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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Fulfilling the Law

"Jesus said to his disciples: 'Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.'" Mt 5:17

Jesus must have been terribly confusing to the leaders of the Jews. Forever insisting that he wants only to live the Law and fulfill it, at the same time, he seems to break the law regularly. What were the Pharisees to do? If they did not challenge and condemn him, they would lose their own authority. If they did reject his teachings, they would lose the power they had over ordinary people. Their quandary, like ours, led them into impossible situations. More concerned with their own position in the community than with their role of instructing the people of God, they don't listen deeply to the Lord. Neither do we!

A life of faith is not something we put on or off at will. Neither can it be reduced to obeying legitimate authorities. Faith demands reflection, prayer and conversation with others seeking to know and follow God's law, all of which takes time away from other necessary duties in life. Too often, hoping for a simple and quick solution to complex questions, we avoid the hard work of following the Lord, and either put our foot in our mouth or kick ourselves in the shins.

It is important to remember the lesson of the Pharisees. While we can, and sometimes must, criticize church and state, it is only through reflection, prayer and honest conversation that God's will emerges.

Today, pray for the prophets in our world who remind us to live the Gospel fully.

How do you discern God's will in your life?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Marriage Week


"And the two shall become one flesh, and they are no longer two but one." Mk 10:8

Some of the most powerful moments in my life, and in the lives of many priests, occurred with married couples who were willing to stretch and live their vows deeply despite very difficult family situations. Primarily through the Marriage Encounter movement, but also during weddings, I have sensed God's presence and mercy in compelling ways.

Many years ago, while helping prepare a couple for marriage, the young woman asked whether she could "sign" her vows as well as speak them. A teacher of deaf children, she wanted to be sure that her students felt like they were an important part of the ceremony. That wedding remains a highlight among the many marriages I witnessed.

We need to honor marriage all the time, but this week especially the church asks us to pause and remember all the married and the sacrament they embody. St Paul tells us that there is a great mystery in marriage because it tells us so much about Christ's love for the church. (Eph 5:32) When married couples work at their marriage and seek the unity about which St Mark writes, they help us understand Christ's love for us his body. As the Second Vatican Council reminds us, "Christ the Lord abundantly blessed this many faceted love, welling up as it does from the fountain of divine love and structured as it is on the model of His union with His Church." (GS 48)

Today, pray for a married couple that you know might be struggling in their marriage.

What do you think are the glories of marriage lived in faith?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

St Cyril and Methodius

“Ephphatha!' (that is, 'Be opened!') And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly." Mk 7:34-35

So many aspects of life need to be opened over and over in our lives. We need to have open spirits, open hearts and open minds. Without a life open to God and God's direction, we risk missing the voice of the Spirit who Christ promised us would always be present within and among us. Remaining open to God's Spirit can be especially troubling when we are in pain.

An older friend has remained engaged in life by reading. She reads the newspaper everyday and a novel at least once a week. She also reads history and theology, but recently she has been grappling with vision problems. Almost immobile, my friend is struggling to understand and accept this new burden. The openness she has had her entire life, and which she so prized, is difficult to maintain. Though she knows that she can use her other senses to engage the world around her, her eyes have always been her primary path to enjoyment and conversation.

How we manage the transitions that life presents us is the measure of our faith. Walking with others in pain, reaching out to the hungry, and accepting the limitations that come to everyone, while seeming to close us off to what we have always known, in fact allows God to do God's work in and through us.

Today, open your heart to whatever God asks.

What are the most difficult transitions you have faced?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Strange Gods

"When Solomon was old his wives had turned his heart to strange gods, and his heart was not entirely with the LORD, his God, as the heart of his father David had been." 1 Kgs 11:4

Today's scripture selection is dangerous, especially for women, since it implies that as Solomon aged he was more vulnerable to the wiles of his wives. Like the book of Genesis which seems to blame Eve for Adam's sin, the first book of Kings lays Solomon's sin on the back of his wives.

Having a scapegoat is always easier than accepting responsibility for our own actions. Could it not be possible that as Solomon aged his fears grew and his faith weakened making him vulnerable to anyone, not just women or his wives, who might offer him a way to avoid or ignore his doubts and fears?

It is not uncommon for the elderly to experience a multiplicity of fears and doubts as they slow down and near death. Busy for most of our lives with working, maintaining a home, building a career and raising children, few take the time to consider the great mysteries of life and faith, but as our bodies begin to feel the natural aches of aging and the future does not seem endless, we are forced to confront our mortality, and with it questions about God and eternal life.

