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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

"The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child." Lk 2:16-17

Every year the church begins the New Year by holding up Mary, the Mother of God, as a model for believers everywhere. Mary, as mother, is first of all present to Jesus, something that is more difficult than it seems. Being present to another does mean we try to fix or help them, but serve them. Like a good waitperson in a restaurant who does not hover or keep asking how your food is, she makes you feel comfortable. His or her only purpose is to help you enjoy your dining experience Mary is like this for Jesus and us.

Servants also know their place. This is not to say they should be willing to be treated poorly or abused, but because they understand their role, they realize and accept that their purpose is to make space for the other, to encourage, empower, and highlight anything about the person or country they are serving that is good, admirable and trustworthy.

Christians do well to remember Mary's lessons. When we realize that our primary task is to witness to the truth and transforming power of the Christ, we never have to be center of attention, we listen more than we speak, and we live faith as a verb: an action, and a lifestyle, that invites others to live for others. We do this more naturally and simply when we are grateful for the great gift our our faith and our salvation.

Today, serve someone with joy.

Do you have a special devotion to Mary? Why?




Monday, December 30, 2013

Tablets and Tablets

"I write to you not because you do not know the truth but because you do, and because every lie is alien to the truth." 1Jn 2:21

We often know the truth, but must always be careful to speak it at a time in a way that others can hear. It is equally clear that we often don't know the truth. Unfortunately, when we make the mistake of judging a book by its cover, or we misinterpret something another says, we jump to conclusions that are not based in fact, but in our interpretation of what was heard without testing its veracity.

There was a word in last week's readings that offered a good example of this. Zechariah, unable to speak after John the Baptist's conception, was asked what name he wanted for his child. Contrary to custom, Elizabeth, his wife, said that her son would be called John, and Zechariah confirmed his wife's choice after calling for a tablet. Even though no one in his family had the name John, Zechariah assured the crowd that Elizabeth's choice was a good one.

Smiling as I read the text, I realized that the word tablet to twenty first century young people meant a small computer like device with a touch screen that they could use to access the internet and the digital world. Though the bible and today's young people use the same word, they mean something very different, and there is a lesson for us in this. While we always have to listen carefully and discern how and when to speak, we cannot avoid the most important demands of the Gospel. Loving our enemies, reaching out for those most need and living simply are Gospel truths we all know, and when we live them with passion, we proclaim Good News.

Today, examine your conscience in the light of the Gospel.

What Gospel truths are most difficult for you to face?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Anna's Fidelity

"There was a prophetess, Anna,...(who) never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer." Lk 2: 36, 39

There are people, even today, who are called to live in almost total silence and dedicate their lives to prayer. The Poor Clares, for instance, are powerful women all around the world who live quietly, usually on the outskirts of towns and cities, and work to create a sacred space where God can work in them and for us. They pray in common, before the Blessed Sacrament and privately, and usually make altar breads or sew vestments for the Eucharist to support themselves. Remarkably, although they rarely make enough money to pay their bills, many believers, grateful for their deeply committed lives, are happy to bring them food, money and other necessities because they realize how important their lives are in the church.

Anna, the prophetess, might have been a Poor Clare or a member of one of the other contemplative communities in the church. Anxious to know God and do God's will, and even more anxious to proclaim God's desire to all who yearn for a Messiah, Anna would have slipped to the background in order to offer her prayer and serve God, and in all of this she offers contemporary people powerful lessons.

Life is not about being seen, recognized or lauded, but about being faithful to the vocation to which God calls us. If that means listening more than talking, praying as much as working, and living compassionately with other like minded women in an enclosed space, or working the streets tirelessly among the poor, we have only one responsibility: Be faithful to our call to live the Gospel and let ourselves be drawn more deeply into the mystery of God.

Today, take five minutes to remember that you are, before all else, a child of God.

Do you know an Anna in your life?





Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Holy Family

"Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another." Col 3:12

Being family can be hard work. So can being church. As children grow and develop their own religious values, politics and friendships, they can move away from their families of origin and even become separated at a deeper level. Painful though it may be for all involved, there is often little anyone can do except pray for patience and reconciliation. One wonders what Mary and Joseph's family thought when Joseph, warned in a dream, fled to Egypt. Did it hurt their families? Did they even know where the young family was going?

The Holy Family is sometimes held up as a model for all but for the wrong reasons. If we allow ourselves to idealize their life together as one of blissful peace and happiness, we cheat them and ourselves of finding in them a compass for our everyday lives. In fact, the scriptures offer evidence that Jesus regularly confused his parents. He stayed behind in Jerusalem without telling his parents, and initially refusied to help the young couple at Cana, who because of poor planning, were running out of wine for their wedding. Mark's gospel goes further and suggests Jesus' family thought he was out of his mind. (3:21). Everything was not sweetness and light!

The Holy Family is important for contemporary Christians when we allow their experience as family to shape our attitudes towards one another and the world. When, as Paul reminds us, we put on compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness, especially towards people in our own families, we witness to the saving work of Christ in and for us and remind all that we are the Body of Christ.

Today, listen in your family twice as much as you speak.

What are the greatest challenges contemporary families face in living the Gospel?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Holy Innocents

"When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under."

Any sane person would keep a distance from a man capable of killing his wife, his brother and the husbands of his sisters. Herod, the king of Judea, was such a person. When the astrologers from the East came to his door, he disingenuously tried to convince them to return to him after they found "the newborn king of the Jews" so that he, too, could worship the child.

No Jew, knowing of Herod's total disregard for anyone or anything that threatened his power, would have believed the King, but Herod was hopeful that the travelers would not know his reputation and bring him information about the new born baby. Anxious to act quickly, it is clear that Herod would not hesitate to murder the child but Joseph, the one who seems always willing to listen to his dreams, takes Jesus and his mother and flees to Egypt. Long a place of Hebrew slavery Egypt would soon become the country from which Jesus, the new Moses, would return to set his people free.

Joseph's dream is intended for all of us. There will be times when we will have to flee those aspects of our society that are dismissive of the poor and needy in order to preserve our faith. When any country, no matter how often it proclaims freedom for all, suggests that unborn children, the poor, the aged and the crippled are expendable, we need to go to a place where we can pray, discern and plan. God expects us to announce Good News like Jesus: "Go and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them." Mt 11:4

Today, gaze upon a child and praise God.

Who have you known who has been willing to sacrifice everything for their faith? 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

St John the Apostle and Evangelist

“Observing the boldness of Peter and John and perceiving them to be uneducated, ordinary men, they [the questioners] were amazed, and they recognized them as the companions of Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

Sometimes we discover God in the ordinary events of everyday life. James and John, in their boat with their father, were mending their nets when Jesus called them to follow him. When they responded positively their lives were changed forever. Together James and John would witness the transfiguration and be at the last supper. John would also accompany Jesus to the Cross where Jesus would ask him to care for his mother. Because he listened and acted, John witnessed and was transformed by some of the most important moments of Jesus' faith journey.

