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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Forgiveness

"David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the LORD.' Nathan answered David: 'The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.'” 2 Sm 12:13

Reading the first verses of the twelfth chapter of Second Samuel makes readers terribly uncomfortable. The prophet Nathan, in the name of God, recounts all of David's awful behavior. After reminding David of all God did for him, the prophet then recounts the King's lust for Bathsheba, and his willingness to put Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, in the front of the fighting where he could easily be killed. For all of this, Nathan tells David, God will punish him severely. Repentant, David admits his wrong and Nathan assures him that he will not die, that God will eventually forgive him.

What kind of God is this? Though David's child with Bathsheba and three of his other children die, David's next child with Bathsheba is Solomon who will be called the wisest man in Israel. Our is a forgiving God, a healing God, a loving God beyond our imagination. His compassion makes no sense. His mercy knows no bounds.

If David can ask pardon and be forgiven, surely there is nothing to keep us from seeking God's mercy on a daily basis. Although we all sin and often have a difficult time breaking unhealthy, even sinful, habits, God is never far.

Today, hold fast to a forgiving God.

What is most difficult for you to forgive in others?



Friday, June 14, 2013

No is a complete Sentence

"Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’" Mt 5:37

It is relatively easy to obey Jesus' command to say yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no when you have no power. The poor, to whom Jesus usually spoke, had nothing to lose when they heard Jesus speak, but the leaders of the Jewish community were anxious to hold onto the little power they had. Because Palestine was under the control of Rome, the Jewish leaders did everything they could to negotiate with Rome for control over the temple precincts, and they were moderately successful. They had their own currency and had jurisdiction over Jews when they visited the temple, but little else, and even what they had was not important to most people. 

Jesus wants everyone to acknowledge how needy they are, and the Jewish leaders resent this. They were working hard for the modest power they had and they wanted everyone to notice and support them. When what they thought of as a minor healer challenged them to tell the truth about how lacking in power they really were, they did everything they could to undermine and trap him, and when they failed they raised the stakes. 

When we admit how needy we are of God's help and direction, everything changes. Fully accepting of God's direction, we submit more humbly to whatever God asks, and while this is never easy, especially when we are praying for others who are sick or needy, we learn to live each day fully and deeply, leaving the results to God.

Today, say no to one more task.

When are you most inclined to want to control your life?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Authentic Authority

"We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." 2 Cor 4: 8-9

Exercising power is always tricky. Whether you are an ordained minister or a parent, your power will be empty unless you find a way to exercise it with compassion and mercy. When Paul was writing his second letter to the Corinthians, he was opposed by a small group of community leaders who were challenging his claim to apostolic authority, and his task, like ours, was to find a path to authentic unity among the Corinthians.

Paul reminds the Corinthians that real authority is God's not his and it does not matter whether he is afflicted, perplexed abandoned, or struck down, he will not be defeated or destroyed because his commitment is to honor God in his sufferings and not attack those who oppose him.

A good test of our own integrity and power is always to examine our tone, our attitude towards others, and our desire to dominate or win arguments. If our tone is dismissive or personal and we only want to be right, we can be sure our actions are not of God. Christian authority is never based in competition, but seeks to build and rebuild relationships between and among believers.

Today, listen with an open heart to anyone who opposes you.

What do you think are the marks of authentic authority?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

St Anthony of Padua

“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven." Mt 5:20 

So many aspects of St Anthony's life are remarkable and intriguing. Born to wealth in Portugal, he joined the Canons Regular, a group dedicated to theological scholarship and learning. Happy enough as a Canon, he was the guest master for his community when five young Francisca friars on their way to Morocco as missionaries stopped to rest. Less than a year later word came that the friars had been martyred. Anthony was so moved that he asked to join the Franciscans and take up the mission of the martyred friars.Though his request was granted, his health made it impossible to leave for Morocco.

Deciding to go to Italy, the home of the Franciscans, his ship was forced into port at Sicily. Still not well, Anthony made his way to Tuscany and was assigned to a rural hermitage and asked to help in the kitchen. Well educated, even scholarly, Anthony found himself in the most humble of circumstances but there is no evidence that he complained or worried about his choice to join the Friars Minor.  As often happens, however, Anthony was asked to preach on a day no one else was prepared and his homily both surprised and delighted his listeners. His career as one of the most famous of Franciscan preachers had begun.

