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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Day

"Behold, peace is no longer promised, but conferred; no longer delayed, but given; no longer predicted, but bestowed. Behold, God has sent down to earth a bag bulging with his mercy, a bag that, at the passion, is torn open so that our ransom pours out of it onto us. A small bag, perhaps, but a full one: for it was a small child that was given to us, but in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead." St Bernard of Clairvaux

That God's mercy in Christ is like "a bag bulging with his mercy," reminds us that God is waiting, especially as we begin a new year, to pour out upon us new gifts and new dreams, and it is for us to discover and discern how best to share God's mercy with all people.

Each year our Holy Father invites Catholics and all people of good will to begin the New Year by praying for world peace in the hope that all people will pause and remember that their own human dignity is compromised and threatened unless everyone works together for justice upon which a lasting peace might be built. Last year, building on the gospel reminder that, if we want justice to spread across the globe, we need to be other centered, Pope Francis asked:
How did we spend the time God gave us? Did we use it, above all, for ourselves, for our self interests, or did we know to spend it also for others? How much time did we set aside to be with God, in prayer, in silence and in adoration?
Today, re-imagine how you might help those most in need.

What helps you to let go of self interest in the name of the common good?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Year's Eve

"In adoring the birth of our Savior, we find we are celebrating the commencement of our own life, for the birth of Christ is the source of life for Christian folk, and the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body." St Leo the Great

All of us have experienced the rebirth that comes when a fraying relationship is renewed or a family member returns from overseas service. We feel renewed, uplifted and hopeful. What seemed dark and threatening is changed into a new life we thought might be lost. We experience a kind of rebirth that galvanizes and strengthens us.

Pope St Leo the Great says it beautifully. Christ's birth is our birth, too. We learn that God, no matter how far we have drifted from the path of gospel life, chooses to be with us, to be among us, to be one of us, and there is no way we can adequately articulate the wonder of this gift.

At the same time, while free, unconditional and total, God's love is not weak, but demanding. We must share God's free gift of new life and love with every other person, not because we will be rewarded, but because so many people yearn for the hope Christ's birth implies. God wants to gift us with new life each day. We have only to welcome God to know we are reborn day after day.

Today, let go of the past year in order to begin the new year with hope.

What are your faith based New Year's resolutions?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Anna, The Prophtess

"There was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher...She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem." Lk 2: 36, 38

St Bernard of Clairvaux, in a remarkably moving and demanding sermon, begs Mary to help her sons and daughters:
Let humility be bold, Mary, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.
Reading Bernard's words always lifts my spirits. It is clear that the Saint thought of Mary as his sister, mother, and friend, someone to whom he could speak plainly and with abandon. Mary was not an historical figure, but a living, breathing companion with whom Bernard could plead and beg.

Perhaps Anna, the Prophetess, who welcomed Mary, Joseph and Jesus to the Temple, also saw Mary as a young friend with whom she could share her life and her dreams. Maybe Anna even asked Mary to help her and all the people for whom Jesus came.

Bernard's and Anna's example should embolden us. Both Mary and Jesus are meant to be accessible players in our personal and communal lives. We should never be afraid to approach them and ask for help and guidance.

Today, imagine you are one of the people in the Temple when Mary arrives to present Jesus to God. Stop her and ask for help.

What has helped you draw close to Mary and the saints?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

"Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:"Lord, now let your servant go in peace;your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel." Lk 2: 27-32

Waiting for someone you have never met is anxiety producing. Whether we are at a bus station or an airport, we scan the faces of the people who are exiting and wonder if they are the one we are to meet. Simeon, who Luke implies is an old man, waits each day until finally Mary and Joseph arrive to present their first born son for consecration in the temple, and when he sees the Christ, he does not hesitate. Simeon knows this is the One promised of old and sings for joy.

The question presented to us is the gospel is clear. Do we recognize the Christ among us? Do we take time to search the faces of the poor, the forgotten, the ignored and the despised in order to remind them they are the beloved of God, the chosen ones?  Saints of every age have reminded us of this obligation. Mother Teresa said it this way, "Every person you meet is Christ in disguise."

Today, expect to be surprised by Christ.

Has someone from whom you expected little revealed to you the face of Christ in an entirely new way?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Holy Family

"Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." Col 3:12

Family life at the time of Jesus was very different from how we understand family life in 21st century North America. Gender roles were sharply drawn, leaving women especially with few rights, and although women and mothers were honored, they rarely owned property or had any education, making Jesus' relationship with women, many of whom became important disciples in the earliest community of believers, all the more interesting and challenging.

The letter to the Colossians reminds us that the so called feminine virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience are foundational to Jesus' vision. If we are going to be in what the scripture's call "right relationship" with one another, we must put on these virtues, especially in our families. Unless parents are humble in their guidance of their children, their offspring will inadvertently learn that power is something to be used over others rather than with them. Only when everyone in a family senses their own dignity, even when receiving correction, can we avoid creating an "us" against "them" mentality which can never be good for family life.

Today, practice humility. Ask for guidance.

What do you think are the most important family values in the bible?

Friday, December 26, 2014

St John, Apostle and Evangelist

"We are writing this so that our joy may be complete." 1 Jn 1:4

Bickering, rigidity and unfettered competition can drain the life out of any community which is precisely what was happening in the community to which St John was writing his first letter. Struggling to understand how Jesus could be both fully God and fully human, some believers dismissed the mystery altogether by proposing that Jesus was not really human but only God in a human disguise.

John takes a different tack. Trying to help the community see that the mystery of the incarnation could never be reduced to words, John encourages them to put aside their disagreements and serve others on behalf of the Gospel.  In this way, he assured them, they would begin to appreciate more deeply the mystery of God's presence in the world as they saw its "truth" living in those they served.

This simple lesson is still true today. There are times that we get stuck inside our heads, especially when we are trying to convince others that our insights and opinions are correct and important. Perhaps if we followed St John's advice to help the needy when we are in turmoil, we might reach a more peaceful place. Care for those most in need often settles our spirits in ways we could never have imagined or articulated and brings us a kind of joy beyond words.

