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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cana Compassion

"They have no wine." Jn 2:3

Today's gospel recounting the wedding feast at Cana lends itself easily to our own lives.  When Mary tells Jesus, "They have no wine," she could just as easily have said, "They have no coats, no food, no clean water, no hope." In the Jewish world that Jesus knew, the family of those being married had only one responsibility, to provide everyone with enough food and wine for a feast that might last several days. Not to offer their guests a simple table wine would have shamed the family and the newly married couple, and since the poor had only one real opportunity to celebrate in this manner, the shame would have followed them everywhere.

Mary knows this and points it out to Jesus who wonders why the failure of another family to prepare properly for a wedding is any of his business. He might have been feeling compassion for them but hesitates to interfere in a direct way and bring attention to himself. If he sent his disciples to buy wine, it might have embarrassed the couple more deeply. Clearly, another way of easing the tension in the situation was needed. When Jesus tells the stewards to fetch six stone water jars, no one could have known what he intended to do, and when the head waiter tasted the "new wine" he had no idea where it came from, but was amazed that this very fine wine had not been served earlier.  The party continued; no one was embarrassed or shamed, and the identity of Jesus begins to be revealed.

The gospel today asks us to respond to those most in need in the same way.  Cultivate compassion so that when you do good, your left hand  won't know what your right hand is doing. (Mt 6:3) Mary knew Jesus would find a way to help the young couple in Cana without shaming them.  We can do the same for those who have no food, inadequate clothing, or no hope.

Today, do something for another anonymously.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Christmas Season

"One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals." Mk 1:7

Knowing who you are and to whom you belong is a foundational first step on the road to spiritual health.  Every adult believer has struggled mightily at times with their identity as Christians and Catholics. Sometimes it is a particular belief or practice that makes us uncomfortable or leaves us full of doubt, and this is especially true when we are struggling with other issues in our life. When a marriage collapses or a parent nears death, we can wrestle with the teaching of the church or its beliefs and practices. Why can't I remarry, some ask?  Doesn't God want me to be happy? Or why is my mother suffering so?  Doesn't God care?

It is at times like this that John the Baptist becomes a good patron saint.  John knows who he is and does not try to be someone else. There is no indication in the text that he knows exactly who Jesus will become or what the church will eventually look like after his death. Rather, he knows that his job is to prepare the way for the Messiah, and he is determined to do it with integrity and total commitment. That this role would put him at odds with the leaders of the Jewish community seems not to matter to him. God has called him to announce the good news of Jesus' coming and because he trusts totally in God, he is able to complete his task.

John the Baptist can help us move forward, too. When we are able to remember that God is in love with us, and is our companion through every dark forest or imposing mountain climb, we are able to put aside the particular stumbling blocks along the way. Even Jesus, as he neared his death, asks his father to lift his burden and his disciples to pray with him.  That his father allowed him to die a terrible death and his apostles fell asleep was immensely painful, but did not distract him from his mission. We may not always know exactly where we are going or what we are to do when we get there, but when we remember that God is like a mother who holds us in the palm of her hand and will never abandon us, we are comforted.

If we remember that, like John the Baptist, we are disciples with a mission,  God will give us the faith to live with the questions and burdens which have no easy answer. That God is with us in the middle of the doubt, fear and anger is the promise upon which we rely.  God is here. God lives within us and among us. God is enough.

Today, ask God to help you live with the questions you face.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

St John Neumann

Fig trees were important symbols of peace and fertility in the ancient world. Our Jewish ancestors knew that the freedom to sit under a fig tree meant their nation was safe and productive. In today's gospel, because Nathaniel is sitting under a fig tree, Jesus recognizes him as a man of peace and productivity.

All of us should have fig trees in our lives, places where we can go to sit, be quiet, pray and seek peace. Unless we ask regularly, even everyday, what it is the Lord would have us do and be in order to be fruitful disciples, we risk seeking our own fulfillment rather than God's reign.

When St John Neumann came to the United States from what we now call the Czech Republic, he had enormous energy and imagination, but soon realized that there were no "fig trees" where the children of immigrants could go to learn peace and be fruitful disciples. Hence, though he was not a good preacher, thought of himself as uncultured, and was willing to resign as bishop, he is credited with establishing the parish school system in the United States which for more than a century has been recognized as the shining star of the American church.

Many reading this blog attended catholic schools where they learned not only the fundamentals of our faith, but heard the call to be fruitful and multiply. We learned that authentic Catholicism was not passive, but a religion that sought actively to see others with Christ's eyes, and to work together for the good of all. Though today the Catholic school system is struggling to stay alive, we need not despair, but ask God for the imagination to discover new "fig trees" for the education and formation of our young, and the good of our nation and world.

Today, ask God to show you your "fig tree," or go there and pray to be a person of peace who bears fruit for the good of all

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

St Elizabeth Ann Seton

"Behold, the Lamb of God." Jn 1: 36

All of us need something to anchor us. Raised as an Episcopalian by a pious and devout mother and an agnostic but socially conscious father, Elizabeth was married by the time she was 19 years old, had five children, moved to Italy and was widowed at 30.  Her world shattered, she needed stability.

