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Saturday, January 21, 2012

St Agnes

"He is out of his mind." Mk 3:21

When people do really good things for no apparent reason it is sometimes easier to question their motives than to enjoy their kindness. That is what seems to have happened to Jesus. Rather than celebrate his honesty, integrity and healing power, people suggested that he was "out of his mind." How awful, but how common.

I had the privilege of working with lots of people who others think are out of their minds, and in some ways they are, but simply because someone is mentally ill does not mean they don't think, feel, love, and care about the world. Perhaps it is our own fear of mental illness that gets in the way of our seeing the person behind or inside the illness, but it would be awful if, because of our fear, we missed the glory of God fully alive in them. Too many people missed knowing God incarnate by reducing Jesus to a "crazy person", and the same could happen to us.

If we cannot find Jesus in the next person we meet, no matter how "mad" they might seem, then we need to examine our hearts. Jesus was clear when he warned his contemporaries about having eyes that did not see and ears that did not hear. We need to pray not to sin in this same way.

Today, think of someone who others dismiss as "out of his mind" with eyes and ears anxious to know the person behind the illness.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Companionship

"He appointed Twelve, whom he also named Apostles, that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach." Mk 3:14

What does it mean to be with someone? We can be together in the same subway car, in the same business, in the same town or city, but this is not what Mark's gospel means when it says that Jesus appointed twelve apostles to be with him. Though the apostles themselves did not fully understand what Jesus was doing when he called them to follow him, they did know he wanted them to preach and drive out demons in his name. That their call would irrevocably change the world was not immediately evident to them. Like us, they were challenged to follow the Lord by faith not by sight. (2 Cor 5:7)

When I was in the seminary, our canon law professor often repeated a Latin phrase, Nemo judex in causa sua. No one is a judge in his own case. Because we are called to ministry in a community of believers, we don't decide on our own exactly how to serve and evangelize others, but trust the community of faith to call us to use our gifts for the good of all.

We see this clearly in the new Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Every Sunday catechumens and candidates assemble at the Eucharist with the rest of the community, but with powerful gestures and rituals are sent together with their sponsors to reflect upon God's word and the teaching of the church to discern their call. Only when they have studied, reflected upon and prayed together are they fully welcomed through the sacraments of initiation into the community of faith to be "with the Lord" in a formal way.

It is good to reflect upon our vocations regularly.  How are we "with the Lord?"  Are we living committed lives of service and evangelization, and anxious to discern what else the Lord might want from us?  Do others recognize in us a power that comes, not from our own efforts and study, but as a gift from God?

Today, ask God to call you again and send you as his disciple into the world.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Resentment



While resentment is something that visits all of us from time to time, when we harbor it, it is a sin. It is that simple. Not only can resentment, which frequently leads to cynicism and bitterness, destroy the person holding onto it, it also hurts those around them.

Saul is full of resentment towards David, not because David did anything to him, but because the people love David more for his one act of bravery in slaying Goliath than for all the years of service he offered his people. While it is understandable that Saul feels resentment, his sin lies in preparing to have David killed because of his popularity.

Only the intercession of Saul's son Jonathan saves the day. Jonathan loves David and is willing to stand between David and Saul as a mediator. Jonathan's courage in speaking with his father about David's bravery saves David's life by helping Saul see that David's triumph actually enhanced Saul's power.

Jonathan's ministry of helping heal broken relationships is a powerful reminder to us to be grateful for those who are willing to stand in the midst of rage and confusion, not for their own advancement, but for the good of the entire community.

Today, thank God for the Jonathan's in your life.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Withered Hearts

"He stretched it out and his hand was restored." Mk 3:5

Forty years ago when I visited Lourdes an old sister told me, "Not everyone is cured, but everyone is healed." I smiled a little smugly when I heard her pious words, but was convinced she was right that evening as I watched the procession of the sick through the streets of Lourdes.

Those of you who have witnessed this remarkable phenomenon know exactly what I mean.  Thousands of sick people, in wheel chairs and on stretchers, make their way slowly through the streets listening and, when they can, singing Marian hymns. Most of them are accompanied by young people from all over the world. Anyone seeing this powerful demonstration of faith is healed. I surely was.

In today's gospel Jesus stretches out his hand and cures the man with the withered hand. Listening to the proclamation of the gospel this morning, I was struck by Jesus' simple gesture, and thought of all the people who had stretched out a hand to me, like the young people of Lourdes, and healed me. How powerful it is to be touched by caring hands and hearts when we are in pain. Though we may not be cured, we are surely healed.

