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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Desperation

"While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him." 

Desperation often fuels poor decisions. Who hasn't spoken with someone whose family's security is threatened by the loss of job or a serious illness? Hourly workers are the most threatened since in our system if they can't get to work for any reason, they do not have to be paid. After Hurricane Sandy, thousands of hourly workers lost millions of dollars because it took them twice as long to get to work, and they were docked for the missed hours.

The young man in today's Gospel who demands his father give him his share of his inheritance soon finds himself in a desperate situation. Having frittered away his inheritance, he is so hungry he is willing to eat the slop being served to pigs. Overwhelmed, and in order to save himself, he decides to go home and be one of his father's slaves. At least, he thinks, he will eat, but his father has other ideas. (Lk 15:20) 

Seeing his son coming "while he was still a long way off,"  the father runs out to meet, embrace and kiss his son. So relieved that his son has returned, the father doesn't even consider a punishment, but throws a party because his son "who was dead but has come back to life."

The lesson is powerful. Any effort we make to turn out lives towards God, even when we are desperate, will be rewarded. God wants us to live, to turn away from sin and enjoy life in the community of faith.
Today, imagine God seeing you a long way off.

What might push you towards desperation in your daily life?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Humility and Honesty

"O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income." But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, "O God, be merciful to me a sinner." Lk 18: 11-13
 
It is abundantly clear that Jesus demands humility as a foundational value for his disciples. All of life and faith is a gift, not something we earn but something given to us freely by God out of love. Whenever we take credit for any thing we do without first thanking God for the gift of faith denies our dependence on God for all that is good within and among us.

The days of Lent find most of us trying to fast, pray and act mercifully towards those most in need, all of which is good and laudable, but unless we remember that our prayer, fasting and kindness to the needy are acts of gratitude for all that we have been given, we miss the point of the Gospel.

The reason the tax collector is held up by Jesus for admiration and imitation is because he acknowledges his sin as a tax collector for the Roman occupiers of Palestine. Not only did tax collectors do the work of the Romans, they sometimes cheated their own country men and women in order to make a living. Admitting his weakness and sin, the tax collexctor does not excuse his behavior, but asks God for mercy. We must do the same.

Today, pray in gratitude for God's mercy.

What aspect of a Gospel lifestyle is most difficult for you?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Back to the Basics

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
 
Lent is a time when we try to get back to basics, to reclaim the foundational values of Jesus expressed in the New Testament. To do this well and with integrity we need to have spiritual practices that remind us each day about who we are and what we are to do in the world as Christians. It is one thing to say we love God and neighbor, but it is another thing all together to practice loving God and others through prayer and service.

Prayer is important because it is an exercise in which we acknowledge our total dependence on  God. Aware that living a faith filled life is a gift, we pause each day to honor the God who has given us faith and who sustains on our faith journey. Whether we recite a prayer we learned in childhood or ask in our own words for help to live the Gospel fully as disciples, we need to pray regularly. Just as a husband admits how important his wife is to his identity and well being, prayer helps us acknowledge that without God we are incomplete.

Service, especially of those who cannot help themselves, is an act of gratitude that helps us give away that which we have received so freely. Ironically, those who offer service to others regularly in the name of Christ will admit they get more out of helping others than they give.

Today, express your love for God by quietly sitting in God's presence making yourself available for God's work.

What do you think are the most important spiritual practices in the life of a Christian?


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Division in our Church and Country

“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house." Lk 11:17

Though  I rarely comment on politics in this blog, the text today certainly seems to apply to our nation and church these days. Like most Americans, I am befuddled by the inability of the Congress to find a compromise that protects the voiceless and poor in our society, and I am angry. What happens to us as a people when we fail to look at issues and concerns from the other side of wherever we stand, and more important, what happens when we only think about protecting our own assets?

Jesus faced this in his life and warned his sisters and brothers in the Jewish community against being so divided that they collapse. Surely, he would say the same to us in the church in the United States today. How is it possible not to work for a deeper unity when so many believers have walked away from the regular practice of their faith? In Boston, barely 15 percent of Catholics worship weekly, and a majority of those who go to Mass are older.

