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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Ephphatha

"Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened!" Mk 7:34

Hearing others can be very difficult. Sometimes the one to whom we are listening has an accent. Other times, they speak in code language or from a cultural perspective that is different than ours. But perhaps the most difficult people to hear are the disingenuous, those who, while not lying are trying to say things so carefully that we become completely confused.

When we read about someone in the gospel who cannot speak or hear, we immediately presume they have a physical disability, and in today's gospel that is probably true. But just because Jesus opens their mouths and ears does not mean they will listen carefully or speak honestly, and that is what we need to attend to for our own growth.

Miracles can be distracting unless we realize Jesus' intent is to demonstrate his power and establish himself as credible, but he is also clear that a miracle in itself lacks power if the person healed does not change. In this case, the person without speech or the ability to hear must speak and listen compassionately. Otherwise, the work of Jesus loses its power.

The same is true for us today. When the Lord opens our ears and loosens our tongues, we must listen and speak with care, concern and discernment. The purpose of our speaking and listening is to announce the Good News of Jesus, not advance our own reputation.

Today, ask to speak and listen with more openness of spirit.

Who has listened to and spoken with you in a transforming way?

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Birthday of Mary

"Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means 'God is with us.'" Mt 1:23

Birthday's are festive times, and although Mary probably didn't celebrate hers like 21st century Americans, we ought to celebrate it with real joy. Mary is the one who’s "yes" to the angel and God made possible the entrance of Jesus into history and her birthday might be a time for us to light a few candles to remember her life and her sorrows.

There are few saints who teach us more about accepting and celebrating life as it unfolds than Mary. Apparently content with her life, especially after she was promised in marriage to Joseph, her life turned upside down when she was still a young girl. A visit from an angel invited her to know God in a more intimate way than anyone before her, but this knowledge came at a great price. She would be talked about and ridiculed, forced to flee her country and family, and when she was free to return to Palestine after Herod's death, she would be faced with the awful burden of watching her son suffer and die as a common criminal.

No wonder we want to celebrate her birthday. Mary's nativity invites us to trust that even that which appears and feels like an overwhelming sorrow, will be transformed by God into hope for all peoples and all nations. Happy birthday, Mary. Thank you for showing us the path to hope in darkness.

Today, ask God for the grace to embrace whatever comes your way.

What it is about Mary that most moves you to say yes to God's path for you?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Old Wine

"No one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good.'" Lk 5:39

Wine drinkers often suggest that wine which has had time to age and then breathe once it is opened, is better. Using this image, Jesus affirms the truth and integrity of the Covenant God made with Abraham, but also challenges those who have lived it for generations not to oppose growth and development. His is new wine and while he will not compare it to the old, or suggest that it is better, he will offer it to the world as a fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. Though new, the Covenant that Jesus makes with his followers is good, powerful and transforming in its own right, but there is no need to reject the old. Rather, Jesus challenges all to sip both old and new wine and see whether they complement and fulfill one another.

The challenge of Jesus remains with us today, and ought to inform our conversations with other religious traditions, but especially with the Jewish people. There is always a risk, especially when we allow ourselves to argue without listening, that we will fail to hear the truth others have and want us to know. Unfortunately, this is especially true of the church's relationship with Jews. History reminds us that Christians have called Jews "perfidious" even in our most solemn prayers and demeaned Jews by labeling them Christ killers.

Though Vatican Council II and Blessed John Paul II were especially strong in addressing this sin, a prejudice against Jews often remains stuck in Christian hearts. (Nostra Aetate) Listening to Jesus today reminds us not to reject Jews but to enter into a loving and respectful dialogue with them. Neither religion should be afraid of the other. Both old and new wine are good!

Today, pray to be free of deeply ingrained prejudice.

