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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Don't Be Afraid

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home."

Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., one of the most important and respected theologians of the 20th century, said that it would not be rash to reduce the entire Gospel to three Jesus said often: Be not afraid. Reminding all who believe that they have already been saved, Schillebeeckx insists there is no theological reason to fear because God has come in the flesh and promised to live with us forever.

This is not to say we won't feel fear when we are in physical danger, but the deeper fears about the after life and God's concern for every person should have no place in the life of those who believe in Jesus Christ. While we will have doubts and will regularly turn away from this basic truth, Jesus coming among us in human form is God's promise that we we can always return to God's heart where every fear will be washed away.

What must have Joseph felt when Mary told him she was pregnant? Though betrothed, they had not lived together. He could not have been the father of her child, but in a dream, which he trusts, God tells him not to be afraid. No matter how others might look at or ridicule him, he should welcome Mary to his house, and with his yes his life and ours change. Overcoming his fears and confusion, Joseph becomes a model for us in times of doubt. God is near to him and will help him through his darkness. God is also near to us and this reality is what we celebrate and proclaim so loudly at Christmas.

Today,  put aside fear. Put on love.

What fears continue to haunt you on your faith journey?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Always a Journey

"Hark! my lover–here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag." Sg 2:8
Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Lk 1:39

The notion that the spiritual life is a journey is an important one in the Judeo Christian tradition. Believers are always on the way and reaching for something else. So is God. God seeks us out. God desires us, and in the Song of Songs the writer wants us to imagine God as a romantic lover who will leap mountains in order to be with us. God wants us to believe that winter's cold and darkness is over because the light has come into the world.

Mary learns the lesson of pilgrimage early. Almost as soon as she says yes to being the mother of the Messiah, she leaves her home and travels to be with Elizabeth, and her visit is not a drop in but a three month stay. What she will learn about Elizabeth and herself will shape her life and ours. Though we can only guess what happens in Mary's heart as Jesus grows in wisdom and age, we know that she was always near him, sometimes correcting, at other times consoling, but never abandoning her son despite the terrible personal cost.

If God is always seeking us and surrounding us with love, why should we be afraid? Mary's fear faded fast when she allowed the the Spirit to enter her. So should ours, and in the end, as long as we do not turn away from the journey, we have nothing to fear.

Today, take one step towards God and see how God responds.

What parts of your journey have most filled you with joy?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Tempting God

"The LORD spoke to Ahaz: Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!'”
Is 7: 10-11

Not infrequently we hear friends say, "Be careful what you wish for." Warning us that we may not like the consequences of a wish fulfilled, they seem to be cautioning us not to pray, dream or imagine a different future, but to be stoic and satisfied with life as it unfolds. While this might be a subtle way for friends to alert us to be careful about a new relationship, it can also be awful advice. Not to ask for help means we think of ourselves as totally independent even though the Gospel urges us to live as one body and to be interdependent.

King Ahaz had his own plans for the world and while he seems to take a humble posture before God, it is a ruse. Ahaz doesn't want to listen to God, Isaiah or anyone else and he will pay for it. As Christmas nears we might ask ourselves about our own intentions. How would we feel if we received no gifts at all? More essentially, what do we really want from God at Christmas? A good feeling kneeling before the crib? Our children and grandchildren to go to Mass? Do we really want God to start all over with us and the world? And do we want to be instruments of Good (but sometimes hard) News?

Telling the truth to ourselves and to God is always a good place to start. Acknowledging that we need help everyday to know, interpret and live the Gospel authentically is not only honest, it gives God permission to lead us, even to places we have not considered going. Making ourselves available to God for God's work is good for everyone.

Today, listen to God in silence for five minutes.

What are your most fervent prayers?


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Illness and Sin

"There was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah; his wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in the eyes of God,...But they had no child,...and both were advanced in years." Lk 1 5, 8

Luke's gospel gets to the core of Jesus' teaching about illness and other issues that are often seen as punishments from God. Assuring his readers that both Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous, and from the priestly class, Luke makes it clear that though Elizabeth was barren, she was not being punished. Being righteous, in fact, meant that people recognized their faults and sought reconciliation quickly. As one scholar noted, Elizabeth and Zechariah prayed for a child and got a prophet!

