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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Moving Mountains

"If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you." Lk 17:6

As children this text was confusing and exciting. Was it possible to have so much faith that one could perform miracles, and if so what did you have to do to learn this skill? Of course, the passage is not about power and extraordinary signs and wonders, but gratitude.

When we are grateful for the faith we have and remember that it is an unearned gift, everything changes. We may not be able to perform miracles, but we realize more and more deeply that our life is a miracle, and that God is not a hovering presence waiting for us to make a mistake, but a loving father who wants us to be ourselves and to celebrate his love in our lives. Jesus is trying to help his listeners understand and appreciate that they are much stronger than they realize if only they live their faith on a daily basis.

Gratitude for all God is and does is natural and necessary, a way of living and loving and the foundation of a full Gospel life. When we realize how much God has done for us and what God intends for us, we can accept life as a journey that will take us up and down mountains and in and out of very dark valleys, all the while being accompanied by God, which is the real miracle.

Today, let go of a mountain you have been trying to conquer.

What have been the ordinary miracles in your life?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Authentic Joy

"Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”  Lk 10:20

Everyone can do something, and some can do things that produce enormous income. Professional athletes, movie stars and CEO's of large companies can earn millions of dollars a year because they have a particular skill set. Whether their accomplishments merit the money they are paid is not the issue. That they think of themselves in inflated terms is. If anyone believes that they are worth more in the eyes of God because of their abilities, they have completely misread the Gospel. The Good News is not about being successful but being faithful.

As Pope Francis recently said in an interview with La Repubblica, the biggest difficulty in the world is not the disparity of income between rich and poor, although this is a real issue for the Pope, but the unemployment of the young and the loneliness of the aging. More, too many young and old, according to the Pope, have given into despair and when the church ignores their needs, she fails to announce the Good News in good times and bad. Calling some church leaders narcissists, Pope Francis suggests their self absorption is part of the reason the church has been abandoned by the young and old. "Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy." (La Reppublica) Strong words for those in leadership positions and for all who think of their own needs first and seek the adulation of the crowds rather than living a life of witness to the Gospel.

Authentic joy is a gift of God for never losing sight of the Gospel's demand that we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and visit the imprisoned and the sick. Unless we remain committed to those who because they cannot find work are losing hope and those who live in their own homes like prisoners in solitary confinement, we might be successful in keeping churches open but will fail to evangelize those most in need.

Today, be grateful for those whose lives of generous service continue to challenge us.

What do you think makes for authentic joy?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

St Francis of Assisi

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes." Lk 10:13

The name Francis is in the forefront of the news these days. Pope Francis has made it so. Humble, honest, and unafraid to speak his mind, our new Pope has captivated the imagination of many around the world and has begun to use his new prominence to speak out on behalf the voiceless. Calling the church to return to its foundations, Pope Francis is living up to his name. When asked why he chose the name Francis, he was clear, “The poor, the poor. When he (Cardinal Hummes of Brazil) spoke about the poor, I thought of St. Francis of Assisi,” said the pope, who took the name of Francis, “Then, I thought of the wars.”

St Francis of Assisi not only thought about the poor, he became poor and like so many great saints he allowed God to turn his life upside down. Urged as a boy to be a soldier and fight for Assisi, Francis listened, went to war against the neighboring town of Perugia, but then heard God's call to let go of his warring ways and live the Gospel without compromise. Like the 3rd century martyr, St Maximilian, who said "I am a solder of Christ, I cannot fight," Francis fought not for dominance over his neighbors but for Gospel purity. Wanting to live so poorly that he and his brothers would have nothing to defend, he directed the friars to own nothing and possess nothing, eventually convincing the Roman hierarchy to approve their way of life. Francis' example continues to inspire thousands of women and men today.

Today, live simply so that others can live.

What should be our response to the poor?


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Two by Two

"Jesus appointed seventy-two other disciples whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit." Lk 10:1

The gospel, while liberating and energizing, is also intimidating and difficult. It should not surprise us that Jesus sends his disciples in pairs to prepare the ground for his ministry. They are to go before him, announce his coming and bear witness to his power. Jewish law demanded there be two witnesses to prevent errors and confusion. Two people speaking the same truth could be believed, and Jesus wanted to insist that he was faithful to the Torah and the fulfillment of it.

Whenever we are challenged to do something new, to change how we think and behave, we resist. We say something like: Why change when something works? Why fix what isn't broken? Denial can be a powerful defense. When we don't want to face the broken parts of our own lives or the structure of the church, we deny it, assure everyone that we can adjust or tweak it while continuing to function of three cylinders.

