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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Humility

"My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts." Sir 3:17

Humility is a constant in the Bible, but it is an illusive concept and practice. Not an attempt to diminish ourselves or consider ourselves only from the perspective of our failures, humility is the willingness to recognize and be attentive to God as the center of all that is. More, humility demands we allow ourselves to be consumed with and in God, and this humility frees us from the fear of death. Knowing that God wants to be with us forever, not because of our accomplishments, but because God created us, we celebrate being chosen, not with pride, but with a radical gratitude about being made in the image and likeness of God.

Writing to the Philippians, Paul reminds us that Jesus humbled himself for our salvation so that we would know without question, how precious we are to God. Why else would someone die for us?
Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8) 
The the 19th century art critic, John Ruskin, insists that we can recognize authentically humble people by their fascination, not with themselves, but with the God who acts through them. "Really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not of them, but through them. And they see something divine in every other man and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.” And again, "The first test of a truly great man is his humility. By humility I don't mean doubt of his powers or hesitation in speaking his opinion, but merely an understanding of the relationship of what he can say and what he can do." (Ruskin)

Today, be honest and honor God for all that God is: Creator, Savior, Friend.

What most frightens you about being humble?

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Dignity of Work

"We urge you, brothers and sisters, to progress even more, and to aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands, as we instructed you." 1 Thess 4: 10-11

Paul's insistence that the Thessalonians work with their own hands would have been a great challenge to the Greeks. In societies that countenanced slavery, only slaves worked with their hands. The work of the mind for Greeks and the study of Torah for Jews were viewed as much more important than anything one could do with one's hands, but Paul cannot forget the story of Jesus kneeling to wash the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. Washing feet was the work of slaves! If Jesus took the role of a slave, no matter how much Peter resisted the gesture, then Christians had to reimagine what it meant to be faithful to Jesus and his Good News.

John Paul II wrote extensively about work in his encyclical Laborem Exercens, but the Pope's letter was merely a bringing together of one of he great themes of his pontificate. In homily after homily, he wrote powerfully about work. "Work is good for us. Through work we not only transform nature, adapting it to our needs, but we also achieve fulfillment as human beings and indeed in a sense become more human."(Monterey, California, September 1987) And when visiting Sydney, Australia John Paul wrote, "It must be said over and over again that work is for man, (sic) not man for work…The worker is always more important than profits and machines."(Sydney, Australia, November 1986)

Most important for us to remember, Popes and other world leaders write so extensively about the dignity of work and workers because in too many places, even in the United States, working with one's hands is seen as something for poor people to do and workers are too often underpaid and under appreciated. Jesus embraced the role of the slave and all the work slaves did. So must we.

Today, get your hands dirty.

Whose work most influenced your understanding of the dignity of work and the power of the Gospel?




Thursday, August 29, 2013

Foolishness

"Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." Mt 25:8

The unprepared virgins whose oil has run out are labelled foolish, a word that can be confusing in the New Testament. Paul wants to be seen as a fool for Christ and encourages his companions to be the same. Anxious to be dismissed for the sake of the Gospel, Paul stands out among his contemporaries as a man willing to be ridiculed for the right reason.

The virgins in the Gospel, however, are not seeking attention but only hoping to avoid embarrassment and shame. They knew that bridegrooms, feted  and praised in the week before their weddings, would linger long into the night at parties in their honor. Their foolishness was not a sign of their fidelity to a a cause or person, but a sign of laziness or sloth. They could have prepared themselves for a long night, but did not, and now risk the harsh judgement of their peers.

Each day we are faced with the challenge of discerning how best to announce the Good News. Some days our silence and willingness to listen to others' complaints or problems is a Gospel stance. At other times, we need to search for a way to express our upset, confusion and anger at the lack of justice too many face when they have little money or power in the society. Speaking up on behalf of the poor can be a prophetic action on our part, especially when others are disparaging the poor as lazy or indolent. Authentic Christians know that to be a fool for the sake of the Gospel is a gift.

Today, be foolish in your love for God.

What most frightens you about being considered a fool for Christ?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Passion of John the Baptist

“I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” Mk 6:25

Each time we read Mark's gospel about the party Herod threw for his friends, we wonder if John had an inkling of what might be his fate. A critic of Herod for marrying his brother's wife, John was in prison awaiting he knew not what. Would he rot, be beaten, escape or be sprung from prison by his followers? Though we have no direct evidence of how John reacted when he was about to be beheaded, it must have been awful.

Women and men in prison are among the most isolated people in the world. Often forgotten even by their friends and family, they have little to do but endure and hope for their freedom. For those who study or learn to pray in prison, life can have new meaning, but the strength needed to survive the emptiness and segregation is often lacking. Many become chronically depressed and often think of suicide.

