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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Our Need for God

"Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do." Mk 2:17

Like most catholics born in the middle of the last century, I was schooled to believe that the best way to live a devout life was to get to mass as frequently as possible, and to confession every week. These religious practices, good in themselves, often led people of my generation to worry about trivial matters in a way that was out of proportion to the faults themselves. Worse, we often struggled every day to be better, not so much to honor God, but to "earn" our salvation. Unfortunately, while we became good practicing Catholics, our call to discipleship often got lost in the shadows of our compulsions. When the focus of the spiritual life becomes our personal holiness, union with God often takes a back seat.

Today's gospel offers us a different perspective. God is not someone hovering over us, counting our sins, but a healer who wants to lay hands of hope upon us and draw ever closer to us on our journey. When we accept the help of the divine physician everything changes. Facing our weakness allows us not to obsess about our faults like we once did, but to celebrate God's tender mercy. More important, acknowledging our sins each day reminds us to be humble and non judgmental, and to look at every person with God's compassionate eyes.

Today, accept your need for God and glory in God's never ending acceptance.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friendship

It is difficult to overstate the importance of friends.  When we stop to think about all the times in our lives when we were struggling with important decisions, it was almost always the advice or the prayer of a friend or mentor that settled us. In my early days as a friar, there was an older priest who was forever warning us not to miss the forest for the trees, and his mentoring words of wisdom often come back to me when I start to stare at a problem so closely that I fail to see the big picture. Stepping back from a difficulty is always in order when we try too hard to do the right thing.

Today's gospel is about friendship. A paralyzed man who hears about Jesus has no way to see or visit the Lord unless friends help him, and the friends in this gospel text go the extra mile. Though Jesus is  surrounded by needy people, the paralytic's friends are not deterred. They go up on the roof, dig through it and lower their friend in front of Jesus. It is really an amazing scene which the scribes cannot spoil with the mumbling about Jesus not having the power to forgive sins. So anxious not to lose their teaching role in the society, the scribes think nothing about the paralytic while the man's friends think of nothing else. Who doesn't yearn for friends like this?

Knowing how important friendship is, however, is not enough. We cannot simply pray for friends to help us; the gospel demands that, like the paralytic's friends, we become friends to one another. Listening to the ache of friends, sharing their joys, feeding them when they are hungry, and delighting in their everyday triumphs, is as powerful a sign of God's love as Jesus' cure of the paralyzed man.

Today, rejoice in those who have "lowered" you into the presence of the living God.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

"I do will it. Be made clean." Mk 1:42

Miracles can distract us, and sometimes this is good. Many times, when I have been feeling heavy burdened and confused, the late afternoon light and the subsequent sunset have distracted me and reminded me of God's glory. Light has always fascinated me and fills me with hope. Though not a miracle on the order of the cure of the leprosy, the wonder of nature fills us with awe.

Miracles can also distract us from the deeper message, and today's gospel is one of those times when this can happen.  A leper, falling to his knees, begs Jesus to heal him. In the ancient world, lepers lived on the edges of the society. Because their disease, which was thought to be communicable, frightened and alarmed people, the law demanded that they keep their distance even from their families and friends. What could be worse! With no one around except other lepers, life was lonely and empty.

When Jesus heals the leper we can be distracted from the gospel itself.  If people are attracted to Jesus because of his "spectacular gifts," they risk missing the essence of his teaching.  Jesus did not come to cure lepers, but to announce hope for all and the coming of Gods' reign. The healing miracles are a sign of God's love and power, not the Good News itself.

Today's gospel challenges us not to seek or be distracted by the spectacular. It is not the occasional "home runs" we hit, but the daily willingness to walk together in faith and love as a sign of God's transforming power that marks the Christian life. Only when, rooted in the security of God's love, we open ourselves to everything and everyone that comes our way, are we authentic witnesses to the gospel.  It is our peacefulness, despite the struggles that come to all of us, that attracts others to the God who is our life.

Today, don't be distracted by miracles.  Be the miracle.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Listening for Our Call

"Speak, for your servant is listening." 1 Sam 3:10

God is always calling us. The scriptures are clear about this, but we are not always listening, and even when we are listening, we sometimes misinterpret what God wants from us.  Today's first reading suggests as much about Samuel. 

Thinking that his only responsibility is to care for Eli, each time Samuel hears God calling him in the middle of the night, he goes to Eli to ask what Eli might need. Finally, Eli tells Samuel that the One calling him is the Lord and he should respond to God. God speaks again and Samuel answers, "Speak, for your servant is listening." Only then does Samuel learn that God, deeply upset with Eli, is about to change everything. God tells Samuel that Eli's sons will soon die in battle and Eli, upon hearing of their death, will fall backwards and break his neck.  Upset with God's message, Samuel does not want to tell Eli what God told him, but Eli demands that Samuel tell him everything. After hearing Samuel's answer, Eli acknowledges that it was God speaking to Samuel, and knows that his service and life will soon end.

