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Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Presentation of the Lord

"The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him."

The gospel scene of the infant Jesus being presented in the temple is a remarkable one, an epiphany of sorts. Entering the temple with his mother and father, he was every Jewish first born boy. Presented to God for God's purposes, he left the temple the Messiah. Recognized and lauded by Simeon as the One promised by God, and spoken about to everyone who would listen by the prophetess Anna, in many ways Jesus' mission began when, as an infant, he left the temple and grew in wisdom and grace because the favor of the Lord was upon him.

Though we know little about the childhood of Jesus, the Presentation offers us a glimpse into his humanity. Though recognized by Simeon as the one for whom he had been waiting all his life, he returns with his parents to his hometown to grow up like any child. Whether he was remarkable or insightful we do not know. What we do know is that he didn't skip over anything that makes all of us the unique persons we are. No doubt he had childhood illnesses, struggled with the Torah, worked alongside his father to learn a craft, and played with other children his age, all of which prepared him to be the Prophet he became. 

Committed like Moses to freeing his people, Jesus seems never to have wavered as an adult from doing his Father's will. Knowing his Father was always near, he teaches us the same simple lesson. God is always near. We have only to live life as fully and honestly as possibl and let it unfold as God desires.

Today, be yourself and let God take you where you need to go.

What do you think your parents dreamed about for you?






Friday, January 31, 2014

Facing the Storms that Assail Us

"A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, 'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?' He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Quiet! Be still!' The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, 'Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?'” Mk 4: 37-40

Though we know that sudden squalls were common on the Sea of Galilee, this passage, like so many others, is not simply about a storm at sea. Jesus knew that all kinds of violence would visit his disciples and he wanted them to be ready for them. He and his followers would be laughed at, ridiculed and threatened. Would his disciples run away from the struggle and from him? Would they posture about being unafraid and try to convince the Lord and themselves that they would follow him everywhere?

Little has changed for Christians, especially for those who want to grow in discipleship. There are innumerable reasons to turn  away from a life of faith and especially from the Catholic church. As Pope Francis has reminded us recently, we have sometimes been so focused on a few key issues, especially about sex and sexuality, that we can lose sight of the larger Gospel picture that Jesus paints, and when this happens we open ourselves to hurtful and challenging criticism. Tempted at times like this to seek a different path, we need to pray not to forget all that people of faith and our church does and promotes.

On this last day of January we ought to remember that January is Poverty Awareness Month, a time to remember that 46 million Americans live in poverty and that 1.6 million children spent time in a shelter or emergency housing last year. In response to these devastating numbers, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, working with local communities and the poor themselves, has sponsored more than 8000 community based projects over the past forty years that are designed to chip away at the awful specter of poverty in the United States. In truth, there are many more reasons to be proud of our faith tradition than to turn away from it.

Today, face the squalls in your life head on and work together with others for the common good.

Why do you stay in the Catholic church?


Thursday, January 30, 2014

St John Bosco

“To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it?" Mk 4:30

In every age, following the lead of Jesus, believers have searched for images, metaphors and parables to help them understand and announce the Good News. We need only to read the lives of the saints to learn what scripture passages and stories most encouraged and challenged them.

Reminding his followers that they could never put down their cross, not even for a day or an hour, St John Bosco favored this passage from St Luke's gospel, "If anyone wants to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me," (Luke 9:23) Burdened by the death of his father when he was only two years old, John Bosco knew what it meant to carry his cross. Though his mother was a strong and pious woman, she was unable to work their family farm without the steady help of her three sons, and though John worked willingly with his brothers to keep their family together, his spirit yearned to follow Christ more directly, especially as a catechist.

Even though burdened by hard farm work, John did everything he could to teach the faith to other young farm boys, but regularly came home with a bloody nose for his troubles. Tempted to respond with violence, he heard a woman's voice tell him that only unremitting kindness would win over his antagonists. Strengthened by the lady's encouragement, he learned to juggle and perform magic tricks as a way to get his peers attention, and after performing would lead everyone to church for the celebration of the Eucharist.

After his ordination as a priest, John never deviated from the lessons he learned as a boy. Always incorporating play, song, study, prayer, and manual work, John Bosco spent his life helping young boys find God in the ordinary events of everyday life. Today the Salesians, a religious community he founded to help poor boys, numbers more than 15,000 men.

Today, take a moment to dream about how best to spend your life.

What helps people, despite their heavy crosses, to maintain faith and hope?


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Common Sense

“Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?" Mk 4:21

Spoiled by the availability of electricity in every corner of our country, we sometimes take its power, especially its ability to give us light, for granted. This would not have happened in the ancient world. Because oil was expensive and had to be used sparingly in lamps, the people of Jesus' day would have taken Jesus' question as a joke. Of course, anyone with common sense would put a lamp on a lampstand so that everyone in the house could benefit. Jesus knew how they would answer and uses their response as a platform from which to teach.