Today serve someone in need. Your joy will be overwhelming.

Has service of those in need ever brought you joy?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Martyrdom of St Stephen

"They threw Stephen out of the city, and began to stone him... As they were stoning Stephen, he called out 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'” Acts 7:59

It is always a shock to get up the day after Christmas to celebrate the martyrdom of St. Stephen. Though I understand the necessity of emphasizing the cost of discipleship, I wish we could wallow for a day or three in Christmas warmth before being overwhelmed by the horror of Stephen's death by stoning. But this is how it is.  We have enjoyed, even delighted in, the memory of Christ's birth, of God become human, and now we must face the reality of gospel life as most people encounter it.
Witnessing to his faith cost Stephen his life and few speak more eloquently about this most challenging gospel demand than the 20th century Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis because he could not keep silent in the face of Hilter's atrocities, especially against the Jews. "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." Bonhoeffer was hanged for cooperating with a German Resistance movement that believed the gospel demanded Hitler's removal from power, even if it meant assassination.

Discipleship, even on the day after Christmas, must be our first goal as Christians. Being a "good Catholic" does not simply mean obeying the dictates of the church hierarchy alone, no matter how laudable its teaching. Rather, discipleship demands that we seek justice for all despite the cost.

Today, filled with Christmas hope, ask for the grace to die for sake of God's reign.

Does living your faith cost you anything on a daily basis?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Contemplation

"Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart." Lk 2:18

Contemplation is a gift that allows us, like Mary, to ponder, to sift through, to accept everything that comes to us.  For Mary, who was a very young woman when she first heard that she would be the mother of the Messiah, is was a necessity. Without a commitment to quiet prayer and reflection, without the ability to live with ambiguity, without the willingness to let go of certainty, Mary would not have been able to hear the angel's request of her.

For many Christmas is not an easy, gentle family time.  For some excessive drinking will blot out the joy. For others, finding a way to meld multiple families after a divorce will prove impossible, and when faced with the pain of shattered hopes Christmas often descends into loud arguments and further hurt.  Mary's ability at Cana to act on behalf of the beleaguered couple who were running our of wine despite Jesus' reluctance to help is a reminder to us that a quiet response, rooted in contemplation, is always more effective that a prolonged debate.

Christmas is intended as a time of overwhelming joy for all, but when the joy seems shallow, do not despair.  Remember Mary's willingness to move ahead with silent conviction.  Mary does the right thing. So can we.

Today, take time, don't rush, pray to hear the "stream beneath the stream.

What will it take for you to have a contemplative Christmas?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Freedom and our Imagination

"Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free." Lk 1:67

Freedom is the most precious gift of the sons and daughters of God, but because most of us have experienced political freedom in North America, we rarely appreciate fully the freedom God gives us.  Only when we have been trapped inside a foreign country or considered as less than human as the Jews of old were in Egypt and Babylon, can we begin to understand the precious gift of freedom that God gives us, not only in our national lives as citizens of a democracy, but spiritually.

When God sets God's people free it is not a license to do anything we like, but a privilege that we have to live and celebrate with joy.  The freedom of the sons and daughter of God  is rooted in God's promise always to be our ground, our heart, a mother who holds us in the palm of her hand and a father who, like a shepherd, watches over us at every turn. Because God claims us as God's own we are free from fear.  God's love is everlasting and can never be taken from us.

Using our imaginations to help others is the fruit of God's great gift of freedom. When we let ourselves dream about a better home life, neighborhood, country and world, we open up possibilities for ourselves and others to change the structures that limit freedom and live as God desires.

Today, pray for all peoples who have no political or spiritual freedom.

How have you used God's gift of freedom for others?



Monday, December 22, 2014

Taking Grace for Granted

"What, then, will this child be?" Lk 1:66

Sometimes, especially when we are busy, we take God, family, friends and faith for granted. We rush about internally and externally trying to get everything done, often enough out of pride. We want everything just right and will be disappointed in ourselves if it isn't. Perhaps that is why today's gospel is about John the Baptist's birth. John is the one who will "prepare the way of the Lord," in clear and unambiguous ways. Reform your lives, he will shout. Stop living as if nothing matters but your own safety and pleasure. Our task, John insists, is to sweep the roads, filling in potholes and smoothing out rough spots so the Lord can enter human history.

A few days ago, while working on a homily for Christmas, my computer beeped, alerting me that another email had arrived. Glancing down I noticed it was from an old friend so I opened it immediately only to learn that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Shocked and alarmed, I put aside my homily writing and prayed for a few moments. The clutter of trying to write the perfect homily vanished quickly as I sat in solidarity with my friend.

John the Baptist was right. I was living in a bubble as I prepared for Christmas and someone had to yell at me to stop. Only when we respond to grace and push aside the frantic grasping after all manner of "stuff" do we realize that God is always with us, and it is only our willingness to pause in the middle of the mess that alerts us to the presence of light.

Today, take some extra time to say thank you to God for all the grace in your life.

What practices help you not to take yourself too seriously?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Gift of Time

"Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home." (Lk 1:56)

Time is a precious gift and often our most important asset. Most of us have been trained since childhood to use time well, to be well organized, to be on time and to give our time to others whenever possible. On the other hand, sometimes we hoard our time and make ourselves emotionally unavailable to people who need us to be present to them, especially in their confusion and anxiety.

Thank God, Mary was not like this. Luke reminds us that when Mary visited Elizabeth it was not for a few hours or days, but for "about three months."  Somehow Mary was able to put her own needs aside to attend to the cares of her older relative who was pregnant for the first time, and in her compassion becomes a model for all of us.

Too often in North America, time is a commodity which we buy and sell, not a gift of God that allows us to share the Good News with our contemporaries. As Christmas nears, it would be good for all of us to give ourselves and others the gift of time, freely and without counting the cost. No doubt this is the best gift we could give to ourselves and others as we await the birth of the savior.

