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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Humility and Wisdom

"When I came to you, brothers and sisters,..I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom...I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling,..so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God." 1 Cor 2:1-5

Reading the letters and exhortations of St Paul leaves little doubt that Paul was a confident man who even seems arrogant at times. Whether the Apostle to the Gentiles came upon his confidence naturally or because of his conversion from persecutor of Christians to their leader is not the point. Because Paul knew that he was often filled with fear and conceit, either of which cover a multitude of sins, he is careful not to let his personal faults or strengths confuse his listeners. Paul wants his disciples to know that it is only the wisdom and power of God that moves people towards the good. Anything else can be a distraction.

The gospels assure us of this truth about the disciples of Jesus then and now, and remind us that we will know when God's power is at work by the fruits which the good works of Christians produce. Authentic faith produces compassion, understanding, insight, love and humility, and this last virtue is in many ways the first. Only when we submit ourselves to the simple truth that all our knowledge of God and faith is limited can we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord with the power of God. It was St Paul's humility that pushed him not to let his human wisdom no matter how profound get in the way of God's life within him or among his disciples. And it is humility that will help contemporary Christians remember that no matter how vast or insightful human knowledge is in the digital age, it pales when standing in the light of God's sovereignty and love.

Today, pray to see yourself as God's sees you: Beloved and limited.

How often have you learned a deeper truth when you let go of your opinion?


Friday, February 7, 2014

Wisdom

"Solomon answered,...Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?” I Kgs 3:9

Solomon's desire to live the Torah as a wise servant of God's people always gets our attention. In conversation with God, Solomon could have asked for anything: power, wealth, property, good health and all the gifts usually associated with living the Torah faithfully. That he asked for wisdom makes us stop and think about our own priorities.

Talking with a friend recently, he insisted wisdom is o.k. but he agreed with Sophie Tucker's famous maxim, "I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better." Humorous, but scary. Many, if not most people who identify as Christians, subscribe to sayings like this even when Oxfam reports that the 85 richest people in the world have more wealth than the 3.5 billion poorest. More important for Americans, Oxfam also tells us that in the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.(The Guardian)

Imagine what these statistics would look like if Christians chose the wisdom of Solomon rather than wealth and power over others. Wise believers would seek a path to justice for all, a way to use the earth's resources to address the AIDS pandemic, a world that attacked poverty instead of people. Why not dream? Solomon did and changed how we view the world and our place in it.

Today, pray for the wisdom to be the Christian God needs you to be.

What gift would you ask of God?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Troubling questions from troubling People

"Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him." Mk 6:20

Good people often trouble us, like John the Baptist confused Herod. A few weeks ago in Kansas City, Ardie Bland, a judge who only two years ago sentenced people protesting nuclear weapons to jail, had a change of heart after hearing another group of protesters defend their actions. When the prosecuting attorney asked 80 year old Fr. Carl Kabat whether he taught people to obey the rules, the priest answered, "God's rules." Pushing further the prosecutor asked Fr Kabat whether he should obey rules, Kabat answered, "If they are wrong, we should disobey them." Citing Rosa Parks as an example of someone who disobeyed the rules that made her, a black person, move to the back of the bus, the priest obviously moved Judge Bland, a black man.

Knowing that the law would not allow him to ignore the fact that protesters trespassed on government property, the judge sentenced the defendants to answer five troubling questions. The fourth, You defendants say you are Christians and one is a Buddhist. Fr. [Carl] Kabat says that you should disobey ungodly laws. How do you respond to someone who believes there is no God? Who is to say what God believes, for example, when Christians used God to justify slavery and the Crusades? 

Fr William Bichsel, SJ, answered this way. We give people reason to believe there is no God. We need to follow Jesus: lay down your arms, forgive one another, love one another. In the Lord’s Prayer, we say give us this day our daily bread. We mean nobody should be without bread. We say forgive us our trespasses. We mean nobody should be without forgiveness. Do we give people reason to believe there is no God by our failure to live the Gospel?

Today, pray to be true to your Gospel convictions.

How would you answer Judge Bland's question?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

St Paul Miki and Companions

"He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick –no food, no sack, no money in their belts." Mk 6:8

The gospels often direct us to think and pray about how to make transitions. The call of the apostles and their commissioning are powerful examples of this. Expected to respond immediately to his call, Jesus' disciples are promised His strength when they remember to go in His name.

