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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Blessed Kateri Tekawitha

"'Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" "Here I am," I said; "send me!'" Is 6:8

The few writings we have from Kateri Tekawitha are remarkable. How a woman with so little formal catechesis developed such a sophisticated understanding of what it meant to live an heroic life in Christ is astounding.

Struck down by smallpox as a young girl that left her skin pockmarked, she was also partially blind, not a great candidate for marriage in the Native American world into which she was born. Kateri seemed not to care about this, even as a girl, after she discovered  Christ and began to learn about his life and promises. Having lost her parents in the same  smallpox epidemic that left her disfigured, she ran away from her uncle's home and attached herself to a village near Montreal where a group of Jesuits had established a church and small community of believers. There she grew in faith in more traditional ways. She committed herself to prayer, fasting and service of others.

Kateri's life reminds us that having everything we desire or think we need is not as important as knowing Christ intimately. Whether like Kateri we bear with physical limitations or carry the emotional scars of a difficult childhood matters little if we accept who we are in Christ and see ourselves in God's eyes. When Kateri discovered this great path to faith, she never wavered and remains a model for us in challenging times and circumstances. Life is not first of all about health, wealth and security in this world. It is about commitment, acceptance and joy in the knowledge of God's love and care for us.

Today, ask to accept yourself as you are and see where God takes you.

What do you think it takes to live an heroic life in Christ in our day?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Shrewd

"Be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves." Mt 10:16

Sometimes Jesus' advice to his disciples startles us. Most of us understand the call of the gospel to simplicity and transparency.  Although it might be uncomfortable, we realize there is a challenge in the good news not to worry about how we appear before others, not to try to impress others with our insight or wisdom. If we embody God's wisdom, God will do what God needs to do in and through us.

Shrewdness, on the other hand, is not something we usually associate with gospel living. Shrewd people make deals, compromise their ideals and work a crowd to get their way. It does not sound like a stance the followers of Jesus should take.

While it is clear that Jesus does not want his disciples to take advantage of others, he does want them to protect themselves from manipulation. Shrewdness means not allowing oneself to be trapped by false praise or individual honor. The shrewd person listens with the heart and discerns well what it is God wants, not to enhance his or her personal reputation or prestige, but to enliven and build up the entire community of faith.

Today, listen deeply to who it is God would have you be, and act upon it discreetly.

Have you known shrewd people of faith?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Give Unconditionally

"Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give." Mt 10:8

Gratitude is fundamental to the Christian vocation. It is easier to understand this if you have had to live with little, and surely this was the case for the first disciples. Fishermen for the most part, they were like subsistence farmers, living from hand to mouth, grateful for the days catch. Success on the waters would make it possible for them to feed their families and perhaps have a little left over with which to barter for oil, grain, salt and other essentials.

Perhaps because of their everyday gratitude for God's simple gifts, the apostles were ready to hear Jesus' call to radically change their lives. It was not that they would receive very much in the way of material goods. Rather, they gained a relationship with a rabbi who asked them to follow him and not be afraid, and while the earliest followers of Jesus often got confused about the cost of discipleship, they also heard him promise them a hundred fold in this world, and eternal life. How could they not be grateful?

The fulness of Jesus' promise to his apostles remains as rich today as when it was first offered. Although it involves great sacrifice and trust, if we remember that everything we have is a gift, even though we will often stray from this truth, it is impossible not to want others to receive the same gift. Giving freely of the faith that has come to us unconditionally and unreservedly is natural and necessary for its message to go forward.

Today, be grateful for what is and let it transform you.

How has the gospel most impacted your lives?


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

St Benedict

"Break up for yourselves a new field, for it is time to seek the LORD." Hos 10:12

One of the tasks of the great Rabbis was to reduce the entire Law and Prophets to as few words as possible while still retaining the fulness of truth they embody. Jesus does this in his response to those trying to "trip him up" by reducing the Law and Prophets to two values: Love God totally and your neighbor as yourself.