Today, stop, reflect, and pray quietly for the grace to give your time to others as a gift.

Who gave you time freely when you really needed help?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Advent

"The LORD is with you." (2 Sam 7:3)

The 7th Chapter of II Samuel has always moved my heart.  David's relationship with God, even when he speaks to God through Nathan the Prophet, is so natural, so honest and open that it offers us a model for our own prayer.

Caught up with his duties as King, David suddenly realizes that in his hurry to defend and build up the faith of his people, he has forgotten to build a permanent and beautiful place for the Ark of the Covenant.  Even though Nathan assures him that he has nothing to worry about, David knows that he has forgotten something very important and God knows it, too. Nathan, in a dream that same night, is reminded that God has always been a companion to the Jewish people who were nomads for so long. God, like the people themselves, lived in a tent, a dwelling easily dismantled and moved to a new place when their goats and sheep needed new grazing land. 

More important, God was happy to move, to be with his people, to assure them that the covenant he made with them would endure forever no matter where they wandered. Though shocking to Nathan, God insists that he does not need a lavish and permanent dwelling place, but is content to be among his people wherever they are. Nothing has changed. God accompanies us wherever we go, as Servant, Shepherd and Guide.

Today, pray to be a worthy tent for God.

What image of God most helps you walk a path of faith?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Yes

"May it be done to me according to your word."  Lk 1:37

In a remarkable and evocative homily about Mary's response to the angel Gabriel, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, an 11th century Benedictine and reformer, speaks for us all in urging Mary to say yes to God and yes to us. Bernard asks Mary:
Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.(1)
Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Bernard's challenge to Mary is actually addressed to all of us. Advent is not a time to dally or delay, not a time for virginal simplicity. It is a time to say yes without fear.  God needs to be born in us again today, not tomorrow or in the New Year.  God depends upon us in our weakness, fear and sin to accept his hand and assurance that with God all things are possible. Unless we ask for the grace of going beyond our imagination, we cannot hope to arise, hasten and be open.  With God all these actions are not only possible but necessary and Mary's yes assures us of this.  May it be done to us according to your word!

Today, even if you are living in darkness, say Yes to God.

What or who has helped you say yes to God?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Being Fruitful for God

"His wife was barren and had borne no children." (Jg 13:3)
"But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years."(Lk 1:7)

Barrenness is a particularly difficult burden to bear, and in the ancient world it was often seen as a punishment for sin.  Both the wife of Zorah, the father of Samson, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist were barren, and we can only imagine the pain they felt.  No doubt both women were familiar with the words of Jeremiah who tells us that Rachel wept inconsolably because she was barren.  For Jewish women not to have children meant they had no identity, no value, and no blessing from God.  Zorah's wife in today's passage from Judges isn't even named. How great then the joy of both women when, in their old age, God blesses them with children whose role in salvation history will forever help believers to appreciate the greatness of God who blesses us when we least expect it.

In these last days of Advent, the same is true of us.  Our roles in the ongoing story of God's love for the world, while sometimes muddy and confusing, are radically important to God.  God wants to speak through us, to announce good news, not only through the strengths and gifts we each have, but through our willingness to endure weakness and suffering for the sake of building God's reign.

Today, pray to be fruitful for God's sake.

What are the gifts God has given you for the sake of others?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Fidelity of Joseph

"Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly." Mt 1:19

All of us have been hurt by others and been tempted to respond in kind. Angry and confused, in the name of justice, we strike back, and although our actions and words rarely do any good, we sometimes feel a little better about standing up for ourselves. No doubt hurt and confused, Joseph had determined to divorce Mary quietly. Not wanting to shame Mary but convinced that his proposed marriage to her could not happen, Joseph learns in a dream that God has other plans, and he listens.

Listening is a radically important aspect of faith, especially when we are troubled. Cluttered with all kinds of thoughts, we might be tempted to react in order to free ourselves from feeling awful, but Joseph reminds us that this is a mistake. Only patient listening to God no matter how loud the "crowd" might be will allow us to discern how God wants us to go forward.  Advent is a time to follow Joseph's example. Not rushing into action but waiting upon Go for direction will surely help us live the Gospel more fully.

Today, wait before making a difficult decision.

Who or what helps you to faithful to God on a daily basis?


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Jesus, Son of David

"Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Christ, fourteen generations." Mt 1 16-17

Genealogies are always intriguing and revealing.  The genealogy of Jesus is no exception. Matthew is intent on helping his readers understand that Jesus came from the tree of David and is the Messiah whose coming was promised long before his birth. 

Furthermore, a careful reading of Matthew's genealogy counts four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Women were rarely mentioned in Jewish genealogies, and the one's mentioned don't fit the mold one would expect in the genealogy of Jesus. Tamar was abused and only conceived when she disguised herself as a prostitute in order to bear a child with Judah who rejected her.  Rahab is a prostitute and a non Israelite who should not have married an Israelite. Neither is Ruth an Israelite but Boaz marries her. Finally, David spies Bathsheba bathing and is so overcome with desire for her, he has her husband Uriah killed in order to satisfy his own lust.  

All this is pretty messy stuff. Jesus has lots of "black sheep" in his family tree and the point of the scripture is that it doesn't really matter. God can and will write straight on crooked lines.

Today, ask God for the humility to accept yourself and your family as you are.

How do we live faithfully in families and a church that is so dysfunctional?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Remnants for God

"I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly,... They shall do no wrong and speak no lies; Nor shall there be found in their mouths a deceitful tongue; They shall pasture and couch their flocks with none to disturb them."

More than once as a friar I have shopped for rug remnants. Wanting to spruce us a bedroom or a guest parlor, I searched carpet outlets for their left over pieces of fabric that would would give the friary some warmth and texture. Usually inexpensive, the remnants were of good quality and though the did not fit the rooms perfectly, they did their job and were able to last even when the rooms in which they were placed had a lot of traffic.

