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Saturday, January 18, 2014

God Stoops Towards Us

"I have waited, waited for the LORD, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry. And he put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God." Ps 40:2

For centuries the church has charged its leaders and people with praying the psalms on a daily basis and with good reason. The psalms are songs and hymns that console and challenge us everyday to transformation. They lift us up and send us forth; they knock us down and set us straight, and in all of this the psalms assure us that if we wait, listen and ask for help, God will stoop toward us and listen to our cry.

Committed Christians have known this forever. The Gospel is hard work and demands a steady hand but when we stop and listen God is never far away. Carlo Caretto, a well known Italian activist and writer, found himself exhausted, confused and lost in the Roman church. Not sure how he could survive in a church which he loved and despised at the same time, Caretto left Italy for North Africa to join Charles de Foucauld and the Little Brothers of Jesus where he found a group of men who were willing to pray and reflect for long hours before they acted.

The little brothers changed his life. They taught him patience and silence and introduced him to a faith path that helped him find God in places he had never before visited. When finally Caretto returned to Italy he was a different man. Quiet and reflective but still full of zeal. Caretto became a spokesperson for the power of prayer and the role of lay people in the church. Indeed, he discovered the God who stooped toward him in his need and listened to his cries.

Today, stoop towards someone in need with compassion and a listening heart.

Has anyone bent down to help you when you are in need of understanding and acceptance?




Friday, January 17, 2014

Getting Spiritually Healthy

“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Mk 2:17

Jesus' answer to the Pharisees who are complaining about his eating with tax collectors and other sinners seems so obvious, we wonder how the Pharisees could be so blind and deaf. They must have known that the law not only allowed conversations with sinners but demanded it. Like us, the Pharisees often heard and saw they wanted to see and hear. A friend recently accompanied her husband to the doctors office only to realize after the visit that he heard something very different than she heard. In denial about a long present medical condition, her husband simply did not want to hear the doctor's recommendations for his health. The same thing happened to the Pharisees. Secure in their knowledge of the Torah and satisfied with their modest power, they wanted only to find something to criticize in Jesus' behavior in order not to listen to him.

However, when Jesus responds to their resistance and dullness, he teaches all of us. Change is always difficult, and it is easier to criticize someone than to search for their goodness and compassion. Jesus sees past the sins of the tax collectors. Inviting them to supper and building a relationship with them makes it possible for him eventually to speak with them about changing their lives and turning away from their sin. Rather than attack their profession, he sits at table with them in the hope that they will be able to see the error of their ways and change.

It may be trite but most of us realize that we can catch more bees with honey than vinegar. When others experience us only as harsh critics, it is very difficult for them to hear us, but when we offer to be a light in their world, they have a chance to see themselves as they are and change.

Today, praise someone whose behavior often irritates you.

Have you ever been changed by someone's kindness and understanding?




Thursday, January 16, 2014

St Anthony, Abbot

"Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord." Ps 89

No matter how far Anthony went into the desert, people followed and found him. Though unlettered, he was gifted with so much wisdom, that many were drawn to him, hoping to absorb some of what he had learned in silence and solitude. Reputed to have lived for twenty years in a single walled room, Anthony grew in faith and devotion. While some thought that the isolation he sought would drive him crazy, Anthony grew more quiet and serene because he had found God and himself in the silence.

Obviously, not everyone is drawn to the life and lifestyle of St Anthony, but Anthony does teach everyone a basic truth of life. When we learn how it is that God wants to work in us, we have only to follow God's promptings to be at peace. Some will be drawn to God by a life of total involvement with the world. Others will find themselves and God in a life among the poor or as missonaries. A few will be drawn to the heremetical life like St Anthony. Where we arrive in life is not the issue. How we get there is.

If we want to be a peace as believers, we must let God lead us and show us how it is that we must live in order to know God and serve others. Thomas Merton once wrote that those who come to the monastery to escape the world will soon find themselves back in it. Monks enter the monastery because God calls them to engage the world through prayer and work, and know, after a time, that though they may be tempted to find a simpler or easier path to God, they will only be happy doing what God wants them to do.

Today, pray for the grace to be totally open to whatever God wants for you.

Have you ever met someone whose lifestyle at first confused you but whose peace taught you to follow God no matter the cost?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Jesus' Power

"It was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere." Mk 1:45

It is clear in Mark's gospel that Jesus was becoming so popular that he was bound to be challenged by the leaders of Rome and Palestine. Gathering large numbers of disciples was a threat both to civil and religious authorities that could not be ignored. The Roman leaders and Jewish hierarchy had found a way to coexist, and they resisted any attempt to upset the balance of power they had crafted. Though it was clear that the Jews had little real freedom, at least they controlled the temple and were free to celebrate their traditions.

When Jesus started to attract large numbers of followers he could have negotiated his own terms with the Romans and Jews, but he wanted none of it. Because he knew that his message was not political in a narrow sense, he sought deserted places to pray, regroup and commune with God, but the crowds would not leave him alone. Though he was not trying to gather people to himself but for his father, his power to heal and the strength of his presence were so influential that the civil and religious leaders had to stop him.

