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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Helplessness

"Jesus then said to the Twelve, 'Do you also want to leave?' Simon Peter answered him, 'Master, to whom shall we go?'" Jn 6:68

Many years ago while visiting a young missionary friar in Central America, I learned of a struggle many friars had with women to whom they were ministering in small mountain villages. Abused often by their heavy drinking husbands, the women would not leave their villages. Initially, the friars thought the women were staying because of the vows they took when they married. Only after many visits did they realize they were staying with their abusive husbands because they had no place to go. Penniless, they felt trapped. With three or four children, it seemed impossible to them to go anywhere. Instead, they endured the abuse for the sake of their children, and the friars stood by them as best they could.

For those who work in the developing world, situations like this arise regularly, and sometimes I wonder whether Peter was saying something similar to the women of Central America when he asked Jesus, "To whom shall we go?" Indeed, Peter was a fisherman with few options. He was probably illiterate and owned no property. To what could he return? While the gospel writers cast Peter's response as an act of faith, which it surely was, it might also reflect his powerlessness.

For many religious women in the United States, the situation is similar. Having given their entire lives to schools, hospitals, retreat centers, the poor, and so much more, they now have to wrestle with a challenge by the Congregation  for the Doctrine of Faith to the Leadership Conference of Women Religions (LCWR), the umbrella organization to which so many of their congregations belong. For those of us who were educated by sisters and supported by them in so many ways, whether there are matters to which the LCWR must attend is besides the point. Just like the women in Central America, they need us to stand beside them in faith until a just solution is reached. The LCWR has said as much in its prayerful, considered response on its website. (1)

Today ask yourself what you do when you feel powerlessness in the face of overwhelming problems?

How can we stand with the poor and the powerless in their everyday lives?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Sweet and Bitter

On occasion, my commentary is from a different part of the daily liturgy than the mass. Today's blog is a reflection on the Book of Revelation that we pray in the Office of Readings

"I took the small scroll from the angel’s hand and swallowed it. In my mouth it was like sweet honey, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour." Rev 10:10 as found in today's Office of Readings

If you have been poor most of your life, as were the apostles of Jesus, the announcement in the Book of Revelation that neither wealth, nor health nor a large and successful family were signs of God's enduring love would taste like sweet honey. No longer would you have to strive to be like others, nor would you be always seeking to own something or someone. Rather, you would be anxious to eat this honey over and over again. Unfortunately, when you repeated this message, your stomach would turn sour. That is the clear message of the 10th chapter of Revelations to the early church. That which was at first sweet would become sour in the telling because you were challenging people to have different standards of success.

The same was true of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis tells the whole world that before God gave him the grace to kiss a leper, he was lost, but after kissing him (or her?) what before was bitter was turned into sweetness of body and soul. While this was true for Francis when he chose to live like and with lepers, his message was bitter for others, especially his own father, who wanted Francis to grow even richer than he himself was. When Francis rejected his father's wealth for a life of minority and poverty, he not only lost the love of his father, he threatened the feudal system into which he was born.

The gospel is always a threat and a bitter pill to swallow when it challenges us to reexamine how we live, and how we look at others. Unless we ask for the gift of seeing all creation with God's eyes, we miss the sweetness of the message. God loves all unconditionally, not just Jews and Christians, but all people. God even loves our enemies.

Today, ask God to let you taste the sweetness of his word, even in the telling.

Have you ever known anyone who changed their life and lifestyle completely in order to live the Gospel more completely?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Angels

The angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, "Get up and head south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route." Acts 8:26

 Angels can be annoying. Throughout the scripture, they pop up and make demands. Go here, go there, they say, and we are supposed to listen. In today's text from Acts, Philip is told to go from the metropolis of Jerusalem to the desert of Gaza. More, the word south in Greek can also mean at noon. How strange! People in the ancient neareast almost never traveled at midday because the heat could be overwhelming, but Philip does not hesitate. That he meets someone along the road who is anxious to learn more about the bible is no accident. Because he listened to the angel and did as he was instructed, an opportunity to announce the Good News presents itself and he is more than ready to respond.

The scriptures today ask us whether we are ready to listen to the voice of God however it comes us. Even more important, are we prepared to help those who want to know more about faith and how to understand its mysteries. This is not to say that everyone needs to become a catechist, but that all of us should be prepared to share our experience of the Risen Lord. Openness to God's spirit assures us, as it did Philip, the we "should not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given to you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit." Mk 13:11

Today, don't be afraid of angels.

Have you ever experienced God acting through you in ways you never expected?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

St Mark

"Clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another." 1 Peter 5:5

Commentaries on the scriptures are full of midrash, a homiletic method of biblical explanation that fills in the gaps that the text does not reveal directly. There are midrashim about Mary, for instance, at Cana which suggest what she was thinking when she told Jesus, "They have no wine."