There is no reason to ignore or avoid these questions and doubts. Natural, necessary and formative, they force us to let go of all that distracted us from entering life fully and prepare us to trust more deeply in the God whose mercy can never be measured or fully comprehended.

Today, ask for the grace to face your doubts and fears with faith.

Who or what do you blame when faced with your own weaknesses?


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Breathless

"When the queen of Sheba witnessed Solomon’s great wisdom, the palace he had built, the food at his table, the seating of his ministers, the attendance and garb of his waiters, his banquet service, and the burnt offerings he offered in the temple of the LORD, she was breathless." 1Kgs 10:4-5

Sometimes it is a sunset that takes our breath away. At other times, it is a surprise gift or the insight of a child or grandchild. Having our breath taken away is almost always a surprise. We come upon a vista while driving or a person, a movie or a play that not only startles us, it also challenges us.

The Queen of Sheba, resistant to all she heard about Solomon's triumphs, decided to see for herself and what she discovered changed her attitude and her life, which is the point of this passage. When were we last surprised, lifted up and challenged by something or something from whom we expected little?

While visiting our novitiate recently, I was delighted by the roasts the novices concocted to celebrate the birthdays of their classmates and staff. While poking fun at one another's idiosyncrasies, they also highlighted how each person brought unique gifts to the community, and their creativity reminded me of my own seminary days.

Often during the years of my initial formation as a Capuchin, the brothers would put on plays and musicals that amazed me and made me very happy and proud to be a friar. The talent displayed by some friars was wonderful, but the willingness of others, whose talent was limited, to be vulnerable for the sake of the common good touched me even more. Whenever we think more about the needs and desires of others, and act on their behalf, we are always better. Other centeredness is the core of Jesus' life and Gospel living.

Today, pause in gratitude for the last time you were breathless with delight.

How do you help others to be breathless with the gift of faith?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Finding the Positive in Others

"This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts." Mk 7:6-7

In a world as fast faced as ours, it is difficult not to lose focus. With so many messages coming at us thousands of times a day, we find ourselves spouting platitudes rather than thoughtful responses. One friend watching the Super Bowl last week humorously said:  I bet the announcers are frustrated. They can't say anything about the frozen tundra of Met Life Stadium in New Jersey. This after listening to local New York sports commentators speak endlessly about what a disaster snow would be for the U.S.'s biggest show.

Because we all fall into the trap of saying things over and over, we have some compassion for the Pharisees in today's Gospel. Doing everything they could to trap Jesus with his own words and actions, the Pharisees find themselves looking for anything to discredit Jesus and his disciples. Eating without washing one's hands, while an important ritual for Jews, was hardly earth shaking. Unable, however, to find anything else about Jesus' behavior to undermine his growing power and popularity, the Pharisees fixate on the faults of Jesus' followers, not his amazing and compelling compassion for the broken.

It is the rare person, when confronted with the good deeds of someone they dislike, who would be able to celebrate the good rather than focus on the faults of a foe. When we are really upset, we are blinded to the goodness in the life of others or interpret their exemplary behavior as an attempt to distract others from their true selves. The Gospel reminds us that Jesus is always looking for the good in others and wants us to do the same.

Today, think of and pray for someone you dislike.

How do you counter your tendency to focus on another's faults and sins?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

St Scholastica

Then Solomon said, “The LORD intends to dwell in the dark cloud; I have truly built you a princely house, a dwelling where you may abide forever.” 1 Kgs 8:13

The Second Vatican Council reminded Catholics that God dwells everywhere but is more fully or more deeply present when we gather for the Eucharist. More specifically, the Council insisted that Christ was present in the assembly of believers, in the Word proclaimed, in the breaking of the bread and in the person of the priest, all of which is rooted in God's promise to the Jewish people to be present among them as first Kings reminds us, "in a dark cloud."

God's presence among us, which is another way of speaking about God's fidelity, is central to Jews and Christians alike, and it is our task to attend to the God who lives within and among us. To do this, we need regularly to be quiet and listen to the heart of God beating among us. God's presence, particularly when we listen deeply, is powerfully alive in the community of believers, especially when we gather in faith.

In some parishes, God is loud, festive, even pushy. The joy with which believers greet one another, inquire about one another's families, and sing enthusiastically is tangible and empowering. In other communities, God's presence can be caught from older parishioners sitting quietly before Mass praying the rosary, making the stations of the cross or reading the bible. It does not so much matter how God is present but that God is among us as a living presence and a challenging prophet. Our task is to be grateful for the God who is always with us, whether in a dark cloud, a candle lit church or our own homes.

Today, pause a few times to remember that God is always near.

How is God most present to you in daily life?