When Jesus saw this in the Jewish community of his day, he invited them to reinterpret the Torah. He was a Jew after all, and came to fulfill the freedom God had granted to his people when he liberated them from slavery in Egypt, but when the Jews resisted, Jesus did what he later told his disciples to do. He wiped the dust from his feet, brought his message to the whole known world, and made us the beneficiaries of God's benevolence.

Today, face what is broken in your life and ask God for help.

What most needs attention in your life?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Guardian Angels

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” Mt 18:10

Most of us work diligently not to despise anyone or anything, trying always to think of all creation as a gift from God. Nevertheless, we slip, we sin, we fail. In recent days, the actions of our Congress have led many to despise the intransigence of those we have elected to serve, but whose behavior too often seems self protective and rigid. Because we so need our representatives to remember all the people of this nation, especially the poor, we expect them to have the comprehensive and inclusive view of what a stoppage in government service might mean for the neediest of our citizens.

When Jesus wants his disciples and opponents to understand fully his attitude towards them and his expectations of them, he reminds them to look at children as icons of humility. Children, he insists, can teach all what it means to understand greatness. We are not called to dominate or manipulate others, but to serve one another like children and slaves. This is a hard command.

The leaders of the Jews had labored long and hard to know and interpret the law in order to keep their community faithful to the God who had led them out of slavery into the promised land, and they were wary of anyone preaching about the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. If people used freedom, they feared, as a way to ignore or skirt the law, the community would falter and be subject to God's wrath.

Acknowledging their concerns, and letting them know he wanted all to to live the law fully and with joy, Jesus also called for reform and renewal. Concerned that the law was being used as a club to batter the poor, sick and broken, Jesus asked all to be like children: innocent, vulnerable and alert to everything around them, particularly the despised poor.

Today, remember that there are angels around us to protect us.

How do you counter arrogance in yourself and others?


Monday, September 30, 2013

St Therese, the Little Flower

"Prayer is, for me, an outburst from the heart; it is a simple glance darted upwards to Heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and of love in the midst of trial as in the midst of joy!" (Story of a Soul, X)

St Therese, the Little Flower, was immensely attractive to many in the 20th century. Simple, direct and repeatable, her spirituality made sense to people who were lost in the complexities of a faith that spent more time helping people understand its theology than encouraging them to grow in holiness. When Therese was most popular the majority of believers thought that the pursuit of holiness was something reserved to priests and sisters, but Therese taught otherwise. Her spirituality was accessible to anyone who was willing to walk a simple path and love God along the way.

Too often spirituality is presented as something so other worldly that few are attracted to it. Content with being "good enough" by going to mass on Sunday, saying their morning and evening prayers and doing the works of mercy, they were not encouraged to seek intimacy with God, but to to strive to sneak in the back door of heaven. That this thinking and attitude was demeaning to lay people and dismissive of the vocation of marriage as an authentic path to holiness, became clear, and Therese's little way was a new road all could take. Her spirituality was something that emerged as a response to everyday life and its popularity soared.

In a world obsessed with information and communication, Therese's life and example can still be important. As long as we are willing to look at one another with openness of spirit and hope, we can be profound examples to those who feel lost in a world they can no longer manage and are forced to be passive recipients of directions from churches, governments and media rather than active participants in living and proclaiming the Gospel.

Today, choose simplicity. Look at someone with love and gratitude.

What most attracts you to live the Gospel simply?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Lazarus

"And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores." (Lk 16:20-21)

It is so difficult to read the passage about Lazarus and the rich man. How is it possible to have someone lying at your feet and not see him? Couldn't the rich man at least have swept the crumbs off his table so that Lazarus could have something to eat? How could he let his dogs lick Lazarus' wounds? These seem natural but unanswerable questions, but they demand reflection from us.

Who is it that we don't see? Are there people so unimportant that we ignore them? Too often the answer is yes. Sometimes it is people of color or those who are culturally different than us. At other times, it is people who are generational recipients of welfare. More often we turn away, almost unconsciously, from the homeless and mentally ill because they frighten us, but we can and ought to try to change this.

The act of seeing whatever and whoever is directly in front of us is a discipline and practice we can learn, but it takes prayer and silence. Those who take time each day to sit quietly, to breathe deeply and pay attention to all creation, after a while, find it impossible not to see those in need, and while we might not be able to do anything immediately, at least we have honored those who need to be seen and recognized as people just like us.

Today, spend five minutes in quiet and reflection in preparation for seeing that which is directly in front of you.

What situations and people are most difficult for you to face?