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Saturday, July 6, 2013

God is like our Mother

"As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you." Is 66:13

Isaiah does not hesitate, in trying to help us understand and be transformed by the inexplicable love of God, to tell us that God is like our mother, always wanting to comfort and strengthen us during every trial. Reminding us that God is our creator, Isaiah also assures us that God is always near and wants to be of service to us, not unlike a young mother helping her children learn to walk. But there is more.


Mothers in the ancient world were the first and often the only teachers of their children. Not only did they help them learn the daily tasks that keep a household functioning, they also taught them the Torah. We can only imagine Mary teaching Jesus in this regard. It becomes obvious in the Gospels that Jesus was well schooled in the Torah and the prophets. Quoting often from the prophets especially, there should be little doubt that his interpretation bore the imprint on his mother's influence. Reminding everyone that the Sabbath was made for the people, not the people for the Sabbath, Jesus challenges his listeners and the authorities not to be rigid in observing the Sabbath but to remember that all the prohibitions of the Sabbath were intended to help believers rest and renew themselves in Jewish life and values. How like a mother to remind us of our priorities.


More often than not, it is mothers who can calm us, assure us, listen to and encourage us to keep moving forward despite the obstacles. Whether it is because they have more time for us or more heart is not the issue. Rather, mothers know us from the inside. They see our souls and while they can manipulate us easily if they are not careful, they can also set us free. The God who tells us she is like our mother can set us free like no other. Secure in God's love, we can live the Gospel with freedom and passion.

Today, be a mother to someone who needs your comfort.

What image of God most draws you out of yourself?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Weddings

“Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?" Mt 9:15
 
Summer is a time for weddings in the United States. Usually warm with lots of flowers from which to pick, summer allows young couples to invite family and friends from around the United States. an even around the world, to join them in their joy. Wanting to have as many of their companions as possible, couples trust that the weather won't stop guests from joining them.

It is no wonder that Jesus uses the image of a wedding to help his critics understand his message. Everyone in the ancient world knew how important weddings were. A time for families and tribes to deepen their bonds with one another, weddings lasted at least a week and the entire time was given over to the celebration of the new couple and the promise their marriage contained for their families and their faith community. No one would suggest that a wedding feast was a time to fast!

For believers, Jesus is the bridegroom who is always among us, and while we fast from to time to time, especially during Lent, because we forget or ignore the power of his being within and among us,   even in Lent we break our fast on Sunday's and feast at the table of the Lord. When Jesus uses the image of a bridegroom to instruct those asking him why his disciples did not fast, he was making use of the experience of his listeners to tell them who he was. 

Remembering that the Lord has made a covenant with us, his bride, invites us to believe more deeply in the resurrection. At the time of Jesus, after a man was betrothed to his intended bride, he would leave her and return to his father's house, but before departing he would say, I go to prepare a place for you, the same words Jesus uses to assure his disciples that he would return for them after his death and bring them to the bridal chamber he had prepared for them in heaven.

Today, rest in the realization that Christ has betrothed himself to us forever.

What image do you use to help yourself remember Christ's eternal and total love for you?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Sinners

"Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Mt 9:13

There is an old story about a fellow who died and presented himself at the pearly gates. St Peter looked though the book of his life and was amazed. The man had not committed a single sin his entire life. But as he looked more closely he realized that he had only done one good action. The fellow had given $5 to the missions. Thinking about the situation, Peter was perplexed and told the fellow he had never met anyone like him and would have to speak to St Paul who was in charge of the missions. After telling Paul the story of the man's life, Paul hesitated only a moment before saying: Give him back his five bucks and tell him to go to hell.

Faith is not simply about avoiding evil, although the world would surely be a better place if all of us avoided racist, sexist and and derogatory words and actions about others. Rather, faith is an action word; it is about doing the right thing for the right reason. It is about living in gratitude for all we are and have, and sharing all God' gifts with others. A person who only avoids evil is most probably more full of fear than faith.

Faith also helps us acknowledge and accept ourselves as sinners. Some even choose regularly to speak of their sins in the Sacrament of Penance in order to face themselves and God honestly, not so much because their sins are so great, but because their attitude needs an adjustment. Those who opposed Jesus were forever looking for a reason to criticize him, especially if he offended their interpretation of the Torah by eating with sinners, but Jesus reminds them and us that eating with sinners is a way to befriend the broken in faith. It is, after all, the sick who need a physician, not the healthy.

Today, let your faith speak in action. Be kind.

Does your sin get in the way of living your faith more transparently?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Abraham's Impossible Task

God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a burnt offering on a height that I will point out to you.” Gen 22:2

What kind of God is this who asks a faithful servant like Abraham to sacrifice his own son? At first reading, it sounds like God is an abusive father who tests his friends with impossible tasks. Some might even say that God is cruel in playing with Abraham's spirit in this way. That we know the end of the story mollifies us only a little. Yes, Isaac will be spared but at what price? Will he be scarred forever and afraid of a God who wanted his father to sacrifice him? Will he ever trust God himself?

