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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Wealth and Humility

"Brothers and sisters: I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance." Phil 4:12

I am a very rich man. I am in good health. I am very well educated. I live in a home with running water, electricity, heat in the winter and room air conditioners in the summer. We have computers and television. We have a full kitchen, and indoor plumbing. We eat each day without worrying whether we can afford the meal. I have a car for my use and enough money to put gas in it. I can go to a doctor when I am sick and pay for medication when I need it.

Unfortunately, like most people in the developed world, I often take all of this for granted, and even feel entitled. If the phone does not work for two days, I might threaten the service provider with switching to another company. You get the idea. I have been given so much that when I read today’s passage from St Paul, I realize that my one task is to stay awake in gratitude and too often I am asleep, even to the gift of faith.

When we stop to notice, acknowledge and offer a word of gratitude for whatever and whomever comes to us each day, we are different. We are rich and as Jesus reminds us, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much.” Don’t be afraid of this warning. Be grateful for the gifts you have been given, and share them generously. God gives us all the strength to live our faith and give it away with joy and exuberance.

Today, make an inventory of all you have been given and take five minutes of silence to sit with your gifts in gratitude.

What gets in the way of being grateful everyday for everything? 

Friday, October 10, 2014

People Not Problems

“The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal.” (Lk 11: 39)

Almost fifty years ago the friars sent me to barber school. It was an interesting experience for many reasons. Most of the people we “practiced” on were street people who were not very interested in a haircut, but in sneaking a drink of the Bay Rum tonic that we rubbed on people’s necks after a haircut. In any case, even today I notice people’s hair. As a barber, it is almost impossible not to look at the quality of the cut others have, and this lingering habit made me ask the question this morning: What are the things we pay attention to on a daily basis? Gardeners look at their flowers and plants. Cooks check the quality of the produce or the fruits they will use. Carpenters notice how well something is made.

We all pay attention to things according to our training or interest. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that a Pharisee was amazed that Jesus did not observe the washing rituals expected of observant Jews. Though the Pharisees were in many ways the liberals of their day, they were also devoted to a careful, even obsessive, observance of the Laws of the Torah especially the ritual washing taught by the Rabbis.

Unfortunately, like all of us, the Pharisees sometimes spent so much time and effort making sure the Torah was observed properly, they forgot the person doing the washing. The same thing can be true for barbers. We can spend so much time making a hair cut perfect that we ignore the sadness or joy that another is carrying, and that is the problem for the Pharisees and us.

Today ask God for the grace to be interested in each person you meet and to listen carefully to what they are not saying.

Who taught you to listen to the "stream beneath the stream?"

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Signs of God's Love

“Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” (Lk 11:30)

How many signs do we need to believe that God is among us? It is a beautiful morning, cool with a promise of clear skies and a warm afternoon. It is difficult not to rejoice in the glory of another day. I know there are some, especially the chronically ill, for whom a day like this means little. Others are struggling with family difficulties or the lack of a job that allows them to support their family, but there is no excuse for not breathing deeply, enjoying the simple wonder of clean air and asking God for the faith to live this day fully in Christ.

Jesus warned the people of his day about very similar situations. Although he was among them as a clear sign of God’s love, many refused to look at him as a gift to the world and kept challenging him to prove himself according to their narrow standards, but Jesus would have none of it. He reminded his listeners of God’s delight in the willingness of the people of Nineveh to repent, and told them not to be vengeful like Jonah who was angry at God for being so forgiving. The message remains constant. No matter how often we turn away from God, God is waiting for our return.

Recently, I had the chance to meet with a small but eager group of young(er) parents. No doubt some of them were carrying heavy burdens, but they were willing to put all of that aside to gather with other families seeking a path and a plan to hand on the great gift of faith they received to their children. What a wonderful sign they were of God's healing love!

Today, look for and give thanks for the signs of God’s love in the ordinary events of the day.

Who has taught you to be a sign of God's love in the world?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wedding Garments

"The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son." (Mt 22:2)

It is always amazing to note how often the Bible uses the setting of a meal to help us understand God’s care for us. Both  Isaiah and Matthew tell of a grand banquet that God has prepared, but it is important to note that there were two distinct kinds of feasts in the ancient world. The first, known as a ceremonial feast, would have been something a local political leader might host by inviting people to the anniversary of his ascension to power, or the wedding of one of his children. Everything would be provided for his guests, even a wedding garment if they had none. Guests had only to enjoy themselves and be grateful.

The second was known as a ritual feast. A king or local tetrarch might host a festive gathering when his son came of age or entered the military. This kind of feast signaled a transformation in someone’s life, a time when new expectations were thrust upon the one being celebrated, a time to rejoice but also to change, which is the point of the text.