Is our faith and its practice ever agitating for others? Does the way we live challenge people to reorient their lives and lifestyles? When we remember that the gift of faith is not simply a personal treasure given to us for our own salvation but for the world to know the saving love of God, we can be sure that it will upset some. Nonetheless, God demands that we live a transparent and simple faith despite its consequences. Jesus modeled this and we have always to learn it.

Today, pray to be bold about your faith.

Whose practice of faith most agitated you? Did it help in the long run?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Speak Lord

"When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the LORD came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, 'Samuel, Samuel!' Samuel answered, 'Speak, for your servant is listening.'” 1 Sam 3:10

Anxious to care for Eli, the high priest, as he neared death, Samuel, though just a boy, was like a mother with a small child, and woke easily from sleep when he thought Eli was calling him in the middle of the night. Each time Samuel heard his name called, he thought it was Eli asking for help but Eli assured him it was not him calling. Finally, Eli realized it was God calling Samuel and told him that when he heard his name called at night, to say: Speak, Lord your servant is listening. When Samuel next heard his name called, he obeyed Eli and listened to God but the message was painful. God tells Samuel that Eli's unwillingness to control his sons would never be forgiven. More painful still, Eli demanded that Samuel tell him exactly what God had said. Samuel obeyed and Eli heard God's awful punishment from the boy he had helped raise.

Sometimes we don't get the answer we want from God about our lives and our dreams. Samuel could not have expected that God would tell him that because of  the wickedness of Eli's sons, Eli's reign would soon end forever. How difficult it must have been for Samuel to tell Eli what God had said, but as a prophet, he had no choice. His only task was to speak God's word faithfully despite the cost to him personally, and his fidelity would be rewarded by God.

Telling the truth despite the cost is an important challenge for every believer. Unless we are willing to acknowledge our own failures, and the mistakes of our families, nation and church, we cannot expect God to make up for our faults. God wants to free us from fear and strengthen our resolve but we have to do our part.

Today, ask God to help you live without fear.

How difficult is it for you to speak the Gospel when no one seems to be listening?




Monday, January 13, 2014

Fame

"His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee." Mk 1:28

Wise people remind us regularly that fame is fleeting. We lose our looks, our athletic ability, our fortune or our political power and people who could not get enough of us, forget our name and what we thought was a friendship. Fame that is based on our skills and appearance cannot last, but fame that is rooted in our honest other centeredness is something else altogether.

The fame that Jesus garnered and about which the evangelists write is often of a passing kind. His miracles especially attract those looking for a quick fix to their problems, but it is clear to those who read the Gospels as Good News that focusing on Jesus' miracles is fools gold. Only our willingness to listen to his transforming message and be moved by it to conversion of life will last. Intriguingly, when those following him focus too intently on his miracles, Jesus leaves them, finds on mountain on which to pray, and moves onto another place and people. His mission is not about impressing people but offering them a gift that is beyond an healing they may be seeking.

When people tried to focus on Dorothy Day's goodness and care for the poor by calling her a saint, she caustically replied: Don't dismiss me so easily. Saints know that living the Gospel is not about being famous or being called saint. Rather, saints know that their task is to conform themselves to God's dream for the world and to live it no matter the cost. Whether they experience extraordinary gift from the Holy Spirit is not he point. That they are faithful to the gospel is.

Today, pray for the gift of authentic humility.

What famous person do you most admire for living the Gospel with joy?


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Follow Me

“'Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.' Then they left their nets and followed him." Mk 1:17

Reading about the call of the disciples, it is natural to wonder if Jesus knew any of the men before inviting them to follow him. Did he notice something in them that would help announce the great salvific message of his Father? Did he know their families? Did he call them because he noticed them listening intently to him when he preached.

We know none of the answers to these questions, but we do know that the apostles followed him immediately, and this knowledge is startling. What made Jesus' fist disciples leave everything so readily and quickly? They had families and reasonably good jobs, but something in Jesus made them look past what they had to the one calling them, and they could not resist. The readiness of the apostles to follow Jesus without questions is major focus of the story for us.

We have any number of reasons to hesitate when hearing the call of the Gospel. Discipleship, especially in the so called developed world, does not pay very well, nor does it promise fame or power, but resisting it can be difficult if not impossible for those who are honestly looking for a way of life that respects, even honors, all people.

When Jesus called his first apostles, they followed someone whose power fascinated them. Though they may have expected a Messiah who would set his people free from oppression, they soon learned that he was not interested in political or economic power. Rather, he wanted to assure anyone and everyone that God loved them not because they were Jews or prominent citizens, or insightful readers of the Torah, but because God thought of them as his children, and if they could hear this message their lives would change forever.

The simplicity of the Gospel has not changed. Neither has its difficulty. Our task is to live its message of hope, transformation and submission to God with integrity and honesty. Admitting our dependence on God and being willing to serve others in his name remains a powerful invitation to anyone looking for a God who will never stop loving and challenging them.

Today, listen for the voice of the Lord in your life and follow it unreservedly.

Have you ever followed someone immediately without really knowing much about them?