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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Prophets and Priests

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you." Jer 1:4-5

Although the words, "I formed you in the womb," refer to Jeremiah the prophet, they also are intended for us. In baptism, we are all  called to be priests and prophets, an expansion and extension of Judaic culture and religious roles that is remarkable.

What does it mean to be a prophet? A prophet knows, although she often rejects the call, that she is to be the voice of God calling all who will listen to return to the law, to live the Torah faithfully and deeply. This is no easy task, and one that brings personal rejection and threats.

After Elijah demonstrates that his God is more powerful than Baal, Jezabel is outraged and threatens to kill him. Elijah runs away only to hear God's voice, not in the howling wind, or an earthquake or fire, but in the gentlest of breezes. Only then does Elijah realize that God's strength is enough for him.

The same can be true for us. If we expect God to overwhelm us or our opponents, we will be disappointed. If we allow God to speak to us and through us in silence, we will know what it means to be prophet and priest.

Today, speak little.

How do you understand your prophetic and priestly call?


Friday, February 1, 2013

Presentation of the Lord

"Suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire." Mal 3:2

Rituals are important in all our lives. That Jesus, Mary's first born son, would be presented in the Temple and offered to God for service, was ritually important in Jewish law and culture. Parents knew that giving birth to a son was a great blessing that called them to celebrate God's gift to them. To go to the temple in gratitude was as natural as washing their hands before eating. The Torah was clear and observance of the Torah delighted God and brought joy to believers.

Rituals are still important, especially for people of faith. Blessing one self with holy water while making a sign of the cross upon entering a church reminds believers of their baptism and its promises. And the breaking of bread at Mass challenges us to divide our food like Jesus did at the miracle of the loaves and fish so that all might eat. 

Unfortunately, because these powerful rituals have to compete with all the information that comes our way in a modern society, it is easy to forget their meaning and miss their power. Religious rituals ought to help us center ourselves many times each day in the memory of God's saving love, but emails and text messages sometimes take their place. While the computer  and cell phones are here to stay, we need to be cautious not to let them strip us of the call to transformation that the Gospel demands.

Today, bless yourself before each meal and pause to remember the great gift of food.

Which rituals in your life help you remember God's gracious love?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Failure and Hope

"Do not throw away your confidence;...You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised." Heb 10:35-36

Failure is an inevitable and necessary experience on the road to transformation and a joyful faith life. Only when we fail, can we begin to experience our neediness and God's goodness. Failure leads to humility and the happy embrace of those who are willing to walk with us in our weakness and inadequacy.

Unfortunately, especially for those of us struggling with a prideful spirit, failure can also lead to a lack of confidence, but the author of Hebrews encourages us not to give up. An authentic life of faith is full of acts of endurance even when staying the course seems fruitless and silly. 

The insight of Hebrews is remarkable. How many of us have only learned about our true self through what seemed like a defeat. People in twelve step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous trumpet a strange wisdom. Gratitude for one's illness is appropriate and freeing since without it we would never have really known ourselves.

Today be grateful for a failure that taught you humility.

What are your most important memories of growth through failure?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Encouraging Others

"We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another." Heb 10:24

St John Bosco was a dreamer. Realizing at a very young age that violence only begets violence, John Bosco listened to the God of his dreams and began to treat other children with kindness and compassion, an action that was so counter cultural it caused others to laugh at him.

The author of Hebrews, like John Bosco, insists that rousing others to love and good works is one of the primary works of believers. Only when we encourage one another to lives of service and compassion from the midst of the assembly do we live as Jesus asks.

There is an important lesson in John Bosco's life and Hebrews. While it is reasonable and understandable to leave or avoid the assembly of believers because of its obvious dysfunction and confusion, we must try to live counter intuitively. The best way to enliven others is from within the messiness of the church as it strives to live the gospel. Encouraging others works best when we acknowledge our own weakness and inspire others to live in peace and harmony despite our differences.

Today, encourage someone who is struggling.

Who has encouraged you to patience with yourself and others?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Success


"They are the people who hear the word, but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit." Mk 4:19

Competition and the striving to be better than others is a terrible burden and often becomes sinful. When people are unable to put aside personal goals for the sake of family or the common good, they risk everything.

Few would deny that losing perspective in the pursuit of fame and fortune has destroyed many lives. It is not so much that money, fame or power are bad in themselves, but when they become the object of life, they are like a raging storm that brings needed rain but destroys everything in its path. But Jesus does not leave us bereft of hope.

Immediately after warning the people who let "worldly anxiety and the lure of riches" trap them, Jesus assures his disciples that as long as they turn towards God and let God's seed fall on the good ground of their lives, they will bear much fruit. The seed, Jesus reminds us, is not planted in us for personal glory, but for the good of all.

Most of us struggle to find middle ground. Trying too hard to live simply can lead to needless anxiety which destroys our peace. Discerning how best to live a God centered life in the midst of a demanding world is an everyday spiritual task.

Today, hand your life over to God again and ask for the grace to see as God sees.

What distracts you most easily from living in and for God?

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Family of Jesus

"Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Mk 3:35

We are the family of Jesus. It is that simple and that clear. It is also important. While some might be unnerved when Jesus stretches his followers to think of anyone who listens to and tries to live God's word as his family, it is not a rejection of his own family.

Jesus loved his mother and family deeply. That he wanted everyone listening to him with an open heart to see themselves as his brothers and sisters did not diminish his respect for and love of his immediate family, but was a way to break down the artificial and unnecessary barriers between and among people.

Jesus' love for all people is a lesson for us. We are called to love everyone as He did. We are not free to reject anyone for reasons of race, religion, culture or ethnicity. While it is obvious that there are some people who will be more difficult to love than others, if we want to call ourselves Christians, we must put aside every prejudice to love as Jesus did.

Today, love someone to whom you are not attracted.

What kind of people are most difficult for you to love?



Sunday, January 27, 2013

St Thomas Aquinas

"Christ is mediator of a new Covenant." Heb 9:15

No theologian in the history of the Christian west has been more influential in shaping theological thought than Thomas Aquinas. A prolific writer whose works include the Summa Theologica, his thought also helped Christians probe the wisdom of the Greek philosophers, especially Aristotle, as a path to new insights about the Gospels.

Thomas' use of Aristotle as a lens to understand revelation more deeply was no small matter at his time. While the Greek philosophers were admired, they were also suspect. Anything that might distract believers from God's word was regarded warily, but Thomas pushed on despite the opposition of some.

There is a wonderful lesson in Thomas' life for all of us. As the 21st century unfolds we need to find new and probing ways of helping the Gospel live in this age, and while the wisdom of the past will always be an aid in this regard, it must be supplemented by tools contemporary believers recognize and use. How the Internet and other social media will open up paths to a new Evangelization is still to be seen, but surely needed.

Today, be wise. Say nothing. Just listen.

What thinker or social media has helped you enter the Gospel message more deeply?