This same lens is used by the founders of the great religious movements of the Christian West. In order, as Hosea says, to break up a new field, St. Benedict first fled the insanity of his times to live for three years in the desert. Returning finally, he gathers like minded men around him in order to lead a communal life. Committing themselves to stability, Benedict and his followers also insisted that ora et labora, prayer and work, be the foundations of monastic life. Whatever other iterations might develop to foster gospel living, these two pillars must endure.

The genius of this particular gospel path allows others who follow to "read the signs of the times" and ask how these founding charisms might live in every age. Because the values of prayer and work are so rich and deep, as long as they remain the building blocks for every age, new expressions might develop for those who want to lead an authentic monastic life in the 21st century.

Today, pray to take hold again of the building blocks of Christianity: Love God and neighbor.

What are the most important signs of the times to which we must respond in our day for the Gospel to be heard?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Harvest

"The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest." Mt 9:38

What master or owner of a farm or field would not want to gather up a rich harvest?  Having spent hundreds of hours, preparing, sowing, weeding and watering, the harvest is a time to collect the "wages" of their work, and because in many cases there are only a few days to accomplish this, most farmers rush to gather up what they have sown as soon as the crop is ready.

Nevertheless, some of us are so busy with other matters that we lose sight of our priorities, and fail to respond to fields overflowing with produce. When we do this, our delay can cost us everything. Although it is clear that Jesus wanted his hearers to respond fully to all those seeking God and God's word, there were those among the leaders of the Jews who resisted the power of his preaching and sought to undermine his authority. When they did this, the possibility of a new harvest for them was lost. The same can be true of us.

Paying attention to all that God is doing among us is essential for believers. We cannot afford to dwell too long on our diminishment and losses. Though we may have failed to respond fully in the past to Jesus' call to discipleship, the call is repeated today for everyone who has ears to hear and eyes to see. The harvest is ready and plentiful. Seek help in gathering it in.

Today, invite someone to help you spread the Good News.

Who is the most convincing "harvester" you know?

Monday, July 9, 2012

God's Desire

"I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the LORD." Hos 2:22

God wanting, even promising to marry us, is an extraordinary image that occurs regularly in the Old Testament, but especially in the book of Hosea. The intensity and desire of God to be with us in a committed and eternal embrace is always worthy of our reflection and prayer.

At the same time, this is not the kind of religious imagery that helps everyone, especially those for whom marriage has been a painful endurance test, hardly a reflection of God's intent for anyone. Nevertheless, God's yearning for a relationship with us has to be expressed with images since words alone cannot contain the power of God's call to the human family.

Most important, no matter how we express or imagine it, we should never forget God's fidelity to us. Even when we resist, deny or reject God's love, God persists. Creating an environment of justice and peace everywhere allows each person, culture and nation to enter this mystery and be transformed by it.

Today, open yourselves to God's desire to be our spouse.  

What images or metaphors most help you to put aside your fear and enter God's embrace?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Weakness as Strength

"That I, Paul, might not become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated." 2 Cor 12:7

The nature of St Paul's "thorn in the flesh" has fascinated Christians for centuries. Some believe Paul had  opponents within the early Christian community who undermined his word and authority. Others suggest he struggled with his physical appearance which he feared might distract people from hearing God's word, and, while there is little evidence in the text, there are those who believe that he suffered severe sexual temptations

My personal bias is that Paul, while writing beautifully and lyrically, suffered with a speech impediment. How difficult it is for anyone to stutter or freeze when called upon to speak in public. How much more difficult it must have been for Paul who, knowing his authority was from God, wondered why God would not allow him to speak with the same beauty with which he wrote.

Ironically, it is often the weakness of others, especially when it is accepted, that draws us to them, and while Paul admitted his struggle might be God's will, it was still painful for him to stumble so obviously before others.

In the end, however, whatever it was that troubled Paul, it is very clear to most that our weaknesses help us face our own struggles and develop the kind of compassion that draws others to faith.

Today, embrace your weakness.

Have your weaknesses ever turned into strength?