All of us have or make prisons for ourselves from time to time. Call it what you will, but our unwillingness to let go of a job, a lifestyle, a home or an idea can trap us in a place that once served us well on our earthly pilgrimage, but is now very much like a prison. Unless we seek the grace to live in Christ each day, we will be unable to see God wherever we are or hear God directing us to a new path.

We should have little doubt that no matter how difficult John the Baptist's life  was in prison, he continued to live in the Spirit of God and announce that he was not the one who was to come and that all should follow the Christ who lived within and among them. While John's body was in prison, his faith in Christ allowed him to escape each day into the freedom of God. Our faith offers us this same gift.

Today, ask God to free you from prisons of your own making.

How can the witness of John the Baptist help contemporary Christians?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

St Augustine

"You have searched me and you know me, Lord." (Ps 139)

Augustine of Hippo wrestled with God for years. Resistant to anything or anyone who couldn't help him understand life as he experienced it, his life turned around when he met St Ambrose in Milan. A seminal thinker and writer, Ambrose got Augustine's attention through kindness and helped open his mind and heart to the Gospel by his brilliant preaching, but it was the voice of a child telling him to "take and read" that moved Augustine to read the thirteenth chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans. Hearing Paul tell his readers that the night was over and it was time to live decently moved Augustine towards baptism.

Best known for his Confessions, a work which the saint thought should be read aloud, Augustine remains one of the most controversial figures in the Christian West as well as one of its most accessible writers. St Thomas Aquinas, St Bonaventure, John Calvin and almost every theologian of note, relied heavily on Augustine in their theological and pastoral writings, but some of Augustine's writings, especially about the Jews and original sin, continue to trouble contemporary readers. Nonetheless, Augustine remains a figure of immense importance whose writing continues to inspire believers everywhere.

Writing about love, Augustine asks: "What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like."(Augustine) For Augustine, love is a verb not a noun. It is something that we must act upon and share. More important, it is not always something we feel but something we decide to live and involves all the senses. We must love what we see and hear and walk towards those most in need.

Today, live your faith by keeping your eyes and ears open to all.

What keeps you from acting upon the Gospel everyday?






Monday, August 26, 2013

St Monica

"There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. My God has exceeded this abundantly." (St Monica in the Confessions IX, 10)

St Monica taught her son, St Augustine, many lessons. Steadfastness and fidelity to the Gospel, expressed by her willingness to accept him even when he was wandering from his faith, tolerance of her mother in law who regularly rejected her because of her piety, but nothing was more important than her reliance on prayer especially when praying for her son's conversion.

Following Augustine everywhere he went, even when he tried to avoid her, Monica finds herself in Milan where the Milanese did not fast on Saturday. Confused, Monica asks St Ambrose for advice. When Ambrose tells her to follow local custom wherever she was, Monica took his advice believing that her willingness to listen and change would prove to Augustine that his mother's prayer for his conversion was pure. If she wanted Augustine to change, so must she.

When Monica was nearing death, she insisted that no one worry about her or attempt to bring her body back to Africa for burial. “Lay this body anywhere, let not the care for it trouble you at all. This only I ask, that you will remember me at the Lord's altar, wherever you be.” (Confessions IX, 11) Because St Monica's prayers had been answered with Augustine's full embrace of his Catholic faith, she lived the rest of her life in gratitude, a lesson all of us would do well to learn.

Today, pray for someone's conversion.

Whose prayer and desire for you has most moved you to listen and change?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Silliness

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’ Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred?"  Mt 23:16-17

Being blind is not always a bad thing. Pope John XXIII wrote in his diary: See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little. Good advice for all, but especially leaders and parents. Sometimes it is better not to "see" or to look away from those we are trying to lead, especially if they are trying something for the first time. Often, when I am trying to help people learn the art of public reading in church, I don't look at them since getting up in front of others is difficult enough without thinking someone is staring at you.

But this is not what Jesus is talking about in Matthew's gospel. Concerned that the leaders of the Jewish community are more concerned with their own welfare than proclaiming and interpreting the Law and the Prophets, Jesus warns them about looking without seeing and obsessing about money and property to the detriment of the Law.

It is often clear in the Gospels that the Scribes and Pharisees are more concerned with tripping Jesus up than with hearing his message or listening to him with respect. Alarmed that Jesus might be stripping them of the little power they had, they challenge his knowledge of the Law and are blind to his good works on behalf of the poor.

The struggles of the Jewish leaders remain ours. Too often we cling to the shallow knowledge we have or defend our behavior rather than ask God for insight about how better to live the Gospel. Unless we remain deeply rooted in the foundational values of the Gospel, we will fail to see the Lord in the faces and lives of the poor.

Today, open the eyes of your heart to those most in need.

What situations in your family or church are most difficult for you to see and address?