God speaks of remnants in the Hebrew bible and promises the Jewish nation that though they were unfaithful to the Covenant, there would always be humble and lowly believers who maintained their faith despite the cost. In the bible the remnant of Israel were poor and from the underclass, but their faith was strong and unbreakable. Despite their struggles they knew God was with them as a guide and protector, and they could not and would not turn away from the gift of faith handed onto them freely by their parents and relatives. Like the remnant rugs I purchased, the remnant of Israel were of high quality, and though they would never know high office or important positions, they sought only to please God and be faithful witnessed to the Covenant. While most would never notice them, they were the reason God remained faithful to the Jewish nation despite the infidelity of most believers.

Mary and Joseph, poor, probably uneducated and without pretense become God's choice to bring Jesus into the world. Like the remnant of old, Mary and Joseph say yes to God despite the cost and become the ground upon which God builds the new and everlasting Covenant, Jesus, the Messiah and Savior of us all.

Today, think of yourself as a remnant for God's use.

How do you maintain your faith in the face of overwhelming challenges?




Sunday, December 14, 2014

God's Nuptial Bond with Us

"Show us, LORD, your love, and grant us your salvation." Ps 85:8

Because it is impossible to adequately articulate who God is or how much God loves us, the bible reminds us to ask God to show us his glory, and uses images and metaphors to invite readers (and pray-ers) to emply their imaginations in trying to understand and enter the mystery of God's presence and love. The prophets even suggest God is like our husband or wife, a remarkable attempt to draw us closer to the God who promises never to abandon us.

Images like this can unnerve us, but that is not their intent. Rather, the prophets want to gently break down our easy, familiar categories of belief which can unwittingly lead us to take God and God's care for us for granted. When Isaiah speaks of God as our husband or wife he assures us that God is linked to us forever in a loving relationship of total commitment, even when we are in exile.  Although we might be separated for a while, God, like our wife or husband, will faithfully search for and find us no matter where we wander.
All of this image changing takes time, however.  Unless we reflect deeply upon the mysteries of faith we uncover through rituals, images and metaphors, Advent and Christmas will pass us by like a flash of lightning, but will leave us unchanged.

Today, ask God to slow you down in order to make Advent a time of conversion and new life.

What image of God most impacts your prayer life?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Pregnant with Chrrist

"Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing...Test everything; retain what is good." 1Thess 5: 16,18

On this, the third Sunday of Advent, we pause in joy and say: We are pregnant.  Though it might startle some, the Cistercian monk, Blessed Isaac of Stella, was very clear about this is the 11th century. Listen:
In a way, every Christian is also believed to be a bride of God's word, a mother of Christ, his daughter and sister, as once virginal and fruitful.These words are used in a universal sense of the Church, in a special sense of Mary, in a particular sense of the individual Christian. (1)
Thinking of ourselves as mothers of Christ may be unusual and counter intuitive, but when we let the words settle in, it is wonderful.  The whole church is pregnant with Christ, yearning to give birth to him each day through our good works, service and worship.  Teresa of Avila reminds us,
Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours, yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world, yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.(2)
Though the challenge is daunting, when we reside in the joy of being pregnant with Christ, the mystery surrounds us and fills us with delight and hope.

Today, be joyful as a "mother of Christ."

How are your challenged to give birth to Christ each day?

Friday, December 12, 2014

St Lucy

"When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him." Mt 21 31-32

Today's Gospel is a difficult one for me.  Perhaps like some of you, when I get involved in a heated argument, it often becomes more important for me to be right than in relationship.  I have struggled with this my entire life and it is not difficult for me to see myself among the Pharisees trying to convince everyone, without regard for the truth or what is happening right in front of me,  that Jesus is a charlatan.  That thousands are listening to John the Baptist announce that he is not the Christ and convincing even prostitutes and tax collectors that his message is from God,  the Pharisees suggest that prostitutes and tax collectors are poor witnesses and will do anything to feather their own nests. Failing to even consider the humility and honesty of John, especially when he points to Christ as "the one who is to come," (Lk 7:18-19) they risk their salvation for the sake of their fragile power.

The feast of St. Lucy only increases my discomfort.  After Lucy rejects a proposal of marriage, the fellow she spurns "accuses" her of believing in the Christ, and even though she realizes the danger, Lucy acknowledges that indeed she is a Christian. When she refuses to recant her belief, she is martyred.  We know little else about her life, but the early church held her up, even including her name in the first Eucharistic prayer, because of her simple, direct an unwavering faith.  What a challenge she is to us.

Today, pray with St John that Christ will increase as you decrease.

Which of your faults get in the way of growing in faith?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Our Lady of Guadalupe

"A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars." Rev 19a

One of the great lessons of Advent and in the lives of the saints is that God comes to the humble.  St. Juan Diego, who has his own feast now after being canonized by Pope St John Paul II, described himself to Our Lady of Guadalupe as, " a nobody, .. small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf."  How he wondered would a bishop believe that Mary sent him to request that a church be built in her honor?  After all, by his own account, he was merely a subsistence farmer, a nobody.

Hearing Juan Diego's anxiety and fear, Mary assured him that if he took the flowers she gave him which were growing on the top of hill in frozen soil, the bishop would listen to her through him.  Indeed, when he brought the flowers to the bishop as proof of his own integrity and Mary's promise, the cloak with which he was carrying the flowers had an image of the woman who appeared to him. Startled, the bishop's skepticism melted away, and he ordered that a church be built in Mary's honor and gave Juan Diego permission to receive the Eucharist three times a week. A singular privilege at that time, receiving the Eucharist was a burden as well. The nearest church was a fifteen mile walk from his home!

A faith filled life, though privileged, is never easy.  We need to work at it, and even when we try to escape from God, God will find us wherever we are.  God's love and confidence in us is always greater than our own.

Today, ask God for the faith to see yourself as God sees you.