Nothing in the life of the apostles was more important than following Jesus faithfully. In the beginning of their ministry, they had little to do except prepare others to hear the word of God. Only after the resurrection would they take up in earnest the works of Jesus, and the same is true for us. As we enter into the great mystery of the Incarnation, we have only to listen, respond, enjoy, and celebrate. Soon enough we will have to announce what we have seen and heard, and seal our faith in service to others.

Children are probably our best teachers at this time of year. As Christmas day fades, children usually settle down with one or the other toy and play for hours. I am always fascinated by their focus and peace, and they teach all of us to live in the moment as fully as possible. The call to spend the joy of Christmas will come soon enough. For now, faith is simple and we should delight in it.

Today, take some extra quiet time in the presence of the One who is always near.

What brings you most joy at the Christmas season?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas

"She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Mt 1:21

For most believers, Christmas is a delight, a wondrous celebration of faith and family, but for some, Christmas is a terrible burden. Because expectations for Christmas are so great, we can try too hard to please God and others, and get in the way of God's plan. Only when we learn to slow down, listen, and respond rather than react to every situation, can we hope to know and live God's plan for us and the people we love.

When we take a few moments to reflect on the first Christmas, we realize both Mary and Joseph had to stay very centered as they traveled and waited for the birth of Jesus. Away from their families and without the security of a place to stay, they had to rely on a kind inn owner to find them a place for their child to be born. While the insecurity must have been very trying for them, they endured. Strengthened by Mary's yes to the angel, and Joseph's dream, they trusted that God would lead them where they needed to be to fulfill Jesus' destiny.

When we let God lead, everything changes. We understand, and more importantly accept, that no one lives on his or her own terms, and God will guide us if only we accept God's path. Mary and Joseph teach us this important and powerful lesson and Christmas is our opportunity to follow their example.

Today, give God permission to lead you.

What hurdles must you cross to celebrate Christmas with joy?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Prophecy

"Zechariah, (John the Baptist's) father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying: 'Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free.'" Lk 1:67

What a joy it must have been for Zechariah to announce that God had set his people free. In exile often, the Jewish people yearned for a military solution to the Roman problem. Invaded by Caesar's armies, Israel had little control of the land God had given to them, and they hated it. Zechariah's prophesy would have filled them with hope.

God's willingness to rescue his people is a constant theme in the Hebrew bible. No matter how often the chosen people turn away from his rule, God's mercy trumps his anger and God welcomes the Jewish people into his heart. Our biggest concern should be not taking God's goodness for granted. Rather, our gratitude for God's graciousness ought to be a sign to the world of our Gospel commitment.

It is important to speak our faith, especially on behalf of the voiceless and people in exile: immigrants, refugees and people living in shelters. When a society and a church ignore or turn away from those most in need, we deny God's concern for those who are lost and open ourselves to the criticism that faith is a crutch upon which we lean, not a dynamic and inclusive lifestyle that sees all people as brothers and sisters.

Today, say something on behalf of the needy.

What most inhibits your willingness to speak up on behalf of the voiceless?


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Barren

"Elizabeth's neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her." Lk 1:58

Elizabeth was barren, a harsh reality for women desperate for a child even today. In the ancient world, barrenness was too often seen as a punishment, something visited upon women because of their sin or their parents' sin. Interestingly, the scriptures never spoke of men as barren because the biology of the time thought that the entire person was contained in a man's seed and the woman was merely a receptacle in which the baby would come to term. Women carried a man's child and gave him a child as his possession, and, God forbid, if they could not carry a baby to term, they were judged harshly.

Even in this soul jarring situation, there is no evidence that Elizabeth complained against God. We hear only that when Mary arrived to visit her, the baby in her womb leapt for joy. A terrible, dark cloud had been lifted from her heart, and though it must have been physically difficult for her as an older woman, she nurtured and nourished her son for his great role in the history of salvation.

Many women like Elizabeth, especially if they grow up in cultures that reduce their identity to their ability to bear children, suffer greatly if they cannot conceive. Though willing to try every means possible, if they cannot get pregnant and fulfill what they always thought was their destiny, they somehow remain faithful to the Gospel despite their inability to understand God's ways. 

Women like this ought to be examples for all of us. When we put, or allow others to place unbearable burdens on our shoulders we forget the God of revelation who loves us, not for what we can produce, but for who we are. Elizabeth's struggles remind us that faith is often a mystery we need to enter, not a problem to solve.

Today, pray about different ways to give birth to Christ in your own life.

What does the gospel say to couples who cannot conceive a child?




Saturday, December 21, 2013

Don't Be Afraid

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home."

Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., one of the most important and respected theologians of the 20th century, said that it would not be rash to reduce the entire Gospel to three Jesus said often: Be not afraid. Reminding all who believe that they have already been saved, Schillebeeckx insists there is no theological reason to fear because God has come in the flesh and promised to live with us forever.

This is not to say we won't feel fear when we are in physical danger, but the deeper fears about the after life and God's concern for every person should have no place in the life of those who believe in Jesus Christ. While we will have doubts and will regularly turn away from this basic truth, Jesus coming among us in human form is God's promise that we we can always return to God's heart where every fear will be washed away.

What must have Joseph felt when Mary told him she was pregnant? Though betrothed, they had not lived together. He could not have been the father of her child, but in a dream, which he trusts, God tells him not to be afraid. No matter how others might look at or ridicule him, he should welcome Mary to his house, and with his yes his life and ours change. Overcoming his fears and confusion, Joseph becomes a model for us in times of doubt. God is near to him and will help him through his darkness. God is also near to us and this reality is what we celebrate and proclaim so loudly at Christmas.

Today,  put aside fear. Put on love.

What fears continue to haunt you on your faith journey?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Always a Journey

"Hark! my lover–here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag." Sg 2:8
Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Lk 1:39

The notion that the spiritual life is a journey is an important one in the Judeo Christian tradition. Believers are always on the way and reaching for something else. So is God. God seeks us out. God desires us, and in the Song of Songs the writer wants us to imagine God as a romantic lover who will leap mountains in order to be with us. God wants us to believe that winter's cold and darkness is over because the light has come into the world.

Mary learns the lesson of pilgrimage early. Almost as soon as she says yes to being the mother of the Messiah, she leaves her home and travels to be with Elizabeth, and her visit is not a drop in but a three month stay. What she will learn about Elizabeth and herself will shape her life and ours. Though we can only guess what happens in Mary's heart as Jesus grows in wisdom and age, we know that she was always near him, sometimes correcting, at other times consoling, but never abandoning her son despite the terrible personal cost.