Have you had an experience of inter religious dialogue that led you to new understanding and transformation?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fishing God's Way

"Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets." Lk 5:5

It is natural to wonder what it was that moved Peter to obey Jesus and lower his nets for a catch. Peter is the fisherman, not Jesus, and has been fishing all night with no success. Despite being tired, Peter listens to the Lord's command, and hauls in a large number fish, but this is not the point of the story. That the Apostle's will "catch" men and women is, and it is still the story.

Our task as Christians is to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ with passion and conviction, all the while knowing that it is not our eloquence or insight that will move our hearers but the power of God alive in us and in the Word. When we have the faith to listen, discern and obey God's command, even if it is counter intuitive or contradicts our experience, our success as evangelizers, like Peter's, will be assured.

Today, let go of your prejudices about how to be effective disciples and let God guide you.

Who or what has been most effective in your understanding and living of the Gospel?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Authority in the Church

"Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth...you are God's field, God's building." I Cor 3: 7, 9

Division in any community or family is discouraging at best and seriously destructive at worst. St Paul knew this and when he experienced deep divisions in the church at Corinth he did everything he could to address them. It also seems clear that these divisions worried him, not only because they were counter to the spirit of the Gospel, but because the community at Corinth was very small, and Paul was afraid it would shatter.

All of this makes it important to attend to and pray about the divisions in the church in the United States today. More and more people, hurt and angry about what appears to them either as a turning away from the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, or a refusal to be faithful to the teaching magisterium of the church, are sharply divided over many issues from the treatment of women to the role of the church in politics.

Underneath all these divisions, however, is the question of the legitimate power and authority of the bishops, and it seems that Paul's reminder today might help all. If we are God's field, God's building, then bishops, priests, religious and laity need to work together against divisions that pit us against one another unnecessarily. Finding common ground and working together on projects that foster the common good and justice in the world might be a good place to start.

Today, give God an opportunity to give you growth by letting go of something that divides you from other believers.

What is the proper role of authority in the church?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Spread the News

"News of him spread everywhere in the surrounding region." Lk 4:37

Sometimes the gospels make Jesus sound like a contemporary rock star. When something good or bad happens to Bruce Springsteen or Jay-Z, the word spreads like wild fire. Fans follow their heroes' blogs and twitter posts like young people years ago followed baseball players' statistics, but it is all empty knowledge. No one suggests that it isn't fun or interesting, but it is not important as a Gospel value.

News spread quickly about Jesus because he spoke with a power people did not expect him to have and a freedom from fear that startled those who heard him. Often critical of the leadership within his own community, he challenged everyone to reform their lives and live the Torah not just talk about it.

More important, he became the voice of the poor. Born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, it was not difficult for people to wonder why anyone would listen to him, but the poor knew him to be on their side and to promise them that salvation was not a reward for being faithful to the Torah but a free gift to all who handed their lives over to God, and committed themselves to the service of others as witness to the God who serves us all.

Today, spread the news of the One who sets us free.

From whom do you hear the Good News most naturally?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

St. Gregory the Great

"You faith might rest not on human wisdom, but on the power of God." 1 Cor 2:5

Paul's words to the church in Corinth are as important today as they were when they were first written, and we can find evidence for this in the life of almost every saint. Gregory the Great wanted only to be a monk, to live a quiet life of prayer and work, but God had other plans. Because he did not seek the office of bishop or pope, his reflections about these offices in the church become even more important.

Reminding bishops that they should think of themselves first as physicians whose only concern is the health of their patients, he writes, "A religious leader should be careful in deciding when to remain silent and be sure to say something useful when deciding to speak. In this way he will avoid saying things that would be better not said, or leaving unsaid things that ought to be said." (Pastoral Care)

Learning when to speak and when to keep silent is a lifetime challenge, especially for those who have authority in families and churches. All of us would do well to listen to St. Gregory. Not only would we avoid silly and unnecessary disputes, we would allow people time to step away from divisive language and attitudes. What a gift that would be in today's world and church!

Today, if you are unsure of what to say, say nothing.

Who has taught you most by their patient silence?