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Saturday, November 1, 2014

All Souls

"The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them." (Wis 3:1)

All Souls day is a time of sweet sorrow. Because we have made and been blessed with good friends, we are grateful, but miss them all the more when they die. We can't talk with, see or depend upon them in the same way we have in the past. In a very real sense, we are like children lost in a mall, turning this way and that hoping to spot our parents. More unnerving still, a certain level of depression is natural and necessary in order to grieve fully. Unless we allow ourselves to feel the hurt and loss of death, we will not be able to find the light for the next part of our journey.

There are no easy answers, but there is a simple response. Danish mystic and former Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold, writing in his now famous journal, Markings, says it simply and compassionately, "Life only demands from you the strength you possess. Only one feat is possible - not to have run away."

Not running away when life becomes difficult, painful and confusing, though difficult, is an essential task for every Christian. To stay in the moment and learn to welcome what comes our way is possible when we remember that Christ is always near and did not run away from his own misery and suffering. The memory of his suffering and death becomes the ground upon which we build our hope.

Today take time to be grateful for all those, now dead, with whom you have walked in life.

Have you learned how not to run away from the dark and difficult times in life?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Jesus, the New Moses

“He went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.” Mt 5:1

Every year on the feast of all Saints we read about Jesus, the new Moses, who goes up the mountain to proclaim the fullness of the commandments. Something very new and very old is happening. While not abrogating the commandments as we know them, Jesus offers his followers a new way to fulfill them. Blessed are the poor, he commands, and those who mourn, who are meek and merciful, and are peacemakers.

While it will always be important to honor the one God, to keep the Sabbath, to honor our parents, and not to covet another’s wife or goods, how we live these values becomes central to the Christian life. No longer can we honor only those from our tribe or the keepers of the covenant. Now we have to be alert to those whose lives have been heavy with sorrow and grief, but who continue to remember not to exalt themselves, and live simply for the sake of God's reign.

Simple gestures, like sitting down when someone wants to speak with us, might not have the power of Jesus who sat in order to let his followers know that what he was about to say was important, but our willingness to stop and listen will assure those with whom we are talking that they are important. Isn't this what Jesus did all the time?

Today, ask yourself how expansive your love really is.

Who has made your feel important and how did they do this?



Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Depth of God's Love

"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!" Rom 11:33

Often, when I was involved in community organizing in Boston, we would say that we had a broad influence in the community and had developed leaders in many churches and congregations, but we did not have sufficient depth. In other words, we could have influence in a particular issue but probably did not have the kind of power that would last. Those with power were not likely to ask our opinion or be concerned with our position. They would not have to worry about us unless we put down deeper roots and became a more integral part of the community’s consciousness.

St Paul reminds us that God’s love is deep, not just broad. God does not just love us as his children, but as Bernard Lonergan, the great Canadian theologian reminds us, God is in love with us. God’s love is active, powerful and transforming. God’s love is total, complete, everlasting and gratuitous. We cannot earn God’s love. God is in love with us as we are and calls us to love others as he loves us. Being in love with someone means that you have not settled for a good companion in life but are seeking to make the love you experience the foundation of everything you are and do.

Today, ask God to draw you more deeply into the mysteries of faith.

What helps you to stay deeply in love with all as a sign of God's love for us?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Carrying Unnecessary Burdens

"Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,but do not follow their example." Mt 23:3

Leadership in an individualistic society like the United States is very different from leadership in a communal society like Japan or Korea. It is important to reflect on this in light of today's scriptures. The society into which Jesus was born was communal like Japan. The word Wa in Japanese means peace, harmony and balance and one must never disturb the Wa of a family, town or country. Each person in a communal society works naturally for the common good, and more easily lets go of his or her individual wants and needs for the sake of the community.

When one reads the scripture, written primarily from and for a communal society, leadership is about reminding people of the values of the society. The Pharisees, who are too often denigrated and despised, try to impose their will on the community, but Jesus is adamant that this is not the role of leaders.  Today his words about the Pharisees are overwhelming.
Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For 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. All their works are performed to be seen.
Whose example do you follow?

Today, do something for another without being seen.

What do you think are the most important qualities for a leader to have?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Obsessiveness

“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. I am reminded of this today because I am writing from New London, New Hampshire and I went to school in Nashua, NH. It was an interesting experience for many reasons. Almost all of the people we “practiced” on were street people and most of them 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 peoples' 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. You get the idea. 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.

Unfortunately, like all of us, the Pharisees sometimes spent so much time and effort making sure that the ritual washing prescribed by the Torah was observed properly that they forgot the person doing the washing. The same thing can be true for barbers, gardeners and cooks! We can spend so much time doing what we do perfectly that we ignore the sadness or joy that another is carrying, and that is the problem for the Pharisees and us.

Today, step outside your own skill set and pay attention to the falling leaves or the cool of Fall.

What helps you let go of your obsession with being perfect in order to pay attention to the people around you?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ordinary Days as Signs of God's Presence

Forgive me, regular readers. I have had no internet access for the last three days.

“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 in New London, New Hampshire. 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 things. 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.

Today, don’t ask for a special sign. Look for and give thanks for the signs of God’s love in the ordinary events of the day.

How does God usually speak to you?