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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Living with Anxiety

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things." Lk 10:41

There is a series on anxiety that has been running in the New York Times for a couple of years. (anxiety) Sometimes difficult to read because the writers suffer so from what to others might be insignificant situations, it is, nevertheless, insightful and demanding. I read it because I am an anxious person and want to learn more about the condition, but also because it reminds us that almost 20% of Americans regularly suffer from anxiety. Clearly, for anyone committed to a Gospel life, compassion for the suffering is essential.

Although it is difficult to know if Martha's anxiety is similar to what the Times' columnists write about, the text is clear. Martha is anxious to have Jesus address her discomfort and tell her sister Mary to help in the kitchen. Jesus responds gently enough, but reminds Martha that Mary has chosen the better part. Mary wants Jesus to free her from her anxiety and thinks having her sister help with the serving will do this, but those who suffer from anxiety know this is not the case. Unless we learn to enter and own our discomfort, it will always control us, and while we might want to blame others for it, it belongs to us and only we can engage it and live with it.

Examining those times in life when we seek explanations that free us from responsibility for our own actions is a necessary aspect of Gospel living. Acknowledging that what is bothering us is not caused by others is the first step in accepting ourselves as we are. Jesus wants Martha to see and accept her envy and let Mary attend to her own faults. He wants us to do the same.

Today, stay with your anxiety or upset. Don't run.

What situations most often make your anxious or worried?


Friday, July 19, 2013

Bruised Reeds and Smoldering Wicks

"A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory." Mt 12:20
 
All of us are bruised, either by our own families, churches, religious communities or ourselves and our environment. When we fail to listen to our bodies, which never fail to tell us in advance what is happening within us, or our spirits, which we often rush, it is impossible to hear the God who is always present within us and among us. That God promises not to break us when we are bruised assures us of God's patience and compassion. 

In a brief but beautiful book about St Clare, the author, Sr Frances Teresa, a Poor Clare nun, reminds us that we can only be authentically poor when we are generous. In fact, she insists it is God's unfailing generosity, kindness and love for us that makes God poor, and the one we must imitate. When God sees us bruised and bleeding, God reaches out for us, pours himself out and waits for us to respond. It is an amazing image. God's generosity is expressed most completely in giving us the gift of the poor Jesus as companion in life, suffering, death and eventually resurrection.

When we remember that God is always near and anxious to support us when we break or feel like the flame of faith is going out, listen again to the Gospel of Matthew which reminds that is God is closer than we can imagine and wants only what is good for us.

Today, support someone who thinks they are completely broken by sin.

Who or what helped you most when you thought you could not go on?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Judgmentalism

"If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned these innocent men."
 
It can be easy to criticize. Someone eats too much, drinks sloppily, drives too fast, talks too much or is harshly critical of others, are all reasons for standing in judgment of others. More important it allows us not to look at ourselves or the changes we need to make in order to live the Gospel life for fully.

Practicing the Good News by asking for the grace to see others with God's eyes is an important habit to develop, and Jesus offers us many wonderful examples of this. From the man who had no one to bring him to the pool (John 5:7) to the woman who touches the hem of his garment (Mk 5:27) hoping the Lord will cure her, we see Jesus responding to people in pain and isolation not as sinners but as children of God needing a sign of understanding and compassion. Rather than judge them or their parents harshly, Jesus holds them up as people who keep seeking God and God's mercy despite the harsh judgment of others.

At the same time, seeing with God's eyes does not mean we are free to ignore our own faults and sins. Rather, we must continually seek transformation, not to prove to God or others that we are worthy of God's mercy, but for God's glory. There is little more impressive to others than the simple witness of a transformed life. When we recognize God's power at work in us and live with joy and gratitude, we invite others to know the compassion of God.

Today, ask for mercy towards yourself and others.

Which faults in yourself and others do you judge most harshly?


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

God Sees

“Go and assemble the elders of Israel, and tell them: The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has appeared to me and said: I am concerned about you."  Ex 3:16

The words of Exodus are clear and comforting. God is concerned about us. To be concerned about someone can be interpreted in a wide variety of ways, but that God is aware of and responsive to our needs is not in question. God is involved in our world and alert to our journey.

Having another concerned about us can be troubling as well as gratifying. There are times in life when we are struggling to understand life as it unfolds and are anxious to do this on our own terms. When friends wonder aloud about us, we can be very defensive and resistive to their inquiries even though we know their concern is rooted in compassion and understanding.

On the other hand, it can be uplifting to know their is someone out there who wants to be of service to us, to help us along or remind us of our values and their love. A friend who offers us, in biblical terms, a glass of water when we are thirsty, can be exactly what we need when our spirits are cluttered with worries and darkness.