If God is always seeking us and surrounding us with love, why should we be afraid? Mary's fear faded fast when she allowed the the Spirit to enter her. So should ours, and in the end, as long as we do not turn away from the journey, we have nothing to fear.

Today, take one step towards God and see how God responds.

What parts of your journey have most filled you with joy?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Tempting God

"The LORD spoke to Ahaz: Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!'”
Is 7: 10-11

Not infrequently we hear friends say, "Be careful what you wish for." Warning us that we may not like the consequences of a wish fulfilled, they seem to be cautioning us not to pray, dream or imagine a different future, but to be stoic and satisfied with life as it unfolds. While this might be a subtle way for friends to alert us to be careful about a new relationship, it can also be awful advice. Not to ask for help means we think of ourselves as totally independent even though the Gospel urges us to live as one body and to be interdependent.

King Ahaz had his own plans for the world and while he seems to take a humble posture before God, it is a ruse. Ahaz doesn't want to listen to God, Isaiah or anyone else and he will pay for it. As Christmas nears we might ask ourselves about our own intentions. How would we feel if we received no gifts at all? More essentially, what do we really want from God at Christmas? A good feeling kneeling before the crib? Our children and grandchildren to go to Mass? Do we really want God to start all over with us and the world? And do we want to be instruments of Good (but sometimes hard) News?

Telling the truth to ourselves and to God is always a good place to start. Acknowledging that we need help everyday to know, interpret and live the Gospel authentically is not only honest, it gives God permission to lead us, even to places we have not considered going. Making ourselves available to God for God's work is good for everyone.

Today, listen to God in silence for five minutes.

What are your most fervent prayers?


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Illness and Sin

"There was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah; his wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in the eyes of God,...But they had no child,...and both were advanced in years." Lk 1 5, 8

Luke's gospel gets to the core of Jesus' teaching about illness and other issues that are often seen as punishments from God. Assuring his readers that both Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous, and from the priestly class, Luke makes it clear that though Elizabeth was barren, she was not being punished. Being righteous, in fact, meant that people recognized their faults and sought reconciliation quickly. As one scholar noted, Elizabeth and Zechariah prayed for a child and got a prophet!

No matter how often or consistently the gospels insist that illness is not a punishment for sin, many people, hopeful of understanding the impenetrable mystery of suffering, wonder if their misdeeds are indeed the cause of their woes. Like so many other questions, they are rooted in pride. Somehow we convince ourselves that if can understand what is happening we can control it, but the spiritual life is like not a car with squeaky brakes. Elizabeth's and Zechariah's suffering did not cause them to turn away from God, but prepared them for something and someone beyond their imagination. Their faith was greater than their sorrows.

Today, ask for acceptance and perhaps understanding will follow.

What faith questions are most difficult for you to manage?


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Joseph's Dream

"When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home." Mt 1:24

Everyone dreams. Some, hoping to understand their psychic inner life, pay very close attention to their dreams. Others claim never to remember their dreams and have no interest in anything that happens when they sleep, but in the ancient world dreams were often important ways to understand and interpret mysteries. Robert Karl Gnuse reminds us that, "The dreams of kings, priests and those in authority alone were worthy public reports for they were revelations given for the good of the whole society,"(Gnuse) and dreams in the bible are often messages from God.

Matthew tells us that Joseph, wondering whether he should walk away from Mary after learning that she was pregnant, has a dream that radically effects all of us. Because he listened to his dream, Joseph was unafraid to take Mary into his home, an action that told everyone in his village that he would take responsibility for Mary and her baby, a response that challenges us all.

While contemporary men and women might not be as interested as our forebears in dreams, it is important to have dreams, especially about how to proclaim the Gospel and help create a just world. Young people particularly need to hear our dreams, dreams that include their growing as disciples of Jesus Christ. As St Paul reminds us, "How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?" (Rom 10:14-15)

Today, ask the Lord to help you have the faith of Joseph.

What are your faith dreams for the world?



Monday, December 16, 2013

The Foundation of Peace is Justice

"Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever." Ps 72:3

It is clear in the Catholic tradition that there can be no lasting peace without justice, and no matter how often we proclaim this important truth, we forget it ourselves and fail to convince others. Why? Because doing justice is hard work.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian and holocaust victim, reminded us often in The Cost of Discipleship, that living the Gospel demands sacrifice and surrender to God's plan for humankind, and this is never easy. Listen. "Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."

In Bonhoeffer's case the cost of discipleship meant letting go of his family and the new love of his life, Maria von Redemeyer. A confirmed bachelor most of his life, Bonhoeffer fell in love in his mid thirties and the love he experienced was intense. In his Letters and Papers from Prison, he writes to Maria about the terrible duty he has to speak the truth, defend the Jews and oppose Hitler and the Nazis. Apologizing to her, he assures her that their love would be empty if he failed to live the Gospel with integrity.

It is important for every believer to pray for the courage to be a disciple no matter the circumstances or the cost of living the Gospel. Every great gift demands sacrifice. We should never be surprised by faith's challenges.

Today, pray to be free to live the Gospel without fear.

Have you ever experienced the cost of discipleship?




Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Cleverness of Jesus

“I shall ask you one question, and if you answer it for me, then I shall tell you by what authority I do these things. Where was John’s baptism from? Was it of heavenly or of human origin?”... So they said to Jesus in reply, “We do not know.” Mt 21:24, 26

From time to time, all of us try to ignore or bypass uncomfortable situations. That there are more than 500,000 undocumented immigrants in New York City alone, many of whom are working for much less than a living wage, is a scandal that begs for a solution. A friend regularly offers you suggestions on how to avoid paying taxes that you know are legitimate and you say nothing. While silence is sometimes the prudent response to situations like this, it can also be uncharitable and sinful not to speak up.

Jesus could very well have ignored the chief priests and their questions about the legitimacy of John the Baptist's ministry, but he chose to use their inquiries both to make them uncomfortable and to take a stand. The elders knew that if they said John's baptism was of God, they would have validated his ministry, and if they said John was an impostor, the crowd would have attacked them. When they choose to say nothing, the chief priests demonstrate their weakness. It is clear that they are not really concerned about John's ministry, but only trying to trap Jesus in order to undermine his work. When Jesus turns the question on them, their nastiness and dishonesty are exposed.

If we are followers of Jesus, we need to think hard and long about how to respond to evil. When immigrants are being cheated or people are avoiding legitimate taxes, everyone is effected. More important, by too often remaining silent, we fail to live the Gospel we pretend to embrace.

Today, pray for the courage to speak up and work for those whose lives are being ruined because of greed.