Do you have a favorite Marian feast?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Confessing God's Goodness

"I am the LORD, your God, who grasp your right hand; It is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.” Is 41:13

Several years ago I was asked to help hear confessions in a Spanish speaking parish. Although the majority of the people were from the Dominican Republic and loved having me in the confessional since they realized that I struggled to understand them, a few were from Mexico and had been catechized in a way that touched me deeply.  Each of the Mexican penitents began: "Father, I confess that God is good and has given me faith. I confess that God has blessed me with a wonderful family, and I confess that I have friends who support me and love me."

Only after beginning with this non traditional formula of "confession" which immediately reminded me of St. Augustine's Confessions, did they begin to ask pardon for their sins, again with an unique introduction.  "So Father, because God is so good and has been so good to me, I have been ungrateful and these are the ways."  Honestly, I delighted each time a person catechized in this way came into the confessional, and have used the same formula myself when celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation.

Thinking about these men and women occasions fundamentally important questions for us as people of faith: Have we been grateful enough for God's presence, understanding, compassion and forgiveness, for the one who grasps us by our right hand and promises to help us?  Are we full of gratitude to the God who never sleeps, never forgets us, and is always ready to welcome us home? Are we more worried about avoiding sin than doing good and fostering the good news in our families, communities and churches?

Today, let God take your right hand and guide you to where God needs you to be.

For what or whom are you most grateful as Advent unfolds?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Growing Closer to God

"My yoke is easy, my burden light."

All of us have people in our lives who get under our skin.  Almost anything they say makes us defensive and resistive. Though we cannot easily articulate what it is that disturbs us about the other person, it is very real and disabling. Often enough the person who annoys us at every turn is a mirror image of ourselves. If we find ourselves talking too much and not listening carefully enough to others, we resent it when others prattle on and seem not to hear the opinions of others.

On the other hand, it is good to remember that our personality gets under the skin of others. Self reflection can be humbling, but it can also take the edge off our annoyance and calm our spirits. More important, it can be the first step in recognizing and accepting the call to conversion and transformation
Jesus has a ready answer when we allow our own faults or the foibles of others to bother us unnecessarily. Come to me, he insists, don't be afraid. I will be your guide and protection; I will make your burdens much lighter but you must let me help. Stop trying to figure out what it is about yourself or others that bothers you. It is a waste of time and fruitless. Place my yoke around your shoulders and walk the path to which I direct you. In me, everything is possible.

Today, pray for someone who annoys you.

What is the heaviest burden the Gospel asks you to carry?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Revisiting our Priotities

"Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end."

Spiritual directors often speak of "resistances" to God's action in our lives. Sometimes it is unresolved conflicts from the past that seem to block our submitting ourselves to God.  At other times, it is too much work , too much television or too much time in front of the computer. Perhaps because we want to be comforted all the time, we resist looking at what needs to be changed in our lives.

Part of my work demands that I spend time reflecting on the daily scriptures, researching areas with which I am not familiar and actually writing this blog or a homily, but the computer cannot be my life.  Unless I take sufficient quiet time to remember God's enduring presence all around me, what I read, study and write will be like dry straw. Lacking a certain spirit, it will be unable to help lift people to God and urge them to live for God and do God's work. When they do this, they will be comforted.

Advent is a good time to examine our own commitment to faith and its practice. Have our prayers become routine, mumbled out of obligation quickly and with little heart?  Has our inability to stop comparing ourselves to others impeded our own progress in the spiritual life? As Jesus reminds his hearers: the wisdom of following him will be vindicated by our good works.  People will see in us the Christ who grounds us in hope or they will ignore our halfhearted attempts to appear religious.

Today, ask God to reveal how you resist his transforming Word.

Which of God's demands do you most often resist?


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Immaculate Conception

"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Lk 1:27

Whenever I get a glimpse of authentic, uncluttered love I am always moved. I remember watching the Special Olympics a few years ago when one young man stumbled running around the track and two of his competitors stopped to help him before continuing their own quest for a medal.  Their action was so natural and so pure that I knew they were challenging everyone watching to reexamine their priorities. Mary, the mother of Jesus, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, does the same thing. Being without sin frees Mary to be for us and for the whole world. Unfettered by sin, she responds freely to anyone who ask.

Think for instance about those times when you experience a deep freedom.  Nothing clutters your mind or your heart. You can listen without searching for an answer. You can respond without having to be right. You can give of yourself totally to another not because there is a reward for doing so, but simply because it is the right thing to do.  When we experience this kind of freedom, we begin to appreciate the great gift of Mary, Mother of the Church.  To be born without sin, to be able to resist sin in all its forms, freed her to be Christ's mother and ours. What a gift Mary is in this regard, and what a gift we can be when we put aside our selfishness and self centeredness in order to live for others in the name of Mary' son Jesus.

Today, ask for the gift of thinking of others first.

Who is the most generous, other centered person you know?



Saturday, December 6, 2014

God's Comforting Love

"Comfort, give comfort to my people." Is 40:1

Prophets are fascinating people. Like all good leaders they warn us about dangerous paths we might be taking or reprove us when we fail to live up to our values, but they can also be incredibly gentle and consoling. The 40th chapter of Isaiah is like this.

When the Jewish nation was in exile. many forgot who they were and to whom they belonged.  Others found ways to compromise with their captors as a way of staying alive, but were neglecting their religious obligations. Isaiah knew all this and decided that honey works much better than vinegar when people are lost and in pain.  Like the Samaritan who stops to help the fellow left for dead by robbers, Isaiah reminds his listeners that soon they will be home, among their friends and families and will be free to worship in Jerusalem. Don't worry, he seems to be saying, God is near and, "Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care."

Advent's scriptures are often like spiritual comfort food for me. Just as a big bowl of coffee ice cream can transport me back to childhood vacations with my family in Westport, Ma, Advent fills me with warmth and hope. As life was once simple and rich, so it will be again.  As we prepare to celebrate the Lord's birth, we are reminded that Christmas is not about the gifts we give and receive, but the incredible promise of God not to leave us orphans nor abandon us when we are in exile.

