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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Praying Together for Discernment.

"When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying,...(and) devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers." Acts 1: 13,14

Almost immediately after letting go of Jesus in what we call the Ascension of the Lord, the apostles and disciples stop to reflect, to pray and to wait. What is it the Lord will ask of them now? How will he have them live; what will he have them do?

The actions of the disciples in the early pages of Acts of the Apostles is a model for contemporary believers. It is important, especially before taking up any new ministry, to reflect and pray together in Christ. While personal prayer can sustain us on a daily basis, when we are about to begin something new, it is important to be together in prayer.

There are many ways for us to be together, especially in the 21st century. We can be in the same room, or on the same conference call or on the same Skype or Go to Meeting call, but for Christians, it is not simply being together that matters, but that we take time for quiet, reflection and prayer together. No matter what limits or possibilities there are for being together in Christ, as long as strive together to be active listeners to God's spirit, we can be sure that we will discover God's desire for us as a church.

Today, take some time with another believer to sit together in quiet to ask for God's guidance and help.

Have you had important and transforming faith experiences with other Christians?


Friday, May 30, 2014

The Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth

"Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! 
Sing joyfully, O Israel! 
Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 
The LORD has removed the judgment against you, 
He has turned away your enemies."

When we learn that family members or good friends, against whom we have sinned, are willing to forgive us and begin again, it is an occasion for joy. But even if those closest to us reject us, we can, like Mary, live a peaceful life as long as we are willing to let go and trust God to direct our lives towards healing.

It is not difficult to imagine that Mary suffered much rejection when her family and village friends found out she was pregnant. Those closest to her would have known that she had not lived with Joseph, and at the very least would have wondered how and by whom she was pregnant. Having experienced this kind of harsh judgement helps us understand why Mary was so compassionate towards the newly married young couple who were running out of wine, and towards the Apostles who abandoned her Son when he was most in need. 

Mary knew what it was like to be cruelly judged by people looking for for her faults, but grace helped her put aside any rejection she felt in order to reach out in compassion for others. Her visit to Elizabeth, which the scripture reminds us she made in haste, assures us that Mary's concern was not for herself, but for Elizabeth, who, like her, was newly pregnant. When Elizabeth praised Mary for being open to the voice of God, Mary sings her glorious Magnificat, a song that celebrates all that God has done for her and the poor everywhere. 

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.”

Visit someone today who is not expecting it, even if you can only do it by phone or internet.

What do you most admire about Mary?



Thursday, May 29, 2014

Vows

"At Cenchreae Paul had shaved his head because he had taken a vow. " Acts 18:18

We have all taken vows, some more formal and important than others. A childhood friend, although I had counselled him otherwise, took a vow not to go home until he had made fifty foul shots in a row, but most of us profess a different kind of vow. Either we marry, take vows as a religious, priest, deacon or bishop, or commit ourselves to a particular cause, and we do this at the prompting of the Spirit in order to live the Gospel more intentionally.

Why St Paul took a vow and shaved his head is not clear. We know that Paul encouraged his followers to  separate themselves from the world and give themselves totally to the way of Jesus in much the same way as the Nazirite vow challenged Jewish believers. Nazarites promised, for a period of time, not to drink alcohol or eat grapes and raisins, not to touch the dead, even in their own families, and to refrain from cutting their hair in order to purify themselves and return to the Law from which they had strayed. At end of the promised time, they offered sacrifice to God and shaved their heads as a sign of their new commitment.  

Perhaps Paul shaved his head to convince his contemporaries that he was also committed entirely to the Law and the Prophets, but was reinterpreting it according to the mind of Jesus. Reinterpreting the scriptures through the lens of culture and one's social context will always be a Christian's responsibility. Believers must pray to know how best to live and communicate the power of Jesus' message so that the world will never forget that the Jesus is God's gift to all for the salvation of the world. 

Today, ask the Lord for the grace of knowing how to proclaim the Gospel with power.

What idea or whose witness most helped you understand the transforming power of the Gospel?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Ascension of the Lord

"Two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, 'Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.'” Acts 1:11

Most of us have experienced being caught between conflicting feelings. Picture yourself at an airport sending a child off to college. Both proud and sad, you wave goodbye trying not to cry and leave the airport in a daze. A child with whom you have done your best is off for a new adventure, and you wonder whether she is prepared and ready to embrace the challenges. Even more poignantly, anyone who has helped parents die knows the pain of letting go and the relief that they are no longer in pain. Often, in situations like this, even when we have felt heavy burdened, we are lost for a while, not knowing what we ought next to do.

