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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Learning from your "Students"

"Teaching is food, even for the teacher." St. Gregory of Nazienzen

Anyone who has had the privilege of teaching, especially about our faith, knows the truth of what St. Gregory says. Not only is teaching food for the teacher, it is formative. A good principle in this regard, especially after many years of teaching, is to ask yourself whether you are still being formed by those you teach. All authentic teaching ought to be mutually enriching. Students, no matter how young, have a wisdom. No one is a blank slate, and everyone open to the grace of God, can and ought to learn her entire life.

Jesus is clearly food for the entire community of faith, but he also must have been moved and shaped by the steadfastness of his disciples, especially in view of his persecution by the leadership of the Jewish community. It must have been very difficult for his apostles to remain faithful to him and his mission in the face of so much opposition. Even though they knew their lives were threatened, they continued to follow him.

The challenge for contemporary believers is similar. It is no secret that the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church has lost is political capital, which makes it even more important for everyday Catholics to proclaim the Good News on behalf of the poor. The number of people without jobs and whose homes are threatened by foreclosure is huge. Almost 13 million Americans can't find work that will pay them a living wage, and when we stand firmly behind those who are struggling, we will also be fed by the truth. "Teaching is food, even for the teacher."

Today, tell the truth and proclaim the gospel with your life.

Have you ever lost your job and found solace in your faith?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Discernment and Good Works

"If I do not perform my Father's works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works." Jn 10:38

Discernment is a critical tool and virtue for Christians. Our role as disciples of Jesus Christ is to proclaim the freedom of the sons and daughters of God and build God's reign. How we do this is called discernment. Jesus himself told us not to cast pearls before swine, a rather harsh but clear example of discernment. Discernment is what allows to know how to proclaim God's word with power and hope. Some may be called to organize other Christians to build hospitals and schools. Others, like Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers, hear God's call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked directly. Both kinds of works are necessary, but each of us is called to some of the works of mercy, not all of them at once. Discernment allows us to know which of God's works to do today.

In today's gospel, Jesus has done his best to work on God's behalf and announce Good News, but his message is resisted, especially by the leaders of the Jewish community. He has no choice but to try other paths and to plead that even if the leaders resist his claims to be a Son of God, they judge him by his works and good deeds.

We must do the same. At different stages in our life, we will be called to change for the sake of God's mission, and while change is always difficult, it is necessary for the word of God to be spread to all the nations. At other times, our mission and discipleship will be ridiculed and our intentions questioned. None of this should matter to the believer. We can and will change our behaviors in order that God's word might be heard more clearly, but we must also announce God's love by our concern for those most in need. People may not agree with us, but they will not be able to deny that the works we do help others to live fuller human lives.

Today, try not to worry about how effective you are. Let God work in and through you.

Have your motives ever been challenged?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Forever

"I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you." Gn 17:7

When Abraham heard that he would be the father of many nations, he was very much afraid. After all, he was ninety nine years old and could not imagine that God would choose him for so noble a task. I can imagine that for a time at least, he thought he was going mad and that everything God said to him was only a dream. Abraham had been unable to conceive a child with Sarah and now this! How could it be. No doubt Abraham expected that God would lay heavy burdens upon him, and he was not sure he was up to the task.

But God's demands are light. Abraham had only to keep the covenant which God make with him in a unilateral way. He didn't have to worry about penalties and punishment. He had only to be circumcised so that there would a sign "in his body" that indicated his acceptance of the living God. God wanted Abraham to know peace and he wants us to be at peace, too.

The Covenant with Abraham, as Pope John Paul II reminded us often, has never been broken by God. Jews are God's chosen people and always will be. That Jesus is the new Covenant, the fulfillment of the old Covenant, is something we need to announce with passion and hope, but we can never forget that God's Covenant with Abraham is true and forever. The proof of our acceptance of this truth of our faith lies in our treatment of Jews as our brothers and sisters.

Today, glory in God's covenants with us.

Have you ever been frightened by God's call?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Forgetting who we are

"If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works of Abraham. But now you are trying to kill me." Jn 8:41

Each day as we near Holy Week, the confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees become sharper and harsher. Today Jesus accuses the Pharisees of not really being sons of Abraham because they do not do the works of Abraham. An onlooker from the 21st century wants to step between both parties and remind them that their arguments are producing more heat than light, but Jesus cannot stop.

The Pharisees have become interested only in defending themselves and their world view. No matter how Jesus approaches them, they resist his message. In fact, Jesus is simply saying that we know who we are and what we believe by how we live. If an olive tree does not produce olives for a number of years, it might look like an olive tree, but must be cut down to make way for a new tree.