Today, comfort someone who seems lost.

What or who helps you remember the comforting power of God?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Letting the Lord Find Us

"At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd." Mt 10:1

Nature shows of television can be fascinating. Last week I saw one about the hunting abilities of a particular breed of big cat. Although it is a bit unnerving to watch the animal as it isolates a young antelope or gazelle for its next meal, there are important lessons for all.  Cunning and fast, the cat waits for the perfect moment before swooping in for the kill.  Sometimes the younger and smaller animal, sensing danger, is able to retreat to the safety of the herd and the cat slinks away in search of another more vulnerable target.
Jesus is talking about much the same situation in the today's gospel.  When a sheep, a naturally communal animal, drifts away from the herd, it is not only vulnerable, it loses a sense of who it is.  Sheep herders tell us that an isolated sheep might stop drinking and eating, threatening its very life.  Unless the sheep is led back to the herd it risks injury and death. That is why Jesus assures his listeners that he is a good shepherd, especially when those listening to him feel lost, troubled or abandoned. Allowing the Lord to find us when we are lost heals.

Today, stop and let Jesus, the Good Shepherd, find you.

What do you do when you feel lost and troubled?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Letting our Senses Come Alive

Thus says the Lord GOD:
But a very little while,
and Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard,
and the orchard be regarded as a forest!
On that day the deaf shall hear
the words of a book;
And out of gloom and darkness,
the eyes of the blind shall see.  Is 29: 17-18

The prophecy of Isaiah is wonderfully visual.  Reminding us that all creation "lives" in God, the prophet invites us to imagine orchards becoming forests, and the eyes of the blind being opened to see God's glory in all creation. God's love, Isaiah suggests, is so immediate and so full that one can taste it, smell it, hear and touch it. Working hard to help his sisters and brothers in exile not lose hope, Isaiah reminds them to focus on the simplest of God's gifts, their own senses, as a pathway to renewed life in the Spirit.

Unfortunately, in a society so glutted with visual images, we sometimes fail to appreciate the fullness of God's presence all around us and, in the name of love and self giving, often make our lives more obsessive, more hurried and much less human. While I realize that I am one of the fortunate few who is not compelled to buy dozens of gifts, nevertheless, it saddens me to think that the frenzy and rushing of preparing for Christmas can steal the most precious moments of the church year and strip us our ability to see beyond the physical.

What would it be like, for instance, to take one minute each day to pause and picture the person for whom you are buying something happy, content, and faith filled.  It is not a difficult exercise, but if we gave members of our family an inexpensive gift and a brief note telling them how we prayed for them each day during Advent, they might treasure the note much more than the gift.

Today, think simply.  Live simply. Imagine beauty.

What happens to your faith life when you let set your imagination free to praise God and serve others?


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Rocks of Faith

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock." Mt 7:24

In a front page article, the NY Times reported today that Black Friday sales were 11% lower than last year, both in stores and online, and experts were shocked. Could it be that people actually stayed home with friends and family rather than rush out to stores for the bargains on Christmas gifts? While we realize that the experts will be under enormous pressure this morning to explain the drop in sales and, more important, turn them around, perhaps there is a shift among some to refocus their priorities and take time for the spiritual in their lives.

Advent always challenges us to ask ourselves about the spiritual "rocks" of our lives. Caught up at times with getting ready for Christmas and determined to find the perfect gift for each person on our list, we give ourselves away. Too often we are more concerned with getting everything right than building our lives on the rocks of faith, prayer and service of those most in need, but perhaps this Advent will be different.

Even if we did run out on Black Friday for the great sales, we should not be too put off by our failures. God is waiting for us to turn away from the insanity of a society obsessed with bigger and better: homes, cars, portfolios and retirement plans, and ready to welcome us to a simple life of faith and hope as begin our Advent journey to the Crib. We can begin this journey anytime, even right now.

Today, examine the rocks upon which you build your faith life.

If people asked you why you believe and practice faith, what would you say?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

St Francis Xavier

"The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest." Mt 9:8

Educated in faith before the Second Vatican Council, too many of us reserve the word missionary to those who like St Francis Xavier leave their homeland, cultures and families and travel around the world announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ. While it is good to honor those women and men who have given their lives to cross cultural and overseas mission, the word mission simply means sent, and we are all sent at Baptism to, "Go and make disciples of all nations." (Mt 28:19)

At the end of every mass, when the priest or deacon echoes the words of Jesus, saying "Go in peace and announce the Gospel of the Lord," it does not merely mean that mass is over and we ought to rush for our cars or the religious ed program or the nearest diner for breakfast.  Rather, it challenges us, having been renewed in our faith by sharing God's word and the Eucharist, to bring the Good News to those who have never heard it, forgotten it or rejected it.

Further, we are to announce the Good News without fear. Relying on the Lord to give us the words and lifestyles that allow others to know the God who has come to set us free, we become the body of Christ on earth by living the Gospel every day.

Today, ask to be sent as you are to those who have never heard the Gospel.

How do you live the life of a missionary in your daily life?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Seeing the Whole

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

Seeing is a wonderful gift, one we can easily take for granted. Only an injury to the eye, even a slight one, makes us sit up and take notice. That we can see and appreciate the beauty of all creation is remarkable, and while it seems simple it really is very complex. So many parts of our body have to work together for us to see, and Jesus uses this very basic faculty to teach us about sensing beyond what our eyes and ears and brain working together offer us.

Acknowledging what our senses tell us, especially when it is painful, is important not just for ourselves but for our society. When we see or witness abuse of any kind we cannot simply turn away in denial. Experiencing abusive drinking or encountering spousal abuse unnerves us and sometimes moves us into denial. We don't want to believe what we saw or heard and try to excuse or interpret another's actions to free ourselves from responsibility. 