Another Mirash about the miracle at Cana concerns Mark, whose feast we celebrate today. Legend has it that he was one of the servants who filled the six stone water jars with water. When Jesus changed the water to wine, Mark was especially startled and moved by Jesus' power and compassion, and it was at Cana that he decided to follow Jesus as a disciple.

Though we cannot "prove" any of these stories through the lens of history as we record it today, we can be sure that something moved the hearts of those who encountered Jesus to follow him and risk their lives to proclaim the good news he was preaching.  The same is true for us. Very few conversions that last are built on intellect alone. Only when our hearts are moved does the truth of the Gospel change us forever.

Today, think about the experiences of faith you have had and be grateful?

What stories of conversion most impacted your faith life?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

More than bread

"I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst." Jn 6:35

Jesus is many things to many people. For some he is healer; for others he is God's word who enlightens the whole world. In today's gospel, Jesus reminds all that he is not simply a source of free food, but the bread of life who will feed us forever if we form a relationship with him.

Right relationships, about which the prophets so often spoke, are always a source of life for believers in the one God. It is through right relationships with God, others and all creation that we enter into the mystery of God's love with awe and thanksgiving. 

Unfortunately, like the people in today's gospel, we too often want God to "give us bread" so that we can go about our lives without worry or need and return to God only when we want something else. More sadly, if God does not give us what we want, we seek other gods and cling to anyone or anything in our path that satisfies us for the moment. Money and the ownership of property, for instance, can appear to answer all our needs, but that is not what Jesus promises. Rather, he wants to enter a right relationship with us that "preserves the integrity, resilience, and beauty" (1) of God and all creation. Jesus reminds us of this when he says, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength...(and) You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Mk 12: 30-31)

Today, examine your relationships and ask God to make them "right.".

Who do you most admire because of the integrity, resilience and beauty of their relationships?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Imagine God Anew


"Let the mountains skip with gladness, and the joyful valleys ring...Christ...has lifted up the portals of our home beyond the stars." Let the Holy Anthem Rise (Hymn)

Sometimes it is a hymn that moves our spirits, and surely the Easter hymn, Alleluia, Alleluia, Let the Holy Anthems Rise, can lift our hearts in praise. A poem, this song is filled with images that help us recognize how impossible it is to adequately acknowledge the transforming power of Easter. That the mountains skip, and the valleys ring out with song, remind us that all creation has been changed by the God who can't wait to welcome us to our eternal home.

At times, the language of poetry and hymns reminds us of what some unfairly label "new age" spirituality, but how else can we speak of Easter without setting our imaginations free? Skipping mountains may not appeal to everyone, but it is a wonderful way of helping us picture God's love for us. That creation itself rises up with joy because of God's gracious forgiving love helps us step beyond the rational language of ordinary discourse in order to celebrate how much God loves us and wants us with him forever.

Today, breathe in the breath of God and let it free you to dream.

Have you known someone who helped unlock your imagination so that your faith might grow?






Sunday, April 22, 2012

Advocacy

"We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one." 1 Jn 2:1

More than thirty years ago, following the renewal of religious life commissioned by Pope Paul VI, the Capuchin friars incorporated "house chapters" or formal gatherings of the friars to discuss our life and lifestyle. While  these meetings sometimes devolved into a sharing of our schedules, our new Constitutions intended them to be a forum in which we both reflected on our common life and shared our struggles and joys in living the Capuchin life. For me there was enormous wisdom in encouraging the friars to meet regularly to discuss our life together because I had noticed that every time our local fraternity added or lost a member life changed, and unless we attended to these changes we would struggle more than necessary to live well together.

People need to have a voice in families, fraternities and societies, and when new members are not given a voice they will take it either by talking too much or not at all at community gatherings. Whether a friar or a new member of a parish council chooses to over talk or say nothing, they have a voice, and unless they are asked to articulate their concerns and vision, they will block the work of the friary or the council.

All of this is implied in today's second reading when the first letter of John reminds us that we have an Advocate, one who speaks for us before God and the people. Because the apostles and disciples were told not to speak about Jesus after the resurrection, they needed an Advocate, a defense lawyer, who would empower them to speak for themselves. Afraid of the consequences of speaking out, the disciples needed the grace and strength to move beyond their fears to announce the Good News that God had set us free in Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of Jesus would continue to accompany the church throughout history. When we embrace this power, we speak and live without fear and with integrity, and become Advocates for all the voiceless in society, especially the poor.

Today, ask God to help you speak Good News without fear.

Who most impresses you with their willingness to speak with and on behalf of the poor?