No matter how painful, we must try to enter the story of Abraham and Isaac as it is presented to us, not only for our own spiritual growth but as servants and disciples of a God who challenges us to announce Good News to the poor and set captives free. Because the poor and captives are more likely to face the kinds of impossible challenges presented to Abraham, we need to walk with them  and learn from them as they discover a God who will show them a path to freedom and light.

These painful questions are also necessary for every believer because it is our concept of God that most affects our everyday life. If we think of God as someone who is always watching us like a prison guard, we might behave but we certainly won't believe. Rather, we will try to skirt the edges of faith in order to avoid condemnation, but never know the joy of being in love with God who promises never to stop loving us.

As the letter to the Hebrews suggests, Abraham found strength to listen to God because he believed that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead. Likewise, when we are in the middle of our own frightening struggles, we have the same assurance. No matter what happens to us in life, no matter how terrible the trials we face, God is near and continues to promise us resurrection and a place at the eternal banquet.

Today, revisit a dark time in your life and invite God to be with you as your probe its meaning.

How do you interpret the the test of Abraham? Can you make sense of it?





Tuesday, July 2, 2013

St Thomas the Apostle

"You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone." Eph 2: 19-20

Being a stranger in your own country, church or home is very difficult, and yet that is what happened to the earliest believers in Jesus. Excluded from the synagogue after the destruction of the temple when they refused to reject their belief in Jesus, the first Christians were lost, confused, and hurt. There is good evidence that they very much wanted to remain within the Jewish community and even take leadership roles, but their commitment to Jesus made this impossible, and this is why Paul, who knew this hurt himself, insists that belief in Jesus was enough for them to think of themselves as "members of the household of God."

Belonging is so central to our identity. Unless we belong to a family, a tribe, a nation or a religious tradition, we can easily get lost. How important it is to have friends and family with whom to talk over problems and share joys! How awful when we feel alone in the middle of a crowd. We can thank St Paul for recognizing and addressing this concern for the first Christians. Never forgetting how essential his Jewish roots were to his understanding of God's plan, Paul formulates a theology and spirituality for the earliest Christians that allowed them to develop as believers despite the loss they felt in being excluded from the synagogue.

Today, thank God for belonging to Christ in the church.

What most helps you have a sense of belonging to Christ and the church?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Living through the Storms of Life

"Jesus said to them, 'Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?' Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea,and there was great calm." Mt 8:26

Terror comes to us all. Sometimes it takes the form of a new illness or anxiety. At other times, we are deeply troubled by the sickness of a spouse, friend or child, especially when the doctors seem unable to diagnose the problem. When this happens, we tend to breathe more shallowly and our insides get frantic with worry and concern. Worse, it is often difficult to sleep or rest well when we are overwhelmed with a life threatening situation.

The disciples who were in the boat with Jesus must have felt some of this when they got caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Expecting an easy passage, all of a sudden the sea is so rough and the winds so high that they begin to fear for their lives. Had they not left all to follow the Lord?Would this be their reward?

It is not uncommon to think that because we have tried to be faithful to the laws of the church and the Gospel mandates that we will have peaceful and prosperous lives. Like a responsible person who puts a few dollars away every week for retirement expecting to live well in his or her last years, we trust that the Lord will take care of us if we say our prayers, go to mass each week and care for our families and the poor, but the Gospel does not promise this.

Jesus assures his disciples that he is always alert and will always be with them, but he does not promise a carefree life. Rather, he insists that the Good News is so good that they need not fear even death itself, a great challenge for the disciples and us.

Today, ask the Lord to assure you he is near.

How has your faith helped you manage the "storms" of your life?


Sunday, June 30, 2013

God is Forgiveness

“Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty? Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it? ... The LORD replied, “If I find fifty innocent people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

There are scriptural stories that challenge our understanding of God. They are rich, inviting and unbelievable. Could it be that God is waiting to forgive us? Is it possible that God only wants us to ask for mercy? Is God so in love with us that God is searching for ways to forgive and renew us?

Most of us are familiar with Abraham's willingness to wager with God in the book of Genesis. Familiar with and close to God, Abraham is unafraid to approach God, even push God, to forget our sins and embrace us anew. Aware that God is thinking about destroying the wicked city of Sodom, Abraham first asks God whether 50 innocent and good people would change God's mind about destroying the city. When God says yes, Abraham keep lowering the number until God is willing to forgive the entire city of Sodom if Abraham can produce 10 good people. 

The God we meet in the book of Genesis is tender, compassionate and merciful but often for reasons of guilt and shame we are unable to accept this God. Thinking we are deserving of punishment and retribution, we resist allowing the God of Genesis to come near us for fear we will have to offer others the same solicitous love God shows us, but God is bigger than our fears. While God wants us to forgive our enemies, God's love is not conditional. As long as we ask for help, God is there, trusting that the reception of this kind of mercy will help us see others as God seems them.

Today, imagine God waiting for you with open arms.

What keeps you from believing in the all forgiving God that Abraham encounters?