Have you been in a situation where you knew you had to speak up?


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Tell John What You Hear and See

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

Although tradition tells us that John the Baptist and Jesus were related, the scripture also seems to suggest that, for a time at least, John was unsure of Jesus' identity. Why else would he have sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the "one who is to come?" Jesus' response is clear. He assures John that he is the one spoken of by Isaiah the prophet and Jesus' answer sets the tone for his entire mission and ministry. He will be a healer who does justice, and it is his commitment to justice that will lead to his death.

John the Baptist, like Jesus, believed that the Jewish leaders had failed the poor and he was not afraid to voice his displeasure both in his preaching and lifestyle. John was a hermit who lived in the desert. His preaching attracted large crowds from among the poor because he spoke to their hearts and defended their rights, but when he attacked Herod for his marriage to Herodias, the wife of his half brother Philip, John was a marked man.

Both John and Jesus remind us that speaking the truth, despite its consequences, is an essential element of embracing the Good News. This is not to say, as Pope Francis reminds us, that we should be strident and overly focused on one or the other issue. Rather, we need to read the signs of the times and speak up on behalf of those whose lives are most threatened.

Pope Francis mentioned the unemployment of the young and the loneliness of the old as growing problems in the 21st century to which the church must address herself. His concerns need not become normative for us, but ought to stimulate our thinking and action. In this way, we all become committed to the needy and forgotten.

Today, ask the Lord to free you from the fear of speaking truth to power.

Have you known a John the Baptist? What attracted you to him/her?




Friday, December 13, 2013

St John of the Cross

"In those days, like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah whose words were as a flaming furnace." Sir 48:1

St John of the Cross was a very young man when St Teresa of Avila saw qualities in him he could never have seen himself. Bright and insightful, an artist and song writer, above all John was drawn to the mystical path in the spiritual life and was not afraid of the dark night to which he was called. Teresa knew John was different and although she was thirty years older than John, she wrote, "He was so good that I, at least, could have learned much more from him than he from me."

John of the Cross was destined to be like Elijah the prophet, a fire and a flaming furnace of God's love. When he died at 49 he had helped found, despite enormous opposition from his own Carmelite brothers, many monasteries of discalced Carmelites who led an intense life of prayer and penance while also being hugely effective apostolic ministers, writers and preachers. The poet, Jessica Powers, shortly before she entered the Carmelites herself, wrote of John's books:
Out of what door that came ajar in heaven
       drifted this starry manna down to me,
       to the dilated mouth both hunger given
       and all satiety?
       Who bore at midnight to my very dwelling
       the gift of this imperishable food?
       my famished spirit with its fragrance filling,
       its savor certitude.
       The mind and heart ask, and the soul replies
       what store is heaped on these bare shelves of mine?
       The crumbs of the immortal delicacies
       fall with precise design.
       Mercy grows tall with the least heart enlightened,
       and I, so long a fosterling of night,
       here feast upon immeasurably sweetened
       wafers of light.
Today, ask God to let you see with God's own eyes.

What keeps you from a more intense prayer life?


Thursday, December 12, 2013

St Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

"If you would hearken to my commandments, your prosperity would be like a river, and your vindication like the waves of the sea; Your descendants would be like the sand, and those born of your stock like its grains." Is 48:18

Rivers are fascinating bodies of water. Some flow fast and hard. Others meander through fields slowly and methodically. Isaiah knows this and uses the river as a way to speak of God's graciousness. Whether with fierce power or gentle kindness, God will reward those who live the spirit of the law. More, God will grow the righteous like the sands of the sea and spread their glory over the entire earth.

Faithfulness, the most basic way God tells who God is, is the great challenge of the Gospel. We must be faithful, not only to God, but to all God's people, and fidelity is not simply a function or series of actions, but a way of life, an attitude.

St Lucy, about whom we know very little, was faithful. Despite the rejection she felt from her friends because of her faith in Jesus, she never turned away from her Savior, and when she refused the sexual advances of a man who thought of her as an object of his desire, not a person or a believer, her fate was sealed. Disingenuously accusing Lucy of being a Christian, a charge that led to her martyrdom, her "suitor" assured her salvation. Lucy, whose name means light, continues to challenge us to fidelity no matter the cost.

Today, be faithful to someone who you dislike for the sake of the Gospel.

Who most challenges you with his or her fidelity to God despite the consequences?


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Our Lady of Guadalupe

"You are the highest honor of our race." Jdt 13:18

Comparisons are usually odious. They make for winners and losers, and while this is perfectly acceptable in sport and other contests, comparisons between and among people leads to envy, resentment and occasionally violence. Unfortunately, our political system in the United States is an unfortunate example of this. So consumed with winning and losing battles over legislation, our Congress has lost its way, and the people who most depend upon government for work, help and a sense of stability are the losers.

When the scriptures remind us that Mary is the greatest of humans, they are not comparing her to anyone, but are honoring  her as first among all.  Mary, the mother of Jesus and God, has been such a consolation to people through the centuries that many could not imagine life without her protection and guidance, and this is particularly true in the developing world.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas, is dressed as peasant woman and appeared to St Juan Diego, an indigenous weaver, farmer and laborer. Speaking in Juan Diego's native language, Nahuatl, the young girl first told him to go the archbishop and ask that a basilica be built in her honor at Tepeyac. When the bishop asked Juan Diego for a sign of the young girl's identity, Juan Diego returned with a cloak or tilma filled with flowers not native to the area. When Juan Diego presented them to the Archbishop an image of Mary was on the Tilma. Now the most visited Marian site in the world, Guadalupe continues to inspire countless pilgrims to believe in their own goodness despite their poverty and and powerlessness, and to celebrate God's love for all people.

Today, ask Mary to guide you to her Son.

Is there an image or story of Mary that inspires you and strengthens your faith?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Weariness

"The LORD is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint nor grow weary, and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny."

Weariness afflicts us all from time to time. An adult child can't find a job or worse, a path of peace to walk. A marriage has become drudgery or a friend seems always to be needy, and no matter how often we try to stay positive, our energy seeps away and life becomes an unending series of tasks to complete, not an adventure. We smile thinly when friends ask how we are, but the best part of the day is getting in bed and going to sleep. Some of our struggles come to everyone, but others seem never ending and we wonder where God is in all that is happening within and around us.

How good it is to hear Isaiah tells us that God never grows weary and is always ready to walk with us even when the road seems endless. Isaiah knows what he is talking about. In his day, the Jewish nation, forgetting God and God's law, slipped into idolatry and turned their back on God. Dragged into exile, God went with them into Babylon because God had promised to be with them always and would not break the Covenant. Though God's people are unfaithful, God remains vigilant, content with the anawim, the few, poor believers who refuse, even in bondage, to turn away from God, and because of their fidelity God saves the entire nation.