Exodus suggests that our reactions to God have elements of both responses. While we want someone to care about us, we don't want them meddling in our affairs, and when God becomes insistent that we slow down, listen and choose the path God has laid out for us, we can withdraw and shut down. Because we believe that our life belongs us, as if we earned it, we push God away and forego God's interventions. Exodus, however, reminds us that God cannot be and do otherwise. Whether we want God's help or not, God is there and God is concerned. Letting God be God is the key to a peaceful life.

Today, let God come close to you wherever you are.

In what areas of your life are you most resistive to God's concern?


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Innocence

“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike."  Mt 11:25

What is it about children that causes Jesus to hold them up as icons? Surely, they are charming and innocent, but there is more. Children live in awe and wonder. They see without blinders. They don't interpret what they see as much as delight in it, and in all of this, they teach us. Unlike the leaders of the Jewish community who are looking for ways to best Jesus, they don't care if he claims to be the Messiah. They only want to be close to him.

It is important not to forget that children, though treasured in the ancient world, had little value in themselves. Until they could work and produce something valuable for their families, they were educated by their mothers and tolerated, but they would not be protected in an emergency. Jesus, as he often did, challenged his own disciples when they tried to keep children away from him because he was an important rabbi.

It should not surprise us that children are naturally contemplative, able to play or work at a project for hours without noticing the time. So fascinated are they by what is right in front of them, they are not easily distracted and teach us how to live fully each day. Jesus' praise for children is well founded and natural when we take time to reflect upon it.

Today, let your spirit be distracted by the awesome beauty of the world.

What most distracts you from living each day with joy and delight?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Moses Baptism

"Pharaoh’s daughter,...adopted him as her son and called him Moses; for she said, 'I drew him out of the water.'” Ex 2:10

In order to live, Moses' mother had to die to her desire to nurture, teach and raise her son. Putting him in a basket she placed him near the river, knowing that Pharaoh's daughter often bathed there. What an awful choice Moses' mother had. Knowing she could not hide him forever, but not wanting him to die or be killed, she trusted that someone would find and help him. 

When Pharaoh's daughter discovered the boy, she knew it was a Hebrew, and when one of her servants suggested finding a Hebrew woman to nurse the boy, Pharaoh's daughter agreed immediately. That Moses' mother was chosen to nurse her own son must have given her immense pleasure, but must also have been bitter sweet. Knowing she would not be with her son throughout his life was a terrible burden, but one she readily bore so that he might live.

Baptism is all about being plunged into the waters of life in order to die to self and live for others. Moses' mother was willing to do this for her son and challenges all who read her story to ask themselves how deep their own faith is. Would any of us be willing to sacrifice everything so that another might live?

God is. God's love is so full, so complete, so lacking in self absorption that God is willing to send his son as savior of us all, even to death for our sake, so that we can live with God forever. This promise, this commitment is beyond our ability to imagine. Simply thinking about it is thrilling.

Today, die to some simple pleasure for the sake of another.



Sunday, July 14, 2013

St Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor

"Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple–amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” Mt 10:37

St Bonaventure University, where I am presently teaching a summer session, promotes, in the spirit of St Francis and St Bonaventure, three core values: peace, the planet and the poor. St Francis, we are told, never failed greet the friars and everyone he met, especially the poor, with the simple greeting: Pace e Bene, Peace and Good, hoping thereby to create an atmosphere of peace and helping all, but especially those who might oppose his new way and fraternity, to trust his motives and desires. Filled with awe at all God's gifts, but especially the gift of creation, Francis challenged his contemporaries to reimagine their relationship to the earth and all God's people.

When Francis first began to follow God's promptings to hand his life to God without fear, he did not envision himself as the founder of a new religious order. Rather, he wanted to live in the world with a new focus and a new dream. Determined to live simply among the poor as a pilgrim and stranger, he wanted to witness to the unconditional love of God by rejecting signs of power and prestige in his society. When others heard the same call, he was happy to welcome and live with them as a sign that God wanted all people to promote peace in a world where everyone had enough to eat and live with dignity.

St Bonaventure, who some call the second founder of the Franciscan movement, was charged with settling the differences between and among Francis' followers especially with regard to their vow of poverty. A theologian, Bonaventure knew that all knowledge, especially Greek philosophy, could work together with the Gospel to intellectually ground the pursuit of God but without thinking one could ever fully understand God and God's ways. When asked to bring his great learning to the struggles of the early Franciscans, Bonaventure proved to be an inspired leader and healer. Minister General of the friars for seventeen years, he led the Franciscan community to a place of honor and humility by his willingness to stand at the center of every controversy as an agent of peace and good.

Today, seek peace with someone with whom you disagree.

What most inspires you about St Francis and the Franciscans?