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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mammon

"You cannot serve God and mammon." Mt 6:25

The gospel today is difficult. Though Jesus does not say you cannot have wealth, he does say you can't serve it, and therein lies the challenge. It is always a test of our values and wills when we have many possessions not to obsess over them or want to gain even more. We tell ourselves that we have worked hard and we deserve what we've gained, or that we need everything we have. That others work hard and still lack a steady job and sufficient income to live simple lives is something we try not to think about.

Jesus is almost always talking to and on behalf of the poor. It was the powerless and voiceless who were drawn to him because he was promising them a different future, not a life of plenty, but a life of hope, and it was this glimmer of light in a very dark world that brought them consolation.

It is no different for us. Only when we learn to serve God above all do we begin to live more simply and honestly. The acquisition of money and power over others for its own sake seems empty and fruitless. Only our relationships in faith with God and God's people (and we are all God's people!), fill us with a fullness that cannot be measured in visible ways.

Today, serve God by praying quietly for five minutes.


What are the greatest temptations for contemporary believers?

Friday, June 22, 2012

St. Thomas More

"For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." Mt 6:20

Often, we read the lives of the saints written by others. Although these books tell us something, it is far more compelling when we can read their own words. Although St. Thomas More lived in the sixteenth century, we have some of his letters, the most famous of which was written to his daughter Margaret while he was in prison awaiting his execution.

In a remarkable testimony of faith, Thomas writes,"And, therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best."

Every year as I read this letter I am moved. Knowing he would soon die, Thomas' faith demanded that he understand everything that happened to him through God's eyes. The same is true for us. When we can let go of our need to control life and allow God to work in us, everything is different. Though we might not understand how God is working, we accept that God has a plan, and that it will advance God's reign. Surely, this is true for St. Thomas More. How powerful his letter is even today. Thomas trusted God unto death and remains an icon of hope for us.

Today, let God run the world.

When do you find it most difficult to accept God's direction?

St Aloysius Gonzaga

Forgive me. Somehow I forgot to post this reflection yesterday.

"Like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah whose words were as a flaming furnace." Sir 48:1

Saints are not only a reflection of God's immense love, they also reflect their own culture. St. Aloysius Gonzaga is a ready example of this. Though bright and talented, and born into wealth and power, Aloysius rejected all of it, struggling with his parents and advisors who wanted him to use his family's influence to advance his status in the society.

Moved as a child to love God more deeply, and excited about stories of Jesuit missionaries to India, Aloysius resisted the lures of Renaissance life, and joined the Jesuits in his teens. Given to severe penances and long prayer, the Jesuits tried to moderate his spiritual life with little success, and when the plague struck Rome where he was living, Aloysius contracted the disease and died at twenty three.

None us us has to take on radical forms of penance and prayer, but all of us have to discern how it is God would have us live in a society that too often discards the poor, the weak and elderly as nuisances and unnecessary burdens. Jesus' command to feed the hungry, cloth that naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned must find a place and a form in every society if the Gospel is to endure as a life and a lifestyle.

Today, ask God for guidance about how to live the gospel in your particular circumstances.

What are your biggest obstacles to live the Gospel with simplicity and integrity?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wearing the Mantle of Jesus Christ

"Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may seem them." Mt 6:1

Being seen is often important for celebrities. Living in the New York area, there are always reports about actors, business people and athletes at this or that event, with photographers recording their every move and word. Although many claim not to enjoy this part of celebrity, I am not so sure. Without all the photos, radio and TV appearances, their name and image would slip from public consciousness and their fame, which is already fleeting, might disappear completely. Celebrities need a kind of notoriety to get work and demand high salaries.

This is not the way Jesus envisions the lives of his disciples. In fact, he is clear: Do not let your right hand know what your left is doing. Don't prance about in public in order to be noticed. Do the right thing for the right reason, not to be seen but to promote God's reign.

Elisha remembered to wear the mantle of Elijah because it was Elijah's spirit that empowered him. When we remember that we are to wear the mantle of Jesus Christ, we will not worry about how we appear. Rather, we will live the gospel transparently, not for personal gain or even our salvation, but so that all might see in us the power of Jesus Christ. 


Today, avoid the spotlight.

Whose life of simple, transparent faith most moves you to live the Gospel without concern for personal gain?


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Stealing

"Have you seen that Ahab has humbled himself before me? Since he has humbled himself before me,I will not bring the evil in his time." I Kgs 21:29

Jezebel's vulgarity stuns us. Wanting to please her husband, King Ahab, who is wild with anger because Naboth will not sell him his vineyard, Jezebel has Naboth proclaimed head of his people and then gets two "scoundrels" to accuse him of cursing God and her husband. Soon afterwards, the people drag Naboth out of the city and stone him to death allowing Ahab to take possession of Naboth's vineyard.

Initially, it seems that Jezebel's vengeance against Ahab will go unpunished, but God sends Elijah the prophet to confront Ahab about his sinful role in Naboth's death. Almost immediately, Ahab tears his clothes, dresses in sackcloth and fasts. God accepts Ahab's humble actions and decides not to punish him personally but promises to punish his son.

Unfortunately, most of us can identify with Jezebel. Hurt, angry or frustrated, we undermine the character of another by saying nothing when praise is called for, or too much when we would do better to be silent. Subtly but surely, we steal the power of others who need our support. More important, the life of the community, which is our life blood as a church, is damaged by our sin.

Today, ask to be free of anger.

How have you stolen the good name of another?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Resist Winning

"You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil." Mt 5:38

Today's scripture is what scholars call a "hard saying of Jesus." It would be unnatural not to resist it. There must be some way to understand, we reason, that will help us make sense of it, or ignore it, or dismiss entirely it as rabbinical hyperbole.

None of this will work, of course. We must face the implications of discipleship with and of Jesus. The gospels are demanding for very good reasons. The only way Jesus' first followers would be able to demonstrate their total dependence on God would be to respond to evil with kindness, to go beyond even what the law demanded. In Jesus' view, our refusal to be vengeful is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. Because we believe in the saving redemption of Jesus, we are strong enough to work for reconciliation despite the cost.

Today, pray to let go of unfettered competition and winning at all costs.

Do you think the gospel demands non-violence?




Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cedars and Seeds

 
"Thus says the Lord GOD: I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar, from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot, and plant it on a high and lofty mountain; on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it." Ez 17:22

It is difficult to overstate the importance of cedars in the bible. They are mentioned 75 times in the Hebrew bible in 18 different books, and always they are a symbol of all that is good about God's love for his people, even when God's people are unfaithful.

Ezekiel, the first of the prophets to be commissioned outside of Jerusalem, is particularly harsh in his condemnation of the Jewish nation, comparing her to a promiscuous woman and warning her that God's wrath will not easily be quieted. Still, he promises that Israel will rise again, but only because God will take a tender shoot from the topmost branches of the cedar and plant it on the highest point in Israel. Just as Israel reaches the point of despair, God responds and renews.

These images should be helpful to faith filled Catholics in the days of our diminishment, especially in the developed world. While it might take generations for us to recover from the scandal of sexual abuse and the failures of the church in the U.S., God will not be silenced. Even now Mark suggests, God is scattering "seed on the land," (4:26) that will "sprout and grow" in ways we cannot see or appreciate. It is this faith that we cling today as we enter more deeply into God's way of healing and hope.

Today, be sweet smelling cedar for others.

Is there a particular biblical image that fills you with hope?