We can be sure that God will always be as faithful to us as he was to the Jews of old. While we might grow weary and seek solace in places and people that offer only temporary relief, God will not abandon us, and Jesus' coming among us is the proof.

Today, take a few moments to remember how faithful God has been to you in "exile."

What circumstances in life make you most tired and doubtful?


Monday, December 9, 2013

Leaving the Sheep

"What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray?"

What's your opinion? While Jesus seems to think that it makes perfect sense to leave the ninety nine sheep to care for themselves as he goes in search of the one lost sheep, one wonders how the disciples might have answered if Jesus had simply posed the question and let them respond. What do you think they would have done?

At first glance, it makes no sense to leave ninety nine sheep alone to search for the lost one, but Jesus is making an important and challenging point with his followers. The lost are important. The healthy, he says in another place, don't need a physician. The sick do. (Mk 2:17) Jesus wants us to let go of the security of wherever we are to look for those who have lost their way, and this is often a hard challenge. Knowing who and where we are, especially in relation to power, is important. Otherwise, we will never be able to speak truth to power, but Jesus pushes us nonetheless.

Often in Christian terms we must be people who are both/and. We must so deeply know who we are that we are unafraid to let go of our security to seek those who forget or reject their own heritage and faith. Because we are rooted in the memory of Jesus we know that wherever we are, we are in Christ who is the source and summit of our lives, and can risk anything in order to proclaim the message of Jesus. The apostles knew this. So did the great saints. We can learn it a day at a time.

Today, open your spirit to the lost and do it without judging them.

Are there places, people and communities that you avoid?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Immaculate Concemption

"Hail full of grace. The Lord is with you!"

Eugene Peterson, a scripture scholar seeking to help people who either cannot access the power of the Greek text of Luke's Gospel or have read the scriptures so often that they have  grown bored, offers us a different view of Gabriel's greeting to Mary.
Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, Beautiful inside and out! God be with you.
While some might be confused, unnerved or upset by Peterson's translation, there should be little doubt that his translation forces us to enter Mary's world in a very different way, and this can only be good. Like so many other saints, Mary's uniqueness and importance to believers has often been lost by the trappings of sanctity with which a particular culture or spirituality adorn her. Reducing her to a young frightened girl or portraying her in a manner that strips her of her humanity and femininity cheats believers of meeting the powerful woman she was. First acknowledging her fears, then questioning the angel's announcement, Mary helps us identify in faith with every person asked to assume a new responsibility, especially one for which we feel unprepared. Listen to Peterson's translation again.
Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus....Mary said to the angel, “But how? I’ve never slept with a man.”
Only after Mary experiences fear and asks questions is she able to do what all of us must do, say yes to God. As we struggle to put aside the fears and confusion that come to all of us, we have Mary as companion, guide and mentor. Fear, Mary teaches us, is natural and necessary and wrestling God is sometimes inevitable, but if we listen deeply like Mary, we can be sure that God will show us the path to freedom and a deepened faith.

Today, re-imagine Mary's role in your spiritual life.

What stories of Mary most embolden you to live your faith with passion?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Second Sunday of Advent

"Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God." Rm 15:7

Few people have the skill and patient endurance to welcome others as their primary ministerial role. When I was a boy, welcoming visitors was an especially important element in my home if you wanted to live there in peace. Although we did not have a television when I was young, we did have a radio and it often played in the background as we went about our daily chores and life. If, however, someone knocked on our apartment door, the radio was turned off immediately. There could be no distraction from welcoming whoever visited, even if it was a salesperson.

St Conrad of Parzham, the Capuchin saint who is patron of the friary where I live, is often pictured with a ring of keys in his hand or on cord that encircles our Capuchin habit. Conrad spend almost his entire life as a porter, the friar who responds to the front door bell. It was Conrad's task to welcome any and every visitor with the compassion of Jesus. Whether it was a beggar asking for food, a troubled wife needing to talk for a few minutes, or a donor wanting to give the friars something to help them live and serve the church, Conrad welcomed them all. It was his only job, and he did it with such reverence for those who came to the front door of the friary that the entire town where he lived knew him and knew of his gentle person and presence to everyone without regard for power, wealth or prestige. Everyone was equal to Conrad.

When we welcome others with delight and warmth, especially those with whom we struggle, we change their lives and ours. It is a simple but very difficult role, but when we do it for the glory of God, God's name is announced with joy and hope.

Today, welcome the first person you meet for the glory of God.

Have you known people whose warm welcome of all changed people's lives?


Friday, December 6, 2013

St Ambrose

"No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: 'This is the way; walk in it.'” Is 30 20-21

St Ambrose is one of those fascinating characters who populated the early church. Known for his keen political sense and theological caution, he tried to act as mediator in Milan when it was divided between its Arian proponents and the hierarchy of the Catholic church.

Arius proposed that Jesus, because he was created by God the Father, was less than the Father, and Catholics argued that Father, Son and Spirit although distinct persons, were one God, coequal and coeternal. The battle became fierce and when Ambrose tried to help the two sides reconcile, the people, not wanting bloodshed, called for him to be bishop.

Ambrose reacted strongly. Not yet baptized, he wanted no part of the church hierarchy. Only after the Emperor Gratian encouraged him to accept the call to leadership did he seek baptism and ordination, becoming one of the most important figures in the early church. Learned in philosophy and rhetoric, Ambrose impressed St Augustine with his oratory and insight. More important, he was unafraid to confront those, even emperors, who ignored the Gospel while claiming to be Christian.

Today, be a reconciler.

Who do you most admire for their wisdom and savvy?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Seeing or Hearing?

"Two blind men followed him, crying out, “Son of David, have pity on us!”

A older friend, struggling with his hearing and beginning to feel very isolated, told me he would have preferred to lose the use of his eyes than his ears. Embarrassed to ask people to repeat themselves, he found himself not participating in conversations and shying away from communal gatherings. Though he has hearing aids, he still often feels alone in a group and ignored by people with whom he often had enjoyable conversations.

Whether one is struggling with blindness or deafness is not the point of today's Gospel. The isolation and loneliness that accompanies the loss of any our faculties is painful, unnerving and confusing, especially in a society that often looked at physical infirmities as punishment for sin, and it is this to which Jesus addresses himself. The Lord wants us to feel and be an integral part of his body, the church. Anything that inhibits or limits this participation is his concern, and should be ours.

Sometimes, although we see and hear perfectly well, we fail to respond to others who are struggling. Too busy, too self absorbed or too compulsed by the need to succeed, we are blind and deaf to the needy. Advent is a good time to open our eyes and ears to anyone, especially members of our family, who is struggling.

