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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Jesus Weeps

"When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said to him, 'Sir, come and see.' And Jesus wept." Jn 11: 33-35

The raising of Lazarus from the dead is confusing at best and impossible at worst. If Jesus is such a good friend of Lazarus and knows Lazarus is sick, why does he wait two days before going to him? It seems to most of us that Jesus' delay is unnecessary, even cruel. No wonder Lazarus' sisters complain when Jesus finally appears in Bethany. Convinced Jesus was the Messiah, Martha and Mary wonder aloud to Jesus: If you had been hear, our brother would not have died. Are they accusing Jesus of not caring about them or Lazarus?

The story of Lazarus is curious for other reasons as well. Jean Vanier, the founder of the L'Arche community, a group that works and lives with persons who have intellectual and other disabilities, thinks there is evidence in the scripture that Lazarus was disabled. The Greek word used to describe Lazarus' sickness is asthenes  and can be translated without strength or feeble. Moreover, the gospel calls Martha not Lazarus the head of the household, further suggesting that Lazarus' illness or disability made it impossible for him as a man to take responsibility for his family home.

In any case, when Jesus finally speaks with Martha, she and those grieving with her are weeping. Distraught and upset by his friends' sorrow, Jesus weeps and proceeds, even though Lazarus has been in the tomb four days to raise him from the dead. Jesus' power over death calls us to a new level of faith. We must trust the Lord no matter how sick or disabled we might be and how often he seems to be absent, because he is Lord of the living and the dead.

Today, don't be afraid to weep about your own unbelief. Submit yourself to the Lord and ask him to raise you up.

In what ways are you drawn to the humanity of Jesus?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Courage

"Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them, 'Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?'”

It is always heartening to read about heroes whether they be Christian saints or national icons. From St Paul who, after his conversion, went all over the known world as a disciple of Jesus without counting the cost, to Dorothy Day who was unafraid to confront Cardinal Spellman about his support for the Second World War, there are people whose interpretation of the Gospel compels them to speak and act, especially on behalf of the poor.

Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, also demonstrates great courage in trying to get the leaders of the Jewish people to put aside their fears that Jesus was attracting too much attention and distracting everyday Jews from living the Torah. That his challenge was not heard matters little. Nicodemus had the courage to risk his own position and power for the sake of living the law as he learned it. Like St Paul and Dorothy Day, everyday heroes always do the right thing.

Lent is a good time to ask ourselves how much we are willing to risk on behalf of the Gospel. Are we involved in any organization that works for an end to violence or poverty? Are we willing to support financially groups that work on behalf of the unemployed or under employed? Are we open to working with people who help refugees and other struggling minorities?

Today, ask yourself how much living the Gospel costs you?

Who are the heroes you most admire?


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Enduring Life's Heartbreaks

"The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves." Ps 34:19

It is remarkable how often the scriptures remind us that God draws near to us at the most difficult times of our life. Like a good friend, God often appears when we least expect it and accompanies us through the dark nights of disappointment and illness. At the same time, God does not rescue or fix us. Rather, God stays close but does not invade our lives.

There are few people in the world who have not had their hearts broken more than once. Sometimes it is the loss of a friend or the death of a parent, spouse or child. All of us respond to situations like this, but it is the smaller heartbreaks that we often miss. Not having a child call on our birthday or watching a grandchild drink too much, get sloppy and vulgar are times when we want to turn away and feel sorry for ourselves but God asks more of us.

When we are crushed in spirit we are often tempted to speed up and get away from uncomfortable situations, but we need to slow down and let God be with us. Remember how the prophet Elijah, full of fear after preaching God's word and warning, tried to run away from his new enemies and asked God to take his life because he was no better than his ancestors.  But an angel tapped Elijah on the shoulder, offered him something to eat and gave him the strength to travel for 40 days and nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. After arriving at Horeb another angel appeared to him and told him that God was about to pass by and he should wait to hear God's voice. Expecting God to be loud, Elijah discovered that God was not in the wind, the fire or the earthquake but in a tiny whisper. Assured of God's love, Elijah knew God's strength would protect and guide him.

Today, listen for God's voice however it comes.

How has God protected you when you were full of fear and heartbreak?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

God and Moses

"Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying, “Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with such great power and with so strong a hand?" Ex 32:11

Moses' intimacy with God amazes us. Never afraid to negotiate with God, even and especially when the Jews turn away from God after being freed from the oppression of the Egyptians, Moses keeps reminding God of his promises to never abandon his people. Sure of God's mercy, Moses challenges God to act with compassion even when the Jews build a molten calf and worship it. Remarkably, despite the idolatry of the Jewish people, God listens.
The listening God we encounter in the scripture is anxious for us to repent and renew ourselves, and as Moses demonstrates, seems only too ready to respond when we ask for help. Like the Forgiving Father in the Gospel (Lk 15: 11-32), God rushes out to meet us at the first sign of our guilt and sorrow. More, God cannot do enough for us when we repent. God puts cloaks around our cold shoulders, rings on our broken fingers, and sandals of our battered feet to demonstrate how gratified he is to embrace us and welcome us home.

