed primarily to Gentiles seeking to know and believe in Jesus, Luke wanted his readers to know the fullness of the gospel, and though the message was not easy, it surely attracted those in the Gentile world who had little power, money or influence. 

Luke's gospel, however, was not just for Gentiles. It's message helped all the powerless: the sick, women, the poor and cripples to believe that they were invited to the "banquet of God." No one, even the rich, would be excluded who committed him or herself to a Gospel life, but herein lies the problem. If we feel no need for anything or anyone because we can care physically for ourselves without the help of others, we tend to forget how dependent we are on one another and God for all our gifts.

Only when we regularly reflect on our mortality, and accept the limitations of life no matter how fortunate we might be, do we realize how blessed we are in God. More important, we realize that we must not exclude those less fortunate, but invite them to share intimately at our plentiful tables.

Today, remember who you are and ask for the gift of humility.

Who or what has taught you best about living a grateful life?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Love God and Others Completely

Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! 
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, 
with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Mk 12:29

The Shema, which affirms the oneness of God and the command to love God always and in all ways, is the foundation of Jewish morning and evening prayer, and many might say, the ground of its spirituality. That Jesus repeats the Shema when asked by the Pharisees about his opinion regarding the first and most important commandment of the law not only affirms its importance for Christians, it also reminds us that Jesus came and wanted to be seen as an observant Jew.

While it might be fashionable these days to emphasize spirituality over against religion, the simple practices of our religious tradition, rooted in the Shema, and Jesus' challenge to visit the sick, feed the hungry and clothe the naked, are important for an authentic Catholic life. Praying each day, celebrating the Eucharist on Sundays and serving others through simple acts of Christian charity and justice help us remember who we are, especially when we can do them together as a community of faith.

Finally, it is good for us to listen again to the Shemah and Jesus' use of it. We must love God with everything we are and do, with our whole hearts, souls, minds and strength. When we hold nothing back in our love for God and others, we witness to a God who has always done the same for us.

Today, love someone completely and pray for them.

Who or what has taught you most about what it means to love God and one another?


Friday, November 2, 2012

Take the Lower Place

"Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." Lk 14:11

When Jesus told the guests of the Pharisees to take the lowest place at a banquet in order not to be embarrassed if a more important guest arrives, he is not only offering them a strategy, but a challenge with a deeper spiritual meaning.

Authentic humility, rooted in God's power, demands that Christians see themselves as part of something much greater than their accomplishments. As part of Christ's body we have a dignity beyond our imagination, but only when we accept the role designated for us and do not pretend to be someone we are not, or that we are in control of life.

This message, like so many others that Jesus offers us, is counter intuitive. While most people bow to humility as a value, few wear the clothes of humility, especially in the United States. Citizens of our nation are trained from an early age to excel, and to accept both the accolades and privileges associated with "winning."

While wealth and power are by products of a successful life in the United States, this is not the goal of those who profess to live a Gospel life. Gospel success is measured, not in what it produces, but in the seeds of hope that it plants. Never far from the realization that all life is a gift, and all worldly success is temporary, Christians believe that our "success" is an integrated and other centered life, and this is no easy task.

Only those who pause each day to remember God's love in Christ and live in gratitude for all they have received, will be able to humble themselves with the conviction that Christ will reward them for a life committed to service.

Today, don't say something you are thinking. Listen first to others.

Have you had an experience of humility that changed your life?


Thursday, November 1, 2012

All Souls

"The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want." Ps 23

Anyone who has been to a funeral in recent years has most probably heard Psalm 23 read or sung more than once. Comforting and reassuring, it promises courage during our darkest hours and God's house as a place of hope and consolation.

As we pause to remember our dead, we focus not so much on the loss we feel when someone dies, but on their union in Christ and the promise of our tradition. The Preface to the Eucharistic prayer in masses for the dead reminds us that for those who believe "life is changed not ended." This is the source of our hope.

None of these promises are intended to deny the  emptiness we feel when a friend or family member dies, but to remind us that no matter how deep our sorrow, God draws nearer to us in our pain and will never abandon us. "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Ps 38:18) Perhaps most important, we need to live our faith in a way that helps others know the reality of God as our benign shepherd by the kindness we show to the grieving.

Today, be compassionate to someone who has experienced the death of a family member.

