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Saturday, March 10, 2012

God's Compassion

"Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt...who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency?" Mi 7:18

Sometimes it is almost impossible to appreciate the depth of God's love for us. Not only does the prophet Micah remind us that God does not remain angry at us, He delights in freeing us from our sins. Perhaps because we know ourselves so well and remember those times and people who, as our twelve step friends remind us, "live inside our heads rent free," it is overwhelming and wonderful to think of a God who forgets. Last week a friend reminded me of this when she repeated a phrase she had heard at a workshop. "It's easy to forgive and forget as long as the person we are forgiving doesn't forget that we forgave them."

This same theme continues in today's gospel when Jesus tells the story of the forgiving father who, after his son left home early and squandered his inheritance, catches sight of him "while he was still along way off." Apparently, the father, even after years of waiting, does not lose hope and looks for his son's return each day. God, the gospel suggests, is like this for us. We have only to turn towards "home" for God to come rushing out to embrace us. God does not focus of our misdeeds and sins, but on our willingness to repent.

Today, turn to God with all your heart.

What is God's mercy like for you?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Jealousy

"The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone." Mt 21:43

The scriptures are full of stories of intrigue and violence. Today we are presented with two of them, Joseph  sold into slavery by his own brothers, and the son of the vineyard owner killed by the tenants. In Lent, of course, they are preparing us for Jesus' suffering and death, but there is also a telling reminder in the middle of today's gospel. When we see only with our eyes and "not by faith," we miss hugely important lessons.

Engineers and architects have been fascinated for centuries by the simple but elegant style and form of Roman arches. Strong today even after 2000 years, the arches are built with stones almost exactly the same in size, except for the capstone which allows the arch to stand freely and strongly. The capstone is chipped at and broken so that it fits perfectly between the others. Rejected as a a regular building stone because of its odd shape, it becomes the capstone only after it is hacked at and formed in a way that allows the rest to stand together.  Our capstone, of course, is the Christ, who suffers so that the "arch" of God's kingdom can endure.

What a great lesson. While suffering is one of the most difficult of human experiences to explain, understand and accept, it comes to us all. Joseph must have been overwhelmed with hurt and sorrow when his brothers, out of jealousy, sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And the son of the vineyard owner in the gospel was killed, not because on anything he did, but simply because he was the messenger.  Both Joseph and the owner's son remind us to reflect deeply about our own envies and jealousies. How often we "kill" others with words and rumors thinking we can advance our owns standing in the community, only to have the one attacked become a symbol of hope by her willingness to endure suffering for a greater good. Women and men like Joseph and the vineyard owner's son are capstones and Christ figures who challenge us to transformation through suffering.

Today, welcome the uncomfortable and confusing.

When has suffering in your own life helped you enter more deeply into the mystery of God's love?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead." Lk 16:31

The story of the rich man and Lazarus, who lay at his door hoping for a morsel of food, is painful to read. It is not that being rich is bad. Rather, the rich are more likely to ignore the world as it is because they are comfortable. The Jews of old knew this well. God had reminded them often never to forget how they had been enslaved, otherwise they would be no better than the Egyptians who used them for their own profit. Life has not changed very much in this regard.

It is very easy to take for granted the "riches" we have. Whether our wealth lies in money and property or friends, family and honest work, we are at risk. When God's goodness to us is taken for granted, we begin to believe that we have earned everything we have, forgetting our "unearned privilege." As a boy, although we did not have much money, I went to school everyday, drank clean water, ate nourishing food and slept in a warm bed. I never thought much about these "riches." I did not earn them. They were my right, and I thought everyone in the world benefited from the same gifts. When it became clear to me that this was not the case, I knew my conscience would never rest until I did something for others out of justice, not simply out of love.

The rich man forgot who he was, and even Lazarus lying at his door did not wake him up. He ignored the injunction of Isaiah, "If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday." (Is 58:10) We can do the same with the message of Jesus. "Whatever you did for these the least of my brothers and sisters you did for me." (Mt. 25:40)

Today, feed someone who is hungry for hope, faith, compassion and understanding.

Share your experiences of feeding others.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Careless Words

"Let us destroy him by his own tongue; let us carefully note his every word." Jer 18:18

A few years ago, a friend had one of his emails circulated by others who thought it was very funny, until a coworker stumbled upon it and confronted him. "I saw what you wrote about Carol and I couldn't believe you were talking about her in such a vicious way." There was no doubt in the accuser's mind that my friend wrote something unacceptable, but they did not see what he was saying in context. Written in jest and with tongue firmly in cheek, he never expected his email  to become public. But there it was, right in front of him, and there was little he could do. He immediately sought out the person about whom he wrote and apologized. The same cannot be said of those who were seeking to undermine Jeremiah's authority as a prophet.

The people who were carefully noting Jeremiah's "every word," were not seeking the truth or reconciliation, but were trying to trap him. Afraid that Jeremiah's challenge to reform might be taken seriously, they looked for a way to undermine his influence and discredit him. The same thing happened to Jesus and he would have none of it. Because both Jesus and Jeremiah knew they had been empowered by God to speak the truth, despite its consequences, they had to speak.