While most of us would agree that healthy compromise between feuding parties is the best path to peace, compromise that ignores or demeans the poor among us can never be a gospel path. In New York recently we read about a settlement between the owners of the NY Mets baseball team and the trustee of the Bernard Madoff bankruptcy case. Mets fans might be happy but there was almost nothing written about small investors who lost their entire life's savings. When spectacular stories about the rich and famous distract us from the cry of the poor, we risk Jesus' wrath.

Today, ask the Lord to clear your mind and strengthen your soul to stand with the poor.

How do you react to injustice?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

To Whom Do You Listen

"So they (the Pharisees) said to him, "Who are you?" Jn 8:25

It seems clear that the Pharisees were treating Jesus like a nuisance. They simply wanted to be done with him. He was upsetting the people, challenging their authority and forcing them to use more force to dismiss his claims than they wanted. Though Jesus kept telling them who he was, they thought of him as a madman and paid no attention. Hence, today's question: Who are you?, and apparently Jesus' answer convinces many to listen to him. That he was willing to suffer and die was not something anyone expected from him, least of all his disciples, but he finally had everyone's attention.

The clarity of Jesus' mission is beginning to come into sharp focus.  Though he does not want the sacrificial role to which he is called, he is committed to doing his father's will, and the full force of what he claims is too much for the Pharisees to acknowledge, much less accept. They will have to find a way to kill him. In their view, he is a madman who cannot be tolerated. He is upsetting the delicate balance of power the Pharisees had crafted with the Roman authorities. More painfully, his death does not seem to matter to the Pharisees. One less  braggart or healer is little to sacrifice to preserve their tenuous authority.

It is impossible for us to miss the point. How many people do we fail to take seriously because they are not educated, are not well connected, come from a different culture, or seem unable to express themselves in public? Ghandi once challenged Christians by saying, if you cannot find Christ in the next person you meet, it is a waste of time looking further.

Today, ask God to open you eyes and hearts to see Christ everywhere

Has anyone from whom you expected little surprised you?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Annunciation

"How can this be?" Lk 1:34

Mary's question to the angel is haunting. How can this be? Indeed! We often ask the same question ourselves in any number of situations.  How can it be that almost 2 billion people die each year from water born intestinal diseases? How can it be that in a world which produces more than enough food for everyone to eat adequately, almost 1 billion people are hungry? How can it be that a mother of three small children is dying while another woman, desperate for a child, cannot get pregnant?

The questions are endless, and Mary helps us ask them. Though the only answer she received to her question about how she would be pregnant was an assurance that God's love would overshadow her, she seemed satisfied. It is not always so with us.

Today's feast is an answer of sorts to all our questions, but too often the answer is not to our liking or understanding. The basic promise of the new covenant is that God will be with us always, in times of light and darkness, in confusing as well as magnificently clear situations. Nothing more. The more is up to us. God makes us just, but we do not always act in a just manner towards others. God provides us with a world that produces sufficient food for all. It is up to us to distribute it, but even when we fail to live justly and to create just systems that do not demean the poor for being poor, God will not abandon us. While life will not always make sense, God is with us. Is that enough?  It was for Mary.


Today, let us say yes to all that is.


What do you do when life seems overwhelming?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Consoling Voice

"I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? 'Father, save me from this hour?' But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Jn 12:27-28

For most of us, thank God, life makes sense most of the time. We are blessed with homes, friends, food and family. We have resources upon which we can call when we are in trouble or sick. We know, even if we do not always appreciate it, that we are not alone.

Jesus had this same consolation in today's gospel. Troubled and upset, he hears a voice of consolation and confirmation from heaven just as he did when he came out of the waters of the Jordan after being baptized, and when he led his disciples up the mountain in his transfiguration. Still, the desire for a different path is within him. Anyone who wants to suffer for suffering sake is not listening to or living the gospel, but Jesus knows that suffering will be his lot because he had to confront those who were imposing impossible burdens on the poor in the name of God.

Learning to accept and even be grateful for life as it comes to us, no matter the suffering it brings, is one of the hardest lessons we learn. We push back, avoid, deny and wrestle with the dark turns that life brings us. Yesterday we celebrated the 32nd anniversary of Oscar Romero's martyrdom. Romero knew that if he continued to speak on behalf of the poor he would likely be murdered, but he could not and chose not to avoid this awful burden. That he gave his life for the gospel continues to uplift all, but especially those who work among and with the poor. Suffering is not good, but suffering for the sake of the truth and the voiceless is sanctity.

Today, accept whatever comes to you with gratitude.

Have you known anyone who gave their life for the sake of others?