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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Baptism's Challenge to Ministry

“I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Mt 3:14

John the Baptist knew who he was. Not the Messiah but someone making the Messiah's path straight, he was only too ready to recognize and accept Jesus when the Lord entered his life. Anxious to be baptized, renewed and set free by Jesus, he was startled when the Lord asked him for baptism. Sure that Jesus was in no need of his "mikvah", a ritual cleansing that Jewish men experienced on Sabbath to prepare their hearts for a new week, and which John offered people as an act of repentance and renewal, John is puzzled by Jesus' request for baptism. When, however, Jesus reassures John that he knows what he is doing, John relents and Jesus' mission and ministry formally begin.

Although few Catholics I know celebrate the day of their baptism, it is something we might do well to consider. Taking time to remember that the gifts we were promised at Baptism, and the challenges our parents accepted for us, can help us focus more intently and naturally on the meaning of our baptism. Catholic Christians insist that conversion is a life long process with many stages, and while all of them are contained in the ritual of baptism, we rarely reflect upon them.

Our baptismal anniversary can help us remember and reclaim the gift of being anointed as priests, prophets and rulers, all of whom were rubbed with oil to signal their call to live faith fully. As priests we are challenged to gather others and consecrate all in God's name for worship, as prophets to remind everyone of the great demand of Christ to live his law and as priests to conquer the reign of sin in our lives. Baptism is about dying to self in order to live for Christ in the sure hope that we have already been saved and have only to live out baptism's call in order to know and live with God forever.

Today, bless yourself and remember that you have been consecrated by Father, Son and Spirit for service.

What about baptism's rituals is most challenging to you?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Confronting Sin

"David grew very angry with that man and said to him: 'As the LORD lives, the man who has done this merits death! He shall restore the ewe lamb fourfold because he has done this and has had no pity.' Then Nathan said to David: 'You are the man!'" 2 Sam 12:1

What must it have been like for Nathan to confront David about his lust and greed? Unable to control his desire for another man's wife, David sleeps with Bethsheba and then to cover his sin puts Bathsheba's husband and his friend, Uriah, in harms way. The vulgarity of David's action is overwhelming and Nathan, as God's prophet, must address it.

Cleverly concocting a story about a rich man, with lots of cattle and sheep, who takes the only sheep of a poor peasant to feed a visitor, Nathan asks David's opinion about the rich man. Enraged, David says the rich man should be killed. Only then does Nathan tell David that he is the rich man. Trapped by his own words, David acknowledges his sin.

What to do and how to respond to evil is a struggle everyone faces from time to time. A recent column in the Wall Street Journal (Pope Francis and Jane Fonda) compared the generosity and challenge of Pope Francis to the awful record of Jane Fonda's Foundation which has not made any gifts for five years. While not suggesting that Jane Fonda was evil, the column confronts all of us, and especially the wealthy, who fail to open their eyes to the needs of the world and respond generously. Sins like David's and our own need a Nathan to challenge us to do justice with compassion.

Today, share something you have without counting the cost.

How difficult is it for you to confront social sin in yourself and others?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Jesus Hides

"The report about him spread all the more, and great crowds assembled to listen to him and to be cured of their ailments, but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray."Lk 5:6-7

It is easy to distracted by the spectacular. Rubbernecking at a car accident is an annoying example of this, but we also are easily fascinated by athletes and other public figures, especially if they have fallen from grace or been accused of a crime. Time magazine reported that Americans were 12 times more interested in the singer, Miley Cyrus, than they were in Syria, and Twitter allows Ms Cyrus' 16 million followers to peek into her life several times a day while reading no more than 140 characters.

The same phenomenon seems to have bedeviled Jesus. The crowds follow him and listen to him, not because he has a powerful message about his father and is offering all people salvation, but because he is a healer who can set them free from their blindness, deafness or paralysis. While this is understandable, it is also a distraction and Jesus regularly flees to mountains to escape the crowds and commune with his father.

Taking time away from the crowds to pray is a good idea for all of us. While we might not be public figures or fascinate others with our fame or fortune, we are  battered daily with hundreds of thousands of images on television, the internet and through social media, all of which regularly distract us from a life of faith. Taking time to hide with Jesus is a good practice.

Today, find a place to be quiet and stay there for 10 minutes.

What things most distract you from having a simple faith commitment?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Loving God in All that Is

"If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." 1 Jn 4:20

The Gospel has always been clear. While believers are called to follow Jesus and enter deeply into the mystery of God's love, following Jesus without loving our brothers and sisters is empty. Only the full response to all in love is sufficient, and while we all fail at this command as often as we succeed, our success is not the goal. Rather, our willingness to step beyond our small circle of friends and to love everyone as brothers and sisters in Christ is the true test of our faith.

