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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Speaking with integrity

"The tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions." Jas 3:5

The letter of James compares our tongues to the rudder of a ship, which though very small, can change the course of a huge ocean liner. For this reason James thinks we need to be constantly vigilant about what we say. Although James' message is very difficult to hear, it is obviously true. We need to watch over our tongues because they have so much power. When we think about the number of times we have been hurt and discouraged because of the words of someone bent on undermining our position or role, it is not difficult to agree with James who also reminds us that our words can be like fire, consuming the reputation of another for no reason other than our own power or jealousy.

Gratefully, however, our tongues can also do immense good. When we take time to honestly praise another's behavior, complement them for a good work well done, and encourage them in their desire to live a full gospel life, we make of our tongues instruments of healing and hope.  In fact, we have the power to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ every time we open our mouths in praise and joy.

The choice is ours. Will we commit ourselves to be careful about what we say of others or will we say whatever comes to mind?  A person's faith could depend on our answer.

Today, watch your tongue and make sure you use it for good.

Can you think of a time when you or someone you know was willing to stand up to someone disparaging another's character? What effect did their courage have on you?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Doing Faith

Many friends and readers have encouraged me to offer a question for reflection, not just a challenge each day. So today I will begin offering questions with each blog entry. Please feel free, if the question gets you thinking and praying, to leave a comment about your experience.

"If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,' but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?" Jas 2:15

"Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?"

For many, this passage from James is his most familiar and most demanding. There is very little wiggle room. Live faith, don't talk about it. While all of us know this, the passage still makes us uncomfortable. Who hasn't passed by someone in need or heard about someone who is hungry and simply pushed the situation to the back of our consciousness. It is difficult, especially if you live in a major city, not to see many homeless people every day. What can one person do, we ask ourselves, and walk on. It is not that we are not generous, but it is impossible to respond every time and to every person.

A good friend asked me about this several years ago.What should he do about the homeless who approached his car stopped at a traffic light?  I told him about my friend Rick who always had packages of peanut butter filled crackers in his car. Whenever anyone approached, he would give him something to eat. My friend, listening to my story, knew what he would do. Not wanting to give money away, he bought 20 gift cards for Dunkin Donuts. Each time someone would stop him, he would give the person a gift card, and on occasion, offer to go with him to Dunkin Donuts. His action helped him live his faith in a simple way and over time allowed him to meet many really interesting people. The homeless and hungry, he discovered, might be mentally ill but they can also be very bright and insightful.

Today, live your faith in action and let God introduce you to paths of transformation.

Have you had an encounter or experience that challenged you to live the gospel more intentionally and publicly?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fools for Christ

"You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." Mk 8:33

St Peter, because of his good will and strong temperament, is forever getting himself in trouble. Quick to speak and offer an opinion, in today's scripture he challenges Jesus not to speak about his own suffering and death, and assures the Lord that he will intervene if anyone tries to hurt him. Though Peter had good will, he did not have good sense,. He spoke before he understood God's intent for Jesus, and Jesus puts Peter in his place in very direct terms. Get behind me Satan, these are human words not God's.

It can be very difficult to be corrected so directly and publicly, but that is often the price believers pay. Intent on announcing the Good News, they too often put their foot in their mouth. When Peter does this, Jesus points it out and seems to warn him that unless he learns, he will be in even more trouble. Still, we love Peter. We love his passion, his brazen willingness to defend Jesus for all the wrong reasons. We love Peter because he takes chances, not because he is arrogant, but because he is faith filled. That his faith is misplaced is not the issue. That he believes with all his heart is.

Most of us are too timid to take chances like Peter. We wait, gauge our responses and hope for the best. Thought we might avoid mistakes, we rarely witness to the one in whom we believe without dotting every I and crossing every T.  Do we need to ask for the courage and faith to change?

Today, ask God for Peter's big heart and passion.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"Everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger." Jas 1:20

The letter of James is often considered Christian wisdom literature because it reflects the best of the Jewish tradition. Paul also calls James one of the "pillars" of the early church, no doubt because he understood that Jesus was the fulfillment of God's promise to the Jews. Not sent to create a new religion, Jesus was the Messiah for whom the Jews had prayed and waited. James' task was to assure the Jews that Jesus' was God's gift from within their tradition, but for the whole world. It was this last aspect of Jesus' life that was so troubling. Though Jesus came to and from the Jewish community, he did not belong to them exclusively.

Today's passage begins powerfully, as James reminds his readers to listen well, speak only when necessary and to avoid anger. Then it builds even more, reminding the community to live the word, not just speak it. Of course, these injunctions are simply an emphasis we can find throughout the bible. In the third chapter of Provers we read, "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act." (3:28) Acting on God's word, not just announcing it, will always be the measure of our fidelity, and it is living the Good News in justice and peace that allows us to build authentic faith communities that cross over and include all the religious traditions in the world.