When we use the ordinary gifts of nature with care and discretion God's will for us is revealed. With the light of creation working together with the light of Christ we can see both our good deeds and sins, and we can see those in need and give to them generously as God gives to us. It is only when we ignore or deny what we see that we get in trouble. Jesus is most concerned that too many in his own religious community put lamps under bushel baskets and beds of denial, making it impossible for them to live the Torah with passion and integrity.

Nature is often a wonderful teacher, but if we fail to listen to its rhythms, we miss its lessons and turn away from God's path. We are all called to be lights in the world and examples for others. When we allow our light to brighten the path of others, we help them discover the God who is always there and show them how to influence others for good.

Today, thank God for advances in science and technology that allow us to see and hear people and events all over the world.

What in nature most astonishes you?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Finding the Homeless God

"I have not dwelt in a house from the day on which I led the children of Israel out of Egypt to the present, but I have been going about in a tent under cloth." 2 Sam 7:5

The bible is filled with God's revelations, but we too often fail to listen. When David finally stopped to think about his relationship with God, he realized that because he had been so absorbed with reestablishing God's reign among the Jewish people, he had forgotten God's home among the people. Wanting to correct his failure, he soon learned that the God for whom he wanted to build a home, was not the God of revelation. 

God could be found, David learned, but not where he expected. God tells the prophet Nathan to remind David that he has always been a nomadic God, a God of the margins, a God of the poor. Though he seemed to be stable among the Jews in Egypt, God knew his chosen ones were enslaved, and led them out of bondage into the desert where he wandered with them for forty years. Homeless, God, the Good Shepherd, tends his flock wherever they go and like his people, lives in a tent. It is clear that if we want to find God, we must look among the refugees, the sick, the homeless and he broken. More difficult still, we must accompany them wherever they go despite the cost.

Pope John Paul II, who will soon be canonized, knew this truth about God and from the first moments of his papacy left the Vatican to visit and accompany the poor all over the world. Pope Francis, affirming John Paul's insight despite his age, is doing the same, but because of the need to provide him as a head of state with security, we can miss the point. Traveling on his own plane with dozens of companions and the press, we forget that Francis wants us to see him as a nomadic Pope reaching out for the forgotten, trying to remind us of the God who is always among us no matter how lost we feel.

Today, look for God in the darkest places of your own heart.

Have you ever found God among the broken and despised?

Monday, January 27, 2014

St Thomas Aquinas

"David then distributed among all the people, to each man and each woman in the entire multitude of Israel, a loaf of bread, a cut of roast meat, and a raisin cake." 2 Sam 6:19

Few people in the history of the Christian West had more influence on the church and the culture than Thomas Aquinas. Not only did Thomas help the church and other theologians integrate the thought of the Greek philosophers, especially Aristotle, into Christian theology, his ability to think clearly and logically set the tone for generations of theologians who followed him. His final work, the Summa Theologica, completed only a year before his death at forty nine, is still considered one of the classics of Western thought. 

The church is always better when it encourages its theologians to explore the edges and implications of the Gospel in any society. Today, theologians from all over the world, doing theology through the lens of their own cultures, are pushing the church to understand and integrate the insights of every culture when proclaiming the Gospel. When, moreover, the insights of new thinkers begin to influence the thinking and preaching of the older churches of Europe and the Americas everyone benefits.

Encouraging young people to reflect upon and articulate their faith in the digital age and challenging them to find ways to integrate blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and the dozens of other social media into the proclamation of the Gospel might produce another Thomas Aquinas and change the face of the churches in the twenty first century. 

Today, pray for young people studying theology.

Whose thought most influenced your religious understanding and convictions? 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Blasphemy

"But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” Mk 3:29

All of us doubt. We doubt ourselves and the adequacy of our skills. We doubt the reliability of friends and family. We doubt the ability of our civic leaders to govern, and we doubt God, or more precisely, we doubt the God we created or think we learned about in school or church. Hearing that God is all powerful, we sometimes naively think that God's power allows God to heal at will, depose unethical leaders and make the world a more just place. But saying that God is all powerful does not mean that God takes away our freedom. God's power is much more extensive that our self centered desire or limited view of the world.

God is with us, among us, present to us individually and communally. God's power allows God to accompany us, to direct us (when we listen!), to challenge us to be the voice and heart of Christ in the world. While this aspect of our baptismal charge is often overwhelming, it is ours for the taking, and to deny it is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy is nothing more than refusing to reverence the God who is, or asserting that God lacks the power to be present to us all the time.

God wants only good for us and for the world, but our need to control life sometimes leads us to ask God to fix us or give us the power to fix ourselves for our own peace. We do not want God to be God for all; we want to be God for our own purposes and desires, and his is a form of idolatry.

Letting go of the fear that God will not act for us and for our good is the greatest challenge most of us face. Because we do not understand all of God's ways, we panic and begin to pray only for what we see and perceive, and while this is understandable, we must pray to let go totally into God's good hands and trust. Practicing this every day is the essence of prayer.

Today, pray for an increase in faith and to accept God's mercy.

What aspects of faith are most challenging to you?