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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Humble Honesty

"But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'" Lk 18:13

Humility is really nothing more than honesty. The honest person, acknowledging his faults and sins, knows how often he has skirted the fullness of the Gospel, avoided difficult decisions, and sought ways around living in a manner that honors God without pretense or limitation, and all of this while rushing around madly getting things done!

Busyness, as Thomas Merton wrote in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, is a contemporary form of violence and becomes an excuse not to be involved in helping work for the common good. In a telling and demanding book, Common Fire: Lives of Commitment in a Complex World, the authors remind us:
As long as we are busy, we can feel overwhelmed and "involved." Swamped by the demands of securing a life for ourselves, we can more easily justify begging off from responsibility for the commons. (Common Fire)
Proud of our individual accomplishments and success, we ignore the most formidable challenge of the Gospel, to live an integrated life that values work, rest, leisure and commitment to others. Without a healthy balance of activity and contemplation, we live a Gospel that others shrink from, and in the name of passion scare off those seeking a path of devotion and joy. When we fail to be approachable and welcoming, we speak about Good News but never become the living word that offers others light and hope.

Today, ask for the gift of true humility.

What do others catch from you about the Gospel?


Friday, October 25, 2013

God's Patience

"For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down." Lk 13:7

Fig trees were important products and symbols in ancient Israel. For the first three years of its life, a fig tree rarely bore fruit and for the next three eating its fruit was forbidden. (Lev 19:23) The seventh year's fruit was dedicated to God, but after that fig trees ought to produce fruit for 10 months a year. That the fig tree in Luke's Gospel has no fruit might have implied that it was already 9 years without fruit and needed to be cut down to make way for another tree. Still, after being entreated to give it another year to produce, the owner, like God, waits. (Pilch) God always waits as long as we are intent on transformation.

While some are troubled by the apparent harshness of Jesus' story, in fact it is about the mercy of God. Though Israel has failed to produce fruit, God wants to give the nation and its leaders more time to plant and nurture the Torah, and Jesus tells this story to assure his listeners that the God of whom he speaks will also be patient. His disciples will have time to interiorize and live the Good News, but eventually they must produce fruit for the hungry people they will encounter. 

The same is true for believers in the 21st century. Unless Christians today help create a world in which people eat, are housed and enjoy basic human rights, then we can be sure the Gospel we are preaching is little more than words. Only when the power of the Good News changes the hearts and behavior of its adherents, and those to whom they announce the Gospel, will it be able to spread and take root all over the world.

Today, ask yourself whether your life has been fruitful.

What or who has helped you produce fruit in your life?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Everyday Faith

"You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" Lk 12:56

Whenever someone ignores the obvious we wonder what they are thinking. Are they worried about some new threat? Is someone sick in their family? Or are they simply not paying attention? In Jesus' day, people had to be very aware of their surroundings. Without benefit of newspapers or television, they paid attention to the sun, wind and weather conditions in order to protect themselves and their few possessions. They knew when to take shelter, how to safeguard their livestock and when and how to travel safely.

Jesus used people's everyday experience to teach.  If everyone, even the poor, knew how to read the signs of nature, why couldn't or wouldn't they listen to him? Jesus was especially hard in this regard on Jewish leaders who ignored the burdens of the poor to protect their own resources and their interpretation of the Torah. Much of the resistance Jesus faced continues to haunt contemporary believers.

How to live an integrated Gospel life in a society obsessed with possessions and individual rights is a constant challenge to those who profess to be disciples of Jesus. Further, and more dangerously, when societies are willing to sacrifice the health and education of the poor to protect the wealth of a few, Christians are compelled to act as Pope Francis insists:
Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons...We all have to think if we can become a little poorer. (Pope Francis)
Today,  look around and listen to your environment.

What makes it difficult for you to pay attention to your surroundings and the cries of the poor?



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fire!

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" Lk 12:49

Fire in the scripture usually is symbolic of two things: purification and judgment. That the Jewish community, especially its leaders, had lost sight of the Law as a guide and used it to control people is clear, and Jesus points this out to them at every turn, but he also warns his own disciples not to fall into the trap of trying to manipulate others in his name. 

