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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Loving Our Enemies

“You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart....Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Lev 9: 17-18

Rooted in the Book of Leviticus, Jesus' command to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us is one of the more troubling of Jesus' hard sayings. How can we pray for those who persecute us, especially if they are members of our own family or parish? Isn't it more natural to avoid them, to not think about them and live without them as companions in faith?

At the time the gospels were written, Jesus' insistence that we love our enemies was especially difficult since most his followers were considered unclean. Willing to interact with Gentiles and sinners, Jesus' disciples were sometimes excluded from their own families. Indeed, the early Christians had a very rough road to walk, and they needed to hear and remember that Jesus taught his disciples to think like God, to be like the Forgiving Father of Luke's gospel, to welcome sinners and sit at table with them like Jesus did. (Luke 5:29)

There is no doubt that learning to love our enemies is an ongoing battle, one that we will often lose, but one which we cannot avoid. Nothing speaks the Gospel more clearly or deeply than the lives of believers willing to go beyond what seems reasonable in order to proclaim Good News. When we love our enemies, no one can deny the power of Jesus' life and teaching alive in us, and while our enemines might not choose to join us, they will surely respect our faith filled lives.

Today, for the sake of the Gospel, pray for the grace to reconcile with someone who hurt you.

What are the hardest sayings of Jesus for you to understand and accept?




Friday, February 21, 2014

The Chair of St Peter

"Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock." 1Pt 5: 2-3

Learning to be a Christian leader, especially if it is something to which you were elected or appointed, is difficult and confusing. Too often leaders think they rule by divine right, deep intelligence or superior insight. In fact, while we hope our leaders are gifted, their primary call is to be servants, people who think first about the people they are called to lead, not their own power or responsibility.

Christian leadership is also confusing because there are very few models or examples to follow, although it is clear that Pope Francis is trying to change what we expect from church leaders. Committed to building a "a church that is poor and for the poor," Francis is asking all Christians, but especially its leaders, to reimagine their roles and goals. When leaders live more simply, as Francis is trying to do personally, they become more approachable and more compelling. We want to listen to them because of their integrity, not just their office.

More important, the personal integrity and simplicity of life of those called to leadership lays the ground for an authentic conversation between all trying to live their Baptismal promises which is not based in roles or titles but in the shared desire to announce the Good News. When our leaders our approachable, listen and are willing to seek solutions to common problems through dialogue, they not only model Gospel values, they invite others to do the same.

Today, listen to someone you might easily ignore.

What do you want our leaders to be?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Dying with Christ

"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it." Mk 8:35

One of the most basic requirements for anyone committed to a Gospel life is to lose one's life for the sake of God and God's reign. It is also one of the most difficult challenges we face and something that requires effort our entire lives. Losing one's life means focusing not on personal success, power or influence over others, but on living the Gospel faithfully and fully no matter the personal cost.

We hear Jesus' demand to let go in the sacrament of Baptism. When a child or adult is plunged into the waters of Baptism, it is clear that while the waters cleanse and renew the person being baptized, the church also wants us to realize that Baptism is about death. St Paul says it this way,
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. Rom 6: 3-4)
The ritual of Baptism is designed to guide us throughout life. Plunged only once into the waters of Baptism, we renew our baptismal commitment every time we die to sin, selfishness and self absorption. More, our witness to Christ by living an other centered life invites others to know the power invested in us through the sacrament. Those who know Christ and his promise to prepare a place for us in heaven have the freedom and courage not to grasp for every passing pleasure or cling to every kind word, but to sing with joy about the God who can never stop loving us.

Today, do something simple and lovely for someone you don't like.

What gives you the strength to die to sin and selfishness on a daily basis?


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Thinking with God

“Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Mk 8:23

Growing up on the streets of Yonkers, NY, loyalty was an important virtue. Most of us identified as members of a parish, and trumpeted our sports teams, our schools or the beauty of the liturgy and the choir as better than other parishes. Anyone who disagreed was quickly challenged to a contest, and while most of the time these battles lacked violence, it was not always the case. Baseball and basketball games might have a fight or two, but thank God they were quickly broken up by clear headed adults. 

