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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Vanity

"What profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest."  Ecc 1:22

Most of us have had sleepless nights. Worried about a child or a friend, or overly concerned with a health issue or something we have to do the next day, we find ourselves going over and over a problem that we cannot solve, fix or make go away, and despite counting sheep or praying the rosary, we lie awake for hours.

From one perspective the book of Ecclesiastes can be very hard on us in this regard. Calling our restlessness a vanity when we act as if we can control life with more effort and desire, the author reminds us to throw all our cares upon the Lord and trust that God can and will guide us and direct the world. But Ecclesiastes is also comforting. If we take time each day to listen to and attend to God's life at the heart of all that is, we gradually learn to let go. We might not sleep easily but we will be less frantic and more accepting of our human condition.

For some insomnia is an illness and a life threatening condition, and the scripture is not suggesting that this sickness is something we bring upon ourselves because we are vain, but it does remind most of us that we need to pray more regularly and live Gospel centered lives. Faith should not be a Sunday obligation, but a way to live in right relationship with all creation.

Today, let go into God's hands totally for 10 minutes.

How do you understand the biblical notion of vanity/

Friday, August 2, 2013

Drunken Rage

"His disciples came and took away John the Baptist's corpse and buried him; and they went and told Jesus." Mt 14:12

The beheading of John the Baptist is always a difficult story to read. While the text does not speak of alcohol directly, it is not difficult for anyone who has been around people who drink too much to imagine Herod's drunkenness leading to a promise he cannot break. When his daughter, at her mother's prompting, asks for John's head on a platter, Herod has no choice but to accept her request. Alcohol got him in trouble and his pride made it worse. Too drunk to think clearly, he gives into his wife's rage and orders John's murder.

Anyone who has lived in an alcoholic family has stories like this, and while most of them do not involve murder, too many know the horrors of alcohol abuse. Wives and children have been beaten and families have disintegrated because of alcoholic drinking. Worse, many families endure abusive drinking in their homes because they think the gospel demands their fidelity to the struggling alcoholic, or they feel trapped in a situation from which they do not see another path, and their decision to stay often sets patterns that the next generation find impossible to break.

One wonders what the disciples of John were thinking after they buried John and told Jesus of their master's death. Did they hope Jesus would retaliate? Were they afraid for their own lives? Did they imagine Jesus raising John from the dead?

Most of us skirt the obvious. Alcoholic drinking will eventually kill the body of the drinker and the spirits of the alcoholic's family.

Today, pray for alcoholic families.

What do you do in the face of addiction?


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sabbath

"On the seventh day you shall again hold a sacred assembly and do no sort of work.” Lv 23:7

One of the great tragedies on the present age is that too many people in the world struggle to survive. Hundreds of millions are hungry,(1) cold, and poorly housed, and more than 12 million people live in refugee camps (2). Forced to flee their countries because of war and famine, refugees are a constant reminder to be grateful for the simple gifts of food and home. They also prompt us to think about the fragility of life as we know it. Often in the blink of an eye families must leave their homes and countries to seek safety among people and in a place that is temporary, crowded and frightening, especially for children.

Situations like this make it impossible for millions to rest, reflect, pray and honor the Sabbath. The command of God to keep Holy the Sabbath feels like a luxury to the poor and refugees, and robs them of the freedom to experience Sabbath's benefits. Families resting together without working have the opportunity to listen more intently to one another and God, and to celebrate who they are becoming as individuals and people of faith. Sabbath also refreshes our imaginations and makes us more productive when we do work.

God's wisdom and desire for us is to rest every week and pray, and this command is so important that God holds up the poorest of the poor, the anawim, as examples for us.(Neh 13) Even when the Jews were dragged into exile, a few, the poor, despite being threatened that their children would go hungry, honored God and kept the Sabbath. So should we.

Today, take a twenty minute Sabbath. Do nothing.

What is most difficult for you to put aside in order to celebrate Sabbath with your family?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

St Alphonsus Liguori

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

One of the most remarkable phenomenon in the Judeo-Christian tradition is how God uses the weakness of people to confound the wise. Not only is this uncomfortable for us, it often pushes away those who think of themselves as sane, centered and grounded. Christopher Hitchens, who in his last years was a loud and acerbic critic of religion, asserted that the dark night of the soul was nothing more than depression, a view that is shared by many who call themselves atheists.