Are we not listening to one another? Are we so rigid that we can't find a way to move beyond the "theologies" that divide us at our core? Are we only speaking about issues but failing to hear the person behind the issue?

 If the church of the 21st century hopes to have a voice in civic affairs, then it must get its house in order. Unless we provide a united front and find a way to speak with one voice about critical issues like hunger, housing, health care and immigration reform, we will be a clanging symbol that everyone ignores.

Today, be silent. Say nothing for a while and see what happens when you listen.

What do you think most divides as a country and a church?




Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Gift of Each Day

"Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.” Dn 4:9

Busy about so many things, we often forget to pause during the day to thank God for his mercy and kindness. Indeed, even though our eyes have seen so much good and we have lived in the midst of such a marvelous natural world, we often take it for granted.

Last year for more than a month I was nauseous. Even the smell of food made me uncomfortable, and I remember asking God to help me not to obsess about how I felt, but to enjoy the delights of each day as it unfolded. However, like the Jews in the desert, I was more concerned with my own health and happiness than announcing God's fidelity in freeing me from bondage, and changing was very difficult. Letting go completely and asking God to let me proclaim Good News no matter how I felt was the only prayer that felt authentic.

The book of Deuteronomy teaches the same lesson. No matter how we feel, "in sickness and in health," we must be Good News and teach our children about God's fidelity and protection in every circumstance of life so that every generation might praise God daily with prayers of thanksgiving.

Today, think of something you take for granted and dwell on it with gratitude.

What daily gift do you treasure the most?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Fidelity to the Gospel

“Do not take away your mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham, your beloved, Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one, To whom you promised to multiply their offspring like the stars of heaven, or the sand on the shore of the sea." Dn 3:26

Daniel, unsure of his own power or political capital, asks God for mercy, not on his own account, but because of Abraham's fidelity and Isaac's vulnerability. Sure that God's memory is such that he will smile when remembering the openness of his faithful servants, Daniel depends on God's love for his beloved to set him free.

Praying for release and hope through the intercession of the Saints is an ordinary path Christians often take, and it is a good path. Saints like Mother Teresa of Calcutta offer us a powerful witness. For years she walked in darkness, confusion and doubt, but persevered. Knowing that it was not her task to be successful at prayer, meditation or ministry, but faithful to the unseen and unknown God, she continued to do what her vows demanded. She traveled the world on behalf of the Gospel and encouraged her sisters from the depths of her own fear and worry to listen to the scriptures, serve those in need and trust God.

Today, pick a saint who is attractive to you and ask her or him to help you be faithful.

What are the most difficult aspects of faith for you?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Limitlessness of Faith

"Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." Lk 4:27

It is sometimes difficult to acknowledge that Jesus was not beyond agitating his adversaries. Although it was typical for Rabbi's to challenge one another at the time of Jesus, we are not always prepared for this kind of debate. Nevertheless, when Jesus confronts his listeners with evidence of their refusal to listen deeply to the Torah, it unsettles them and us.

The story of Naaman would have been very familiar to the Pharisees and Saducees, but they surely would not have expected Jesus to use it against them and to ratify his own authority. That Naaman, the Syrian and outsider, was cured by plunging seven times into the Jordan river was evidence that anyone who accepted the authority of God and the Law, not just Jews, could be cured. Jesus insists that he is a prophet like Elisha who is unafraid to offer healing to anyone who listens to his word. There are no limits to God's love and the Lord never fails to remind us of this.

Jesus continues to invite all people to embrace faith and to live its freedom, and it is the task of the church to proclaim this truth and evangelize the whole world. More important, when Christians listen to and live the Gospel selectively, they risk the same condemnation heaped upon the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day. It is not for us to say who can be saved. Rather, we must announce Good News, like Elisha and Jesus, to anyone willing to listen.

Today, ask the Lord to stretch your hearts to see all people as he sees them.

What do you think we sometimes want narrow borders within which to think and live?