Today, listen to someone you normally avoid.

What have you been privileged to see or hear that opened your heart to the Gospel?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

God our Rock

"Trust in the LORD forever! For the LORD is an eternal Rock. He humbles those in high places, and the lofty city he brings down; He tumbles it to the ground, levels it with the dust. It is trampled underfoot by the needy, by the footsteps of the poor." Is 26 5-6

When Isaiah calls God a rock he is trying to help us understand the God he has experienced as a prophet. God, the rock, is Isaiah's foundation, the one upon whom he stands to announce Good News and the one who will never fail him. Without his "rock" Isaiah would be lost, and so would we.

Though God can never be reduced to a single image, calling God our rock does help us understand the God who is always there for us, always beneath our feet and always willing to be our foundation. Though we often stray from our rock, thinking we are stable enough to negotiate life on our own, God does not forget us when we wander. God waits for our return and is always anxious to welcome us home.

Advent is a time to remember who and what is our foundation, the rock beneath our feet. When we build our house on rock as Jesus reminds us, (Lk 6:48) we can be sure that neither wind nor storm, no matter how strong, will be able to dislodge our house from its foundation.

Today, plant your feet firmly on the ground and pray in gratitude for the God who is your foundation.

What are your experiences of knowing God as your rock?


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Everyday Miracles

"On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, The web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever." Is 25 7-8

Isaiah promises us that someday God will unite all peoples, that nations now at war, or who hate one another culturally or tribally will have the veil that separates them lifted. It is a wonderful and powerful promise, one that seems too good to be true.

Nevertheless, most of us have known healing in our lives that we could never have expected. Whether it was a long and painful separation from a parent, sibling or friend, something or someone intervened and made that which seemed beyond imagination happen. St Monica followed her son from North Africa to Italy all the while praying for him and hoping that God would move St Augustine's heart and help him to turn from his sinful life. Monica could not be sure when or if God's grace would change her son's lifestyle, but her faith would not let her stop trying and eventually she got her miracle.

For many Catholics the election of Pope Francis has felt like a miracle. The Pope was largely unknown when he was chosen by the college of Cardinals to lead the church, but his early months in office have been met with surprise, delight and new hope. Is this the man who will help God's people lift the veil that separates them one from another? Is there a possibility that centuries old divisions between East and West might actually be bridged? Will women be invited to use their gifts at the highest levels of church life and governance? While we do not know the answer to any of these questions, our faith demands that, like St Monica, we keep praying that God's will be done within and around us.

Today, let yourself dream God's dream of unity for and among all people.

What have been the biggest miracles in your life?









Monday, December 2, 2013

St Francis Xavier

"Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, But he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted." Is 11: 3-4

It is easy to judge others. We see someone throw something from a moving car, hear a woman scream at a small child in a grocery store, or listen to a sermon that sounds unprepared and canned, and we judge all the people we see or hear as less than us and less than virtuous. Why do people disrespect the environment, one another and their congregations?  While this is a reasonable question, the answers may surprise us.

Isaiah assures us that God does not judge by appearance or hearsay, always acts with compassion, and has a soft spot for the poor and broken. More important, the prophet reminds his contemporaries to act like God, and Jesus reinforces this notion. It is easy, he reminds us, to see the speck in the eyes of others but miss the beam in our own. (Mt 7:3)

Advent is a time to remember that God chose to be born to people who may have been judged harshly by the people in their own village. Poor and unable to pay for a decent place to rest and wait for the birth of their first son, no one would have thought them worthy to be parents of the Messiah, but God had other plans.

Today, pray not to judge others about whom you know nothing.

What are the primary reasons you judge others?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Humility

"The centurion said in reply, 'Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” Mt 8: 7-8

Most humble people have been humbled. Born into wealth or privilege, circumstances conspired against them and they lost everything. The proud complain or curse God; the humble realize that everything they had was a gift and not something they earned or deserved. The proud do almost anything to reclaim what they believe is theirs by divine right. The humble echo the Japanese proverb: When my house burned down, I could finally see the sunrise.

Remarkably, the centurion in the today's Gospel is not asking Jesus to help him but to heal his servant, and Jesus, obviously moved, is willing to respond to the centurion's request. But the centurion becomes an icon of humility for the ages when he acknowledges Jesus' power to heal without touch or physical presence. Not wanting Jesus to risk the condemnation of the rabbis for entering his house, the centurion asks Jesus only to speak a word of healing.

Humility is a good place to begin Advent. Aware that Christ's coming among us as a human child is pure gift, the believer kneels in adoration and admits how often he or she has taken this gift for granted. Ironically, this kind of humility raises us up.

Today, be grateful for all of life no matter how humbling.

What keeps you from humbly acknowledging your weaknesses?


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Starting Over

"They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again." Is 2:4

Starting over is never easy, but often unavoidable. Ask any Filipino trying to rebuild his or her life after the recent typhoon or an alcoholic who has had a slip. Acknowledging one's powerlessness over nature or alcohol and committing oneself again to live a day at a time, while painful and frightening, is absolutely necessary, and the only way out of chaos.

The same is true for Christians. No matter how far we fall or how often we turn away from the Lord, we can always begin again, and Advent is the perfect time to try. As we begin a new liturgical year, the church reminds us that God always welcomes his people to renew their faith by focusing on the great of gift of Jesus at Christmas. More important we are challenged to give birth to the Christ in our daily lives, and this is no small task. As the years since Christ lived on earth fade, it becomes more crucial for believers to live the Gospel and allow Christ to be born through their actions and prayer. But we must be patient.

While a woman becomes pregnant in an instant, the child growing within her needs time to grow, to mature and to be made ready for birth. The same is true for us. As Advent begins, the seed of God's love is planted in our personal and communal lives, but we must nurture the seed and wait for it to mature. Every good act is not immediately received with joy, delight and full growth. In fact, most of our kindnesses are taken for granted or ignored, but this should not deter us. God is living in and changing us, and making us, despite our faults and failures, into powerful witnesses of Christ still alive in the world.

Today, pray for patience with oneself and others.

What areas of your faith life are the most difficult to begin again?






Friday, November 29, 2013

St Andrew, Apostle

"How can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?" Rom 10: 14-15

Too often we reduce the ministry of preaching to the ordained or those specially trained to proclaim and interpret God's Word for retreats and day of prayer, and people who preach the word formally ought to be well trained. There should be no doubt of this in the United States. More than any other aspect of church life, poor preaching is cited as the primary reason that people stop attending church on Sunday's. Close behind preaching is a lack of warmth and welcome in our parishes, and this is the "preaching" that we should look at very closely as foundational to the ministry of Jesus.