The saints never doubted this. Although many of them had harsh tempers, they knew that their faults needed to be addressed. They did not try to defend their poor behavior but asked God for the faith to see all people with new eyes. St Jerome, to whom we owe the first translation into the Latin Vulgate, a feat that made the scriptures available to everyday people, was notorious for his temper. At the same time, especially after his vitriolic and judgmental pen got him into trouble, he write about his great remorse, and it was his sorrow and repentance that earned him the title saint.

Like St Jerome, we are all called to acknowledge our sins and return to the full love of God and neighbor. Our willingness to admit our wrongs is the first step in drawing closer to God. Being open to seeing others as God sees the, and to search for the good in each person is the best antidote to a critical and judgmental nature.

Today, revisit a person for whom you have little respect and ask to see him or her with God's eyes.

What faults in others are the most difficult for you to see?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Dullness of the Apostles

"He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened." Mk 6: 51-52

The world often gets very small when we are struggling. A friend who ran in the NYC marathon told me she could think of nothing but the finish line for the last few miles of the race. Suffering from hypothermia, she ignored her body's signals to stop. Her goal was in reach and she could not let it go. Similar things happen to all of us. Exhausted by working in the hot summer sun, we often keep pushing to finish whatever project we are working on and find ourselves too tired to enjoy what we have accomplished.

Danger also makes the world small. When the disciples found themselves struggling to row against the wind in the middle of the night, they did not recognize Jesus coming to them across the sea. Consumed by their fear, that had forgotten the miracle of the loaves and fish which they had just witnessed. Clearly hoping that Jesus show of power was a sign that he would soon lead them into Jerusalem and rid their holy city of the Romans, they failed to understand his message. In fact, the text suggests, their "hearts were hardened."

How often when we are stressed we forget that Jesus is always with us. Determined to work through whatever problem is in front of us, we are like people trying to push back the tide or the waves of an ocean. Our independence or our personal goals become more important than our faith, and when we fail, we complain to God and sometimes even doubt God's existence. Although the Gospel continually assures us that the Lord is always near, when life gets dark, we fall into old patterns of self reliance and howl against the night when all we need to do is stop, rest and let the night play itself out.

Today, ask for the grace to walk with God no matter how slowly God seems to be moving.

Did anyone teach you to slow down in order to find God in every situation?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Loving with God's Expansiveness

"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God." 1 Jn 4:7

John's first letter is remarkable in so many ways but two are especially noteworthy. His demand that we love one another because love is of God is no simple task. As more contemporary writes remind us, love is often a decision, not simply something that we feel, but something we choose. Moreover, when we remember that Jesus told us to love our enemies, we realize how difficult the choice to love can be.

John's letter also pushes us beyond our comfort zone in another area. Love is no longer restricted to love of family, tribe, culture, nation or church. Everyone who loves, John insists, is begotten by God and knows God. The God about whom John writes is not a God of the Jews or Christians alone, but someone who belongs to all who are willing to let go of their natural limitations, fears and prejudices to love those upon whom they stumble each day. This love demands a huge heart and a willing spirit that sees in all creation and especially in all people, an image of God, the creator of all.

Whether we are able to love as expansively as John suggests everyday is not the point. All will fail regularly trying to live the vision of Jesus, but we must always ask for the grace to love each person we meet with the love that will open them to the God who is love. What happens to them is up to God. What we do is up to us.

Today, taste the sweetness of loving another in the name of the living God without expectation.

What or who is most difficult for you to love as God would have you love?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sifting through the Light and Dark

"Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God." 1Jn 4:1

Discernment of Spirits, especially since St Ignatius of Loyola wrote so eloquently about them in the 16th century and the Second Vatican emphasized the need to read the sign of the times when deciding how best to live and spread the Gospel, is a foundationally important skill for every Christian.

St Ignatius insisted that his followers understand that both consolation and desolation come to every one and can move believers towards or away from God. Sometimes consolation comes from a good spirit, especially when we are struggling to live with integrity under difficult life circumstances, but consolation when we are leading a sinful life is from an evil spirit and we must struggle against it. Appearing like an angel, evil spirits make sure that we stop seeking deep transformation by "consoling" us with hollow comforts. Desolation, on the other hand, is often the work of an evil spirit trying to dissuade a faith seeker from the light of God's way, and the work of a good spirit when we refuse to listen deeply to the Gospel.

It is often important to have help and guidance when we are discerning how best to respond to desolation and consolation. Finding and listening to a spiritual companion can be difficult, but for those wanting to know how to go the extra mile for God, it is often a necessity. Years ago I learned an important Latin phrase. Nemo judex in causa sua. No one is a judge in his or her own case. Asking someone else for help in discernment frees our decision making from the fears we all have that are rooted, not in God but in a spirit that wants to block our path to God.

Today, pray in gratitude for those who have already helped you on the road to a deeper faith.

Has desolation ever, in the long run, been a blessing for you?