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Saturday, February 16, 2013

God's Freedom

"When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us, imposing hard labor upon us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and he heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. He brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm." Dt 26: 6-7
 
God wants to set us free. This is a truth that is so simple and pure that we sometimes deny or resist it. Freedom is a terrible responsibility. It means that we will have to make difficult  and sometimes painful decisions. It also means we must reach out for the oppressed just as God stretched out his arms to the Hebrews in Egypt. 

Slavery of any kind is an evil, and although the story of God leading the Hebrews out of Egypt may not be historically accurate, it does help us reflect on our most important values and challenge us to live in freedom and to work for the liberation of all.

The church has spoken of this repeatedly. "'The duty of making oneself a neighbor to others and actively serving them becomes even more urgent when it involves the disadvantaged, in whatever area this may be. 'As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'" Catechism of Catholic Church

Today, help set someone live freely by listening to them unconditionally.

What or who helps you to be authentically free?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Love your Enemies

Yesterday, inadvertently, I published two blog entries. Forgive me. The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter does not occur for another week, but the post itself reflects happenings in the church. I will publish another blog entry for the feast.

“You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." Mt 5:43

Very little in the Gospel can shock and startle us like the phrase "love your enemies." Unfortunately, because we have heard it so often, it sometimes washes over us like another bit of information, and fails to stop us in our tracks or make us think.

Loving our enemies is hard work. It means turning our world upside down, letting go of hurt and beginning again. It does not mean we should be soft or weak. In fact, loving our enemies can make us very strong if only we have the courage to ask God to show us a path towards authentic reconciliation, especially if our enemies are in our own family.

Jesus made many enemies because he continually challenged the power of the Jewish leaders of his day. More upsetting to some, he also demanded that everyone study and reinterpret the Torah. The Law, as Jesus lived it, was intended to lead people closer to God and the service of God's people. Though it might bind and irritate its followers at times, it only did this because it demanded great sacrifice and the acceptance of God's leadership and plan in the lives of the faithful. The Gospel does the same thing.

Today, ask for the strength to love one enemy.

What stops you from loving your enemies?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Chair of Peter

"Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock." 1 Pt 5:3


The role of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, has been debated and challenged regularly in history. For the last century and a half, since the end of Vatican Council I, the issue of papal infallibility has been the underlying issue. The idea that a Pope is infallible in matters of Faith and Morals when he speaks ex cathedra, from the Chair of Peter has been so narrowly defined that it actually should not distract us from the Pope's primary role, to be shepherd to the world's Catholics, but it often does. That the Holy Father has only spoken infallibly once since Vatican Council I seems not to matter when people begin debating.

St. Peter gets it right, however. Pope's, as all leaders, ought first be examples to others, not domineering leaders. This might also be said of parents, grandparents, and everyday adult Catholics. Our primary call is to live the Gospel transparently in such a way that others might come to know and love Christ and follow a Gospel path. Our is first a religion of persuasiveness and example, not of proselytizing and the manipulation of power.

This conversation seems especially important these days as the Church awaits the actual resignation of Benedict XVI and the election of a new Pope. While we should not be naive about the great burdens and skills demanded of a Pope, neither should be forget to pray for the election of someone plainly in love of Jesus Christ and committed to a simple life of service.

Today, pray for the election of a Pope whose goodness can be experienced by all people of good will.


What do you need from a Christian leader?

Fasting and Almsgiving

"This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own." Is 58: 6-7

It is easy to get lost in fasting, especially when we focus too much on being faithful to it as a spiritual practice and forget that it is means to an end. Fasting is not a good in itself, but a reminder to be grateful for all we have and  a way to serve the poor.

The early church insisted that fasting had no value unless whatever one saved by fasting was distributed to the poor. St Augustine as bishop of Hippo was especially strong in the regard, reminding us that "prayer, fasting and the remaining good works are useless without almsgiving, mercy and fraternal love. " (St Augustine homilies)

As Lent begins, it is important to get our priorities straight. Prayer, fasting and alsmsgiving are spiritual practices that we use to make our faith concrete and transparent. If we try to impress ourselves or others with the quality of our prayer and  the severity of our fasting, we become more concerned with our success than being faithful to God in all things.