Today, stretch out your hand towards someone who is lost, confused or hurting.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

St Anthony of Egypt

"The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him." 1 Sam 16:13

Regularly in the scriptures God does not do what we expect God to do. The choice of David as King is a good example. After rejecting Saul as King, God tells Samuel that he will choose a King from Jesse's sons, but after Jesse has presented seven of his Sons to Samuel, all of whom seemed worthy by Jesse's standards, God is not satisfied. Samuel ask Jesse if he has another son. Yes, Jesse says, and sends for his youngest son David. When David appears God tells Samuel that this is the one and when Samuel anoints David, "the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him."

Something similar happened to St Anthony of Egypt whose feast we celebrate today. Like St. Francis of Assisi, to whom he is often compared, Anthony heard God call him in the gospel passage, "Go sell all you have and come follow me." Anthony complied immediately and fled to the desert to live a life of austerity, penance and prayer. But, just like Francis, Anthony got it wrong, and God called him back to his society so that he could help others find God in a society gone mad with wealth, power and lust.

Most of us have known the rushing of God's spirit upon us, at least for a time, but we don't always respond as completely as David, St. Anthony and St. Francis. Fearful that a call as radical as this might disrupt our lives and everyone around us, we resist. Today's feast reminds us not to be afraid. It is God's spirit that rushes upon us. We have only to rely on God to do the work of God. When we ask for the grace to put aside our fear, as David, Anthony and Francis did, all things become possible.

Today, trust God's rushing spirit.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Everyday Holiness

"Teaching is good if the teacher also acts." Ignatius of Antioch (1)

In the Rite of Baptism, there are two passages that remind parents that they must be the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith. The Rite also challenges them to be the best of teachers, not so much by what they say, but how they live the gospel. It may seem obvious, but it is easy to forget this powerful lesson. While it is important for parents to learn how to articulate our faith for their children in an age appropriate manner, it is even more important to act on their beliefs. Of course this is also true for all adults.

When we think about the people who have most influenced our faith lives, almost always we remember those who lived their faith, authentically, integrally and fully. Last Saturday, I had the privilege of baptizing the fifth child of young friends. The mother is a gentle woman who suffered serious complications after the birth of this last child, but carried on with the help of her kind husband and family. Still, it was and is a struggle to nurture and nourish five children under twelve.

As fate would have it, the week before the baptism was not easy. The children got sick and so did she. Arriving at the baptism she could only whisper, having lost her voice with upper respiratory problems. Trying to be understanding, I suggested that perhaps she could enjoy the quiet of not being able to speak. She smiled and said, "Have you ever tried to get five children ready for church without a voice?"

Gently chastised, I said nothing. Of course, my young friend was right, but there are two lessons for us in her experience. While we should never underestimate the everyday holiness of parents in caring for and forming their children, we might also remember that most of their teaching and ours is done not with words, but with lives committed to justice and charity in action.

Today, ask God to help you say less and do more.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

We all have Vocations

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

All of us obsess from time to time.  We know the drill. We start to think about something and one detail or another is not clear so we keep going back over what we have been thinking about. When this happens in the middle of the night, it often keeps us awake for hours.

A few years ago, a friend told me about his silly obsession. His three teenage daughters were driving him crazy by using two towels every time they showered and then would throw the towels in the laundry to be washed. He spoke to them. They listened but didn't change. He reminded them how expensive it was to run the dryer. They listened but didn't change. Finally, he went to one of their basketball games and when he heard so many other parents praising his daughters for their kindness and concern for others, he knew he had to stop obsessing about all the towels they used. They heard about their father's joy and changed.

Thank God Samuel, who often slept in the temple because he wanted to be open to the Lord, was not obsessing about what his role might be in Israel's history when God called him, otherwise he never would have been able to to respond to the Lord. When God called Samuel in the middle of the night, he was very alert, but thought it was Eli who needed him. Three times Eli assured Samuel he did not call him, and told him to go back to sleep. Finally Eli, realizing it was God who was calling Samuel, told Samuel to answer: Speak, Lord, your servant is listening. Because Samuel wanted only to do God's will, he listened, responded and became the prophet God intended him to be. The same can be true of us. Only when we let God be God and let go of our need to control the world, can we hear God's insistent call to follow Jesus and fulfill our vocation. 

Today, ask God to free you from obsessions.