Some of the Jewish leaders, who could have worked with Jesus to proclaim God's reign, did not want to see, hear or admit that Jesus had remarkable powers and insight, that he understood and interpreted the Torah in a way that freed people to live the Law more fully and deeply. Because they feared their power was being challenged and undermined, they chose to be blind and confronted Jesus at every turn but were never able to dissuade or distract ordinary people from acknowledging what they experienced.  We all need to learn that seeing with the mind and heart is as important as seeing with our eyes alone, otherwise we will miss the transforming power of the Gospel.

Today, open your eyes slowly and look around at the glory of God's creation.

Have you had an experience that helped you see God's action in your life more clearly?




Sunday, November 30, 2014

Compassion

“Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.”

Not infrequently, we can feel like the centurion in today's Gospel whose servant is suffering dreadfully. A rare form of cancer or a difficult to diagnose heart ailment strikes a friend out of the blue, and everyone begins scrambling to understand, to help find a doctor, to get a second opinion, to choose a form of treatment, and all of this before our friend has begun to accept his illness and decide on a path of action. At times like this, what we really need to do is offer our friend the same compassion Jesus extends to the centurion and his slave.

Compassion is the quiet presence we can offer to those who are lost, confused, anxious and doubtful.  It is rarely surrounded with a multiplicity of words. Rather, it is like an open hand extended to others with love and tenderness. It is not condescending or judgmental.  It is the simplest form of love and lets all know that they are not something to be fixed, but friends who need a companion with whom to take the next step. Because the centurion is so full of genuine compassion for his servant, Jesus is anxious to help him, and ready to help us if only we present ourselves to him with humility and trust.

Today, offer a stranger compassion.

Who showed you the kind of compassion Jesus offers to the centurion and his servant?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

First Sunday of Advent

"No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him. Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!" Is 64:3

Sometimes we watch too closely, pay attention to too many details and get ourselves in trouble.  Not only to do we miss the forest for the trees, we get increasingly anxious about things we can’t control.  Parents sending their children to school for the first time often do this, and it can happen to me when to help a friend work his way through a troubling or difficult personal situation.  Both situations, while understandable and for some unavoidable, remind us of something wise people have said for a long time: Look but don’t stare.

The prophet Isaiah asks God not to stare at his people and punish them. Rather, the Prophet suggests that God could have been more forceful in helping the Israelites remain faithful to the covenant. “Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” I can only imagine God smiling at Isaiah's intervention.

But Isaiah doesn't give up. Rather, while acknowledging the sins of the people, and admitting that they deserve condemnation, he also reminds God that God is the potter and the people are the clay.  Surely, God must know that no potter ever discards her clay.  Rather, she reworks it and shapes it into something new.  That is what Advent is all about, asking God to reshape and mold us into heralds of the Great King.

Today, imitate God by looking at yourself and others without staring.

What situations cause you to obsess about matters you cannot control?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Last Days

"Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” Lk 21:36

Today is the last day of the liturgical year and a good time to make a simple review of our faith life. Four actions ought to mark the life of a faith filled Catholic and we can reflect on them through a series of questions. Have we been faithful to God and the community of believers by gathering regular for prayer and worship, especially on Sundays? Have we taken time to reflect on the mysteries of faith, especially as they are articulated in Scripture? Have we celebrated God's gifts with joy and gratitude? Have we served others as if they were Christ? 

Coming together regularly, studying and praying about God's care for us and serving those most in need are visible signs that God matters in our lives and that we want to witness to God's mercy before others. For most of us the only way we preach is through our actions. We can talk about faith all day, but if we never act on it, we are as Paul reminds us a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. We make a lot of noise but don't do anything for others but annoy them.

On the cusp of Advent, we have the opportunity to be honest with ourselves and God and recommit ourselves to God's dream and desire for us. Going to mass, picking up a bible and offering a helping hand to the needy is a great way to begin. 

Today, be honest with yourself and God. Make no excuses for your faults. Ask to begin again.

Which dimension of our faith life most attracts and empowers you?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

God is Always Near

"The poor are not alone in their distress; God is here to help them." Office of Readgings

A couple of years ago, there was a painful and troubling piece on 60 minutes. Called, Hard Times Generation: Families in Cars , it chronicled the lives of homeless children and families in Florida where one third of the 16 million homeless children live. Listening to children talking about the fear they have at night living in cars and trucks, often in poor neighborhoods, is sobering. Graphic and clear, their testimony got me to thinking about the millions of other children who do not have the parental help, education or social skills to express their feelings in what the program called, the "hidden America."

Listening to these homeless children, I was reminded of an antiphon from the Office of Readings for today, "The poor are not alone in their distress; God is here to help them." When we "listen to the cries of the poor," (Prov 21:13) and accept our own poverty of spirit, when we acknowledge how often we fail to live the gospel, and identify with those who are physically poor and homeless, we find God waiting and anxious to be with us in our aloneness.

Today, stand in solidarity with people everywhere who are hungry, homeless and lost.

Who has stood near you in your need?


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Day

"Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?" Lk 17:18

The feast of Thanksgiving is a time to return to the God who has so often healed us, to pause and remember all those who God has given us as companions in faith, who have accepted our faults and lifted up our strengths.  Honestly, if any of us began to name all of these people today, the list would stretch around the world. Today let us sing alleluia for friends and enemies who showed us God's face even when we were distracted by self absorption or lost in self pity.

We also thank God today for allowing us to play a small role in the healing of others.  Broken families, shattered marriages, lonely teenagers, desperate older people and the mentally ill, to name just a few, have all been given to us as gifts. Today we thank God especially for never thinking that the healing relationships we have been privileged to share with the lost have been our doing.  Most of the time the only thing we had to give others was time itself, and to our surprise, that was more than enough.  Though most of us could never have imagined the path God would set us upon, today we acknowledge that all is grace, all is gratitude, and all is rooted in the unconditional love of God because, in truth: Those we have served have given us more than we could ever give them.

Today, find a quiet place to breathe in gratitude for all God has given you and breathe out hope to those who find life an overwhelming burden.