Today, be alert to whatever grace comes and embrace it.

What most impresses you about the lives of the Saints?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Living the Spirit of the Law

"Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from God, who has indeed qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life." 2 Cor 3:5-5

Sometimes St Paul gets it just right. Although it is difficult for us to remember that all we have is a gift, the Gospel clearly calls us to this attitude and stance, and Paul insists that although he has spent years studying the Torah, his knowledge pales in comparison to the gift he received from God to know and believe in Jesus. Only after admitting that he not only ignored the message of the Gospel, but actively worked against it, does Paul realize the gift of the new Covenant in Jesus is beyond anything he could have imagined.

More, when Paul rejects a life that only adheres to the letter of the Law, which he insisted upon as a rabbi, he opens himself and his followers to following the Spirit of the law, and this frees him to know a God of infinite love and mercy who is active in his life. To get to this place of freedom in the Spirit, Paul had to encourage Christians to actively discern God's will, not simply submit to it as if it were a demanding King. Believers must listen, reflect carefully and pray deeply to know God and God's will for us in Jesus.

It is often easier for some Christians to obey the church's teaching authority blindly than to probe and discern carefully what it is the Bishops are saying when they teach. Every adult knows that it his or her responsibility to weigh and sift through many options in life in order to live well. How much more important this is as we search for a way to live the Gospel authentically and completely. Careful attention to and prayerful reflection upon what is happening in the world is an essential element of knowing how to follow Christ in all the circumstances of our lives.

Today, ask God to show you the Spirit of the Law in your discernment.

What is most difficult for you in interpreting the Gospel in our times?


Monday, June 10, 2013

St Barnabas

"When Barnabas arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith." Acts 11:22

It is often obvious when someone is "filled with the Holy Spirit." They are calm and internally quiet. They listen and respond with few words. They are joyful about their faith and they are unafraid to announce the Gospel in season and out.

That the early church chose to tell us that Barnabas was filled with the Spirit and faith tells us much about him from the perspective of spirituality but little about his personality. A companion of St Paul, we know he returned to Jerusalem with Paul to try to settle the dispute about what rites of the Jewish faith Gentiles would have to accept and celebrate. This could not have been an easy task, but Barnabas had living experience of Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus and his testimony, even without words, would have been powerful.  Barnabas could tell the Jerusalem community there was no doubt that the Gentiles were coming to Jesus and the Gospel with a deep faith and hope. More, they were trying to live in love with one another as a sign of their new consecration.

There are moments in all our lives when we have to stand up for others, even when our friends and family oppose them. Because our experience tells us that no one should be reduced to his or her faults, like Barnabas, we can remind anyone who will listen that we have seen and been impressed with the willingness of those being challenged to live with as much integrity as possible, and this can make an enormous difference in the lives of those for whom we speak.

Today, ask the Spirit to fill you with faith.

What makes you think someone is full of the Holy Spirit?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Beatitudes in Context

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Mt 5:2

One cannot say too often or emphasize too much that the beatitudes are a template, a frame with which to understand all of Jesus' preaching. Very few commentators would suggest that Jesus actually spoke all of these truths at one time and in one place. Rather, the beatitudes are a compilation of Jesus' preaching which was recorded in a form that made them easy to memorize.

Without a printing press or a written form that would allow easy distribution of the sayings and teachings of Jesus, the first Christians memorized Jesus' teaching and repeated tehm often for their own well being and to announce the Gospel. While many contemporary believers still do this, it can be a dangerous practice.

When we reduce the teaching of the New Testament to a few memorized sayings, we risk creating a "bumper sticker" faith and a community that repeats catch phrases out of context and with little regard for the culture out of which they emerged. When we do this, we impose our cultural lens on a text, and use the scriptures to reinforce our own opinions rather than learn more about how God spoke at a particular time to a particular people.

Today, read all of chapter five in Matthew's Gospel.

What practice has helped you develop a real love for the Bible?