No matter how often or consistently the gospels insist that illness is not a punishment for sin, many people, hopeful of understanding the impenetrable mystery of suffering, wonder if their misdeeds are indeed the cause of their woes. Like so many other questions, they are rooted in pride. Somehow we convince ourselves that if can understand what is happening we can control it, but the spiritual life is like not a car with squeaky brakes. Elizabeth's and Zechariah's suffering did not cause them to turn away from God, but prepared them for something and someone beyond their imagination. Their faith was greater than their sorrows.

Today, ask for acceptance and perhaps understanding will follow.

What faith questions are most difficult for you to manage?


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Joseph's Dream

"When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home." Mt 1:24

Everyone dreams. Some, hoping to understand their psychic inner life, pay very close attention to their dreams. Others claim never to remember their dreams and have no interest in anything that happens when they sleep, but in the ancient world dreams were often important ways to understand and interpret mysteries. Robert Karl Gnuse reminds us that, "The dreams of kings, priests and those in authority alone were worthy public reports for they were revelations given for the good of the whole society,"(Gnuse) and dreams in the bible are often messages from God.

Matthew tells us that Joseph, wondering whether he should walk away from Mary after learning that she was pregnant, has a dream that radically effects all of us. Because he listened to his dream, Joseph was unafraid to take Mary into his home, an action that told everyone in his village that he would take responsibility for Mary and her baby, a response that challenges us all.

While contemporary men and women might not be as interested as our forebears in dreams, it is important to have dreams, especially about how to proclaim the Gospel and help create a just world. Young people particularly need to hear our dreams, dreams that include their growing as disciples of Jesus Christ. As St Paul reminds us, "How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?" (Rom 10:14-15)

Today, ask the Lord to help you have the faith of Joseph.

What are your faith dreams for the world?



Monday, December 16, 2013

The Foundation of Peace is Justice

"Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever." Ps 72:3

It is clear in the Catholic tradition that there can be no lasting peace without justice, and no matter how often we proclaim this important truth, we forget it ourselves and fail to convince others. Why? Because doing justice is hard work.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian and holocaust victim, reminded us often in The Cost of Discipleship, that living the Gospel demands sacrifice and surrender to God's plan for humankind, and this is never easy. Listen. "Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."

In Bonhoeffer's case the cost of discipleship meant letting go of his family and the new love of his life, Maria von Redemeyer. A confirmed bachelor most of his life, Bonhoeffer fell in love in his mid thirties and the love he experienced was intense. In his Letters and Papers from Prison, he writes to Maria about the terrible duty he has to speak the truth, defend the Jews and oppose Hitler and the Nazis. Apologizing to her, he assures her that their love would be empty if he failed to live the Gospel with integrity.

It is important for every believer to pray for the courage to be a disciple no matter the circumstances or the cost of living the Gospel. Every great gift demands sacrifice. We should never be surprised by faith's challenges.

Today, pray to be free to live the Gospel without fear.

Have you ever experienced the cost of discipleship?




Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Cleverness of Jesus

“I shall ask you one question, and if you answer it for me, then I shall tell you by what authority I do these things. Where was John’s baptism from? Was it of heavenly or of human origin?”... So they said to Jesus in reply, “We do not know.” Mt 21:24, 26

From time to time, all of us try to ignore or bypass uncomfortable situations. That there are more than 500,000 undocumented immigrants in New York City alone, many of whom are working for much less than a living wage, is a scandal that begs for a solution. A friend regularly offers you suggestions on how to avoid paying taxes that you know are legitimate and you say nothing. While silence is sometimes the prudent response to situations like this, it can also be uncharitable and sinful not to speak up.

Jesus could very well have ignored the chief priests and their questions about the legitimacy of John the Baptist's ministry, but he chose to use their inquiries both to make them uncomfortable and to take a stand. The elders knew that if they said John's baptism was of God, they would have validated his ministry, and if they said John was an impostor, the crowd would have attacked them. When they choose to say nothing, the chief priests demonstrate their weakness. It is clear that they are not really concerned about John's ministry, but only trying to trap Jesus in order to undermine his work. When Jesus turns the question on them, their nastiness and dishonesty are exposed.

If we are followers of Jesus, we need to think hard and long about how to respond to evil. When immigrants are being cheated or people are avoiding legitimate taxes, everyone is effected. More important, by too often remaining silent, we fail to live the Gospel we pretend to embrace.

Today, pray for the courage to speak up and work for those whose lives are being ruined because of greed.

Have you been in a situation where you knew you had to speak up?