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Saturday, July 19, 2014

I don't know how to Pray!

"Brothers and sisters: The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings." Rom 8:26

Learning to pray as a child is relatively easy. Our parents teach us meal prayers, the Our Father or the Hail Mary. When we repeat these prayers often enough, they become second nature. As we age, we learn other prayers by rote. We learn the formula for confession and the act of contrition, and for a while we are satisfied. We can pray, but sooner or later, these memorized prayers seem inadequate, and we find ourselves complaining that we don't know how to pray, and we are right.

Transitions are always a challenge. Our spirits are telling us we need to take another step, but we are unsure what it should be. Wanting to be successful and authentic, we read literature about prayer and often go through a series of prayer experiences. We might try centering prayer, lectio divina (slow reading of scripture) or the liturgy of the hours, but unless we learn to sit quietly and ask for the grace not to worry about how we are doing, we will be frustrated.

Adult prayer is simple and rarely successful. Very much like trying to listen to a friend or a spouse, we miss important points or don't understand of what they are saying, but as long as keep listening, our communication will improve and we learn to accept one another warts and all. Prayer is like this. As long as we are faithful trying to listen to God who speaks through nature, human relationships, song and ritual, we have nothing to worry about. Prayer is not about being successful, but faithful.

Today, pray without speaking. Just listen to nature or a piece of music.

What helped you find the path to an adult prayer of listening?


Friday, July 18, 2014

Bruised Reeds

A bruised reed he will not break,
a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory.
And in his name the Gentiles will hope. Mt 12:20

Quoting Isaiah, Jesus assures his followers that he has not come to break or punish  them, but to set them on fire with the justice of God, and God's justice will strengthen them to do God's work in the world. More important, for most who hear this prophetic word, is Jesus' assurance that in his name, the Gentiles will hope. God's entrance into the world through Jesus is not for the Jews alone but for all who are willing to listen.

Listening deeply to anyone takes practice and determination, and is never easy. At times, we are distracted by our own concerns and worries. At other times, the person or community to whom we are trying to listen is not speaking clearly, but more often than not, because we are always multitasking, we fail to hear anything or anyone deeply.

This failure to listen is often the reason why we don't even notice bruised reeds and smoldering wicks, people whose lives and hopes are slipping away. Though we can't pay attention to all the issues of  injustice around the world, there are some horrors that are so awful we must try to respond. There are more than 2 million Syrian refugees, and just because President Obama has requested more than 3 billion dollars to help children who are crossing US borders illegally, does not mean the issue will go away or be addressed. Christians especially, remembering that Jesus promises justice, must stand up and together work for the good of all.

Today, pray for the bruised and battered.

What aspect of faith helps you when you feel lost and broken?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mercy not Sacrifice

"I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned these innocent men." Mt 12:7

Mercy is a constant theme for Jesus. Always concerned that the poor, who often thought of themselves as unworthy of God's love, would to be afraid of God or fear they were being punished for their sins, Jesus reminds them that his Father's love was not a gift for the successful but for the faithful. No longer should anyone think their worth was determined by their status in the community. God wants to be close to all people and when the Pharisees tried to trip Jesus up by condemning his disciples for working on the Sabbath, he pushes back hard.

Jesus reminds the leaders of the Jewish community and us that mercy towards the lowly is the path we must take if we wish to know God's desire for us. In the 11th chapter of the prophet Hosea we read:

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
 But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
 I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them. (1-4)

If God bends down to feed us, must we not do the same to those who are hungry for mercy?

Today, offer a hand of mercy to someone who expects rejection.

How do you understand God's mercy?




Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Yoked to God

"My yoke is easy and my burden is light." Mt 11:30

Although we might want to deny or ignore it, all of us are yoked to one another in ways beyond our ability to articulate or understand, and these relationships are the source of our life. Whether our family of origin always supported in ways that we wanted is not the point. We are part of them and they of us. Simply put, our parents will always be our parents.