Traveling at any time without adequate provisions is risky and it was even more so in the ancient world. Thieves hid near roads, especially on mountain passes, where they could attack the unwary traveler. That Jesus told the disciples to take nothing for the journey made his followers even more vulnerable than we first imagine, and their willingness to trust Jesus in this regard becomes the measure of their faith.

The challenge of Jesus to respond without fear continues for today's disciples, and the rituals of the church emphasize this. Though teenagers in the United States, discerning the call to confirmation, might be too young to hear the call completely, the sacramental ritual makes it clear that the time of dependence on parents and adult family members must come to an end. Anointed, those invited to Confirmation are strengthened for the journey and reminded that their baptism called them to be "priest, prophet and king."

In Jesus day people were anointed for medical purposes, and as a reminder to new disciples that the Lord would accompany them with strength and power, making it possible for them to do all that Jesus did because their authority was Christ's not theirs. In this regard, nothing has changed. We can risk everything when we rely completely on the Lord.

Today, pray to remember that God lives in us and among us as our strength.

How has your faith helped you to make transitions and accept challenges? 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

St Agatha

"Jesus Christ, Lord of all, you see my heart, you know my desires. Possess all that I am. I am your sheep: make me worthy to overcome the devil." St Agatha

We know almost nothing of St Agatha. That she lived in Sicily and was martyred are clear. Not much else is, but there is a fascinating legend that grew up around her. Because she refused the advances of a suitor who wanted her to marry him and forsake her Christianity, she was tortured and died professing her total commitment to Jesus and her willingness to let him possess her.

The word possession is a difficult one. Often used to speak of the action of the devil, we resist the notion of anyone possessing us. But possession can also be used by lovers to indicate their total willingness to be with one another. In fact, poets suggest that only mutual possession can free us to love without fear. Agatha, in love with her Lord, desires this kind of possession. Hopeful that Jesus will give her the strength she needs to resist anything or anyone that would undermine her faith, Agatha asks to be especially close to Jesus, as near as a sheep to her shepherd at night.

Saints like Agatha remind us to ask ourselves how close we want to be to the Lord. Do we desire a kind of intimacy that helps us when we are weakest, when everything seems to be falling apart? Are we willing to sacrifice and risk all in order to be near the one who promises never to abandon us?

Today, ask the Lord to accept you as you are.

How do you react to the word possession?

Monday, February 3, 2014

David's Lament

“My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!” 2 Sam 18:30

A father's love never dies. Even though David's son Absalom plotted against his father, David could not stop loving him. Learning that all of Jerusalem had turned against him, David flees to the Mount of Olives. When Absalom chases his father intending to kill him, he gets caught by the hair in an oak tree. Hanging there, one of David's servants sees him and reports what he has seen to Joab, Knowing Absalom intent, Joab kills's Absalom, but when David  hears of his son's death he is devastated. Despite Absalom's rebellion and desire to kill him, David cannot forget that Absalom is his son and wishes that he had died himself.

David's lament echoes through the centuries. How often we are disappointed in those closest to us, especially when they choose a path that seems so different from one we taught and try to walk. How often we are disappointed in ourselves! Only when we allow God to direct our lives and show us the path to authentic peace can we hope to live humbly and honestly.

The awful lesson of David and Absalom's life can still teach us. Who we are, how we act and the example we give to others is more important than what we say or write. Our witness to a living God can be best heard by our willingness to care for the hungry, sick, imprisoned and lost. Nothing else really matters.

Today, think before you act or speak.





Sunday, February 2, 2014

Tell others of the Glory of God

"As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with him. But Jesus would not permit him but told him instead, 'Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.'” Mk 5:18-19

The miracles of Jesus, no matter how spectacular, are not meant to amaze people or attract them to himself, but to announce the reign of God. Jesus' purpose in coming among us in human form was to let all know that God wants to set us free from our sins, our faults and our burdens. The cure of the demoniac, who was able to break chains before Jesus' intercession, was both a sign of Jesus' power and an message to everyone who witnessed it. Go home, Jesus tells the man who was possessed by a legion of demons, and tell your family of God's mercy and tenderness. He tells us to do the same.

Every time God touches us, moves us, encourages us, there is a dual purpose. We are changed by God's love, not for ourselves, but as a sign for others. Transformed and lifted up, we must avoid simply enjoying our new freedom and delight. We must go among those who do not know the saving power of Jesus and tell them by the quality of our faith life what they too can expect if they submit themselves to God's care and mercy. Every gift, Jesus reminds us, is to be given away in the same way we have received it. (Lk 12:48)

Today, offer someone a consoling word, and do it freely, expecting nothing in return.

How has the faith of others touched and moved you?