Most people are not called to preach the Word of God formally, but all are called to "preach" with their lives. When we spend our time, talent and treasure for others, we preach loudly about our values, and often people ask about this. Why, they say, do Bill or Barbara, Juan or Minh spend so much time volunteering in soup kitchens, hospitals or homeless shelters? And the answer is faith. Because Jesus sends us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned, we preach when we offer anyone solace, comfort, food or drink, and we should never underestimate the value and power of these actions. If all we do is preach the word formally, but fail to live the Gospel, the faith will be empty and shallow.

Almost daily since his election, Pope Francis has insisted on this. Only yesterday the Holy Father wrote: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” The message for Catholics is unmistakable. "Preach" the Gospel with your lives. Get dirty doing it and the message of Jesus will be be heard as a transforming promise, not a sterile set of rules.

Today, do something simple for God.

What keeps us from "getting dirty" in our efforts to proclaim the Gospel?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

I Will not Leave You Orphans

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Lk 21:33

A recent article in the New York Times assured us that the Philippines was returning to normalcy because the children were playing again in the streets after Typhoon Halyan. Children playing spoke dramatically about the great strength of the Filipino people and reminded the world that life within and among Filipinos had not been irrevocably broken, that the Filipino spirit was bigger than any storm and that the Filipinos would rise again to plant crops, erect buildings and laugh together in the face of impossible odds.

For Christians, this truth is at the heart of Jesus' preaching. No matter what happens to us, no matter how many natural disasters batter us or how much suffering we endure, God's promise of life for ever in and through Jesus can never disappear or be taken away. God's love and his Living Word Jesus Christ will never pass away. Remembering this simple truth changes everything. Knowing the Lord is near, within, around and for us strengthens us through every trial and reminds us to be Christ's presence for all those who think of themselves as foundering or lost.

In the 8th chapter the letter to the Romans St Paul says it plainly and powerfully. Listen to him and rejoice.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (37-39)
Today, ask God for the faith that leads to hope and the memory of God's promise to love and be with us always.




Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving

"Bless the God of all, who has done wondrous things on earth; Who fosters people’s growth from their mother’s womb, and fashions them according to his will!" Sir 50:22

Thanksgiving is not always easy, especially if your family has suffered death very recently, but we need to stop and thank God no matter how heavy life is at any given time. God has done wondrous things within us and among us. God has created and nurtured us, challenged and directed us, loved us unconditionally and promised to go before us to prepare a place for us. What more could we ask?

In fact, many want to ask for much more. Struggles at work or with family, sickness and poverty, or wealth and success can be great burdens. Unless we find a way to accept and be grateful for all that is, we cannot hope to find the path of light that God has marked out for each of us. This is no easy task. God's ways are often confusing and upsetting, and feel very dark, but the memory of how God has guided us in the past reminds us that there is a purpose to everything. That it is God's purpose, not ours, is painful but rewarding in the end.

Whether you eat turkey with all the trimmings or spend time with a loved one in a hospital this Thanksgiving, take a few minutes to list all the people who have been gifts to you this year. Let their faces and goodness come before you like photos in a digital photo frame. Pause and pray for each of them. Doing something like this will make your Thanksgiving rich no matter what it brings.

Today, take five minutes of silence and be thankful.

What has made Thanksgiving day memorable for you through the years?


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Heroes of Faith

"Not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

We all love inspiring stories, and the bible and church history are full of them. The Hebrews dramatic escape from slavery in Egypt and their search for the promised land, the faithful endurance of Job even when abandoned by his closest friends, and the willingness of the poor widow to put all she had in the offering box, thrill us. Drawn to the heroic like a fly to honey, we yearn to live big, and when we are moved to live completely for God everything changes. The small thoughts that trap us in fear of failure lift and everything becomes possible if only we trust God with our lives and follow God's direction.

Many years ago, one of our friars, Earl Gallagher, now dead, witnessed helicopter gunships firing on a group of Salvadoran refugees trying to cross a river into Honduras. Without thinking he jumped into the river and began to drag people to safety, especially children. Risking his own life without a second thought, he escaped death but became a target on the authorities in Honduras because he wrote to the NY Times about the slaughter in order to expose the awfulness of the crime against helpless people. 

At the same time, Earl assured everyone who would listen that he had no desire to become a martyr. Rather, he insisted that anyone would have done the same thing. Hearing him tell the story, I knew he believed what he said but also knew why he was a great man of faith. Earl was not looking for attention, nor did he want to be hero. He only did what the Gospel demanded.

Today, remember that God counts the hairs on your head.

What qualities do you think mark the lives of our faith heroes?


Monday, November 25, 2013

End Times

"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified." Lk 21:9

We are always looking for signs. Is there a red sky in the morning? Will it be a rainy day? Iranians threaten to develop nuclear arms. Will there be another war in the middle east? The stock market passes 16000. Will the country finally be able to produce new jobs? Many people work very hard at reading these signs and as often as not there are so many variables that their prognostications are worthless, but we don't stop trying. We want to know in order to control life and in the end our efforts are fruitless.

While all of us must be diligent and caring about creation and our relationships in Christ, trying to control them like toys in a game not only does not work, it is wrong. Life belongs to God and the church challenges us to work hard and then let go into God's hands, trusting that like a Father he will watch over his children, guide them and show them the path to life.

Especially at the end of another liturgical year, the church reminds us that though we have a long road to hoe, God will never abandon us. There is nothing we have to fear as long as we keep trying to turn towards the light and trust God's direction. While this can be difficult, especially when we have been disappointed by life or our religious leaders, faith demands we enter the mystery and let go.

Today, accept your sinfulness and wait for God.

What about life do you most try to control?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Faithful Catholics, Faithful Citizens

"So the steward continued to take away the food and wine they were to receive, and gave them vegetables. To these four young men God gave knowledge and proficiency in all literature and science, and to Daniel the understanding of all visions and dreams." Dn 1 16-17

When Daniel, trying to be both a faithful Jew and a faithful citizen, refused to eat the foods and wines of the King that his faith thought unclean, he begged the chief chamberlain to let him and his companions live on vegetables and water. At first the chamberlain refused but after Daniel asked him just to see how he and his fellow Jews would do with this very modest diet, the chamberlain agreed and was soon surprised at how healthy these men were. 