How we understand power is critical to our life as believers. Power over others has no place in a Christian's life or spirituality because power belongs to God alone. That some have been given jurisdiction in the church for the sake of the church's integrity and mission is clear, but this power is intended to serve not dominate. Pope Francis has been making this especially clear in recent months. 
"Real power is service... He humbled Himself unto death, even death on a cross for us, to serve us, to save us. And there is no other way in the Church to move forward. For the Christian, getting ahead, progress, means humbling oneself. If we do not learn this Christian rule, we will never, ever be able to understand Jesus’ true message on power."(Power)
When we understand power as service, we must also examine our consciences. Do we need the same kind of purification Jesus brought to his own generation? In our fear or greed, have we exercised a kind of domination over others in order to control or threaten them?

Today, serve someone who is not grateful.

How do you understand the power given to us as believers? 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Giving from our Substance

"Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” Lk 12:48

Sometimes Jesus is too clear for our liking. When we think about the benefits of living in the United States we can be embarrassed. Most of us have homes, food, electricity, television, computers, unlimited access to the internet and disposable income to buy gifts for others and simple pleasures for ourselves. 

More, education is available to almost everyone without cost and when we are disciplined about learning most of us can find work that gives us dignity and the ability to support ourselves. The challenge of the Gospel is to make sure all of what we have and earn benefits others, and this is not always the case.

Too often we feel entitled to all that we have and live as if we have a right to even more. When this happens we lose sight of the Gospel and undermine its power. Giving generously to others, especially those who have little, does more for us than those who receive our gifts. Giving changes us and reminds us that all we have is of God and from God, and while it is true that some have earned every penny they have, they too must share with others in the name of Christ and for God's glory. To share from our substance is to imitate God who gives us the Christ without strings or demands.

Today, share whatever gifts God has given you no matter how simple or few.

What impedes your willingness to give to others from your substance?

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Master as Slave

"He will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them." Lk 12:37

Luke's gospel regularly reminds us that Jesus wants his disciples to know that he is their servant and that they must serve one another and all those to whom they announce the Good News. This must have been a very difficult aspect of Jesus' message for most people who heard his challenge, especially the rulers of the Jewish community.

Accustomed to being served and celebrating their prominence in the community by the number of slaves they owned, those in power would have been horrified to hear that a master who comes home from a wedding to find his servants awake and waiting for him will wait upon them. This reversal of roles startles us even now.

Most of us live in hierarchical societies. There are tribal chiefs and bosses at work who expect and usually receive our cooperation without question. Because we are accustomed to listening more closely to those who pay us or have the freedom to demand certain actions from us, we do not expect our bosses to tell us to sit down so they can wait on us! Though we may chafe at their commands, we almost always submit to their orders, hoping someday to be in their place ourselves.

Nevertheless, Jesus is clear. If we want to follow him totally, we must sell all we have, even and especially our pride, in order to make clear to those to whom we preach that we are agents of their freedom, not their rulers. Washing their feet, listening to their stories, offering them food from our tables, and giving them clothes are all ways we express the power of God who became weak for our salvation.

Today, help someone who expects nothing from you.

Do you expect your leaders to be servants?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Greedy Blind

“Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Lk 12:15

Greed has been a constant theme in the United States in recent years. CEO's making $29,000,000 a year is a commonplace, and, frankly, a scandal. The discrepancy in income between the super rich and the everyday poor is growing and a cause for deep concern.(Forbes) In the past, this kind of disparity in salaries has also been the seed of revolution. The simplistic principle that those who produce a billion dollars of profit for a company ought to be rewarded accordingly doesn't help those on the low end of the economic pyramid or the economy!

Jesus had more than a little to say about this, and it is still valuable advice. Money, property and power accumulation are not in themselves the problem. Greed is. The desperate clinging to what we have suggests there is no other world but the one in which we live, and faith challenges this view over and over.

Jesus did not come to straighten out the world but to set its people free, and while some will deny or ignore this gift, it is ours for the taking. When we live generously and with deep regard for those most in need, relationships blossom and the Good News becomes powerful and transforming. It is virtually impossible to turn away from someone we know who is in real need. It is only when the poor remain faceless that our greed overwhelms our beliefs. Opening our eyes to everyone in front of us not only changes us, it can change the world.

Today, ask yourself how much you need to live.

Has your own or another's greed ever impacted your life?