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Saturday, November 9, 2013

We will live forever

"God is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive."

The implications of this passage are broad and important. Knowing that we will live forever ought to be freeing, unless of course we are stuck in guilt or shame. In that case, living forever feels like hell, literally, but this is not Jesus' intent. Reminding his listeners and us that we will live forever is a reminder to let go of guilt and to put aside shame for the sake of others. Our task is to announce this good news despite the difficulties we encounter. Wherever we are stuck, whether in anger, confusion, anxiety or darkness, we must pray for the faith to see all these emotions as self absorbing and destructive of community and the church. Our self concern blocks our ability to be for others.

When the Sadducees, who denied the Resurrection, tried to trap Jesus in a silly argument about which of a woman's eight husbands will be her husband in the afterlife, Jesus refuses to take the bait. The Sadducees are stuck trying to be right and use logic to reinforce their argument, but Jesus insists that the after life is not about marrying or giving in marriage, but in accepting the gift of living with God forever. Failing to appreciate this free gift of God, the Sadducees walked away thinking they won the argument while the crowd who listened to Jesus drew even closer to him.

Not infrequently, we are like the Sadducees. Insisting that we are right in an argument in order to win, we jeopardize our relationship with both friends and foes, making it very difficult to find common ground in the next go round. Without a relationship, even simple conversations become problematic and awkward. and that is what happens to the Sadducees. Embarrassed and confused by Jesus they look for other opportunities to prove their point and lose any chance to hear the transforming word of God. Unless we listen to the Lord with an open spirit, the same can happen to us.

Today, ask God for the gift of listening with an open heart.

When has your pride interfered with your ability to hear the truth

Friday, November 8, 2013

Feast of the Lateran Basilica

"Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh."

One of the wonderful images in the Book of Revelation is the flowing river about which Ezekiel also speaks. Watering and washing every bit of land through which it flows, the river helps every thing along its banks to grow strong. Fruit trees will produce large amounts of nourishment for all every month, and every kind of fish will grow strong and multiply in its waters.

The river, of course, is the water of life that flows to all from the restored temple and it will bring new life and hope to all who enter it, which is the point. We must enter the waters of baptism, drown and be raised up again in Christ if we hope to live the Gospel. This is not an easy journey or notion. To die to self so that Christ might live is the heart of the Gospel but is not something we do intuitively. We must learn to die from those who have gone before us in faith, especially the martyrs, and that is where the Lateran Basilica leads us.

St John Lateran is the basilica of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. First among all Rome's church's, it is dedicated to St John the Baptist who lost his head for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, and reminds us that the most fundamental work of the church is to witness to Christ crucified and raised up for the sake of all. John the Baptist never forgot that his mission was to make straight the way of the Lord. Willing to die for this privilege, John the Baptist continues to remind us of our role. When we make the way of the Lord straight people can find their way into the mystery of God's love.

Today, pray for the grace never to forget God's enduring love for all.

What do you most value about the church, the people of God?



Thursday, November 7, 2013

All is from God and for God

"I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me." Rom 15:18

Paul's advice to his listeners is intriguing and important because he often tells us what he has endured for the sake of the Gospel, and challenges us to do the same. 
“Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. For a night and a day I was adrift at sea. On frequent journeys, I was in danger from rivers, from bandits, from my own people, from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the wilderness, in danger at sea, in danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:24-29).
A first glance at passages like this can be confusing. Is Paul exalting himself and his sufferings? While we know this is not the case, it is a warning to remember how good God is and how often God has worked in and through us, even when we did not know it was happening.

Very few saints knew the power of their witness as they offered it. The countless women and men who gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel were not freed from the fear of death because they were doing the right thing. Even Jesus asks his Father to take his suffering from him, but then tells God to do what God needs to do for the sake of the world, and God certainly did.

While most of us will not have to suffer like Paul, we all must bear our own burdens and fears, ask God for the strength to pass through them, and when God does in us what God needs for the good of all, we cannot fail to remember with Paul what God "has done through me."

Today, ask God for the strength to enter through the narrow gate.

What experiences have you had that convinced you that all was from God and for God?

 



Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Repentance

"There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance." Lk 15:7

Most of us regret some of our actions and behaviors, especially when we realize how much hurt we caused in others' lives. Whether it was a single act or word, or a pattern of behavior that made us feel better or superior to others, does not matter. Because we undermined another's confidence or reputation, we must pray for the courage to repent. Recognizing our faults and sins and taking responsibility for the hurt we caused is the beginning of repentance and the first step towards authentic reconciliation.

At the same time, we can get lost in repentance, particularly when we are more concerned with feeling better about ourselves than we are for the people whose lives and reputations we damaged. Repentance, while important, can be a distraction from authentic growth in faith. While it is important to recognize our flaws, it is equally important to spend the healing we receive from God's gracious Spirit by doing good.