Who or what forces you to your needs in gratitude?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

God's Garden

"Consider the fig tree and all the other trees. When their buds burst open, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near; in the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near." Lk 21 29-30

Paying attention to nature is a simple path to insight and reflection.  Jesus often invites us into the mystery of God's ways in this manner.  Today it is the fig tree. Tomorrow it may be the farmer sowing his seed or the power of the sea in a storm.  Unfortunately, in a society as frantic as ours and as fascinated with technology, we often fail to appreciate the wonders of nature all around us, but we can change.

Should we consider intentionally shutting down our computers, cell phones, and  Ipads for half an hour a day, and take a slow walk.? While it might be difficult to begin and stay faithful to a practice like this, eventually our bodies and spirits will yearn for the "breaks", the quiet times and the rest.

Life unfolds in patterned ways and cannot be rushed.  It takes nine months for a child to be born.  It often takes five years for an apple tree to produce fruit and those of us getting older know that we are very different people at 60 than we were at 20. The task for the Christian is to continue to enter life as it comes, not rushing or pushing, but accepting life on its terms, and attending to God's presence at every stage of life.

Today, wherever you are, pause for a few moments and be amazed at the variety of ways God speaks.

What in nature most often alerts you to God's creative love?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Unity not Uniformity

"The great cannot exist without the small; nor the small without the great. A certain organic unity binds all parts, so that each helps and is helped by all." St Clement to the Corinthians

Because here were serious disputes in the Church of Corinth about the role of authority, Pope St Clement, while reminding the Corinthians that that needed to accept the authority of the bishop and priests, also assured the entire church that everyone had a role in the community of faith.  Good governance was not simply a matter of a bishop deciding disputed questions, it required that bishops respect everyone in the church. Only when decisions taken by the church foster unity among bishops, priests and people will everyone be helped.

The church fosters mutual respect not only as a path to good governance, but as a sign of Christ's presence in the assembly of believers.  Jesus prays that "all might be one," (Jn 17:22) so that the world will know that he was sent by God.  Real unity, not simply uniformity, is often an elusive goal in our lives.  It demands that we listen with respect and openness of spirit to those with whom we have difficulties or disagreements.

In recent years, a friend suggested, because unity is so important in the church and is a sign that Christ is presence among us, that I take another step when listening to people. "Pray for them as they speak, especially if you disagree with them,"  she said.  "Pray that they will be able to articulate clearly what is bothering them.  Pray that you might be able to help them in doing what God wants of them." Good advice then and now.


Today, pray for unity in your families, communities and our beloved church.

What must you let go of to foster a deeper unity with God and others?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Saint Andrew Dŭng-Lạc, Priest, and Companions, Martyrs

"These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been ransomed as the first fruits of the human race for God and the Lamb. On their lips no deceit has been found; they are unblemished." Rev 14: 4-5

Often when we read the history of the church we are startled. When the church first went to Vietnam she did so, not first to announce the Good News to the Vietnamese, but to minister to Japanese Christians who had been driven from their homeland. This simple and innocent act of compassion attracted the Vietnamese but threatened Vietnamese leaders who insisted that the Vietnamese renounce their new found faith by stomping on a crucifix. 

Compassion can be dangerous, especially when it is offered as a free gift to those whom others think of as unworthy. Countless Christians have been martyred because of their desire to be merciful to the lost and lonely. Nevertheless, the openness to offer God's love to those who feel abandoned is a fundamental value of Christian life. Whether our willingness to live the Gospel despite the danger leads to persecution is not the point. That we hand our lives over to God for God's desire for the world is.
Today, ask for the gift of openness to God despite the cost.

Have you known people willing to give their lives for the sake others no matter the price?


Friday, November 21, 2014

St Cecilia

"O God, I will sing a new song to you; with a ten stringed lyre I will chant your praise. Ps 44:9"

St Cecilia is almost always portrayed with a musical instrument in her hands. Sometimes it is a viola or a flute; at other times she is seated at an organ, all because she is said to have heard beautiful music when she was forced to marry a pagan. From a simple incident without a firm historical foundation, Cecilia is honored as the patron of liturgical music. Clearly, what keeps Cecilia's memory alive is the power of music that fills us with hope and joy, and helps deepen the faith that is the ground of our lives.
When I was a boy there was a wonderful choir in my home parish, and although as a child I did not always appreciate the beautiful music they made, my spirit remembers the pride of the adults who who sang in the choir and the joy of those who listened. At Christmas, our choir's  ministry was even richer since the men's and women's choirs combined at Midnight mass and at the principal mass of Christmas morning.  Our devoted choir was a sign that our parish was committed to God and was willing to sacrifice many hours of practice to help lift our hearts through music and song.

Perhaps Henry David Thoreau said it best. "When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest." Music not only reminds us how important our bodies and senses are in an incarnational spirituality, it helps us to express a love that is beyond words. 

Today, pray for all those music ministers who remind us with St Augustine that we pray twice when we sing. 

What kind of music transports you beyond yourself?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Presentation of Mary

"He noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins...this poor widow...has offered her whole livelihood." Lk: 21: 2-4



How could a woman without any means of support let go of the little she had to honor God? For us humans it seems impossible, but nothing is impossible for God. God's grace enabled the poor widow, who had lost everything of value to her, to cast her lot with the God who had always been faithful to her despite her struggles.

Too often we think of the the total abandonment of the widow as an exception, but we should not. The Gospel promises us that God is all powerful and will take care of us, if only we trust God in every circumstance.  This does not mean that we shouldn't be prudent with what we do have, but it does mean we should not cling so tightly to our possessions, our health, and our property that we strangle the grace of God that is meant to free us.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our mother, said yes to God despite the risk to her own reputation and today's feast encourages us to follow her example. Saying yes to life however it unfolds is the best evidence we can offer others that God is always within and among us.

Today, made a simple examination of conscience.  Are you clinging to someone or something that does belong to you?

What do you think of the widow who gives her last two coins to the temple?