Nevertheless, being the best parish was important, and although this kind of competition and loyalty had little to do with the Gospel, it was an important element of our faith as children, and something we had to reexamine as adults. Jesus was clear about this, especially in his response to Peter who wanted to fight for the Lord's dignity and integrity. Peter must have been confused and upset when the Jesus told him not to be defensive, but to listen with God's ears rather than as a tribesman. Peter was a new believer who had to learn over time what that would mean for his life and the lives of the other apostles.

There is no need for most of us to defend our faith or religious traditions. In fact, too often when we try to articulate our faith we do a poor job and diminish others beliefs. Rather, our willingness to discern how God sees the world and our place in it is critical to understanding and living the Gospel as an invitation to freedom and hope. The power that Jesus offers us, while having political and social implications, is not a license to destroy other communities or religious systems, but a summons to a life of humility and meekness which will help others know the God who wants us to build a community of peace and justice for all.

Today, ask God what God wants of you and us today

What helps you to think with God not about power over others?


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Enduring Trials

"Everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger....and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you." Jas 1:19, 22

James warns his readers that the Gospel life is difficult and will be full of trials. More important, he cautions everyone who yearns to live the Gospel fully not to overact but to respond by listening more intently, speaking less and avoiding anger, none of which is easy, but all of which is made possible by Jesus.

It is important to remember how challenged the first Christians were, especially after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Broken by the loss of the symbol that meant so much to them, the Jewish community insisted that those who followed the "Way" of the prophet Jesus let go of their faith if they wanted to be included among faithful Jews. This trial broke many Christians, but more stayed, accepted their unclean state as Jews and left Jerusalem to announce the message of Jesus all over the known world.

Trials like those faced by the first Christians may not come to us, but the challenge of living in a society so obsessed with material success, wealth and independence are formidable. Believers must try to live a counter cultural life committed to the common good and focused on strengthening the body of Christ when most in our society choose personal triumphs over building God's Kingdom.

Today, pray for anyone you know undergoing a difficult trial.

What or who has helped you endure the challenges to your faith?


Monday, February 17, 2014

Preparedness

"The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat." Mk 8:14

The gospel can be such a delight at times. How did the disciples forget to bring bread? Were they expecting Jesus to multiple loaves all the time? Was one of them in charge of provisions but forgot that it was his day or week to make sure everyone could eat? Were they rushing for their boat to get to the other side of  the lake because a storm was brewing? Or were they becoming arrogant, believing that those wanting to meet Jesus would feed them. In any case, they had only one loaf with them and had to decide how to share it and how to make sure they would not be caught short again.

Being prepared for everyday can be hard work because most days nothing much happens. We wake, we go to work, we eat and sleep, and although these can be important moments, too often we take them for granted and fail to be grateful for the ordinary events and gifts each day brings. Worse, we sometimes think we are entitled to a good life with all its benefits when, in truth, each day of life is a gift and an opportunity to thank God and all those who make our lives rich.

A good spiritual practice for most of us is to begin each day with a simple ritual that reminds us give ourselves daily to God and God's plan. Some people light a candle and pray to be a light to others. Others sit quietly for five minutes and with each breath speak Jesus' name or repeat a word they have chosen that reminds them of God's enduring presence. The word itself or the breathing is not as important as as being faithful to something that reminds us of God's love for us and our responsibility to respond in love to others.

Today, take five minutes to imagine what your day will be like and determine not to take it for granted.

How do you prepare yourself to live the Gospel each day?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A different kind of Joy

"Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." Jas 1:2

Joy is one of the most important and essential elements of the Christian life. Unless believers exude joy, they fail to witness to the power of the Gospel. Set free from fear by the love of Jesus, Christians live fully in the Spirit no matter the personal cost and proclaim the love of God by the way they live.

Additionally, James reminds his readers that trials endured for the sake of the Gospel enhance the message of Jesus by letting all know that no matter how painful a life of faith might be, Christians will still be joyful in the Christ who will help his followers persevere by giving them the strength of his presence and love.

We can check our joy quotient by asking ourselves how joyful we are when others succeed and find peace. One committed measure of the Christian is the ability to put aside envy and jealousy in order to delight in other's prosperity. Most of us can do this easily with and for children and friends, but the Gospel demands we do it even for our enemies.

Today, ask to be joyful for others.

How do you understand Christian joy?