Lent is a good time to "watch" our own words, rather than others. When we rush into confront others because of a real or perceived offense, we almost never accomplish what we hope. Responding with anger almost always increases the heat of an argument, while a calm, reasoned intervention that asks questions and seeks clarity allows everyone to think and respond in a way that helps all to reconcile.

Today, pray for someone unjustly accused.

What do you do when you hear someone's character being smeared?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Doing good

"Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow." Is 1:16

Justice is a common theme in the bible, and while it is proposed as a good in itself, it is also a foundational way to evaluate our lives, and a path to integrity. However, when individuals and institutions become more concerned with their own welfare, survival and advantage, they move away from the path of righteousness, and corruption soon follows. It is clear that this is what has happened to the church in the United States in recent years.

As the Catholic church grew and planted itself in American soil, it built schools, hospitals, orphanages and so much more. It also began to send missionaries around the world. It was a proud and strong church. Bishops, and sometimes even pastors, could call local civic officials and exert their influence. Stoplights would go up in front of Catholic churches, police patrols were more frequent and soon enough young Catholics began to take their place on planning and school boards, and in local, state and national legislatures. While this is the natural and good path that so many ethnic and cultural groups take in the United States, it can also be very dangerous.

Too often power becomes a good in itself and it is not exercised for the benefit of all, but for one individual,  institution or church. Justice for all, while proclaimed as a value, gets forgotten and institutions like the church become very self protective. There is no longer any doubt that a system like this, left unchecked and unregulated, led to the mushrooming of the sexual abuse scandal. Priests who never should have been reassigned were sent to new parishes more than once, and while they were warned not to offend again, their crimes were hidden from the people to whom they were sent and from their colleagues in ministry. How awful!

"Make justice your aim: redress the wronged," Isaiah shouts, and his challenge must be ours if we are ever to help heal the abused, reclaim the trust of the people and influence our society in a way that helps everyone have a better life, especially the voiceless.

Today, ask pardon for ignoring the gospel demand to live a just life.

Have you been the victim of injustice? Have you been unjust to others?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Judging

"Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned." Lk 6:37

Judging the motives of others is natural, but dangerous. Someone acts in a way that makes no sense to us and we immediately interpret it. In this election year we might find ourselves saying, President Obama is just trying to assure himself the women's vote, or Mitt Romney is trying to hide his wealth. We often base these judgments on one thing we heard on the news or our political prejudices. To this point, this kind of thinking and judging is normal and necessary. Not exploring our judgments and conclusions, and dismissing another person or political position completely based on very little evidence, is where we get ourselves in trouble with the Gospel.

Jesus was always being judged. Those threatened by his message tried to convince others that he only wanted to wrest power from the Pharisees and Sadducees, and exalt himself as a prophet and healer. It was very difficult for his enemies, and for us, to encounter a totally other centered person. Jesus came to announce the Good News of his Father. He wanted to remind us that we are saved and have only to turn to God in faith to receive this great gift. The gratuitousness of his goodness was too much to accept, even though it was only a fulfillment of what God had promised the Jews long before.

Judging without facts in order to undermine the goodness or motives of others for our gain is a sin, one which we should pray to be freed from this Lent. When indeed we encounter someone who apparently is manipulating others for his or her own gain our obligation is to confront them, not to destroy their person or reputation.

Today, judge others with God's compassion.

How have you confronted your own tendency to doubt others integrity?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Transfiguration

Please forgive the lateness of this post. I am giving a parish mission and tried to schedule it for publication, but it did not go out! Here is is.

"Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them." Mk 9:2

Conversion is a slow process. We need many reminders that we are God's people and that God is always with us. Like almost anything else we learn in life, we "get faith" for a while and then lose it. Because daily life often confuses and challenges us with questions about suffering, death, poverty and hunger, we forget who we are, and seasons like Lent are necessary to help us return to the "straight and narrow" path of Jesus.

Today the transfiguration of Jesus is like a Lent for the apostles. Jesus has been slowly letting the apostles know who he is, and today he makes it absolutely clear that he is the fulfillment of the prophets. One might say that it is the "baptism" of the apostles.

At the very beginning of Mark's gospel, Jesus is baptized, and as he comes out of the waters of the Jordan he hears God say, "You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased." (Mk 1:11) Today's gospel ends in a similar way, but this time the voice from the cloud is addressed to the apostles. "This is my beloved son, listen to him." (Mk 9:8)

Because the apostles now know that Jesus is God's son, even if they cannot yet put their minds completely around the revelation, they have new responsibilities. God is readying them for their mission, and while their obligation to announce Good News will be delayed, they will soon be God's messengers and message.

Our own faith life and Lenten journey are similar. We have moments of pristine clarity and insight, and then the fog returns and we can hardly see where we are going. Not being afraid of this process is the key to completing our pilgrimage. Conversion lasts our entire life and while we might lose our way, God never loses sight of us.

Today, try to remember a moment of transfiguration, when you knew exactly who you were.

What has been your experience of conversion into Christ?