The same is true of God and us. God is our creator and, for Christians, God is also our redeemer. We can deny or doubt these simple truths, but they will remain true whether or not we receive them. God is the source of our life. God is our hope, and God loves us beyond measure. Being yoked to God, while stripping us of a type of false independence, is our salvation.

Yokes that fit well never bind. Only when we insist of our way without regard for God's desire and dream for us will we feel its limits. When a yoked animal responds to its master's commands, he or she will never know they are restricted as long as they move in the direction their master indicates. Likewise, our life of faith, when we submit ourselves to God's path, will be rich, free and helpful to others.

Today, stand still for God and wait for God's direction.

When has being yoked to God and God's people proved helpful to you?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Childlike

“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike." Mt 11:25

Knowing exactly what Jesus means by childlike is not easy. In the ancient world,  because children had little economic value until they could work, it was counter intuitive to imitate them. Nevertheless, Jesus holds them up for us as a model of faith life. Unless we are as vulnerable as children were in Jesus' day, we will think too highly of ourselves and the haughtiness that can accompany education, power and wealth get in the way of our witness to the Gospel.

Jesus does not want us to follow him for its social value. Otherwise, he would have told us to wear multiple tunics, carry money and wear fine sandals so that those who met us would be impressed with what following Jesus did for us. Rather, he tells us to take nothing for the journey so that all will see in us people whose only task is to announce the Good News. Like John the Baptist, we go before the Lord to prepare the way.

When we think about people who have humbled themselves for us, we are always moved. More than once, I have been met at airports as if I were a Hollywood personality, and although it is embarrassing, I know it is not about me, but about what those welcoming me hope I can do for their communities of faith. For those who are public figures announcing the Good News, this Gospel is especially important. It is not a big head that gets us into heaven, but a big heart.

Today, listen to others like a child listening to a bedtime story.

Whose childlike faith helped shape yours?

Monday, July 14, 2014

St Bonaventure

"Jesus began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented." Mt 11:20

Why does it see to take a diagnosis of a serious illness to get our attention and encourage us to live a healthier lifestyle? Why must we lose friends because we are too buy to pay attention to them? Why do we rush around trying to get four things done when no one demands this of us?  Questions like these haunt us. Sometimes the answers are easy and lead to change. At other times, we seem unable to understand our own behavior.

Jesus went about Palestine announcing that the reign of God was near, and although many heard him, relatively few let his message into their hearts in a transforming way. Others resisted or rejected the Good News because they were afraid to change their lives. Soon enough we hear Jesus, especially in Matthew's Gospel, warning the people to repent, to change their lives, and to listen with open spirits to his powerful word, but too many of them, like us, had more to do than listen to an itinerant rabbi.

Jesus' warnings and our own experience ought to shake us up and move us beyond our fears. The Lord knows we are afraid, that we resist and distance ourselves from him and all that he proclaims, but he keeps asking us to let go, to listen and return to him. When we accept Jesus' invitation in confience and love our fears seem to dissolve and our doubts are replaced by trust in our all loving God.

Today, pray for honesty in your personal and faith life.

What helps you to overcome your fears about faith and spirituality?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

St Kateri Tekakwitha

"Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow." Is 1:17

Isaiah regularly offers the people of Israel a path of return to God and God's ways. As long as they do justice and make restitution to those people and nations from whom they have stolen and against whom they have warred, God will remember them and welcome them home.

This simple lesson should not be lost on us. When we honestly assess our behavior, we realize how often we have lusted after what others have, and whether it is their property, their influence or their reputation does not matter. When we have allowed ourselves the freedom not to work for others on behalf of God, but to struggle against them for our own gain, we must confront and address this sin.

At the same time, this is never easy. When someone unjustly tries to take from us our good name, we have the right to resist, but never violently. Only when we insist with a peaceful heart that others allow us the same dignity we offer them, will we be doing God's work. Those who willingly admit their own wrongs and respond in justice to those they have ill treated are always more successful in the pursuit of God's desire for the world.

Today, pray for your enemies.

Who do you most admire for their honesty and willingness to step in the shoes of another?