Today's readings invite, even demand, that we tell one another the truth. Today's New York Times had a disturbing article about soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are unable to drive our streets and highways without great fear. (1) Many of them cannot drive at all, and when they do drive they often speed up at intersections and go through stop signs for fear there are people ready to fire upon them.  Others feel threatened by tunnels, overpasses and work crews along the road. 

Reading the article I realized I was breathing very shallowly. I don't want to know about these soldiers problems, because I do not want to face the horrors of war, especially as it impacts the lives of children. But unless we face these issues, we will never come to terms with the long term disabilities these men and women face, and the terrible effects upon our society. 

For decades I have heard retired military officers tell our society that only fools want to fight wars, but when we feel threatened it is difficult to listen. Dwight Eisenhower wrote, "I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity." Today's scriptures again remind us that we cannot escape God, and need to find better ways to establish peace on the earth than fighting new wars.

Today, ask God to help you tell the truth and be a peacemaker.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Call of the Apostles

"Come after me."  Mk 1:17

The call to discipleship comes early in Mark's gospel.  Jesus sees Simon and his brother Andrew, who were fishermen, working their trade.  He calls them and they follow.  Mark is clear, sharp and uncomplicated. The text almost seems to suggest that Simon Peter and Andrew needed to follow the Lord immediately or they would be left behind, and because nothing in the following verses offers us an explanation, we are left with a huge question. What was it that attracted the first apostles to follow Jesus? Were they simply in the right place at the right time? While answering positively to this question might seem too arbitrary for some, when we enter the question more deeply, we discover other possibilities.

Being in the right place at the right time is not always easy.  Sometimes being in the right place means standing still, not rushing about anxiously simply because we are uncomfortable. Stilling ourselves, breathing deeply, becoming aware of everything and everyone around us is the foundation for good decisions. Only when we are quiet internally and externally are we able to hear others deeply.

Furthermore, waiting patiently because we trust the person who asked us to meet her in a particular place at a particular time allows us not to fret needlessly about situations we cannot control. Could all of this be true of Simon and Andrew? We cannot say with certainty, but we do know that they heard the call of Jesus and were ready to follow. Developing daily practices of listening deeply to God and everything and everyone around us will prepare us to hear whatever it is the Lord would ask us to do.

Today, take five minutes of quiet to sit still, listen and ask for guidance.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Baptism of the Lord

"You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." Mk 1:11

Although today is called the Baptism of the Lord, we might also think of it as his Confirmation.  While his baptism is significant because it reminds us that Jesus wants to identify totally with the human family in their brokenness, it is also his confirmation because we hear his Father say, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." Blessed by his Father, Jesus is now ready to go to the ends of the earth and preach the Good News.

For all the baptized, although we sometimes forget this because so many of us were baptized as children, a life of faith is not complete or whole without ministry.  For those who learn and know that God's love for them is never ending and complete, ministry is a natural and necessary aspect of their faith life. We must proclaim God's love for us in word and deed, and in Luke's gospel Jesus makes this clear. After his Baptism, he returns to his home synagogue and searches for a passage in Isaiah that will let people know what he intends to do with his life.  We read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free. (Lk 4: 18)

Baptism was a challenge for Jesus and so must it be for us. Although from the beginning of his ministry the Lord would be criticized, eventually he would be vilified because he insists, in opposition to the leaders of the Jewish community, that his mission is not simply to reenforce the teaching of the Torah in word, but to live it in service to those most in need. Jesus' ministry to the poor, blind and oppressed reminds us that the only way others will know we are his disciples is by the love we have for one another, especially those who are without an identity or a voice.

Today, talk without someone who others ignore.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Epiphany

"Where is the newborn king of the Jews?" Mt 2:2

Stability is something we all seek.  We want a permanent job, a house or apartment of our own that we can afford.  We want our children to do well in school and enter strong solid marriages.  It goes on and on.  Stability is like a prize that we cannot live without, but today's readings ask us to make a very deep examination of conscience.

What kind of stability are really seeking? Jesus does not offer us the kind of stability that God seemed to promise the Jews of old. Though they would enter the Promised land and build a temple that signaled to all the world that they were God's people, Jesus tells us that stability of place is not the gift he is bringing, not the Good News. He promises us internal stability, the assurance that God is with us in the flesh, and will send his Spirit to dwell within us and among us forever which makes us God's holy temple and his tabernacle. We are a pilgrim people who build places of worship and call them churches, but the real church is us.  United in faith with the assurance that God will be our anchor, we are set free from the compulsive need to live in one place, have the same job forever, and measure our success by what we have rather than who we are.

Our challenge on the feast of the Epiphany is straightforward: How open spirited are we?  How ready are we to welcome the message of salvation and hope no matter where it comes from? Because Herod and "all Jerusalem with him" Mt 2:5 was so threatened by the loss of their fragile power, they could not hear the good news of God becoming human in Jesus, making it necessary for astrologers from the East to seek, to find and offer homage to the new born king of the Jews. The story of the Magi is still told today because it reminds us to let go of our limited understanding of the gospel and listen with open spirits to the epiphanies happening all around us every day.

Today, ask God to give you a stable relationship in faith to continue your journey.