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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Jesus the Gate

"I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture." Jn 10:9

Gates are important for shepherds, ranchers and dairy farmers. Not only do they protect live stock from predators, they also provide a safe haven for the animals themselves. Jesus calls himself a gate because he wants to protect us and give us a sense of security in his Father's love. He also wants us not to be afraid to offer others a safe place in God's house, and this becomes the task of every person committed to the Gospel.

For most of us, our parents were gate keepers. They made sure we said thank you and please, urged us to think of others before ourselves, and were responsive to those who were struggling. When I was a boy, a fellow in our neighborhood, who struggled with alcohol, showed up at mass one Sunday with a broken ankle and nose, but my mother assured us that he had fallen off a curb. Committed not to talk about others in negative ways, she may not have told the truth as she knew it, but she protected our neighbor's reputation. She was a gate for him and for us.

When we realize how much God wants to protect and guide us, we are humbled. Looking past our faults and sins, God keeps giving us examples of faith to assure us that we, too, can strive to live the Gospel fully. The two Popes canonized last week illustrate this. John XXIII told us to "see everything, overlook a great deal, and correct a little." John Paul II reminded to be in solidarity with the poor despite the cost, and to help create a peaceful world rooted in justice. Both men were gates whose lives encourage us to do the same in our generation.

Today, protect someone's reputation because it is the right thing to do.

Who has been a gate of faith for you?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Faithful Discipleship

"Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, 'Do you also want to leave?'” Jn 6:67

When friends are not who we thought them to be, especially if they speak poorly of us, we are disappointed and disillusioned.  We might even be tempted to end our friendship, or at the very least step away from it for a while. Shock does that to us. Unsure of someone else, we also wonder how we missed something important about them. Were we so needy that we failed to realize that our relationship was not as secure or as deep as we imagined?

John's gospel reminds us that not all of Jesus' disciples remained true to him. Confused by his teaching about his body being real food and upset by his failure to be they Messiah they wanted and expected, more than a few abandoned him and his teaching, but Jesus did not reject them or us. Although the Lord wonders aloud whether any of the apostles also want to leave, the apostles, led by Peter, remain faithful even though they do not understand everything the Lord is teaching.

Discipleship, like friendship, is built not on completely understanding the other, but on trusting that the relationship is authentic and rooted in God's love and the truth of the Gospel. Because we know that God is faithful, we can trust that whatever God teaches is for our good and glory of God. Trusting God is the root of our faith and faithfulness.

Today,  ask not for understanding but acceptance.

How do you manage the loss of a friendship?


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Conversion

"Immediately things like scales fell from Paul's eyes and he regained his sight. He got up and was baptized, and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength." Acts 9:18

Sometimes we are able to see matters differently when we pause, listen or even change positions. Stepping back from from an argument almost always helps and wise friends also encourage us to look at difficult questions from a new angle, and give ourselves time to understand.

Acts tells us that St Paul fell down on the road to Damascus when a light flashed around him, and when he got up, he could not see. Worried and troubled by his sudden blindness, Paul stops eating and drinking until Ananias, a follower of Jesus, lays hands on him and tells him that the light he experienced on the road to Damascus was Jesus. Then "scales" fall from Paul's eyes and he can see again. By laying hands on him, Ananias helped Paul to see Jesus with new eyes. Convinced that Jesus is the promised Messiah, Paul is baptized and soon becomes the apostle to the Gentiles, the one who plants the faith all over the known world.

Easter is a time when the church prays that the "light" will go on for all, that we will be unafraid to change positions, listen more caringly to the honest questions and needs of others, and announce the Good News more clearly, compassionately and dynamically. It is also a time to pray to be free from any fear and sin that blinds us to our own call.

Today pray that any "scales" fall from your eyes so that you will have the courage to live the Gospel more wholeheartedly and without fear.

Have you had moments of deep conversion that freed you to see Christ more clearly and announce him more powerfully?


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Understanding the Scriptures

“'Do you understand what you are reading?' He replied, 'How can I, unless someone instructs me?'”

Unfortunately, in a Twitter world where all communication is limited to 140 characters, too many believers cling to or focus on one phrase from the Gospel and use it as a lens for their spiritual lives. Doing this almost always leads to misunderstanding and confusion.  The New Testament cannot be fairly read or understood when we remove it from its own cultural context and setting.