Today, ask God to let you reach out in faith for someone who is needy.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sts. Cyril and Methodius

"Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." Mk 8:15

The use of the vernacular, or the language of the people, has long been controversial in the Church. Even today there are those who think we should return to the use of Latin in the liturgy primarily because it is not a "living" language and, therefore, less subject to misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

When Sts Cyril and Methodius, whose feast we celebrate today, wanted to make Slavonic the language of the liturgy the Bavarian bishops reacted, fearful they would be stripped of their influence in the Slavic world. Clearly, the preaching of Cyril and Methodius was having  a powerful effect on the people. That the liturgy might also be celebrated in a language the bishops could neither speak nor understand made them very anxious.

Power is almost always an issue in our lives. When we lose the power to speak, to see clearly, to drive a car, own a home or influence a vote, we can react violently against authority and God.  We want our voice and our freedom. The Bavarian bishops were so afraid of losing their ability to guide the church that they forced Methodius into exile for three years, to no avail. Cyril and Methodius were trying to spread the gospel with every tool at their command. That they were impeded, even stopped for a while by those who should have celebrating their efforts, only made them stronger and more effective.

This dark bit of history ought to serve as a lesson for us as we learn to pray the new translation of the Sacramentary. No matter how awkward and rigid it might feel, we should not let it divide us more than we already are. The Roman Catholic Church in the United States is quickly losing its ability to influence our society for good, and we cannot afford to be battling the among ourselves about a translation when our mission to speak Good News all over the world is so demanding. For both bishops and laity, if we listen to the lesson of Cryil and Methodius, there should be only one question: How can we love one another, despite our differences, so the Word of God is announced with power and compassion?

Today, ask God to remind you of the gospel injunction to love your enemies.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"He sighed from the depth of his spirit." Mk 8:12

Most of us recognize Jesus' agonized sighing as something that comes over all of us from time to time. Though we explain ourselves clearly and carefully, a colleague, a friend or a family member misunderstands or misinterprets our intent. We explain again, even more slowly. Still, some claim not to understand us. Only when we realize and accept that some are resistive to our message, do we begin to have some peace! More, when we are deeply honest, we admit that we do the same thing to others.

Jesus has tried hard to assure his hearers that he is an observant Jew, a believer, but many, troubled by the power of his words and deeds, insist they do not understand him. He sighs out of frustration, and no doubt realizes that he is in a deadly arm wrestling match with the leaders of the Jewish community. Though he will continue to assure the Pharisees and scribes that he wants to work with them for the reform and renewal of the Jewish community, he knows that his efforts are fruitless. Nevertheless, Jesus continues to dialogue with the Jewish leaders, not because he expects them to change, but because it is the right thing to do.

We have the same obligation as believers. Without arrogance or resistance, we must listen to those who challenge our beliefs or seek to undermine our religious convictions. If we intend to follow Jesus' example, we have no other choice. Though we may doubt ourselves at times, we can be sure that the gospel message is too difficult for many to hear. Nevertheless, we must continue to announce God's Good News.

In today's gospel Jesus does the smart thing. He leaves his antagonists for a while and goes to the "other shore," allowing himself to cool off and his opponents to think again about their own behavior. Sometimes walking away from another argument is the best and most effective strategy to live the gospel.

Today, ask yourself if you are resisting hearing someone with whom you disagree.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Leprosy

"If you wish, you can make me clean." Mk 1:41

Communicable and deadly diseases always frighten us. Before anyone knew that HIV/AIDS could not caught by a sneeze or sharing a soft drink, there was immense fear in people about something they did not know. Even after it became clear that AIDS could only be spread by the exchange of body fluids through sexual contact, needle sharing and the very rare blood transfusion, people were very much afraid. Something as toxic as AIDS scares us and the same was true in the ancient world regarding leprosy.

That Jesus listened to the desperate pleading of the leper and allowed him to draw near is remarkable. Jesus knew that by associating with the leper he became unclean himself, but it did not matter. The leper was suffering not just from the disease but from the isolation imposed on him and all lepers. Lepers had to tear their clothes and call out "unclean" whenever anyone approached them. What a terrible punishment; what an awful life, but the leper who calls to Jesus for help ignores the teaching of rabbis and so does Jesus. After Jesus cleanses the leper he warns him to tell no one. Of course, the man newly made whole and freed from the desperate loneliness that was his life could not keep quiet. Who could remain silent about such a wonderful gift?

There is a leper in all of us. We obsess about our sins, want no one to see as we really are and even try to hide from God. That the society and church sometimes shun us is not the deepest pain. Too often we isolate ourselves through useless guilt. Only when we remember that we have been cleansed once and for all through baptism and forgiven over and over by Christ's redeeming love, are we really free. When this happens we cannot remain quiet. We must find our voice and announce the Good News. God wants us to draw near and desires to set us free. We have only to ask for help and healing will come.

Today, tell someone you have been made clean by the love of God.