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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Second Sunday Advent

"Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel." Is 12

As we continue our preparation for Christmas it is easy to forget that the Holy One of Israel is already among us. The waiting we are encouraged to do during Advent is not primarily about Jesus, but us. We are the ones who have to be patient with ourselves as we try to sort through all that we need to do. Only when we are patient with ourselves and others will we have enough time and energy to be joyful.

The wonderful gift of those we most admire in faith is that they seemed never to forgot who they were or what their mission was. Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa of Calcutta come immediately to mind as women who knew their work was of God, and their own success was secondary to the challenge they had to live the Gospel with integrity and hope.

When I think of friends who have died, I almost always remember their goodness and kindness, not their struggles with faith or family. It is a gift, I think, to focus on what worked for others and what works for us on the journey of faith. When we try too hard to rid ourselves of faults our lives can become self absorbed. We worry more about how we are doing than what God wants us to do and be.

Today, cry out with joy for what God has already done in you.

What is the best gift I can bring to the community of faith?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Elijah and John the Baptist

Although unnerving, it is always good to attend to people who come into our lives "with fire." These are the people who challenge and sometimes upset us. They remind us not to take life and its delights for granted, and even more to avoid condemnation by changing now. Not all of these figures are religious, but many are, and when we fail to listen to them our lives get even more confused.

Both Elijah and John the Baptist unnerved and upset their contemporaries. Prophets often do that. Elijah's words were like "a flaming furnace," consuming those who had turned away from God, but warming those who had lived according to the law and prophets despite being in exile.

John the Baptist consoled his disciples with a baptism of forgiveness, but unhinged others who wanted to hold onto a power that was not theirs. Drunk, Herod promises his daughter anything she wants, but when Salome asks for John's head, Herod realizes he has committed himself to a path that will lead to his own destruction.

As we prepare ourselves during Advent to say yes to God at Christmas, it is better to listen and reform our lives now. Otherwise, our yes will be hollow and our Christmas flat. The joy that Christmas holds will be replaced by empty gift giving and our spirits will know that a deeper reform is necessary if we hope to enjoy the fullness of Christmas' promises.

Today, fast for a few hours in order to appreciate the great gift of food.

What most helps you to reform your life?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

St John of the Cross

Quench my troubles, 
For no one else can soothe them; 
And let my eyes behold You, 
For You are their light, 
And I will keep them for You alone.
St John of the Cross -- Spiritual Canticle

The poetry of St John of the Cross is remarkable not only for its beauty, passion and power, but because he wrote most of it while in prison! John carried his cross not only in name but in fact. His own Carmelite community imprisoned him for nine months because he would not renounce the reform of the Carmelites which he had helped found. Though he did not deserve the hard sentence he received, John did not complain but used the time to reflect, pray, and memorize the poems he wrote in the dark. Clearly, God supported him while imprisoned in a 10x6 ft cell, and that was enough of a consolation to keep John alive and growing in spirit.

Though most of us will not have to endure months in a dark cell, all of us do have dark moments. When a friend falls sick, a relative dies, a niece or nephew loses his or her job, or the marriage of friends collapses, we are often are unable to find a word that helps others make sense of the mess, and the darkness they feel overshadows us as well. 

The example of John of Cross can help us. When darkness comes, remember the one who is the light. Pray more, even without consolation. Laugh more even if you don't feel it, and take more time for quiet and reflection. Sometimes when we are strong enough to say nothing, our message is the strongest.

Today, sit in the dark and pray for someone in pain.

How do you manage the dark periods in your life or the life of your family?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

St Lucy

"I am the LORD, your God, who grasp your right hand; It is I who say to you, 'Fear not, I will help you.'" Is 41:13

Sometimes the church is accused of exalting virginity as a virtue and forgetting that marriage is a sacrament that celebrates human and sexual intimacy as spiritual practices. While an overemphasis on celibacy can happen, it does not have to be this way. St. Lucy, about whom we know little except that she refused to renounce her faith when a fellow she refused to marry "accused" her of being a Christian, is a good example.

Chastity was not just a personal virtue for Lucy but a social one. When she opted for celibacy rather than marriage, she renounced pleasure as an end in itself and proclaimed a God whose love promises us happiness forever, not just in this life.

Lucy's determination to to give herself totally to God in imitation of Jesus has profound implications for our life today. No doubt Lucy had to endure the taunts of young friends who thought her foolish to renounce marriage for faith, but Lucy knew what she was doing. The culture around her in 4th century was dotted with 40 room villas that exalted pleasure for itself. That Lucy rejected this life and lifestyle challenges us still at the beginning of the 21st century when our own country is sprinkled with 40 room McMansions, replete 10 baths for a family of four. Maybe Lucy wasn't so crazy after all.

Today, take a moment to reflect on your own values in a over sized culture that exalts wealth for its own sake.

What woman do you most admire and why?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Our Lady of Guadalupe

A careful, meditation on the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is very revealing. Mary appears as a shy, pregnant, peasant woman with bare feet.  Her hands are folded in petition like ours would be in the presence of God and an angel holds her up as an icon of devotion.
Every time I look at this image I think of the hundreds of young women I have met in the developing world. Often too timid to look in your eye, they speak softly and always with respect. More important, they answer questions directly and with few words. These women amaze me not only because many of them have good educations and have contributed to their communities with great generosity, but because they do everything without drawing attention to themselves. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a woman from the developing world who identifies totally with those she has come to address and lift up, but she also challenges us not to take ourselves too seriously. She is a disciple of her own son and as such reminds us to follow him with humility and passion. Together, her image suggests, we are held up by angels, making our cause great and our voice important.

Today, walk humbly before the Lord and ask for guidance.

Has a quiet, unselfconscious woman ever touched your heart?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Power and its Dangers

"The Lord our God comes with power." Is 40:10

Power can be a dirty word in religious circles, and it should not be. While speaking of God's power does not bother most, power in the hands of people who abuse it can be devastating. While power can be manipulative and destructive, it can also be uplifting and ennobling. How to hold and use power creatively for and with others is the task of every adult believer.

Parents understand this well. Making decisions for their children when they are young and helping children make good decisions as they grow into adulthood is a legitimate and necessary exercise of the power parents are given by God, but every parent also must also learn when they need to let go of their children in order to teach them how to make decisions and choices that benefit others and exalt God. Not easy for most parents, letting go of power and control over their children.

Power with others, not over them is the key to understanding the power God wants us to have. When we work together for the good of all, we know that the power we have makes a difference in the world and sets a tone for Christian behavior that brings glory to God who gives us freedom to create a world in which every person has access to basic human needs.

Today, work with someone else to advance the mission of God.

What person of power do you most admire?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Everyday Meditation

"We have seen incredible things today." Lk 5:26

Advent is a time to ask ourselves whether we are really paying attention to the action of God in the world. Many people in the United States feel overwhelmed by Advent, not because the liturgical season is so demanding, but because the time before Christmas is given over to choosing and buying so gifts, many of which are neither needed nor appreciated. We have fallen into customs that bind us unnecessarily and burden us with useless worry.

There is a simple solution to this quandary. Ask yourself at what time of the day you are most awake, most alert, and most productive. When you honestly determine this, give a piece of your most important time to God. Rather than do one or three more tasks, sit quietly, breathe deeply and let your mind rest in gratitude for your life, your friends, and God. After this kind of basic meditation you will be much more alert to the "incredible things" of God all around you.

Today, take five minutes to do nothing.

When do you like yourself best?