It should be clear to all of us that we can be faithful Catholics and faithful citizens of the United States, but it is not always easy. Discerning what we ought to accept and support in our country is a serious responsibility that we cannot take lightly. That our country interprets its Constitution in such a way that offends our religious practice is something we must all accept but, at the same time, challenge. Life issues, including not only the protection of human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death, but abject poverty for some and exorbitant wealth for others need to be a part of our Catholic agenda, especially for those called to public service. To do this we need to examine our spiritual practices.
Do we have a daily regimen of quiet prayer? Do we occasionally fast in order to be more grateful for our food and in solidarity with the hungry? Are we conscious of sharing our time, talent and treasure with others? All of these practices can be helpful for the Gospel journey we are all called to take, but there is another practice that the church holds up before all others. The regular participation in the Eucharist is considered the source and summit of Catholic life and we should not excuse ourselves lightly. Getting together with other Catholics for reflection and worship that challenges us to service is a powerful form of prayer that helps in all our discernments.

Today, pray to love our country and our church.

What about our country's policies most challenge you to live the Gospel more deeply?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Christ the KIng

“The Kingdom of God isn’t ushered in with visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘It has begun here in this place or there in that part of the country.’ For the Kingdom of God is within you.” Lk 17 20-21

The notion that Christ is a King does not sit easily in our 21st century mindset and world. There are few kings left with any real power, and those who do have it are distant and pampered, hardly an image to help us remember and revere the crucified and risen Christ! But the idea that the Kingdom of God lives within us is something we can develop, build upon and celebrate.

The scriptures use many words for power when speaking about Jesus. Sometimes Jesus' power refers to his words and message and this is a demanding power, a dynamic power, something that urges us to change and conversion, but the most important Greek word for power is exousia which implies a vulnerability like that of a child. Babies continue to have the power to change us, to let go. 

In their powerlessness, infants invite us to come closer, to engage them fully without words and to give of ourselves freely for their sake. That is the kind of power Jesus has. The Lord's is not that of someone who subjects us to the law but who challenges us to submit ourselves to the path of God for the sake of the entire body of Christ. This power is not about exalting himself over others, but serves an example for us to work together with the body so that all might know the fullness of God's love for the sake of the world. Jesus endures and accepts death so that we might live with God forever and he challenges us to do the same so that the Gospel will continue to be proclaimed in every age and place.

Today, pause to treasure the Kingdom of God living with you.

For what are you most grateful as another liturgical year ends?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Telling the Truth

"Teacher, you have answered well." Lk 20:40

Jesus always answers well, but sometimes his answers were dangerous. Never consumed with his own welfare, but unfailingly ready to protect and give voice to the poor and forgotten, Jesus speaks up despite the risk to his person and position. In many ways this is the reason for his suffering and death.

Imagine what the leaders of the Jewish community thought when Jesus held up a poor widow as an example of authentic generosity.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Mt 12: 41-44
Widows had no standing in the ancient world, and their lot was even worse if they had no sons. Ignored and forgotten by most, the woman about whom Jesus speaks remains faithful and generous, a fact that shamed the Jewish leaders and anyone else who reduced a person's value to property and wealth. Whenever we speak up on behalf of the voiceless, we follow Jesus.

Today, listen to someone who you usually ignore.

Who are the people in your neighborhood to whom no one listens?


Thursday, November 21, 2013

St Cecilia

"Every day he was teaching in the temple area. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people, meanwhile, were seeking to put him to death, but they could find no way to accomplish their purpose because all the people were hanging on his words." Lk 19: 47-48

One of the most remarkable aspects of St Luke's gospel has Jesus always moving towards Jerusalem despite the dangers that await him there, and as Luke's gospel nears an end, Jesus teaches in the temple area everyday even though many were seeking to kill him.

Nothing could deter Jesus from his mission, neither suffering, nor threats, nor death itself, and when we ask how this could be, we realize that knowing his Father was with always with him was Jesus' strength and gave him the courage to do whatever was necessary to announce God's reign. This is not to say that Jesus never suffered fear, confusion or pain, but that he accepted everything asked of him by God for the sake of announcing his Father's kingdom and accomplishing our salvation.

Made in God's image and called to be disciples of Jesus, we must all accept the ups and downs, the ins and outs of everyday life. Whether it is something simple like having a washing machine malfunction or a child struggle with bullying or drugs, remembering that Jesus promised to be with us always can be a powerful support in every trial. Making ourselves available to anyone who suffers, not to fix their problems but to accompany them in faith, can also be a powerful spiritual practice that helps others discover Christ in their lives.

Today, don't turn away from every struggles but ask Jesus to be with you in all circumstances.

What faith challenges most frighten you?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Presentation of Mary

Although there is no historical evidence that Mary was presented by her parents for Temple service when she was only three years old, the feast of the Presentation of Mary has deep roots in the Eastern church. Desirous of helping the faithful understand that even as a child Mary was dedicated to God, the church tells us that Mary spent nine years in the Temple before she was promised to Joseph, and readied herself to become the Theotokos, the Mother of God.


Although there is a powerful message in Mary's presentation, the art that emerged to help us understand this mystery is heart rending. How could a couple who had been childless let go of their daughter at such a young age? Would God this of them or anyone? When we see Anne's face in the depiction of the event we wonder what it must have been like for her see Mary walk into the temple. Did she worry, fret, wonder what might be next for her? While there are no answers to these questions, one truth emerges. God will always be near. No matter what we might have to suffer, God will be our companion. St Anne knew this. Mary knew this. We know this.

Today, pray for the courage to face whatever difficulties you encounter with faith.

How do you face unanswerable questions?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Spending God's Love

"I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away." Lk 19:27

Faith, though a free gift from God, has responsibilities. We must give faith away and that means announcing the freedom that God bestows upon his people. When we fail to accept this Gospel mandate, we risk losing everything. Faith is not about making us more comfortable but about assuring us that because we have been saved, we need to spend God's gift by creating a more just world.

Unfortunately, too often Christians forget this message. Like children who take the gifts they receive at Christmas for granted, we forget that all of life is a gift, and rather than celebrate all that God does for us, we wallow in a shallow place that feels like happiness but that has no substance. We cling to things, people and places as if they belong us. Worse we sometimes use others for our own purposes rather than celebrate who they are before God.

On the other hand, when we remember that faith is a gift, we are filled with gratitude and do not act as if we are entitled to everything we have. When the people of Jesus' day took faith for granted or used it as a tool to oppress others, Jesus was hard on them.  Because the Pharisees sometimes used their wealth, education, and power to make themselves seem better than others, Jesus called them whitened sepulchers and condemned them for laying heavy burdens on the backs of the poor without doing a thing to help them. When we dismiss others as weak or sinful, we risk the same condemnation.

Grateful people sometimes bubble over with thanks, but most of the time they are quiet. They listen more than they talk and encourage others to express themselves. By doing this, those to whom they listen become grateful themselves and their gratitude ripples out and washes all those around them. Grateful people cleanse the world by celebrating all that God is and does with and for his people.

Today, listen to someone who thinks poorly of  him or herself.

What keeps you from living a grateful life?