Nevertheless, the scriptures are clear. In Psalm 50 we read, "True sacrifice is a broken spirit: a contrite and humble heart, O God, you will not refuse." Only when we acknowledge our brokenness does God work, using our humility as a path to truth. We are weak; we are fragile; we are unable to live without others and creation. From a Christian perspective these are truths that set us free because they help us submit to God and God's ways.
Alphonsus Liguori, the founder of the Redemptorists, is a powerful example of this. Well educated, he finished his doctoral studies in canon and civil law before he was twenty, but his spirit was not fed by the law. Seeking a different path, he sought ordination, despite the opposition of his family, because of his desire to share the good news in simple ways. Badly bent physically by rheumatism, and unable to stand erect, he managed to preach popular missions for 26 years. Though a renowned theologian, it was his humility and integrity that touched the hearts of ordinary believers most deeply.

Today, ask for the grace of not knowing everything.

What experiences have taught you the value of humility?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

St Ignatius Loyola

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." Mt 13:44

Many people never find their buried treasure, and some give up looking for it, but the Gospel is clear. A faith filled life demands that we ask ourselves about our treasures and discern whether what we cling to is really of God or our own misguided desire for security and control over life. The believer realizes, often early on, that nothing we can possess is really of ultimate value, even our families and our friendships. Only when we let go are we free to know and trust God in all things.

St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, took a very crooked path before discovering God's desire for him. Like St Francis of Assisi in the 13th century, Ignatius was fascinated by the stories of courtly love and knighthood, and dreamed of a life of military success. When, however, he was badly injured in a battle with the French he began to read stories of Jesus and the saints, and discovered he could have a much deeper happiness if he followed the Gospel.

Determined to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit which had surfaced through study and prayer, Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus with a few close friends. Only then did his life begin to take the path that God intended. More important, the wisdom he gained became the foundation of  the Spiritual Exercises, a guide for the Jesuits and spiritual directors everywhere, and one of the most  incisive and important documents about the spiritual life written in the Christian West.

Today, look for the treasure God wants for you.

What are the treasures to which you cling?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Face to Face with God

"The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another." Ex 33:11

Although the book of Exodus speaks of God as a cloud descending on the tent when Moses entered it, believers wonder what God looked like. If God spoke with Moses face to face, how did God's face appear? Was God's face young, old, man, woman, fierce, kindly? These are questions without answers and in some ways irrelevant. That God spoke with Moses as one man or one woman speaks to another is the point of the text.

God is intimate with Moses. God draws near and speaks clearly because, the text implies, God wants to be close to us, and involved in our lives. Most important, God wants us to know that we have a purpose and a destiny, and will only reach our end if we live in peace, work for justice and find a way to care for all creation. 

God is clear. Life is a gift which we ought to enjoy and share. Giving Moses the commandments is a way of helping us understand what we must do and how we must live. Not simply a list of prohibitions, as they are sometimes presented and interpreted, the commandments remind us that every community needs order and boundaries in order to live well together. If we honor God and respect and love all that God gives us, life among us is rich and reverent.

Today, speak with the Lord face to face. Don't be afraid.

What experiences or activities bring you closest to God?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

St Martha

"As Moses drew near the camp, he saw the calf and the dancing. With that, Moses’ wrath flared up, so that he threw the tablets down and broke them on the base of the mountain." Ex 32:19

There is a wonderful midrash that the Jewish people often repeat. Wondering what happened to the broken pieces of the tablets on which God wrote the commandments after Moses smashed them in anger when he found the people worshiping a golden calf and dancing before it, the rabbis suggested that both the broken pieces and the second set of tablets that God gave Moses were placed in the Ark of the Covenant so that we would never forget that we are both whole and broken as individuals and communities.

This is certainly true of the church. Dorothy Day, whose life of service to the very poor and active non violence as a conscientious objector to the Second World War regularly put her in conflict with the American hierarchy once wrote, "As to the church, where else shall we go, except to the Bride of Christ, one flesh with Christ? Though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother." Catholic Worker
Although they can make us terribly uncomfortable and even angry, we always have need of prophets, people who remind us that God's word cannot be ignored without risking our own integrity and the loss of faith. Jesus was always straightforward as a rabbi with other rabbis and teachers, but never attacked sinners. Calling the Jewish community back to its roots by challenging everything from Sabbath practices to touching the sick, especially women, Jesus demanded that his disciples live the Torah not just know it.

Today, do not criticize others. Reform your own life.

What part of the gospel most challenges you to change?