Today, share simple food with a hungry person.

How important is doing justice in your life?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Listen

"If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve other gods, I tell you now that you will certainly perish."  Dt 30:17

Listening with our hearts is easier to talk about than do. It means putting aside our personal concerns, quieting our insides and attending to the person speaking with undivided attention. Most often we can only do this for a few moments, but even this is better than nothing. When we listen with our hearts the other person knows we are not simply being patient, but that we are waiting with anticipation to know them more deeply.

God does this for us all the time. If we had to pick the most dominant theme in the Hebrew Bible, it is God's fidelity and availability to the Chosen people. Even when kings, prophets and priests forget God, God remembers and heals them. As Isaiah reminds us, "the word of our God will stand forever." (40:8)

Jesus, the fullness of God's word, seems always to be listening with his heart to the cries of the poor. The sick, the lame, the grieving all come to Jesus for nourishment and hope, and even when their burdens are not lifted completely, they know that Jesus has heard their cry and walks with them.

Today, accompany someone without saying a word. Just listen.

What is most difficult about listening with your heart?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Return to God

"Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God." Jl 2:12

The prophet Joel is so clear. Fasting and mourning are to rend our hearts, to help us turn to God again. They have no value in themselves. Only when fasting, prayer, and almsgiving remind us of God's unconditional love, do they become spiritual practices that challenge us to change and renew our faith.

Sometimes there is no need to fast or give alms. When our lives fall apart, when families struggle relationally, or soul friends suffer with a terminal illness, our penance is clear. We must sit quietly and accompany those in need with an open spirit and a compassionate heart. This is never easy, but always necessary, and fulfills the command of Jesus to visit the imprisoned, feed the hungry and welcome the stranger.

Today, do a simple penance. Visit a lonely neighbor.

What will help you move towards Easter with joy?


Monday, February 11, 2013

Tradition

"You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on." Mk 7:13

Ours is a traditional faith. We value all that has gone before us, and treasure the memory of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. The word traditional is telling. It means to hand over to the next generation that which has been given to us by our ancestors.

Catholics are traditional in this sense, not only in our parish faith communities, but also in our homes. Rituals are passed from one generation to the next as gifts that carry our deepest values. Almost every culture has its own rituals that complement the Eucharist and other sacraments.

Babka, for instance, is a rich rising bread that people in the Ukraine bake for Easter. Families break pieces off and share it among themselves in order to remember that Christ's rising from the dead is a rich and sweet memory, but like every tradition, it can undermine our  most basic values. When we worry more about celebrating the ritual correctly than the values it represents, we fall into the same sin as the Pharisees. Tradition becomes a trap that trips people up rather than an evocative celebration that sets us free.

Today, bless yourself with holy water and remember your baptism.

What are your favorite family rituals?



Sunday, February 10, 2013

God's Gift of Creation

“Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” Gen 1:2-3

The first book of the bible is thrilling. Dramatic and moving, Genesis introduces us to a loving God who creates all that is as a gift for us and our joy. Light, sky, earth, sea, moon and sun are all legacies that we are to enjoy and share in the name of a living God.

Hidden within these gifts is also a subtle warning. Creation belongs to all, not to a particular race or religion. God spreads God's goodness to everyone like a blanket on a sleeping child. God's love is not something to hoard or possess, but to enjoy and celebrate. So glad are we for God's protection and largesse that we are compelled to tell the world of God's love and work diligently for justice.

The bible is full of stories about God's insistence that we distribute God's gifts freely among all. Today's gospel reminds us that people had only to touch the tassel of Jesus' cloak to be healed. Jesus did not push anyone in need away, but allowed all, even the unclean who believed, to experience his restorative power.

Today, be grateful for the light of creation and friends.

What of creation speaks most loudly to you of God's goodness?