What is your consolation in the face of death/




Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Saints

"After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue."  Rev 7:9
Sometimes an image speaks much more loudly and clearly than words, and icons can do this very powerfully. So can poetry. The song that follows is a good example of this, and while it might shock some because of those it includes, when we read it with an open heart it forces us to think, pray and live in new ways. Chanted yearly at the Episcopal Church of St Stephen and the Incarnation in Washington, D.C., you can read it yourself at (All Saints Song)

Stand Here Beside Us!
Abraham and Sarah,
Isaac and Rebecca,
Jacob and Rachel and Leah,
makers of the covenant, forebears of our race:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Elizabeth and Simeon,
Joseph, Monica and Helen,
exemplars in the love and care of children:

Stand Here Beside Us!
John the baptizer, map-maker of the Lord's coming:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Holy ones who showed the good news to be the way of life:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Thomas the doubter;
Augustine of Canterbury;
Francis Xavier;
Samuel Joseph Schereschewsky;
all travelers who carried the Gospel to distant places:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Bernard and Dominic;
Catherine of Siena, the scourge of popes;
John and Charles Wesley, preachers in the streets;
all whose power of speaking gave life to the written word:


Stand Here Beside Us!
Holy ones who gave their lives to the care of others:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Louis, king of France;
Margaret, queen of Scotland;
Gandhi the mahatma, reproach to the churches;
Dag Hammarskjold the bureaucrat;
all who made governance an act of faith:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Peter of the keys, denier of the Lord;
Ambrose of Milan, who answered the Church's summons;
Hilda, abbess at Whitby;
Robert Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln, protector of the Jews;
Jean-Baptiste Vianney, cure d' Ars,
Patient hearer of catalogues of sins;
All faithful shepherds of the Master's flock:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Mary Magdalen, anointer of the Lord's feet;
Luke the physician;
Francis who kissed the leper;
Florence Nightingale;
Albert Schweitzer;
all who brought to the sick and suffering the hands of healing:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Holy ones who made the proclaiming of God's love a work of art:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Pierluigi da Palestrina;
John Merbecke;
Johann Sebastian Bach;
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart;
Benjamin Britten;
Duke Ellington;
all who sang the Creator's praises in the language of the soul:

Stand Here Beside Us!
David and the Psalmists;
Caedmon;
John Milton, sketcher of Paradise;
William Blake, builder of Jerusalem;
John Mason Neale, preserver of the past;
all poets of the celestial vision:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Zaccheus the tree-climber;
Brother Lawrence;
Therese of Lisieux, the little flower;
William of Glasshampton;
all cultivators of holy simplicity:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Holy ones haunted by the justice and mercy of God:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Amos of Tekoa, who held up the plumbline;
John Wycliffe, who brought the Scripture to the common folk;
John Hus and Menno Simons, generals in the Lamb's war;
Martin Luther, who could do no other;
George Fox, foe of steeple-houses;
all who kept the Church ever-reforming:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Paul the apostle, transfixed by noonday light;
Augustine of Hippo, God's city planner;
Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, architects of the divine;
Charles Williams, teacher of coinherence;
Karl Barth, knower of the unknowable;
all who saw God at work and wrote down what they saw:

Stand Here Beside Us!
John, the seer of Patmos;
Anthony of the desert;
Julian, the anchoress of Norwich;
Hildegarde, the sybil of the Rhine;
Meister Eckardt;
Bernadette of Lourdes;
all who were called to see the Master's face:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Joachim of Fiora, prophet of the new age;
Johnny Appleseed, mad planter of Eden;
Sojourner Truth, pilgrim of justice;
Benedict Joseph Labre, priest and panhandler;
all whose love for God was beyond containment:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Holy ones who died in witness to the Christ:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Stephen the deacon, the first martyr, stoned in Jerusalem:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Justin, Ignatius, and Polycarp, who refused the incense to Caesar:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Perpetua and Felicity, torn by beasts in the arena at Carthage:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley,
Burned in Oxford:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein, put to death at Auschwitz:

Stand Here Beside Us!
James Reeb, Jonathan Daniels, Michael Schwerner,
Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo, shot in the South:

Stand Here Beside Us!
Martin Luther King, shot in Memphis:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Janani Luwum, shot in Kampala:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Oscar Romero, shot in San Salvador:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Martyrs of Rome, of Lyons, of Japan, of Eastern Equatorial
Africa, of Uganda, of Melanesia,
martyrs of everywhere:

STAND HERE BESIDE US!
Holy ones of every time and place:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Glorious company of heaven:
Stand Here Beside Us!
All climbers of the ladder of Paradise:
Stand Here Beside Us!
All runners of the celestial race:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Great cloud of witnesses:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Mary most holy, chief of the saints:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Mary most holy, yes-sayer to God:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Mary most holy, unmarried mother:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Mary most holy, gate of heaven and ark of the covenant:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Jesus our liberator, creator of all:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Jesus our liberator, redeemer of all:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Jesus our liberator, sanctifier of all:
Stand Here Beside Us!
Jesus our liberator, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and
the end:
Stand Here Beside Us!