Intimacy with God will get us everywhere. When, no matter how dark life feels or how disturbed we are by the direction our life has taken, we pray, listen and take time for God, God will hear and respond to us in ways we could never imagine. Lent reminds to pray, fast and give alms. Any of these penances demonstrates our desire for God and will surely get a response.

Today, imagine God rushing out to meet you in the dark.

What have been your experiences of God's enfolding love?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Forsaken

"But Zion said, 'The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.' Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you." Is 48: 14-15

Everyone has days and weeks when they feel forsaken or abandoned. Overwhelmed by problems at work or in a marriage, we wonder where God is. The consoling and encouraging God we have known is silent and nowhere to be found. We try to pray but are instantly distracted, and when we focus on work, our minds are a million miles away. No matter what we do, we feel like we are working under a dark cloud. Even talking with a friend brings no relief.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to offer someone suffering like this, and words of comfort are more likely to annoy than bring relief. We can, however, be present to people who are suffering simply by sitting with them quietly and not forcing conversation. Almost always, when someone listens to them, they find their own way in the dark and after the hurdle they are facing passes, they apologize for not being more of a companion to us.

The prophet Isaiah offers a single sentence of comfort to those who feel forsaken. He tells us that God is a like a mother who, while not always able to be in the same room with her children, is never far away. More, the prophet insists that even if a mother fails in her responsibility to her children, God will not abandon us. We can rely on God no matter how dark our path seems.

Today, listen to someone who seems lost.

How do you manage the days and weeks when it feels like you are working in the dark?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sabbath Obligations

“'Do you want to be well?' The sick man answered him, 'Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.' Jesus said to him, 'Rise, take up your mat, and walk.'” Jn 7: 6-9

Although modern translations of the New Testament do not always mention that the waters were stirred by an angel, many early manuscripts insist that the first person to enter the waters after the angel stirred them would be cured, and this is the context of today's reading. Jesus comes upon a sick person who, because has no help, cannot reach the waters after they are stirred. But as he often does, Jesus asks the man if he wants to be well. Although the question seems strange to us, it is important. Jesus is not asking the fellow if he wants to be cured but if he wants to be well.

Simply because one is cured does not mean they will be well. In a Jewish context, being well means living the Torah fully and returning to its study and lifestyle. Using the sick man as an example, the Lord is asking all of his listeners, and that includes us, whether they want to know God more deeply and live a spiritual life. If their answer is yes, Jesus can and will will help, and it does not matter that it is a Sabbath.

Challenging the interpretation of the Torah, not the law itself, Jesus confronts the Pharisees with what has become a punitive and burdensome spin on a Jew's obligation to keep the Sabbath. There is no doubt that we need a body of law that helps us live the Law, the Prophets and the Gospel, but we must always beware of making the law of God so difficult to live that good people stop trying. Jesus trusts his listeners and encourages them to be responsible agents of their own faith growth. He does the same for us.

Today, treat those struggling with how to live the Gospel authentically with the compassion of Jesus.

 What does it mean to live your faith as a responsible adult?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Returning to Places of Comfort

"Then he returned to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine." Jn 4:46

What places have you visited and would like to see again?  What about these places attracts you? Sometimes we want to return to places because we were rushed and saw very little. At other times, we made friends there and are anxious to see them again, but usually we yearn to return to certain places because the entire experience was pleasant, warm and rewarding. Not only did we meet welcoming people, the place itself was beautiful, the people kind and the food delicious. In short, our spirits were renewed and refreshed there by the God who is everywhere but who we sometimes ignore.

Jesus is returning to Cana, the place of his first sign or miracle, and we wonder what about Cana draws him. Did the people there accept him, especially after he helped the newly married couple who had run out of wine? Did he have relatives there who he had not seen for a long while? Was his mother visiting Cana, making it possible to see her again? Or was it simply that Cana was a lovely place that helped him remember his mission and his Father's love? All of us need places that lift us up, nourish us and assure us that our memories are real and important.

Soon I will be returning to Interlaken, NY to preach a parish mission. For forty or more years I vacationed at our friary in Interlaken. I sat on the dock which stretched into Lake Cayuga, watched the summer stars at night, and slept and ate whenever it was convenient. Interlaken is a beckoning place for me full of warm memories and hours spent fishing (not catching!)

Lent is a time to remember and be grateful for all the people and places that helped us recommit ourselves to the Gospel with all its charms and challenges. It is a penetential time that reminds us how easy it is to take our friends and God's love for granted, and challenges us to live in the present moment with joy and gratitude.

Today, take a few moments to let your imagination go to a place where you experienced God's graciousness in a special way.

What are the places and who are the people that continue to refresh your spirit?