Do we accept God’s mantle of love, God's wedding garment, that calls us to let go of sin and self centeredness  in order to live a life of gratitude and service? If we fail to be grateful, we align ourselves with the man who chooses to come to the wedding banquet, but is not willing to change. In fact, we condemn ourselves. It is not God’s generosity that is lacking, it is our unwillingness to accept ourselves as God sees us and live in gratitude.

Pray today to see yourself as God sees you, a person of great dignity and value. Pray too to see others as God seems them.

Does gratitude for God's gifts mark your life?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Putting aside Religious Arrogance

"Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it." Lk 11:28

There are some who might get upset with this passage from Luke. When a woman in the crowd seems to praise Jesus’ mother saying, "Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed," Jesus reacts. A person’s life is not of value, he says, because of her parents or relatives, but by her willingness to listen and live the good news.

The Jesus of the gospels would never disparage his own mother’s goodness, but he would and does use the words of an anonymous woman in the crowd to remind his listeners that being born a Jew guarantees nothing. Were he alive today, he might well say that being born a Catholic means little unless one lives one’s religious faith and tradition.

Jesus was trying to remind his Jewish brothers and sisters that they were not better than others simply because of their religious clothing, roots or heritage. Rather, he wanted them to live their faith with integrity and a deep sense of justice not by lording it over others but by always remembering their own slavery in Egypt and their times of exile from the Promised Land.

Today ask God for the grace to go beyond the essentials of religious practice.

Have you had experiences that helped you appreciate the great gift of religious faith?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Our Lady of the Rosary

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."1 Thess 5:16-18

The rosary is a fascinating prayer. For Catholics born prior to the Second Vatican Council, it was one of the first prayers we learned. Simple, straightforward and clear, we prayed it often individually and as families. While the rosary may have lost some of its luster in the last 40 years, I feel sure it will return to the devotional lives of Catholics in the 21st century because it is a simple form of contemplation and so much like the method at the heart of the Centering prayer movement.

The Cistercian, Thomas Keating, has become one of the best known teachers of Centering prayer, helping found the Contemplative Outreach program which has enlisted more that 40,000 people in 39 countries.(1) Keating suggests we find a quiet place, sit still and straight, breathe slowly and deeply, and then repeat a word or mantra, like Jesus or peace or help me Lord. The classic mantra, known as the Jesus prayer, which has its roots in Eastern Christian spirituality, is: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. When our attention wanders, we begin again by repeating our mantra, word or the Jesus prayer.

Isn’t that what the rosary helps us do? As we repeat Hail Mary after Hail Mary we focus on a mystery of Jesus' life to help us stay centered and rooted in Christ. There is no need to concentrate on every word of the Hail Mary. Rather, we breathe, enter into one of the mysteries of the Lord's life and ask the him to keep us “centered” in his presence. The rosary is very simple and, especially for those who might find the idea of centering prayer intimidating, it is a wonderful invitation to contemplation, a prayer form to which all of us are called.
Today, ask the Lord to keep you quiet enough interiorly so that you might be startled by the God who is always with us.

Do you have a special devotion that helps you pray everyday?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Asking for Help

“Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Lk 11:9)

Being unafraid to ask others for help is an important lesson in humility, and a sure sign that we have not become so arrogant that we live as if we don’t need others. Just the same, it is difficult for most people in individualistic societies like the United States to ask for help, and those who do are often looked down upon. Homeless street people may be shown pity and helped, but they are seldom respected as human beings, and it is the rare person who engages them in conversation about their lives.

I am not na├»ve or idealistic about all of this. For many years, I worked with and came to love Boston’s street people who found their way to the Shattuck hospital. Some of them were so full of fear that they could not say a word to you in greeting. Others were unable to stop talking. Most of the time and with most of the residents at the Shattuck, I had a passing relationship. They came to expect me to lead them in worship on Sunday mornings and were happy to be a part of a praying community. After mass we would mingle for a while, exchange pleasantries and grow in trust. Eventually, some would gain enough confidence to ask for the sacrament of reconciliation, but they were the exception.

The same is true for all of us. Being needy is a not a fault or a sin. It is the human condition, and St Paul reminds us often to remember that we are the body of Christ. In Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians and Ephesians, he returns to the image of the body of Christ, and insists that a body is made up of many parts, all of which have dignity. Further, when a part of our body is under stress it is natural for the rest of the body to come to its aid. An injury or infection is not perceived by the body as sinful, but sick, and as Jesus reminds us, it is the sick who need a physician.

Today ask for help from someone in your family.

Have you been helped by someone from whom you expected little?