Impressed by the devotion of the Italians she met, she began inquiring about the Catholic church. Touched and anchored by the doctrine of the real presence in the Eucharist, she also found consolation in the compassion of the Blessed Mother.  Returning to New York from Italy, she made profession of faith as a Catholic, but her conversion effectively cut her off from her family and friend's and left her penniless. One might expect bitterness in a situation like this, but Elizabeth responded with understanding and forgiveness. In a meditation she wrote, “Carry those who give you pain in your heart before God, and think of their virtues instead of their faults.” (1) 

Even in the middle of chaos, Elizabeth was not one to sit still and wait for something good to happen. Needing a way to support her children, she moved to Baltimore and opened a school which led to the founding of the Sisters of Charity and though her life changed dramatically, it would not be the end of her suffering. Not long after its founding, her community ran into financial difficulties and one of her children died. Nevertheless, she remained steadfast in her faith. Credited today with founding the first American religious community for women and opening the first parish school, Elizabeth Seton remains an icon of strength and authentic women's spirituality.  Rooted in the experiences of  daily life, her spirituality accepted the good with the painful and celebrated God at the center of it all.

Today, ask to learn something from a woman about the love of God and the service of God's people.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Christmas Season

"So start to love your neighbor. Share your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless pauper into your house. Clothe the naked, and do not despise the servants of your kin...  By loving your neighbor, by having care for your neighbor, you are travelling on a journey." St Augustine's Treatise on St. John

Thinking of the spiritual life as a journey is a helpful metaphor because it frees us from needing to be someplace or get somewhere.  People on journeys or pilgrimages  are not much concerned about social status, political views or cultural norms.  Rather, they are seekers who want to experience something new, something different from what they have always known.  Seekers are the kind of people who eat to live, not live to eat.  They are not tourists who need to see ten things every day, but pilgrims who want to experience each day as sit comes. They are more concerned with knowing the people and community in which they live  than accomplishing something for their own satisfaction.

In today's Office of Readings, St Augustine reminds us that the best way to begin a journey and live as pilgrims is to love our neighbors, whoever they might be.  When we break bread with the hungry and give a place in our hearts to the homeless everything changes.  We realize that the hungry and homeless are people just like us, not objects to be fed but children of God with whom we will travel. It is not simply our generosity that is so attractive to those who witness our love, but our relationship with the poor that will call others to "get on the bus" as together we seek God.

Anyone who has ever had the privilege of walking with another in terrible need will tell you that they received much more than they gave, and the memory of being loved for helping the lost will sustain us forever.

Today, don't go looking for someone in need, love the neighbor right next to you.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Sts Gregory and Basil

"When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires, the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper....our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians." (1) St. Gregory of Nazienzen

The saints whose lives we honor today were, in contemporary language, "soul friends."  Basil, who is recognized as the father of monasticism in the East, could be fierce and unbending. Much like Mother Teresa of Calcutta in our day, he was a reformer and  made decisions quickly, often without much conversation with others. Gregory, on the other hand, was shy and retiring.  When appointed Archbishop of Constantinople, he lived with friends rather than take up residence at the city's center. Both men were accused of heresy and were slandered by those who resented their power and fortitude. Despite their differences, they remained friends.

All of us need people with whom we walk closely in faith, especially when life is difficult and confusing. Having one other person to accompany us through the dark and light times is a gift beyond words. Gregory and Basil had this in one another, and although their relationship was often under great stress, Gregory reminds us that their "great pursuit...to be called Christians" kept them together in love and hope. 

Today, treasure the gift of a  soul friend.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year - Mary Mother of God

"The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!" Nm 6:26

Kindness is a wonderful virtue, especially when we are the recipient of it!  Often, when I have traveled long distances, especially to developing nations, I have been met with enormous kindness. Knowing I was tired and a little anxious, friends and friars offered me a cool drink, a room to rest in and an assurance that I would not be alone as I explored a new culture, language and environment.

Today, as we begin a new year, the scriptures are both kind and challenging. While they offer us a wonderful blessing from the book of Numbers, and invite us to call God, Abba, Dad, Poppa, they also remind us that it was to shepherds that the birth of Jesus was announced, something that would have unnerved and shocked people in the ancient world. Shepherds were from the underclass of the society and were often looked at as unclean since they regularly had to graze their flocks on the lands of others. That God would choose to announce the birth of his Son to them would have startled their contemporaries, and caused some to reject or ridicule their message simply because of who they were.

It is no different today. Though we try to listen to and accept the opinion of all our neighbors, it is tempting to listen more closely to the educated and wealthy, not because they have more insight, but because we assume they know more. Today's scriptures, however, remind us that God is not subject to our narrow ethnic, cultural, religious or social lenses. This is a gift we ought to treasure and imitate.

This year, submit yourself and all your resolutions to God and give God permission to show you the path to light and life