An example might help. Luke (10: 38-42) tells us that when Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha, Mary sat at his feet and Martha, busy about all the preparations for his visit, complained that Mary was not helping and wanted Jesus to correct her. Instead, Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part.

Over the years, many commentators suggest that Luke was writing about the so called active and contemplative life, but contemporary cultural insight helps us realize that sitting at a rabbi's feet was the role of men called to the rabbinate. Martha is angry because Mary is assuming a role to which she could not aspire. A woman's place was in the background helping with the ordinary chores, but Jesus challenges this stereotype, not just among men and women, but what it meant to be a rabbi. Teachers and leaders had to be servants, not privileged operatives with power over others.

The Ethiopian eunuch reading the scriptures alone knew he needed help and asked Philip to instruct him There should be little doubt that Philip responded to this seeker's request using all the information and skill he had. Blessed with so much wonderful scholarship and insight, we ought to follow Philip's example in the 21st century.

Today, pick up a Catholic study bible and read the introduction to one of the Gospels.

Who or what most helped you to understand the scriptures more deeply?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Persecution

"Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment. Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word." Acts 8: 3-4

It is startling to hear about Saul's (St Paul's) violent assault on those professing faith in Jesus. It is one thing to attack men physically, but dragging women out of their homes and throwing them into prison tells us not only about Saul's vitriol, but about the level of upset the Jewish community had with those who would soon be called Christians. Violence against women, and others without social standing, is always a sign of a person or culture that is out of control.

At the same time, it is important for us to hear about and accept how difficult life was for the first Christians. Not only did the followers of Jesus venture forth into a hostile Gentile world, they felt enormous pressure from within the community out of which they came. In order to follow Jesus, they risked everything, and eventually lost everything, even their lives. But it was the promise that when they lost their lives they would gain eternal life that gave them the courage to let go, to continue to preach the Good News, and not worry about the results. Their task was to be faithful, not to be successful.

While too many people in the 21st century continue to be persecuted for their religious convictions, Christians know that suffering for the reign of God is worth it when done for the right reasons. Jesus' promise to give life to those who die for the sake of the Good News remains the ground upon which we build our lives.

Today, accept whatever ridicule comes your way for professing the Gospel.

Have you ever suffered for your Gospel convictions?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Forgiveness

"Then Stephen fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them'; and when he said this, he fell asleep." Acts 8:1

Forgiveness of those who do us harm is essential to the Gospel. Jesus asks his Father to forgive those who are crucifying him, and reminds his disciples to put aside everything, even their pilgrimage to the Temple, to reconcile with those from whom they are separated.
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Mt 5: 22-24)
Stephen's cry, even as he dies, that God forgive those responsible for his death is something we hear early in the Christmas and Easter seasons. Only those willing to accept the consequences of their discipleship will know the fullness of God's love. While we honor all of Stephen's ministry, we hold it up most fully for imitation when he lets go even into death for the sake of the Gospel. Stephen's ultimate sacrifice is proof of his love of God no matter the cost, and challenges us to pray for the same grace.

Today, forgive someone who has not asked it of you.

Are you holding a past hurt against a family member or friend?


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Follow me for the Right Reason

"When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus." Jn 6:24

We can follow others for a variety of reasons. We might enjoy their writing or thinking; we might also want to benefit from their wealth, insight or power. Jesus is aware of all this, and challenges those following him to reflect on their motives. John's Gospel reminds us that some noticed that Jesus seemed to get to the other side of the lake without the benefit of a boat, and they are anxious to question him about this. They knew he was a miracle worker who could feed them with a few loaves of bread. Could he also move between places in miraculous ways?

Jesus warns the curious not to follow him for the wrong reasons. While it is perfectly understandable to follow someone who can feed us when we are hungry, Jesus gives people bread so they can have the strength to listen to the whole of his message. He came from God to free those bound unjustly by ideas and interpretations of the Torah that limited God and God's desire for us. Jesus wants us to hear the fullness of his promise. God wants to live with us forever. The law is not a way to strangle us, but to set us free to follow God's will in every circumstance, and until we hear this liberating message we risk following Jesus for self centered and selfish reasons.

Today, ask the Lord to set you free from anything or anyone who limits your ability to be full of hope, awe and wonder.

What helps you continue to follow Jesus?