This is very clear in the Gospel. Jesus heals many on his journey towards Jerusalem and his own death, but the healed must respond to others who are in need. Imagine the leper who returns to Jesus to give thanks for his healing, but then leads a life of self centered absorption. The point of being healed from leprosy is to return to life in the community with the same attitude towards others that Jesus had towards them. Only when the healed leper in us treats others with the compassion of Jesus is our repentance complete.

Today, ask God to give you an attitude of repentance.

What are your biggest regrets about your life of faith?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hating one's Parents

“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."

The use of the word hate in this translation is always troubling. How can anyone, especially those raised in communal cultures that so value relationships over personal accomplishment, hate family members? And is it possible to hate one's own life? Clearly, Jesus is demanding that we let nothing get in the way of doing the right thing, all the time. If for instance, as it might have been for the earliest Christians, your parents refuse to speak with you, shun you or consider you unclean if you will not reject the person and message of Jesus, you must be willing to let go of your parents despite the terrible cost.

This teaching might be easier to understand if we use a different example. Suppose someone promises you a million dollars if you are willing to lie about a candidate for office in order to get their family member elected as mayor or congressperson. While at times we might be slow to answer, especially if we are in deep financial need, we would not lie despite the "rewards." Jesus demands the same from his disciples. Unless his followers are willing to acknowledge how much faith in Jesus matters, despite the consequences, they cannot be his disciples, and faith continues to make these kinds of demands on us in the 21st century.

Racist, sexist and other bullying language and behavior, used repeatedly, must be addressed by Christians in the public sphere. Dismissive and vulgar remarks about entire cultures and religions must also confronted. Otherwise, our silence will be taken for agreement and Jesus' inclusive attitude towards all who are willing to hear, accept and live the Good News will be implicitly denied.

Today, do the right thing despite the cost.

Has your faith ever been the occasion for confronting evil?


Monday, November 4, 2013

Spending our Inheritance

We, though many, are one Body in Christ
and individually parts of one another.
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us,
let us exercise them:
if prophecy, in proportion to the faith;
if ministry, in ministering;
if one is a teacher, in teaching;
if one exhorts, in exhortation;
if one contributes, in generosity;
if one is over others, with diligence;
if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Rom 12: 5-8


St Paul is never less than clear, inviting and, often, demanding. Since all of us are blessed by God with different gifts, we must spend them for the good of Christ's Body. When we forget this challenge we are prone to obsessive thinking and acting about ourselves. We become self centered and worried about how we are doing before God when the task of the Christian is to serve others as best we can and let God worry about the results.

On the other hand, when each of us accepts and celebrates the gift we have been given, everyone benefits. There is no competition or envy because everyone remembers their role and works for th good of the entire community. Leaders understand that they are servants. Cheerleaders remember to encourage others, and all of us learn to be for others, to be for the whole. 

Of course, this is the Gospel dream, and because we do not want to be naive, we also realize that we will fail to be ourselves in many situations, but failure should never be the end of our dreams. When each of us recognizes and admits our failures, the body heals and the Gospel continues to enliven the world.

Today, accept and celebrate whatever gift you have for the sake of the Body of Christ.

When have you been happiest and most fulfilled as a member of Christ's body?


Sunday, November 3, 2013

St Charles Borremeo

"The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable." Rom 11:29

God loves us. That is God's gift to us. But God's love is not a promise that we will never suffer or feel lost and alone. When we say that God loves us we mean that his gift, as St Paul reminds us, is irrevocable. God will never take it back, never stop loving us, and in this promise we have hope, strength and the assurance that God is near even and especially when we suffer.

God's call is also irrevocable and this can be both empowering and terrifying. God calls all of us to discipleship, and discerning what that is can be the task of a lifetime. In my own case, like many other young men of my generation, I felt strongly I was being called to be a Capuchin priest. Motivated by so many of the Capuchin priests I knew as a boy to be active, engaged and committed to the needy, God used that natural attraction to lure me into vows and priesthood. Being a friar, though important, was a distant second to being  a priest.

Thirty years ago, however, in a frightening twist of grace, it became clear that God wanted to work in the Capuchins in ways we could never have foreseen. Without devaluing the call to be priest, the church challenged the Capuchins to reclaim the charisms of their founder, and all the friars to listen to God and not simply follow our own best instincts or needs. Remarkably, this shift is cited by a majority of our young friars as the reason they were drawn to the Capuchins. When we reclaimed the dream of St Francis to form a community of brothers whose love for one another as they traveled from place to place to preach the Gospel would be their most important way of announcing Good News, everything changed. God does write straight on crooked lines.

Today, ask God to renew the vocation to which you have been called.

Who or what has been most influential in helping you listen more deeply to the Gospel?