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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Repaying God

"Who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given the Lord anything that he may be repaid?"

Most people in our culture are very intent on paying their own way for everything they receive in life. Not wanting to be dependent on or beholden to others, they work hard to appear as if they need nothing from anyone, even from God, and that is the problem.

The scriptures are clear. God's love for us is not for sale nor can we repay it in kind. Neither can we earn it. We must simply accept it humbly and give it away. In fact, the only way we can repay God for all that God does within and among us is to announce God's never ending love to all people, and even this response is initiated by God

In Psalm 119 we read: "Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures." Because God's word is eternal, we don't have to worry that it might not be there tomorrow. We might be too busy or not be able to hear it tomorrow, but God is not going anyplace. We have only to look at creation today to know this. The gift of fresh air, warm sun, cooling waters and everything that grows on the earth is available to us everyday and offers us just a hint of God's eternal love. We have only to enjoy creation and work to preserve it for future generations. That is how we repay God.

Today, be grateful for the simplest of gifts.

How do you express your gratitude to God?




Friday, August 22, 2014

Preaching without Practice

"They preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them." Mt 23:4-5

Most of us preach from time to time, even if don't intend to. Listen to someone go on about the soccer played by Barcelona or Manchester United. Convinced there is only one right way to play the game, soccer preachers will bore you for as long as you are able to take it. In the United States, there are baseball fans who either bemoan or exalt their team in conversations or monologues that seem never ending. But it is priests who can be the hardest preachers to listen to, especially if they are encouraging or demanding a kind of behavior that they rarely practice.

Jesus had a lot to say about preachers, most of it harsh and dismissive. He was especially disenchanted with the Pharisees and Sadducees who have may have been fine fellows, but seemed unable not to interpret the law in ways that led everyday Jews into guilt and shame without changing their own lives.

Although transformation is clearly the goal of every religious tradition, unless we practice our faith with conviction and joy, our preaching will do little good. Who wants to listen to anyone who is more interested in evangelizing others than in living the Gospel themselves?

Today, make a review of your faith life and ask God for the integrity to live its challenges with delight.

Whose commitment to faith has most formed you in your own religious practice?


Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Queenship of Mary

“'Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?' He said to him, 'You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" Mt 22:36-40

St Bernard of Clairvaux invites his readers to think of Mary as a Queen in a very different way. Because Mary has no secular power or even an honorary position in her society, she must be a queen of a different kind. Bernard suggests that the crown Mary wears is made up of the virtues she embodies: compassion, understanding, kindness and moral strength. Mary does the right thing for the right reason.

Afraid at first of the call from God to be the mother of his son, after the angel assures her of God's enduring support, Mary puts her fear aside and becomes Jesus' first disciple. She follows him and urges others to do so, not so much in word, but in deed. If Jesus must endure suffering, so will she. Refusing to abandon him, she accompanies Jesus on the way to Calvary and is with him as he dies.

Ignoring the taunts of those who urge him to prove his royal lineage and come down from the cross, Mary stands with her son in compassion and solidarity. The call of Jesus to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul and to love our neighbor as ourselves becomes her mantra, her simple path to life and hope. Mary is Queen of heaven and earth because her example empowers all to love God as Jesus did.

Today, be an example of compassion by caring for someone to whom you have no responsibility.

Who has shown you the virtue of compassion without words?




Wednesday, August 20, 2014

St Pius X

"I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts." Ex 36:27

Sometimes Popes do things that surprise us. Pius X, who was born in poverty, filled the apostolic palace with survivors after the 1908 earthquake in Messina well before the Italian government acted. Imagine what the 21st century media would do if Pope Francis opened the Vatican to Syrian refugees!

Pius knew, like Ezekiel, what it meant to have a new heart and new spirit. Determined to stand behind those most in need with open arms, Pius also worked to make the Eucharist available to a larger and larger group of people, especially children, and it was his leadership that encouraged all people, not just the clergy, to seek holiness through a devout life.