This is, I imagine, what was happening to the disciples of Jesus at the Ascension. While they knew the Spirit of God would be with them, letting go of Jesus was difficult. He had been their guide, their mentor and their security. It is no wonder they were looking up into the sky as their friend returned to his Father. Their loss was deep, even though their faith assured them they were not alone.

We should expect to experience the absence of Jesus regularly during life. A Japanese proverb reminds us: When my house burned down, I could finally see the sunrise. Only when we have lost something precious, are we able to appreciate it fully, and more important, see what else might be available to us when we open our eyes and heart to God's plan.

Today, let go of the Jesus you know and ask to experience him more fully through God's eyes.

How do you make sense of the feast of the Ascension?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Our Common Humanity with All

“You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious. For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’ What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you.'" Acts 17:22

Looking carefully at what others believe and listening openly to how they understand God and their faith not only honors them, it honors God. Showing reverence to people and faiths that are different than ours can be a prayer. When St Paul took time to look around Athens and marvel at its shrines, the Greeks knew he was interested, not just in telling them about his Lord and Savior, but in acknowledging their own spiritual quest.

The Second Vatican Council reminded Catholics of Paul's awe while in Athens in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Encouraging Catholics to reimagine their relationship with the modern world by remembering first their shared humanity with every other person, the Council asked believers to show compassion for all:  "The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well."

Living this mandate in the 21st century can radically alter how we live our faith. Especially in the United States, where we have been politically powerful for so long, there can be a tendency to protect our economic and political gains but forget that the hungry, the homeless and refugees. The poor and afflicted are not first Palestinians, Sudanese or Pakistani's but people who have been stripped of every human right. The Gospel  and the Second Vatican Council beg us to see others, not as competitors with whom we must struggle, but as members of our family, and when we do this, everything changes.

Today, pray to be united in spirit with all the needy.

How do you understand our relationship as Catholics with people around the world/

Monday, May 26, 2014

Earthquakes

"There was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose." Acts 16:26

Several years ago, on my way to Honduras to visit our young friars studying Spanish, I stopped in El Salvador for a couple of days, and while there experienced a small earthquake. It was unnerving, to say the least. One of our Salvadoran postulants immediately jumped up and ran out of the building. Because he had suffered through a major earthquake, he was taking no chances. Like the guard in the prison where the apostles were jailed, I didn't know what to do. I sat there hoping it would pass and waited for instructions from the Salvadoran friars.

Facing the unknown often leaves us paralyzed. When a friend or family member dies suddenly, we don't know what to do or say. Nothing about our life experience prepares us for the jolt of unexpected loss. Stunned, we might resort to platitudes to settle our own minds or comfort friends, but they are empty words that help us negotiate in the dark, not a lasting path to insight or hope.

Acts of the Apostles helps us in this regard. The guard in the jail is woken by the earthquake, but when he discovers the doors are all open, wants to take his own life. Fearing he will be blamed for the prisoners' escape, he is so upset that he wants simply to end his life rather than face the consequences of something for which he was not responsible.

St Paul, on the other hand, yells at him not to act rashly, assuring him that he and all the prisoners have not run away. Consoled, the guard asks for baptism. The faith that Paul and his companions exhibited moves him to see the earthquake, not as a destructive event but as an invitation to open the doors of his heart to the Christ who lived in Paul and the other prisoners.

Today, pray not to overreact to the surprises and trials life, but to wait in prayer to know God's desire.

Have you experienced "earthquakes" in your life that led you to deeper faith?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

God Our Helper

“When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning." Jn 15:26

Having someone to help us, especially when we are trying to discern how to tackle serious and important questions, is always a benefit, and this is true for individuals as well as groups. Pastors, for instance, are glad to have others help with the administration and financial concerns of their parishes, and more importantly, they are grateful to have a parish council work with them to sift through the many questions that emerge about the direction and life of the parish as a whole.

Jesus promises us that the help he will give us will always be available. The Spirit of God, who Jesus calls an Advocate (Latin for helper or voice) will be among us to strengthen and direct us for the sake of the Gospel. We can rely on this Spirit always and proclaim this as the basis for our faith and hope. Our Advocate will also send us as advocates to others seeking to know God more intimately.

The call to be advocates, to speak on behalf of others who are voiceless, is a clear demand of the Gospel, but we must be careful to avoid the arrogance of presuming we know what others want or need. While the Gospel makes it clear that walking with and uncovering the deep human concerns of others, especially about human rights, is an essential element of discipleship, we must learn to speak with not for those whose voice is rarely heard.

Today, thank God for the Spirit as Helper and Voice.

Have you had the privilege of speaking with and on behalf of others who were voiceless?