Like Pius, we must ask for a new hearts and spirits and yearn for a new way of living so the church can become the poor church for the poor that Pope Francis envisions. It is so easy to get comfortable in life and in faith, but when we do, we fail to hear the ongoing call to conversion that is at the heart of the Gospel.

Today, remember what it is like to have your heart and spirit renewed..

How can we help others know the God who continually renews our hearts and spirits.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

St Bernard of Clairvaux

"Believe me, you will find more lessons in the woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you what you cannot learn from masters." (Bernard's Letter 106, Sec 2)

There are few people who changed the history of the Christian West as much as Bernard of Clairvaux. When Bernard looked at the state of monasticism at the end of the 11th century, he was scandalized and energized. Determined to do something about the sorry state of the society and the church, Bernard initiated the reform of the Cistercians and attracted large numbers of returning Crusaders to the Benedictine life.

Because he was recruiting adults, Bernard knew he needed to speak to them in a language they could understand. Using popular romantic literature, Bernard tapped into the returning Crusaders experience and helped them understand that they could transform their passion for war into a passion for God and the Gospel.

Were Bernard alive today he would surely have a Twitter account, be all over Facebook and Instagram and be writing a blog about 21st century spirituality. Not content with the a catechesis of  "same old, same old," Bernard opened up the world of the Spirit to anyone willing to look closely at the hand of God working with and among people everywhere, and his reforms continue to move people 1000 years after his death.

Today, think about the spiritual box you were handed as a child and ask yourself whether it is still leading you to God.

What spiritual movements most intrigue and attract you?



Monday, August 18, 2014

First Last

" Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Mt 19:30

Coming as it does at the end of Jesus' teaching about the danger of wealth and the disciples' questions about their reward, the challenge not to seek the first place in anything is an important Gospel lesson. Jesus is clear when he warns his followers not to worry about the issues that can so easily consume them. Whether they struggle for financial security or want assurances that the path they are following is a good one, Jesus' disciples must remember that God's promise to them is not first about this world, but about the next.

At the same time, we need to be careful when interpreting this passage. Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus used their modest wealth, knowledge of the law and religious authority as weapons to frighten and intimidate the underclass, and more than anything else, Jesus condemned this behavior. The purpose of the Law was to assure believers that God was their companion and guide and they had nothing to fear from any civil power, even their oppressors, if they lived the law with joy.

For Christians, the call is direct. Jesus, as the fulfillment of the law, is the one who must be at the center of our lives. Nothing we can gain in the world can substitute for this relationship. As long as we are willing to enter into the mystery of God's love in Christ and submit ourselves to him, we have nothing to fear.

Today, remember who you are before God and be grateful for your faith.

Which spiritual practices help you counter your pride?




Sunday, August 17, 2014

Perfection

“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Mt 19:21

Perfection in the New Testament is a curious word. A good translation is complete or whole. Usually this helps us make much more sense of Jesus' teaching. When he tells the rich young man to be perfect, he wants him to be fully or completely aligned with God's plan, and this becomes the the young man's obstacle. Rich in his own estimation and thinking that he can earn closeness to God, he misses the point of the Law. Observance of the Law does not lead to perfection. Being at one with God through the Law is our goal. Clearly, anything that distracts us from this objective must be avoided.

Most people in our society do not have to worry about having too many possessions, money or power, but all of us need to be aware of how much we cling to what we do have. Almost as a hedge against Jesus' promises, we hold fast to anyone or anything that gives us temporary comfort, and while Jesus understands this, he warns against it. God is enough, Jesus insists, and his own life will bear witness to this. Overwhelmed by his suffering, Jesus asks God to spare his life, but then, unlike the rich young man, he submits totally to God for our salvation.

Today, give yourself fully to God and see where it leads you.

What or who do you cling to out of fear and unhealthy need?